A quiet day after a busy night getting our ship into port meant that the captain and the 1st mate had gone off to their cabins to stock up on sleep. It was a dead cert we would either have to shift ship half a dozen times during the coming night, or we would have to load cargo at stupid o’ clock.
Daz and I, the deck hands, have been given a ‘job and knock.’ In other words, do this and then you’re finished for the day. I can’t remember what Daz’s job was but mine was to paint the base of the shower in the officer’s bathroom.
To give you an idea of this little coaster, the Breydon Trader, let me describe her. Small – even by coaster standards – she was a low air-draft vessel designed to fit under the bridges on the Rhine. When I signed on, she mostly sailed between the east coast of England and Holland, an area of the North Sea known as Sully’s Ditch. Her masts could be lowered and, if push came to shove, so could her wheelhouse and funnel. No bridge was too low for the BT. She also was shallow drafted and could get into places where there was very little water under her.
Inside, the captain’s cabin and day room, the mate’s cabin, the officer’s bathroom and officer’s toilet occupied the forward end of the accommodation. The deck hand’s cabins were aft. Between the officers and the hoi-polloi was the galley-come-messroom which was the size of a large cupboard. The rest of the BT was her hold. The important bit. We certainly lived in close quarters. Luckily, it was mostly a very happy ship.
Usually, there were four on the crew but, at the time, I’m writing of, we had the luxury of a trainee deck hand – my sister, St F.
So, there was me, on my knees with paint and brush in the officer’s bathroom, when St F came to read me a story. Unlike most ships, the BT could run on batteries when alongside. Engine shut down and silent, generators shut down and silent, you really could hear a pin drop, so St F had to read very quietly from her book, Voyager in Bondage. – an interesting choice for a sixteen-year-old girl to read to her big sister… Sailors eh? There are only two things that either of us can remember from that literary masterpiece – one being that the male object-of-desire had ‘buttocks like bowls of soft white dough.’
After half an hour, just before our Voyager in Bondage got to a big orgy scene, I’d finished painting and St F closed her book. Amid much girly giggling we were packing up to vacate the area when a voice from the mate’s cabin said, ‘Awwww, I was listening to that.’
Some weeks, or maybe months, later, a new mate came to the BT. Smart, well read and prone to taking his clothes off when he’d had a few too many, Hedley fitted right in. And here’s where the other thing St F and I remember from that book came in …
The girlfriend of a mutual friend of St F and I was, shall we say, a little annoying. Watching a film with her could be trying because she couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up with the plot so every few minutes she’d ask her fella, ‘Dave, why are they doing that?’ or ‘Dave, what does that mean?’ St F and I, rather cruelly, would imitate her (not when she or Dave were around!) and Hedley became our favourite target.
In the mess-room over dinner, in the pub over a pint, in fact, anywhere we could get away with it, one of us would ask, ‘Hedley, what’s a tumescence?’ Thank you, Voyager in Bondage for the endless hours of fun that we had with that. I can’t remember if he ever gave us the proper, dictionary definition but, if he did, I can guarantee that St F and I will have jammed our fingers in our ears and said, ‘lalalalalalalala.’ Sometimes we’d wonder aloud if he had buttocks like bowls of soft white dough – but not too often, in case he decided to show us.
Well done Hedders for not pushing us over the side!
By the way, Hedley, should you ever read this, do you remember the night in Mistley-in-the-mud when you went ashore for a pint? You asked if anyone wanted anything bringing back… There was a Danish ship just along the quay from us and I said that I’d rather like a tall, blonde Dane.
At closing time you sloshed aboard after a good night in the pub. I was sitting in the mess when you came in.
‘Aha,’ you said. ‘ I couldn’t find a tall blonde Dane exactly. Will this do?’ From a bag you produced four large cans of Carlsberg lager.
Well Hedders, old mate, I thought you’d had the last laugh – and it’s taken me nearly thirty years but, guess what? I’ve finally got myself a tall blonde Dane. XXX