I really, really don't think I would have liked to be a Powder Monkey. Apart from anything else, Inam pretty sure I wouldn't have been any good at it.
I heard all about
the Life and Times of a Powder Monkey - and much else besides - when I joined our Merry Band of Questers on a trip to Shoreham Fort. Built to protect our coastline in 1857, the Fort is now in need of protection itself - a challenge which our guide, the inspirational
Gary, and all the Friends of Shoreham Fort have vowed to meet.
The Questers, regular readers may recall, is a group which enjoys "behind the scenes" visits to places near and far. Personally I love the more
local visits because it's so good to learn about some of the hidden gems on our very doorstep. Shoreham Fort isn't exactly on my doorstep but it's just a hop along the coast.
Or, at least, it would have been
a mere hop, had I read the directions emailed me by Adrian, our trip organiser. I did, indeed, study the last paragraph of his email to fix in my mind the final stages of the journey. Unfortunately I failed to read the first two paragraphs because I was so
totally sure which road I needed to take. How wrong can a person be? Once I realised my mistake, some mikes along the wrong road, I gave myself a good talking-to, I can assure you. How often do I do this, I scolded myself. Wasn't Mr B right to criticise my
gung-ho approach to journey preparations.
It was fortunate, indeed, that I wasn't, after all, giving a lift to Peggy who had had to give this trip a miss on account of treatment to her toe. I didn't ask after
the toe, not in terns of all the gory details, because one never knows, does one, whether this is information the Owner of the Digit is prepared to share. As it turned out, because of Peggy's toe, I was alone in my discomfiture and could reassure myself that
nobody but I would ever know about my error. Apart, that is, from the hundreds of people who read the Daily Blog every day.
Despite taking the Not So Scenic route, I arrived at the Fort with ten minutes to
spare, joining neatly thirty other Merry Questers in the warm sunshine. We were very lucky with the weather, we were told - more often than not we would find stiff winds blowing off the sea setting us a-shiver. We congratulated ourselves on our good fortune,
turning our faces skywards to catch the sun's rays. It's almost like Summer, someone said, and we all nodded our agreement and said wasn't it about time too and wouldn't it be good if the warm weather lasted right into the weekend?
Gary, our guide, had been the much-praised guest speaker at one of our monthly U3a meetings a few months back - but it was even better to be there, standing high on the emplacements and gazing out to sea as if watching out for invaders;
picking our careful way through a low tunnel to the carponier where a realistic, life-size cannon had been built by students from the local college; enjoying a welcome cup of coffee at the aptly named Food For Fort; and watching a film detailing ambitious
plans for the Fort's future which include construction of a First World War trench. Shoreham Fort intends to "Give History a Future by Bringing History to Life" and the volunteers beavering away to raise funds, to turn their hands to building, excavation work,
and a hundred other jobs, large and small are all dedicated to doing just that.
Oh yes, I'd almost forgotten - the Powder Monkeys. These were young lads aged around 15 - 16, too young to man the guns but fit
enough to keep the men on the guns supplied with ammunition. No lifts or hoists to make the job easier - the Powder Monkeys had to get the heavy iron shot from shell recesses at the base of the fort's walls and hand them up to the soldiers on the top. By the
time they were old enough to take their place with the men, they were strong as an ox. It was a tough classroom.
I particularly liked the story of how the Powder Monkey would wear white gloves so that
he could tell if a casing had split - a faulty shot could mean death to the men on the guns above. And here's the twist in the tale: often a Powder Monkey would be handing up ammunition to his own father. A sure-fire way (if you'll forgive the pun!) to ensure
that he would be extra vigilant.
I love people who are passionate about whatever it is they have chosen to do. Whether that is restoring a Victorian fort or winning TV's Masterchef competition this evening.
Jane Devonshire was my favourite from the start because, like me, she is a Mum of four.
My own four grown-up children would think back to the meals I used to cook them when they were littl'uns and say that,
like the Powder Monkeys, I had a lot to learn...