The Junkman – 1953/54

Tilting at the windmills of discipline and regulation holds an everlasting appeal. It is an activity for which Bothie boys never seem to be short of inspiration. It is our most popular diversion, the most ardently pursued. Truly this is our greatest entertainment. Intrinsic to it is the ludicrous, that vital touch of comic. The sillier, the richer the vein, the more durable the fun. This largely because each nugget of tomfoolery is, in a way, a challenge, testing the intellectual fortitude of the officers. These hardy characters deal with all delinquency in the time-honoured fashion, directly and unbothered by such tiresome considerations as clemency or fairness. Such impartiality calls for a demeanor both stern and composed, unaffected by circumstances, no matter how ridiculous. The merest flicker of amusement, the slightest acknowledgement of the absurdity of the situation and we triumph. Every eye watches keenly for that involuntary twinkle, that twitch at the corner at the mouth, the sign that will tell us that the bails are off. Imagine Queen Victoria censuring: “We are not …..” with her upper lip atremble. Authority has its own demands, not least here, on the Bothie, but invariably, we watch in vain.

The true exponents of the game are, of course, the senior cadets, superior both in originality and daring but having the advantage of a ready supply of stooge material – chums. Clean ship, that orgy of housekeeping which extends over Friday afternoon’s and Saturday morning’s all too often provides the perfect stage and the opportunities for their inspired minds.

The rafters of the main hall are bedecked with flags, the houseflags of the major shipping companies. Every week a cadet must go aloft to rid them of dust and cobwebs – a chum’s job. From the roof of the library a catwalk, comprised of nine by three planks runs through the rafters up both sides of the hall. The chum, finding himself in the shadowy recesses of the roof, crawls gingerly on all fours along the plank then clambers out onto each rafter in order to dust the banner with a fifi (a small handbroom). By mid-Saturday morning, boredom and a shameful lack of progress on the part of the chum calls for action. The old salt in charge simply feels he has no option but to sway aloft and chastise the wretched flag-duster for the good of both their souls. The chums ability to negotiate the course, high above the concrete floor, undergoes a marked improvement, finding himself pursued by a tally ho-ing old salt, swatting his overall-clad posterior with a fifi.

The rafter at the North end is an intriguing obstacle. One must execute the traverse, albeit pursued, in order to gain the relative safety of the catwalk on the opposite side. It carries the proud banner of Alfred Holt & Co., the inestimable Blue Funnel Line, that was. It was here that junior cadet Bozo du Sautoy, in the act of lunging to grasp a crossbrace, found himself inexplicably arrested in midflight. The fifi which he had thrust into his back pocket, the better to make headway, had hooked on the hem of the flag and held him back. His grasp, clutching wildly, missed the handhold completely and Bozo dropped like a stone, vanishing from the view of his horrified pursuer. Fortunately Bozo managed to grab the tackline of the flag in the course of his descent and swung like a lemur below the rafters until he was hauled, once more aloft to complete his duties. Blue Flue was always famous for its belt and braces policies, insisting on everything stronger. Would the outcome, one wonders have been sadder and perhaps messier had Mrs du Sautoy’s son been obliged to depend on the banner of some other ship-owning concern – Hungry Hogarths for example ?

On Friday afternoon’s the ships weekly requirement of softsoap is prepared. Senior cadets Ping Thorpe and Pong Brewer carry out the task in the gloomy confines of the old bath house. The hot, glutinous concoction is prepared in an old 44 gallon drum, stirred with the blade of a broken oar and doled out with an enormous, iron ladle.

The order to go and fetch softsoap is received with mixed feelings. Picking up a bucket, the chum leaves the mainhall and heads for the bath house. The atmosphere within is thick with steam, redolent of carbolic. The pair of diminutive old salts chunder over the drum like a pair of druid gnomes. Senior cadet Horsejaw Rushby is their only other customer at present. Pong: “We have a candidate. What’s your name chum, your nickname?” Ping and Pong are also baptists, practitioners of the total immersion method. They are horrified to learn that the chum has no nickname. Ping: “This is serious. The chum has to have a name. You may hop into the baptismal font while we decide on something suitable, chum.” Resigned to his fate the victim strips off and climbs naked into the steaming liquid. Horsejaw: “This chum is ugly. He reminds me of Braithwate. Braithwate was moonty ugly.” Pong: “Ja, he looks a lot like Braithwate but he looks a bit like Mozley too. He’s got ekkies” (pimples). Mozley had ekkies for Africa. The gentlemen referred to were among their own old salts of the previous year. Ping: “Why don’t we call him Mozwate ?” This meets with general approval. “Keep sponsies, Horsejaw. Let baptism commence.”

Senior cadet Rushby steps outside to keep a weather eye open for approaching authority while Pong instructs the candidate as to what to do with his hands. The chum crouched, up to his chin in slimy goo, releases his grip on the edge of the drum and raises his right hand in the air. Pong places the slimy ladle over his head and Ping raises the oar and brings it down on the ladle with a resounding dong . The chums feet skid out from under him and his nose dips briefly below the surface. His brains bounce, resonating around inside his skull. He emerges sneezing violently, ears ringing. “Bless you” says Ping reverently. “Henceforth you shall be known as Mozwate. Forever hold thy piece – Firmly.”