London Underground in a Day 1

•12/04/2018 • 2 Comments

On Friday 23rd March 2018, starting out from Mile End station at 6.00am, my friend John and I set off to cover the London Underground system in a day – visiting each station. It took us almost exactly twenty-four hours.

The attachments below show how we did it and the route we took.

My next upload will fill in some of the background, constraints, considerations and rules we set ourselves.

UID Route

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Liverpool – Port Said 1943: A Wartime Voyage 9: Ninety-sixth Day Out – Final Entry

•10/04/2018 • Leave a Comment

SS Diomed

Ninety-sixth Day Out

Reached Aden last Wednesday, but not in time to go ashore. Celebrated your birthday in the evening by standing most of the ships’ officers a round of drinks. Only a partial blackout. The harbour very busy with all sorts of craft, including two convoys, one consisting of empty American merchantmen going north – I Wonder why.

Went ashore in the morning and after considerable difficulty, and the wait of an hour at the Union Club, contacted Emerson, the British Council Representative. All six of us went out to lunch at his house at Sheikh Othman, about 12 miles from the port, Steamer Point. A very pleasant place – an old Arab house with wide verandahs, very airy, surrounded by an oasis of palm trees. At lunch I rather petered out, feeling sick and windy in the stomach. I didn’t enjoy the afternoon, in consequence, and it was also rather anxious and embarrassing because Emerson had only got available £50 of the £150 we’d cabled for from Mombasa, and we didn’t get that till six o’clock in the evening –  very awkward as we were all quite broke. We visited the British Institute at Crater Town, the main inland part of Aden town, in the evening. Very impressed by it – an excellent and capable Dane [?] named Masson is helping to run it.

Then we saw the ancient water tanks at the foot of the hills, supposed to have been built by King Solomon. Then back by taxi to Steamer Point where some of us did some haggling in the shops, and we had a meal. I felt much better in the evening and next morning, but yesterday I had a really nasty attack of nervous depression. It came on after lunch when I went to lie down on my bed, rather tired. I had only half an hour’s sleep, then woke up and when I started thinking my mind got into a thoroughly bad state. I felt terribly restless, longed to rush around doing something violent – but above all to weep in your arms, darling. I needed you more than I’ve ever needed you before. I tried to be sensible with myself, took a strong dose of pieface medicine, then washed some clothes, marked out the deck golf course, and played two games, then washed my hair, had a bath, cut my toenails and got ready for dinner. I felt I had to keep going at something.

Before dinner I had two or three whiskies with Chippy (the carpenter) and the Bo’sun, and felt a lot better. Iain Pattison, however, inadvertently brought me close to tears by suggesting – a very good suggestion – that we should each write to each other’s wives to give them an outside view, as it were. I’ll do it willingly but I was almost overcome by his kindness in suggesting it. I told him what a bad state I was in, also Cecil, who was very understanding. Today I don’t feel so restless. I just feel very tired and exhausted, woolly in the head, and depressed. I suppose I am suffering from an accumulation of nervous strain, and long delayed nervous reaction. The petering out and Aden was just the occasion for it to come on. I think that consciously and subconsciously I was waiting to hear a loud bang almost every hour from the time we left Liverpool until the time we reached Aden, when I felt at last we were in safe Waters. Now the full nervous reaction is being felt. Also I think I got rather debilitated by my prolonged cold between Durban and Mombasa, and I’ve had no appetite for days. Add to that the oppressive heat, lack of exercise, bad conditioning of the blood (as witness “prickly heat” all over my shoulders and arms), and the general strain and boredom induced by such a very long sea trip. Several other people are also in a poor state of health. I certainly have felt extremely sorry for myself these last two days. Yesterday I was really alarmed about my state of mind – thought I was heading for a breakdown – almost felt in the mood to throw myself over the side – and, curiously enough, longed – simply longed for a torpedo attack. I think I shall ask the doctor today for a good nerve tonic, and if I’m better when I get to Cairo I shall see a specialist. But what I need far more than anything else is you, my dearest comforter and help. If I could just lie in your arms for an hour or two, and weep and make a thorough exhibition of myself, as I did that afternoon at Birmingham I’d feel okay and get it out of my system.

 

Ninety-eighth Day Out

Feeling a lot better today, though not quite myself yet. I can hardly bear the sight of my breakfast, but after I’ve got through that I can face life. Yesterday I packed my bags, slept all afternoon, help Pan and An tie up their boxes in the evening, and after dinner had a long chat with Vickers, the Padre and the Chief Engineer about the trip and its hazards and pleasures. Today and yesterday we have been in fresh, cool, invigorating weather – to everyone’s surprise and delight.

Last night at dinner the captain got up and gave a resume of the voyage, thanking the passengers for being a model company. Apparently we had a U-Boat detected near us towards Iceland, which necessitated a big diversion in the night and we contacted another off Cape Race. The captain described our unescorted crossing of the Central Atlantic as the most hazardous unescorted journey he had ever made. In the course of it we picked up an S.O.S from a ship not far away that was being shelled by a raider. Off Freetown we ran through a nest of submarines, zigzagging violently. Between Cape Town and Durban we passed within 15 miles of an attack on another convoy in which 7 out of 11 ships were sunk. We had to make a 100-mile dash out to sea to avoid the pack. Well, it’s all over now, bar the shouting; and I’m not sorry, though I shall leave the ship with a sentimental wrench. With the exception of the Chief Steward, Farndell, who is a pompous, inefficient, irritable fellow, and the Second Steward, who is a hard-bitten tough, all the ship’s company have been have been very friendly and are the sort of people one is glad to know. Some mates – MacPhee, Williams, Webb and Wilde – are very good fellows. So are the engineers, in rather different ways: Sam Roberts, Quirk, Williams, Davy Black and Alex Thomson. The W.O.’s, Edward, Woolley and George Morrison, don’t always get on together: but individually they are very likeable. Then there are three real salts – “Chippy” Green the carpenter, Frank the Bo’sun and Lamps – the lamptrimmer. Of the stewards, Robert Gilmore is outstanding, quiet, sane, worldly wise and humorous. Then Tiger, the Captain’s Steward, and Stanley, another steward, are good lads – and there’s a comical little fellow in “Chucker”, the Pantry Boy. Another good crowd are the gunners: Tug Wilson and Taffy and Pompey, the naval gunners, and Jock, a military gunner who is so Scottish as to be almost unintelligible, but has  100 per cent puritanical outlook on sex which is the cause of much good-humour. All in all I’ve become very attached to this old, well-built ship of 10374 tons, with a mean draught of 33 inches, miserable passenger accommodation, and those unmistakable goal-post masts.

Liverpool – Port Said 1943: A Wartime Voyage 8: Fifty-sixth Day Out – Eighty-sixth Day Out

•10/04/2018 • Leave a Comment
Marine Hotel

Marine Hotel, Durban (Photo found on Gary’s Spot – http://garyschei.tripod.com/id9.html)

Fifty-sixth Day out

Reached Durban yesterday morning after a slow passage from Cape Town in the course of which our little convoy of 9 ships was diverted 100 miles out to sea because of a ship being torpedoed 15 miles away. One morning we struck some submerged object and damaged the blade of one of the screws. Still, we kept up the convoy speed of 8 knots and came in without mishap. All yesterday we lay off the bluff, the headland guarding the harbour entrance. Today we are still at anchor, waiting to go ashore. The weather has become clear and bright after several days of rain, mist and sultry humidity.

 

Seventy-third Day Out

Second day out from Durban, in a convoy of 14 ships, escorted by a destroyer, a corvette and two armed trawlers. I’m just pulling out of a heavy cold and feel pretty muzzy in the head. Well, goodbye to Durban. I feel quite sentimental over the place – not that it’s really more than a slap-up seaside resort, but from a human point of view it gave me quite a kick. After hanging about in the bay for four and a half days we came alongside on Friday, March 12th. I went ashore and in the afternoon I called on Griggs. In the evening I met Cecil and Tom Bradburn and had some drinks – then joined up with Quirk, the second engineer, and went to the Southern Club for more drinks. Came aboard escorting Quirk, surprisingly drunk considering he is a very quiet and steady and religious man. He seems tickled to death to discover that I was a publisher, and insisted on telling me again and again how he admired “Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man”.

On Saturday, March 13th, I went up to Pietermaritzburg and stayed till Monday with Railton Dent and his wife. Nice children: Hugh, Margaret and Lorna. Called on R.A. Shorter of Shorter and Shorter, booksellers. Other bookshop is Boyes. Quite a pleasant little Art Gallery and a very well arranged Natural History Museum. Came back on Monday afternoon by Pullman (bus), two and a half hours trip. On Tuesday I met Diana Roy, and in the evening I dined with her at her Flat, 17 Grafton Place, Musgrave Road. On Wednesday I dined with the Griggs. On Thursday evening I dined with Diana at the Cumberland Hotel, where I had been staying since Monday (22/6 including meals). We then saw Conrad Viedt in “Nazi Spy”, and afterwards have a long and present talk in my room at the Cumberland. Lunch with Diana on Friday.

On Saturday went to the races with John Evans, fellow passenger, and watched some cricket. In the evening he and McPhee, the mate, came to the Cumberland for drinks. Stayed up late, had a semi-tight party of R.A.F. Nurses and an Army officer in my room, then was very sick. Sick again next morning – must have had some food poisoning. Had to decline an invitation from Diana to play tennis at the country club, but staggered out in the evening to the Griggs!

On Monday, March 22nd, lunched at the Marine Hotel (the best) with Diana. In the evening, at the hotel, met Elizabeth Burton, first lieutenant in A.T.S. John Evans (garrulously drunk) and Williams, 2nd mate, came in for drinks. On Tuesday lunched with Elizabeth Burton at the Marine Hotel, then introduced her to Griggs and Diana. Had tea with Diana, then rejoined the ship. Finding we were not leaving till early next morning I telephoned Elizabeth and after dinner we went to Stardust, the nightclub. Enjoyed it, and joined in a party of officers and a young married woman named Pam, who recently lost her husband, and is reputed to be the most beautiful, and one of the wealthiest, women in South Africa. A board at 2:30. Left Durban at 7 p.m. in rather a daze of incipient cold.

 

Eightieth Day Out

Reached Mombasa today, after a quiet trip. We left the convoy after two days, and came on our own through the Mozambique Channel, passing quite close to the little island Juan de la [Nova] and the larger mountainous island of Comoro. Pleasantly surprised by Mombasa, which is a large, populous, spacious, well wooded town, with bright white new buildings and wide streets in the modern quarter, and quaint old crowded houses of 17th and 18th century Portuguese origin in the old quarter round the Old Harbour and fish market. Population equally native and Indian, with a fair number of Arabs and few whites apart from the plentiful naval personnel. Four or five cruisers and two battle cruisers in the harbour which consists of several narrow creaks with deep water.

 

Eighty-third Day Out

Shopped yesterday, buying silk pyjamas and shirts, and examining jewellery and filigree silver brooches, also well carved sandalwood boxes. Today went out on a crowded stinking bass, laden with natives, to Changamire, 6 miles out of the town, in the jungle, where we had lunch at a new al fresco restaurant.

 

Eighty-sixth Day Out

Left Mombasa this afternoon, not in convoy. Had a quiet but pleasant time there, only lunching ashore once or twice at the Manor Hotel in Salam Road (the best) and the Palace Hotel in the main road, Kilimindi Road: the rest of the time being spent pottering around the shops, especially Moloo Bros in Salam Road, where I bought a pyjama suit (15/-) and two silk nightdresses (£1 each) for you, and various silk shirts for myself at 12/6 and 15/- also 5½ yards of spun crepe for pyjamas at 3/10 per yard. Also bought a pair of silk pyjamas for 12/6, a filigree brooch for a 8/- and a silk dressing gown for 25/-.

 

 

Liverpool – Port Said 1943: A Wartime Voyage 7: Forty-second Day Out – Fiftieth Day Out

•09/04/2018 • Leave a Comment
Groot_Constantia

Groot Constantia (Photo from Wikipedia, Tjeerd Wlesma https://www.flickr.com/photos/76396789@N00/1659086)

Forty-second Day Out

Six weeks since I left you. It seems more like six months. Perhaps I’m feeling particularly morb this morning though, since I’ve had two nights without much sleep owing to MacArthur going berserk with drink again. Today he is comparatively sober for the first time since Sunday evening. Yesterday afternoon the mate had to be brought in, but it got hold of several more whiskies in the evening and it took hours to get him to bed. Even when he was in bed people had to sit up on guard. The really distressing thing is that two young ship’s engineers, Rip Somerville and George Lascelles, are going out to serve under him in his ship, and his ship is a supply ship, mostly idle in port. MacArthur has apparently been sacked once, and is now on probation. Well, we left Walvis Bay yesterday morning early, in an absurd little convoy consisting of four slow ships and two armed trawlers. We have only been doing six or seven knots. I imagine we are keeping fairly close to the coast but it isn’t likely will reach Cape Town till Thursday or Friday.

Forty-fifth Day Out

Reached Cape Town this evening after putting in for instructions at Saldanha Bay. We saw Table Mountain soon after lunch and were in Table Bay about six. Quite the most beautiful sea scenery I’ve ever seen. Henceforth there won’t be much occasion to spread myself in this diary as I should be sending you pretty frequent airgraphs.

 

Forty-sixth Day Out

Ashore by one o’clock. Lunch with Cecil Ritchie at the Carlton Hotel, colonial style. Sandeman’s Sherry, 1s.3d. Local Sherry, 6d per glass. After sending cables and airgraphs from the Post Office – a grand, vast new building like the Grand Central Station, New York – went to Maskew Miller’s, when I met Dorman. Had dinner with him and his wife at the Marine Hotel, Sea Point, 20 minutes on the bus; then returned to the ship. Airgraphs from home – super!

 

Forty-seventh Day Out

Went Ashore early, had excellent breakfast at the Grand Hotel. Then haircut and shampoo, and then an hour with H. C. Miller. Lunch with Mr and Mrs Dorman at the Waldorf (unlicensed), then went up Table Mountain by cable car. Afterwards visited National Art Gallery (mixed, miscellaneous collection, badly arranged) and Public Library. Really delightful public gardens. Dinner with Dormans at the Marine Hotel. Bottle of very sound dry white wine – like Pouilly or Chablis – called Moelenberg. Slept at Marine Hotel – very tired.

 

Forty-eighth Day Out

Back to ship for lunch. Afterwards walked around with Iain Pattison and Harry Hemming. Spent 1½ hours in the Michaelis collection – very fine. Aboard again for dinner, then wrote letters.

 

Fiftieth Day Out

Yesterday a full day. Saw Dorman and borrowed £25. Then went by car with H. C. Miller and Cecil all round Table Mountain – Sea Point, Camps Bay, Llandudno, Hoot Bay, Groot Constantia (went through the old house), Kirstenbosch (for al fresco lunch), Rondebosch – the university – and back. In the afternoon bought a linen suit (42/6), shorts and a khaki shirt, and socks. Again went to Michaelis Collection. Bought a play suit for you, and arranged for it to be posted. Back to ship – then to Del Monico for dinner with Cecil and Wilde, the fourth mate. Thence to Stardust and Bohemia nightclub with a crowd of middies and officers. Didn’t dance myself, owing to shortage of women. Carried back the corpses to the ship about 1:30.

 

 

Liverpool – Port Said 1943: A Wartime Voyage 6: Thirty-second Day Out – Fortieth Day Out

•09/04/2018 • Leave a Comment

diomed

Thirty-second Day Out

Very hot today, heading south, nearly in the doldrums. Yesterday evening, before nightfall, I spent some time up in the fo’castle head watching sharks. Some of them swimming side by side with the fore and aft fins sticking out of the water, were at least fifteen feet long. One strange creature approached right in our path and dived away just under the bow – a hammer-head shark, greenish brown on top, and looking just like an 8-foot lizard, with a wide mouth and flat tail. In the far distance we passed a biggish ship. Incidentally, just after we left Freetown we passed a battleship and five destroyers – I’ve never seen a battleship so close before.

Last night I went with John Evans (ex-merchant seaman, now a boiler inspector) and talked with the gunners in their quarters. Whilst I was there Ramires (Rosalind her Christian name is) appeared and made a date to see me before breakfast this morning. She is trying to shake off Doc to some extent and is a little alarmed to find how unpopular she has become with everyone else. I told her quite plainly that I thought she was snooty, snobbish and inconsiderate – and she took it from me. I fancy I shall have to guard my virtue. However, I think the time has come to stamp on some of the back-biting and jealousy that has developed lately, and I’m in rather a fortunate position to do it (John Prig!) because I’ve mixed equally with everyone, and (this may surprise you a bit) I found I don’t mind what I say to anyone, though I think I’ve always been reasonably tactful. A few friendly insults all around go a long way – and it’s marvellous to feel (within oneself) completely detached, even when one’s also feeling entirely friendly. It all boils down to that wonderful store of happiness and security and strength that we’ve built up together. As far as I can judge from other people’s conduct they mostly lack it. They are trying, some of them, to make up on this trip for what they have missed or failed to find before, and in consequence they are too much at the mercy of their emotions, moods and desires of the moment. I suppose the reason why I seem to be more detached is simply that I’ve already found what I consider to be the most important thing in life. All I’m speaking now is variety of impressions and experiences which will make me better fitted to make the most of what I’ve already found.

 

Thirty-fifth Day Out (Monday)

Nice fresh day, with moderate wind, sparkling sunshine and sea flecked with white. We cross the line yesterday, and it was surprisingly cool, compared with the weather we have had. Vickers actually appeared on deck in a thick overcoat. So this is the Equator! Incidentally, on this question of clothes, there is a great need for plenty of shirts and (for women) cotton dresses, but they should be easily washable, as everything gets dirty very quickly. I have felt the lack of a pair of shorts and a bathing dress. There has been no bathing, as they haven’t rigged up the little canvas bathing pool that they have. But I needed one for the crossing-the-line ceremony yesterday. I won’t describe this, as it isn’t very interesting, but it was quite good fun, though it was somewhat abbreviated, as the Captain won’t take any risks. Nothing much else to report about the last few days, except that last night I had a very vivid and beautiful (sic) about the “old boy”. He was perched on our shoulders, we were together, and he came and nestled his head and beak under my chin.

 

Thirty-sixth Day Out

A calmer sea – a lovely day. I feel very responsive to all that’s going on, though the personalities have ceased to mean much. At breakfast today I swapped sentimental song memories with Ted Yelland (telephone engineer) and Ian Pattison. Ted and I have some views as to the vintage years – 1925 to 1932. We got back to all the tunes we, you and I, love. We plan to buy some of the music of them in Capetown. Today I’m struggling internally with the book, longing to get started, but not quite clear in my mind as to the structure and characters. How I wish you were here, so that we could do it together. I love you.

 

Fortieth Day Out

In Walvis Bay. We came in this morning, after several uneventful days steaming fairly near to the coast, during which I at last made a start with the book. This a queer quiet lonely place – a fine enclosed bay about ten miles across, surrounded by sandy foothills, with bare desert lying behind until a mountain range rises steeply some forty miles inland. The town is an ugly collection of tin sheds, wharves and cranes. The whole place looks bare and deserted – rather like what I imagine Arabia to be.

 

Liverpool – Port Said 1943: A Wartime Voyage 5: Twenty-fifth – Thirty-first Days Out

•06/04/2018 • Leave a Comment

Twenty-fifth Day Out

Lovely weather still, though the breeze is dropping and it’s becoming a little hot for comfort. We hope to reach Freetown tomorrow.

 

Twenty-sixth Day Out

We reached Freetown yesterday. I had my hair cut in the morning; then gave myself a shampoo and washed some handkerchiefs and shirts. All the ships officers and stewards appeared in whites, so I put on a white shirt too. Just before lunch we passed a French cruiser, outward bound. After lunch I fell asleep under the awning for a while (the awnings went up early in the morning). I was woken up by excited conversation and went forward to get my first sight of Africa. I was surprised to see, instead of the low-lying land that I had been told to expect, I fine group of about seven steep pointed hills, about 1000ft or more, covered with palms and scrubwood, and remarkably green above a red sandstone base. The bay is several miles wide and full of shipping – big vessels mostly, with small fishing craft like Arab dhows, and long thin canoes which black boys paddle along at a great pace.

Before we went through the boom a pilot came aboard and we circled several times over some apparatus that tests the degaussing gear. Then we came in to anchor about half a mile from the shore, amongst a number of destroyers, about four o’clock.

After we had cast anchor I carried my lifejacket and emergency haversack below and left them in the cabin, for the first time since we left Liverpool. As darkness fell I had one of the most exhilarating experiences for years. There is no full black-out here, and until eleven o’clock all the lights are shining. A Dutch liner, converted into a hospital ship, lies in the middle of the bay, and it was lit up like a peace-time luxury liner. Lights of all kinds word dotted around the waterfront and up the hillside, whilst naval signals flashed from one craft to another round the bay. The first lights after sunset for three and a half years! Everyone on board seems to feel the same sense of sudden freedom and release. There was a rush to the bar, and soon there was a grand party in progress. After dinner there was dancing on the deck, in the course of which I waltzed round with tubby little Reg Handford. But the greatest delight was to strike matches and light cigarettes – which has been absolutely forbidden, on deck after sunset, since we came aboard.

About ten o’clock, when I had only had a few drinks, the Captain (who had appeared at dinner for the first time) invited me and three others up to his room, where we sat and talked for about an hour. When we came down most of the company was well lit, and a drunken sing-song was in progress. Ritchie became most delightfully drunk, singing with terrific gusto and wildly conducting with a lighted cigarette. The hatches were littered with ships’ officers who hadn’t had a drink since we sailed, and were now happily comatose. It was all very spontaneous, pleasant and inoffensive, with one surprising except. There is a heavily-built, middle-aged Scottish Chief Engineer amongst the passengers going out to join a ship at Durban. He hardly says a word, but looks on benevolently, plays cards, and gives the impression of being very reliable and steady. He hadn’t touched a drink all the voyage, but last night he had a few whiskies and became quite irresponsible and aggressive, lumbering around the passages trying to get hold of the women passengers and flourishing three large torches in the faces of the men. He wasn’t got to bed till three.

 

Twenty-seventh Day Out

Today we have been coaling. About ten o’clock lighters came alongside, loaded with black boys, small, slightly built men, coal black, with lean West African features. They jabber away incessantly, and scramble in the coal for cigarettes that are thrown down to them. The coal is shovelled into big sacks, which are then passed from man to man up a scaffold and tipped into the bunkers. They have been hard at it all day and long after dark. One or two of them have been trying to change trade worthless little rings or crudely carved figures of gods. They usually ask eight shillings and finally come down to two. There was a nice little comedy was one boy, deaf and dumb, who was pulling sad and piteous faces as his price for a ring was knocked down from sixpence to twopence. Then one of the passengers gave him fourpence. You should have seen his joy. He danced up and down, running delightedly. I have only bought a couple of west African pennies, for the boy’s collection. We have not been allowed ashore.

Tonight we had a short service under the awnings, and afterwards I had a long talk with Vickers and Ritchie about religion and the colour bar. Vickers is a very open minded, tolerant Christian, sceptical as to almost all doctrine, but utterly convinced of the rightness of Christian ethics. He is a Christian Socialist, and very bitter about the low wages (1s.4d a day) which the negro coal boys get. He believes in putting Christian standards of behaviour into practice in all the activities of life, especially the economic and social conditions of the people. He closes his eyes during the service so that he won’t see the padre’s vestments and dog collar, which he considers to be mumbo-jumbo. The padre is nevertheless a most genuine, humble and sympathetic personality, and he certainly succeeds in making the prayers and his service mean something.

 

Thirty-first Day Out

We are now steaming out of Freetown into a sea like a mirror. Just before breakfast the outlines of the hills faded into mist. “Perhaps that is the last land I shall ever sea?” I thought; and it brought me curiously close to you. Leaving Freetown has had a marked psychological effect on everyone. Today we are all our normal selves again; washing and ironing clothes, writing diaries, standing and staring. The ship is greatly changed, too – clean, shipshape, the turbines quietly humming. Those five days in Freetown formed a queer little oasis of experience, cut off, somehow, from normality. We never went ashore except for the Captain, who kept on going to and fro by launch to attend naval conferences. Each time he came back we waited eagerly for sailing orders. At first we thought we might get into a fast convoy of troop ships. But apparently we couldn’t promise the required speed, so we watched them steam out – a fine sight – big liners, including the sister ship to one we have sailed on.

On Tuesday night a real party developed. There was a gramophone or one of the hatches and we nearly all danced. In the middle I went below, rigged myself up in seven towels, and came up to do a mock-strip dance. It seemed to go down quite well. Afterwards the last dance was put on, and played over and over about twelve times. The remainder of the evening was entertaining. Since we started the voyage “Doc” Livingstone and Miss Ramires have been carrying on a most conspicuous and apparently whole hearted affair. I’ve several times wondered how long it was going to last: obviously it couldn’t last out the voyage. In the last two or three days I had thought I saw signs of Doc wanting to slip the collar, but after the dance it became apparent that Ramires (nicknamed Ramrod by the lower orders because of her apparent snobbishness) was the one who wanted the release. I took her up on to the top gun-turret right on the stern, and there was no opposition whatever to the course which the time and place and mood imposed on me. I think I could have pursued that course to its logical conclusion if I hadn’t felt slightly tight and altogether unwilling to spoil an agreeable interlude. Also the metal floor the gun turret would have been most uncomfortable. My conclusion was that she has S.A. and entertainingly quick wits and is a bitch – but probably desperately unfulfilled and inclined to be unhappy. A complicated piece of mechanism.

Next morning she came up to me and whispered that she’d had a hell of a row with Doc, after leaving me. Apparently he has been very badly bitten and can’t see reason. He’s a simple soul, and I blame her for leading him so far up the garden path. During the day I gather that the clouds parted, but I have had one or two sparring matches with Doc, in which I’ve tried to tell him not to be a bloody fool and take things so seriously.

In the morning we got one of the lifeboats out and went cruising around the bay, testing the motor, rigging the sail, and trying out the radio transmitter. We also went about another ship in the harbour. In the evening a well-informed lecture by Ian Paterson on bacteria and virus, in the course of which he rather startled some of the company by an exposition of the perils of syphilis and the sensible way of dealing with it. Afterwards I had a discussion for two hours on swearing, sex and religion with a very intelligent, level-headed midshipman, the third radio officer and the padre. I found myself at the finish arguing strongly on the padre’s side.

Liverpool – Port Said 1943: A Wartime Voyage 4: Fourteenth – Twentieth Days Out

•06/04/2018 • Leave a Comment

Fourteenth Day Out

Three nights ago was the stormiest I’ve ever known at sea. The ship tossed and shuddered and rolled alarmingly. I found myself unaccountably frightened waiting for each wave just as though it were a torpedo. It was far too hazardous to cross the deck to the smoke room, and we stayed around the bar, the foot of the stairs, and in our cabins.

I was standing with the Chief Steward at the door of the saloon when there was a colossal bump. It was a wave hitting the ship broadside on, but the Steward’s boys thought otherwise and scampered after their life jackets. Later in the evening we had a long talk in one of the cabins on fear and other such subjects – myself, Vickers, the psychologist, whom I like and admire (he’s a Quaker and very nearly persuades me that he’s right), Iain Pattison, very serious, decent, methodical young Scot who has worked his way through college and is now quite a sound bacteriologist and veterinary researcher, Franklin, a young schoolmaster with a limp, going to teach with the British Council in Egypt – a nervous, clever fellow, very apprehensive and neurotic, but candid about it. Late in the evening the sea smashed up one of the starboard lifeboats and threw another inboard. I slept very little – a nasty night.

The following day saw a prolonged blizzard. We had a Brains Trust session in the evening. I made my farewell appearance and found myself being quite witty and strangely self-assured. Then to bed, only to be wakened at regular intervals throughout the night by foghorns. Visibility, owing to the snow, was very bad and there were some near collisions in the convoy. The night before, by the way, the rudder of one of the other ships was carried away. She dropped back and was taken over later by two corvettes from Canada.

Yesterday was again very rough and snowy. Everyone was tired and jaded, and I notice the first signs of personal jealousy and irritation – starting, of course, amongst the women. Elsie Birch, the little Tyneside nurse who sits by me at meals and is attractive in a slightly cheap and nervy way, can’t abide Miss Couzens, the M.T.C. woman. who is Mayfairish, drinks a lot of gins, but is fundamentally a “good sort”. Incidentally there is a hint of a Lady Chatterley’s Lover relationship between Miss Couzens and Tom Bradburn, a Lancashire ship’s fit, an upstanding rough neck, very prickly and full of the working man’s point of view, but one of the salt of the Earth nonetheless.

I lay in bed most of the afternoon, and thereby missed the great moment of the voyage (so far) when an American destroyer came out, flashed signals to us, and we suddenly put on steam, turned to port, and steamed away into the blue, leaving the rest of the convoy behind – presumably going to New York. Now we are on our own. Today the sea is much calmer, though it’s still snows. We are running with the wind and everyone slept better last night. There’s quite a curious change in the atmosphere.  We all seem glad to be on our own, chiefly, I think, because we’re moving so much faster (12 ½ knots) and appear to be moving towards our destination at last. A fortnight of wandering in convoy, and bad weather, round the Arctic wastes has been wearing to the nerves.

Seventeenth Day Out

Friday today, my darling sweet love, and if I were home I suppose I’d be listening to Itma while you laid the breakfast. We are approaching the tropics now, sailing due South, and we’ve had three lovely days of warm and sunny weather. It’s been a remarkable experience to pass from blizzard to midsummer weather in two days. Yesterday was a bit too much of a good thing, and in spite of taking the sun in small doses and going slowly with the food I got a bit upset in the stomach and today I’ve been a little jaded. I’ve also been very stiff in one leg from physical jerks which started yesterday morning. To add to these minor discomforts I’ve become very bored of my table mates – especially the cheap and bitchy nurse, Mrs Birch – so I’ve moved over, after various diplomatic intrigues, to an all-male table.

The only excitement so far has been an unexpected boat drill this afternoon, for which no warning was given. I was asleep in my bunk when the alarm bell went. I felt surprisingly calm, and methodically put on my shoes and coat and collected my belongings, before realising that it was only a practice. Well, now, unless there are sudden alarums, the trip is likely to become monotonous. Funny, during the first two weeks when there was plenty of novelty and excitement, the convey to watch, bad weather, danger of collisions, and a somewhat hectic and unreal social life aboard, I found it difficult to think subjectively and I didn’t dream at all at nights. Now I’ve started dreaming (about you and the boy mostly) and I’ve also begun morbing too. Last night I loved you more, I think, than I’ve ever loved you before. I went out on deck for an hour by myself at eleven o’clock. It was very dark and I felt myself completely private for the first time. As I watched the sea go by and the stars overhead I talked to you my dearest sweetheart, and loved you, and morbed to you and longed for you. Oh my darling, my dear Tis, my love I’ve been rather slack and listless the last two days, but I’ve been worrying a good deal about the book, for which I have collected a number of vivid impressions and characters and notes. I can’t make up my mind whether to make it autobiography or a novel. It is both, of course. The boy’s birthday yesterday, and I thought of him a great deal, the dear chap, and wondered how it was he was liking school. There now seems to be a fair chance that we shall put into Freetown in three or four days time. A bit hazardous, perhaps, but nice if I can send you a wire and a letter.

Twentieth Day Out

Three more days of heavenly weather – hot, but not too hot, except in the evenings, when we either have to sit in the stuffy saloon, which becomes thick with tobacco smoke or walk about the deck and look at the stars, which is pleasant but a little monotonous, and of course one can’t smoke. My health seems now to have settled down, and life is quite pleasant. Deck quoits, deck tennis and bullboard are the chief recreations. The social life has been less intense and more casual, and there is comparatively little drinking except at night. On Saturday night I had a lot of gins and didn’t go to bed till 2:30, after going round a series of parties in different cabins. Otherwise it’s all been fairly humdrum. I sleep in the afternoons and rather carefully avoid getting too much sunshine.

I’ve done nothing with the book these last three days – too lazy, I’m afraid. The pleasantest occupations are to sit up in the fo’castle head in the day time and watch the flying fish – just like hummingbirds skimming the water – or to watch the stars at night. The trouble is that I miss you most when I do these things – I long to share them with you. It’s easier and less painful just to drift through the day chatting and pottering about. The company is really quite agreeable. I have an easy non-committal relationship with my cabin mates – Ritchie, nicknamed Cecil (I’m “Claude”) and Livingstone (“Doc”). Ritchie and I have a convention of trying to get the other one to stand the first drink whilst I (or he) “fumbles”. Livingstone is attractive in a dry Scottish way, fairly shrewd, though unintellectual. Surprisingly he has got well away with Miss Ramires, who is vamping him most shamelessly all day. I have no female attachments, having shaken off the Birch girl, but “Ginger”, the M.T.C. woman, and Miss Ramires are constantly trying to get past me, to my amusement. I seem to be regarded as a bit of a wag, which suits me very well. After a week’s rest I have resumed the “Yellow Press”, with a few simple wisecracks. It all helps keep boredom at arm’s length. Rumours now that we’re going to by-pass Freetown after all. We shall see.