Slowly, the old valve radio in the corner crackled into life...’This is the shipping forecast for the British Isles …….
He’d heard enough. Leaning over Chris S. switched off the radio and went back to his knitting, it was probably going to rain the whole weekend. Being an ex fireman he’d dealt with water before; he’d ridden in it, paddled in it, hell he’d even drank it from time to time... but the thought of doing anything nautical on it did not appeal to him.
He’d received his orders from the Admiralty a few days previous. They had been short and explicit…
” Proceed in a Easterly direction on or around the 30th and rendezvous with the rest of the fleet moored at the Virtual Nelsonhead. From there, undergo 3 days of sea trials searching for pirates. Under no circumstances are you or any member of the ships company to fraternize with the local residents.”
The orders were signed by Commodore Paula but he knew they would have come from Rear Admiral Reynolds. He needed a reason to be excused duties, a rare tropical disease perhaps? There were rumours something was going around. Yes, maybe that would do it.
Not everybody felt the same about receiving a letter from the Admiralty.
Dick had been a bilge rat 3rd class ever since he’d joined the navy. A lover of strong drink and dock yard fluff, he would have stayed that way had he not accidentally spilt his grog over a certain young lady he’d bumped into at the bar a few years earlier. Tactical Training Officer Tracey could see something in him, but what it was nobody was quite sure. By teaching him his ABC’s (and keeping him off the grog) she’d managed to help him ascend through the ranks and he was commissioned as a Crows Nest Lookout in training.
His promotion had come through with a new posting. He was to take charge of a remote observation outpost to monitor the up and coming sea trials. As he was still early in his training, 3 feet above sea level (the height of the decking at the outpost) was as high as he was allowed, but in recognition of her help and guidance he invited Tracey to spend the weekend with him at the outpost, his treat.
The Admiralty dispatch riders had been busy up and down the country. Captain Nigel was overseeing the refit of the Good Ship Lollypop at the Naval ship yards in Warwick when he received his orders. Too busy at the time, he’d shoved them in his pocket, but when he eventually got round to reading them, somehow they’d become covered in cheap red wine. Now, sat in the engine room, he was trying to make sense of them. The course, speed and sea trial bit was legible, it was the last bit he was having trouble with….something about taking on crew or going to Crewe?
He decided to cover all bases by setting in a new course for Crewe to look for more crew.
Despite a thorough search of the back street dives of Crewe for crew, he didn’t really come up with much at all. He did manage to find his old cabin boy Paul H. tho, aka Tinky Winky, who unfortunately had delusions of grandeur being born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Although trusting the Captain as they had previously served under him on the waterways of the homeland, Tinkys good Lady Jane was not happy at the prospect of his 1st big adventure on the open sea so decided to accompany him - ‘to protect you from harm, especially the painted ladies’ she vouched.
Captain Nigel was not totally averse to having an extra bit of fluff on board, after all it was good for moral, besides, if they got boarded by pirates he could offer up Tinky Winky first in exchange for safe passage and then Lady Jane if he had too. This posting could be good. He was looking forward to meeting up with the fleet and serving with some other shipmates he’d also sailed with in the Aegean some years earlier. As soon as he had had his bottom scrubbed and a bit of victuallig from the supply ship he would be on his way.
Eric L. was a salty old sea dog (when he wasn't isolated in a lighthouse).
Despite what the admiralty thought, he was master of his little sailing ship and nobody else. He didn’t have need of modern technology; no need for GPS or ship to shore radio with video uplink when you have a sextant, some maps and a home made crystal radio set.
He’d had the set since he was a small boy having built it from a 1965 episode of Blue Peter using 2 coat hangers, a bit of barbed wire, the inners of 2 toilet rolls, a HB pencil and a whisker from next doors cat. Upgrading to a 3B pencil would have give him internet capabilities but he couldn’t justify the expense. Running off a battery made from an old King Edward potato it was only capable of Morse code but that was good enough for him. He would arrive when he arrived.
He could get 4 knots out of the good ship ‘Godrevy’ if he wanted too but 3 knots seemed a more gentlemanly pace; Captain Flint, his trusty, faithful, parrot seemed to agree. If truth be know, Captain Flint didn't really care. He was getting tired of his captain; he didn't feed him enough and he never gave him Guinness. The only pleasure he had these days was to fly up high and try and shit on the captain, pointing to the seagulls when he managed to hit him.
Seaman Sy and Jolly Jill had orders of a different kind.
They were to travel north and take charge of the HMS LeakyBottom, a converted merchant ship and sail it south under strict orders to avoid all other sea traffic if possible. If they were approached by naval ships, Sy had a couple of his sealed orders to show; if they encountered pirates, Jill was disguised as a pirate queen with either Spanish doubloons or cold hard steel to trade. She wasn't prepared to take any shit on this voyage, there was too much at stake.
HMCC Troutbridge was loved by some but feared by most. (HMCC - Her Majesty’s Customs Cutter).
The ‘tracker-class’ cutter was fast and efficient with a hard reputation to live up to. Commanded by Captain Keith and his 1st officer, ‘meticulous’ Mairi, she too had special orders from the Rear Admiral. She was to make full speed from the western coast and arrive at the Nelsonhead ahead of the fleet. She was charged with keeping the fleet in order during the coming days and making sure that their special guest was kept out of harms way and away from any ‘ungentlemanly’ conduct.
After all, they would be flying the Queen’s colours.
Embarrassingly, they where delayed in departing. Able Seaman Wetherill and some buxom wench from a local tavern had sneaked aboard during the night and raided all the ships stores.
The captain, distraught that the news would reach the ears of Her Royal Highness, had taken to the bottle and ended up spilling his pink gin all over the charts.
Mairi found him trying to plot a course using his Ladybird "Going to Sea" book published in 1941 (he liked the pictures ) and the ships compass supplied by Hignett & Co - those purveyors of quality navigational aids.
He would have to sober up and sober up fast if they were to get to the Nelsonhead before the fleet.
The fleet, in fact, was well on its way. Well, most of the fleet that was.
Steve B. was making slow progress crossing the channel on his bike unlike Sue O. who had hitched a ride on a very fast jet-ski that just happened to be passing.
Jack had first got a fast boat, but ran out of fuel. Next he took the slow pedal boat but that didn't work either, too much headwind so he decided to call it a day and headed into the nearest port to see if he could pick up a couple of birds to help pass the time.
Poor old Sharon H. was confined to port after (not so) Able Seaman Matt attempted to give her a quick ‘trim’ ready for the weekend while watching the wrong YouTube video.
Aboard HMCC Troutbridge things were going from bad to worse. Conscious of the fact that pirates were known to operate on and around the east coast, 1st officer Mairi had ordered monitoring off all frequencies day and night. She just happened to be in the radio room that morning when a message was intercepted…..
The young radio officer was speechless. He’d never heard anything like it. ‘This was never on the Xbox simulator I trained on’, he thought. Grabbing paper and pen, Mairi scribbled frantically……….”Send reinforcements we are going to advance”...was her translation of the message. Grabbing the microphone she screeched...’WE WILL BEAT TO QUARTERS’….. and the ship burst into panic mode.
Ted slowly opened his eyes. People were running about and shouting. ‘What's happening?’ said a little voice from under the blanket. ‘I’m not sure, probably something or nothing. You try to get back to sleep.’ he said gently as he slowly slid from the hammock. Her Royal Highness Princess Heather wriggled about slightly, making herself comfy in the warm, extra space and drifted back to sleep.
When Ted entered the radio shack the young operator snapped to attention. Ted was the best radio operator in the fleet and everybody knew it. ‘What's all this’ commanded Ted.
‘intercepted message of unknown origin sir’ said the operator. ‘Xbox 3000 system unable to translate.”
‘Pull it up on-screen’ said Ted.
--- -. / -- -.-- / .-- .- -.-- / -... ..- - / --. --- - / .... . .-.. -.. / ..- .--. .-.-.- / .- / .-.. .- .-. --. . / .-.. --- .-. .-. -.-- / -.-. .- .-. .-. -.-- .. -. --. / --- ..-. ..-. .. -.-. . / . --.- ..- .. .--. -- . -. - / .... .- -.. / - ..- .-. -. . -.. / --- ...- . .-. .-.-.- / .- .-.. .-.. / - .-. .- ..-. ..-. .. -.-. / .-- .- ... / ... - .- - .. --- -. .- .-. -.-- .-.-.- -
‘That's old Morse code said Ted and by the looks of it it's from Eric L. It reads…. on my way..but got held up. A large lorry carrying office equipment had turned over spilling its load on the carriageway. All traffic was stationery’
‘Its just Eric taking the piss thinking he’s on a motorbike. Nothing to worry about, you can tell the captain to stand down. I’m off for something to eat.’
Rear Admiral Reynolds was not a happy chappie. Sat on his flagship moored off the East coast with most of the fleet, he was trying to enjoy dipping little bits of toast into his runny egg whilst reading the report from the officer of the nights watch. ‘What's this!’ he bellowed across the state room. Commodore Paula and Signals Officer Lieutenant Sue looked up.
‘Unknown cabin boy seen parading below decks in admirals dress uniform’ the report read.
‘I’ll have the little bastard keel hauled for this so I will.’ screamed the Rear Admiral.
‘Things are starting to get out of hand. Where are the Customs Officers? Have they arrived yet?’
‘No sir’ said Commodore Paula. ‘Sir, if I might make a suggestion’ she said diplomatically.
‘Without the fear of the Customs Officers to keep the fleet in order might I suggest we grant, for the time being, unlimited shore leave?’
‘Are you mad !’ screamed the Rear Admiral.
‘Hear me out sir. The Nelsonhead itself is in lock-down at the moment so there will be nowhere for anyone to drink. The village cannot house the entire fleet or even a portion of it unless we can find alternative accommodation. We need to keep them busy. Every Naval vessel carries emergency equipment for use in the case of being shipwrecked; tents, cooking equipment and such like. Why not turn it into an exercise, practice setting up camp on the mainland. Keep them occupied.’
‘I like it’ said the Rear Admiral.’…..and it's going to rain for a bit, that'll teach 'em’
‘Sir, if I might make a suggestion’ said Lieutenant Sue, looking all coy and sweet. ‘You should really try and get some R&R yourself. Might I suggest a short sea voyage, under canvas to take your mind off things? I’d be very happy to join you if you wish’
‘Of course’ said the Rear Admiral, ‘OF COURSE you can my pretty’ he mumbled to himself.
They say that things always come or happen in 3’s and the HMS LeakyBottom was to be the third ship to have problems. In fact, BIG problems. Not being very experienced at running any kind of ship, Seaman Sy had found it difficult to keep it running on a southerly course even with Jills help. The lack of sleep was starting to show. Reading the manual one last time he reckoned he had the autopilot GPS system all set up to sail the ship the last leg thru the night and come to a stop off the coast opposite the Nelsonhead. He retired to his bunk not realising he had forgot to link in the NOAA weather app to the GPS....but he certainly realised it when the ship ran aground in heavy fog around 2.30am in the morning!
Trying to keep calm, as calm as you can on a ship listing badly stuck on a sandbank, he managed to rig up some sort of shelter for Jill on the poop deck as the lower decks began to fill with sea water. All the radio equipment was dead so his only hope was to stick it out till daybreak or until the fog cleared at least, then try and build a raft from salvaged timber. If need be he could use Jill's bra as a sail.
As usual Eric was up just as the sun rose and sat in his captains chair with his hand on the tiller. It wasn't because he was all that keen to be up this early it was just that gentleman of his generation almost always needed a piss around 5.30am in the morning. Screwing his eyes up he made out the fog bank in the distance. Then, after a short time, a small square shape with a bra tied to a pole came into view.
Filling his sails, he made it alongside the makeshift raft in record time but was a bit disappointed to see that the female crewmember was not alone. Climbing aboard, Seaman Sy couldn't thank him enough for rescuing them. He told him all about what had happened and what they had to do to survive while Eric, his hand still on the tiller simply nodded now and then. Eventually Seaman Sy remembered his sealed orders to be passed onto any naval officer that they might encounter.
Eric glanced over the orders…...’proceed south, avoid contact, bla bla bla, HMS Leakybottom bla bla bla, converted cargo ship, formally the SS...’ Gasping, Eric let go of the tiller!
Regaining his senses Eric fumbled for his charts. ‘Yes, see here’ he said, not really pointing to anywhere on the chart. ‘low water, cant take the ship any closer, you can use the rubber boat with the outboard to go the rest of the way. Over there, untie it...NOW!’ A little bemused, Sy & Jill did as they were told and headed off to the coast in the little rubber boat while Eric brought his ship about as fast as he could and headed for the fog bank.
His mind was racing, he needed to contact Ted. With one hand firmly on the tiller he grabbed Captain Flint by the neck and shoved his head into his groin to hold him fast. He then scribbled a message onto a tiny piece of paper and slid it into the little brass tube attached to the parrots leg.
Releasing the parrot from his groin he choked it into attention. ‘Take the message to TED, you hear, TED ! and nobody else’ then tossed the bird overboard. Still gasping for air the parrot gained some height. ‘That's it’ he thought, ‘sod you Eric L., you're not shoving me down there again. I’ll find Ted them I’m off!’
Most of the fleet was now wandering about the mainland fiddling with tents. Commodore Paula had sent her steward, Able Seaman Bryan, ahead to set up her camp and practice his knots. (You never know when you might need something (or somebody) tying down.)
Ted was still on board ship. He was sat in the radio shack trying to tune into the Archers. The weather had got better and with the temperature rising he had opened the porthole for some fresh air. With one hand on his tuning knob and the other tapping notes into the computer, he suddenly jumped as a parrot flew in thru the porthole and landed on the keyboard beside him.
It was at this moment that 3 things happened almost all at once.
Ted hit the right frequency and the Archers came over the headphones, the parrot cocked its leg as tho it was going to piss on the keyboard, and soTedinstinctively grabbed the parrot, shoving it head first into his groin to hold it there whilst simoultaneously trying to tap the frequency into the computer.
Captain Flint had had enough, ‘not twice in one day’ he thought and sunk its beak into Ted’s right nut !
Ted immediately released Captain Flint, grabbed him by the throat and snarled at him. Captain Flint raised its leg, ever so slowly and tried to point at the brass message tube. Ted mellowed (slightly) and took the message from the tube. Captain Flint made his escape. Ted read the message, ‘bloody hell’ he thought and immediately started calling people on the radio.
Ted saturated the airwaves with false orders and half truth messages; anything to allow the more ‘clandestine’ members of the fleet to get organised - grab anything that would float and capable of hauling cargo into the water and head off towards the fog bank.
As the first of the small vessels was heading out to sea, Eric L. was making land and hurrying off to lock himself away in a light house with his haul. The local wildlife could be a problem but it was a chance he was willing to take.
On a deserted, sandy beach, Tracey squealed with delight!
‘Look at all the pretty little boats’ she said, pointing out to sea.
Dick sat up and squinted.
What the bloody hell was going on? Why was everybody going INTO the fog?
Confused, he tried to focus better. Naval ships, all shapes and sizes; wait, what's that behind them….pirate ships!!
He started to jump about on the beach and wave his arms frantically. ‘They must see me’ he thought.
One ship had changed course and was heading for the beach.
Dick took no time in charging into the sea to start swimming and no time to check just what type of ship he was heading for.
Exhausted, he climbed aboard the little ship, barely able to speak. He then realised his mistake; a pirate ship.
He was confronted by Captain ‘Mad Axeman’ Alec and ‘More Mad’ Marion, both bladdered on rum, chasing each other around the deck pretending to be chickens.
'A new chicky' cried Marion.
'Make him lay an egg for us , please, pretty please'
Alec put on his rubber glove.
The problem with broadcasting messages on all frequencies is somebody else is bound to hear them sooner or later. Unless they are waiting to hear them.
‘Peek’a’boo’ Pongo was the dark airwaves radio operator aboard the pirate kings galleon ‘The Crusty Pearl’ moored just around the headland, north of the Nelsonhead and well out of sight of the fleet.
When he intercepted Ted’s message he wasted no time in passing it onto his master who had setup a temporary camp on the main land to do a spot of plundering.
Princely Pirate Pete had been king of the pirate fleet for many a year. Trained by the infamous Captain Morgan he’d learnt that there were many ways to skin a cat and confrontation wasn't always the best way to go about things.
Reading the transcript, he though for a moment then calling over ‘Peek’a’boo’ Pongo, he recited an old ditty that came to mind….
At sixty-nine, I was feeling fine,
The day I went to sea.
I climbed aboard a pirate ship
And the Captain said to me:
‘We’re going this way, that way,
Over the cold North Sea.
A bottle of rum to fill my tum
A Pirate’s life for me’.
...’a bottle of rum, Pongo, a bottle of rum indeed. Signal the lead ship, tell them they must ‘parrrrlayyyy’ with me before they enter the fog bank’
The little flotilla of naval boats and roughly the same number of pirate vessels gathered along side the stricken ship under the cover of the fog bank.
Representatives from both side gathered on the main deck and the negotiations were started by the ringing of the ships bell by pirate quartermaster ‘Mad’ Mike.
It only took 15 minutes to come to an agreement with ‘Adventurous’ Alice ringing the bell to signify the conclusion of the meeting. The pirates would have the contents of the forward hold and the Navy would get whatever was in the rear.
Lieutenant Laura in 'The Lusty Lady' would circumnavigate the fog bank keeping watch with teddy as she had the fastest little catamaran going.
Wing commander Simon F. would keep an eye from above in the flying boat ‘The Flat Bottomed Girl’
As they set about getting to work, Pirate Pete issued a stern warning….’ 'Us pirates are well known in these parts’ he said, ‘and drinking for us will not look out of place, see, but you Navy folk will better hide yourselves well from the custom bobbies, mark my words’
Captain Flint circled the area around the Nelsonhead several time before he could find anybody, the place seemed deserted. He spotted some old bloke propped up with cider bottles in a field but he looked a bit dodgy.
He would probably eat him if he landed anywhere near him.
Then he spotted what he was looking for. A jolly looking fellow down on the quay side watching out to sea. Ships cook 1st class ‘Cupcake’ was part of the clandestine goings on and had been drafted as lookout in exchange for several cases of beer. He was ecstatic with joy when Capitan Flint landed on his arm and looked lovingly into his eyes. He had found a friend for life. He celebrated with a bottle of port, which seemed fitting somehow.
It took just under 2 hours before HMS Leakybottom, now considerably lighter, shifted on the sandbank and started to sink. Previously registered as the SS Cabinet Minster out of the tiny highland island of Toddy, its cargo of 50,000 cases of whisky and other assorted beverages was now safely on its way to the mainland.
The navy immediately headed for the makeshift camps they had erected as part of the survival training.
John and Caroline had so much haul they had to erect 2 tents in which to hide it all. Even that wasn't enough so Caroline started drinking it before John had a chance to hide it.
Margret and Fred managed a good haul as did Chris G.
Captain Nigel was a bit selective in his portion of the cargo as was David P.
Many other members of the clandestine undertakings hid themselves away to consume the spoils of their adventure. Jill even tried to take Sy’s mind off the fact that he’d lost the ship with some of the spoils , but it wasn't having much effect.
Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Renyolds was having the time of his life out at sea.
The pirates were not overly concerned with the customs bobbies. ‘Lucky’ Lizzi was flaunting her pair of bottles in the bright sunshine for all to see. Steve & Sue that well known pirate duo were also happily consuming large quantities of rum.
Ted, feeling sorry for the way he had treated Captain Flint sought him out, down by the dock with the now, barely conscious, Cupcake.
He had with him a portable transmitter of his own design. Tuned to work in the ParraHertz range it allowed Captain Flint to communicate with fellow parrots within a 200 mile radius.
Captain Flint, so impressed with the kindness and generosity of the navy lads and lasses, conveyed his feelings to his fellow parrots and urged them to join him.
Not soon after his broadcast, the first of the parrots arrived.
A mated pair of ‘love’ parrots adopted Paul and Lady Jane who were so impressed that they decide to join the pirate ranks (especially as Paul was wanted for impersonating a Rear Admiral)
A family of six, rare breed parrots adopted Ted, much to the delight of HRH Princess Heather, who, always the rebel, decided she wanted to be a closet pirate after all.
It took 2 hours to unload the ship and 2 days to drink the entire contents of both holds.
As Sunday dawned so too did hangovers and faint recollections of what had happened. The Rear Admiral returned from his ‘fling’ with Lieutenant Sue to find a very sedate fleet.
The customs bobbies, Keith and Mairi had found very little, so, out of spite , they confiscated all the remaining bottles of booze the old man in the field with the top hat had and kept them for themselves.
He had the last laugh of course, they were all filled with his piss.
HRH Princess Heather was going to give up her line to the throne and run away with Ted.
Matt P. turned up just as everybody was packing up tents and stuff and all the booze had gone.
Commander Kim, who’d kept himself pretty much out of sight during the whole weekend was quietly loading up his bike in the hold of the Admirals flagship ready to embark on his next mission.
As a member of Her Majesties Secret Police his job had been to keep an eye on the Princess and make sure she didn't fraternise with the wrong sort. He was happy to leave her in Ted’s capable (?) hands.
His next assignment was to take him North, far, far North, beyond the wall, into the land of the Scots and the Picts.
Things were stirring up there and he had a suspicion the man in the top hat had something to do with it all.
He would have to wait and see.
One week later, Seaman Sy was standing tall in front of the man.
Admiralty court marshals were certainly not for the faint hearted.
Still, he stood by his convictions and pleaded his case, opting for his own counsel, as to how it wasn't his fault he’d lost the ship and all its cargo.
He was sentenced to life in the brig.
Dick finally managed to escape from the clutches of 'mad' Alec & Marion by pretending to be a lobster in a pot.
They thought he looked diseased so they tossed him off the back of the boat and he managed to make it back to shore.
Tracey was of course, still waiting for him and she had managed to acquire him some of the spoils from the wreck.
Around the same time, Ships Cook Cupcake was finally sobering up in the corner of the galley. The catering staff had been too afraid to go near him, especially after what he had done.
He hauled himself up to the table and plonked onto the chair he’d fallen off God knows how long ago.
His half finished bottle of beer and the remains of the supper snack he’d fried up for himself were still in front of him.
He tried to think, something about a ship, lots of booze, yes LOTS of booze.
He’d made a new friend, where was he from? One of the visiting ships?
A captain, what was his name… Captain Flint, yes, that was his name. Wonder what happened to him. It would come to him.
He reached over for the food in the bowl, ‘Mmmm, fried chicken wings?’ Yes, it would come to him, eventually.