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.

Tropical uniform and setting off to Malta

Today Dad remembers getting kitted out with tropical uniform ready to set sail for HMS Falcon in Malta.

I passed out if HMS Raven as an SEII. This was the highest grade in this particular trade that could be achieved. Because the first (and lowest) grade was an SEIII and the next grade an SE11 it would be logical that there was a further grade an SE1 i.e. a Safety Equipmnt Assistant Class 1 to give a full title but not so. I never heard of anyone in Safety Equipment Branch being an SE1. In fact the instructors at HMS Raven were SE11s. Likewise it was not a branch where there was scope for promotion. If an instructor reached Leading Seaman, that was as far as it went. Once again, this was a branch that was in the early stages of development. Until nearly the end of the war in 1945 all parachute and dinghy maintenance was carried out by RAF personnel even aboard carriers. Thus there was no structure for promotion for Navy men doing this work.

Thus after leave at Christmas 1946 I left Raven and back to Daedalus on 10th January 1947 and just as quickly to the Drafting Officer. My luck was in. Within a few days, I was told I was to go to HMS Falcon which I knew was the Navel Air Station at Malta. I was sent off on 14 days embarkation leave and then back to Daedalus for vaccinations, innoculations and a medical examination before being kitted out with tropical uniforms. These consisted of white shorts, extra white shirts and blue knee length stockings. In addition I was issued with one pair of white (or should I say off-white) trousers, bell bottomed and a matching jumper as we called it but better described as an over-the-head tunic. To go with this full dress uniform (called a Duck Suit or White Ducks) which would be required to be worn on certain ceremonial occasions was a white hat and a air of white calf skin shoes.
The white shorts were of good quality cotton, easily washed and comfortable to wear. However, the long trousered dress uniform was of a kind of stiff twill being most uncomfortable to wear and not easy to wash. Bear in mind that laundry facilities in the Navy were non-existent. All you had was a bar of hard soap, the loan of a bucket and hot water if you were lucky. In the few days I had left in Daedalus I was able to buy for a few shillings from a rating who had just returned from abroad a full dress suit in pure white cotton which looked more professional, felt comfortable and washed and ironed well. Thus armed, I was ready for the off. Along with motley squad from Daedalus we were were lorried across to Portsmouth and held in the Barracks there for two days. These barracks would have come way behind Dartmoor in any prize-giving for comfort. They were old, cold, damp and dark and certainly discouraged any sailor from staying there. Fortunately, we were moved out in a couple of days by which time there must have been several hundred sailors all of whom were entrained at Portmouth and transported to Tidbury on the Thames. We immediately embarked on a ship.

It is that time of the month which means a few days ago I was in the grip of pre-menstrual tension.

Here are the things that annoyed me during this period (no pun intended)

1. Being left without cash or any means of accessing it easily. When I asked my husband to leave me some he asked how much I needed. Not wise when PMT is in the building. I wanted to spend because I wanted to access the joys of retail therapy. What was this “need” word all about? I took it as him resenting giving me anything which I now accept was not the case.

2. The way that if my OH or children leave me in whatever strop they are currently in, they get on with their days of work, play, laughter and learning whilst I brood on their moods.

3. When I am trying to talk, my children interrupt me as if what I am saying is of no interest at all. Meanwhile my husband is falling asleep in his chair. T

4. I appear to be the only person who seems capable of taking things up or down stairs when needed.

5. How the vast majority of housework falls on me even though I do not make the majority of the mess. The ridiculous claim from my husband that he does 30-40% of the housework. Unpicking this, he does not define tidying up as housework and believe me there is a whole lot of that in this house and I do it.

6. The little darlings neglecting to flush the loo or put things in bins.

7. How pets are often more trouble than they are worth.

8. How despite doing housework every day, the house remains always in need of more.

9. My OH saying he would book a day off so I could go off and do something for myself and then putting work first and not doing so.

10. My OH telling me I am in a mood. It is a syndrome which is a very different thing to a mood altogether.Of course, now I feel much better but sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if we only really see things clearly when in the grip of pre-menstrual tension.

I am finding that my pre-menstrual tension is getting much worse presumably as I hurtle headlong towards the next joy of the menopause. It does not last as long but it is more explosive than before.

Do you experience pre-menstrual tension? How do you manage it? What gets to you at that time of the month?

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Punishment for sailors

Today, Dad’s memoirs show how he could be a very naughty sailor and sometimes learned a sailor’s lot was not a happy one.

Life in the RAF Station for a sailor meant that discipline was relaxed. We had no Navy Officers or NCOs to supervise us and we could get away with things that we couldn’t dream of in a Navy ship or base. RAF Officers left us alone as we were something of an anomaly. We were aware that if we committed a breach of the rules the RAF could not punish us but would have to return us to our Navy base for trial and punishment. Naturally if we did anything really serious they would not hesitate to send us back but we knew that minor infringements would be overlooked.

Service dress was a prime example. Although when we sailors set foot outside the camp we had to be absolutely properly dressed, when we were inside the camp we realised we could get away with not being properly dressed. It gave us a kick to know that we could flout the rules without reproach Bear in mind that in the three services in those days only Officers could wear civilian clothing. Other ranks had to wear uniform at all times except when on home leave.

By the time a few weeks had passed we sailors had shed some parts of our uniform and other bits so that eventually I was wearing Navy trousers, hoes and jumper but had divested myself of the jersey, silk collar and hat and had replaced these with a khaki battle dress jacket bearing Royal Navy on each shoulder and with a white silk scarf round my neck.

I remember a few months later on leaving to return to the Navy I had to have my card signed by various departments as part of my leaving routine. I reported to one officer who from behind his desk looked me up and down and asked me if I dressed like that back in the Navy. I looked him straight in the eye and said “Certainly Sir” Obviously he was not fooled but like I said, what could he do about it? When I left the next day, I was the perfectly dressed sailor “pusser” as it was known in the Navy i.e. by the book.

On one occasion a couple of us Navy men did suffer punishment by the RAF. It was evening meal time in the massive eating hall and the RAF food was excellent. It had been fried fish that evening and with two or three RAF colleagues we were yarning around the dining hall after the meal. With cups of coffee (another luxury we did not have in the Navy) we pulled out cigarettes, handed them round and lit up. The RAF men joined in but pointed out that smoking in the eating hall was forbidden. “So what” we said “we’re fireproof”

How wrong we were; along came the Duty Orderly Officer and a RAF Sergeant and told us to extinguish the cigarettes which we did. He then told us that he knew he could not punish us matelots but he could certainly put the RAF men on a charge. We said that was unfair. He said the only alternative was for us matelots to accept his punishment. We succumbed. The punishment was to wash the trays which had cooked in there the evening meal.There were over a thousand personnel at RAF Bassingborun and there were hundreds of greasy, fishy cooking trays, stacked six foot high all round the kitchen. It took us while nearly midnight to complete the job and we stank of fish for days. The Officer had made his point. We did not smoke in the dining hall thereafter.

    What I learned at BritMums Live 2014.

    I was keen to be in room 4 for all the workshops on offer at BritMums Live. I want to become a published writer. I know that video is probably the way forward but have bottled it to date. I know I could do more to understand technical issues.

    I understand the speakers themselves and/or BritMums will be sharing the lessons from the individual workshops but these are the things I picked up that I hope will help me move forwards this year.

    1. It is not unusual to put off writing when you love writing. You must find ways to actually write if you are to be successful. Some ideas will just come to you but others will take more work and people-watching.

    2. You have to approach a literary agent in a business-like manner making it obvious with your first line and a few chapters on why they should take you on. Being different will help. You may need to be flexible and not react aggressively if agents and publishers suggest changes to your first manuscript.

    3. Video is possible however inexperienced you are. You should experiment and see what works best. You can try things out on your family first before taking the leap into letting the general public or your blog readers in on the act. Keep videos short and engaging and don’t forget you can edit them. Be aware of the distracting mess in your background – oh that’s just my rubbish housework standards then! Just as in blogging, you are allowed to be you and to vlog it your way. There is good equipment that can help and there are generous spirits like @nigelcamp who are keen to share their tips.

    4. You can acquire free pictures to use on your blog and thereby avoid allegations of photo theft.

    5. Self-publishing is much more accessible and affordable than every before. I came away determined to write and publish an e-book and to see where that journey takes me.

    6. You don’t need to be scared of the tech stuff – you just need a kind soul to explain it to you. Some of it is really important. I was not doing quite a lot of it! For me, it is always about the words but I have realised I neglect tech stuff to my peril.

    7. Niche blogging can lead to success. I know this is true and plan a niche blog sometime this year. Having said that, I have managed to find work, readers and awards without having a particular niche apart from the life and times of a moody, middle-aged mum. I think sometimes being you works best and only you have the niche on that one! They say cream rises to the top and I think good content and genuine hearts do too.

    8. I was reminded by Emma Freud that anything is possible if you work hard enough, use your creativity and resourcefulness and sometimes blag it a bit too.

    9. Benjamin Brooks-Dutton described so well how very complex and fascinating journeys of grief can be. I agree that laughter is as much a part of it as the tears. Our lost loved ones must always be our lips.

    10. The bloggers’ keynotes reminded me that life is a series of big ups and deep downs for lots of us. So many work miracles all the time. Let’s celebrate strong characters who keep on keeping on in good times and bad.

    So as ever at BritMums Live, I learned things I did not know, I gained practical tips to move me forwards and I left humbled and that bit better in myself than last year.