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Sea life -
Board of Trade Acquaintances

Any Seafarer knows that the months cooped up with other men inside steel boxes have their compensations, as well as their drawbacks. It's an instant Brotherhood of sorts; a team of usually like-minded souls bound together come hell or high water. You get to know your shipmates better in some cases than their wives. You work with them, eat with them drink with them and of course fall out with them, but above all you are one of them.

And then comes the pay off day, you go on leave. The first step down the gangway breaks all the ties. The friendships, the camaraderie and the ship are relegated to memory. Your shipmates become Board of Trade Acquaintances. You may meet them again on other ships, other bars around the world, but rarely will you ever meet them at home. That's another world, a world of wives, cars, children and wallpapering the sitting rooms. A world so different from the sea that you probably wouldn't even pass the time of day with each other, so little have you in common. It's almost an unwritten law. Sea life is one life and home is another.

So as you you're your way down the gang way and heading for the taxi to the airport or the train you say farewell dear shipmates, it's lovely having known you but home is beckoning.

Oh you really think so!
Four days into your leave. You're just now beginning to relax. No more automatic waking up at three in the morning, no more jumping out of bed to answer engine room alarms when a car sounds it's horn The phone rings. You answer it and a dismembered voice on the other end that sounds vaguely familiar says 'Hello is that you?'

'Whose that?' you say, mind racing.
'Graham,'
'Graham?'
'Graham Turner, you old bastard, Second Mate…you invited me down for a holiday.'
'Aggggh.'
'What…hello….hello.'
'…Where are you?'
'Standing on Penzance railway station, waiting for you to come and pick me up.'
'Aggggh.'
'Who is that dear,' says your wife, coming into the bedroom drying her newly washed hair with a towel. '…God you've gone white.'
You put the phone down and then, with the reactions of a geriatric tortoise, you reply, 'I think it was a wrong number dear.'

Your wife, who is used to a bewildering amount of eccentricity in your first week of leave, gives you a funny look and decides to let it go, after all she's got a job to go to and no time to waste.

Hell, you say to yourself….bloody Graham…of all the people you would not wish to meet ever again…here in Penzance…and what did he say 'come for that holiday you promised him'.

What bloody holiday… Well you might have promised him a holiday, after half a case of 'Becks' one tends to promise everything to everybody.

But hell… Second bloody Mate Graham of all people…a two bottle of Jack Daniels a day man, on the way back from your last loading port in New Orleans to Stravanger where you paid off and he was sacked. Second bloody Mate Graham, who spent most of his watch supping the stuff from a hip flask then arrived in the bar and stayed there until his next watch was due. Second bloody Mate Graham, who never washed, never changed his clothes and whose bladder needed urgent overhauling.

Now you have some quick thinking to do. To put Graham up, or even admit to have invited him home would mean instant divorce. 'I'll drop you off at work this morning,' you tell your nearest and dearest, 'I have to pick up some timber for the new shelves in the kitchen.'

'About time too,' she replies, in wonderment. She's been waiting for those shelves for two years.

After dropping your wife off at work, you drive to the Railway station, the glimmer of an idea forming. Sure enough Graham is waiting, his only luggage a black bin liner containing God knows what.

'Get in the car,' you tell him before any friends of your wife see him.
Straight back home, bundle him plus bin liner inside and glance at the time. You have fifteen minutes to wait before the pub opens. He smells like one anyway.
'Looking forward to this, old chap,' he tells you, 'Suppose I ought to have something to eat.'

'Oh, we'll get something at the pub,' you say, 'Come on it's only a short stagger.'
Ten o' clock on the dot finds you banging on the pub front door. 'Two pints of old and filthy,' you tell the Landlord, 'And a bag of crisps for my friend.'

'How long have you come for?' The Landlord asks Graham.
'Oh a week or so,' he answers.
That's what you think mate,' you say under your breath.

Five hours later you totter back. Graham, having drunk the pub dry seems to be in the same condition as he was when you picked him up.

'Have a snooze,' you tell him, guiding him to the sofa. 'Only two hours to opening time.'

Half past four comes. You have to pick your wife up from work at five thirty. Time to perform. 'Wake up Graham,' you say, and gently kick him in the arse.

'…what…where?'
'You're going to miss your train.'
He staggers to his feet. You hand him his bin liner. 'Here, I've packed for you.'
'Right,' he says.

Bundle him plus bin liner into the car and drive post-haste to the Railway Station. Buy a platform ticket and stick him on the first train that looks like an Inter City. So long as doesn't stop until its a hundred miles away you don't care where it goes.

'Have a nice journey,' you shout as the guard blows his whistle.

'Lovely time,' he shouts back as the train departs, 'Best week I've ever had.'
You drive to your wife's work to pick her up, with such a sense of relief and overwhelming happiness you're not ready for the blast of vitriol from the better half when she gets in the car.

'God it smells like a damn brewery in here,' she says, and fixes you with a look that could kill.
'Yes dear,'
'You've been drinking all day with your cronies, haven't you. I don't suppose for one minute you've done the shelves.'
'Haven't given them a thought,' you say, and drive home.

Author:Kit Chapman
I have just published a small book containing the sea stories, it is called 'Rum, Bum & Whacky' and is available through Lulu (Publishers)


 

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