Monday, August 22, 2011

The ocean wave was once our life.

House guests can come and go, and can be awful. Yet Andrew and Kathy (with their two teenage children) have made me redefine such a general and unkind statement. Yes, I cooked for them on two evenings, but this evening they treated us to a delightful and delicious dinner at Nichol's (local pub and eatery) and good conversation has been constant.

To explain: Andrew and I have a Royal Navy career in common, he a warfare officer and me a Chaplain, and we served together in what was surely the pinnacle of our "afloat" experience - the aircraft carrier HMS INVINCIBLE (above). Now that is a starting point. I only served that ship for a year, but the common ground was enough to get us started on so many other separate stories. Of war and peace, and many things in between.

If I were to list the questions we asked of each other here there would not be enough room on the page. Do you remember so-and -so? What ship was that? Really? Then we missed each other by months. Whatever happened to him? That's great, or, oh dear that's sad. Remind me - the name of that missile system? Fitted to that ship? Surely not. Your thinking of the previous system. And the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary.) Ever sail with them? And I told Andrew my tales of living in three RFA ships in the Persian Gulf, the gay stewards and chefs, and the collision with the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA. And he told me stories of sea training in a warship with wooden decks and a lack of spare parts. (The Type 82 was the only one of its class!) I told him of the Principal Medical Officer who only wore bow ties, even when in rig, because of his gynaecological training - and this was on a warship with no females. And he told me of a fire-scarred Wessex helicopter pilot, a Falklands conflict special operations veteran, who continued to fly Sea Kings, and who doted on his young son. I talked about the pain of commando training, and the ridiculous comfort of a snow hole in Norway, and he expressed concern that even if we could return, there was little navy left. I told the story of Alistair, an RFA officer, who always slept with his cabin door open, as when his old ship (RFA SIR GALAHAD) was hit by an Exocet missile his friend's cabin door was melted shut in the inferno, and he could not escape. But there were also happier tales which are too numerous to mention here.

In the UK we might described ourselves as being ex-navy. Americans are quick to correct us. We are not ex-navy, but retired navy. They are so correct. We may leave the navy, but the navy never leaves us!

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