Today my Dad continues to describe life at sea including the drinks on offer, the sleeping arrangements and the operation of the anchor.

There was no fresh water on board.  All water aboard a ship as large as ours was extracted from sea water by a salination point on board.  There was a constant exhortation from the ship’s engineer to cut down the use of water as demand could otherwise exceed the capacity of the plant.

The water did not have a palatable taste.  Tea was the normal ship’s beverage but each mess tended to have a little stock of coffee grounds (instant coffee was unheard of) and coffee disguised the taste of the water.  We had no percolater and boiling water was poured on to the coffee and the grounds and the resultant coffee filtered through a silk (or nylon) stocking.

The only other source of drinks was when a small kiosk was manned by a supply rating open only in the early evening for about an hour when for a few pence you could buy a jug full of lime juice or orange juice.  Lime juice especially was recommended to combat the sweat you suffered from below decks in the heat and humidity of an enclosed mess desk.  Hence the US nickname for the English as Limies.

During the day you were required to wear normal Navy uniform or working dress at all times.  After 6pm unless you were on duty you could relax from this rule as a result o f which almost all lower deck men stripped to just a pair of shorts with maybe a cloth or a towel round the neck to soak up the sweat.

At 10pm over the Tannoy would come the order to “pipe down” which would be followed by “lights out” at 10.30pm.  This meant that you could not sling your hammock until 10pm and theoretically at least you had to be in it by 10.30pm.

hammocks

Hammocks were slung between metal rails.  Each man’s hammock was only about a foot from the next.  The hammock had a wood lathe at the head and foot the width of a man’s shoulders; in the hammock was placed a mattress and there was a blanket to cover you (all part of your kit) There was no pillow and no sheets (those were for the softies in the RAF).

To get in the hammock required an agile leap by holding onto the rail and swinging your body up and sideways into the hammock.  Once in the hammock, it was quite comfortable.  There you stayed until reveille the next morning.

It was a regulation again that mean must sleep wearing vest and underpants in case of fire but this was mainly ignored.

Lights out at 10.30pm meant that the main lights went out but there were pilot lights dotted around as of course men would be passing through the ship as part of their night duties and in harbour would be returning from evening leave.

The hammock provided a counter against the rolling motion of the ship when at sea in that the hammock retained its centre of gravity whilst the ship was leaning first to the left and then to the right.  The hammock was no counter to the pitch and toss of the ship i.e. when it first buried its bows into a wave and then lifted up to the next wave.  Being quartered up in the bows on the ship this movement was felt at its greatest.  The ship’s bow would rise to whatever the height of the approaching wave (sometimes as much as 15-20 feet) but then would descend on the other side as if the ship’s bow was coming down giant staircases with a huge shudder down every step.  All loose items would rattle in unison.

Another of the ship’s functions were apparent to us members of the 805 squadron mess deck were the raising and lowering of the anchor.  The ship’s anchor chains (there were two anchors in the bows) consisted of links maybe 18 inches x 12 inches and as thick as a man’s arm.  When the anchor was raised into its normal located position, the anchor chain was retained in the bowels of the ship.  Bear in mind that the anchor chain or cable to give it its proper title was several hundred feet in length.  When the ship dropped anchor the anchor cable paid out from below at a fast speed.  As it passed through our mess deck it was encased in a chamber on the bulkhead only a few feet from where we slept.  The noise was thunderous as the chain rocketed upwards.  Entry to this chamber was forbidden as the chain plunged from side to side as it paid out.

The reverse process was only marginally quieter.  When this took place three seamen entered the chamber with long leather straps.  They stood round the aperture through which the descending chain links would go albeit that the capstan above raised the heavy weight of the paid out chain and anchor at a slower pace, and alternately by use of the straps guided the chain through the hole in the chamber.  This was a dangerous process as each link (shackle) weighed over a hundredweight.  At the same time the mean were being sprayed with water as the cable paid in.  Up on the cable deck other men would be washing the paying in chain to remove seaweed and other debris.

I watched Grant Feller on Lorraine today talking about what he has lost since becoming a stay at home dad about 12 months ago.

He is missing that essence of himself and I am missing me.

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I empathise so much but I am not sure that is allowed when you are a mum.  For some reason, there seems to be an expectation that you knew what you were getting into and should put up and shut up when you are a female parent.

Yesterday, I asked for help with the housework again.  Once again, my husband claimed that he “does his bit” and “mucks in”.  The children all proved most reluctant and my daughter has a tantrum about me asking her to put away the clothes she had tipped all over her bedroom floor.  So I shouted at her because sometimes it all gets too much.  And then I hated myself.

In no way am I a strict disciplinarian.  We have a handful of rules probably but all too often even basic requests go ignored or forgotten.

What is really wrong?  Why does it sometimes get to me quite so much?

Who knew that a bloke would sum it up nicely?  I do find the whole stay at home mum thing cripplingly boring a lot of the time.  Self-loathing is around a fair bit too as I see how very much I have let myself go.  I am fat.  I should get a grip.  I don’t look after myself how some other women do.  Where are my lovely jazzy jackets and long skirts of yesteryear?  I dress dowdily most of the time and I hate it.  But as I am largely a nothing in the world, what is the point in dressing up?  Who am I trying to kid?

I played out last week as I had an appointment about voluntary work.  I put on a Monsoon dress.  I felt I looked good.  I took time out to eat, people-watch and read.  It made me feel so much better in myself.

So why did I decide to become a stay at home mum?  I was made redundant in 2005 and realised that childcare juggling with 3 children and two careers was becoming too stressful so thought I might give the stay at home mum thing a go. I have worked since that in a short-term job and now do freelancing.   I like the work but I miss seeing people.

What was I like when I went out to work?  I loved working to targets and if they were not tight setting my own ones to meet.  I enjoyed helping people particularly those in real need.  I liked giving them hope.  I was resourceful reaching out to organisations across three sectors to see how mutually beneficial relationships could be forged.  I loved working with volunteers too encouraging them to see the very real potential they had even though they often lacked confidence.  I enjoyed having banter and giggles with other staff.

What did I do?  Advice work, media relations, partnership working, volunteer and staff management, fundraising, promotion of goods, services and concepts, designing and delivering training and project management.  There was always something going on and it felt like I was making a difference.

I know you are not supposed to say it but the putting out of the uniforms, the nagging about homework, the endless housework and so on really does not satisfy me any where near as much.  Then I feel so guilty about feeling that way and think I was wrong to become a mother.  These fabulous children so bright, caring and comical have come to me and got the short straw.

I thank goodness for blogging and social media because without those routes into a real world even if mainly online, I think I would give up the ghost.

I think of my late Mum.  I can’t ever really remember noticing how nice the house looked as a child.  I was expected to help with cleaning most days and I did it because I would not have dared to question my Mum in the way my children do me.  I used to leave loads of stuff under my bed and she used to go mad about it.  I understand that now.

Mum was I think deeply frustrated about what she could not access.  She said she thought she might have made a good politician and anyone who knew her would agree.  She had such a strong sense of social justice and was a doer who got on with things.  She was good with words too.

When I was little and especially in teenage years, I used to get mad with her because she would not look for positive and interesting opportunities for herself.  I used to beg her to join the University of the Third Age for example.  But by then she had written herself off as just a housewife. Maybe you get into the habit of being just the person who mops us everyone else’s mess?!

I am supposedly intelligent.  I have some vaguely useful work experience.  So why do I find it so hard to work out how to make my life that bit or preferably a lot more fulfilling.

Things did change for my mum.  I think it all started when her sister asked her to go to bingo with her at the Nash.  I remember Mum asking Dad’s permission.  I do that all the time with my husband as if it is up to him to allow me to do things.  That is a big one for leading me to loath myself.  Answering to a man – whatever happened to Kate?  Anyway, Mum went one night and liked it.  Then she went every week and learned that people liked her.  She want on a few girlie weekends to London.  She got involved in older people’s clubs and being Mum ended up leading most of them.  She started going on holidays with groups dragging Dad along with her.  He never had her need for friends.  She was his friend and he was happy with that.

The trouble is I don’t have a sister to ask me along to the bingo or anything else.  I find it difficult pushing myself forward unless I already have something to hide behind like a job title.

I ask my husband to help me but he says there is nothing to stop me getting out and going for what I want.  He is right of course but he does not understand.  I would like him to get behind my relaunch on the world in the same way as I have got behind him when he has faced redundancy and in other ways.  I think I would be a much more attractive person if I was doing and seeing more even if only to myself.

I feel I need a friend like Auntie Margaret was to Mum saying “Hey, it’s time you got a bit of a break” and checking in to see how I am doing and making sure that I am moving forwards positively.

I remain annoyed with myself.  I know what is wrong but I am not doing enough to fix it and I can’t even explain why.

 

 

 

Today Dad shares memories of the Navy and rum.

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Every morning at 11am came the long awaited pipe over the tannoy of “Up Spirits” when as far as possible every member of the mess contrived to be present when one man was detailed to take over the ubiquitous galvanised bucket and dash along the part of the ship where an officer was supervising the rum issue.

The exact number of tots to equate with the number of men in the mess who were entitled i.e. over 20 years of age was measured into the bucket and the collector “the rum bosun) hurried back.

Back at the mess the rum tots were carefully measured out under the supervision of the Leading Hand of the mess to each man entitled.  The process was watched with a keen eye by every recipient to make sure that it was measured meticulously.

It was illegal to store your rum and it was supposed to be drunk on receipt which mostly it was but it was sometimes stored for a special occasion.  Woe betide a sailor who was caught storing his rum supply.  Neither could it be traded although if a man had a birthday his tot would be augmented by a small drop out of each of his mates’ rum.  (known as “slippers”)

During that year there was an incident on HMS Ajax where twin sailors had a 21st birthday and consumed so much rum that both died.  This resulted in a signal from the Admiral reinforcing the rule of no sharing and not storage of rum which was obeyed for a short while.

There was no other form of alcohol available to the lower deck as all crew who were not officers were known.  Navy ships were dry ships but as ever there was an exception to this rule.  Alcohol was available to officers.  There was no limit to how much alcohol an officer consumed.  This disparity between officers and men on the lower deck was accepted as part of life  I did not come across any resentment about this.

Inevitably after a run ashore, some members of the lower deck tried to bring alcohol back on board.  It was not easy to get away with because for the most part returning on board involved a motor boat journey to the ship to the only boarding point which was by way of a Jacob’s ladder thus any bottle of booze stood in danger of falling out of a jumper into the sea.

On reaching the boarding deck, one had to stand and salute in the presence of an Officer of the Watch, a Duty Petty Officer, a Master-at-Arms and sundry others who recorded each man’s name and handed him his Watch Card which was in effect his identity card.  This system ensured that the ship knew when everyone was aboard and would also identify who, if any, were missing.

With all this scrutiny (and there was a light to search) it would be near impossible to smuggle any booze on board.  If caught the culprit was put straight in cells and subsequently punished.   So much for alcohol or the absence thereof.  The same applied to tobacco.

Incidentally there is a sequel to the returning aboard system.  Sometimes you bought things maybe a souvenir but if you could not carry it up the Jacob’s ladder you lost it to the motor boat’s crew.

Drastically, if you were too drunk to climb the Jacob’s ladder (there were always two or three) you remained in the motor boat until all others had climbed and then the ship’s crew would be called into play and would lower a wire net into which the incapable seaman would be bundled, raised to the flight deck and conveyed straight to cells.

Officers came aboard by the much more genteel fashion of climbing a gangway to the quarterdeck (at the rear of the ship).  There was a strict separation between officers and men.  Officers were quartered at the rear of the ship.  The lower deck was forward.  There was no access by a lower deck man to the quarterdeck.

Today Dad describes life on HMS Ocean – rounds, smoking  and ventilation.

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The fact that our Squadron area was the living place for 60 or so ratings was respected by those in authority and so, whilst from time to time, other personnel had to pass through, we accepted this was necessary.  Officers rarely came through.  The discipline of the Navy required one to stand in the presence of an officer but if occasionally one did come through say an Engineer going to some problem further forward he would immediately on coming through the door call out “At ease” which meant you had no need to stand and could ignore his passing.

There were times when there was a formal visit by an officer.  One time was when every night and officer accompanied by a Petty Officer would do the “rounds” of the ship, a sort of look through all compartments to see that al was well.  This would be the Officer of the Day.  We all had to stand to attention until he passed through usually without comment.

Saturday mornings you were subject to Captain‘s Rounds.  This was an even more formal affair when you knew the Captain was coming because he was heralded by a Marine bugler a few yards in front of him and the Captain appeared accompanied by a Duty Officer, the Master-at-Arms (the ship’s senior policemen) and a couple of supermumeries.

Sometimes the Captain might stop for a word with a rating or make his displeasure known if he found something not to his liking, then he and his entourage would pass along.  Saturday mornings we would ensure that everything was smart and tidy to avoid any criticism.  Work went on on Saturday like any other day and often only the Leading Seaman and the two cooks would be present at Captain’s Rounds.

Tobacco was issued fortnightly.  This could be taken in one of three ways either :- Two tins of pipe tobacco, two tins of cigarette tobacco or an equivalent supply of tobacco leaf.  Not being a pipe smoker, like most I took the cigarette tobacco on a roll your own basis mostly hand rolled.  The tendency was to roll say 10 cigarettes at night and keep them in a small tin for the next day.  Smoking was not permitted during working hours and certainly was forbidden in certain areas where the fire risk was high.  Whilst not forbidden on the mess decks in the evening men tended to go out on the open boat deck to smoke getting some fresh air at the same time.

There were two means of obtaining ventilation on the mess desk.  There was an overhead trunking system which has apertures along it and this gave out some air but it was not always working.  The other system was better providing the sea was not too rough in that there were portholes which could be opened.  A scoop could be put into the porthole facing in the ship’s direction which brought more air in.  Unfortunately, if there was an extra high wave you got a scoop full of seawater over those nearest to the porthole.

Today my Dad describes life aboard HMS Ocean Royal Navy including cooking duties, lack of privacy and leisure activities.

ocean

The highest rank in a ratings mess was Leading SeamanPetty Officers and Officers were berthed in a different part of the ship.  A Leading Seaman was in charge of each mess and it was his responsibility to maintain discipline and see that the mess ran smoothly.  The Leading Seaman of our mess was a dour Scot with about 12 years service called Tom Baird.

There was a large cook house further to the rear of the ship and a deck down.  The Leading Seaman of the mess would allocate two men each day to be responsible for fetching the meal.  The mess had two galvanised buckets and these were taken to the cookhouse and the men were allocated the correct amount of food for the number of men in each mess.  The food would be carried up one deck through several compartments to the starving men at the table.  Each man has his own knife and fork, plate and cup ad the two men on duty that day would apportion the food.  Woe betide them if any man got less than his neighbour, therefore the cooks of the day would be very careful to avoid any favouritism as another two men would have that duty the next dy.  The job was done on rotation.

Breakfast, for example, was a bucket of porridge and the other bacon contained eggs, bacon, sausage and whatever else.  Bread was drawn from a storeroom beneath our mess deck, distribution supervised by a Stores Officer.  Tea was provided loose and could be mashed at a tap in the bulkhead with provided boiling water.

When breakfast was finished the two cooks of the mess for the day would wash up, plates, cup, utensils and buckets with boiling water from the tap.  Then they would scrub down the table and benches and then the floor using the same buckets until they sparkled (and so did the buckets) until it passed the Leading Seaman’s scrutiny.

The next thing the cooks would do was collect a bucket full of potatoes from a potato store sufficient for one meal for 12 men.  They would scrape and wash the potatoes and have them at the ship’s galley in time for them to be boiled or roasted/mashed along with potatoes from every mess in the ship ready for dinner to be served in the same way as breakfast.

At 4pm the store on the deck below would be opened and each mess could draw a loaf of bread and a soup plate full of either treacle, jam or honey for tea but this could only be eaten as far as one’s duties would allow.  Either one slipped down to the mess for a quick bit or you waited until such time as your work schedule was completed.

On squadron duties a man’s work time was governed by the flying schedule and sometimes this went on long into the evening or even involved night flying.  During all flying times either Sam or I had to be available at take-off and landing so we had to take it in turns to go below to our mess for a meal.  The same applied to all squadron ratings.

Supper was another hot meal dealt with on the same basis as lunch and was had at 6.30pm.

Thereafter subject to flying times and subject to other duties, was devoted to leisure.  There was no activity beyond the mess deck apart from walking along the exposed boat deck or on to the flight deck if there was no flying.

Clothes could be washed in the shower room just beyond the after bulk head.  There were no drying facilities as such clothes could be hung on the boat deck when at sea.

Toilets known as Heads were located in the 816 Squadron area.  A row of urinals and some wash basins formed one side and a row of about 10 toilet cubicles opposite.  Cubicles is a misnomer in that the dividing partitions and doors were only 3 feet high thus when you wanted to use the toilet you could see which ones were occupied by the row of heads along the line.  In ship board life privacy did not exist.

Cards was a popular pastime but it was illegal to play for money or to gamble in any way.  We tended to play for matches as cigarettes the recognised trading currency were looked upon as money.  The result was that you played for matches so that if anyone in authority came through the mess it would appear innocuous. As the end of a card sessions, matches would be exchanged for cigarettes.

Crown and Anchor was a Navy game and was strictly forbidden.  One or two men had a Crown and Anchor sheet (rather than a board) and there was always a lookout to give warning of approaching authority when the sheet and dice and money could be swiftly swept up and hidden until danger passed.  Crown and Anchor was not a game that interested me or for that matter any of the members of our particular mess.