Taxi to the SS Hughli
It was 1956 and I was spending the night in the Seamen’s Mission in Cardiff. I was there as a consequence of too much VAT69 on board Her Majesty’s Troopship ‘Dunera’ at anchor in Singapore (but that’s another story). I had been a disgrace I was told and so was sent from Southampton to Cardiff to join a tramp-steamer instead of sailing with the great white ship “Dunera’ full of troops to Egypt for the invasion of Suez (but that’s another story).
There was a crew in the Cardiff Mission getting drunk, I kept well away because they looked a rough crowd. In the morning I called a taxi to go to the shipping office to sign on the tramp. The rough crowd were there on the pavement with their bags. They loaded up and drove off. Realising they had picked up my bags also, I jumped into my taxi and said: ‘follow that cab!’
We chased it all the way to Cardiff Docks where it pulled up next to a filthy old ship, streaked with rust and, I thought, leaning against the dock like an old whore at the bar. I ran up the gangway and retrieved my bags before giving a very large man in the ‘rough crowd’ a mouthful of 18 year-old’s abuse. He menaced me and so I hopped it quick with my bags.
Then the taxi took me back to Cardiff Shipping Office where I signed articles for the motor vessel ‘Hughli’ presently in Cardiff. And so back to the docks in the taxi where we pulled up alongside the Hughli – to my horror it was the same ship on which I’d just had that altercation.
I crept up the gangway and was confronted by ‘the large man’ with: ‘You again! What the bloody hell do you want this time?’
I meekly answered, ‘I’m your new Radio Officer’.
‘And I’m First Mate,’ he said, ‘I can see we are going to have an interesting trip . . .’