25th December 2011

So exciting to see the wonderment in a little girl’s eyes when she saw Santa in our back garden.  Only briefly, he’d left a beautiful new bike and called out something like HO HO HO, Merry Christmas everyone before disappearing out of sight.  She rushed outside but it was too late, he’d gone and no amount of calling him to come back made any difference.  Such a super day, her first Christmas of understanding presents, food, cuddles, drinks, and Santa in the garden near the swimming pool.

The picture above puzzles her too, she knows she was dancing with Cameron but certainly there was no chance of Santa being there.  So  I’m the one impressed with my ability to alter photos….

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Hello world! My tiny part in the universe

So many bits of fax paper, fading with heat and age, letters, am thinking I can at least copy them here so that one day my family can read my thoughts in their own good time.

At present things will have different dates, as I find them, hopefully I’ll be able to sort them into some sort of chronological order which will suit my tidy mind.  Might not be necessary though, maybe I should just refer to my ramblings as a pot pourri  of ideas and happenings.

Where’s St Patrick when he’s needed!

With the constant rain, the pool is full to the rim and has to stay that way at present – a snake is curled up in the driest part of the garden, around the gear used to drain some water out of the pool.

OK, I’m not Irish, nor a Catholic but my hubby is Welsh Catholic, doesn’t that count for help from St Patrick?

Reflections of a Mariner’s wife

To marry a man who has a love affair with ships and the sea basically means a mariner’s wife independently runs their home making decisions, raises a family alone and then, for two to three months a year, enjoys the constant company of her husband home on leave.

Long distance marriages are different from ‘day to day’ relationships of shore bound people but include, I believe, Armed Forces marriages, Police marriages, long distance truckers etc and what we accept as normal is anathema to neighbours and friends.
Before the advent of satellite communications with ships, decisions had to be made as wisely as possible as there could be a long time between phone calls or other contact. Decisions of what to pass on to the ship when a husband can do very little except perhaps worry after the event has occurred and resolved itself means a wife has different stresses from one who may leave a problem until a husband returns from work at the end of the day.
Fortunately the few times I have asked for help the approachable shore staff of different companies has meant that I was never really ‘alone’.

The bonus then is that a mariner’s wife is often able to join her husband deep sea and mutual support strengthens the relationship.  To be able to walk away from a home and know that the  family will make responsible decisions gives peace of mind and the ability to enjoy married life.

One ship we joined had been damaged in a storm losing both gangways and access was only by the pilot’s ladder. Temperatures were –14C in a Korean winter, the ship at anchor off shore. I left the barge first leaving my husband to sort out our luggage, his quiet words of encouragement were quite clear – take one step at a time. I wondered at the time what he thought I might do, race up the side of the ship like Spiderman?  I remembered a Pilot had once told me that it was easier to push with the feet rather than pull with arms and applied his logic even though it wasn’t one of the easiest things I’ve done in this world.  Smiling Filipino faces greeted me at the top of the climb and I made a mental note that maybe I would try abseiling one day, climbing 35’ up the side of an empty tanker was never on my agenda but now I’ve done that there are other things I can do.
My fellow countryman AJ Hackett invented commercial bungy jumping so I may just attempt that another time.  On holidays around Queenstown (NZ) Vince and I have already enjoyed the thrill of jet boating at speeds of up to 75km/h in shallow waters of the Shotover River with a minimum 10cm depth, travelled by helicopter through narrow ravines and then white-water rafted for two and a half hours through turbulent and calm waters in an adventure the tour operators called the Triple Challenge, but none offered the anticipation of the first climb up a pilot’s ladder in very cold conditions.

During a voyage the constant muffled throbbing of the engines pulsate the decks and bulkheads in a comforting way, probably more so for the Engineers who seem to notice whenever there’s a different beat well before any alarms go off.  One of the pleasures for me is to see the swirl of water as the props turn, particularly when engines first start, so many different colours in the whirlpool, tugs working away to push/pull/guide where and when necessary.

The sea really does change often; when it is as calm as a millpond it could be easy to overlook how it can also be vicious and unrelenting in storm conditions.  Phosphorescence is quite mystical and rather hypnotic, the luminous green algae are so pretty at night but can apparently cause people to decide to swim amongst it although I haven’t actually heard of anyone doing so. This does explain the mystery of people missing at sea.  The sea at night can be calm and dark as black velvet with barely a ripple disturbing the surface, a truly wonderful sight. Stars are like diamonds, so clear away from land and commercial light, millions more easily seen and also a spectacular sight.

Sunrises can rarely be appreciated ashore as at sea; the distant horizon is outlined by a reddish glow in the sky which rapidly changes colour from pastel pinks and blues to an orange-ish pink, then warm pink with peach coloured hues until suddenly the enormous scarlet ball appears over the horizon throwing her rays over the sea.  The pale sky is streaked with misty pink and soft orange banners and another day begins.  Sunrises in these circumstances are simply a peaceful and beautiful sight, which I would like everyone to share.
Sunsets can also be awesome, some more so than others.  The Indian Ocean has shown me the ‘green flash’ similar to the gas stove flame, which briefly appears as the sun seems to disappear below the horizon. This emerald coloured sight is a splendid show of nature – blink and it would be missed.

One of the prettiest sights is the schools of dolphins that often appear early mornings and late afternoons.  The largest number I’ve seen were on a trip down the east coast of the North Island, NZ, up to thirty in a group was a welcoming sight to me with thoughts of Pelorus Jack who used to guide ships between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and Opo, who played with children at Oponui, northern New Zealand.

The strangest behaviour was off the Indonesian coast one evening; the dolphins were quite lethargic and seemed to keep going from side to side of the ship. I wondered aloud just what they were trying to tell us, we’d follow them to the other side of the ship and again there was a slow rising up of their eyes, then they’d go back to the other side of the ship again. As that was a particularly dark night with no moon we did not venture far on deck, next morning it was apparent that local pirates had been on board and stolen stuff which was rather unnerving to me as they are ruthless in the quest for modern bounty and they could well have attacked us the previous night, had we got in their way. Normally all I’d have to do was bang a large spanner on the side of the ship and dolphins would appear with their lovely smiles, we think they’re smiling. The crew would have let me have some of their precious fish they’d caught at anchor, easy food for the dolphins.

I have seen and done many things friends at home would never consider – nine of us crammed in separate rickshaws heading a gold hunt in Dumai (Indonesia) where I wanted to buy some cheaper gold to wear just in case pirates boarded any ships I was on.  Jet boats or slow old launches transporting crews of many ships ashore means time spent with mariners from all nationalities who accept me totally for myself – when we get ashore we’re just as likely to have to climb over local fishing boats and up steel ladders with missing rungs, barely connected to concrete walls.

The Mate asked me to go shopping with him in Singapore, his expectant wife had ticked baby products which were unavailable in India, or at a huge cost perhaps if they were sent from the UK.  This was their first child and I was happy to help Joe choose just the right things. Next problem I thought would be transferring the shopping from the barge to the ship, 5kms off shore. No problems to Joe, he had a stores crane which was put over the side, all of our shopping easily raised on board.

The 1st Engineer and I had already previously gone ashore in Sydney to look for a wedding present for one of the officers. Vince had warned Mohan that he would become Passepartout, Mohan laughed although he had no clue about Around The World in 80 Days. We were close to Centrepoint, a tower vaguely similar to the one we’d gone up in Seattle – actually nothing like it all other than they were both towers with shops at the bottom and revolving restaurants near the top.  A crowd of runners were registering for the race up the internal stairs, first prize for a man and a woman was a trip to the USA.

We noticed a couple of Asian men buying their registration numbers, taking photos of each other. Then shortly afterwards they were entering the lift with us, took themselves to the finish line and more photos of each other. No racing for them at all, just the photos for their families and friends at home. They followed us to the viewing platform for spectacular views of a beautiful city, more photos. We left them to go shopping, laughing about what we’d just seen.

I have watched submarines and various foreign warships cruising the Persian Gulf, noticed the ship being ‘buzzed’ by military helicopters in the same area close to Rydah, Saudi Arabia, seen countless different types of merchant ships and oil rigs under tow, wondered how many of the fishing vessels we’ve seen miles from land stay afloat with their rusty hulls looking very weak. One time I went to the bridge to report a small launch with a ladder across its cabin with crew shouting something or other in a foreign language.  The Mate smiled and simply said ‘No, prostitutes’. Oh.

At the bow and watching numerous flying fish leaping many feet ahead of the ships bow, the suggestion that maybe I would also if I had 100,000 tonnes bearing down on me made me smile.

A little bird was on board with us for a couple of days after leaving Thailand and I was told not to feed it; poor thing, I inadvertently frightened it off the ship and saw the struggle it had to keep up with the ship against a strong wind. Then it was caught by a gust of wind that threw the bird back on deck where it lay stunned for a couple of minutes before warily picking itself up and strutting off midships. Safe and well, left soon afterwards.

A turtle caught our attention as it swam directly toward our ship.  We were days from land; on the horizon were about twenty Asian fishing boats so the turtle was the smart one to escape their nets and head the opposite way. As it was rather large then it deserved to live for many more years.

There is an art to packing a suitcase with all necessities for five or six months when the only known destination is the initial port to join the ship.  Tankers wait for the chartering department to find cargo orders so there can be no set route, in that time all seasons will probably be experienced and shops can be few and far between.

Time away on a ship means events happen at home and nothing can be done;  I felt terrible when my father broke his leg and depended on others for help instead of me.  Weddings, births and funerals do not wait although I will always be grateful I was able to get home before my great uncle died – he kept asking for me and died the day after I got home from the USA.

I was inconsolable the day I realised my grandmother would not be there when I went home from one ship, she had died before I left but nothing prepared me for the fact she wasn’t there for me months later.

Armed policemen and soldiers on board within various waters of the Persian Gulf are a fact of life; instructions issued not to offend Islamic law include all alcohol, magazines which may offend with our acceptable advertisements such as Elle’s underwear range but totally unacceptable there. Cameras,recording equipment and video’s/DVD’s all go into the ships bond and sealed until the ship leaves the area. We all signed our own bond sheet, countersigned by the captain.

An unannounced search one evening off Saudi was in fact not an unpleasant experience although my heart was beating furiously hoping the man would not find glamour shots I’d had taken for Vince’s birthday. In our eyes they are tastefully done, for the time the man was searching our cabin I imagined being dragged off the ship and stoned. The man apologised for disturbing us when he arrived around 2200, he was polite and not intimidating as the uniform portrayed.

Bumboats turn up at many ports particularly around Asia, loaded with fruits of all kinds. Our men would send down old paint tins and other stuff considered junk, the hawkers seem pleased but we have the beautiful fresh fruit in exchange.

Many nationalities live together in a way that possibly would not be contemplated ashore, news from home are shared by all whether it is good or bad news. The ability of people to work and live together is almost inexplicable and all part of people who love the life at sea.

I have learnt many things about other countries and met some particularly fine people, have had unexpected experiences, taken numerous photo’s, and, to the family’s dismay, told them they have Mum’s Home Video to watch when we arrive home.  Most importantly I have learnt much about myself when far away from what I consider so vital at home, reinforced the saying “How important is it?” and the big one “Worse things happen at sea”.

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The day I was stung by a very strange thingie in NSW

To:    Brian and Kathy
Subject:    20 Feb 2000

Hi, seems ages since I sent photo’s to your home, hopefully Jackie is vastly improved now mum’s there to look after the emotional side of things. And that your world is better now the end of this contract must be near – three weeks maybe??

We’ve carried on much the same way, he’s been dodging about for one reason and another but mostly just getting on with it all.  There was a team building exercise (group grope??) the other week, he made it back with only half an hour before we were due at the next hotel for drinks at 1900, 1930 start.
Waitangi Day is February 6th and there is an annual ball closest Saturday at the Regent where everyone comes together to celebrate in a way that we’d never do in our own country.  Beautiful wines, fish or lamb, can’t remember what else was on the menu as I didn’t have it, chocolate fish, yummmmm such a neat night. All dressed up in formal gown, black tie event so had to be a princess and that was that.  All over far too quickly which was a shame as Vince said it was a good way to unwind after his long three days interstate.

Had to throw your flowers out on Saturday, they were on their last legs which was really a very good run after being carefully watched over since they arrived.  That was indeed a kind thought from both of you and hugely appreciated.

Sunday was  a bit queer here, I was just doing a little tidying around the pool and the path when things flew at me then started to bite/sting, in my mouth, up my nose, left booby, all sorts of uncomfortable places. I raced inside quietly to grab the vinegar and some ice, by then it was really stinging and eventually MOTH decided I was in trouble so came to help.

 Anti-histamine cream out of date, pads soaked in vinegar stuffed up my nose was not a good look and he didn’t know what to do. Wanted to know if it was a spider, he’d heard on the radio day before that Huntsmen are dangerous at present, not that either of us would know what one looked like. No, it was either fly-like or moth-like, small and quick.  Then a blister started to rapidly form on my chest in the clear shape of a heart, left side too, panic inwardly but carry on with ice then cream.

Bet you can’t guess his next question……rum and coke?? I said yes just to give him something to do, he was probably reasonably concerned as he earnestly told me I was to tell him if I felt sick at all and he’d take me straight to doctor, and not to worry if it was even during night. Huh.
By then the heart blister had developed a clear stalk, I figured if that turned red then I would panic but went and had the rum anyway, it was near 1600 I think so that’s ok.

The ice had made my face blotchy red, inner lip was itchy, shame.   Next day there was virtually no evidence of any drama, the swelling in my nostril had gone down and that was that.  Clear message to me now is that I will not muck about in the garden, that’s his domain.  And no locals have a clue as to what it may have been that I disturbed either, scary thought.  The only thing I could wonder about was that the previous afternoon there’d been the worst storm in twelve years so maybe that had something to do with it, Saturday had been fine and hot, then thunderous etc, Sunday was beautiful again.  Who knows, not this little black duck.

And with that thought I shall send this in case you think we’ve forgotten you, no chance.   Almost time for lunch, if I wait half an hour I can watch Coronation Street which has just celebrated The Millennium so not too far behind.     Be safe old dear,  let’s do it all again sooner next time.  Love,  Annie and Vince xx

“Is that really the time…??”

Life changing news one day

2003

Auckland, NZ

Well, how’s my favourite OM then??  Cruising along without a care in the world?  Good, that’s exactly how I feel.  The funny thing is that’s how I act out in the world and few realise that in fact it’s all turned topside down, that I don’t feel crash hot about very much at all and I miss having decent company around me.

Yesterday I was told, with a steel glinty look in his lovely eyes,  that I am indeed seriously ill, can’t believe it as I can only see that I look a bit tired…..
The surgeon ran through all the options with me without telling me what to do, one is do nothing, become very sick sooner rather than later and be in a real mess (my words, can’t remember his precise ones) or have complex surgery, up to ten hours,  that he doesn’t do very often.  So there’s all the options, not hard to choose surgery and hope like hell he looks after this beautiful body when I’m totally out of control. Wonder if one talks under anaesthetic?  He’d get an ear battering anyway so no doubt there’ll be the usual tube down the throat to make sure I shut up.
Mortality rate during the op is 1%, I need to find 99 other people having the op that day – suppose I’m the only one, does that make 1% into 100%.  I suggested to him the op was similar to caesareans, he said no, this would be more complex and vertical, not horizontal.  Oh dear, time to stop dwelling on the unknown future.

On my own that’s not too easy because the MOTH is well away out west at sea but will be home soon I hope, like in a couple of weeks or so.  I’ll be away for at least a week and probably longer,  then need  a month of recovery assistance,  then  quiet next four weeks – shall I ask him to put on stockings and high heels as well to complete the picture??  Seriously, I do think he will make a good nurse, was brilliant when I was rushed in to hospital and I’ve told him that since, can’t take him for granted. Don’t think he realised that I meant it when I said I’m very scared, maybe he is too.

Hopefully you’ll be well on your way to somewhere nice, have lost track of where you are because lot’s of thoughts disappear into my blonde locks and immediately forgotten, I must be a puzzle to the poor old fella who isn’t much better himself right now.  Wondering if you’ll realise this has all been typed stone cold sober with nothing more than a Twinings or two, no rum and coke and certainly no ciggies at all, gave them up because the risk of dying with blood clots frightened me, might have left the run too late because it will only be a couple of months non smoking but that’s better than just carrying on regardless.  Tried to stop three or four times before, obviously unsuccessfully, this time I have the fear put into me that no warnings on packets could ever do.

I’m really rambling, screwed up somewhat but trying to be calm and optimistic, it’s almost 1800 13 June and I’m about to love and leave you before another hour disappears.  So much hope your world is good and uncomplicated, special love to you both,   Annie xx