• My Life - Denis F Ellis

    My Life Denis F. Ellis Non haec sine numine
    A Series of Biographical Vignettes

    The following biographicalvignette was an essay writing assignment in my class, “Autobiography for Seniors " which I took in the spring semester of 2005 at Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Our Professor, Dr. M. L. Stapleton asked each of us in the class to write a short essay, with detail and vividness, about a person, who is not a parent or spouse, but who had made a distinctive change in our lives. For this essay I have chosen an event from the early days of my professional career - and life. Dr. Stapleton was named the Chapman Distinguished Professor of English at IPFW.

    ...........the end of my beginning.

    While a number of my senior peers were an influence in the events that took place during the period of April 9th. Through May 14th. 1951 two particular individuals were instrumental in the finale that was to have such a great influence and effect on my future. There was the man that I worked for and with for nearly ten years and then there was the man, whom I never came to know!

    First, a little about this beginning. After the loss of my father, Ships Bosun, Frederick Ellis, just after the end of the Second World War, December 7th. 1945, lost to a lonely place in the North Atlantic, and to be more precise; Lat.47'.49N Long.45'.59W, the company for which my father had sailed all throughout World War ll and before, Elder Dempster Shipping Lines, committed to my mother, that when I was to finish my formal schooling in 1949 that they would see that I had an opportunity to follow in my father's footsteps, my father having first gone away to sea in 1909 when he was just a lad of fourteen years of age.

    Sometime in the fall of 1948, the year before I was to complete my formal schooling my eldest sister Mary took me to meet with (Mr. Pritchard?) who was an executive officer of Elder Dempster and we met with him in the company's downtown Liverpool office, located in the India Buildings on Water Street. My sister joined me in the office with (Mr. Pritchard?) for my interview and while I could not sit down and write of the details of our conversation, of one thing we in my family are now all certain, that what took place in that office that day was, that (Mr. Pritchard?), and Elder Dempster Shipping Lines, offered me the opportunity to become an Officer Cadet with the training to take place in their Officer Cadet Training School and on board their Officer Cadet Training Ship, and that I, for whatever reason that only the Great Maker could know at that time, said, " No thank you Sir!, I want to work in a ship's kitchen, I want to be a cook!!." The conversation between myself and (Mr. Pritchard?) did not go too much further,other than (Mr. Pritchard?), and Elder Dempster, committing to making the necessary arrangements to honor my request when I had completed my formal schooling in the coming April of 1949. In reviewing this vignette with my sister, Mary, she did remind me that (Mr. Pritchard?) did offer her a position but because she had just the year before, 1947, given birth to my niece, Fredericka, she had to politely decline.

    Well! When we then went outside the office to head on home, my sister did not know what to say about my turning down the offer to become and Officer Cadet, I think she was ready to flip!! Oh! My God I remember her saying, you want to be a cook Denis, were did that come from? What is Mama (our mother) going to say, as she held her head in her hand? You Denis had better go home by yourself. Well, eventually my sister and I did go home together, on the number 33 Tram-Car to Garston Village the South Liverpool Suburb where we lived. It was a long ride home! Of what happened in this immediate period following I am quite vague, I do recall that there was disappointment in my family, but somewhat short lived. I had made the decision and it was now my life to live, it was for me to go and show what I could do and what I could become. What I have come to believe about events in ones life such as this is, that there is much to be said in what we read and hear about in medical news articles and often portrayed on television that a person can somehow mentally block out events and happenings in their lives, that they would rather not want to maybe recall in a hurry, I believe that this is what happened to me regarding this short period in my life.

    Elder Dempster lived up to their commitment and when I finished my formal schooling in April, of 1949, the Easter Break, I was 15 years of age, they placed me in the Nautical Training School for Ship's Cooks and Stewards which was located in Oldham Street, off Renshaw Street in downtown Liverpool. On a visit home to Liverpool in the fall of 2002 my sister, Mary, yes! the same sister Mary and her husband Phil took my wife, Marliese, and I to visit it. It was undergoing demolition! I spent six months, five days a week, seven hours a day, in the kitchens of " Dickie Bond's as it was affectionately called, for reasons I will tell at another time, and then on October 20th.1949 I passed out and graduated with my Certificate of Apprentice Cook, a copy of which I have attached to this vignette. As I was still only 15 years old with three months to go to January 1950 when I then would celebrate my sixteenth birthday and be old enough to go away to sea, the company placed me as an apprentice in a large central pastry shop, a pastry shop that prepared pastries, cakes, pasties and meat pies for a number of the company's retail shops. The name of this business was, Cousins, and as my elder brother Tony reminded me in 2005, the business was run by two cousins, named Gibson. Tony, who was a top notch Automotive Mechanic used to work on Cousin’s delivery vans when they were brought in for service to the garage where Tony had worked from when he was an apprentice. I can never forget Cousin’s location as it was located on Fleming Road which was across from the Penicillin Factory, in Speke which was the next suburb to Garston Village, where I lived. Fleming Road was named after the discoverer of penicillin, Dr.Sir Alexander Fleming.

    On the 30th of January 1950, twelve days after my sixteenth birthday I signed on ( board of trade ship's articles of the sea) as a Kitchen Boy to the Elder Dempster Passenger Liner, MV Accra, I was about to set sail on my first ' trip' to a land I had known of, as young as I was, for many years, the West Coast of Africa, or to were as it was so often referred to as, " The White Man’s Grave," and to where as Rudyard Kipling so aptly phrased it, where “ Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen, go out in the Noonday Sun.”

    The MV Accra, was named after the City of Accra which is the Capital City of what was then the Gold Coast, a British Commonwealth Country, but is now the independent Country of Ghana, The Accra carried 297 First Class Passengers and 24 Tourist Class Passengers and each 'trip' (voyage) sailed between Liverpool and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, and then on to Freetown in Sierra Leone, Takoradi in Ghana, and finally the Port of Apapa where we embarked and disembarked our passengers and which is across the Lagos Lagoon from the Island City of Lagos, Nigeria.

    After a weekend stay in Lagos/Apapa we returned to Liverpool stopping at the same Ports. There were occasions when we also stopped in at Bathurst, which is the Port Capital of Gambia on the Island of St. Mary in the Gambia River. Also, regarding passengers, we did carry 145 “deck passengers, “very colorfully dressed, between each of the African Ports. A round trip on the Accra took five (5) weeks. I had arrived at my boyhood dream.

    Over the next eighteen months I made eleven round trips to the ' West Coast ' with one particular break and that being when on the sailing day from Liverpool, July 18th. 1950, I came down with a very bad dose of fever and was rushed off the Accra and sent to Liverpool's very famous Tropical School of Medicine. After my recovery I was transferred to the sister ship of the Accra, the MV Apapa, which was named after the Port City of Apapa.

    On the following Elder Dempster web link when you click on, photographs from the menu, you will bring up a number of photographs of the Accra and the Apapa ( http://www.aquila.btinternet.co.uk/elder-dempster/ )

    During this early period I had started my professional progression and on the 30th.of October 1950 I was promoted, though still only sixteen years old, from Kitchen Boy to Junior Assistant Cook. This was a newly created position, allowing me an increase in my wages but more importantly, greater culinary exposure. It was during this period that my senior peers started to advise me, “Ellis, don't spend the rest of your life on the “West Coast “get yourself on to the Trans-Atlantic Passenger Liners going either to the ' States ' (United) or to Canada." Their persistence towards this and me continued and as I have looked back upon this period I see that they must have recognized in my work and personal habits that I had more potential in my chosen professional career than maybe a life on the West Coast of Africa had to offer.

    I consequently made the biggest single individual decision of my then very young life. Without telling my Mother, which in those days was considered a sacrilegious act, I gave my notice to my Chef and on April the 9th. 1951 on arrival in Liverpool I signed off the MV Apapa for the last time, finishing off what my father had started so many years before.

    As a young boy, as it was with young boys of my time and place, I never cried, but as we sailed down the waterways and away from Lagos and Apapa and out towards the South Atlantic that last time, and as I looked out the kitchen port hole as I so often did, tears welled up in my eyes, real tears. I have never told this to my family before, so this line in this vignette is, no pun intended, an eye opener!!

    We have now reached the period within which a series of events took place that would have such a positive influence and effect on my future. But! Before the wonderful finale of this all, there were to be some thirty days of H……? I first of all had to tell my mother, and while I could say that I had vague memories of this, it would be more honest of me to say that, I have a total blackout. My memory is a blank of details for much of this period of thirty days. However what happened now was that I first applied to the Cunard Line only to be told that they hire all their young apprentices and such from the Westminster School of Cookery in London, I then applied to the Canadian Pacific Steamships who told me that they did not have any apprentice positions open and that I was too young to be an assistant cook. This did not happen of course all at once but over a number of days. I then decided that I should register with the Board of Trade Shipping Pool.

    It is important here that I explain this shipping pool of which there are two parts. One part is where a seaman will go in each day and register by giving them their Seaman’s Record (of discharge) Book and telling them what they would like to do and then If a like position on a ship became available their name would be called and they are then given the opportunity to go to that ship or to the company clerks office and see if they can be hired. If not you go through the same procedure every day, and these can be very long days. You do not however have to take the ship if you don't want to; it may be going where you would not like to go. The other part of the Shipping pool is a little different though, here you are guaranteed to be given a ship, with a twist, the twist being that you can refuse two ships, but! You must accept the third ship you are offered. Was it to New York you wanted to sail to Ellis? Tough luck! this one is going to China!

    Each day it seemed the days were getting longer and longer, except for the Tram Car ride home to my mother, which always seemed like I just stepped on the Tram and then there I was at our front door, with, my mother waiting there for me. No ship again Denis? how many times did I hear my mother say that. In my first move of desperation, somewhat influenced as I recall by my mother, I went back to Elder Dempster to see if I could have my job back. These company shipping clerks had a notorious reputation for always wanting to show the power that they had over seaman, to put bread and butter on your plate, or to send you for a walk. This particular event I will never forget, I had arrived at the Company’s Shipping Clerk's office in the Huskisson Dock, I put my Seaman’s Record Book through the caged window opening as was the practice, this clerk looked at my book saw my name and record and said; " what are you doing here Ellis?" I would like Sir to go back on the Accra or the Apapa, I replied. “Well I'll tell you what you can do Ellis," said the clerk, "you can go and pool (shipping) your heels for another month, and then come back and we will see what we can do for you. " I was sick and about ready to cry! And I said to myself I am not going to go home and tell my mother about this, but of course I had to, and I did.

    What followed next is the kind of event that would make believers out of non believers. First off after that awful experience of going back to Elder Dempster I said to myself I cannot go home once more and tell my mother I could not get a ship, I decided there and then that I was going to take my chances and ' sign on ' at the pool in order to be guaranteed a ship. Whatever Angels were in that Shipping Pool that day were surely looking down over me. I approached the caged window and offered my seaman’s record book to the clerk, and as he was l looking at it and beginning to talk to me, behind him came this very tall gentleman, and! I will always refer to this individual as a gentleman, this gentleman was so tall he actually was looking over the window towards me, and then he said; “What are you doing here Ellis?" to which I replied, somewhat sheepishly, “I need a ship Sir." “No Ellis you don't want a ship from here, you have to get yourself down the Cunard or the CP (Canadian Pacific). I replied “But Sir I have been down to both of them and they told me that they did not have anything for me". Listen Ellis said the gentleman the Empress of Scotland needs an Assistant Cook, you get yourself down there, to which I then had to tell the gentleman that I had been down to the CP and they told me that because I was only seventeen and one half years of age I was too young for their assistant cook's position.

    Well, what happened next were spoken words that were to end my beginning. This gentleman said to me. “Ellis you go on down to the CP and tell them that if they will hire you for the Assistant Cook's position on the Empress of Scotland, we will approve your being under age." Who was this gentleman? How did he know my name? did he see my name over the shoulders of the Shipping Clerk? Did he know my father, which was a good likelihood? I never did get to know this gentleman's name, but he was the man whom I never did get to know, but one who played such a pivotal role in the
    Beginning of what was to be for me, a very successful career. What I did come to find out was that he was a National Union of Seaman Representative and it was the Union that was giving approval of my being hired into a position even though I was under age. I have retold this event of my life many times in my role as teacher and culinary instructor. As Executive Chef of the University of Notre Dame one of the Culinary Classes I taught to our staff was Culinary Supervision, when we covered the chapter on Labor Relations and Unions I would always retell this event, in order show the class one of many positive sides of Unions.

    I was of course at this point not hired yet, I had to get myself down to the CP Office which was located in Gladstone Dock, where the Canadian Pacific's Empress Ships docked, and this was dock No. 100 of the one hundred docks on this seven mile stretch of docks along the River Mersey. I boarded the overhead railway at the Pier Head, as a point of interest here, the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which opened the 4th. of February 1893, ( http://www.timbosliverpool.co.uk/lor/ ) was the first Electrified Elevated Railway in the world.

    The stop where I boarded was located alongside the City's Three Graces, which you can view on this web link. (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/exhibitions/worldheritagecity/ThreeGraces.asp) The names of Liverpool’s Three Graces as you will see are; the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building. Who of us on that day, which was approximately April the 5th. 1951, could ever believe that some fifty three years later, June 2004, the month and year that I retired from the University of Notre Dame, that these buildings and this piece of Liverpool and Merseyside Waterfront would be decreed a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, (UNESCO) to join other world heritage sites such as, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and others.

    I arrived at the Gladstone Dock Canadian Pacific Clerks office, and probably more than a little nervously, handed in my
    Seaman’s Record Book through the caged window, at the same time explaining to the shipping employment clerk what I had been told by the Gentleman! at the pool. The shipping clerk said Okay! And gave me a slip of paper which was my official communication for me to go and meet with Chef Anthony (Tony) Duckett the Chef de Cuisine on the Empress
    Of Scotland. The ’ Scotland ’ was berthed along the quay adjacent to where the shipping clerk's office was located so I just had a short walk to what was become my home, and culinary inspiration, for the next six and one half years.

    My meeting with Chef Duckett was, as was the protocol and practice of the time, and in somewhat definite contrast to today, kept at its respective distance. We met in the small Chef's Office in the Kitchen, which I can still pinpoint on the C Deck plans that are available on the following Empress of Scotland web site, http://www.angelfire.com/pe2/pjs1/
    What did this man, Chef Duckett, see in me that I maybe had or did not see in myself, what visions did he have of me that I did not, at least yet, have of myself. I was seventeen and a half, his kitchen was full of World War Two Vets who had also been cooks before the war, and there were older and more experienced assistant cooks than me that was available, yet! Chef Duckett said to me, " Okay Ellis we will give you a go, you be here tomorrow at seven, we will be signing on (the ship's articles of the sea) then," tomorrow's date being May 14th. 1951. Chef Duckett then took me over to meet with the Fish Cook with whom I was going to be working as, Assistant Cook he was an Irishman by the name of Kevin Kenney, and who along with his close friend, and Scotsman, Vegetable Cook Billy Briscoe, were going to keep a close eye on me over the immediate and ensuing years.

    I was to spend the next six and one half years on the Empress of Scotland and there is much to say about these ensuing years that will in time, hopefully, become another Biographical Vignette. I consider these years to be my most, formable culinary learning years. In 1957 the ' Beautiful White Empress ' was showing her age and the Canadian Pacific, and I believe reluctantly, sold her to the German Hamburg-Atlantic Line, who removed one of her three distinctive funnels, added tighter accommodation to be able carry more passengers, and renamed her the, Hanseatic.

    The three funneled liner Empress of Scotland had been launched in 1929 as the Empress of Japan and in those days she sailed from Vancouver, Canada to Yokohama and Hong Kong for which she held the Blue Riband for the fastest time. In 1942 after the outset of hostilities with Japan, Sir Winston Churchill it was I believe, “persuaded” the Canadian Pacific to change her name, she was renamed the Empress of Scotland. There are numerous web pages of the “Scotland " one of the most beautiful of all the White Empresses and of whom it is still said of today.” She was the most Beautiful Lady ever to sail down the River Mersey."

    .................................................. .......................................This beginning shall continue.

    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Tony Morcom's Avatar
      Tony Morcom -
      looking forward to the next section
    1. John Albert Evans's Avatar
      John Albert Evans -
      A nice story, it makes you want to turn the page for more.
    1. duncan Elsworth's Avatar
      duncan Elsworth -
      It reminds me df the times i spent in Birkenhead and traveld across to the pool while waiting for a ship
    1. John Callon's Avatar
      John Callon -
      Once I started reading the story I could not stop. I also am waiting for the next instalment
    1. Jim Brady's Avatar
      Jim Brady -
      Denis,remember it well going into that office bottom of the shed at the Gladstone, handing in my Brand New Book right from Gravesend.Was it Billy Breeze or Billy Bleaze the Catering Super.I was taken on and sent to join the France at the Brocklebank doing it's 12 month lay up.Was'nt a bad induction that doing three weeks work by before going deep sea.Looking forward to the follow up .
    1. Neville Roberts's Avatar
      Neville Roberts -
      brought back some memories of the pool and the liverpool of my youth . keep it up
    1. Colin Hawken's Avatar
      Colin Hawken -
      The most interesting tale I've read for a long time. Looking forward to more,
    1. john sutton's Avatar
      john sutton -
      I did 5 trips on the accra from august 1950 in initially as petty officers pegy the as j o s.
      remember the chippy who spent his whole career on the accra also the aussie inky.he once threww a local over the side who was aggesivlñy begging chop from me.
      One trip we carried a lightweight (?) champion called Ogly Tetty who trained on the crews welldeck.the ab,s wound me up to spar with him and then an ab called stan neve sparred with him and floored him.
      john sutton
    1. Trader's Avatar
      Trader -
      Lovely story, cannot wait for the next instalment.

    1. Michael Lawrence's Avatar
      Michael Lawrence -
      Great story, look forward to the continuation of it and how your life progressed.
    1. john sutton's Avatar
      john sutton -
      dennis ellis must have been on accra at the same time as me.I am posting a chapter from my abandond book covering the accra time


      I moved to Liverpool and believe it or not the ship I was offered was another passenger liner. I really didn’t want this but at sixteen when you are told to go somewhere by an authority figure you went. At least you did in those days. So I joined the Accra, an Elder Dempster ship sailing to Las Palmas and four ports on the West African coast. Once again I was a Peggy. This time Petty Officers Peggy again. This was easier as there were only five of them and the food came from the crew’s galley which was just next door. There was no Peggy’s Peggy so it was unlikely that I could get demoted.
      The Accra wasn’t a cruise ship. The passengers in the first class were mainly “colonials” going out to work in Africa or returning ex-pats. This was before the time of mass air travel and at that time not many people could afford the air fare, or their companies wouldn’t pay it. The second class passengers were mainly Africans returning home from studies in the UK or in some cases English girls who had married West Africans(In those days every West African told English girls that they were tribal chiefs. In a lot of cases it might have been true but there would have to be an awful lot of tribes in West Africa). .Crews quarters were in the stern of the ship down the port side and the second class accommodation was on the starboard side of the stern.Someone, probably many trips before I sailed on her had discovered the second class female passengers communal shower room was back to back with our hanging locker for drying oilskins and there was a peephole. It was obviously when they were building the ship that a hole had been drilled to screw a hook in and when the job was finished a bolt was fitted to plug the hole. It wouldn’t take a horny deckhand long to “suss” that out. Breakfast time was the favourite time for “deckos” (that’s what peeping was called in the merchant navy) and most mornings someone would stick their head in the mess deck and shout “Deckos” and there would be a line of deckhands waiting for their turn to peep. The favourites were obviously the young ones, especially the white brides but most of what could be seen where middle aged mammas. On one occasion we were carrying an exceptional looking white girl and lookouts were kept for when she went for her shower or strip wash, until some bright spark put white paint around the peephole and half the crew were walking around with white eye patches. Most of the crew on the Accra were good sorts, mainly because they tended to be family men and they knew that they would be home every four weeks and also that lots of overtime was available. They tended to stay with her and lots of them had been on her for years. In fact the shipwright worked on her when she was built, joined on her maiden voyage and stayed until she was disposed of. Then retired from the sea. Twenty odd years at sea and only sailed on one vessel.
      The usual trip was Las Palmas, Freetown, Takoradi, and Apapa (Lagos) then back in reverse order.
      When we arrived at Freetown we took on board “crew boys”. These were there to work the ship on the coast and load and unload cargo. It was obviously a job that was prized and probably passed down through families. We had an indication that certainly one of them had a father who worked the ships as his name was “Steam on Deck”, really. They lived in a tent on deck and had their own cooks and cooking equipment but not washing and toilet facilities. We wouldn’t let them use our toilets as we didn’t like the condition of
      them when they were finished and none of our crew wanted the job of cleaning after they had left the ship. Their toilet consisted of a little wooden shack hanging over the stern rail with a wooden bar that they sat on directly over the water, hanging on to another bar. The proceeds of their endeavours dropped straight down into the sea.
      One afternoon, after a lunchtime drinking session one of the deckhands came back aboard half cut, and having had an argument with one of the crew boys in the morning decided to cut the toilet facilities adrift without checking if it was occupied. It was, and the unfortunate occupant (who wasn’t the one that he’d had a row with) finished up in the water. It was a drop of about forty foot; I suppose that might be one interpretation of the expression “bowel movements”
      When we got to Apapa it was a tradition that the first evening we all assembled in the “Pig and Whistle” (this was the crews bar on board), for a knees up and when we had drunk enough to get our voices tuned we marched ashore to the tune of “When the saints go marching in” on voice, mouth organ, gazoo and spoons, to the Wharf Inn which was a seaman’s mission bar inside the dock gates and proceeded to make merry. The sight of thirty or forty inebriated Liverpool seamen marching through the docks must have been quite amusing, especially as there were several different versions of the “Saints” not all of them you would want your sister to hear. This is where I first saw somebody playing the spoons and began a lifelong association with them. The spoons that is, not the person playing them.
      We very seldom went out of the docks in Apapa as there wasn’t a lot to see or do unless you had a liking for palm wine (which could send you blind) or somebody’s schoolgirl sister (which would probably take care of all your other bodily functions) It did appear strange that all the vendors we met had a sister at school who had no previous exposure to the male species and was completely unsullied. As it happens, I found out later during my career at sea that this was quite a usual phenomenon in sea ports (must be something to do with sea air).They were all full of young virgins. I suppose when they started their careers they were young and probably sometime in their lives they had been virgins. But only once.
      The crew of Accra were all “Scousers” and obviously there were some characters among them. I palled up with a couple of guys from the passenger’s galley. One was a soux chef, the other a kitchen porter. They used to tell me stories about the area where they lived which was around the Dock Road area. It was the days when we could get white fivers in our pay off packet and according to them, to produce one at their local pub would signal an instant mugging on your next visit to the toilet. I use the word in the singular as there was only one toilet which was shared by both sexes. They took me up there once and I can remember standing at the urinal when a female walked through to use the cubicle and on the way offered to help me with my equipment. Even as young as I was I felt that I was quite capable of handling the said equipment alone.
      Apparently one of their favourite moves was to go into one of their local pubs on the dock road just after they had paid off knowing that there would be the usual team of scroungers hanging on to the last dregs of a half of mild waiting for someone flush to walk in after paying off. These scroungers knew who was due is on any day of the week as they used Lloyds Register of Shipping (this used to be the newspaper which was the bible of seafarers) the way a gambler uses the racing times.
      When my pals got to the bar they would look around at all the denizens looking hopefully for a free drink so they would say “drink up lads”. The dregs of mild would quickly disappear the the boys would say to the barman two pints of bitter please and the scroungers would be left drinkless and disappointed and would have to leave the premises as landlords wouldn’t allow anyone to sit around without a drink in front of them.
      The other deck boy on board was Billy Leatherbarrow who came from Norris Green in Liverpool. It was just around the corner from where I’d stayed as a child but I had no intention of renewing the acquaintanceship. As I didn’t know anyone in Liverpool and stayed at the seaman’s mission when in port, he took me under his wing and showed me around. He took me home and his mother made meals for us and I will say that home cooking was something I’d been missing for a while. He also introduced me to Mrs Campbell’s dancing academy. The system here was that we did an hour of dancing classes and were then allowed into the main room to join the dancing. There were “girls” there and this is why we were actually there but cunning Mrs Campbell insisted that we took the lessons first as we had to pay for those, before we were let loose on the girls.Mrs Campbell’s was a tradition among young seamen. When Billy and I attended we would always meet other deck boys home on leave from various ships in the docks. The chances are that any other ex-seamen from Liverpool whose age is similar to mine, would have learned to dance at “Ma Campbells”.Though none of them would have dared to call her “Ma”
      I met my first girlfriend there. She was called Audrey and she lived on Breck rd which was handy for me as it was on the tram route from city centre to Mrs Campbells, she worked at Littlewoods Pools which in those days was a cut above the jobs that most of the girls that we met. Quite posh really.
      It was on the Accra that I had my first real drunken experience. We were leaving Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and I had done a deal with one of the” bumboat men” and traded something for a bottle of Anis. Once we were clear of port we started a drinking session in one of the AB,s cabins. I introduced my bottle to the party and unfortunately drank most of it.(the others must have been aware of its potency).The upshot was that I keeled over in the middle of the room ,the crew pounced on me, stripped my jeans off, threw the contents of a teapot over my genitals and threw me into my bunk. Sometime during the night I must have staggered somewhere and knocked a glass over and walked through it, cutting the bottom of my feet to ribbons. It was two days later when the discomfort of the hangover had worn off that I discovered the state of my feet. It was many years before I could stand to be around the smell or taste of aniseed...
      While on the Accra I got my chance to spar with a champion boxer. We were on the way home from Nigeria and every day a passenger who was a boxer called Ogli Tetey “worked out” on the crew’s well deck .This went on for a few days with the crew watching and making comments until some bright spark suggested that even our deck boy could outbox this guy. So they wound me up and not wanting to show chicken I stood for it. Although only sixteen I was actually bigger than Ogli who was the bantam weight champion of Nigeria and he was very fast. I did a couple of rounds and the best I could say is that I gave him a good workout. We had a little scouse AB called Stan Neve, he was about the same size as Ogli and also more mature than me and he volunteered his services as a sparring partner. He put the gloves on and in typical scouse fashion floored the champion, twice.Ogli worked out on the second class passenger’s side for the rest of the trip.
      For a sixteen year old every day had a new experience and the West Coast of Africa was the place to learn about life.
      One of my big regrets was that I never tried the local food.Palmoil Chop. This was served once a week to the crew and most of old hands enjoyed it. At sixteen I had never even tried curry (apart from curried beans which were served for tea at Watts) so there was little chance that I was going to risk this odd looking dish which was chicken cooked in some sort of oily sauce and eaten with a semolina(?) paste. To this day I have never tried it as there are very few West African restaurants in Manchester where I spent the latter part of my working life.
      After five trips on the Accra I decide that I still wanted to see more of the world and that cargo ships were more my style as on the passenger ships you were expected to look fairly smart any time you went on deck. I signed off and reported to the shipping office again and registered for a ship.

    1. Tony Morcom's Avatar
      Tony Morcom -
      A real shame your book is abandoned John. That was a great bit of writing and very enjoyable. How about some more?
    1. Geoff Ahern's Avatar
      Geoff Ahern -
      Look forward to the next installment with anticipation.
    1. Trader's Avatar
      Trader -
      Thanks for that John, I really enjoyed it. You sent me another story from your "abandoned book" a couple of years ago about your time in Manchester Liners and working in Canada. You sent it by e-mail and I still have it on my computer some where. I was thinking of writing something about my time at sea but thought that people wouldn't believe it even though it is true. I am not very good at writing anyway.

    1. Tony Wilding's Avatar
      Tony Wilding -
      amazing how a chance meeting changes your life, cant wait to read more. best wishes, Tony W.
    1. Stephen James Singleton's Avatar
      Stephen James Singleton -
      As an ex-Elder Dempster man myself, I can relate to all of these experiences, even though I went to sea sometime later in 1970.....the West African coast & days past in Liverpool......looking forward to more recollections. Many thanks for a most enjoyable read.
    1. Tony Duckett's Avatar
      Tony Duckett -
      My grandfather was Anthony Duckett; a chef on the Empress of Scotland. I presume that this is the chef that you mention above. My dad went away to sea, with my grandfather I believe. Your story is very interesting. Thanks. Anthony (Tony) Duckett
    1. Lou Barron's Avatar
      Lou Barron -
      What a great story certainly brought many memories having sailed in convoys with the Empress of Scotland (nee Japan )a few times also all about Liverpool
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