Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Two Morons Get Up Steam On An Unhappy Ship

Maybe I had been spoilt by the fact that up to now my life at sea had been spent on a BP oil tanker. BP knew how to keep the crew happy. Good food, with a choice of menu, a cabin to myself, and there was even a swimming pool! All heady stuff to a young boy just out of the spartan surroundings of the Merchant Navy Training School at Sharpness, in Gloucestershire.
So when I first set eyes on my next ship as she stood alongside the quay in Tilbury docks, I did not feel the usual excitement at the prospect of joining her as crew.
I was looking at a tramp steamer. A ship with no redeeming features that I could see. She was in dire need of a new coat of paint, and she was filthy. Colloquially, and justifiably in her case, known as a rust bucket.
Once on board, my pessimistic view of her was not improved. She seemed unloved, untidy and lacked the welcome I normally felt on ships. She made an impression on me, this old girl, but it was not a good one.
The oil tanker captain inspected the crews quarters once a week, and everywhere on board was clean and tidy. The crew were kept busy on their watches and off watch could relax in pleasant surroundings.
This new berth of mine looked like it had never had a Captains inspection in its entire long life. She was dingy, cramped, and claustrophobic. With four to a cabin. The Bosun was permanently drunk on strong rum. Not much wonder that the ship was in such a sad state.
Sometimes when writing about my young life I have to stop and check my train of thought. Like right now, as I write this, I'm thinking, did I have this thought then, or has this thought just occurred to me? But no. I think I am confident that my feeling at the time was: I am not going to enjoy this ship. My negative vibes were right.
As the cabin boy I was the lowliest member of her crew, and in my opinion the most put upon. Although I should be honest and say, perhaps I only felt put upon because I was a typical teenager.
However, there were two nasty characters on board who seemed to enjoy making my life miserable. They were bullies, and when they were not complaining about conditions on board, filled their off duty time by playing childish pranks on me and incessant verbal abuse. Banter is normal interaction, and is something that is to be expected on ship. I could deal with banter, and enjoyed it. Nothing wrong with a bit of verbal duelling. As long as it is kept as fun. Most people know not to go too far with it, and when it is time to back off. Not these two though.
Isn't it strange that nasty people always manage to find each other? What attracted these two morons to each other, apart from their obvious lack of common sense or intelligence, was probably the fact that they were unestablished deckhands. Which means that they had not been through the proper seamanship training. In effect they were cheap labour. They were not widely accepted or admired by other crew members. Perhaps that was their problem. No sense of self worth.
I had learned over a tough childhood how to cope with physical abuse but the verbal stuff was something else and I hadn't learned to cope with it. I wasn't able to escape from it either. These two morons were constantly riling and baiting me. Because of my stubborn refusal to back down from confrontation. I was continually trying to give as good as I got from them. But this just played into their hands and only served to spur them on to torment me more. On many occasions on this voyage, because I could not contain my temper, they were able to reduce me to tears of rage. This of course, dented my fragile pride further and made me feel even worse. Which greatly increased their pleasure.

Isn't it wonderful, how, just when you are feeling that life is miserable, and can't possibly get any worse, that it decides to throw you a lifeline. A welcome gift, an unexpected pleasant surprise, a bonus prize.
Ashore in Greece, things are a bit tense on the streets. I don't know what is happening. This is the 1960's. Perhaps it is the time of the Generals. Whatever the cause, at that time there is friction in the country.
It is a good idea for foreigners to keep their heads down. Which is just what sensible people do. Fortunately for me, my two bullies are singularly lacking in common sense. They think it is clever to distribute leaflets which criticise the government of the day. Obviously a government sensitive to criticism. A government in a bad mood. The two morons are arrested and thrown into jail.
I have not experienced the inside of a Greek prison, but I am told it is an extremely unpleasant place to be. Dirty and smelly, and apparently the jailers can be quite violent. Especially to foreigners who distribute nasty lies about their country.
My tormentors never made it back to the ship. The journey back home was much more pleasant. In fact I think I might even have enjoyed it.
It was so nice being able to politely decline the Bosuns offer to stay on as crew. I was pleased to finally leave the unhappy ship, disembark for good and leave her back at Tilbury.
It was even nicer when I later read in a newspaper, that the morons had each been sentenced to two years imprisonment in Greece.
I do hope it was not too difficult for them.


  1. A great story and fair justice to two morons on a ship.

  2. When you think about it, it is not so surprising that bullies always seem to find each other. Without someone to make them feel bolder they keep to themselves. You are so right about them feeling inferior. A couple of years ago while on a vacation, I visited some retired ships from the US Navy. I could not believe how cramped and stifling it is below deck. I love being out on the water but to never have any privacy or alone time would make me insane.

  3. I gave a silent cheer when I read that the morons had been arrested and jailed. As my Dad would say, they got their cumupence (?spelling).

  4. Serves them right. Always nice to hear a story about someone getting what's coming to them.

  5. I love reading you life stories. They're always so interesting. And yes, it is strange how the nasty people always manage to find one another, and I'm glad these two morons got the cumuppence.

    There's a "pressie" waiting for you on my blog, by the way x

  6. A wonderful story about Karma!:)