My fellow researcher on the Military Voices Project telephones me to warn me that he is running about ten minutes late. Just time for a quick cup of coffee, I tell Mr B, who mutters something about me Always Thinking of
My Stomach. It's only a cup of coffee, I say, wounded, it's not as if I'm devouring a croissant. There wouldn't be time for that, I think. Longingly.
Peter, my Partner in Crime, and I are heading back to the
home of the Navy Man whom we interviewed a couple of weeks ago. We didn't have time on our first visit to capture on the project tablet all the photographs and documents he has kept all these years so today we are back to finish the job.
On the way over to neighbouring Littlehampton, we agree our roles. I am to be the Official Photographer, for no other good reason than that we will be using my I-Pad. Regular readers will be amazed, recalling that I am not
the best of photographers, what with my shaky hands and inability to frame a shot. However, when it comes to the allocation of duties, Possession (of an I-Pad) is Nine-tenths of the Law. Whoever made up that particular law didn't have me, or our project, in
Peter, for his part, is to make a note of the subject matter of each photograph in turn, numbering them from 1 onwards. Which was an excellent plan except that any of you accustomed to taking photographs
with an I-Pad will know that generally you find you have taken at last three or four photographs of each subject. Peter's careful numbering was never going to correspond to my photographs.
We are welcomed
back like long-lost relatives. Coffee is produced. On the dining room table, two albums of photographs and an envelope crammed with documents detailing one man's service. Our man's service details were recorded on vellum - smooth and warm to the touch. We
are shown the corner of the front page, marked with a dotted line; if a man were dismissed the service for bad conduct or whatever, the corner would be torn off, we hear.
As we turn the pages of each album
and I snap away merrily (hoping that I look rather more confident than I feel) our Navy Man continues with his stream of stories. If only we had still had the voice recorder with us!
Did you know that a "tot
of rum" - the daily rum ration doled out to sailors until 1970 - was an eighth of a pint? That's quite some tot, don't you think? If you were a Petty Officer, like our man in his latter days in the Senior Service, you took your tot neat. Lower ranks had theirs
seriously diluted with two parts of water to every part of rum. I am learning such a lot from the Military Voices Project - though perhaps not enough about battles and manoeuvres, victories and defeats, as opposed to the (to me) fascinating minutiae of daily
life. Like details of the daily rum ration. Live and learn, that's what I say.
As we are leaving, our fella's wife tells us that we have done her husband so much good, listening to his story and taking such
an interest in everything he has to tell us. It's especially good for him, she says, to have male company. I take this on the chin, which is no more than you would expect of me. We talk about it on the drive home, Peter and I, both of us recognising that the
older you get the less people seem to listen to you, the more dismissive folk tend to be of past experience and expertise. We like to think that, for a few brief hours, we have transported our Navy Man back to the days when he was in the prime of life. It's
an unexpected extra benefit of the project, we agree.
Our hosts are keen that we come again. Any time at all, they say. Next time we come, they tell us, they will open a bottle of champagne so that we can
share a toast with them to mark their recent Diamond Wedding Anniversary. Or shall we open one now? they ask, hopefully. They really don't want us to go.
Maybe we can go back when we have written up our case
study? No, not for the champagne - sparkling idea though that may be - but for another instalment of Life On The Ocean Wave circa 1950.
Told, with inimitable flair and exquisite attention to detail, by a Storyteller