Me aboard the S.S. Dwarka (of 'The World About Us' fame!) around Christmas time
1976, three years before the BBC documentary was filmed - yes, isn't life tragic. Missed my chance to be a film star!
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We were in Bombay, our home port on this run, when this photo was taken. One
of the joys of my merchant navy career was the opportunity to visit some of the great cities of the world, and not as a tourist
either. Bombay is certainly up there in the top five, I think. A great city, with great people, in a great country. In the
interests of balance, that goes for Karachi, its people and Pakistan too, although I never got to go ashore there. There was
never enough time. The 'dhobi' that I sent ashore in both places returned
just as stiffly starched. A bit too starched. I usually had to chisel my shirts open afterwards!
India herself has always had a fascination for the British. I've often thought
how this could be expressed. Having been there several times, I think I have an answer - how about 'the familiarly unfamiliar'?
The 'Dwarka', and its sister ship, the 'Dumra', were floating legends in the Persian Gulf/Bay
of Bengal area at the time. For almost forty years they plied the same route carrying passengers, mainly migrant workers (plus
the odd bit of 'white trash' on the 'Katmandu Trail') from Bombay/Karachi to the gulf ports of Muscat, Dubai, Bahrain, Doha,
Kuwait, and back again, with a huge pile of passengers' luggage on the return journey e.g. fridges, TV sets, hi-fi, crates
of clothes and linen, carpets - it was really entertaining to sit on one of the upper decks while the passengers
disembarked in the ports of Karachi and Bombay, and spend all afternoon, with a can of beer (or three!), watching
the customs officers trawl through it all on the quayside, chucking it here, there and everywhere. Some of the passengers
must have taken three days to get through!
The ship had cabins for fifty, the other one thousand people just slept on deck. Each small
family group had its own transistor radio full on, and, it seemed, each tuned to a different radio station. Complete auditory
bedlam. John Cage, you should've been there!
Sitting next to me is the famous 'Dick' - forgotten his surname now. He was the 'security'
officer who had to keep order amongst the passengers, quite a tall order for just him, his trusty truncheon and a half-drunk
can of Tennants larger. Mind you, he was an ex Aussie Army R.S.M., so he really didn't have much trouble doing it.
As you can see, I'm back in shorts again. But not drinking them. What's in that
glass is beer. I was 17 before I risked going into a pub and ask for a pint of beer. Being so small, I wasn't able to do what
many of my schoolmates managed at 13 or 14. (During one of the several rehearsals
of the school production of 'Noyes Fludde' at Llandaff Cathedral in 1966, there were rumours that a fifth-former had had a
bit too much to drink at the 'Malster's Arms' that dinner time, and slept it off under the stage, after being discreetly and
hurriedly hidden there by several of his fellow under-age drinking companions!). Beer is always nice, but twice as nice when
obtained illicitly by being purchased under age. Forbidden fruit, and all that.
The pub I started my drinking career in was the 'Woodville' at the top of Woodville
Road/Senghennydd Road in Cardiff. "What can I get you, sir?" the barmaid asked me. - Sir? Oh, I'm going to like being grown
up! And she's a bit of alright too, not much older than I'm supposed to be! "Pint of homebrew, please." I told the barmaid
in the deepest, macho voice I could manage. Cost me one and three! Mind you, I was only earning £7-10s a week then. And it
took me all my dinner hour to drink! Today, I can down a pint in less than a minute flat, and I'm afraid I have the beer-gut
to prove it.
If you think I've just got up from my afternoon siesta after sleeping in my
uniform, you'd probably be right! I was never noted for my love of 'bull', especially the observance of their pretentious
dress code which was customarily expected of officers serving with the British India Company - BI - whose ship this was.
A bunch of toffee-nosed gits, if you ask me. Now Strick Line - very down to earth and fantastic food. Chips for breakfast,
and for dinner - (I'm working-class you see. The midday meal is dinner!) - both a European meal and an alternative
Indian curry were laid on with all the trimmings. I had both! (Well, I was a growing lad, wasn't I?) And Moss-Hutchinsons,
a very friendly small company with a lovely family atmosphere. Harrisons Clyde - such hard drinkers - usually from Glasgow
- you have never seen in your life, even amongst seaman - and Glaswegians!
I usually preferred to eat in the duty mess and work in a boiler suit. Indeed,
if it was nice and sunny, and secluded too, I often wore nothing at all, as you can see on the next page!
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