Back to Sea Again
Six months had passed and the scandal back home in Blackpool had passed. I returned to find another old friend of mine had moved to live in Blackpool. His parents had bought a small hotel in Cleveleys and so we joined forces. I worked with him. He had just passed out of a chefs' training college, so he was the cook, and I became the waiter. He was very interested in joining the merchant navy. I suppose my stories of life on the ocean wave enticed him even more. Every time the hotel was empty we would zoom off to Liverpool on his motorbike. Our favourite destination was the dockyard areas. We soon got to know all the ins and outs of the ships and crews.
One day, Rodney decided to follow a lead to a job as a chef on a liner of the same company that I had worked for. He got the job and I got a job as a steward on another line called the Blue Funnel Company. The boat that I went to work on was called 'Theseus' and was a cargo and passenger boat. We carried only ten passengers and cargo bound for Hong Kong. The trip out was laborious. There were only six of us on the catering side, ten deckhands and ten officers. The deckhands were all Scotsmen from Glasgow and their free time was always spent drinking and fighting amongst themselves. They showed no love at all for us stewards and it was as if we came from another planet.
Their aggression towards us of the 'Below Decks' level was that of a silent feud with a fuse that I felt would burn to the end before we reached our destination. The whole length of the ship separated our respective cabin areas. The 'Deckies' as they were called lived at the front of the ship, the officers and passengers in the middle and the catering staff at the back.
I had to look after the passengers and serve their food. The other steward Mick had the job of looking after the officers. Mick and I became exceptionally good friends. He was just a little smaller than I was and very attractive. He had a very outward personality and was always the life and soul of the party, but he liked to get drunk! I was also accustomed to knocking back a few bevvies but Mick could leave me standing. Every time we reached a port, Mick would get totally legless and on many occasions I had to carry him back on board.
On arrival in Hong Kong, our passengers departed the ship and we all had a couple of days off. All the stewards decided to go ashore together to do the usual thing - drink and find some girls. We had a few bevvies on board before going ashore and as we were anchored out in the bay, we had to call a water taxi. We were on our way across Hong Kong Harbour, singing an old Liverpudlian song as we went. Coming towards us in the other direction was a large tender which I immediately recognised as belonging to the same ship that my friend Rodney had gone to work on. I was hysterical with excitement and shouted to the other boat.
"Hey Rod are you there?"
Suddenly I saw him. He jumped up onto the front of the boat and I did the same on our water taxi. The boats came closer and closer together and we were both so intoxicated by the excitement of seeing each other again, that we tried to shake hands as the boats passed by each other. The bow waves of the two boats met and both the boats lurched violently as we were leaning overboard. We were both caught off balance and fell in the drink. Our taxi being the smaller of the two shore boats did a quick turn and Mick and the others pulled us both out of the water and into the boat. We were so happy to see each other and more than a little drunk that we never even thought of the danger that we might have been in. It never even entered our heads. It was not until the following morning on our return that we saw the hungry sharks swimming about in the harbour.
Our taxi dropped us off at a shoreside bar called the 'Blue Peter'. This bar was a favourite with the local seamen. Mick, Rod and I became the cabaret of the evening. Mick's favourite trick, after he had had a skinful of ale, was "the dance of the flaming arsehole". He would roll up a newspaper then take off his trousers; then lighting the rolled up newspaper, he would stick one end up his bum, jump up onto the bar and prance around like a total idiot. After that he would challenge all present to a lighted fart contest.
He could, after a few drinks, fart longer and louder than any other person I have ever met. I can still see six guys, legs behind their heads, with matches aflame but Mick won hands down. He sent a blue flame flying at least two feet. The owners of the bar became afraid of that barbaric behaviour and ordered us all to leave. Mick wanted to fight but we got him out just as we saw the police vans arrive, and ran for it.
We ran into the back streets of Hong Kong's dockland. We were so rowdy that the locals, about 30 of them, all small Chinese men, started to chase us and throw stones at us. Mick in his drunken stupor, retaliated by picking one of the pot-plants off the window ledge and standing defiantly in the middle of the road, he ate the plant. The Chinese burst out in laughter. They thought it hilarious and the aggression passed with that laughter.
Sometime later, in the local brothel, Mick began to mumble. We were all so drunk that we ignored his strange facial contortions. It was not until the next day that we realised that Mick was in trouble. He had been put to bed by one of the girls, as we all had, but Mick had simply gone to sleep, the girl told us. Now in the morning, he would not speak to any of us. He signalled that he could not even open his mouth. He was obviously in pain.
I called a taxi to take us to the local hospital. After Mick was examined, it was decided that he had eaten an exceptionally acidic type of cactus plant and as a result, all of his mouth tongue, and throat were burned to the flesh.
He had to be fed through his nose from bottles. The ship's captain was notified and he made arrangements for a sufficient supply of the liquid food to be delivered to the ship. Poor old Mick suffered in silence. It took several weeks for him to heal.
Rod rejoined his vessel and we all departed from Hong Kong on the same day. It was not until I returned home to Blackpool that I saw Rod again.
Our vessel was now heading for Australia. I sent a postcard to my girlfriend in Sydney to let her know that I was on my way. We arrived in Sydney docks a week later at mid-day. I was below serving dinner to my new passengers. We felt the bump as the “Theseus” came alongside. Half my passengers left the table to go on deck and watch the tying up procedure. The others remained seated at the table.
Suddenly there was a commotion of whistles and catcalls from above. The deckies were going crazy. Curiosity got the better of me and so I took a look through the porthole. Below on the quay wall, I saw five girls clad only in the flimsiest, scanty see-through clothes. Their breasts were bare beneath the see through cover. They were parading up and down beside the gangway of the boat. The First Officer was at the foot of the gangway, obviously embarrassed by the situation of having to refuse the girls access to the boat. One of the girls was having what appeared to be a heated discussion with him. As I watched, I noticed that she was familiar to me. I saw the First Officer take out his two-way radio and then I heard my name being called over the ship's tannoy system.
"Steward Kelly, report immediately to the Bridge". I excused myself to the passengers, who were by now just finishing their meal, and reported to the Bridge.
The Captain was wailing. "What on earth is going on here Kelly" I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued that "those females down there" pointing to the gangway, "have come to see you. One of them says that she is your fiancée and demands entrance to the boat. Now you'd better get rid of them and fast." He continued to point out that his wife was due to join the boat anytime and that he would not allow her to be confronted with such immoral tarts!
I made my exit and descended the gangway. Eileen was on top of me like a ton of bricks. She threw her arms around me, lavishing me with kisses as the other four broke into a song and dance routine. I looked up at the boat and saw the whole ship's crew and passengers peering down. The deckies were screaming obscenities, the Officers and passengers were looking disgusted and the catering staff were doubled up with laughter.
I felt terribly proud yet embarrassed. The girls were so beautiful, Eileen being the most beautiful. Her body felt so warm and welcoming. Suddenly from nowhere, there was a flashing of lights. I glanced to my side and saw we were the objects of reportage. We were on film.
Eileen pulled me into all sorts of glamorous positions as the cameras flashed. Within minutes the port captain arrived and ordered everybody out of the dock. I went with them in their cars. It took about ten minutes before we arrived at a nightclub. Once inside we sat down and over a drink, Eileen told me what was happening. Apparently her friends and she had opened the nightclub for sailors and she had decided to use my arrival as a publicity stunt. The girls were hostesses in the club and so the more sexually revealing they appeared, the better it was for business.
I spent an hour or two before returning to the boat to make my apologies to the captain. I explained to him what I had learned about the incident which he accepted by warning me that I had better maintain a low profile in future or else!
Our stay in Sydney was to be for a couple of weeks as we had engine repairs. In the evenings we would visit Eileen's club, "The Black Cat". I introduced all the catering staff to the club and we had a great time.
The girls decided to throw a party for us the day before we left. By now, Mick was back in form. We all did the usual and got well and truly plastered. As the night drew to an end, the girls decided to drive us back to the boat. On arrival, the Chief Steward invited the girls on board for a last drink. We had a few more in between kissing and groping. Pretty soon we were all naked and enjoyed a group orgy. Mick got a bit out of hand as usual and stole one of the girls' knickers and adamantly refused to return them. He stated that he was going to sleep with them on his face until we returned to Sydney. The girls did not make a fuss about it and said their farewells. We were due to set sail at daybreak
In the morning all hell let loose. I was serving breakfast when the Chief said to me, "Go and have a look at the new flag". I went out on deck to see there fluttering in the early morning sun flying high above the Bridge, a pair of pink knickers. The Captain was on the Bridge directing the departure routine. I heard his voice boom out of the tannoy speaker system, "Let go fore and aft lines" the engines throbbing into life as we slowly moved away from the quay wall. All the stewards were well aware of that unusual flag that Mick had hoisted in his drunkenness.
As we slowly cruised out of Sydney harbour and under the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, we heard the girls screaming their farewells to us from above on top of the bridge. The Captain raised his eyes to look up at the girls and it was then that he saw the flag of knickers. He immediately pushed his wife into the wheelhouse on the Bridge. Once clear of the harbour, he demanded over the tannoy that all the ship's company muster on deck. He was furious. His face was like an over ripe orange about to burst.
"Okay" he said, "Who's responsible" as he held forth the knickers. Nobody replied, for nobody could admit the truth without involving everybody else.
"Okay" he continued, "this whole ship's crew will be replaced on arrival in the U.K.". He then took leave of himself.
The deckies felt sure that it must be the stewards that had caused this situation and the officers just looked perplexed.
Our voyage home meant that we would all be at sea for Xmas. On Xmas we were having a drinking session in our own mess, when the deckies crashed in. They had decided to mop the floor with us. A terrific fight ensued, which spread itself throughout the ship. Even a couple of the officers were involved in the turmoil. One of the younger deckies got hit on the head with a bottle and blood spurted everywhere. Amid the screams of pain, all involved realised the seriousness of the situation and the fighting stopped. The injured boy was tended to, as were all the other wounded.
Mick and I decided then, that we did not want to return to sea and we made a plan to stay ashore and open a club. On arrival in Liverpool, we were paid off the "Theseus". There were no happy goodbyes from the rest of the ship's company, more like a relief at having arrived home alive.
I went to live with Mick in Liverpool. He lived with his family in Garston, Liverpool. His father, mother and 15-year old sister lived in an old Victorian type house on the banks of the river Mersey. I had my own bedroom. Mick's father was much older than his mother was and I could see that they no longer had anything in common. He was an Irish navvy, who returned home each evening after a hard days digging, ready only to fall asleep. Mick's mother was young and alive, always ready for a party and his sister was interesting as she was just blooming forth into a very attractive young lady and I had an innocent little flirt relationship with her.
As time passed by, Mick and his mother would constantly discuss the restaurant that they wanted to open. During the day, Mick and I would scour the streets of Liverpool looking for suitable premises. At weekends the four of us would visit all the different night-clubs, restaurants etc and it was not long before our money ran out. Mick decided to go back to sea for a further six-month trip. He said that he would save all his money and return with enough cash to open their dream business. I stayed behind to get a shore job. I had begun to enjoy a coffee club in Liverpool, by the name of the 'Jacaranda'. It was owned by a couple called Allan & Beryl Williams.
And so began the next episode of my life.