It is the summer of nineteen hundred and sixty three. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones are just starting out on their incredible journeys to fame and fortune. I too am on a journey. Without the fame or the fortune sadly. I have almost completed a long, long train ride from Aberdeenshire, in bonny Scotland. Here I am at last. Sharpness railway station in Gloucestershire within reach of my destination, the Merchant Navy training establishment, TS Vindicatrix.
There were quite a few of us youngsters milling about the station entrance, with our various bags and suitcases. Some of the boys had obviously met up on the train and were in groups of two or three, being quite loud. Their new found friendships lending them a bravado which others, including myself were not feeling.
Standing alone, slightly bewildered as to what to do next, most of us were nervously and inexpertly puffing on cigarettes.
We exchanged glances. Sizing each other up. Who looked friendly? Who best to avoid? Tentative smiles. A greeting. "Alright?"
"Yeah. You alright?"
"Yeah mate. I'm alright"
I'm fairly sure that most of us weren't feeling alright, but we soon relaxed into each others company. Kindred spirits embarking on a journey into the unknown.
A bus with a roughly scribbled notice on the windshield, TS VINDICATRIX, pulls into the station forecourt and out jumps a tough looking man wearing a naval uniform. He greets us warmly. "You can put those fucking fags out for a fucking start."
Impressed with his commanding use of the English language we hasten to obey.
He impresses us even further. "Now pick those fucking cases up and go and stand in two lines over there." Indicating with his pointing finger where over there is. "And get a fucking move on."
In our nervous rush to please, we make a right mess of lining up in two's, provoking more seaman like vernacular. But eventually, by the brute force of his winning personality, our new found friend and mentor, manages to get us lined up, counted, and on the bus.
Five minutes later we arrive at the Merchant Navy Training Establishment, TS Vindicatrix, Sharpness, Gloucestershire, England.
At sixteen years of age my dream of becoming a merchant seaman is about to be realised. A dream which is soon to be a nightmare of dreadful food, early morning wake ups, exhausting physical exercise, marching routines and any other hellish thing you can think of that might cause a rebellious teenage youth to have second thoughts about his chosen career path.
Our quarters were long wooden huts. The kind of things you would see in prisoner of war films. In fact for the next three months this was a prison, for if we wanted to complete the course we would not be allowed outside this camp, except for two days 'leave' in the last week.
It was to be a very tough regime. A lot of lads were not prepared to put up with it and soon gave up. Quite a few of them would not last even one day. How they thought they would manage for months at sea I have no idea.
One boy. A bit of a 'Jack the Lad' was shown the door, when on being asked to declare his religion, he answered that he was an atheist. We were expected to be God fearing. No place for a non believer at sea apparently. Can you imagine that happening today? Unthinkable. Superstitious lot sailors. Doesn't really make much sense if you ask me. After all if the good Lord is looking after you, what is the point of being superstitious. Still better safe than sorry.
I didn't have any worries about completing the course. This place was just another institution and I was very well used to that. No, I had a much bigger concern than that. I had a concern that had traumatised me for days. I was very worried about my underpants!
My clothing at this time was still being bought for me by the children's department. In the shape of my welfare officer. They call them social workers these days. She was a stickler for the rules this one and insisted that I have the regulation, old fashioned flannel underwear. I wanted Y fronts. I begged her for Y fronts. But no, she would not budge!
That woman! The angst she caused me. Those flannel underpants were longer than the regulation PE shorts and hung down below them for everyone to see. Oh, the cringing embarrassment!
I've forgotten a lot about my time at the TS Vindicatrix, but I will never forget those underpants. Honestly I'm still traumatised today. Maybe I should have some counselling.
I wish to apologise for the Chief Petty Officers bad language.