When I was in Simonstown Naval Dockyard with HMS Jaguar (in South Africa) I had made friends with a young fellow on a Naval replenishment vessel. We’d met, so to speak, in the Mozambique Channel, during a RAS (“Replenishment at Sea”).
He and I decided one afternoon and evening to climb Simonsberg, the small mountain back of the dockyard. Going up was exciting. Pulling up onto a ledge we came eyeball to eyeball with a Cape cobra, which fortunately was not too pissed off. Going down was really quite dangerous for a couple of reasons. One, it was getting dark, so we were hurrying. And we had not taken note of a deep quarry which stood in our way down. There was a 100′ drop made by the excavation. We only became aware of it in the fading light from very close to the edge. So we were not too late to skirt it. The other thing that didn’t seem too much of a worry was a load of barking and screaming that was going on around us. We had no idea what it was. Obviously some bloody wild life.
We got to the dockyard a while after dark quite thrilled with the whole adventure, indeed with a small sense of achievement. When we came to the gates of the dockyard we had to identify ourselves to a dockyard policeman. These guys were Afrikaaners. Very big. But, if you’re not giving them a hassle (more on that in a sentence or two) they are personable and a source of much good information when your ear has cut through the thick accent. So he asked what we’d been up to and we told him. He said – can you do an Afrikaans accent? Well here’s your chance to try…
“Now you fellows been bloody lucky. You walked through a pack of baboons. And I want to tell you a little story about those boys. Last year, after they had been breaking into the food store in the radio station at the top of the mountain there for a while, one of our men was doing a patrol with his Alsation. He happened to catch the mob inside the foodstore and let the dog off his lead. The dog caught a small one and killed it. The biggest baboon called off the pack. He screamed at them and they all came out of the store. Then he carried on barking and screaming for a bit. Then the entire pack went in, surrounded the dog and tore it to pieces. I tell you man… you don’t want to piss them off!”
Point taken buddy. I wonder what happened to the policeman. He then went on to give us a little advice on the scorpion we had caught and put in our sandwich box. It was large and had black pincers and a black sting about the size of the last section of your little finger.
“That one is the most poisonous one in South Africa. It will kill you if you’re not very lucky. Put it somewhere safe!”.
I was thinking of my divisional officer’s bed. He was a bastard to me.
Anyway a week or two later -I had by now bought a surfboard – £30, a months salary, and a bit brown: a “Sunsurf” – and I had started surfing. I was at a drinks function in the dockyard and there was a guy there whom I knew surfed. He was shorter than us but fit and with regulation blonde hair. Not long; he was a conscript as Whites had all to do National Service in those days. He also had his right arm in a plaster cast to the elbow. I asked him what had happened and he told me. I’m glad you’ve been practising your Yarpy accent because here it comes again.
“See, ma brruther, I come back late from drinking and I was clahmbing the wall back into the dockyard when this big O comes up to me to arrest me. Well, Ah had enough punishment this month and ah was trying to reason with him but he pulls aht these bangles. He’s goin to cuff me, see? Now, ah don’t mind bangles but these were chromium bangles and – see ah was pretty drunk – and ah just couldn’t consent to the chromium bangles, so ah hit him. Trouble was, he ducked and ah caught him on his forehead and broke three bones in my hand. Now ah’m confined to the base for a month and the surf ‘s really good at Muisenberg this week! Ah’m just gled he didn’t murra me.”
I don’t have to tell you, I’d learned enough about surfing (that it was the future of my life… not the Navy!) to sympathise with him most sincerely, taking no account whatsoever of the cultural gulf that yawned between us.