Friday, 30 September 2011

The Sail Makers Needle And An Ear For Trouble.

The year is 1964. I am 16 years old, and I have just completed my training at Sharpness Sea Training School to become a member of the British Merchant Navy.
It has been twelve weeks of absolute hell. Make that ten weeks, the last couple of weeks were pretty easy going. Come to think of it, the last month wasn't that bad either. Or indeed to be honest the last couple of months. The first four weeks though, now that was hard going. I'm not even going to mention the hardship I endured in the first two weeks, although to be honest the very first week was an absolute nightmare, and I don't know how I got through it. Quite a few lads couldn't take it, and didn't even make it through the first week. I suppose coming from life in a children's home I was already institutionalised.
Actually looking back on it now, with the benefit of almost fifty years hindsight, the whole training thing was a piece of cake. But, well, you know how it is. I have been saying for years how bloody awful the whole experience was, and I must have come to believe it myself.
It was a little bit tough though, give me some sympathy, please: the food wasn't good for a start. Not to mention that they put bromide in the tea. Not that it made any difference to me, take more than bromide to tame this wild beast! Sorry I said not to mention that.
Anyway I passed with flying colours, to coin a naval expression, and am now a fully qualified cabin boy, which puts me on a par with the ships cat.
Fergie, who is my Mother's erstwhile boyfriend, or maybe not erstwhile, it is difficult to be sure with those two, and his drinking buddy, American Alex, have in their somewhat inebriated state decided, that now I have finished my training it is time for me to have my ears pierced. This was a common practice among trawlermen at that time. Obviously I am not a trawlerman, but they both are, and believe that it is for the best, as men do when they have been drinking whisky and beer. I am not keen to have my ears pierced, but sensibly I believe, make the decision not to argue about it with two drunken, and very tough guys.
Incidentally, American Alex was not a real American. He just had a yearning to be a cowboy. He wanted to be like John Wayne, who was his hero. He tried to sound like an American, but was not very good at it, and had a tendency to lapse into broad Glaswegian when he became excited. Nobody ever made fun of American Alex though, because in fact he was actually a lot bigger than John Wayne.
The ear rings that Fergie has bought for me are pure gold, and quite heavy. The reason I have to have them is in case I ever find myself far from home with no money. The ear rings are in effect, my fare home. Which seems to be a good idea. As Fergie explains, what it means, is that I can spend all my wages on wine, women, and song, and still get home. Brilliant!
American Alex, has been designated the task of holding my head still, whilst Fergie does the deed with a large needle which has only previously seen action sewing canvas. He is very clinical in his meticulous pre- op preparation. Firstly he dips the needle in his whisky. This is to sterilise it. Unfortunately he then wipes it dry on his hankerchief, which can be politely described as somewhat grubby. He then holds a potato, complete with mud, against the back of my earlobe. "Ready?" he asks.
"Will it hurt mu...? Ow! Ow! Get off me you bastard! That bloody hurts!"
Big as he is, American Alex struggles to hold my head still while Fergie fits the ear ring and then spits a mouthful of whisky over my ear, "that's the first one done," he announces, sounding rather pleased with himself.
As American Alex releases his grip, I take the opportunity to wriggle free, and dash for the door.
"What about the other one?" Fergie shouts after me.
"You can stick it up your arse!" I shout back through my pain.
I can hear them both laughing fit to burst as I hold my ear under the cold water from the outside tap.

My first ship. I report to the Bosun. He glares at me, "you can take that fucking thing out of your ear for a start. No girls on my ship."
Apologies for the use of bad language. This was taught as part of the curriculum at the training school. At least I think it was, they certainly used enough of it.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

My Theory Is Relatively Too Much Sun.

Oh dear! My blog has been absent for a few days. It's all my fault too. I have been making the most of this somewhat unseasonal, and unexpected heatwave. Some people are calling it an Indian summer, but it is not. I learnt today that an Indian summer is the heatwave which is preceeded by an early frost, and we have not had one of those yet this year.
Imagine me not knowing a fact like that until today. Quite disgraceful! I thought I knew all there is to know about the British weather, and so I should, having reached the age of 64.
It has started me thinking about my lack of knowledge about all manner of things. More than once in response to a question from my extremely handsome son George, I have found myself struggling for an answer. I hate it when I hear myself saying to him, "why don't you google it?"
There is a heck of a lot of knowledge stashed away in the far reaches of my aging brain. This is not an idle boast. It may be immodest of me to say it but I am, or perhaps I should say was, very adept at general knowledge quizzes. Not any more though.
Isaac Newtons apple tree. 360 years old and still producing apples.
Where has it all gone? My theory is, that my brain has become so overloaded with facts, that it has begun to overspill. I believe that any knowledge I have which is surplus to requirements, leaks out of my ears whilst I am sleeping. This is the reason why, when I wake up in the morning it takes me several minutes to remember where I am, why I am where I am, and indeed, who I am.
Where does this overspill of knowledge go? I'll tell you, and you may scoff at what I am about to say, but just remember they scoffed at Isaac Newton, when he became the first person to notice, that apples always fall in a downward direction. They scoffed at Yogi Bear, sorry, Logie Baird when he said he could send pictures through the air. Actually I believe they did also scoff at Yogi Bear, but the knowledge of why they scoffed at him has obviously leaked out, because I can't remember why. They scoffed at Einstein.. Wait.. No.. They didn't scoff at him. Did he scoff at them? Don't know. Can't remember. But they did scoff at lots of people. I know that for certain.
Now where was I before all that scoffing? Oh yes. I believe that google siphons up all the leaked knowledge. I'm not sure how they do it, but it probably involves our home computers in some way. I still have some research to do on this.
As I say this is all theoretical at the moment. However, when I get some spare time I intend to investigate further, and hope, in the fullness of time, to submit a paper to the British Science Institute.
Apparently there is a few more days of heat and sun to come. Tomorrow I shall wear a sunhat. Wish I'd worn one today, perhaps I could have avoided this headache. Hmm.. I wonder. Do you think the heat might have gone to my head?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Sadie The German Shepherd. Loyalty, Secrets, And Downright Lies.

"Come on Sadie," he said, sounding worryingly enthusiastic, "We are going to walk very fast today, I want to get rid of this excess weight I seem to be carrying around," and he sets off at such a fast rate of knots that for once I am the one trailing behind. He looks ridiculous walking along, trying to keep his stomach pulled in, and his buttocks clenched. Mincing, is the best way to describe the walk. He would not look out of place at a Gay Pride march. I slink along behind him, hoping against hope that none of the neighbours see us. Oh no!
"Good morning Mrs Campbell," he calls to her, "Can't stop. On a bit of a mission today."
I dare not look round to see what Mrs Campbell is doing, but my acute hearing, picks up what sounds like a high pitched snigger.
He calls it power walking, I call it spoiling a good walk. I'm the kind of dog that likes to take my time on a walk, sniff out where my canine friends have been. Make sure that there are no upstarts trying to take over my territory.
He has no regard at all for these important things once he has got a bee in his bonnet. Not that he wears a bonnet you understand. That's just a figure of speech.
Mind you, sometimes he wears a woolly hat with a bobble on top. Which looks like a bonnet. Whichever, his woolly hat really does him no favours whatsoever. To be honest he looks stupid wearing it, and I pretend I'm not with him when he does. Luckily though, he only wears it in the colder months of the year. Other times he wears his trilby hat, which he thinks makes him look like Frank Sinatra. I worry about his delusions sometimes.
Happily for me, the power walking only lasted for a couple of hundred yards, before he was almost completely exhausted, and complaining about his aches and pains, or to use his exact words, "the huh excruciating huh pains in my huh legs and huh bum."
After a few minutes sit down on the grass verge, he was recovered enough to continue the walk at a more comfortable pace.
This is me having a jolly good laugh at John's antics.
Personally, I blame the whole sorry rigmorale on the mirror he bought last week at the car boot sale. It's one of those full length ones, and as it was only a couple of quid to buy, he couldn't resist it. He has wanted his own full length mirror, ever since he was a boy. Apparently he was always extremely ambitious.
He could hardly get it home fast enough. It was on the bedroom wall within minutes, and he spent a happy hour or so admiring himself in it. I think I am correct in saying that he was very happy with the image he was seeing.
I could hear him talking quietly to himself, "Oh yes John, you've still got it," and, "Hallo you handsome beast," and, "Watch out ladies, I'm looking good," that sort of thing.
The problems began the next morning when he got out of bed. His first thought was to admire himself in his new mirror. This was a big mistake. The thing is you see, he sleeps naked. What the mirror revealed was not a pretty sight. He's been kidding himself for years that he still has the physique he had in his twenties. The full length mirror bluntly, and without mercy, informed him that he is actually, dare I say it, a bit of a lard arse.
Oh, dear me, it was funny, watching him standing there, trying to pull his stomach in, and twisting himself around in an effort to see his backside in a more favourable light, actually attempting some buttock clenching. Hilarious for me to watch in a grotesque kind of way.
"Bloody mirror," I heard him say angrily, "Cheap foreign bloody glass. It's distorted, that's what's wrong. Bloody distorted."
He has put the mirror in the shed now, glass side to the wall. I don't think he could withstand the shock of confronting his true self again.
Fortunately I think he has given up the idea of power walking for good. He has a new idea on what to do about his fat. He is going to cover it all up with a pair of pyjamas, and avoid full length mirrors at all costs.
Personally, I think he should also cut down on burgers. But that is never going to happen.

                           Bye for now, and lots of love from Sadie.
                           (His loyal, (well almost) German Shepherd)

P.S. Please don't tell him I told you about all this. I prefer him in his deluded state.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Sad Tale Of A Shrinking Man. Turn It Up Mate!

Me in a smart suit. Standing on steps to reflect my true height.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, the most sartorially elegant of men. Occasionally I make the effort to dress well. Very occasionally. I do it for myself you know, certainly not to impress anyone else. Truth to tell, it is difficult for a man of my stature to look elegant. Yes, being only five foot nine inches is a definite drawback to my attempts at looking stylish. Oh, I have just realised that I said five foot nine, some of you might dispute that height, so I am willing to admit to five foot eight. Well really, I don't know what is happening here. I seem to be having an attack of honesty, and I can't shake it off. In which case I shall tell you my true height: five foot seven and a quarter. But I promise you that there was once a time, not so very long ago when I was taller. The ageing process and the weight of the worlds problem on my shoulders have combined to compress me. Yes indeed, I am in fact a six footer. It is just that I have short legs for my height!
One of the sad and utterly tragic consequences of this height loss - I am sticking to this story - is that I have to shorten the legs of my trousers. Sometimes, with a bit of luck I manage to find a woman who can sew, and I am pleased to grant this lucky woman the task of taking my trousers up. Women are good at sewing you know, I think it is bred into them. The same goes for cooking, ironing, washing, and other menial household tasks. Naturally men have the ability to do these things as well. However, because we men have such a caring and nurturing disposition we are reluctant to deprive the ladies of these mundane tasks, they so enjoy doing. Sweeping, dusting, and polishing, are also things that women particularly enjoy.
Now then, where was I? Oh yes, turn ups. If it is just a pair of jeans that are to long, I tend to turn them up just by folding the ends over.
Last night though, as I was leaving the stage, after wowing the audience at an open mic night, I was accosted by a man, who proceeded to harangue me about my dress sense. He was particularly incensed by the way that I had turned my jeans up. Apparently it is wrong to turn them up on the outside. He suggested that in future I might not look so unkempt if I turned them up on the inside.
Well, as you can imagine, I was amazed by his brass necked cheek, and told him, in my best, olde worlde Anglo Saxon language, just what he could do with his suggestion.
To give him his due, he was more than likely, upset by the way that the women in the audience, had stormed the stage while I was singing. Jealous of my charismatic appeal you see.
Besides which I thought that I looked quite good in my new jeans, which incidentally, were extremely expensive. Not to me though, I only paid a couple of quid for them in the charity shop. But before that, someone had paid a lot of money for them. Someone with more money than sense if you ask me.
Anyway, after a restless night thinking about whether he was right, I have come to the conclusion that I shall continue to turn my jeans up on the outside. In fact, the next time I see that man I shall make a point of turning them over twice. See how he likes that!
That's it for now then. Lovely to speak to you again. I shall of course look forward to your comments on this little article. I have been quite careful not to say anything which might be controversial or upsetting to anyone, particularly the ladies. Bye for now.    

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

You Have Three Minutes To Tell The Truth.

A three minute portrait sketch.
Writers block has decided to be my companion for the evening, so I took to my sketch pad instead.
I thought you might like to see the result. It is a self portrait, a very bad self portrait. My pencil was in a cruel mood, I really do not bear any resemblance to this chap, who if you ask me looks a lot like Dr Harold Shipman, the mass murderer. Also I have made myself look old and decrepit, when the reality is that I am extremely well preserved and youthful in appearance. Of course I realise that I could have kept drawing until I produced a true likeness, but that was not the point of the exercise. The actual point is... Look to be honest I don't know what the point is. But it is a fun thing to do.
Do you want to have a go at drawing a self portrait? No? Oh well, in that case I'll wish you good night.
But just in case you change your mind, here is how to go about it. It is quite fun.
Sit yourself in front of a mirror with a pencil and piece of paper, and copy what you see. You should start with the left eye if you are right handed or vice versa if left handed. Once you have begun to draw you must not lift the pencil from the paper until you have finished. No cheating now, keep that pencil moving. Using this method leaves lots of lines all over the place and I think makes for a very interesting portrait. You must work quickly, do not stop if you think you have made a mistake. Hold the pencil loosely and just keep the flow going. You are allowed three minutes to complete your masterpiece.
Me. Pretending to look old. A difficult skill to master.
If you don't want to do a self portrait, ask your nearest and dearest to sit for you. If you are not happy with the result do not throw it away. Put it to one side and look at it again tomorrow. After that you might want to post it online for us all to admire.
Oh dear God! Is that me? Do I really look that old? Here is a photo taken just now. I do look old, but hey I'm not downhearted. I just need to trim my beard that's all, and of course the lighting is terrible. Also it should be remembered that the drawing is a mirror image. There must be some distortion in the mirror glass, and as for the photo well they always distort self images don't they? Don't they?
Maybe artists block and writers block have teamed up tonight, with photographers block tagging along for the ride.
I'm off now. I need my beauty sleep. Badly. Goodnight all.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Difference Between Life And Death Is Just A Moments Thought.

November 1963. Aberdeen Docks. Scotland.

Soon we are going to be busy taking on cargo. I am below, pulling on my sea boots when the cry goes up 'MAN OVERBOARD'.
Rushing up on deck I am greeted by the sight of a dozen or more dockers leaning over the starboard rail. "Hang on Pat," someone shouts, "We'll have you out soon, just hang on."
Looking over I see a fellow crew member, Paddy, in the water, he has fallen from a painting stage. It is a long way down. The ship is empty and riding high.
Somebody, please help him!
Paddy is desperately treading water. But it is obvious that he is a none swimmer. A surprisingly common trait among merchant navy men.
Someone, anyone, help him!
The water is black, freezing cold and foul with the flotsam and jetsam of many ships and trawlers. Dead fish, rats, jagged pieces of timber from broken fish boxes, bilge waste, spilt oil, galley slops, and the shit and piss of a thousand of his fellow seafarers, have combined to make a thick poisonous soup. A stinking, fetid, broth, that rises and falls with the dockside swell.
As I look down all I can see of him is his pallid frightened face, which framed in his lank black hair, stares back up at us, and seems to appeal mutely for help.
Is anybody going to help him, for God's sake?
He goes under for a few seconds and resurfaces with blood coming from his eyes, mouth and nose. His face is now grey. He opens his mouth in an effort to take oxygen and instead swallows a lungful of the stinking muck, before going under again.
Why doesn't someone do something?
Someone throws one of the ships lifebelts, but it is way beyond his reach, and anyway he is now past the point of reaching out for it.
Look, he's drowning. Help him!
Why doesn't someone jump in and save him? Where is the fucking rescue boat? Don't just stand there shouting. Do something for God's sake. Why isn't anyone doing anything?
Why aren't I doing anything? I'm going to! I'm going to! I want to help him. Look at me. I am taking off my sea boots. Can't you see me? I'm not just standing shouting. I am going in after him. I can't swim. I am scared. I am more than scared, I am petrified. I will go in though. Just give me a second to think.
If I go in I will surely die. I do not want to die yet. I nearly drowned once before. It is not a good feeling.
I have got myself over the rail, and I am only waiting and hanging on, while I search for a clear area to jump into. That's all. I don't want to let go. But I will. I will. In a moment.
For God's sake somebody do something.
Suddenly there is a loud splash. A cheer goes up from the watching dockers. "Good on you Jim, good on you." "Oh well done mate." "You're gonna be all right now Paddy, hold on."
Someone has gone to Paddy's rescue. It is the Stevedore. He has got to Paddy and is holding his head above water, and now at last here comes a dinghy to help.
An ambulance has been called and Paddy and Jim the Stevedore have been taken to hospital.
Paddy made a full recovery, but he never returned to the ship. Superstitious lot us seamen.
Apparently Jim didn't hesitate for a second. As soon as he arrived on deck and saw what was happening, he jumped straight into the water, without a seconds thought for his own safety. A courageous man.
Me? Well I am left feeling inadequate and ashamed at my lack of decisive action. Would I have gone to Paddy's rescue? I console myself with the thought that I would have. It helps my self esteem to think that I would have. But I was just a boy at the time, and I was truly frightened.

The duration of this incident from beginning to end was just a few minutes. All the thoughts and fears one goes through are compressed into just seconds. Panic set in, and all my training counted for nothing. It was a horrible incident, which mainly because of the fear I felt, I will never forget.
My redemption from the guilt which consumed me at that time, came a few years later, when another incident occurred. Maybe I'll tell you about that some other time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Pervert. Surely A Word To Look Up.

How many perverts do you know? I only ask because I keep reading or hearing about perverts on the news, so I do know that there are a lot of them about. The thing is though that I haven't met any recently. Not that they are going to tell me if they are.
The thing is, does a pervert know whether he, lets not be sexist here, or she, is actually a pervert? Silly question really. I mean if someone sneaks around at night stealing ladies underwear off of washing lines, I suppose he must occasionally think to himself that his hobby is a bit odd.
What about shoes? I read about a man who stole shoes, just so he could sniff them. Apparently he had a particular penchant for really smelly trainers. I wonder if he ever thinks that he is a pervert?
Just to even things up I am trying to think of something a woman would do that might be considered perverted, but I am struggling to think of anything. There must be something...? No, can't think of anything. I know that woman get involved in perversions but I can't think of anything along the lines of what might be described as a minor perversion. Oh! I just thought of something. No really, you don't want me to mention it. Oh all right, it was domination I thought of. It doesn't do anything for me though. Honest! Seriously it doesn't! Really, I'm not kidding here! It's not something that rocks my boat! I swear it! Look I'm going to stop protesting, just in case you think I doth protest too much.
Some perverts form groups. How do they get to hear about each other? I mean if you are a pervert, it is not something you would wish to be generally known. So how do you meet someone who shares the same weird desires that you do? Oh hang on a second, I just realised that a weird desire is not necessarily a perversion is it?
In fact what is a pervert? Well I can answer that, because I have a dictionary right beside me. To pervert means to change the form or meaning of something in a way that distorts it. Or lead someone away from doing what is right, natural, or acceptable. Or a person whose sexual behaviour is abnormal or unacceptable. That last bit, that's what I'm getting at. Most people think that perversion is to do with sex.
Now then you may be wondering what I'm doing going on about perverts. Well the thing is I have a little tale to tell about a pervert, and to be perfectly honest with you, I have been wondering how to lead into it. This is my rather long winded answer. Should be alright now though.
Oh yes, this is a true story, and before I tell it, I ought to admit that I found it quite amusing, and so did the woman who related it to me, and she was actually involved in the incident, which happened a long time ago.

One day a group of girls were leaving school, after having finished lessons for the day. As they passed through the school gates they saw a man with his coat open. He was exposing himself and masturbating vigorously. On seeing this the girls all screamed and ran away. Except for one girl, who stood and watched the man for a while, before casually walking off. When she eventually caught up with her friends, they asked her why she did not run away from the pervert.
"Pervert" she said, sounding puzzled, "I thought he was sharpening a pencil!"

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Sax, Trugs, and Bacon Roll.

The saxophone is a beautiful musical instrument. It not only looks good, but in the hands of an accomplished player it sounds wonderful. The journey towards obtaining this accomplishment however is a long one, and can be exceedingly painful to those who are subjected to the sounds of the beginners efforts.
At lunchtime today after a walk with Sadie the German Shepherd, I decided that a cup of tea and a bacon roll would satisfy my well earned hunger pangs. The kettle had boiled and the tea was brewing, The bacon had been fried and had obtained union with a crusty, wholemeal roll. All that was needed now was a drop of milk in the tea, and a generous dollop of brown sauce on the bacon roll.
It was at this crucial and mouth watering stage of the proceedings that I heard the agonised yowlings of a cat fight outside. Thinking that Bonnie, my ginger moggy was in trouble with one of the local tomcats, I rushed outside to render assistance.
Unknown to me, Tricia, who is the mother of my extremely handsome son George, hoping that I would be able to repair it, had left an old garden trug on my doorstep. In my haste to go to Bonnie's aid, I failed to notice the trug until my left foot had trod in it, and my right foot had caught under it's handle. The subsequent fall, which appeared to happen in slow motion, was heavy, but due to the extreme athleticism of my perfectly honed body, I somehow managed to avoid serious injury.
On regaining my composure, I looked up to see that Bonnie and Sadie were both in attendance, and were looking at me in a bemused way. Bonnie was perfectly all right, and there was no sign of any fighting tomcats. The sound of a feline in distress, however, continued to assault my somewhat sensitive ears.
Further investigation revealed it was not the sound of fighting cats, although I feel I can be forgiven for thinking it was. No, it was the discordant, tuneless, screeching of my neighbours latest dire attempt at playing the saxophone. Whilst I am full of admiration for anyone as obviously tone death as he is, for trying to learn an instrument, I can only hope and pray that he soon realises just how far the sound of his saxophone carries, that he takes pity on his suffering neighbours, and takes up another hobby. Silent meditation might be a good one.
On returning to the wagon I am saddened to find that my bacon roll has gone from the kitchen worktop. Sadie is licking her chops, and has adopted the hangdog expression that expresses guilt but no shame. The chickens are fighting over half of a wholemeal roll, and Bonnie is chewing on what looks suspiciously like a  piece of bacon rasher.
After all the assembled livestock have been told exactly what I think of them. I further vent my anger by shouting out to the would be saxophonist exactly would he should do with his instrument. Of course he can't hear me, because he is making too much bloody noise! Even if he could, my suggestion would be a physical impossibility. Which is a shame.
Perhaps I should admit, that before calming down, I accidentally stamped the trug into a hundred little pieces, before telling Tricia that it was sadly beyond repair.
Oh well, not to worry. These things happen. At least I can enjoy my cup of tea. But no, not even that solace is available to me. There is no milk in the fridge!
I still think the saxophone is a good looking instrument. The sound of it though? Funny how you can go off things.

The total views for my blog have now passed the 10,000 mark. I feel that this is a good time to take a break. Thank you for staying with me,and for all your comments. I cannot say how long my break from blogging will last, but I suspect that I will soon begin to miss your presence in my life. I hope you will all keep well. I will be back.