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Naval Gazing: Six short stories inspired by the adventures and misdeeds of a Royal Naval officer

Naval Gazing: Six short stories inspired by the adventures and misdeeds of a Royal Naval officer

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Naval Gazing: Six short stories inspired by the adventures and misdeeds of a Royal Naval officer

109 pagine
1 ora
Jul 21, 2020


These six short fiction stories draw upon several wonderful adventures and experiences during operational training, life after the Royal Navy spent in Central Asia and to the present day where we’re currently in the midst of a global pandemic and enduring an unprecedented lockdown. _x000D_
Impetuous, reckless, adventurous, Tommy Cooper’s lost son ... have all been used at some stage to describe my service during a six-year Naval career, first as a Midshipman then Sub-Lieutenant: and I loved every second. I was fortunate to drive insanely fast speedboats with the Royal Marines in Hong Kong, navigate destroyers and gunboats in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and South China Seas, fly fast jets and helicopters, chase Triads and catch pirates in some of the most exotic and exciting places imaginable. I’ve been honoured to meet and work with a number of seriously impressive and idiosyncratic individuals who left an indelible impression._x000D_
Nevertheless, the training instilled upon me is ever-present and my sense of humour undiminished. Even in these unsettling times, I’m rarely far from a spot of reminiscing and Naval Gazing.
Jul 21, 2020

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Naval Gazing - Michael Denoon



The Panda

For Dave, the very best Naval officer and friend

I was dressed as a panda.

A great big theatrical panda: and I was flippin’ hot. It was only May, but it was already shaping up to be a summer to remember. I’d been appointed to HMS Dryad to sit my finals, the last hurdle before qualifying as a commissioned Royal Naval officer. It was a very big deal and my future career was at stake; I was desperate to do well.

Dryad was home to the Royal Naval School of Maritime Warfare and was set in the manicured grounds of Southwick House. The grand pile nestled discreetly among the hills behind Portsmouth and had been Eisenhower’s base for the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

However, this balmy Friday evening combined with the exertion of walking two and a half miles across good old Pompey had created a torturous panda-shaped hothouse. So well made was my outfit, it was impervious to any relief from the gentle breeze drifting in from the Solent. Sweat puddled in my paws and the polyester fabric rubbed like salt upon my skin. It was hell. I gritted my teeth and persevered, because I was on a mission.

My vision was limited, and as I shuffled past pubs I bumped into revellers, tipsy girls hugged me and one drunk flung a poorly aimed hook when I collided with him. I hurried on.

No taxi stopped for me, they just honked. Well, would you stop for an oversized panda walking down the road? I wouldn’t. So, I waddled the streets from the wardroom at HMS Nelson, where I’d taken a cabin for the weekend, over to Godfrey’s house in Southsea.

I’d been invited to his ‘Black and White’ party and I love fancy-dress parties. I always feel this overwhelming compulsion to outdo everyone else. I’m sure there’s some physiological diagnosis for this, a creative competitive perhaps? But I was determined to excel on my previous inventiveness. I was determined to impress Godfrey’s sister. . .

At the wardroom Christmas party the year before, I arrived in a white sheet covered in Dairylea triangles and Babybel cheese; I was the ‘Baby Cheeses’. That was where I first saw her.


She was the most perfect creature I’d ever laid eyes upon. She was tall and blonde like her brother, but effortless, elegant and supremely cool. She worked for an advertising company in London, drove a new red convertible Ford Escort and spoke with a polished velvet accent. She was a Sloane Square Ranger and lived in Chelsea; she could have been a film star.

I couldn’t speak; I did try but got a hot flush instead and had to walk away. All I could do was gawk in embarrassed, awe from afar. What a turnip; I was lacking in social skills thanks in part to a reclusive upbringing in backwater Aberdeenshire villages. I’d none of the advantages of my peers, who christened me The Social Hand Grenade, and I felt it.

The wardroom Spring party had a ‘Come as your favourite song’ theme. I knew she’d be there and had prevaricated about going. In the end, I’d improvised and stuck a tube ticket to my forehead – ‘Going underground’… The big positive from this, however, was that I’d finally spoken to her.

‘Ah, you’re on my brother’s course, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about Aberdeen. My Senior Partner hails from there …’

‘Errrm, hurrmm. Yes. Do you know where the toilets are?’

Good God! I’d hit a new low. What must she think? I resolved there and then to improve, to dazzle. Shock and Awe, as the Americans coined it in the recently finished Gulf War, and that was what I was going to do.

This is my thing, I’m good at fancy dress and this party was to be my crowning glory. I would win her heart, glory and complete social redemption.

Her brother Godfrey was a classmate. He was not really a friend, although we did hang out a fair bit, but only by default. There were twelve of us on the course at HMS Dryad but it was a very mixed bag of characters.

There were six Upper Yardmen – sailors who’d risen through the ranks and were now within reach of becoming officers. They were much older – at least thirty – utter bastards, and treated the rest of us with thorough contempt. I thought I’d a granite-sized chip on my shoulder, but these men had boulders!

Then there were the Graduates, five of them. But there was a pecking order, or rather snobbery, regarding which university they’d attended. Poor Foxy Knox and Irish Felix had gone to Leicester and Durham and were ignored. Sif Ellis was a Londoner (his real name was Derek Ellis, but had been nicknamed after an STD by a particularly cruel shipmate). He’d gone up to St Andrews, which was acceptable, and trailed in Godfrey’s wake. He didn’t contribute much.

And then there was Paul Macleod. Alumnus of Edinburgh University, he hailed from a council house outside Edinburgh, lacked any humility or sense of humour and took undisguised issue with me primarily on account that I was the only one who knew this. (I’d chanced upon a Mess Steward who’d served with him aboard his last ship.)

Early on in the course, I’d given a very edgy and well-received presentation on current Soviet anti-submarine capabilities. He’d bristled indignantly when his own talk on ‘Environmental considerations in the modern navy’ had been marked down. It’d sent everyone to sleep – notably the base commander.

He thought me common because I spoke with a Highland lilt to my accent and I hadn’t bothered to disguise it. Officers in his view should not be ‘regional’, it set a bad precedent with the men, it was contemptible. He’d share this view when in the bar at every opportunity with any senior officer – all the while pointedly looking at me. The irony however, was that he sounded like a cross between HRH Prince Charles, Dick Van Dyke and Rab C Nesbitt. I suspected, though, that his accent was a continuing ‘work in progress’.

I soon tired of his Posh Gob act and one evening in the pub, after a particularly gruelling day studying Relative Velocity Theory, I’d drunkenly christened him Fluffy. This was on account of his dubious haircut and the copious cans of mousse used to style it.

It stuck and he hated it.

But, and this rankled most terribly, Fluffy had a way with the girls. They flocked to him. He was like a great big man-sized girl-magnet on permanent heat. Worse still, he’d serious ambitions in Sophie’s direction, although, and to my great relief, she’d yet to reciprocate his advances. It meant I still had a fighting chance.

However, Godfrey was revered: he’d been to a proper varsity.

Godfrey Hanson was a snob. He had no nickname; he was above all that. Tall, fair-haired, with piercing grey eyes perched above a hawk-like nose, he’d a first from Cambridge in something, but I always lost interest when he let people know.

But he did do things properly.

And then there was me, Wee McJock from Aberdeen, a direct entrant into Dartmouth straight from school, the youngest on the course, the naivest, the one who’d most to prove – mainly to myself. I didn’t go to university; ‘Too Thick’ according to my father, ‘Too Poor’ according to my mother. As I’d progressed through the Royal Naval College and been surrounded by older, worldly, supremely intelligent university graduates I’d retreated into a defensive shell. I started to believe I wasn’t good enough. Either way, I switched off when any of the Graduates began to prattle on about their higher education.

Yet, I was doing rather well on this course and was getting noticed by the senior instructors. If one excelled here, it meant advancement and procuring the best ship appointments. But I couldn’t see it at the time and instead worried countless nights about

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