A voyage of a lifetime

I had the intention of writing about my first voyage in a vessel belonging to the British Merchant Navy for many years. However, what with one thing and another I have never got around to it. Nevertheless, the story of that momentous stage of my life, my emergence into adulthood has never been far from the front of my thoughts.

Having now, for some unknown reason, reached the age of sixty years, another momentous stage of my life, I feel the time is more than ripe.

I had been born in the North Yorkshire town of Scarborough at the midnight of the 10th /11thof May 1948 and officially my date of birth has always been recorded at the 11th of May.

The only son of Alfred and Dorothy Trotter I had begun my escape to the sea at a very early age, when possibly aged but two years I had made my perilous way from my home in the town's St Thomas's Walk [now the Corporation car park in North Street] to the beach, where I had eventually been found by a member of Scarborough's Constabulary apparently digging a large hole in South Bay beach.

Appropriately apprehended by the law I was taken to the police station located in St Thomas Street and my distraught parents had been called for and duly warned that if it happened again I would be taken into care.

Nevertheless, despite numerous other 'escapes' I had remained with my long suffering parents and had eventually been able to be allowed out on my own to find what would perhaps lay in store throughout the reminder of my life.

Always attracted to the sea and the vessels that had plied that magical kingdom of the unknown, I had at first hung around the town's pleasure craft, and especially a motor boat that had been ran by a grizzled old seaman named Billy Wood.

Known universally by Scarborough's 'bottom end' fraternity as 'Blondie' despite his bluff exterior Bill had been my mentor and teacher of the ways of boats and the sea throughout my childhood and had been one of those people that one would never tire of throughout life and we had remained friends until Blondie's untimely death many years later.

A pupil of Scarborough's Graham Sea Training School from 1959 to 1963, I had originally hoped for a career in the Royal Navy, but colour blindness had denied this ambition and I had eventually enrolled for training as a 'Catering Boy' in the Merchant Navy.

Sent for eight weeks of training at Training Ship Vinicatrix, the National Sea Training Schools establishment at Sharpness in Gloucestershire, I had had endured the rigours of life there whilst learning how to lay tables and serve food using silver service, skills that had been of no use during my first trip to sea.

I had left the 'Vindi' in a flourish of euphoria during the summer of 1964 equipped with a travel warrant to my adopted 'pool' port of Middlesborough and very little else. The rest of my journey into life follows.

Warning; A tale of a common sailor my book contains a certain amount of swearing that may easily offend the weak of heart and if you are amongst those who are easily offended by bad language my story is not for you.

Setting my sails

My train had eventually steamed into York Station. Feeling terribly homesick, for an instant I had been of the mind of chucking the whole notion of going to sea overboard to make my way to the safety of home barely an hour's train ride away, but this had drifted from my thoughts and I had elected to seek adventure, a cup of mother's tea would have been most welcome though.

Having known little of the existence of Middlesbrough before joining the M.N., I had been unaware that the place had even had a port, and would have much preferred to have had Hull as my 'Pool Port'.

A city I had visited on a couple of occasions I had often glimpsed the massive Blue Star Line steamers that I had imagined had sailed off to all the exotic places in the world and I had imagined myself standing at the rail of one of these fine ships has she had steamed into a distant harbour, but Middlesbrough? Where the hell would ships sail to from this seemingly god-forsaken town?

Anyway I had duly arrived at the city's railway station and hefting my uncle's borrowed kit bag I had set off to find the British Shipping Federation's Office located in a now long forgotten street.

I had eventually found the small brick office close to the waterfront and to my surprise there had been many vessels of all types moored in the slow flowing River Tees awaiting their turn to come alongside to unload their cargoes whilst a number of dock cranes had been busy unloading those fortunate to be alongside.

Feeling decidedly nervous I had launched myself through the door of the 'Pool Office' to join a number of men I presumed to be seafarers awaiting their turn at the desk. Much like a Labour Exchange, the 'Pool Office had had a large blackboard on a wall containing the names of all the vessels in Middlesbrough that were in need of crew members, ad whilst I had awaited my turn I had spied the board to imagine which ship I would end up in.

However, my reverie had soon been cut short by the bespectacled officer at the desk who had motioned me forward with the flick of his finger. Dressed in the uniform that I had been issued with at the Training School, a navy blue battledress jacket, woollen trousers, shirt and tie, and cardboard 'Vindi boots, topped by a beret, I had felt distinctly out of place in the room full of men dressed in casual clothes, it did not take a genius to gather that I was new to the game, nevertheless, the obnoxious man behind the desk had called; 'What are you standing there for? Get yourself over here. 'Straight from the 'Vindi' are you? Yes I answered in a rather meek voice.

Eying my brand new Seaman's Discharge Book and me up and down from behind his glasses the thin man had continued 'got a proficiency badge too, what did you get that for? I had actually got it for making a good cup of officers tea, but I had elected to lie and say that it was for 'good work in general'. 'Well, the old boy had replied, we had better get you a good ship!'

Eying his large blackboard the officer had said; 'ha the very vessel, the Tucurinca is almost two years old and needs a galley boy, she's in dry-dock at the moment so I'm going to send you home for a week, I will then send for you and you are to report back to me and I will tell you where to join her. Is that understood'?

Yes said I, glad to be able to spend sometime at home before actually putting to sea [in training school we had heard terrible stories of boy's going to their pool offices and being shipped out straight away without home leave].

Armed with a travel warrant for my homeward journey to Scarborough, I just been about to leave the pool office when I had overheard two seamen talking in the doorway.

One had said to the other 'I see bastard Benfield is on form today, the other had replied 'f**k it, I'll come back tomorrow, perhaps he'll be in a better mood'. The three of us had duly left the kingdom of 'bastard Benfield' [I would meet Mr Benfield throughout the rest of my career in the Merchant Navy and he had never been in a better frame of mind].

So I had spent a week at home luxuriating in my mother's home cooking and the knowledge that I did not have to go to sea for a whole seven days. During this period of ease I had inevitably hung around town with my friends.

Some had already been strapped to work in factories and shops; whilst a number had not yet found work [one or two had also been missing due to them being incarcerated at 'Her Majesties pleasure'].

During my week at home I had savoured the last of my days of adolescence hanging round with my chums ogling girls outside the Odeon Cinema along with places such as Alec and George's Amusement Arcade. Located in Eastborough, this place is now just a Bingo Hall with a few slot machines, however, during the sixties 'A & G's had had one of the best Juke Boxes in town and we had hung out in there listening to all the top hits of the time, which in my mind had been any Beatles or Rolling Stones tune.

The two old boys who had run the amusements had been pretty lenient towards our gang of reprobates, but I remember once having kicked on their fruit machines that had not paid out after I had scored three cherries in a row.

This had caused Alec to go ballistic and he had thrown the lot of us out barring us for life until brother George had intervened by saying 'you can come back tomorrow, but if you kick our f**king machines again you will never set foot in our place again'. I never did kick their f**king machines again.

I had duly received a telegram during that Saturday afternoon telling me to report back to Middlesborough on Monday morning and for a final fling my chums and I had elected to go to the St Peter's Club dance on Sunday night.

Situated in St. Nicholas Street, St Peter's Club had been the forerunner of the soon to become famous 'Penthouse nightclub', and had been very popular place for teenagers during the early sixties.

In those days drugs had not yet been heard of and we had generally got high on a couple of Woodbine cigarettes and a pint of cider from the White Horse pub which had been located in St Thomas Street, which had been given to us by a friendly barman who had turned a blind eye to our obviously tender years.

Anyway fired up with a pint of 'scrumpy' we had gone to St Peter's and had been enjoying the sounds of one of the many local bands when a fight had started, which had almost inevitably happened every Sunday night.

Of course my chums and I had got stuck in and I had been doing all right until I had been whacked in the eye by a mighty smack either from a chair or the kick of an elephant that had sent me reeling. Badly wounded and with blood pouring from a gash above my left eye, there had been talk of calling for an ambulance, but in the event I had opted for a towel soaked in cold water that had soon turned to the colour of crimson.

That had been the end of my stay in Scarborough. Battered and bruised our gang had walked the three miles over Oliver's Mount to our various homes in the Eastfield estate of the town where I had said goodbye to the chums that I would not see for eight months, by which time we had all changed forever.

Nursing a massive black eye on the Monday morning my mother had been horrified to see the state I had been in. Mum had been of the opinion that I telephone the pool office to say I was unable to report for duty that day.

Bravado on my part however had insisted that I was alright and after a cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon washed down with a strong cup of tea I had collected my already assembled kit and launched myself through the door Kissing mother goodbye I had once again walked out of her life turning back I had seen her still waving from our front door tears rolling down her cheeks.

Thankfully father had already been at work and I had been saved the embarrassment of having to explain how I had got the black eye.

It had taken over two hours for the bus taking me to Middlesborough to reach its destination. During that time we had threaded our laborious way through every village between Scarborough and the city.

Nevertheless never having taken that route before, the journey over the Moors had been pleasant and I had enjoyed looking out of my one good eye at the undulating heather covered plains as they had sped by my window.

Eventually arriving back at the pool office once again dressed in my uniform I had looked decidedly out of place amongst the crowd of casually dressed seamen that had also were also being assigned to various vessels that day.

I had been glad to find 'Bastard Benfield' had not been around that morning, nevertheless, his deputy had been a carbon copy of the obnoxious officer and this one had seeming gone to ends of the earth to prove it.

'How did you get the black eye'? Had been his opening remark, 'I've been involved in a fight last night, I had replied'.

Well, he said if you are a fighter you have no place at sea' your best bet is to go back home and get yourself a manager if you want a career in the ring'. I had then gone through the whole rigmarole of the story of how I had gone with friends to the dance and had become involved in a fight that was not of our making.

The old boy had listened as if he had heard it all before, and at the end of my tale. He had merely shrugged and said not to appear in office again in that state.

'What sort of impression do you think you are going to make turning up at a ship looking as if you have done ten rounds with Joe Louis?

Anyway, the old boy had eventually been given instructions to join a ship name the S.S. Tucurinca, a 'banana boat' owned by Elders & Fyffe's Fruit Company, which at that moment had been moored 'over the river' at 'Grey's, another place I had never heard of.

After a cursory glance at my still pristine seaman's books I had been give five shillings for the bus journey to 'Greys' and directed back into the centre of Middlesborough where I had found a bus that had taken me over the dirty River Tees towards the first ship of my seafaring career.

The ship

Looking out of the bus window I could see nothing but lots of smoke belching factories and other installations amongst a stark landscape of nothingness until I had eventually spied three merchant vessels moored almost head to stern to a distant dockside. Much like ogling the girls of Scarborough I had imagined which I had fancied the most, and which had been the Tucurinca.

The first in the line of three had looked rust streaked and unkempt and I had hoped this was not she. The ship on the end of the row had looked a little better and I had thought she hadn't looked too bad, but the best of the three had been in the centre of the line.

Painted white with a huge buff coloured funnel this beauty had stood out from the others like the proverbial sore thumb and I had preyed that she was to be my new home.

Soon the bus had dropped me off at the gates of this isolated dockyard, and hoisting my trusty kitbag onto my shoulder I had approached the guard on the gate of the complex that had let me through with barely a glance at my seaman's papers.

As the three seemingly huge ships had got closer I had noticed the names painted on their bow. The first had not been my vessel but the beauty in the middle, to my delight, had been the Tucurinca, and soon I had been climbing the steep accommodation ladder towards the deck of this fine ship.

Named after a river in North Western Columbia and built in Germany, Tucurinca had been two years old by the time I had joined her in the summer of 1964. Constructed for the Surrey Shipping Company of London, she had been the youngest of six vessels with names beginning with T'' that had generally been known as 'T Boats'.

Flying the House Flag of Elders and Fyffes in 1964, she had been under the command of Captain Edward Whitehouse. Weighing 6,738 tons gross, my new home had had a length of around 137 metres with a width of 59 metres.

Powered by two steam turbines engines the Tucurinca had been designed to carry her cargo of fruit at around 23 knots comfortably, but having been built on the lines of an ocean greyhound she had always had the tendency to roll, as the old hand's had so rightly often said 'on a wet f**king lawn'.

I had been met at the top of the gangway by a soft-spoken grizzled old seaman who had turned out to be Tucurinca's Seychelles born Boatswain. His name now lost in time the chief of the ship's Petty Officers had asked my business and had eventually led me into a carpeted alleyway, which, lined with cabin doors bearing the nameplates of the Tucurinca's officers, I had assumed to be 'officers country'.

Eventually led to the cabin of the ship's Chief Steward, I had found a gentle giant named Mr. Peter Castrey. Amongst the finest of people I have had the fortune to meet in my lifetime Mr. Castrey had been the epitome of the British gentleman and had been my 'boss' throughout that first trip.

After a short interview Mr. Castrey had been taken down another flight of stairs into the Officers Saloon, where, according to my now battered Seaman's 'Discharge Book, I had duly signed my name in a large register known as the 'ship's articles', on the 27th of July 1964.

Rated as 'Catering Boy', and the youngest person in the ship, I had been number '42' in a crew of forty two officers and men and had committed my life to the vessel for the customary two years, or until the ship had once again docked in a British port in return for food, clean bedding, and as much work as could be crammed into a twenty four hour day, and all for the princely wage of seventeen pounds per month.

Having signed my life away the Chief Steward had taken me into the ship's Galley where I had been introduced to the ship's cook, Mr. George Sowden.

Amongst the few people whose name I have never forgotten in over forty years of life, the broken nosed 'Scouser' had been what one could safely call a proper bastard, and for some unknown reason this God forsaken person and I had never got on and throughout the eight months that I had been in his hands I had undergone sheer torment.

With stainless steel bulkheads [walls] and deckhead [ceiling] the Ship's Galley had been little more than a stainless steel coated box.

Fronted by three brass barred portholes the compartment had been dominated by a massive cowled cooking range in its centre, whilst the sides of the box had been filled with various stainless steel work surfaces and shelves filled with pots and pans of all sizes.

In a corner had also stood a huge food mixer, whilst against another bulkhead had stood the mouth of a huge chute popularly known as 'the shit chute', which had been securely closed whilst alongside, which would be opened once at sea, down which all the Galley's refuse would be tipped.

Standing next to this had been a potato-peeling machine that I was to become well acquainted with during the forthcoming voyage.

Left in the hands of Sowden his first words had been 'a f**king first tripper eh'? Yes I said, 'well let me tell you I don't like first trippers' the Scouse git had replied and shaking his head he had gone on to tell me of my duties that I would be expected to do which had turned out to be everything other than actually cooking the food.

Sowden had then taken down another flight of ladders to the storerooms situated on a 'flat' that had had access to the engine room, where he had shown round the spacious food refrigerators and vegetable locker. 'These will need f**king cleaning as well', the boxer faced cook had told me in his soon to become never to be forgotten bluff Liverpudlian accent, 'and guess whose f**king job that will be'?

Feeling decidedly '3F' by this time ['Fed up, f**ked up, and Far from home'] I had thought of 'jumping ship' right there and then, but then I had thought of the no hope alternatives of working in dead end jobs in Scarborough and had decided to stay, no matter what that f**king idiot had thrown at me.

With few of the crew aboard at that time Sowden had begrudgingly given me that day off, and I had been shown into a three berth cabin on the Starboard side of the ship's accommodation that would be my home for the ensuing eight months of my life.

Having packed my few possessions away in a locker in my cabin I had elected to take a look around the ship, come and take a look with me.

Perhaps the most striking feature of my new home had been her massively flared bow. Sloping at an angle of perhaps forty-five degrees, standing at the very tip of the ship and peering over the side nothing had been under me but the very dark water of the Tees.

Leaving the forecastle I had walked back along the ship's grey painted deck passing her two forward cargo hatches and massive foremast festooned with lights and cables attached to the winches that had operated four forward cargo derricks. Climbing the ladder back into the accommodation block I had walked under one of the two ship's lifeboats, hoping that I would never have to sit in one.

Climbing up more ladders I had arrived at my ship's magnificent buff painted funnel that had encased a jungle of exhaust pipes from the engines far below. The bridge door had been locked and I had been unable to gain access to the vast array of instruments and the large ship's wheel that would eventually steer the ship to her various destinations.

On the afterdeck there had been another two cargo hatches each with their attendant derricks and winches. Passing these I had arrived at a small deckhouse on the ship's poop that I had eventually found had acted as steering position in times of emergency and as a bridge for the officer taking charge of the after part of the ship whilst she had been docking.

Standing right aft I had stood on the Tucurinca's beautifully curved cruiser stern and had gazed up at the large Red Ensign that had fluttered in the breeze of the afternoon and wondered what my out of work mates had been doing at that moment.

Inside, the crew accommodation of Tucurinca had been divided into two halves that had been dissected by a recreation room in the after part, and various toilets and showers in the middle of a housing whose watertight doors had led down into the ship's engine and boiler rooms.

On the starboard side of the accommodation had been situated a small hospital and the cabins belonging to the staff of the catering and engine room departments, whilst the deck crew and petty officers such as the cook, bosun, and ship's carpenter had resided on the port side.

At the forward end of the accommodation had been situated the officers saloon, galley, and crew mess room a spacious area that would eventually be the hub of the life of over twenty ratings whether the ship be in port or at sea.

I spent my first night aboard in my cabin with the door firmly locked. With few people around there had been little sound other than the whirring of a generator and the tinny noise of a radio being played in some other part of the accommodation.

I must have dozed off, however, because at the crack of daylight I had been awoken with a knocking at the door and the voice of someone telling me to get dressed and 'turned to', whatever that had meant.

After a quick wash in the nearby crew toilets and shower room known as 'the heads', I had duly reported to the Galley where Sowden had already been traying up rashers of bacon and sliced tomatoes. 'Peel some spuds, he had said in his usual gruff manner. 'How many'? I had replied, turning around from his task the bastard had said; get a sack up from down below, open the f**king thing and start peeling, I'll tell you when to f**king stop'!

Heading down to the veg room as instructed I had taken a sack of potatoes from a large pile located in the corner of the large room, and after locking up I had returned to the galley up the ladder with the sack on my back.

Inside the kitchen I had found Sowden talking to another 'scouser' however, unlike the cook, this fellow had been much more jocular and friendly.

Looking like Groucho Marx with his large black bushy eyebrows and moustache, the bespectacled Jimmy Martin had been the Tucurinca's Second Steward; however throughout the voyage I would only call his 'Sec'. A born comedian, Jim had made me laugh from the outset by saying 'stuck with this miserable bastard are you'?

I had mistakenly replied 'seems so' which had inevitably caused my new boss to almost turn crimson with rage. Jim, had however, seen the signs and had quickly launched into a chorus or two of 'Maggie May' to the accompaniment of much pan bashing with a pair of wooden cooking spoons the impromptu entertainment a delight to me, but seemingly an annoyance to Sowden who had returned grumbling to his task of preparing breakfast.

Sat on an upturned bucket just inside the doorway of the galley I had begun my task of peeling the sack of potatoes with a sharp knife. Soon I had been joined by the comedian Second Steward who had said; 'I known a good way of getting the eyes out of potatoes without even touching them'.

Intrigued, I had replied; 'how do you do that then'? The 'Sec had duly given me a large wink of his eye and had said 'put them in a bucket of water with a couple of onions that'll make them cry their eyes out'! Before I could reply the Steward had been walking down the corridor whilst bellowing with laughter. And this had only the start of the voyage!

Throughout the remainder of my first day of work Sowden and I had not only thrown a breakfast but also a dinner and evening meal together and by the end of the day I had been totally whacked. However, having already washed two sets of kitchen utensils I had also to 'strap up' after the evening meal and in addition scrub the deck of the kitchen before I could call it a day.

This had been the time, when dog tired; I had asked Sowden what I should do with some waste food that had been laying in the bottom of a pan. Sowden had told me to 'Throw it over the f**king wall', and not realising that the cook had meant throw it [illegally] into the Tees, the wall surrounding the dockyard had come to mind and I had duly marched down the Tucurinca's gangway with my pan of rubbish and had, after a couple of futile attempts I had eventually thrown the pan over the said dockyard wall.

Returning to the ship empty handed the cook had obviously asked where his pan had gone, and had gone ballistic when I had told him of its fate. 'What the f**k have you done, as if not quite understanding what I had said.

You've thrown a f**king pan over the dockyard wall! Wait there; the Chief Steward has got to hear this f**king tale. Mr. Castrey had duly returned with Sowden and with a big grin on his large face he had said; well 'Gal' [short for 'galley boy] what have you been doing with the Chef's pans?

I had launched into my tale of asking the chef what I should do with the rubbish and of he having told me to 'throw it over the f**king wall'--- so I had done'.

Finally bursting into a thunderous bout of laughter, once the Chief Steward had been able to catch his breath he had said; 'Very good, you had merely done as you had been told and I admire your throwing abilities for that wall must be over ten feet tall'. 'Yes' I had replied, 'it had taken a few attempts, but I had finally got it over on the eighth try'!

By this time even Sowden had been laughing and I had eventually been told to get my head down for the night. The story of this escapade had been the source of much mirth throughout the remainder of the trip. However, no one had ever told me to throw anything over the wall again.

Throughout the next few days various other members of the crew had joined the workforce aboard Tucurinca. Stewards, Able Seamen, Ordinary Seamen, and Firemen Water tenders' [engine room crew] had begun to arrive aboard the previously silent ship's alleyway ringing to the sound of predominantly Geordie voices.

One day a young Ordinary Seaman named Dave Brewins had also joined the ship, and although a couple of years older than I, Dave had become a friend with whom I had shared most of my adventures as the voyage had progressed.

Also amongst those that had joined the ship had been a moustachioed 'Second Cook and Baker' whose name now escapes me. I remember little else of this fellow because as soon as we had reached our first foreign port he had when he had deserted, or 'skinned out' from the vessel.

By the end of my second week aboard Tucurinca had almost completed her refit, and with the day of her departure growing ever cdloser, the Chief Steward had allowed me, much to the chagrin of 'chef' Sowden, to go home for the weekend.

Still in a time without the 'mobile phone' I had had no communication with my parents since I had left home almost two weeks before, and so I had jumped at the chance to return to Scarborough for a couple of days, if only to boast of my adventures as a 'veteran seaman in the British Mercantile Marine.

Back in the 1960's my mother had been working in Scarborough as a housekeeper in a family run hotel located in St Nicholas Cliff called 'The New Imperial Hotel'. Now a block of flats known as 'Mc Bean Apartments', the hotel had been one of those whose patrons had returned year after year, and as mum had worked there since I was very small everyone had known 'Dot'.

As my bus had arrived in Scarborough at about lunchtime on that hot Saturday in July I had known that lunch would be in the process of being served, and with a hot meal in the offing I had hightailed to the hotel.

An unexpected visitor my mother and the remainder of the staff of the New Imperial had been overjoyed to see me, and after a large number of embarrassing hugs and kisses I had been sat at the kitchen table enjoying a plate of my mother's renowned homemade steak and kidney pie accompanied by all the trimmings.

Of course everyone had wanted to know how I had got on since I had left home, and leaving out the episode of the chucking of the pan over the dockyard wall I had related all my activities aboard ship in between mouthfuls of mum's delicious pie. A good dollop of home made apple pie and custard had followed, and by the time I had finished my lunch I had told my story.

Well used to washing up by this time I had eventually helped with the washing of the hotel's lunch plates and cutlery. However, mum could not resist taking me up to the dining room to meet the hotel's guests, many of whom had known me since I had been very small, and once again I had had to go though the torment of being hugged and kissed by those lovely people, who, over a cup of tea had insisted that I go over my story of shipboard life.

Later that afternoon I had jumped on the bus going to Eastfield Housing Estate and soon I had been reunited with my father. A man of few words Dad had had little to say other than 'ello, how long are you stopping'? Replying 'just the weekend' he had soon returned to watching hors racing on television and I had also slumped into a chair to join him in watching the 'gee gees'.

However, word had soon travelled round our street that I had returned home, and within an hour of stepping through our front door I had been washed and changed and out on the street with my chums. With little money between us we had eventually set off walking the three miles into Scarborough, but a friendly motorist had shortly picked us up to give us a life into town.

Back in A & G's Amusements, my chums and I had been joined by a group of local girls that we had often hung around with. I had especially 'fancied' a girl who I shall name Rose, and eventually her friend had said 'Rose don't half fancy you'.

My face had instantly flushed the colour of blood and my mates had given their customary chorus of wolf whistles and any other saying that had been guaranteed to embarrass.

I had eventually plucked up some courage and had spoken to Rose, telling her that I would soon be returning to sea, but if she gave me her address I would write to her.

Rose had scribbled her name and address on the back of a cigarette packet, but somewhere along the line, by the time I had got back to Tucurinca I had lost her precious address and we had never met again until years later, when it had been too late.

On Sunday night my chums and I had scraped enough money together to once again go to the dance at St Peters.

Buoyed up with our customary one pint of cider each, we had listened and danced in the packed room to songs that had been played by one of Scarborough best bands, 'The Mandrakes' whose flamboyant singer, a certain Mr. Robert Palmer, would eventually become a famous rock star. However, still bearing the scars of our last visit to the club, we had elected to leave before closing time, to walk the customary three ragged miles over Oliver's Mount to our homes in Eastfield.

I had duly set off for Middlesborough once again on Monday morning. Promising my parents that I would write soon I had boarded the bus bearing many people destined for work in Scarborough that morning in the knowledge that soon I would soon be in an exotic country far from the monotony of their drab nine to five jobs.

Arriving on board later in the day, I had found that I had acquired two cabin mates. Both of them rated as 'Assistant Stewards', Bob had been a morose thirty something Scotsman who had brought a portable record player with him along with a large collection of Country and Western records that would soon be heard at all hours of the day and night throughout the length and breadth of the ship's accommodation, until someone had 'accidentally' smashed his infernal record player.

The other man had been Irish. Inevitably named 'Paddy' he had been in his sixties and according to him he had been sailing the seven seas before the outbreak of war in 1939.

However, the worst thing about Paddy had been his disgusting nocturnal habit of urinating in the middle of the night in anything that had come to hand, shoes had been his speciality, with clothes drawers coming a close second in preference.

Changing into working gear I had 'turned to' to find the Galley sink packed high with dirty pots and pans awaiting washing. Sowden had been busy cooking lunch when I had arrived but he had soon called over to me; 'and when you've finished washing that f**king lot there is a load that needs washing in the pantry. Nothing had changed since I had been away.

We had sailed on Tuesday. With the vibration from the ship's engines making the pans in the Galley vibrate, once the large dock gangway had been removed from the ship's deck, and all her moorings had been 'slipped', a tug had helped the Tucurinca move out of the dry-dock that had been her home for over a month, and swinging round to face the sea we had begun to steam down the Tees towards the sea.

Passing numerous shore side installations and houses I had watched from the ship's rail as my home county had gradually slipped away from me. Glad to be on the move at last, I had returned to the galley with an excitement in my heart that I had never experienced before continuing with my work,

However, the galley floor had shortly begun to rise as we had reached the mouth of the great river, and Tucurinca had placed her graceful bow tentatively into the salt water of the North Sea. With no cargo in her holds the ship had been light and had soon assumed her characteristic rolling motion.

Which had been so pronounced at one point that the majority of the midday meal had ended up on the deck. Sowden had been so taken aback by this catastrophe that he had merely said; I didn't believe it when I had been told these f**king ships would roll on a wet f**king lawn, now I know its f**king true'!

The Second Cook and Baker and I had hid our laughter by turning our backs on the fuming chef and we had duly helped him to set up a vast array of 'stove bars' across the top of the ship's cooker that had been intended to stop cooking utensils from sliding off the stove again, we had never taken these off again until we had reached England eight months later.

At sea Tucurinca had been a different ship. At night alongside the dock she had been silent, but at sea there had always been the sound of creaking, which to a first tripper like myself had sounded as if the ship was a bout to break up, but I had been relieved to find that all ships creak as they bend to the motion of the sea, and apparently the time to start worrying is when they stop doing this.

A few hours after leaving the Tees I had been working in the Galley when I had received a summons to report to the bridge. Climbing the four flights of stair to the wheelhouse I had wondered what I had done wrong to be called to this hallowed ground. However upon my arrival there I had been greeted by Captain Whitehouse who had asked if I had wanted to take a look at Scarborough as we had sped past.

Taking the Captain's proffered binoculars over in the distance I could see the myriad of coloured lights lining the foreshore of my town and had even seen the windows belonging to the dining room of The New Imperial Hotel, behind which my mother had in all probability been preparing to serve that day's evening meal.

Wondering if my mum had been thinking of me at that moment. Fighting back my massive pangs of homesickness I had duly thanked the Captain for use of his binoculars and with a large lump in my throat and feelings of being so very far from home, I had returned to my duties in the Galley.

Later that evening the Chief Steward had opened the ship's Bonded Store for the first time. Packed with all the popular brands of English cigarettes and cases of beer, I had bought a carton of two hundred Senior Service cigarettes for fifty pence. Sadly aged under eighteen I had not been allowed to buy alcohol and had contented myself with two cans of Coke that I had later exchanged with my mate Dave for two cans of Tennants Export beer, which I had drank far from the eyes of prying officers right at the stern of the ship, which had been my favourite part of the ship, and where I would spend many an off duty hour watching the wake of the Tucurinca as it had snaked back into the distant horizon.

Our first port of call had been Rotterdam. Arriving in that great port the day after we had left the Tees, Tucurinca had soon been steered by tugs towards a pier, where once we had been secured alongside her cargo hatches had been opened to allow the loading of our first cargo, a load of fertiliser smelling strongly of ammonium, that had generally been regarded by the crew as 'horse piss'.

Before we had arrived in port each man, including myself had been given a ten pounds 'sub' from his wages and once the gangway had been in place many of our crew had disappeared 'up the road' in the direction of the nearest bar.

There had been no such luck for me for there had inevitably been another meal to prepare for and I had remained at work until around seven when I had quickly changed into my 'shore clothes' to take a look at my first foreign country.

However, unknown to me our ship had been berthed miles from the nightlife of Rotterdam and after a walking a few miles through a seemingly endless stream of industrial installations I had I had given up the ghost and had turned around to head back to the ship, which by the time her tall funnel had hove into view had been a welcoming sight.

I had slept alone that night, my two cabin mates having gone ashore. However, during the early hours I had been awoken by their arrival back at the cabin, and although these two had soon fallen into a deep slumber I had not been able to get back to sleep and had witnessed Paddy's first nocturnal foray to the toilet, my locker!

In a flash I had jumped out of my bunk and had dragged the old bastard out of my belongings before he had done any harm. Mumbling something incoherent the old Irishman had staggered off to the heads where he had eventually fallen asleep [or collapsed] on the tiled floor.

Whilst we had loaded our cargo of horse piss the routine of the ship had continued. I had invariably begun work at around 6am each day with the cleaning of three 56 pounds bags of potatoes; these would be followed with the preparation of all the vegetables that would be needed for that day's menu, which had invariably consisted of a cooked breakfast, a full meal at lunchtime, and a cooked tea in the evening.

All the pots and pans that would be used that day and all the work surfaces and floor had had to be cleaned before I could call it a day which had generally been at around 9pm each day.

During that time, apart from the time I had taken to eat a hurried breakfast, dinner, and tea, I would have only had one break, which had been the two hours between four and six each evening, when the serving of the officers and Crew's evening meal had begun.

During our second day in Rotterdam I had badly scalded my hands in a sink of hot water that had seen me being taken to a hospital in Rotterdam where my painful hands had been bathed and eventually bandaged by a very pretty English speaking Dutch nurse before being returned to the ship.

Excused work for three days, I had been amongst the mad rush of seamen, including my chum Dave, that had boarded a 'water taxi' that had flitted between the various vessels that had been moored nearby picking up knots of expectant seamen along the way.

My fellow crew members and I had eventually been landed in a notorious sector of Rotterdam known as 'Chinatown'. Leaving Dave and I to our own devices the other seamen had gone their way whilst the two of us had eventually been enticed into a bar by a semi naked girl who had been dancing in a window of the gaudily lit music place.

Resembling one of those saloons that I had so often seen in old western movies, the Coco Bar had been filled with smoke from perhaps a thousand cigarettes and had a hive of activity and to my young eyes had seemed to have been packed to the walls and ceiling with drunken cavorting seamen and women.

Over in a corner we had found a table around which a number of Tucurinca's crew had been sat. One of the ship's men had already passed out, his head resting on the table; he would occasional mumble some incoherent word. No-one else at the table had seeming bothered with this man, each engrossed in his own alcoholic world.

Sipping at a bottle of coke, one of our seamen had asked me 'what the f**k is that'? Replying 'Coke' rather timidly, the bottle had, in a flash been thrown against the wall, and the sailor had said 'if you sit with us you don't drink f**king coke'. Now either get a beer or f**k off'!

Returning to the crowed bar I had bought a bottle of the Dutch been known as 'Oranjeboom', my first taste of alcohol in a foreign land. Cool and clinging to the glass like nectar, one Oranjeboom had followed another and before too long, like the rest of the men around the table, I had been 'pissed'.

Around us brightly painted women had trailed around the tables their comely smiles offering a 'short time' for fifty guilders.

What a 'short time' had been I had had little idea, however, a group of these women had eventually arrived at our table and soon a young 'dusky' woman of around twenty years of age had been sitting on my lap. 'You want to come to my room'?

The woman had whispered in my ear. 'What for' had been the only words that had escaped my mouth. 'For to f**k me' had been her reply, and before I could reply she had whipped out one of her breast and placed it in my hand. Thus far in my life I had barely touched a girl on her arm, never mind having had a breast in my hand.

Visibly trembling with, was it fear or anticipation I still don't know, but with very little money in my possession I had had to reply, 'no thanks' to which she had replied 'bastard' and had shortly retrieved her breast and moved on to someone else. Oh the wonders of youth!

During the early hours of the following day a group of us had found our way to the deserted jetty from where we should have found a 'water taxi'.

Upon reaching the empty pier on of our number had shouted; 'here we are boys all aboard the skylark' and had promptly dropped into the oily grey water. In the fast flowing water the unfortunate seaman had soon been swept away from the jetty and only by swimming with all his might had he managed to reach the harbour wall some distance away from out astonished group,

The guy, by this time fully sober had eventually squelched his way back to our little band and had said; I could have sworn there had been a f**king boat alongside'! By this time I had also regained some common sense and I had begun to realise that I was indeed in the company of a bunch of lunatics.

Arriving back at Tucurinca we had been met at the top of her gangway by the ship's Third Officer.

Ignoring the majority of our drunken band the officer had singled me out and had asked if I was drunk. 'Of course not' said I, nonetheless the officer had smelt alcohol on my breath and had given me a pretty severe dressing down for having the odour of alcohol on my breath; Having been aged under eighteen I had officially been under the legal age for drinking alcohol, and being under age I had officially been under the care of the Captain, who could, if he had wanted, have denied me any sort of shore leave until I had been aged eighteen.

Dreading the thought of being aboard ship for the next two years of my life I had promised not to touch another drop, and had duly been allowed to go to my cabin.

However, no sooner had I laid my head on my bunk had I been called to start work in the galley, which with my bandaged hands had meant that I had spent the day engaged in 'light duties', counting our supply of sacks of potatoes and other vegetables that had been stacked almost to the roof of the ship's 'veg room'.

We had remained in Rotterdam for about a week loading our precious cargo of horse piss, and during that time a number of the ship's drunken crew had stolen a bread van in order to get back to the ship.

Driven by another drunken crew of maniacs the van had eventually been chased through Rotterdam's docklands by a couple of police cars and the crewmen had eventually been cornered by the police and had elected to fight their way out of trouble.

Eventually arrested after a pretty ugly street fight the sailors had had to be bailed out of the city's lockup by our Captain, who had reportedly been on the verge of leaving them to their fate.

However, after a severe dressing down from the 'old man' the four by then chastened seamen had been allowed to return to the ship and had never been allowed ashore in Rotterdam throughout our stay there. With no harm done as far as I know nothing more had been said of this incident; however it is thought that the four culprits had eventually paid quite a hefty fine.

With a full cargo Tucurinca had been readied for sea. The hatches had been battened down by the bearded ship' carpenter, whilst the deck crew had gathered in knots fore and aft waiting to 'cast off' from the shore.

Elsewhere in the ship could be heard the distant roar far below of the ship's turbines as they had idly turned whilst waiting for the order to spring into action. In the Galley there had been the problem of a missing Second Cook and Baker. No one had seen this secretive chap go.

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