Tales of an accidental life? (10)

Copyright © 2020 Denis Scott. All rights reserved.

Adventures back in the U.K.

Actually the title of this post is somewhat misleading as the first adventure I had on leaving the M.V. Lumen in Ras Tanura was on the connecting flight between Beirut and London Heathrow.  As a side note Beirut is actually the place of my birth although I left there when I was two years old and my visit to the airport transit lounge (twice as you will read) during this trip has been my only return to date.

After a wait in the transit lounge at Beirut we were called to our flight, a Middle East Airlines 707.  It must be borne in mind that aircraft hijackings and the like were at their greatest in that region during the late 1960s, early 1970s and only four years previously, the Israelis had destroyed most of the MEA fleet in a raid on Beirut Airport so any incidents tended to cause some apprehension.  The flight took off.  I sat with Bob.  Given my earlier described fear of heights I am fairly sure that I would have had the isle seat.  Suddenly about twenty minutes into the flight, there was a bang from the rear of the plane and it shook slightly.  The pilot came over the public address system and announced that due to technical difficulties we were having to return to Beirut.  We never did find out what the problem was but I must admit to feeling very uncomfortable, joking to disguise my fear as the plane returned.  Once back at Beirut transit lounge, after a quick alcohol refill to steady the nerves we were embarked back onto the same aircraft and the subsequent flight to London was uneventful.

Middle East Airlines Boeing 707

copyright – Aldo Bidini (GFDL 1.2) Wikipedia

Back home in the village with my family for a few days, I suddenly got very ill one afternoon, vomiting continuously.  My mother called our doctor, an elderly G.P. who gave me a single pill of some kind to settle my stomach, which he told me should hopefully see me through the night.  After hearing that I had just returned from abroad, he took away all my vaccination certificates (including the very exotic Saudi Cholera one I had been given in Ras Tanura which had pictures of palm trees on it, I never saw it again). 

The next morning, following a good night’s sleep, I got up, feeling as good as ever, I washed and got dressed.  I was at in my room when there was a knock at the front door.  My mother answered to find two ambulance men with a stretcher asking if they had the right house for me.  ‘Can he walk?’ one asked.  I came downstairs and was informed that the ambulance was there to take me to an isolation hospital.  I told them there was no need as I felt perfectly well but was advised that if I refused a court order might be obtained (in case I had a contagious disease) ordering my detention in a hospital.  Not having anything better to do (the pubs weren’t open yet), I packed a small bag and ambled out to the waiting ambulance.  I was then conveyed to the Isolation Hospital at the village of Draycott in Derbyshire (long since converted to private homes).

At the hospital I was place in a single room.  There was no door but it was curtained off from the corridor.  Virtually all the other residents were elderly pensioners, many with dementia (including the woman next door who shouted through most of the night).  I was ordered (and it was an order) by the nurse in charge to undress and get into bed until the doctor had seen me.  Once the doctor had finished his rounds I would be allowed to get up and dress but I couldn’t leave my room.  At this stage I felt fairly relaxed, physically healthy with no where better to be I settled in with a good book.  When the doctor finally saw me I was informed that I would remain under observation until some test were completed and the doctors were happy that I wasn’t carrying a contagious disease.  It’s ironic that as I type this, the news bulletins are all about the coronavirus outbreak in China and people being placed in isolation on their return to the U.K.

The first night in hospital, the main lights were switched off at a set time, I seem to remember it being 10 PM. (ridiculously early for a night owl like myself).

 The night shift nurse came to my room and said sweetly, ‘Are we putting our light off in a minute Mr. Scott’ dropping a very heavy hint.

‘No we’re not’ I replied back equally politely.  They soon got used to me staying up late.

During the evening, a nurse came around with a pill trolley, handing out medication to each patient as she went.  She arrived at my room and handed me a handful of large multi-coloured pills.  I have always been a bit wary of medication, although now in my 60s I have had to become used to it (I’m still not sure the side effects are worth it).  I pointed out that I had not been told about anything being prescribed and suggested the nurse check.  She accused me of being awkward and got quite annoyed but stormed off to check when I continued to refuse.  Ten minutes later she came back and apologetically explained that I was right, the medication had been meant for someone else.

My parents visited me when I had been in for a couple of days (we didn’t tend to make a fuss about such things in my family), my father, who at that time tended to travel to his employer’s outstations at U.K. airports and abroad had been in touch with the Cunard Personnel Department.  He told me that both his airline and the shipping line were very concerned in case I was found to be carrying anything contagious.  I believe that the hospital closed soon after this time.

After five or six days under observation I was released from the hospital and returned home for the rest of my leave.  The next part of my training involved six months at the Maritime School of Plymouth College as part of my sandwich course.  We operated totally separately from the rest of the college and had no contact with the other students.  We were situated on our own little campus some distance from the main college which was at another end of town. The engineering cadets used to attend the main campus to use the engineering workshops but the deck cadets had no need.  The engineer cadet’s training scheme was different to that of the deck cadets.  Instead of the sandwich arrangement between sea time and college they spent a whole year at the college before going to sea and required less overall sea time before qualifying. In addition, it was possible to become a qualified marine engineer without following that particular scheme, whereas for aspiring deck officers, it was the only rout.  As previously described, we lived together in a single accommodation block (deck and engineers), which had a block of classrooms attached.  There was also a seamanship centre on the coast, situated just outside the historic Barbican and Sutton Harbour where the Mayflower Steps are located, the traditional location from which, the pilgrim fathers left for the Americas in 1620 (although the actual location is now believed to be inside the women’s toilets of a local pub on the Barbican). 

6th September 2020 is the 400th anniversary of the departure of the pilgrims, more information on the events of that day and preparations for the anniversary can be found on the Mayflower 400 website


Copyright – RobertBFC at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA

The Mayflower Steps (visible in the bottom left hand corner).  The flags weren’t there in my day.

One issue that was raised at that time was the fact that all the students at the school had to pay subscriptions to the National Union of Students.  A group protested against this to the college authorities, unlike most of the other students we were attending the college as a requirement of our employers, the unions facilities were not accessible to our location, in fact we did not even receive our membership cards.  However as the largest single block of students at the college we were a consistent flow of income to the Union, plus from their point of view, as we were only there for six months at a time and took no part in college activities we came at no cost.  The college expressed their sympathy for our circumstances and some arrangement was mentioned whereby we would be able to attend the union office to collect membership cards but withdrawal from the union would not be allowed.  In effect the cozy situation between the college authorities and the union continued and the cash cows were instructed to stop complaining.  I believe that such arrangements came to an end with Mrs. Thatcher’s Trade Union reforms in the 1980s.

Our working day at the college was 9 a.m. till 6.30 p.m. with breaks for meals, all of which were taken in our accommodation building, a converted twenty-one story office block.  I shared a room with two other deck cadets on the seventeenth floor (thank god there was a lift).  The room contained a small bedside cupboard and a wardrobe for each individual, a double bunk and a single bed.  As I was virtually always the last one in, I took the bottom bunk.  My two room-mates were both in the same college class as me, one was also a Cunard employee.  I got on with both of them but tended to socialize with others.  There was a common room with a T.V. on every second floor (remember cell phones, laptops and tablets did not yet exist) as well as a laundry room.  Every floor had a shower and toilet block. 

The accommodation was run by a warden (an apt name I feel under the circumstances), who lived in an apartment on the top floor with his family.  Females were not allowed past reception at any time including mothers and other family members.  The door was locked at 11 p.m. by the duty porter.  Any late returnees after that time had to ring the door bell, being careful to get the bell for reception and not the one for the warden’s apartment and sign a late book giving the exact time they had arrived in.  Our rooms were inspected once a week as the cleaners only did the communal areas.  After I had been at the college for a few months, the warden went through the late book and sent for me wanting to know why my name appeared so frequently.  I told him that because the other cadets knew that I rarely went out, they often used my name when signing in to keep themselves out of trouble.  Luckily, on a few occasions’ others had used my name so sometimes I was signed in twice on the same night, supporting my story.  Other frequent names in the book were Q. Cumber and M. Mouse.

I cannot remember how many deck cadets there were in my year in total at Plymouth.  I can recall that at least a third of them worked for Shell Transport, there was a contingent from Irish Shipping, who, although I got on with them when I bumped into them socially tended generally to keep away from the English cadets (who referred to them as the ‘Sinn Fein’ after the political wing of the IRA).  It must be borne in mind that this period was the height of the IRAs terrorist bombing campaign on the U.K. mainland and there was considerable loss of life through the bombing of pubs in city centres and other similar events..  In addition there were a few cadets from Nigerian Shipping who again tended to keep to themselves.  Finally, there were those of us from the smaller shipping lines such as Cunard plus some from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (merchant ships which supplied the Royal Navy warships at sea and were crewed by civilian officers and crew).

Author: Denis Scott

I live in the English East Midlands and now write light hearted fantasy stories under the name E. D. Robson although I may branch out to non-fiction (possibly semi-autobiographical) and other forms of fiction. I would like to say that I write full time but I actually spend most of my time either swimming at my local pool or watching television. I have always found that I need to work in fits and starts (catching myself by surprise and getting going before I can procrastinate) although I have found this non method to be fairly successful when people allow me to apply it.

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