Sunday, June 29, 2008

BMTTS.... practicalities at sea

When I first went to sea with a small child, I remember looking at the ridiculous railings. I mean, they were just thin bars, not solid. The kind of thing children love to climb. Only, this time it was like climbing a fence 12 or more storeys high. With a loooooong drop to the sea. I do believe my hair stood on end at that point.

When I mentioned this to Geoff, he reminded me that it was a working ship and not a cruise liner, and also said that, should a child fall over board, it would be like landing on concrete, and they probably would not survive the fall. Never mind the miles deep water. Or being sucked into the engine outlet thingys or the propellers. I looked at him, and said...there is not a mother alive who would not go over after their child. And at that point, I think what hair he had left also stood on end.

Fine, he said. If you ever have to, just make sure you a) scream loudly so someone hears you, b)take a lifebelt with you, and c) jump feet first, as far out as you possibly can. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I never had to try this. My kids learnt fast never to go anywhere near the railings, and as I said in a previous post sometime ago, I used to use reins, and tie them to the railings so they could not fall when we were next to the pool. It worked.

Once, Geoff took Andrew down to the engine room to see the engines, and while they were there, there was a power failure. Now, as the senior electrical engineer on board, the only person who could fix that was Geoff. Only he had a 2 year old with him. At the bottom of the ship. And the lift did not work. So he did what every intelligent man would do. He picked Andrew up and announced they were playing the monkey game. Andrew was to cling to Geoff with arms and legs, and hold on very tight. And he started climbing the lift shaft. All 15 floors of it. Or the equivalent. Right up to the bridge, from the bowels of the ship, because that was where the emergency exit was. With my 2 year old hanging on like a monkey.

I knew nothing of this until Andrew came barrelling through the cabin door shrieking with delight at the new monkey game, and the fact that he had been on the bridge and Daddy had climbed and climbed and climbed. And Geoff just grinned and said he had to go and fix the power, as the ship was drifting somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, and that was not on the agenda for the day. And off he went.

And you can just imagine what my hair was doing at this point.

But those sort of things happened very rarely. And I smile about them now. Most of the time, it was fun. Wonderful meals and entertainment in the evenings, and usually other wives on board. Sometimes children too. Somehow the kids always ended up in our cabin, though. Probably because of that magic box of stuff I always had with me!

There were no baths in the cabins, just showers, so I rigged a "plug" of sorts, by using a piece of heavy rubber, and a filled 2l bottle of water on top of it, and then filled the base of the shower with water, so the kids could have a "bath". Thankfully, there was a drain in the bathroom as well, as we had tidal waves everywhere, but they did get clean in the process. It was such fun watching them run down the corridors. Sometimes they would be running uphill and sometimes downhill, depending on the way the ship was rolling. If you ever feel seasick, by the way, lower your centre of gravity. Sit on the floor. It is amazing what a difference that makes!

When they got a little older, they used to use a cadet's cabin near ours. These cabins had twin bunks, and their own shower, so they had somewhere else to play too. And to decorate. They also had somewhere to read in peace and just have space alone, which was good.

The children always loved lifeboat drill. They would grab their hats (essential) and put on shoes (also mandatory, though I have no idea why), put on their lifejackets and we would race to the lifeboat stations. They would be blowing their whistles all the way. I always kept essential "abandon ship" things in the drawer nearest the door. Things like passports, survival blankets sweets etc. Thankfully, once more, we never had to use them.

When families, or wives travelled, they were responsible for the cleaning of the cabins, not the stewards. And while Geoff had his cabin cleaned and all his clothes laundered for him when I wasn't on board, I did it all if we were travelling. We used to go down to the ship's laundry or the officers' laundry and use their massive machines. The tumble dryer would have things dry in minutes. Not like domestic ones! On one temperature. Ultra hot. I made the mistake of throwing everything in one. Just once. Half came out in a size more suitable for dolls. Other stuff would hang on lines in the officers' laundry. Unmentionables were hung to dry on lines I rigged in our bathroom. Not ideal, but do-able.

Every week the captain did his rounds, and as a courtesy to wives, he generally just looked in the door but never inspected our cabins. Usually.

There was one captain who shall remain nameless, who used to barge in, and shine his torch in corners of our cabin and mutter under his breath. I think that is where my considerable efforts to control my temper were sorely tested. He was also one of the few men I have ever met who expected me (and other wives) to stand back and allow him to walk through the door first. He used his rank as captain to the detriment of his rating as a man with manners. I have a thing about good manners. Thankfully we did not have to travel with him again. Once was enough.

Life at sea is regulated by the clock. Everyone works in particular shifts, or watches. Well, most people. 4-8, 8-12, 12-4. Both night and day. The ship has to keep moving. Meals were at set times, as were tea breaks. So our days were neatly broken down into segments for us. Between breakfast at 8 for us and before tea at 10am, it was time to clean and tidy the cabin and do washing etc. After tea, was the time to go out on deck, swim, play, go looking for dolphins or whales, or flying fish. Time after lunch at noon, was for crafty activities or games. Time after tea at 3 was for more outdoor play, showers etc, and then supper at 6. After supper, it was time for cabin quiet play and getting ready for bed, and then in the evening, there was entertainment laid on for the adults. Either quizzes, movies, darts competitions, card games, etc etc.

If there were a few wives on board, we usually got together in the lounge for aerobics before tea in the mornings, when the washing was on! It was the one time we could usually guarantee no-one was around to watch us leaping about with vigour. This was complicated a trifle by the movement beneath our feet. Ships don't stay still, you know. The kids used to try to copy us, or watch movies while we were being energetic. Then we would have tea. And biscuits (cookies). Of course.

If the weather was bad, we spent more time doing crafty things, and every day after lunch, Geoff used to come back to the cabin for an hour and play with the children. So I had an hour or so to myself. Now you see why that magic box of stuff I used to take on board was so important! I will post more about the things we used to do next time.

This is actually fun. As I am writing, I am remembering so much I had forgotten. And I am glad. I can put it down on paper for my family. Thank you all for your lovely comments. I will carry on posting, but will probably intersperse these posts with other random bits.

For those who have asked, I am being as good as I am able to be about the knee. It is still swollen and uncomfortable, and the couch, icepack and cushions are close companions! We will see what Tuesday brings.


Debbie said...

Linds, I enjoy reading your blog and have especially enjoyed the posts about your time at sea. I understand your pain with your knee as I have chronic pain in both knees from arthritis that has seriously limited my activities. I hope you're much better very soon!!

Needled Mom said...

Geoff must have also been very creative to come up with the monkey game idea. I am glad that I did not witness the event.

Your time at sea sounds so interesting. It must have been a great experience for the whole family.

Keep taking care of that knee.

Becky said...

I get totally immersed in your stories each time I read. I sort of imagine myself in the scene somewhere. This is such fun to read and so wonderful for you to be able to document it.

I know the injured knee is not fun, but it certainly has given you time to write these stories.

Dawn said...

This is so great to read about this incredible time in your life - so different from any of the rest of ours! I'm glad it's bringing up good memories for you. That's what this blogging thing has done for me - dredging up so many memories!

Mary said...

How brave where you with only small rails and a long drop to a lot of sea. Last year my two daughters and I crossed over a bit of water to visit Kangaroo Island 2 hr crossing - reasonably choppy waters). They are young adults and yetI felt like I had to remind them to stay away from the rails. I actually think I may have held onto the backs of their jumpers!

Midlife Mom said...

I too am enjoying your memories of your days on the boats with your husband and children. It's quite a different lifestyle and I think it takes a special person to be able to deal with all of it. My dental hygenist's hubby ships out for six months at a time and I know sometimes it's really hard for her but she carries on. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us!

Judith said...

I think I just goofed again, trying to write this. Hope your knee is improving. mine does better when I'm off it more.

Those rails would have scared me so much. Of course I was the mom,the only mom who put bright colored G I Surplus lifejackets on all six of mine when we went to the town's wading pool. Will make sure that's in my book.

Lines in your last post that really grabbed me are: "Looking for dolphins, whales, or flying fish. and "I am remembering so much I had forgotten, and I am glad. The last four words
are the best.

Susie said...

Hi Linds,
I think it would have been so hard to relax with small children at sea as one has to be ever vigilant. You've shared such a different and interesting part of your life. Most of us can't really imagine doing the things you did.
Hope your knee is a bit better each day.

Jo said...

Linds I have to say I have so very much enjoyed these stories that you have shared with us. What wonderful memories to look back on.

Also what a brilliant idea to tie the children up with reins to keep them from falling over the rails.

I hope your report on the knee is a good one.