Friday, 25 July 2014
Sick as a Pirate!
Tattoos, eye patches, earrings, cutlasses, rum and parrots litter the folklore of the endeavouring Jolly Jack Tars of yore, roaming the seven seas in search of excitement, plunder and even more rum. Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest and yo-ho-ho, let’s raise a toast to them all. No, it’s not International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but my heart of oak was stirred today by the recollection of an old sea-farers tale to gladden the heart of a ship’s company during a Friday make-and-mend.
Following a run ashore in the Bahamas, the Chief Bosun’s mate of one of Her Majesty’s sleek grey messengers of death procured a wondrous bird. A bright macaw, sharp of beak and gifted of tongue, he taught his new companion to respond to the morning pipe with a traditional, “Call the hands, call the hands, call the hands! Rig of the day - Number Eights, negative woolly pulleys!” the Number Eights to which he referred being the traditional navy blue, day-working uniform but with the sleeves rolled up and no pullover to be worn. How the ship’s company roared with laughter to hear the squawk over the main broadcast and all turned to with a smile.
After a few days, however, the parrot began to get bored and would launch into the call without prompting, on some days, hands being called every half hour. The parrot was confined to the Chief Petty Officers’ mess but after two days of “SQUAWK! Call the hands, call the hands, call the hands! Rig of the day - Number Eights, negative woolly pulleys!” both the parrot and the Buffer were banished to the starboard waist paint store. It was no good. Even with all clips closed the penetrating cry could still be heard: “SQUAWK! Call the hands, call the hands, call the hands! Rig of the day - Number Eights, negative woolly pulleys!”
Soon the Jimmy heard the commotion and summoned the Buffer to a mini-tribunal in the wardroom flat. “It’s no good, Buffer” he ordered, “the bloody parrot has to go before we get alongside in Gib. The Captain will go mental if it’s still there for the cocktail party.” The Chief Bosun’s Mate sadly agreed and set about planning the creature’s demise. All attempts to shut it up or re-train it had so far failed so, with a heavy heart he went in search of the ship’s cat which he found lazing in the sun on the flight deck, quietly digesting the remains of the last albatross to get too close.
The cries of the embattled Buffer competed with the frenzied roar of the enraged moggy as, with claws gouging and teeth snapping the cat fought like a miniature tiger. Curious heads appeared around hatches and men began to line the route to the paint store, cheering on the struggling man as gouges appeared in his flesh and blood began to spatter. An advance party cleared the way and as man and furious cat approached the store a Killick drew back the clips and opened the door. From inside came the now hated refrain, “SQUAWK! Call the hands, call the hands, call the hands! Rig of the day - Number Eights, negative woolly pulleys!” The Buffer threw the spitting, hissing ball of fury into the store and slammed shut the weathertight door.
For a few seconds the cacophony from within was if all the denizens of Hades were clamouring to enter the world above and then, suddenly, all went quite… except for a low grumbling noise. The Buffer, recovering from his trauma, stood up and cautiously approached the door. He put his ear to the steel, but still he couldn’t make out what was happening, although there was no further noise of fighting. It was surely all over. Slowly he unclipped the door and carefully looked in.
Call the hands!
There in the middle of the store, surrounded by fur and feathers was a terrified, almost naked cat. The parrot was still tearing out the last remaining clumps of fur with his beak and growling under its breath. It stopped as the sunlight flooded the scene and rotating his head, cast his beady-eyed glare toward the Buffer. Spitting out the last tuft of cat fur the parrot declared, “When I SAY negative woolly pullies, I MEAN negative woolly pullies!”