Thursday, September 25, 2008

HMS/M Repulse

Today many of my former shipmates and comrades-in-arms, and their partners, will be getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the commissioning of Her Majesty's Submarine Repulse. This post, and the panel, is dedicated to those men who served in the Port and Starboard Crews throughout her long service, and to all who continue to "go down to the sea in ships". Repulse was built with great skill and care by Vickers Shipbuilders (VSEL) at Barrow-in-Furness on the NW coast of England; veteran submarine designers and builders from the Holland 4 in 1902 up to the latest Astute Class submarines (although now as BAE Systems Submarine Solutions). Launched in November 1967, she became part of the Royal Navy's polaris nuclear deterrent on her commissioning in 1968. I was one of 143 Port Crew members, and a similar number of Starboard Crew (Blue and Gold in the USN) who stood proudly by as the white ensign was raised for the first time.

For the 143 men (sorry, no women as yet allowed on naval submarines!) of each crew she was a happy ship, and remained undetected during all of her 60 patrols. Apart from regular drills life could be pretty monotonous - a daily round of watches, maintenance and the occasional defect to repair. Off-watch activities were devoted to sleep, endless games of uckers (ludo), Risk and cards, cinema and an array of meals that old submariners could only dream of. Other diversions were a daily radio program, the newsheet and, possibly a first for a submarine, on one patrol a pantomime was produced.

For the families it meant the loss of the "man of the house" for weeks on end, with no communication from the boat, and only the once weekly familygram sent from shore. Initially 20 words, it was usually of the order of "Took children to zoo, all OK, weather awful, car broke down, grass needs mowing, missing you, not long to go." Later versions were up to 50 words long, but all were vetted before release and were at the Captain's discretion if really bad news was included.

A strange life, living in a tin box under the sea, and not for everyone I suspect. As young men I don't think we thought too hard about it, although the implication of actually firing our missiles would be that we had no homes to return to. None of us really believed we would ever use our deterrent, and it is fair to say that with them on both sides they did keep the cold war from becoming hot. Lasting friendships were made on those patrols, and for those of us who left the Navy early, previous reunions have reminded us of how close-knit we were once upon a time.

This weekend will, I know, be a time for reminiscing, as well as catching up. The bodies will be a little fuller, the hair a little less, but I have no doubt that the beer and wine will flow freely as always, and so will the tall stories and memories. I wish them all good cheer and hope to meet up with them at the 50th reunion. In the meantime, "Up Spirits" and "Splice the Mainbrace".

"They that go down to the sea in ships
, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven." Psalms, 107:23-30,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Made in Virginia

According to Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, people should buy food grown in their own backyard. The Richmond Times-Dispatch (September 24) reported that " Kaine made a push for state residents to spend $10 of their weekly grocery bills on Virginia-grown products, saying that would pump an additional $1.65 billion into the state's economy."

We couldn't agree more and we give the Governor a round of applause for recognizing this simple solution to several problems. This past week, we watched in disgust as the number of children affected by melamine contamination in milk reached 53,000. And unless you have been living under a rock (or possibly in the White House), you know that we are in for a mighty rough ride while Wall Street gets itself sorted out- most likely on our dime. Money is going to be tight, and this is on top of already history-making high prices for petroleum and food.

We've been trying to become more self-sufficient for some time, now. We produce our own eggs and dairy products, as well as some vegetables. We buy locally, whenever we can. We trade horse manure for vegetables grown by a local organic farmer. We also know what's in our food, though in the case of the eggs, we'd rather not dwell on that too much.

But you don't need to live on a farm to grow your own food, and whether you do or not, you may need less money to buy the food you can't grow. If everyone were to grow even one tomato plant, you'd save more each year than the $10 Governor Kaine is proposing we spend in Virginia. Of course, by next summer, one tomato will probably cost $10. But if you grow two tomato plants, you can trade some of your tomatoes for your neighbor's zucchinis. Then your neighbor can bring his zucchinis and tomatoes over to our place and trade us for cheese and horse poop, which he can then trade back to you for whatever else you decided to grow in the meantime. If you really don't want to grow anything and you are going to spend that $10 anyway, you can buy something from your local farmer's market or vegetable stand and at least know what you are eating.

Still thinking about buying another horse, despite the rotten economy? Contact your local horse rescue and adopt one. You'll not only save money that you can use to buy tomato plants with, you'll provide a good home for a horse that needs one, you'll open up space for another needy horse at the rescue, you'll generate poop for your tomato plants and you'll support your local feed supplier, who may not have time to grow tomatoes and could buy yours. In an effort to help Virginia's horses find homes, our friends over at Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary have developed a web resource site to help you find horses that are seeking homes. The site is located at: Some owners might even trade for tomatoes.

Below is a picture of our friend Heath, and Tillie, the horse we adopted to him. Heath is demonstrating an additional benefit of adopting a horse, which is having company while you rest after planting all those tomatoes. Seriously, we do not suggest that anyone do this, as horses startle easily and one could end up planting its feet on your head. But the picture tickled us and does show the nice chemistry between Heath and his friend, Tillie.

Photo of Governor Kaine:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Arachnophobia and "Tis the Season"

Now I am not the greatest fan of our eight-legged friends, being a low to medium high arachniphobe depending on the size and and poison potential. I did once stroke the back of a red-kneed tarantula at a zoo exhibition, but there was a keeper with a whip and chair to keep good order. Generally, I prefer them to stay in their place and I'll stay in mine. I have never really got over the shock of discovering that the "Black Widow" spider (Latrodectus mactans is the southern variety) was not only indigenous but prolific. Having heard as a kid in the UK that these mean instant death, I was somewhat dismayed to find one on my bare arm when shifting some stone wall rocks. Thankfully, it seemed more interested in getting back to its cosy damp dark hole than biting me, but my reservations remain. As an aside we only have the one poisonous spider, and one poisonous snake (well more than one of each, but you know what I mean) the Adder (Vipera berus). So again, having heard as a child that to be bitten by one was fatal (we Brits love scaring the pants off our kids!) and not being a great lover of the hissing things, Virginia, and farms in particular, are a constant source of disquiet during the snake mating season. Admittedly we usually only see King Snakes, but as Burns might have a said "a snakes a snake for all that".

Anyway back to arachnids. This year we have been blessed (or not depending on your phobia) with a large number of the black and yellow garden spiders, Argiope aurantia to be exact, and wary as I am of the spider family I cannot help but admire this particular variety. I don't know if they are the largest in this part of the world, but they must be near. I have seen big crickets caught in their webs and wrapped up for later disposal. I am very much a "live and let live" sort of person, so provided they stayed reasonably away from my normal passageways I was happy to have their fly control capabilities on my side. I did draw the line at between the handles of our brushmower, and removed her to a more secluded spot - a long piece of wood since you asked! One by one they have disappeared, presumably as the nights got cooler, until only one remains. Sadly, she does not have the stabilimenta , or zig-zag lines of thread, that characterize the argiope's web, but I did capture her in glorious technicolor. I suspect that in a few more days she too will be gone, leaving her small sack of children behind to hatch out in the Spring.

So the cycle of life goes on, with the seasons still ruling the lives of our animal friends, even if we have given them up in favor of the digital watch and lettuce all year round. The Autumn equinox has come (yesterday) and now the nights get longer than the days. I am sad, as always, to see the long hot days ending, but can look forward with pleasure to mulled wine in front of a real log fire. We have stalls for all the animals, three open fires in the house, milk and eggs every day, and a portable generator (that I might get round to putting somewhere useful) should the big one hit. Crisis!! What crisis? Just remember the Boy Scout motto and "Be Prepared".