Monday, 21 August 2017

Gullible's Travels - 6

Gullible's Travels and the Alphatravel series will continue here for the rest of this week. After this time the series will be moved to my autobiographical blog Writing for Posterity which will once again be made public. The stories here have been edited for a more general audience but they will appear in their uncensored form on my writing blog. A link for those interested will be provided when this is effected. Deep End was never the place for this and other posts, it became a stop-gap whilst my site and other blogs are being developed. This blog will in future revert back to its intended use.

The calm blue waters of the Caribbean were a favourable first impression, especially after the open hostility of the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean had its moods as well but the knowledge land was never far too away gave a perhaps misguided feeling of safety. We were headed for the Panama Canal and I was really excited even though I didn't know much about it back then. I had joined in with the teasing of the galley boy but was equally in the dark, I was just as naive but not daft enough to let on.

The crew had told him stories about the Canal and I listened, though pretended not to. They explained how the Canal had locks where mules towed the ships through to the other side. He was encouraged to save left over vegetables to feed to the mules, something he did with great enthusiasm. He kept saying about the mules to me, asking if they bite. How the hell did I know.
"I suppose they might by accident if you got your fingers too close" I speculated.

A passing seaman was grinning as he walked behind the galley boy giving me the thumbs up and a wink. He obviously thought I was in on the joke and I smiled back conspiratorially. Cristobal was the city on the Atlantic side of the canal and we had an overnight stay before traversing the canal zone. The weather was perfect and all the tensions among the crew had lifted. We docked and after work went ashore. It would be unfair to say I hadn't enjoyed my times ashore before Panama, I enjoyed everything new ....even getting shot at. I felt I wanted to see and experience as much of life as possible, even bad things had a place. Life is a learning process and there is no better teacher than personal experience.

The street where we were walking, looked almost like a post apocalyptic New York. The buildings were huge multi-storey blocks of grey stone, although the poor street lighting may have given that effect. Between each building was a narrow alleyway, dark and threatening. Looking down these alleys the far end was fenced off, there was one way in and one way out. I made a mental note not to run up an alley if chased. People were hanging about on street corners and watching us carefully. My decision to go ashore with those closest my own age was a mistake. The three of us must have looked like little kids and once again I silently cursed my youthful appearance.

At home it meant I couldn't get served in pubs even though all my friends were, now I worried I looked weak and easy meat for a robber. We had been given warnings about the city being noted for violence and street robberies. The bar where we had been told to meet the others was up ahead and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Moro Bar or 'Boite el Moro' as the sign said, went some way to healing my problem with my appearance. The bat-wing doors suddenly flew open and we froze as a crowd rushed out the door straight at us. We were bout to panic until we realised they were all girls.
They surrounded us and guided us inside the door, all pulling at us and squabbling over who would 'pop our cherries'. I have to say it was one of the strangest but exhilarating experiences of my life. This was my first experience of the 'good-time girls' and I drank and danced long into the night. At the end of the night we had all spent up when the older crew members were negotiating with other girls. I was disappointed but also a little relieved I had no money left, I remembered Italy and didn't want to spoil one of the best nights I'd ever had with a somewhat sordid experience.

The three of us rose to leave but the girls wouldn't let us. We explained we had no money left but they were convinced we were virgins (especially as that was what the crew members told them), and in truth we looked the part with our fresh faces that had never seen a razor. This made us highly-prized and a fee wasn't required. I won't go into specifics but it was the perfect end to a perfect night and a far cry from Genova. The next morning we dashed back to the ship and were spotted coming back. Everybody gathered and looked at us laughing and cat-calling, they knew what had happened. For once we didn't mind the teasing.

Going through the canal was the icing on the cake. I loved the scenery as the waterway meandered through jungle and even a mountain. There was Panama State Penitentiary, and a plaque commemorating all those who died in the construction of the canal. At the other end was the Puntas des Americas the only connection (at the time) between the two continents. In between were two sets of locks, and of course the mules. The joke on the galley boy had been the fact the 'mules' were large locomotive engines on tracks, not the four-legged variety he (and I) was expecting.

In my travels I went through the Panama Canals maybe a dozen times. It never lost its magic and remains one of my favourite places on Earth. Already this ship had far exceeded any expectations and there was still Peru and Chile to come.

I is for....

Ireland, one of the few countries I would like to live in besides England. I visited Ireland many times over the years and one grandparent was of Irish origin. It was my grandmother but her brother lodged with her and he was the funniest man I've ever known. Christmas, weddings and even funerals were a real treat for me when all her family visited. For all that it took joining the merchant navy for me to start visiting the Emerald Isle.

The first thing I noticed about Ireland was how laid back the people were. My first visit was to Cobh (Cork) and it lived up to expectations. My grandmother and kin could easily have been characters straight from the movie The Quiet Man and I found they were the rule more than the exception. We docked at 7am and being on the 4-8 watch I headed ashore as soon as my watch ended. It was only two days before we were sending a Mayday off Plymouth. The ship was one of a fleet of small 600 tonne bulk carriers termed the Yellow Perils or the 'Guzunda' boats (goes under) due to their poor safety record.

The first thing I noticed was how close to the town we were. There was a pub right across the road just yards from our berth. No dock gates, nor even a fence, I have never seen the like before or after. It may have changed in the three decades since but even then this was unusual. Cork wasn't very lucky for sea-farers, it was the last port of call for the Titanic and the Lusitania was sunk of its coast by a German submarine three years later. There was also the supremely ironic headline after a reveller fell into the harbour drunk "Cork man drowns". Even in tragedy there was humour.

Everybody was alert and awake so I nipped away 15 minutes early. Across the road I saw two locals throwing stones up at a window of a pub and watched curiously. A woman in a nightgown came to the window and leaned out. She started apologising for oversleeping and said she would be straight down. I later found out the pub opened at 7.30am...... and it closed at 3am* that's dedication! The pub became my end of watch watering-hole.

*the doors were actually locked at 11pm and nobody was allowed to come and go until everyone who stayed, left at three

The biggest appeal of Ireland was also the main source of irritation. Although not unique, it was the first time I experienced people that were so laid back. After the hustle and bustle of life in England the Irish seemed positively comatose. Never is the human race such a rat-race as it is in the UK. Life is to be savoured not rushed, and in Ireland most were 'savouring' every moment. the people were easy to talk to and like my grandparent's family there was always cheeky humour inserted for good measure.

For all the family occasions and get-togethers, the only Gaelic I learnt as a kid was a phrase my Uncle Mick taught me. He never told me what it meant but it incurred the wrath of my grandmother. "póg mo thóin" was the term but I pronounced it similarly to the variant Pogue Mahone which was the original name of the Pogues. It was a source of amusement when the prudish BBC talked about the new Irish band which translates as "Kiss my arse". The Pogues subsequently dropped the 'Mahone' although it was the title of their last album.

There was a lot of laughter and although I never had any problems in Cork, there was another side to the Irish I experienced in Dublin. Let's just say they could be a little pugnacious. In a bar two were fighting similarly to the Fijian guys (as told in F is for...). I was trying to play pool and a little drunk voiced my displeasure.
"Can't you do that somewhere else, I'm trying to play pool!"

It was a bit rash on reflection, in England the sparring partners would likely both have turned on me. The Irish guys apologised sincerely, moved out of the way and promptly started punching each other again. The problem I encountered was when talking to a couple of Irish guys and buying the,m a few drinks. I had plenty of money and was enjoying the company. Next to me on the other side and not in on the conversation, was the biggest guy in the pub. Anybody that knew anything about my life could predict what was going to happen next.

Whether irritated by not getting bought a drink or simply by my accent, the huge guy started mouthing off at me. He offered me outside but I told him I didn't want any trouble. It carried on after and I knew it wasn't going to go away so when he called me chicken I decided enough was enough. It's not that I had a Marty McFly moment, I didn't mind being called chicken, it was probably true. I reasoned if the gorilla got hold of me in the confined space of the bar I'd be a dead man.
"Okay then" I said and headed for the door.

I already had a plan. As I walked out the door I started to run then stopped suddenly. Spinning round I swung my fist with everything I had and he walked right on to it. He dropped like a stone and I looked at my fist in disbelief. Quickly I dashed back into the bar, I had 3/4 of a pint left and wasn't going to waste it. I'd neck it quickly and leave by the back exit. Well that was the plan. The big guy walked back in and I was thankful of the brown trousers.
"That was the best punch anyone ever gave me, will you be having a drink with me?"

We ended up best friends and the rest of the evening was probably one of the best I can't remember.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Holy F*ck

*I feel the need to reiterate these events took place 30 years ago, people and times change, what was the may no longer be now. In addition, for those following 'Gullible's Travels this is out of sequence with the story so far*

In my merchant navy days I was blissfully unaware of politics around the world. It put me in some dangerous situations, yet I remained ignorant of the danger and came through unscathed. Perhaps it was because my ease confused people, or maybe it was just dumb luck. I tend to go for the dumb luck hypothesis, it seems to be a trait with my life. For sometimes bizarre reasons I find myself in situations normal people just don't get into, then I come through the other side when most would have died. 
Less than a decade after I lost my religion and put my Catholic primary school days behind me, I had the chance to tour the 'Holy Land'. It was after I had noticed my weird (premonitions, apparitions, etc.), and had begun my research into the origins of human existence, so I was quite excited about it. I felt sure that if there was anything going on I would sense it. A bit of a stretch really, I wasn't even aware of the politics of the country. In fairness most of the news I had heard was more about the conflict with Lebanon rather than Palestine. The ship was an RFA tanker and we docked in Haifa in the north west of Israel.

It had already been quite a weird kind of experience. We had a ship's football team and our first game was against a Chilean Navy ship. We won 6-3 and I scored a hat-trick, it was in my top 3 all time games. The Chilean guys nicknamed me Georgie Best who had long since retired and was a bit before my time, but possibly the only British football player they had heard of. The fortunes for our makeshift team continued in Belgium where we entered a multi-national ships' tournament. We took the piss..... quite literally. In between games we were supping beer from the many crates we had brought with us for 'refreshments'.

After a poor start and just a draw in a game against a Finnish ship, we followed up with two wins and began to draw attention. The attention was mostly due to the speed with which we necked the beer between matches and during half-time breaks. There were over 30 ships taking part and each would play five games against randomly drawn opposition. We won the next game and we were elevated to a kind of celebrity status. People were amazed at how we were seemingly pissed as parrots by the last game, yet tournament leaders with three wins and a draw.

The last game was against the only team who could beat us, a Romanian ship which had 3 wins and a loss. We were one point ahead of them and only needed a draw. By half-time we were 2-0 down and started arguing with each other as we had our half-time cans. A few punches were thrown but it was handbags at ten paces and we settled down for the second half. I think we must have unsettled them because we came back to draw 2-2 and I scored the equaliser (my only goal of the tournament).

So back to Israel. As we approached the port of Haifa the radio officer organised a match for the next day. Due to our unbeaten status and being tournament winners, he said "Good standard of play". Big mistake.... huge! We tied up in the evening and the following morning a coach arrived to take us to the venue. Looking at the countryside from the coach I was a little worried about the state the pitch would be in. I'd played before in Peru on sandstone and ended up with bumps and minor abrasions this looked to be similar terrain.

When the coach stopped at the huge stadium we were a little puzzled. We had only played on Sunday League pictures and here we were in a huge stadium. It was kind of spooky because there were only about 30 police in the stadium, apparently there to practice crowd control drills. The opposition gave us a little heart when we saw them, they were just kids..... youths, Israeli national youth team youths. Needless to say, they annihilated us.

The police had stopped watching and left the stadium by half-time where we trailed 16-0. Their goalkeeper was so bored he played for us in the second half. We still lost 23-1 and you can guess who scored our goal. Me? Not exactly, although everybody thought so and I wasn't going to disagree. In effect I was waiting on the halfway line when our (their) keeper punted a clearance up field and I dashed to where I thought it would land. Their (our) keeper came out and we both jumped for the ball....... and both missed it. It went over our heads and into the goal.

I always justified my failure to own up about not touching the ball, by speculating the keeper would have saved it comfortably had I not been a nuisance. Having said that, it was our keeper in goal for them so nothing could be taken for granted. The other oddity is the fact that technically it was their goalkeeper that scored so their team in effect scored all 24 goals........ nah, I'm claiming that one.

Things started to go further downhill from there. We were off the next day (it was actually Easter weekend) and three of us decided to hire a car and take a look round. One of the guys produced a road map of Israel from only he knows where and off we went. That's not strictly true, there were complications. We rented a car from Herz at Haifa airport and naturally opted for the cheapest. Unfortunately the cheapest wasn't available and instead we hired one with air-conditioning at a much higher price.

Fifteen minutes on the road and the car stopped, died, downed tools. The car continued to stop, start, every ten minutes. After much ado, we sussed out that the car worked fine if we didn't use the air-conditioning. We headed south from Haifa and came to a divergence in the road, giving us a choice of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. No competition, Jerusalem was our Mecca in a bizarrely twisted metaphor.

I remember seeing a sign indicating sea-level and then the seemingly constant downhill gradient that followed. The landscape was unlike anywhere else I'd seen. It was in the most part barren but every so often there were oases of lush tomato and orange groves. Kids stood at the side of the road holding out fruit for sale. We thought they were holding huge apples but they were in fact the biggest tomatoes I'd ever seen before or since.

Jerusalem was a bit of a let down in truth. It was chock full of bloody tourists, we had landed on the most holy day in the Christian calendar. We never saw the usual places of interest, just spent a bit of time in a market place. Bethlehem wasn't much better but I insisted we see the spot where JC landed and we queued to get into this church. We were led to believe it was the oldest Christian church in existence (built in 287AD if memory serves) and purportedly built over where Jesus was born.

To get into the church you had to practically crawl through a low 'doorway'. Inside some sort of service or ceremony was going on, the burning incense hung heavy in the air, almost choking the assembled throng. Fat sweaty tourists stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for a turn to see the most holy spot on Earth (for Christians). I just wasn't feeling it. I was getting claustrophobic when one of my shipmates asked what the 'smell' was. I was tetchy and a little incredulous of his ignorance.
"It's fucking incense you idiot" I told him.

It was one of those awkward moments you get in pubs, when loud music stops suddenly as you're halfway through shouting a sentence. The sharp intake of breath from all those close enough to hear went some way to alleviating the incense problem and cured my claustrophobia. Although people were crammed in like sardines, there was a healthy 3 foot space all around me. As you may have guessed, I wasn't struck down, although I was almost arrested right outside just miuntes later.

We vacated the church and still overheating from the church I took my T-shirt off. Anybody would have thought I'd taken a dump in the middle of the street. I was soon surrounded by angry people - two of whom were in uniform - shouting what I assume was abuse at me. A fair assumption I think, considering the tone and gesticulation.  I didn't know what the hell was going on at first but it soon became apparent the sight of nipples deeply offends some cultures and I put my T-shirt back on.

I don't know if you are as ignorant of Israel's geography as we were, but up until leaving Jerusalem we had been in Israel. Now we were in Palestine and the yellow number plates on the Israeli hire car, sort of handicapped us. The Palestinian number plates were blue, something we were also unaware of but which became apparent after the fact. It was our intention to go to the Dead Sea next but we took a short detour to see King Solomon's pools. They were 2,000 year old reservoirs and quite amazing. It was a lot more serene than Jerusalem and Bethlehem, very few people were around.

We stopped on the shore of the Dead Sea by what appeared to be a deserted visitor centre. There didn't seem to be anyone around so we decided to have a dip. It was strange because we had to wade out about 50 meters and still the water only came up to our thighs. The buoyancy was incredible. I lay back in the water and floated with my legs and chest above the surface. As we left the salt dried on us in thin 'slates' which I found strange. It was like having a very thin tile stuck to my forehead.

Driving up the Jordan Valley we passed what looked to be a city of one story dwellings, so vast were they. I wondered if it was the old Jericho but never found out. It was deserted except for a few goats and their herders. In my imagination I expected the river Jordan to be mightier than it looked from the road. It seemed to be little more than a stream. We followed it north all the way to the Sea of Galilee. The water was much colder and clearer than that of the Dead Sea.

Our final stop was in Nazareth and it was there we experienced the problem number plates could cause. We left the car to get a drink and something to eat, it was night time by then. When we went back to the car there were about a dozen local people gathered nearby. When they saw us get into the car they started shouting and gathered round, rocking the car. We sped away putting one of them over the bonnet as the rocks started flying. It was a long time later I finally realised why we were targets of hostility.

So there you have it, my tour of the Holy Land, though fascinating in some respects, was disappointing in that I felt nothing. Certain places give me that 'tingle' - St. Michael's cave Gibraltar for one - a sense that I'm in a very special place, Israel didn't really do it for me.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Gullible's Travels - 5

Gullible's Travels - 4 is under 'H is for....' as a replacement post. For regular readers some of this may be familiar. It was the inspiration behind my article 'Horizons'

I had seen the English Channel and North Sea in all their magnificent fury but up to this point had yet to witness the wrath of the oceans. The Bay of Biscay had its own notoriety as it marked the end of the continental shelf and formed a bottle-neck for the incoming Gulf Stream. The depth of water plummets from 120 to 3,000 metres in just a few miles. This of course stirs up surface waters without warning. On this occasion the sea was remarkably clement and gave no indication of what was to come.

The crew was younger than on the last ship and I felt less of a kid.  I was still third youngest but most were only a little older. Of course I was immature enough to want to show my worldly wisdom. I had been deep water now, I wasn't just a rock-dodging car park attendant as ferrymen were disdainfully referred to by 'proper' seamen. Unfortunately my 'wisdom' didn't befit my self-assuredness and a tactical silence was key to avoiding the teasing heaped on the more naive youngsters. I would laugh along with the others despite not knowing what was amusing.

All in all it was a good crew and the spirits were high, that changed a couple of days out. The weather turned for the worst and this was a far cry from the stability of the supertanker. We were tossed around like peas in a hamster ball as the small cargo ship pitched and rolled every second of every day. There was a subdued silence amid all this chaos, nerves jangled but tempers were kept in check by fear. We were all in this together and we might need the man standing next to us. I was excited at first but when the hurricane hit and sleep was impossible, it felt I was being battered into submission.

Fear wasn't as much of an issue with me as with the others. My fear receptors were defective, or maybe I just felt an affinity with the sea. The sea was my salvation, my sustenance, without it I had no life to speak of. Not a life I wanted anyway, it hadn't done me any favours so far. A sudden crash and all the lights went off, alarm bells reverberated around the ship, I didn't move. I had learnt to ignore the alarm bells. They usually signified engine failure or some other engine room related problem, there was nothing I could do except get in the way.

Sleep was fitful so it made no real difference. The voyage across the Atlantic should have taken 7-10 days but a week had passed and we were barely halfway to the Americas. It was at the height of the storm I was called up to the wheelhouse for a four hour stint at the wheel. Words were in short supply and fear was evident in the eyes of seamen and officers alike. The deck-boy was on the bridge as a look-out and his cheeks were tear-stained. The haggard seaman on the wheel was only too eager to hand over the responsibility.

Under normal circumstances the ship would have been on automatic steering, it was impossible in this weather. If the set steering strayed more than ten degrees off course the alarms would sound, a single swell would spin  the head around 15-20 degrees. That was the problem with crossing the Atlantic east to west, the swells always hit on the beam. The ship rolling was more unnerving than waves breaking over the bow. There was the feeling it might not right itself and capsize. We hadn't had a hot meal for days as it was impossible to cook, not that anyone had an appetite.

The sea is an unforgiving animal and it's unwise to take liberties or underestimate the power of its mood swings. On a bright day when the surface was like glass, it was the most serene and calming feeling I had ever experienced. I would recommend it to anyone. At times like this it took a special person to endure it.

Taking the wheel I was immediately thrown off balance. It took a moment to adjust my legs to the rolling. I would bend one knee and straighten the other leg to stay upright. As the ship rolled I counteracted rhythmically, almost as though I were dancing with Poseidon himself. In the cold light of day I could see the nature of the beast. The 100 foot swells were like a vast wall of water looking for all the world about to swallow us up without even the necessity to belch. Then it would suddenly rise up beneath us, tantalisingly dangling the ship on the edge of a precipice. I began to hum.

My words were deliberately unintelligible, I didn't want the others to think me crazy. I muttered soothingly to the ocean "you're my friend, I know you won't hurt us, don't be angry" and the like. The others looked at me dancing and humming, my worries about appearing a little mad were too late. Just my perceived happy demeanour was enough to certify me. Then something strange happened. The storm began to abate, sunshine broke through the clouds ahead and suddenly life was looking brighter.

The sea taught me many lessons over time. It taught me my own insignificance and humility. It taught me fear is most often worse than reality and worry is counter-productive. I spent many hours on watch, staring at the horizon looking for land or other shipping. We spend our lives chasing horizons but they are unattainable, like the end of a rainbow. All they do is give us an indication on the course we should steer to achieve our individual goals. Horizons shift though, they are not a constant.

In bad weather or fog, the horizons all but vanish and the way ahead is hidden or obscured. It is the same in life. Circumstances beyond our control may cause us to deviate from our path. In such times it is important to focus, bend into the weather and press on regardless, trusting to fate. The storm will abate and the horizon will once again show us the way. It was there all the time, we just lost sight of it for a while.

H is for......

Holland. Okay maybe it should be N for Netherlands but there was little other choice. Haiti and Honduras were options and even Hawaii although a bit of a cheat. Regardless, I have omitted 'H' from the series as it goes back to my late teens and involves sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll which I feel is inappropriate. The story of this particular trip to Holland is told in full in 'Writing for Posterity' but for this blog it is substituted with Gullible's Travels - 4

On reflection I was glad I did the supertanker first, I didn't know it then but one decent run ashore in nearly 7 months was enough to induce cabin fever among many seamen. My naivety and adaptability, as well as my fascination with anything new, made the whole experience quite interesting. The next ship was the real deal though.

In direct contrast to the 250,000 tonne leviathan I left behind in Dubai, the next ship was a mere 6,600 tonnes. The composition crew were only fewer in number by three and it was like scaling down from a pigeon coop to a budgie cage. The cabins were much smaller and the atmosphere vastly different. This ship was to be a real adventure and would connect me with the rest of the world in ways the other could not.

Up until this point I felt a foreigner in a foreign land whenever I ventured from my island home. It felt that as a Brit I was somehow different to the rest of the world, whereas in reality we are all just people. Our trials and tribulations may vary considerably but on a grass roots level we are all the same. The adventure would begin in London just as the last one had, but it was different this time.

Instead of finding myself in a plush west end hotel to be taken to the airport by taxi in the morning, I found myself under the steps of the merchant navy federation building in the east end of London. The problem was that although I lived pretty close to London I still needed a train to get there and the coach for the airport. Having been told the coach would depart from the merchant navy building at 6am I knew I would have to spend a cold night on the streets of London. There was a train that was early enough but any delay whatsoever and I would miss the flight.

At this time I was only 17 years old but I had lived on the streets and the prospect of sleeping rough held no fear for me. It was a minor irritation, nothing more. Near the federation building was a pub and I tried to buy a beer but they wouldn't serve me. Okay I was a year under the legal drinking age but the main problem was my appearance. I still only looked like a kid even though my last growth spurt had finally begun. A man who looked to be in his late twenties watched me leave the pub and followed me out. I noticed him but didn't realise I was the object of interest as I trudged back to my resting place for the night.

The man saw me sit on the steps with my rucksack and must have thought I was homeless. I had learnt from the last ship to travel light and carried only the bare minimum. He approached me.
"I know a pub that'll serve you if you want to get out of the cold" he ventured in a thick Irish accent.
"I'm okay, I just wanted to kill some time" I told him in a rather offhand manner.

My disability had made me look at people differently. If I couldn't hear a person properly I had to learn to read them in other ways. I trusted my instincts. Only twice would they fail me when it came to people so it was wise to obey them. 'Micky', as he introduced himself, I felt I could trust. It was the early days though and I was a little cautious, Micky was bigger and maybe stronger than me but my youthful appearance belied an inner strength. The element of surprise always helped if things went wrong.

We went to another pub nearby and chatted away over a couple of beers. The more we talked the more at ease I felt. Micky had thought I was on the street and offered me a place for the night but I told him I was flying out to a ship in the morning. I went back with Micky that night and an impromptu party took place. Micky was married but his wife didn't seem at all surprised when he brought me back with him. A lady from next door came in and Micky started playing the guitar.

It felt much like when I was taken in by those wonderful people who briefly entered my life when I needed a friend most (see Tribute). I still had this thing where I hated being treated like a kid. My thoughts were confused. I wanted to recapture the childhood I felt was stolen from me yet wanted to be treated as an adult. The neighbour lady, 'Joss' (Jocelyn?) was attractive and seemed to like me. This was confirmed when Micky announced he and his wife were going to bed.
"It's half past four, I have to go in an hour" I whined.

Quite selfishly, I thought they had stayed up and partied this long, another hour wouldn't hurt. It would be fatal if I went to sleep now. 
"Just gives you and Joss enough time to get better acquainted then" Micky said with a smirk and he and his wife left the room.

Ever the idiot I didn't know what he meant, until I looked at Joss. She had that look in her eye I had seen before from a couple of older ladies. Coy but predatory. Just over an hour later I was hurrying out the door to get back to the rendezvous point. 
"Come and see me when you get back" Joss said and kissed my forehead like I was suddenly a child again.

It was odd that I found it irritating but I didn't understand things back then. I smacked her bum cheekily and promised I would see her again. The short distance back to the federation building was a blur. The sun hadn't risen yet but the twilight gave that eerie, yet oddly comforting feeling I only ever had in London. It was a special city indeed. The other new crew members were already gathering outside the federation and I was immediately labelled 'Moonie' as I floated on air whistling all the while. They suspected I had some kind of mental disability and in hindsight they had a point. It was cold and everybody was tired and only half awake but I was smiling from ear to ear and on top of the world. Clearly insane.

The coach took us from London to Gatwick Airport as the flight to Brest in France was little more than a domestic flight in distance. I had a window seat overlooking a wing. There appeared to be a rivet missing which I promptly pointed out to the stewardess. She whispered in my ear.
"Don't worry sir, there are another 19,999 keeping it on"

In contrast to the Jumbo Jets I had flown on, this plane had propellers and my concerns over the missing rivet were amplified as I experienced the worst turbulence I would ever witness on any flight. The plane just suddenly seemed to free-fall like being dropped through a trap door then bounce as if on an invisible trampoline. It was disconcerting more because I had never experienced even slight turbulence before and didn't know what was going on. The relief was evident on the faces of everybody when we bounced uncertainly on the tarmac of Brest airport little more than an hour later.

The first sight of the ship was a lot different to seeing the supertanker for the first time. I wouldn't say it was underwhelming, I had just expected it to be bigger. Although it was the same gross tonnage as the ferry boats I had worked on, being a cargo ship it was a lot smaller in size. The appeal for me was the layout, this was a real ship. It wasn't some gigantic floating oil refinery, nor was it a hollow box-like ferry boat. This had derricks, cranes and cargo holds. Up until now I had been a glorified painter and decorator but now I would be a real seaman.

[I have had many visits to France and will post about the most significant in a future post, Brest was quite uneventful by comparison]

Next up in Gullible's travels, the wrath of the Atlantic (which inspired my 'Horizons' article) and a visit to my favourite place on Earth