Tizer, Sodomy and the Lash — 30 Days Before The Mast

When I was 16 I was sent on an outward-bound course on the adventure training ship “Captain Scott”. The general idea was to turn me into a man.

It was the summer of 1974 and we spent a month cruising around the Inner Hebrides. There were a dozen adult training officers and 36 trainees aged between 16 and 21. From the outset it became plain that I was neither prepared, nor cut out for this sort of thing. To start off with I was well embedded in being sullen, sulky, snotty and other negative qualities beginning with “S”. Also I had terrible social skills and didn’t get on with other people very well.

I did not respond well to the training staff, most of whom were ex-Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. There was one in particular who stood out. He was a youngish bloke and was some sort of regional youth leader. He had a peculiar verbal tic in that he kept using the expression “Screw the nut.” I don’t think I ever really knew what it meant but he would use it on all sorts of occasions, regardless of context. I think it was one of those motivational phrases that was meant to jolly us along.

3-masted, Topsail Schooner “Captain Scott”

The other thing I did not respond well to was that I was one of the younger trainees and came in for quite a lot of not-very-good-natured ribbing from some of the other lads. Plus, I was reminded forcefully about how some kids are naturally treacherous and snidey. I came in for a lot of this:

“Sir, Lamb’s being seasick down his smock.” “Sir, Lamb’s being seasick on the rigging.” “Sir, Lamb’s stuck up on the yard-arm and can’t get down, and being seasick.” “Sir, Lamb’s steering the ship onto that rocky shoal and we’re all doomed!” “Screw the nut!”

Unsurprisingly I did not get a particularly good report. Although, one of the Officers did remark on my subtle sense of humour. Except he spelt it “Suttle.”

I did enjoy the shore expeditions and the orienteering contests but sharing an overcrowded mess with a load of unwashed youth did not cheer me up at all. However, in my defence, I was at the height of being insufferably snotty and repulsive. What I did not appreciate at the time was how much many of the older trainees were looking out for me. Several of them went out of their way to make sure I didn’t come to too much harm and that my sensitive soul was not too crushed. To them I send a much belated “Thank you.”

Standing left to right: 1. 19 yo. Nice bloke. a bit reserved. Looked out for me. 2. 18 yo. Nasty git. 3. 18 yo. Another nasty git. 4. 16 yo. Even sulkier than me (if you can believe it!). 5. Me. 16 yo. Sullen, sulky, snotty, poor social skills, bad personal hygiene. 6. 17 yo. Really nice bloke.

Kneeling left to right: 1. 19 yo. Can’t remember much about him. 2. 20 yo. Very much the father of our watch. kept an eye on everyone. 3. 17 yo. Really weird kid. I was scared of him. 4. 17 yo. Nice bloke. smart and capable. Won the best trainee award. 5. 17 yo. Another nasty git. 6. 16 yo. permanently in a state of mindless happiness. Like Fotherington-Thomas.

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