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The Silvertown Kid - Tales of a Randy Deckhand

Open the book and start reading. I was immediately transported to Poplar in the 1940's and an early episode of “Call The Midwife,” Even one of the pictures in the book was almost identical to the opening title of the TV show. It was not Poplar but the neighbouring borough of Silvertown. Silvertown is now home to London City Airport, but back in the 40’s, it was bang slap in the middle of Docklands.

Graham’s story starts right at the beginning and maps his school days, where truant was more the order of the day than lessons and a trip to the local flea pit on a Saturday morning was compulsory, as was slipping into the odd adult film with the dirty old men in macs when playing truant.

As a young child, I remember watching the Queen’s speech on an 8 inch TV with all the neighbours crowded around. But in Graham’s story, he went one step further, his grandparents were the first family in the street to own a TV, due to the fact that

his Grandfather had built his own TV.

His fascination with ships began very young and he would often sneak into the docks to watch the coming and going of the ships in those very busy days of London’s dockland. His school even adopted a ship and one of the great treats was to be invited on board for a tour followed by tea in the very luxurious officers mess room, equivalent in those days to having Tea at the Ritz.

Education in those days was very much hands-on as he goes on to explain how the local Bobby clipped him under the ear to keep him on the straight and narrow. Sex education was another matter altogether and involved one of his classmates dropping her knickers in a darkened classroom to a room full of schoolboys.

All the shipping offices and there were many were located in the Leadenhall and Fenchurch St. areas where men rushed about in bowler hats carrying briefcases. This was still the case in the early 1970’s when l started my own seagoing career.

Holidays as a child consisted of setting off to Kent for a week's hop picking. His hobby at the time was pestering the front office girls at the various shipping offices for postcards of their ships for his collection.

Graham's first ship Port Pirie - Port Line 1947 -1972 - Postcard perfect.

This was only the start of him pestering girls. As you read Graham’s story every chapter in the book seemed to include his latest conquest in the lady department.

In fact, you get the impression that he was a rather insatiable stud. At the time this was not always an easy feat as most seamen shared double cabins and often all that separated the action from the audience was a flimsy curtain.

Reading this book brought back memories from my early days of joining P&O I also started my career by staying at the Salvation Army Hostel with the paper-thin cubicles where according to Graham you could hear someone farting five cubicles away.

Graham McGlone

I did not know that first-time deck boys were always called Tulip. I had forgotten many shipboard terms such as Dhoby and of course much of the shipboard polari language. He does not mince his words and talks about Sea Queens and Bum Bandits, but I swear I had never heard of Fanny Scanner Radar, which had me laughing away to myself.

Jobs at sea were not well paid, in fact, Graham's first payslip was £3/15/6 for a month's work. But I do not have to tell you fellow Seadogs almost everything onboard ship is found for you so this ends up mostly as pocket money.

I assume that Graham is a brilliant diary keeper as his book details all his early trips in such detail that no human mind could possibly remember. His story tells of Suez canal transits, of the Gilly Gilly man coming onboard to win bets for the unsuspecting seaman, and tales of the Port Said Bible (a book of dirty pictures).

On entering the red sea building the building of a swimming pool on top of a hatch often took place to keep the ship’s crew and passengers cool. No air conditioning in the early days led to a pretty sweaty experience at the time.

When Graham was not wheeling in the local girls he often acquired free tourist maps of the places he visited and explored the local vicinity. Especially some of the architecture, he relays some interesting bits of history in his story, Including an account of Winston Churchill Funeral, which of course carried his coffin up the Thames past docklands where the crane drivers dipped their booms to the passing barge in a mark of respect.

His experiences of traveling the world are many and varied, but ones that spring to mind are a visit to Happy Valley Curacao, narrowly missing a bomb explosion at the Seaman’s Mission in Aden, feeding the mules in Panama, yes been there and done that. Trips ashore

were normally fuelled by beer and usually ended with some nice innocent or not so innocent girl being invited back to the ship for a party and the inevitable leg over session in the shared cabins.

His early trips to Australia tell of the 6.00 o'clock swill when public houses closed at six. The object of the exercise being to swill as much beer as possible between finishing work and getting thrown out at 6.00

On one trip he jumped ship in Australia and tried starting a new life with a young lady involved of course. But the lure of the sea got the better of him and it was not long before he was working his passage back to the UK.

The Electric Circus was an iconic nightclub in New York from 1967-71 With its invitation (from one of its press releases) to "play games, dress as you like, dance, sit, think, tune in and turn on," and its mix of light shows, music, circus performers and experimental theater, the Electric Circus embodied the wild and creative side of 1960s club culture.

Flame-throwing jugglers and trapeze artists performed between musical sets, strobe lights flashed over a huge dance floor, and multiple projectors flashed images and footage from home movies. You can guess who was first down the gangplank to sample this psychedelic flesh pit.

Part of Graham’s book tells of the story of how Aboriginals were treated appallingly and killed, he investigates this in a local library and is shocked how the stories were covered up at the time. Of course, he meets the librarian and falls in love once again.

His description of heading in a hurricane and riding the storm on the 2911 GT Beaverfir is a story in itself and worth reading the book to share his experience on how this little ship had the ability to fight the weather and win the battle like David and Goliath. At one stage he was left alone on the bridge at the wheel. He could not make the Captain or officer of the watch, who had left the bridge for a moment hear his calls, when a Colossal Wave was bearing down on the ship, this far outweighed anything he had seen so far with estimated 50 feet peak to trough. “I had never been so afraid in all my life” There was nothing for it but to ring the brass telegraph to “Full Head” Captain Parker appears and demands “What’s going on”

I thought that this was going to be the start of a long ocean-going career for Graham.

But I was wrong. After another trip on the Beaverfir Graham calls it a day. The British Merchant navy by this time was in rapid decline and on 14th December 1969 signs off and does not return. There is a great chapter in his book about the reasons for the decline of the British Merchant navy.

From here Graham joins the dredging fleet in Portsmouth harbour so while not leaving the sea entirely his far-flung excitement is over.

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