Somebody’s Facebook entry today has reminded me of a tragic personal tale. I was coming home to England on the Capetown Castle after my two years with the RAF in India. A few of us were in the habit of sitting on the ship’s rail and chatting, wearing the usual shipboard uniform of a pair of shorts. They had very short legs, as it was the custom to signal one’s status as an old hand by getting the village tailor to shorten them considerably. One day as lunchtime was approaching we were sunning ourselves there, waiting for the bell to go off. Opposite us was a row of elderly ladies in deck chairs.
A ship’s wooden rail is beautifully wide and gently rounded, perfect for a young man’s bottom. However, at intervals along its length it has small pronged objects called cleats: sailors use them for securing thin lines when they haul mail and other packages up from the quay or from small boats alongside. Without realising it I had placed myself close beside one of these cleats and a prong had found its way into one leg of my shorts. The bell sounded for lunch and we all leaped down. There was a ripping noise from behind me and the elderly ladies were left gaping at the rear end of a youth running past wearing a tattered miniskirt. The sound of their little chorus of ‘Oooh!’ is with me still.