How do we ensure we have happy days or at least happier than not?  It is often as simple as looking at the positives in our worlds.

What are my reasons to be cheerful this week?

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1.  Have you seen it?  I am over the moon to have a fancy pants (literally!) header five years after I started my blogging journey.  I would love to know what you think of it.  We all see these things differently so all feedback is welcome.  It was produced by the incredibly talented and extremely patient Helen.  If you are looking for a blog design doing, head her way.

2. We have had some lovely meals this week mainly prepared by Chef Him Indoors.

3. My youngest son got Star of the Week at school for managing to write more than usual.  He is like my other son in having a brain full of ideas but not always the speed and capacity to get those thoughts down on paper.

4. My daughter is developing a very feisty spirit.  This can be challenging but on the positive side will probably serve her well in the future.

5. My oldest son keeps treating me to cuppas, drinks or goodies from the shops.  I think this is pretty good for a teenager.

6. My holiday in France is confirmed for the end of the month in a lovely cottage in the countryside.  I am so looking forward to getting away from it all for a few days.

7. I am really enjoying playing around with Instagram and seeing the images pop up on my blog sidebar, Facebook and Twitter.

Now about that header design? Do you like it?  What does it represent to you?  Do you like the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson?  Did you spot the quotes from my late Mum and Dad?

Yes, dear readers, today I am totally obsessed with how I look or how the blog does anyway.

Have yourself a great weekend.

Today my Dad remembers life at Kalafrana and how he wanted to join HMS Ocean.

oceanrp_IMG_1483-e1404054219292-225x300.jpgLife went on at Kalafrana.  We repaired and packed a few parachutes and dinghies, we swam and we sailed.  By now we had coaxed Bill Cant to let us take out a Navy whaler a rowing/cum sailing boat that we could on a free afternoon take sailing miles off Malta.

We had some chores to do but even these did not prove irksome.  We seaman of the SE branch had done a fire fighting course at Portsmouth.  I did mine in 1945.   Eight of us were required to exercise once a week with the only piece of fire fighting equipment Kalafrana had, a two wheeled trailer onto the square and practised fighting an imaginary fire in various buildings.

Another duty allocated to us seamen was a nightly guard duty along the slipway and the jetties.  Two of us would be joined by two Maltese sailors for the night on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.  At that time there was a bit of a Nationalist movement in Malta and there was just the cautionary thought that they might vandalise the Kalafrana base.  I don’t think we in Kalafrana took it too seriously but we had to do the guard bit.

We also did a 4 hour guard during the day time on the only gate leading out of Kalafrana which meant donning white belt and gaiters and presenting arms with rifle and bayonet when any officer passed which was rare because hardly any officer bothered visiting us.

Evenings were left to our own devices.  Perhaps a game of cards or Ping-Pong in the NAAFI.  Even a pint or two if cash resources ran to it.  Otherwise time would be spent smoking, yarning or reading in the dormitory.  Lights out was at 10pm when you got into your bed under the compulsory mosquito net.

Reveille next morning over the tannoy would be at 7am.  The first thing I did then was turn my boots upside down because it was not unknown for scorpions to get into them.  Scorpions (and lizards) were quite prevalent.  Because of the heat we left the dormitory door open at night and from time to time the odd scorpion came in. I could put up with most livestock but I hated scorpions.

During this period at Hal Far I was issued with further items of kit.  Coming out from England I was already formally issued:- one working blue serge suit with red badges, two pairs of white shorts and white shirts , one Duck suit with blue badges and one non-issue Duck suit in white cotton.  Whilst up to now a blue serge suit with red badges had been a sailors everyday working rig it had now been decided that whilst this suit would be retained we would use a more practical outfit for work wear and so we were now issued with two pair of a navy blue gabardine trousers and two lighter blue cotton shirts with open neck collars.

A few weeks later probably with the thought in mind of the forthcoming very hot weather of the Summer we were issued with two pairs of khaki shorts and two khaki shirts.

I now had a variety of 10 different suits; I will not say at my disposal because I could not dispose of any of them (apart from the non-issue Duck suit) because the dress to be worn for the day was announced over the tannoy at Reveille and that was the outfit to be worn.

Thus wherever you went in the Navy, shore establishment or ship reveille would be followed by the announcement “Dress of the Day No ….”  Each suit would have a number and you wore the suit applicable to that number when instructed.

One day in March I was working in the section building packing a parachute.  The window was open and the shutters back for coolness and looking out of the window I saw anchored in the middle of the bay the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean.  How I wished that I was on that ship instead of where I was. Little did I know my wish was to be fulfilled.

Today Dad describes nights out in Valletta and the joys of beer, brothels and British chocolate.

So typical “run” into Valetta went like this. One o’clockish set off, catch a bus in Biryebuggia (the same buses that we used as tourists in the 1970s) and get off in Valetta. Walk around for a while, go up into the Barracca Gardens and watch the movement of ships in Grand Harbour. Maybe walk down into Sliema and have a beer in a bar and walk along the seafront. Sailors, sailors everywhere. Back up into Valletta. 6pm long trousers on. Walk round a bit more, shops are coming to life. Look at the bombed out Opera House on King Street. Find a suitable bar where food is cheap, order steak (steak was horse meat) egg and chips (almost the staple request), have a beer.

Then mid-evening make your way to Strait Street known as “The Gut”. This is one long street of bars and brothels parallel to King Street. All the Fleet is here most just sightseeing, those with money and no sense partaking. Girls in the doorway offering their wares. The drinks are extortionate. The girls are supposed to be contortionists. This is no place for sailors like us except for sightseeing.

Come out of Valletta into nearby Floriane, find a bar and have another couple of beers and then by 10pm-1030pm catch the bus back to Kalafrana when the few shillings you have left has to last another two weeks.

Back home in England most commodities were still rationed. Naturally being fed by the Navy, we were well provided for but nevertheless in any visits to Valetta we enjoyed being able to buy British chocolate and sweets plenty of which were available. Probably because of the hardships suffered by the siege, there was an effort to let let the Maltese have a taste of good fortune which was not available at home.

Looking to a tie when I should return to England, I made of point of from time to time buying foodstuffs (tinned) that I knew my parents were going short of at home. Corned beef, tinned ham, tinned steak and tinned fruit and saving them up to take back with me whenever that would be. There was no indication of what length of time I might serve in the Mediterranean. Peacetime sailoring before the war meant that a sailor drafted to a ship on commission would serve in that ship until the ship’s commission was completed. This did not apply to shore stations as service in them was more or less a transitory arrangement. This was the case at HMS Falcon. We knew at Kalafrana that we Safety Equipment men were being held as a reserve and that we could be transferred at any time to a ship in replacement of men who had returned home for demobilisation.

    Today, my Dad remembers idyllic days as a sailor in the Forties in sunny Malta.

    Life at Kalafrana was idyllic. The accommodation was in two stone built single storey blocks each containing twenty four iron beds and lockers. These bordered onto a small parade ground across from which was a canteen for meals and a small NAAFI for drinks and recreation. Apart from us Safety Equipment ratings there were a number of other personnel responsible for the stores in the hangars, also the cooks and administrative staff.

    In over all charge was Lieutenant “Duthchy” Holland an RN regular who was blatantly homosexual and was quite easy going discipline wise. Despite his obvious sexual leanings there was not a whiff on impropriety. If there had been he would not have been tolerated by his superiors. There was a Petty Officer in charge of discipline but he too was easy going provided you did not go too far. Thus the climate was good, the sunshine every day, the food was good as was the accommodation The working day was roughly 8.30am-4.30pm and with twelve of us the workload was low.

    Our officer Bill Cants was laissez faire and would take off up to Hal Far in mid-afternoon and you wouldn’t see him next day until turned 9am. We worked Saturdays but this was only a token showing. We would lounge around in the sun on Saturdays onlyy being in earshot of the telephone in the workroom in case someone rang. Sundays were a day of rest. In the Navy attendance at a Church Service on Sunday was compulsory but as there was not chaplain at Kalafrana we were excused,

    Alongside the slipway was a short jetty and it was common for us to slip into swimming trunks and sunbathe then to swim in the deep clear water of the smally bay known as Pretty Bay. It was fascinating that octopus came into Pretty Bay and you got quite used to swimming there with hundreds of small octopus below

    Previous personnel at Kalafrana (it was an ever-changing population) had built some small boats from packing cases that were available. These were small rudimentary boats but with home made oars or small sails of both. They would change hands for about 10 shillings as one owner left and another came along. I bought one that had been owned by a friend of mine Bernard (Barney) Hunter who had just returned to UK. I used it in my free time to potter about in the main bay Marsa Seitrrocco when weather allowed.

    A favourite jaunt for two or three of us with these boats was to sail about 1 and a half miles across the bay to the wreck of the SS Brecondine lying in the bay. The Brecondine was a ship carrying ammunition which had been bombed by the Germans approaching Malta in 1943 and had sunk in the bay. We could sunbathe on the upturned hull and swim off it but we were always careful as there were some pretty big octopus living in the wreck.The nearest village to Kalafrana was Birgebuggia about half a mile along the coast. We would sometimes go along there for a drink but there was only one small bar called Ciro’s which apart from a gramophone did not offer much entertainment. Maybe on a Saturday, after payday (once a fortnight) we might catch the bus to Valetta or into Sliema. It was a bit of a bind in some ways because Navy regulations said that personnel must wear long trousers after 6pm (because of mosquito or sandfly. Sandfly fever was particularly prevalent). If you set off at say 1pm on a weekend it was so hot you wore white shorts and keen length stockings. If you did not intend returning to base before 6pm you had to carry with you all day a pair of serge bell bottom trousers to put on over the sorts as the clocks struck 6pm. It was an irritation you had to put up with as Valetta did not really “get swinging” until after 6pm.

      Cuddle Fairy

      Today, Dad talks about sailing to Gibraltar and describes buying watches from the Spanish in exchange for cigarettes.

      It was called the S S Mataroa which conjures up a picture of idyllic cruising in the South Seas. In actual fact it was a cargo ship with limited passenger accommodation which had been captured from the Japanese towards the end of the war. The holds had been cleared out and fitted out with bunks other ranks of all three services Navy, Army and RAF occupied. There were two of these holds forward and each hold must have held several hundred men all in close proximity. There were no toilets fitted and therefore there had been built platforms across the bows into which has been fitted washbasins in one row and opposite them a row of toilet bowls. Thus several hundred men were washing, urinating and defecating over the sea. Where the waste went can only be assumed – it went into the sea.

      Exercise for the men could be taken on the forward deck above the holds. There was a smoking saloon cum games room just aft of the forward deck but beyond this were marine sentries who barred passage further aft. Beyond these sentries out of bounds to the rank and file the remainder of the ship was devoted to officers and to women personnel to whom the officers were no doubt devoted or so the lads in the holds thought.

      Meals for the rank and file were taken in a large saloon served American style. That is you were given a tray with several indentations in it together with a soup bowl and a mug. You passed down the line when you were given a ladle of soup, a pint of tea of coffee in the mug and then each identation in the tray received a portion of meat, a portion of vegetables, a portion of potatoes, gravy if you wanted it and a portion of pudding and custard. Inevitably one portion flowed into the other particularly when going through the Bay of Biscay.

      The Navy were issued with their tobacco ration in this case four tins each containing 50 Phiiip Morris cigarettes. In many cases, these were stakes in card games of brag or poker on the three day journey to Gibralter. There we anchored in the bay where a few troops were disembarked.

      Here at Gibraltar we had our first experience of bun boats. These were locals (Spaniards) who rowed out to the ship to trade their wares in exchange for cigarettes. The rais were crowded with men as this was a new experience to most. Some of the men entered into the barter system which went like this. There were a dozen or so bunboats and at sea level they were some 20-30 feet below the ships rails. An occupant would hold up a watch (watches were a popular buy). He did not want cash; we only had English money not pesetas but in any case tobacco was the better currency. An interested party at the ship’s rail would ask how much and the vendor would say 200 cigarettes. A few calls of “bollocks” or similar expletive would end up with the vendor agreeing to accept 50 cigarettes. (They were wise to the fact that our cigarettes were in tins of 50)

      A sale was agreed and then came the testing point. Did the vendor get the cigs before parting with the watch or vice versa. Again a haggle but the British sailor felt that Philip Morris cigs were rubbish and so he agreed to hand over cigs first. The bun boatmen expertly cast a string up to the rails and tied an empty tin can on the end. The buyer hauled up the can and put his 50 Philip Morris in it and lowered it back. At this stage the vendor should have sent up the watch but when he saw the tin of Philip Morris he gave a howl “No Philip Morris, only Camel or Lucky Strike which we didn’t have. Philip Morris lowered their currency value amongst the boatmean. Instead of 50 cigs, if they were Philip Morris they wanted 100 cigs. Some transactions were agreed and some of the lads got reasonably good watches for their cigs.The ship was about to raise anchor in the afternoon and orders came to get rid of the bun boats. However, the boatmen were not to be got rid of that easy and the ship’s crew on the Captain’s orders turned the hosepipes on the bun boats to disperse them. There was no love lost between the British and and the Spaniards at that time.