The thing about the navy is, that until you are in a relationship with a sailor, you have this rosy tinted view of the “might of the British navy”. This super powerful, super organised sleek beast, epitomising the pinnacle of military might in the first world.
When you’re about five minutes in to said relationship with sailor, this view begins to lose its lustre. I am a bit of control freak at times granted, but that does not begin to explain my frustration with the oldest established military force in the U.K.
You can’t organise one thing, not one teeny tiny eeny weeny event or anything and safely bank that your partner will be there. Popeyes catchphrase at the end of any conversation about leave or deployment dates is “subject to change”.
“Subject to change” is putting it bloody mildly. When we were first dating I dropped a young fresh faced Popeye off at the train station on Sunday night. We had our standard hug and kiss goodbye and I drove merrily home to tidy up dirty cups, snotty tissues and sweet/choc wrappers left as what I can only guess are love mementos by Popeye, (which I have been reliably informed are an alpha males calling card by the way, so there), thinking in my wide eyed final year uni student way that “yes, I will of course see him on Friday. As per usual. That’s what he told me so that is what must be happening.”
I did not see Popeye for two months dear readers.
It wasn’t even a deployment, just basic sea trials (translation: pissing about on the sea whilst the engine breaks again and again) and bad timings of him being duty weekend in between.
This baptism of fire was about four years ago, before a deployment proper. It taught me a hard but necessary lesson.
Subject to change= “don’t rely on anything darling sailor is saying about where he is going to be at any given time on this planet until he is physically standing in front of you in the doorway with his x box in one bag and dirty kit in the other”.
This also happens with deployments, I’ve known countless other wives and girlfriends who have saved up all their pennies, adjusted their countdowns on the calendar and bought a whole new wardrobe so they can fly out and see their partners mid deployment. This does sometimes work and must be amazing to do. Alas, there are times when the ships timetable has changed, or their partners are duty or the some other international incident has occurred which means that all their build up and excitement comes crashing down.
These are “big” examples. There have been hundreds of times when leave has been cancelled, or he’s come home really late, or not come home at all and not been able to call until the next day (visualise me having a panic on a Friday, pacing around the living room and thinking, “is he really not coming home? I need to know so I can open some wine or not, will I be needed for lifts from the train station? Oh sod it he’ll have to get a taxi”.)
Just yesterday (and probably the inspiration for this cheerful little post!) I said goodbye thinking I’d see Popeye after he’d finished work, nope. Not a chance naive Olive! Gone until further notice! Don’t even know where he is! I’ve learnt to go with the flow now though and admit defeat. My timetable and plans MUST come second to the navy . I knew this when I met him.
Doesn’t mean I can’t moan about it though.
NONE of this is the sailors fault. No way. It seems to me that yes, the navy IS powerful. And it IS a world leader in protecting humanitarian rights and providing aid. What it is not, however,is all that organised in terms of sticking to the plan... Which I think is the part that annoys me (and other partners of sailors) the most.
This flexibility in the plan may be an essential component in keeping the Royal Navy up there as one of the “big boys”, or (and I suspect this is true) it may be due to the dubious attention to detail or rigorous testing provided by BAE so that half of what they need to do they can’t because the thing they need to use to get there is broken. Or they get to where they need to go and the thing they need to fire or check or use is broken. Therefore a wasted journey for the ship and missed Christmas plays, birthdays and anniversaries for the crew.
But I have to mention the flip side. Those fantastic spine tingling, breath taking evenings when you’re watching some highly intelligent documentary on TV (ok ok so it’s more likeI’m a celeb, X factor or true blood but he doesn’t need to know that, as you quickly switch to question time or something with Micheal Palin in it).
The door knocks, the dog starts going mental, you jump up, half daring to think it could be him, half hoping its a free dominos pizza and not a murderer. And there he is! Exhausted, dishevelled and grumpy, but home. These surprises are what makes up for all the crappy times when the Royal Navy messes us around. In these moments I freakin love the Navy. Like properly. Forever. Until the next Sunday night.
So my message to you the next generation of fresh faced, intelligent navy partners, is this: use the dates your Popeye gives you as a vague indication of when you might see them. Get holiday insurance. Do what you were planning on doing anyway. Don’t spend your life waiting for the navy to care about your plans and agenda because it’s got bigger things to prioritise. Understand that your sailor finds this JUST as rubbish as you and prepare to be amazed at how much of a warship can be repaired using gaffer tape.
Oh yes and make sure you shave your armpits for those surprise hugs in the doorway.