Where have all the flowers gone?

Extract from Chapter 21

Whilst on leave I was introduced to Folk Music when I was taken to a pub near Mount Pleasant Post Office in London where various acts performed in a hall at the back. I was delighted to listen to Peggy Seeger singing there and when she sang a song by her brother Pete I was charmed. “Where have all the flowers gone” was a song that summed up the futility of war, in particular for me, the war in Vietnam. I loved the fact that Peggy taught us the chorus and encouraged the entire audience to join in the singing, which we did. I was hooked on folk music after this and spent as many evenings as I could visiting venues where folk music was performed and singing along with the songs.

La Mer – my favourite song ever!

Extract from Chapter 19 telling the story of my first time at sea:

Apart from studying domestic science, the other lesson I loved at school was French. I used to attend extra lessons after school where my teacher used to play records and get me to learn the words of songs and translate them. As well as the Edith Piaf classics I loved a song written and sung by Charles Trenet called “La Mer”. Apparently he wrote it on a train in 1943 while travelling along the French Mediterranean coast, returning from Paris to Narbonne. My image of the sea was very much coloured by this charming song. I now sang the words I remembered from Mr. Howell’s French class at Tollington Park Comprehensive School to the glorious calm and twinkling sea before me.

In a good mood I went down below still singing “La Mer” as I entered the galley where I had a cup of tea with the duty cook, Ginge who proceeded to tell me jokes before we listened to the news on the radio and chatted about world events and before going back to the mess I listened to the shipping forecast. A man with a clipped BBC accent was saying:

“Biscay, Cyclonic five to seven, becoming west gale eight to storm ten, rough or very rough, becoming high later.”

I didn’t know what that meant really although it didn’t sound too good and I certainly didn’t know that overnight we would be entering the sea area the weather man had called “Biscay.” As I was about to set off for bed Ginge came out with another joke.

“Why are Pirates called Pirates?” he asked

I shook my head.

“Because they Arrghhhh!” said Ginge, chuckling away to himself.

Something in the Air

Extract from Chapter 38

As soon as the ship was berthed in Chatham Dockyard my Supply Officer came into the galley to tell me something:

“Next Monday you have to report to the Naval Chaplain in the Dockyard Church at 09.00.”

I searched for Neil to tell him this news and we wondered why a Chaplain would want to see me. I told Neil that I had once received some very good advice from the Chaplain at HMS Ganges on how to clean windows using vinegar and old newspapers.

“Maybe there’s an improved method of cleaning windows that’s been discovered and he wants to update me,” I joked.

Putting the intriguing assignation awaiting me on Monday morning out of my head I headed for Chatham Rail Station along with Neil to enjoy a weekend in London. Neil was off to Walthamstow and I was off to Finsbury Park but before we boarded the train we decided to celebrate his conversion to socialism by stopping off at a coffee shop in Chatham for a frothy coffee. The Juke Box was playing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman. We both joined in as Thunderclap sang out the lyrics about changing the world by revolution.

Waterloo Sunset

Extract from Chapter 34

The next day I was informed I had been completely successful in my exams and that I had passed professionally to become a Leading Cook. Leaving Portsmouth I took the train back to London.

I had been granted a day at home en route back to Chatham where I was to rejoin HMS Exmouth so I boarded the number 4A Bus outside Waterloo Station to take me to Finsbury Park. Crossing Waterloo Bridge I looked down at the river Thames and the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset” came into my mind and I started singing the song to myself.

“I will be in paradise when I get out of the Navy”, I thought.

Those were the days

Extract from Chapter 34

Arriving in Finsbury Park on the Friday evening I walked to my parents flat where I could hear the strains of a Pink Floyd song emanating from 133 Haden Court where Syd Barrett was singing a song about riding a bike. My Brother John had discovered what he described as his type of music but my word didn’t he play it loudly! John told me that he thought that Mum and Dad would be enjoying an evening at the pub so I set off to join them. They had taken their custom from the Kings Arms as the landlord there had vanished with the Christmas club money amongst which was the ten shillings a week my Dad had put in through the year. They now frequented the Moray Arms and as I approached the pub in Durham Road I could hear my Mum’s voice, she was singing “Those were the Days” the Mary Hopkin’s hit song. Entering the saloon bar I arrived just in time to join in with the rest of the pub’s customers in the chorus.

Help!

Extract from Chapter 16

One night onboard HMS Wakefield I went onto the upper deck on my own to get some fresh air and also to look at the Isle of Wight. After a matter of seconds a Petty Officer Seaman came up to me and handed me a pair of binoculars and said that as I seemed to have nothing to do I should make myself useful and scan the sea for enemy attackers. I thought that an attack was unlikely so I watched the twinkling lights of Cowes instead and wondered what teenagers there were doing. Whatever it was it would most likely be better than what was happening to me. On a radio playing in a nearby mess one of the big hits of the year by the Beatles, “Help!” was playing so I sang along to no one in particular with my voice carrying out across a lonely sea.

No one came to help me so after a while I trained my binoculars on the dark waters that were lapping against the ships side. The lights from the Wakefield made it just about possible to see if there was anything in the water and to my surprise and horror I did see something. At first I thought it might be a large bag or even a seal or a dolphin. Then I realised that the object had arms that were floating in front of a human head which was face down in the water. My God, it was a dead body! I quickly went and found the Petty Officer who had given me the binoculars and told him and within minutes a boat was launched with four seamen onboard it. With the beam from my torch lighting up a section of the sea I could just make out the actions of the seamen who managed to get a net under the body and haul it into the boat.

They then returned to the ship where the boat was winched onboard and the body was covered in tarpaulin where it was left for the night before being handed over to the authorities in Portsmouth the next morning.

Itchycoo Park

Extract from Chapter 32

The largest town near to Thornhill is Dumfries which I thought was an enchanting place that we visited several times. We once watched the local football team, Queen of the South and since that time I always looked out for their results on a Saturday afternoon.

The River Nith runs through Dumfries toward the Solway Firth and I enjoyed walking over the several pretty bridges that cross the river within the town. I discovered a nice space called the Dock Park which is the oldest park in Dumfries and is located on the east bank of the River Nith. Sitting outside the park café in the sunshine drinking a cup of tea one day I was reflecting on a new craze in pop music known as psychedelic music. I had read that bands and artists were inspired and influenced by this new psychedelic culture which attempted to replicate and enhance the mind altering experiences of psychedelic drugs.

I was not sure that I liked this culture or what it was doing to pop music when from a radio playing in the café I heard a song of this genre by the Small Faces called “Itchycoo Park.” I decided this song was an exception to my opinion that psychedelic music was not very good and I sang along.

Finishing my cup of tea after my sing song with the Small Faces I wandered next to the River Nith and across a nice little bridge, not the Bridge of Sighs I admit but a lovely one all the same.

Finishing my cup of tea after my sing song with the Small Faces I wandered next to the River Nith and across a nice little bridge, not the Bridge of Sighs I admit but a lovely one all the same.