Monday, 2 January 2012


It couldn't happen nowadays - and even back then it was probably not that common. I don't remember when the traditional morning tot was abolished by the Andrew - and I have never found out just why the Royal Navy should have been given that nickname - but the story I am about to relate dates from the days when every matelot aged 18 and over was entitled to it. I had pretty much forgotten this little episode until I read a post by Stephen Hayes, aka the Chubby Catterbox, sorry, that should read Chatterbox. He describes (here) what Manhattans and a drink known as AMF have done to him in the past and goes on to ask what drinks do the same for others.

Perhaps before I go any further I will make it quite clear that these days I drink very little, certainly never enough to land me on my back. I take a regular glass of wine - purely for medicinal purposes, you understand - and have been known to drink the occasional Scotch and water. That's plain tap water, none of your fizzy soda water which just spoils a good drink. And definitely no ice.

Back in the days almost beyond recall I was under the impression (mistaken, as it happens) that my family on my father's side had been deep sea fishermen for generations until my grandfather joined the Royal Navy, in which he served for more than 20 years. Likewise my father. With the youthful enthusiasm which has long since left me, I really wanted to keep up the family tradition. Unfortunately, I had suffered with asthma all my life and there was no way that I could pass the medical for entry into the Andrew. However, we were living in Hove then and, as luck would have it, there was a division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve with its headquarters on the seafront. One parade night I diffidently showed myself and, much to my surprise, was accepted for entry so long as it was into a sedentary rating and I eventually found myself in the uniform of a Writer, RNVR.

As well as attending weekly parades, all reservists had to undertake two week's training each year. For most, this involved going to sea on board HMS Curzon, the minesweeper allocated to the Sussex Division RNVR. There was no place for a writer on the Curzon so, after I had attended all the obligatory courses at Chatham barracks, I was sent to a proper ship or establishment for my training every year. One year I travelled to Devonport to join HMS Lynx. Almost as soon as I was aboard she sailed. We travelled westabout round England, Wales and Scotland, passing through the Pentland Firth in a force 8 gale soon after eating greasy pork chops. Not a pleasant experience, the Pentland Firth being one of the roughest sea areas around our coast. Our destination was Bremerhaven, Germany, where we were to make a "fly the flag" visit.

We arrived in the morning and shore leave was granted to the whole ship's company from 11.30 or thereabouts. Pretty well all the hands in my mess went ashore straight away, leaving just three or four of us who had decided to eat lunch on board before exploring the town. "Up spirits" was piped as usual at noon and the killick of the mess went to collect the tots for our mess. Naturally, no mention was made of the matelots already ashore who were, technically, not eligible to receive their tots that day. The rum was brought back to the mess and the four of us had our tots. It was not permissible to keep any rum, not even for an hour or so, and there was still rum in the fanny. We ended up drinking about three tots each that day - all on empty stomachs - and Navy rum was slightly stronger than the rum one usually buys in the supermarket. I have a feeling it was about 90% proof.

After lunch we went ashore and piled into the first bar we saw. We ordered a round of drinks (beer) but one of the locals insisted on paying. All the locals, one after the other, bought us a round of drinks until, after four or five beers, we staggered out and into town where we almost fell into a cellar wine bar.

I never did remember anything between the second bottle of wine and me staggering along a railway track at the harbour. Heaven alone knows how I got there! So to answer Stephen's question, it was - on that occasion - a mixture of rum, beer and wine that knocked me on my back.

1 comment:

The Broad said...

Happy New Year, Brighton Pensioner! One can almost have a hangover just reading about that one!