At the end of every commission it was usual for the crew to be treated to a run ashore. Opportune's was to be up the ship canal to Manchester. This was greatly approved of by the old stagers in the crew; a UK run ashore in a non-RN port was highly prized. No language problems (except in places like Newcastle or Swansea of course), no funny money to get your head around and a public still strangely fond of Jolly Jack Tar. Stories were swapped of previous runs to Manch', plans were made for visits to Bernard Manning's nightclub (saints preserve us), the old chestnut that "You're a brown hatter if you can't trap a bird in Manchester" was trotted out.
We were day running from Portland when the news of the coup in Cyprus and the overthrow of President Makarios was announced to the crew. We were to return forthwith to Gosport to store for war before heading out for the Med to join the task force protecting British interests — Manchester was cancelled. A special beer issue was permitted and we sat up most of the night drinking on the casing and throwing empties at the skimmer astern. When we got back to Dolphin we had a hectic time of it storing the boat for any contingency which may lay ahead and then, early one morning, "the slim black messenger of death" slipped off to sea.
Giving that we could only make twelve knots or so on the surface, we were going to take some time to get on station. What's more, our progress was delayed by a tanker ahead of us suffering an explosion. Of course we offered what assistance we could and took off some casualties one of which, a young boy, sadly died of his head wounds despite the Cox'n and Daisy Adams's sterling efforts at CPR. We took the casualties and the boy's body into Brest.
Despite the skipper's best efforts at cracking on, by the time we eventually got into the Med, the Cyprus crisis had settled down. Our participation was no longer required so we were to go into Malta for a while for rest and recreation. The boat tied up alongside the historic Fort St Angelo, in who's barracks the junior ratings were billeted; no subsistence alas. The mess decks in St Angelo were pretty basic, there certainly wasn't any air conditioning and the weather was stifling. We had to sleep with the door open to try and get a bit of a draught through, we awoke one morning to find a scabby dog had joined overnight.
The duty-free bar in Angelo barracks went a long way towards easing the pain of no subsistence, a double shot of spirits cost roughly a third of the price of a mixer to go with it. We were well on the way before ever leaving St Angelo. What's more, if you stepped out of the gate, there were local bars where a bottle of the local wine, Marzivan, would cost a few pence. Marzivan wouldn't win any medals for quality, even Jilly Goulden would be hard pressed to describe the taste, but it did the job alright.
The local bars were all very well, but the destination of choice was across Grand Harbour to Valetta. The navy put on a regular boat across to Valetta, but if you missed that there was always the local diagshoes (say dyso). The Maltese diagshoe is of a similar shape to the Venetian gondola, but more colourful. There is a sharply rising, graceful stem and stern, but there the similarity ends. The average diagshoe man was a scruffy unshaven type with a sour outlook on the human race in general and matelots in particular. This was well founded, the poor old diagshoe men had a hard job of it. Although the fare was not particularly high, the great delight of the matelot on the way back from his run ashore was to bail out before arriving at the other side and swim ashore, thus avoiding payment. Quite why the boatmen didn't start demanding payment before setting off I don't know. Given the amount of drink we'd taken on, it's a wonder that nobody drowned. Once, when we were pushing off from Angelo in a diagshoe, Fred Jarrold and Alex Logan came running down the jetty shouting for us to wait. Fred did a graceful leap, landing like a cat on the diagshoe, Alex's attempt was not so graceful. He made the diagshoe but began falling backwards. He grabbed hold of the sternpost to stop himself, unfortunately the sternpost gave a sickening crack and fell slowly, with Alex still clinging on, into Grand Harbour. There was naturally some upset about this with the diagshoe man gibbering away and gesticulating madly whilst and Opportune's duty officer calmly pointed out the rot riddling the sternpost. I think it cost Fred and Alex quite a bit of money, but not the full amount for a new boat the Malt was demanding.
The action in Valetta was centred down the infamous Gut or Strait Street. This steep stepped street had been the haunt of sailors for generations. It was incredibly busy as there were several units of the fleet in port, including the Hermes with its full complement of Royal Marines. The Gut itself was an eye opener and a place where it was very easy to get into trouble. There were several practitioners of the old find the pea trick; I'd been tipped off that they always let you win the first game, so hit on the tactic of only playing one game. Apparently this was against all the etiquette and seriously pissed off the vendor who chased me off up the street. Ducking into a bar I was surprised to find a young lady on my knee, I was even more surprised to find that I'd 'bought' her nearly twenty quid's worth of drinks in the five minutes I'd been there. Naturally, being a Yorkshire man, I baulked at the amount, whereby the 'waiter' pulled a knife on me. More by luck than judgment I pushed him backwards over a chair and legged it down the street with matey in hot pursuit. I actually passed a messmate haring up the street from some similar adventure, before finding sanctuary amongst a bar full of booties.
I resolved to find some of Opportune's crew, I clearly needed looking after. Eventually I found Fred and Alex who took me in tow. Fred had decided that being a submariner wasn't glamorous enough, so he had started passing himself off as a member of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS). I don't really know what he hoped to achieve by this, but, in the way of the world, the third bar he tried this chat-up line in contained some actual SBS members (or so they said) who promptly knocked seven bells out of us. In the course of one evening I'd been chased up and down the Gut, had a knife pulled on me and now had a black eye — good run ashore is Malta. However my running up and down Straight Street was not finished yet, a few nights later I was in the company of Titch Leyland, a vertically challenged greenie from Doncaster. Titch felt that he had been seen off by a woman in one of the bars down the bottom of the Gut and resolved to seek redress. The ensuing argument caused such a rumpus that the patrol was called and we were apprehended by two huge redcaps. Whilst I was worrying about the the reception we'd get from the Jimmy back on board, a fight spilled out of another bar and one of the redcaps went off to intervene. "Get ready Andy" Titch muttered and before I knew what was happening he kicked the remaining redcap on the shin and was off up the street like a whippet. The redcap was hopping about using intemperate language and trying to get his baton out, he clearly wasn't very happy, so I legged it after Titch. We could hear their shouts and whistles as we dashed down the back streets of Malta, Titch laughing like an idiot and me gasping for breath. We eventually lost them and made our way to the waterfront to get a diagshoe back to St Angelo.
I enjoyed my first visit to Malta, it wasn't all drunken escapades up the Gut; a group of us took a motor launch around the coast to some of the lovely beaches, clear green water and white sand, marvellous. We even played cricket against the RAF, they were in pristine whites, we was not, but we still beat the buggers. We eventually left the Med, via Gibraltar of course, and headed home to Dolphin to destore prior to moving to Devonport for a refit.