STRANGER THINGS CAN HAPPEN AT SEA
Captain Lancaster looked every bit the gentleman officer. Apart from his size,
(which was well over one fathom,) his elegant nature and refined speech
couldn’t help but command respect. The burly man from Liverpool who
stood before him was having none of that. He had a wry smirk on his
face. The Captain addressed him in a tone that sounded like an officer
from the film ‘Zulu’;
is the third time you have been caught brawling aboard my ship?"
didn’t answer. The Captains voice then took on a steely edge,
log you or you can come out on deck with me. You decide?"
fell from the deckies face. I could tell from everyone else’s
expression they had never heard a conversation like this. The
Deckie looked the Captain up and down, and then smiled, "I’d
rather go out on deck."
shook his head then stood up and gently pointed an open hand towards the
deck most of the crew were stood around in such a hush it could have
been a prayer meeting. The first mate looked very nervous and the deck
cadet looked so anxious he was about to cry. The Captain turned towards
him, "My jacket?"
garment was halfway down his arms, and with his upper body turned
towards the Mate, The deckie pounced. He lunged forward and smashed two
well-rehearsed punches into the Captain’s head. The Deckie jumped back
expecting the Captain (like most of his victims) to fall. He
squared up and continued in his beautiful accent, "If
that’s the best you can do old chap, your in big trouble."
Captains refinement ended at that point as he turned from Hugh Grant
into Mike Tyson. A few minutes later there was an unconscious Scouser
laid on the deck. None of my friends or the older sailors had ever seen
an episode quite like that before. Then again they do say, stranger
things can happen at sea.
life is a strange thing. It is totally unlike normal society. When I
first set out from Knottingley in 1977 people would say to me
"Everyone at sea is gay, and when you go to sea you’ll become gay
too." Of course these statements are ridiculous, not just in their
ignorance but their prejudice too. There were a lot of gay people at
sea, but they only made up about five percent. Plus they weren’t at
sea because they were gay; they were there because they were different.
forty five percent were different too; they could range from junkies,
alcoholics, anyone running away from something horrid, or your plain
common or garden nutcase. The last thing you had to worry about at sea
was if someone was gay. The other fifty percent are people who just
wanted a career at sea, and quite a few of those were weird. The travel
prospects were incredible. As merchant seamen you could visit anywhere
regardless of political or social barriers. Whether it was Albania,
Russia or halfway up the Amazon, if a country needed goods a merchant
vessel could take them. One thing I am sure of from my time at sea is
that travel does broaden the mind. This is nothing to do with the
distance you cover. I think it is the outlook on what you are seeing.
ship, as boy sailors, the deck boy and I were often baby sat by some of
the gay stewards. This was very safe for us as the skipper knew that we
would be kept away from the dreadful brothels and bars that ‘some’
of the seamen frequented. Later when we saw the various types of
appalling rashes and bleeding you could catch in these places, we
realized we did need looking after. As a heterosexual male virgin, I
fully intended to save myself for Debbie Harry. A platinum haired
goddess who was the lead singer in a pop band called ‘Blondie’ I can’t
speak for the deck boy, I think he shacked up with a bricklayer from
were good to us too. On the one occasion they had to take us, we were
left in the foyer of a brothel for about twenty minutes. It was such a
strange place all red velvet and plush carpets and a warm perfumed smell
kept wafting through the marble corridors. Our curiosity was soon ended
when a fat lady appeared and took us down the street and into a
wonderful colonial type building. We were left on a balcony over looking
a piazza. She gave us Food and wonderful drinks made with ice cream.
There we sat for hours watching various people practicing the tango, snogging, or doing what most South American people do
On one of
our trips to the Gulf we had waited 2 days for a convoy to mount up.
Apparently only so many ships can travel through the Suez Canal at the
same time. When we finally got under way I tried to stay awake for as
long as possible to view as much of the landscape as I could cram into
my memory. I got told off several times for neglecting my work, but it
was well worth it. The views were incredible, gently swaying palm trees
and beautiful aromatic breezes rising up over the sand. There is one
point in the Suez where it is so narrow that the ship looks like it is
sailing through the desert. I can remember it was just before dusk and I
was propped on a chair up against the gunwale. I was struggling to keep
awake when two horsemen appeared on the bank. They looked like something
from a movie; dressed from head to foot in black with rifles across
their backs. You couldn’t see their faces only their eyes. One of them
waved to me before they galloped off. This was Real ‘Laurence of
Arabia’ stuff. Next we sailed by a small town. It looked like there
had been some type of war, lots of the buildings had shell and bullet
holes and there were children playing in an old burnt out tank. Before I
dropped off the last thing I saw was a large triangular monument erected
in memory of soldiers during some horrid war.
combination of different demographic types aboard each ship made life
interesting. On most trips we would call into Sweden, usually
Gothenburg. Whenever we did a jovial middle-aged man would appear. He
was known as Porno Pete and would sell various 8mm cine films or
wonderfully disgusting magazines you couldn’t buy in England. One
bunch of sailors even bought a rubber blow-up doll. I couldn’t see the
attraction myself; she looked more like a self-defence dummy than a
woman. I think you would have to be very drunk to fancy her; she was a
cross between Betty Davis in ‘Baby Jane’ and a half eaten Labrador.
This terrifying doll scared me half to death on many occasion I could
usually find her stood in the corner of the laundry awaiting her next
victim. She travelled with us to many a port but came to a nasty end when
an amorous steward accidentally burst her with a cigarette. Some Idiot
then threw her over the side. Bad Idea, as it caused a Russian ship to
stop, assuming it was a swollen corpse in the ocean.
years I often thought I hated Knottingley, I felt I’d been running
away from it. Staring out over infinite oceans is quite therapeutic I
realised I loved Knottingley, it was my father I feared. Upon returning
home on leave I found my mother had received one black eye too many and
left him. She now had a flat on what was left of Aire Street. I did see
him once stood behind G.T. Smiths in an alcoholic stupor. I just walked by
thinking he hadn’t noticed. He grabbed me and looked straight into my
eyes. There was a dreadful sorrow in his gaze and his face was face
full of broken commandments; "Never…
ever ignore me Michael. I do love you but I…I just can’t…seem…"
walked away. I was with a friend called Gary Slater who was also from a
broken home so he assessed the situation quicker than my confusion would
you alright Mike?" said Gary
I replied. His sensitivity touched me. We didn’t speak any more as I
felt quite ill.
leave in Knottingley I discovered something wonderful. She was
tall with long legs. This slender woman with stunning hair the colour of
corn had big eyes deep enough to swim through and high ‘Geena Davis’
cheekbones. She had the soft skin bursting with a glow that scientists
call estrogen. The sunlight seemed to dance and kiss her every curve.
Wasn’t just me to say it, but she was truly beautiful. As we walked
down the Bendles in the rain, she kissed me underneath that concrete
shelter thing. My legs nearly gave way in ecstasy. I thought I was going
to fall in the cut. I have no Idea what she looks like nowadays, but in
the glory of her youth in the late 1970s, she was much loved by the God’s
who give out looks. I’m afraid to say Debbie Harry was relegated to
the back burner. That was my second kiss, (the first one didn’t count
as it was a fat girl up Warwick who blew a raspberry into my mouth.)
Like most relationships when too young it was short but extremely passionate. I
was far too young and insecure to appreciate such a stunning nubile but I spent many a time at sea thinking of her.
22 October 2003
Also by Mike Edwards
Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley
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