The next run ashore was better by far, Lisbon. Submariners, when in ports other than mainland UK naval bases, were accommodated ashore in hotels by dint of there not being enough bunks onboard to sleep the entire crew. In my early days in boats the Supply Officer paid you your subsistence money and you went ashore to find your own hotel. The less you spent on accommodation the more you had to buy essentials; I slept in some real flea-pits. It was also customary for the Jimmy (First Lieutenant) to address the crew advising of areas to be avoided lest their morals be compromised. So I was somewhat surprised to find myself being led by my run ashore buddies into the Hotel Breganza, which appeared to be in the very area the Jimmy had warned us about. In fact, if you looked over the bridge next to the hotel, there was the Rua Nova de Carvalho and the Texas Bar which was the main focus of his sermon.
The Texas Bar was legendary in the folk-lore of the mess deck, a bacchanalian dive of the first order. As I said earlier, my sea dad found himself a truly stunning girlfriend within minutes of entering the bar, a remarkable achievement given his less than film star looks. It was only when an equally stunning girl sat down next to me and was, shall we say, less than backwards in coming forwards that the penny dropped that, in the words of Terry Pratchett, these were girls of 'negotiable affection'. And what girls, I've been in several other red light areas, it's what sailors do, but I've never seen ladies of the night to match those of Lisbon town. Many of the crew took the opportunity to exchange money for 'love', I was either too shy or too scared to avail myself of the facilities. I couldn't help but wonder what stories lay behind these beauties selling themselves to sailors. But I have to say, I've had some great times in the rougher areas of many sea ports; there's a buzz about these places that can't be replicated. I suppose the worst that you could get in those days was syphilis, the gory details of which were regularly promulgated to the fleet, not that this did any good, there's a saying in the navy 'Lead on chopper, you're cox'n'. There's another on, 'Drunken arse carries no steaming lights', but that's another story.
Anyway, back to the Texas Bar. The NATO fleet was in town so there was quite a mixture of navies milling around the bars. In the Texas Bar, besides ourselves, there was contingents from both the American and the Canadian navy. The Yanks and the Canuts do not get on so they were sat on opposite sides of the bar glaring at each other. Barry, my sea dad, liked to collect Zippo lighters with ships crests on them so he said "watch this Andy" and sauntered over to the Yanks. After an earnest conversation with a hulking brute of a Yankee sailor, he wandered over to the Canadians and sat chatting to them. I don't know what he told them, but all hell broke loose with the Canuts throwing themselves at the Yanks. It was like something from a John Wayne film with our gallant allies knocking lumps off each other. Amidst the mayhem I could see Barry crawling about under the tables, reaching up to harvest a fine crop of Zippos. Eventually the bouncers restored some order and Barry sat down with the satisfied grin of an agent provocateur. Another thing I remember about the Texas bar was a frightening, ancient, toothless crone who sat outside the toilets and demanded money before you could enter.
The drink of choice on that visit to Lisbon was Mateus Rose, Mosy Rosy as we called it. We were drinking it by the bottle, a round would be five bottles of Mosy Rosy. It is little wonder that I suffered terribly, I had a stomach full of acid the next morning, but not for long. A great favourite in Portugal is dried salt cod, there are many shops with this comestible hanging proudly and pungently outside, coming across one on a hot sunny morning whilst suffering from a night of excess is a sure fire purgative. My biliousness didn't improve when I got back on board as duty watch. Lisbon is a beautiful city, particularly when approached from the sea, but the river Tagus was something of an open sewer. Standing on the casing as trot sentry called for a strong stomach as sewage, dead dogs and overspill from an abattoir floated slowly past.
Whilst we were in Lisbon the Portuguese government suffered a revolution. The first inkling we had of this was the police beating up passers-by and stealing watches and wallets. I was lucky in that I was pulled into a club by the door staff (temporarily reversing what was to become a trend) as these thugs set upon my mate and me. My mate was less lucky, he got a good going over with rubber truncheons. The next morning there was a tank outside the Breganza "Bloody hell" said my room mate, looking out of the window "what did you get up to last night?" We left Lisbon shortly after to let the Portuguese to sort out their own problems. But before we sailed one of the sound room boys, Kevin Lythgo, bought a live duckling which was christened Rupert after the Jimmy. Rupert the duck was a bit of a character and lived in the motor room EMR. He lived on chicken shit (tinned corn), arigonies (tinned tomatoes) and gash bag weights (tinned broad beans) and would tear the length of the motor room to get at these delicacies. He also shat on his namesake's wrist during evening rounds, a true lower deck hero. When we returned to the UK Rupert (the duck, not the Jimmy) went to live with the killick chef Mac Macarthy, a nervous billit for a duck I'd have thought.
I did return to Lisbon later in my career to find the area largely unchanged. By this time your hotel was found for you. This was the result of some submariners, nuclear ones, I'll be bound, had bragged about their pots of subsistance to a bloke in Bermuda who, it transpired, was an MP. The fella was so scandalised that he brought it up in the House of Commons when he got back from his tax-payers funded junket; the jig was up! So the junior rates were put in a hotel about thirty minutes up the coast from Lisbon. We had some fab parties around the pool; we placed our stash of booze at the bottom of it to keep it cool and took it in turns to dive down for replenishments. It caused some alarm when Les Saunders failed to surface, but he survived.
I'm told that the Texas Bar is still there, it even survived the major tarting up of the waterfront that Lisbon underwent for Expo 98, I trust that the Hotel Breganza is long gone.
Back to sea for more exercises with NATO before heading into the Med via Gibraltar, a place I was to become rather familiar with during my years in the navy. As a British possession it was an obvious place for ships and submarines to top up with fuel and stores before proceeding into or out of the MedThe dockyard was very similar in appearance to Portsmouth, Plymouth or Chatham's dockyards.
When I first went to Gibraltar, the border with Spain was firmly closed, so the place had a very insular feel to it. Jolly Jack was tolerated to a great degree, a valuable source of income in the many pubs and bars. It was a pretty strange experience walking up Main Street in Gibraltar, the pubs looked like British pubs, they sold British beer, the police looked like the Bobbies back home, there was a Marks and Spencer's, and yet it was also unlike Britain — the sun was shining for a start. Then there were the many swarthy faces, the shops selling cheap electrical goods and there were apes up on the hill.
The Gibraltar Arms, The Anvil, The Fox and Hounds or The Angry Friar, they were all throbbing when the fleet was in town and submariners, with their pockets full of subsistence money, were in the forefront of the action. It could, on occasion, all get very silly. The craze during one visit was to buy cap-guns and have mock gun fights up and down the street.The police eventually took a dim view of this; nowadays you'd probably get shot. One of these cap guns was the cause of great embarrassment back in the UK. Opportune was undergoing Captain SM's inspection when the Jimmy, Charles Hattersley, opened a locker in the motor room. Finding the gun he pulled the trigger and produced what, to my ears at least, was a deafening bang. Captain SM came up from the lower motor room like a scalded cat to find the Jimmy holding a smoking gun. The Skipper failed to see the funny side. But back to Gib. One of the regular watering holes was the infamous Hole in the Wall Bar, run by a flamboyant gay, the name Sugar springs to mind, but I may be wrong. The Hole in the Wall was up one of the many stepped back streets. A small door led down a steep flight of steps into a small, dimly lit bar. The first time I was taken there as a skin eighteen year old the proprietor appalled me by slapping a lip lock on me that lasted far too long for my liking. I can take a joke, but this spooked me. I needn't have worried, an even more youthful sailor walked in and caught Sugar's eye.
Gib was great for a week, after that it began to pall. It was possible, by judicious change of venue, to drink around the clock, this in a time before the licensing laws were relaxed back home. For some reason everyone seemed to drink John Collins cocktails (JCs), a concoction of gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water. Now this may all sound very civilised, I can assure you that when you're shovelling them down your neck as fast as you can, civilised don't come into it. I discovered that gin doesn't suit my constitution, when taken in large amounts it tends to make me depressed. In fact I was once found by the Naval Patrol in Gib sat in a large plant pot blubbing my eyes out for some obscure reason.
At this time Opportune's crew were using Lottie's Bar as a run ashore base. Lottie was a marvellous woman of Eastern European extraction who had, so she claimed, survived the Nazi death camps. She was also a phenomenal cheat at cribbage. I remember that the toilets in Lottie's had a ghastly smell, most of the toilets in Gib were bad, but Lottie's in particular took a strong stomach. I had a casual job for a while singing in Lottie's Beer Keller, just around the corner from Lottie's Bar. For free beer and a small fee I'd entertain the troops for an hour or so, or was the object of derision and cat calls for an hour or so, depending on your point of view. The downside was that Lottie always demanded a kiss before handing over my fee.
Occasionally we were in Gibraltar for more than a week. One occasion was when we were doing torpedo firing trials. This involved day running out of Gib in company with the torpedo recovery vessel RMAS Whitehead. We got quite friendly with the Whitehead's crew and would often be invited into their mess for a piss-up and sing-song.bosun on the Whitehead was Tug Wilson, an old run ashore buddy of my brother's when they were on the Alliance together, so I was quids in. The RMAS boys were very generous with their drink, Tug asked me what short I drank, when I told him vodka he slapped an entire bottle down in front of me. We returned the favour back in the After Mess, but tins of beer seemed inadequate somehow. Tug and his mates saved me getting a beating whilst performing in Lotties one night, I'd wound up a frigate's crew but failed to appreciate that, as I was singing in a corner, there was no way out. Just as they were advancing in a menacing manner in walked the Whitehead crew, "Hiya Andy" they called, taking one look at my 'friends' the skimmers sat back down, phew!
I liked Gib, in small doses at least. There's a nice sense of history about the place. In later years, once I'd got through the mad drinking phase, I liked to visit the Trafalgar Cemetery where some of our naval antecedents are buried. Actually, as far as I could tell, only two of those there buried perished from wounds sustained during Nelson's last battle. I ran the risk of being called anchor-faced (the crime of being overtly fond of the navy), but I had a fascination for the navy of Nelson's day, a fascination that has grown over the years.
I think it was my 5th visit to Gibraltar before I did the touristy thing of going to the top of the Rock. I did it the hard way, walking up beside the curtain wall with a terrible hangover, a breath-taking experience after climbing up several hundred steps being passed by sprightly pensioners...the view was good too.
In my opinion the character of Gibraltar changed when the border was re-opened. The place became far more tourist orientated and Jack was not as welcome as was once the case. On my last visit whilst on H.M.S. Trenchant I was sad to see that Lottie's Bar was now a fast food outlet. The pub toilets still smelled like hell though!
From Gibraltar we went into the Med for exercises with fleet before popping into Naples. Naples hosts the NATO headquarters for the Mediterranean and so is a regular port of call for the fleet. I found Naples a bit of a let down after Lisbon. I did join an organised trip to see Vesuvius, which was hot and dusty; it refused to erupt for our entertainment. The other sightseeing trip was to Pompeii, I fancied that but was duty watch that day. On a later visit I'd put my name down for the Pompeii visit. The Jimmy was very insistent that if your name was down for the trip, you'd better turn up or he'd know the reason why. Alas, the night before had been an epic, the engineer (another Canadian called Tug Wilson) had taken his lads, of which I was one (post-EBD, more of which later) to a back street bar he knew. There he introduced us to the local rum, straygut (possibly incorrectly spelled here, but yet ironically appropriate). We'd had a great time with the locals and a bunch of Texans who happened in, it must have been five in the morning before I'd staggered back to the hotel. I was shaken awake by my oppo who, being duty the previous night, was cheerfully sober "Come on Andy, the bus is here and the Jimmy's on the war path". The last thing I wanted to do was see the glorious remains of ancient Rome, the first thing I wanted to do required a toilet and a strong diaphragm. They got me on the bus where I fell into the merciful arms of Morphus and the next thing I knew we were at the gates of Pompeii. I can tell you, I was sick behind more ancient buildings and monuments than enough, I had Japanese tourists taking photos of me, thinking I was part of the entertainment, I almost threw up on an old crone in the cafe who was demanding money to use the facilities (I swear it was the same crone as Lisbon), it was mid-afternoon before equilibrium was restored. I met a genuine Italian mandolin player in a bar where we were waiting for the bus back (I was on lemonade), we swapped a few tunes — my only happy memory of Pompeii. Many years later I studied 'The Roman Family' as the final part of an Open University degree course. My tutor, a doctor of philosophy who looked uncomfortably like Cherie Blair, showed us a slide show of her visit to Pompeii; "Been sick behind that, threw up there... and there, chucked up over that" I was able to inform the lady next to me.
We came across a street market whilst wandering around Naples. One of the stalls sold top of the range car hi fis at amazingly low prices, bargains too good to miss for one mess member. We all watched as he bartered the price still lower, we all watched as the store holder wrapped his purchase and we all watched as he unwrapped it back onboard to find that he'd bought a house brick. The slight of hand involved on the part of the store holder must be marvelled at. We went back as a body only to find the store gone.
Taff Lloyd and myself were taken by the elbow by a seedy looking character in the centre of Naples. Not speaking the language we naturally presumed he was taking us to some wonderful bar with a salacious floor show. We were somewhat surprised therefore to find ourselves in a caravan giving blood, and being continentals I'm sure the buggers took more than a pint, it looked more like a litre to me. I also suffered a sad incident due to my sweet tooth; I'd nipped into a pharmacy for some headache tablets and picked up a small bar of chocolate. I did think it slightly chemical in taste, but ate it nonetheless. I should have kept the wrapper for reference should I ever need the Italian equivalent of Ex lax again — talk about Mussolini's revenge!
On a later visit to Naples we chummed up with a taxi driver who looked after us for several days, showing us parts of Naples we would otherwise have missed. He took us to a fisherman's bistro down on the docks, up to his local village, to his favourite bars and charged us next to nothing. Looking back I sometimes wish I'd got beyond the first line of bars more often and sampled something of the country and cultures of the places we went, but then again, what's the point of being a culture vulture when you've got a pocket full of subsistance money?
Great excitement accompanied the announcement that we were to go to Hamburg for a jolly. Lurid stories of the Reeperbahn were circulated, what you couldn't see or get down the Reeperbahn wasn't worth having. Alas, it wasn't to be. The Ark Royal, the old flat top version of television fame, was going into Hamburg and, for some reason, their Lords of the Admiralty wouldn't allow Opportune into the same port, possibly because we would have out-glamoured them. Instead we were to go to Amsterdam which, as a consellation jolly, wasn't too shabby.
Amsterdam's red light district is easy enough top find at night, look over the rooftops for an illuminated red cross atop a church, below it lies Canal Street. I've always been amused by the irony of the church helping the traveller to find Amsterdam's secular playground. Canal Street is not its real name, a race that use a good paragraph for the word ashtray aren't going to settle for something as short as Canal Street, but to the navies of the world it's always been Canal Street. It's famous for its shop windows in which the 'Ladies of the Night' display their wares. Every size and shape, every taste is catered for. Most of them looked bored to me, some of them were frankly frightening, but there was a great atmosphere in the bars. We gravitated to an Irish Pub. Wherever you go in the world there's an Irish pub/bar and, for some reason, every Irish pub/bar has a Galswegian drunk in residence. Fortified with Guiness or Orangeboom we ventured out to investigate the night life.
Amsterdam in November is cold, in fact I'd go as far as to say that doing trot sentry in Amsterdam is the coldest I've ever been. When the skipper or any officer of a foreign power crosses the brow the trot sentry is supposed to pipe the side using a bosun's call. The bosun's call is a simple instrument which, in the right hands, is capable of a range of notes regulated by the position of the hand over the intrument's hole. Now, it must be said that not every crew member was proficient on the bosun's call, the after mess being the worst offenders. But hey, I'm a musician and could get the 'Spithead Phesant' to warble with the best of them. However when our august Captain stepped ashore I was so cold I couldn't even find my mouth, let alone pipe the side. The Skipper, God bless him, got the Duty Officer up to the casing. Aye aye, I thought, here comes a bollocking, but no, the Skipper told the Duty Officer to make sure the trot sentry had regular hot drinks and a relief every half-an-hour; I do wish they wouldn't mess with our minds.
It was snowing when we emerged from The Shamrock to peruse the anatomical bookshops which dotted Canal Street. The bookshops were nice and warm, as were the cinemas, but any desire to put into practise new techniques gleaned from book or film quickly disappeared in the arctic blast out on the street. I was in one bookshop when Spud Murphy suddenly dropped a book and ran outside with a scream. When we finally caught up with him and asked him what was wrong he sheepishly admitted that he'd inadvertantly picked up a gay book and found himself getting aroused.
As a group of us were crossing one of the many bridges across the canal I witnessed a marvellous two word conversation. Dicky Sawkins was approached by a seedy looking arabic gentleman "Hassish?" he enquired of Dicky "Canal?" riposted Dicky with great aplomb.
I bought a large sausage whilst in Amsterdam only to find that it wasn't to my taste, but not wanting to waste food I took it back onboard. That sausage hung in the Motor Room for the rest of the commission; part III trainees were required to worship it with a reverential kiss if they wanted their switchboard part III tasks signed off. Sadly the Motor Room sausage fell victim to the Dutch Wurt blight and was buried at sea with full military honours.
I never did get to Hamburg, we had another trip there lined up, but once again we were bounced into Amsterdam and once again the place was freezing, as it was on two subsequent visits.
I've lumped Ghent and Bruges together because they are both similar architecturally, and both rubbish runs ashore. There is a rather splendid mediaeval square in Bruges, or is it Ghent? Very pretty canals around Ghent, or is it Bruges? If you want a lace hanky, then Ghent is the place, or is it Bruges?
I principally remember Bruges for a rucus outside a bar between some bikers and the more belligerent members of the After Mess. I was holding the coats and watching in a bemused manner as my messmates waded in enthusiastically when the Jimmy wandered by "Don't just stand there Sugden, get stuck in". Handing the XO the coats, I dubiously advanced into the fray and lined up a haymaker on the weediest looking member of the opposing team who, with immaculate timing, ducked causing me to painfully assault a lamp post whereby my part in the affair ended.
I principally remember Ghent for trapping a stunning Dutch girl. If I'm truthful I only ended up with her because my run ashore buddy Arbie trapped her mate. We even followed them to nearby Ostend, wasting valuable drinking money on a train fare. For my part it ended amicably but platonically...bugger!
The other thing that sticks in the mind about Ghent was getting bitten by mosquitoes whilst trot sentry...or was that Bruges?