After a lot of nagging and emailing and threatening to withhold parcels, Popeye has written a blog post!
It’s a subject that I have always been very curious (nosey) about. What is homecoming like for the sailor actually on the gert big honking warship?
Here at Oyl HQ, that is exactly the kind of burning question we like to answer, so without any further ado, here’s Popeye, giving it a sailors POV:
*pause for drumroll*
I have been asked by my lovely wife olive to write a guest blog post for all of you lovely readers describing homecoming from the other side of the dockside!
Now my literary prowess is somewhat lacking when it comes to this sort of thing, however I shall endeavour to paint you a “word picture”, here we go…
So, the night before homecoming, affectionately known as channel night, in a bygone era, was an evening (and most part of the morning) celebrating and getting so drunk you can barely stand up.
Nowadays it’s a far more conservative affair, possibly with a few drinks and then early to bed to make the next day come quicker, a bit like Christmas when you were 5 years old.
Don’t get me wrong there are still some sailors that drink until they shit themselves, but they are few and far between.
The trouble with this is (and I have witnessed it first hand) the next day you are so hungover you are unable to actually enjoy your homecoming. You are in such a state that you would rather go back to bed than see your family. Or you would rather speak to God on the porcelain telephone than hug your mum.
When I was asked to write this, I got to thinking, these peoples families have travelled for god knows how long to come and see their sailor, who they have missed and worried about and sent parcels and letters to. They stand there all excited, and what they are greeted with is an absolute hungover mess.
This is a bit of an anticlimax I expect.
That’s why I fall into the 5 year old at Christmas category!
So the morning of the homecoming is here. Normally, you are woken from your lovely sleep by a whistle over the ships broadcast.
However on homecoming day they wake you up with Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ or Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ then it’s a fairly straightforward routine. Get up, shower, brush teeth put on number 1’s.
Realise that number 1’s do not fit, panic, realise you are trying to put on someone else’s, find your own, put them on and marvel at how much weight you have lost.
Have breakfast, unless you are morning watch chef, in which case you will be cooking breakfast.
After all this it sort of sinks in that you will be seeing your loved ones again after however many moths and you start to get a bit excited.
Everyone is buzzing, people you have never spoken to in 6 to 9 months suddenly become ‘alright’ and you can talk to them, you have common ground. All anyone wants to do is just get home!
Then there is a sort of time in purgatory. You aren’t going to work that morning but they have yet to muster you for procedure Alpha (that’s where we all stand on the upper deck) so you bimble about drinking tea and trying not to spill it down yourself.
You pointlessly check your e mails. You think about phoning your family, and then think better of it because it might dilute the joy of homecoming!
Then they finally muster you for procedure Alpha. Now you would have thought getting a bunch of people to stand along the side of a ship is a pretty easy thing to organise. You would be wrong. You have to be placed in order of height and then marched down the side of the ship and told where to stand. I know it doesn’t sound like much but this can take anywhere up to an hour to sort out! So you stand in your spot looking out at Portsmouth/ Plymouth or wherever you happen to be coming in to and it is cold. It is so fucking cold! Number 1’s are not renowned for their thermal retention properties. All you are thinking is hurry the fuck up because I am fucking freezing!
So you start to enter your port of choice, lots of people waving from the beach and stuff, obviously you can’t wave back because it’s not very military! Oh and as soon as you start to enter your port of choice it for some reason becomes really windy, so with wind chill it’s about -50 degrees Celsius.
You start to shiver and your lips turn blue. Your feet hurt because not only are they cold but you have squeezed them into a pair of pussers’ shoes that you have only worn twice and they are extremely uncomfortable!
Then you see a huge throng of people with banners all shouting and cheering.
Then you allow yourself to be very excited, now in the normal running of things you are not allowed to move or wave back until the first rope has gone from the ship to the dockside.
So you frantically scan the crowd looking for your family, it’s sort of a silent competition, spot them before they spot you. We do have an advantage in this game by being all dressed the same. Olive described it as the hardest game of ‘Where’s Wally’ ever.
You finally spot them and for me, the first thing I think is “Thank god she’s turned up and not run away with some bloke she met in her yoga class called Fabian who pronounces Barcelona with a ‘th'”she is waving at me. I can’t wave back. She stops waving and gives me the look of “why aren’t you waving back?” (#sadface) then another look of “oh god have I just been waving at a complete stranger?!?!” You try to telepathically communicate that “you are waving at the right person but I cant wave back, look no one else is waving back!”
Then the first rope goes across and you are allowed to wave but by that time you’re arms and legs do not want to move. Your muscles are all stiff and cold but you make the effort and give them a wave.
I have always found this fairly awkward. You are waving and stuff but you can’t get off the ship until the gangway is down. So what is the waving etiquette? When do you stop?
Obviously I can’t stand there waving like an idiot for half an hour.
So you stop waving and try to mouth things to your loved ones but because they are to far away to hear you. They have no idea what you are saying. You try to find someone to talk to so as not to look stupid but at the same time keep one eye on the family in case they move! It’s all very complicated! Then the gangway goes down and wait for the captain’s family to come on and then you have to wait for the bloke who won the ships raffle to be first off the gangway.
You are finally allowed down the gangway. You move through the crowd like a ninja, not brushing against anyone and twisting this way and that, then you see them and suddenly everything is alright again.
You forget your hypothermia and broken feet and have the best hug ever, then a kiss, and then you become a bit nervous and wonder what to say.
I always say the same thing ‘alright?’ with that word I reassure them that I am the same person I was when I left. Then the answer I get is ‘Yeah, you?’ and with that I know they are the same person they were when I left and everything is going to be alright.
Now imagine trying to
do all that with a raging hangover…