Sunday, 24 May 2015

thoughts while mopping

 On Saturdays at our Men’s Shed we have a bit of a clean-up, and I mop out the kitchen, hallway, and toilets. While doing this I often think about my chum Nigel from my schooldays in the ’70’s. Nigel was a couple of years older than me and lived a few doors up the road. Nigel was pretty ‘sharp’ - he had a bodgie haircut and wore drainpipe trousers with winkle-picker shoes at the weekends.

Nigel always had the latest records - the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Who. He smoked cigarettes and hooned around with his mates in an old V8. They bought flagons of beer at the back door of the local pub in the dark, which they drank in car down by the river before driving the country roads at high speeds hurling large stones and beer bottles at letterboxes. On the bus to school on Monday mornings we could see the smashed letterboxes which had scored direct hits.

Nigel told me and his younger brothers about the life he was going to live when he became an officer in the NZ Merchant Navy: drunk every night on duty-free booze, a girl in every port, selling cheap cigarettes and contraband from the cargoes to slick mates ashore. He would be a regular lad, earn lots of money and make even more from his rascally escapades. He spoke with conviction and confidence. His older chums in the trade  told him all about the life and the opportunities when they visited his sister on their shore leave.

At the end of the year Nigel passed his School Cert. and promptly left for Officer School in Wellington. In the autumn he was back for a few days on leave - he had completed his training ashore and was off soon on his first posting. He shouted us ‘young fellas’ a few crates of beer and laughed at our juvenile hangovers the next morning. Then he was gone.

But in a week he was back, briefly, for a weekend - under some sort of cloud. He stayed indoors - in his room - his brothers said. He ate in there and only emerged on the Monday to catch the intercity bus to the airport. The brothers told me that he had gone to Australia, and I never saw nor heard of him again. No more of the arrogant merchant seaman, no more of the bodgie, no more of the wide-boy.

Gone, it transpired, in disgrace.

His brother Flynn told me the story: Nigel had boarded this ship in the evening, and they promptly sailed for Lyttleton. Next morning Nigel put on his officer’s uniform, had his breakfast and reported for duty.

The First Officer handed him a mop and a bucket and told him to swab the deck.
“Officers don’t swab decks” Nigel informed him.
“Officers obey orders” said the FO.
“I’m not washing any deck” replied Nigel with his chin in the air.
“Then you’ll be put ashore, son.”
And he was, and he stuck to his stance, so they promptly cashiered him and sent him home.

I often think of Nigel when I mop the floor at the Shed. Sometimes I sing sea-shanties while I twirl the mop between the chair legs and under the urinals....and I smile to myself......

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