The Navy effect: When goodbye doesn’t mean goodbye.

I need to vent, here, in a safe space where I won’t jeopardise my marriage. First let me say I’m not so ungrateful that I don’t love having Popeye home as much as possible. I really really do. 

Ok I’m a navy wife, yes sure, but also I’m a mum. I’m a woman in my own right with a career and friends and stuff to do. 

As much as I love and adore and get a giddy thrill  out of hanging around waiting for Popeye to turn up after however long bobbing around on the big blue it may shock you to know that I don’t like being messed around

Saying goodbye is tough. In fact it’s worse than tough. It’s shit and getting shitter. Having kids has tipped me over the edge in terms of “goodbye tolerance”. Now, when it’s time for him to go, I just want him to go.  

Give us each a kiss, maybe give me a cheeky bum squeeze and go. And more importantly don’t come back!


Let me elaborate, due to the “technical issues” the type 45s have been having, “bye” hasn’t actually meant goodbye in our family for almost a month. A friggin month. A month of goodbyes, tears, getting my bum in gear to cope, getting wine in the fridge, giant bars of chocolate in the cupboard, sky+ing “my” programs on TV and getting on with it.

Only for Popeye to turn up! Again! At home! His two feet decidedly still on the land! 

Cue my heart leaping through my chest with happiness, soaring endorphins, goofy grins, cancelled plans with friends and having celebratory takeaways. 

Until tomorrow. And tomorrow’s goodbye. Tomorrows heartache. Looking at our little girls face again and explaining “Daddy’s going night night on his boat, bye bye Daddy.” Waving his car off the driveway and wiping a tear away. Again. 

Again I get my bum in gear. Again  I shift, smoothly and silently into deployed single parent mode. I galvanise myself and my household into coping with Popeye being away. To this being a one-woman show. Complete with fish fingers for dinner, slobbing around watching Peppa Pig and not prioritising washing any of Popeyes stuff. Classy. 

Hang on a sec! what’s that noise? His key turning in the lock? Joy of joys he’s home! It’s brilliant to see him, of course it is. 

But keeping this up is exhausting for me! It can’t be healthy to be up on cloud 9 with a surprise bonus night or weekend of leave to then crash back down with a bump to the horribleness of goodbyes.

(not actually popeyes hand btw)

I know it’s not his fault the ship keeps breaking. I know it’s a fleet wide problem blah blah blah. But what is also a fleet wide problem is the families who are on a non stop roller coaster of not knowing which way is up, when their sailor is going to be home or what the hell is going on! 

Planning a life, or any kind of stability, in this atmosphere of uncertainty feels like trying to eat a picnic in a whirlwind. Which is a weird analogy but it’s the only one I can think of that fits.

 I keep trying to get on with our lives but then “the navy effect” happens and we are once again riding those emotional waves before Popeye has even got onto the real ones. Often with little or notice and whether we want to or not. 

“Subject to change”: a massive understatement brought to you by the Royal Navy.

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.

Muchos love