Phil Grimson's RECOLLECTIONS
Read some recollections sent in by Phil - It may well bring back those lazy, hazy days of your youth !
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Written November, 2016
More digging around in my bits and pieces - old letters to family and friends relating to those years travelling around with the Grey Funnel Line, most of which are in a sorry state but are still legible and I came across one which refers to our visit to Antigua.
Earlier, I was speaking to a friend who married a nurse from Antigua and the island cropped up in conversation which prompted me to search around for I knew there was something that had happened there.
A trip to English Harbour, Lord Nelson’s old stamping ground in the West Indies, was arranged, and a party of about twenty or so of us went across and eventually found ourselves at Nelson’s quarters, which we were allowed to enter, passing through a room roped off , which contained a small armchair.
A desk-cum-table and a small wardrobe with one of His Lordship’s uniforms hanging in it. There were notices posted advising that entrance to the roped off area was not permitted, but the temptation was too strong.
A young O.D and I were the last in the queue and when the rest of the party had carried on through to the rest of the building I slipped under the rope AND SAT IN NELSON’S LITTLE CHAIR - for a few seconds only while my companion kept an eye out for me, and as soon as I had vacated the chair he took my place.
We then carried on and caught up with the others who hadn’t seemed to miss us. I didn’t know my companion- in-crime’s name and never found out but he was as excited as me.
I don’t know what the penalty would have been if we had been seen, but at this late date we can hardly be keel-hauled for our infraction of the rules, and I remember that feeling I got when sitting in that little chair to this day.
Written September, 2016
Just rummaging through my old memorabilia and came across this passage in a letter I had written to the folks back home.
This was in 1953, my first excursion, (courtesy of Her Majesty’s Grey Funnel Line) ,on our way through the Caribbean where we made the usual call on our visits to that part of the world. A shipmate, whose name I can’t recall, and I, were investigating a stretch of the beach on Jamaica (to be honest were looking for a bar on a particularly deserted stretch as it seemed that our homing instincts for finding bars were sadly at fault on this particular day, and had led us into uncharted territory, booze- wise), when we came across an old fisherman who had more wrinkles than ripples on the Caribbean, and whose natural tan was enhanced by years of sailing under the tropical Jamaican sun.
He was busy removing the entrails from a formidable looking fish, (later identified as a ...shock! horror! SHARK!) We approached him cautiously to enquire whether we were on a course for the nearest booze bartering establishment and offered him a cigarette to enter into friendly negotiations.
He turned out to be a friendly soul and we had a little chat but unfortunately it appeared there were none within a mile or so. During our conversation we both made complimentary remarks about his catch which he informed us was a particularly unfriendly creature. We joshed him a little and told him we had already had a swim in the local waters but had felt perfectly fire (or fish) proof because we had taken the precaution of lobbing a couple of grenades over the side to scare all the predatory nasty old seal-life away before entering the water.
After all it had been determined that the resultant noise would frighten everything lurking near the ship away.
At this, he burst out laughing and for a couple of moments left us both staring at him wondering if he was having some sort of emotional attack. When he finally calmed down and was able to speak, he said ‘Are you serious? ‘And ,of course, completely bewildered by this strange reaction, we nodded dumbly, which provoked another paroxysm of glee.
He finally recovered and when able to speak without breaking into intermittent giggles, remarked, ‘Do you guys know anything about shark fishing?’, which of course, we did not.
‘Well, my friends you should know that when we go out to catch sharks, we have to attract them to us so we can have a chance to hook or spear them. And do you know how we do it? We both looked at each other and receiving a negative response, both looked at the old guy and shook our heads.
After another screech of laughter he finally put us out of our misery. ‘WHY, WE BANG OUR PADDLES UP AND DOWN, UP AND DOWN HARD, AND SOONER OR LATER THEY WILL COME ALONG OUT OF CURIOSITY AND IF YOU ARE IN THE WATER AT THE TIME........................AT THIS POINT HE NEEDED TO SAY NO MORE .... and so does anyone reading this blame us for taking him down to the nearest plonk purveyor, rendering him inebriated ,and seeing him all the way home to his little shack and singing all the way?
Written August, 2016
On arrival at Santos in Brazil in 1955 we were offered the opportunity to visit the Snake/Reptile/ Farm at Butantan just outside San Paulo. I jumped at the chance of seeing such an exotic location and so joined the coach trip.
At the farm we witnessed some gruesome sights as the snakes and giant toads were fed (with live prey).While all this was going on one of the attendants made the rounds of the pit we were ringing, offering a rattlesnake (held by the tail) to anyone who wanted to hold it.
Figuring that if it were a dangerous move to hold the snake by its tail, the attendant would never have offered it up with such a grin, so I took it by the end of its tail and lo, even though it wriggled and twisted it seemed not to be able to raise its head up far enough to sink it's fangs into my hand (as I had noted before reaching out for it.
The attendant gave an even wider grin when he sussed what I had realised , and when he took back the writhing bundle of joy, he said in broken English, " Maybe you like to hold the other end Ingles?", which, of course I politely declined, amid a chorus of chuckles from his compatriots.
At the end of our visit we were able to purchase various souvenirs - snakes, and other members of the reptile community preserved in alcohol(?), and some beautiful colourful butterfly presentations mounted in circular plates.
That evening the main PO's mess invited our members over to watch a film and so we accepted, and during a break in the performance, (not unusual with our maritime film shows), a certain Petty Officer, whose nickname was 'Bunny' whose surname I erroneously thought would be 'Warren', sidled up to me and in the half dark of the messdeck, offered me a drink.
I took the flask he offered and knocked back a decent slug, which was even hairier that the Pusser's rum we were issued with - and then- someone switched on the lights and I was left holding a flask which contained a preserved snake regarding me with a baleful stare while the rest of the audience cracked up!
I can't recall 'Bunny's' surname and he would be about 87-ish by now, but not as far as I know, a member of the Association.
If he is still the right side of the 'Bar' I hope he reads this and responds.
Published August, 2016
Another amusing tale from Phil Grimson who was searching through some old documents recently. He sent this to the Daily Mail some time ago and it was published with a cartoon.
Written July, 2016
At last have been able to get around to sending you the couple of incidents that might give you a giggle’.
New York, 1953.
When we arrived in New York and approached the berth allocated to us I saw that we were in the next docking space to the Queen Mary who greeted us with the cheeky signal.”Will hoist you inboard at 13.30” (Which, incidentally she was well capable of doing, towering over us like a skyscraper over a beach hut).
That evening, Leading Writer John Marsden and I decided to take a stroll along Broadway to admire the fantastic display of lights, especially those circulating around the Times Building giving the latest news headlines.
Of course, as two innocents abroad (tongue in cheek) we were also looking for a place of refreshment and found one just off Broadway, a dimly lit bar with colourfully lit windows which invited further inspection. We entered the bar, which, even in the dim light, we could see was packed, but with a low volume of conversation, and approached the bar.
The bartender, a tall heavily made up blonde washing glasses, half turned, and in the usual New Yorker bartender fashion, asked, “What can I get youse guys?” John piped up “A couple of Buds please” A couple of bottles of Budweiser were plonked on the bar.”That’ll be X dollars fellas.“ We paid up and leaning over the bar to take the money, it became obvious that this was no lady, confirmed by the five o’clock shadow beginning to make itself apparent.
As he turned away John asked ,”How about some glasses, please?” To which came back the reply, “Don’t be silly, only cissies drink out of glasses!” The bar erupted with laughter and on turning round we saw that the entire clientele were males.
We later learned that the bar, which was called ‘The Blue Parrot’, was just one of a nationwide chain of ‘gay’ bars, a word which, in those days , was foreign to us.
Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, 1955
The facilities at GITMO were superb. The mess hall was gigantic and we were all royally entertained by the US Navy and US marines stationed there. After a session of seeing just how much beer we could consume we were given a guided tour round the base and down to the sea.
Walking along a pier we came across a sign which had most of us Brits in fits of laughter but left our American hosts looking puzzled. The sign read ‘NO BATHING – BEWARE OF MARINE LIFE’.
Written April, 2016
He was a great Commodore. While we were visiting Acapulco there was an opportunity to visit Mexico City.
We were housed in the Mexican Army Barracks which I believe were next door to the Bullring. Our first encounter with the Mexican Lavabo was the morning after our arrival when were introduced to the bathroom facilities which consisted of quite deep troughs which, invited a dive rather than a wash, where we all soaped ourselves overall all and then lined up for the shower for a rinse.
As usual, I marched out first, under the gaze of a gathering crowd of Mexican soldiers who had, as I later realised, come to see the fun, and stood under what can only be described as a gigantic dustbin lid from which dangled a chain reminiscent of the chain used in most British toilets.
Insouciantly I yanked the chain, ignoring the expectant grins from our Mexican hosts....and then for the next couple of minutes became rooted to the ground... under a torrent of ice-cold water that literally froze me on the spot! But I dare not walk or sprint away under the gaze of several dozen pairs of gleeful eyes who were waiting for just such a reaction. So I clenched my teeth and grinned backed at them and rinsed off thoroughly.
As I walked away to let the next victim take my place he asked me "What's it like Dusty" and I replied "Great". I don't think anybody spoke to me in the following days of our visit except to question my parentage.
From there on we were invited to the British Embassy and the town Tennis Club where the drinks flowed freely and invitations to private homes were offered to one and all. So much so that I missed the coach back to the ship and had to return to the British Embassy for advice.
They were superb. Within minutes they had arranged for me to catch a bus back to Acapulco, which I shared with a majority of Mexican citizens who were extremely curious about my presence and invited me to join in their in-bus snacks and drinks - most of which would take the hair off a rhinoceros (if rhinoceroses had hair) so the journey back to what contemplated was at least a loss of my Undetected Crime Stripe and at worst my P.O. rate.
However when I arrived back on board via a boat sent to pick me up I was naturally invited to appear before the Commodore the next day he asked me for my explanation and my plea was that I had become involved with a group of people whose hospitality was overwhelming and bearing in mind the stern directions given to all British Naval personnel visiting foreign ports to behave courteously to the local inhabitants and uphold the dignity and status of Her Majesty's Royal Navy I had found it difficult to escape the embraces of my new found friends and thus has been unable to catch the bus in time.
For a few seconds the Commodore regarded with his 'Don't take the piss' stare and then I saw a twinkle in his eyes. A few days stoppage of leave and pay, which meant that I was fined a few days pay since we were at sea during my stoppage of leave.
Some time ago, his daughter or maybe it was his granddaughter emailed me for info regarding his popularity as a Skipper. I wish I had kept her address details but unfortunately owing to several computer breakdowns I lost them. Maybe this reminder of our encounter (if she is still a follower of the site) will support my post.
I can’t remember exactly when we visited Londonderry but I recall crossing the border to Buncrana for a few jars of Porter and we had a great time.
During our stay some idiot switched off the lights in the Fleet canteen one nigh,t in the middle of a big boozy session, and for about five minutes it rained bottles and glasses (I still have eyebrow that turns up over a scar sustained during that little fracas!).
I joined Superb on a pier head jump in June ‘53 at the Fleet Review (Spithead) for the Queen’s coronation. She had arrived from Bermuda for the occasion and then I returned with her for the second half of the cruise: West Indies, East Coast of the States, Boston, Bar Harbor, New York, Newport U.S.N. navy base, then up to Canada, Quebec, Halifax, Nova Scotia, St. John’s and, then, back to Bermuda and home.
In 1954 we did a massive re-fit which drove all of us mad with dockyard maties clambering all over the mess deck tables – a couple of cruises on exercises then, in October, left for Bermuda.
This time we did a couple of cruises around the West Indies again, ferried troops to British Guyana, and President Tubman (Liberia’s head honcho) from Haiti to (I think Jamaica, can’t really remember) and a complete tour round South America: Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and the Caribbean Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad etc. and then back to Bermuda.
After a month we did the West Coast of the States. Some ride that! San Francisco, Long Beach (for damaged screw), Los Angeles (I met a young film extra there who took me round 2 of the studios at Hollywood), Santa Barbara, San Diego, Portland, Seattle then up to Canada to Vancouver and Esquimalt, the R.N. navy base.
On our way back south we stopped at Acapulco, and the ship held a draw to go to Mexico City. (The accommodation was in the army barracks based in the Bull Ring changing rooms, and the showers -cold- came straight down from the mountains – at seven thousand feet, that was cold!).
I went adrift there and had to go to the British Embassy who thought I was a hoot and plied me with gin and tonics before putting me on a bus back to Acapulco.
I got seven days stoppage of leave which meant I missed Santos (the arsehole of Panama) so I got off lightly and kept my rate and stripe.
I think the old man, Commodore Connell Fuller, was a decent bloke and had obviously done a few dodgy things in his career when a young officer, because I swear he had a twinkle in his eye when I explained, in my defence, that I had been overwhelmed with hospitality of the Mexican people and had not wished to appear ungrateful and offend them by slipping away in the midst of the revelries.
If the R.M. lieutenant, with whom I had clashed once or twice before, had not been the officer on watch I, probably, would have been bollocked and allowed below without being charged.
I know we all used to gripe now and then about service life, and that goes for all the services, but lets face it, in what other walk of life could any of us experience what we did during our time in the Andrew, and virtually free!
I am attaching a couple of pictures of the ship’s company, one with your truly (second right) sitting next to Hannibal de la Valparaiso, and the other group photo. You already have one with SPO (S) Cottrell but I am sending these in the hope, that if you send them out with a new letter in the future, some ship mates may recognise themselves.