…and it sat upon four timber pallet racks – dressed up with a bright red bow! It was four pallets of military issue toilet paper and as far as we were concerned, the Thai port of Sattahib had never looked so good before (not really all that surprising, now that I reflect upon it)! As the saying so obviously goes; you never really realise how much you miss something, until it’s gone! Never – NEVER – in our case (at that particular time), had a truer word ever been spoken.
Allow me to set the scene then shall I? We’re talking around 100 bums that needed wiping; afloat on the Rustbucket, being excellently fortified by military cooking (which might surprise you nay-sayers because for the most part we had excellent cooks!), receiving plenty of fibre and occupying many toilet seats at any one time. Might I add that we were also ‘bouncing’ between South East Asian ports at the time, so some bums might have needed ‘potty time’ a little more then most. All in all – that wonderful ‘call of nature’ became a pretty hard call to ignore!
How did we come to such a predicament? Heck – I wouldn’t know – I was only a Junior Sailor at the time. Nothing but a ‘pleb’ – a tell-him-nothing-make-him-carry-heavy-things type of bloke. All I had to do was make certain I did it whenever the Senior Ranks told me (which upon more reflection – was quite often). I was – dare I say – at the bottom of this particular pile. I’d probably lugged more of those boxes aboard then I could have possibly ever counted and, as we never do these types of task by half, I’d probably hefted just as many of their mates as well! It simply wasn’t my job to ask questions – let alone think useful ones!
Where was I? Oh yes – toilet paper. Sure, it might seem a ‘little’ thing to most – that is – until you had an immediate need for such things. If you’ve driven the vast distances here in Oz and been caught ‘short’ you know what I mean here. It one of those things you take for granted and it doesn’t always get a lot of thought. We were part of a ‘machine’ that ‘dealt’ with all facets of our lives and left no stone unturned. How in hell do you get 100 people in such a predicament?
Well – I have no answer for you, but for a moment there – it was sheer anarchy! It was broad-casted over the ship’s broadcasting system:
“DO YOU HEAR THERE…” (more a statement then a question – it’s a Military thing), “SHIP’S STAFF ARE TO MADE AWARE OF AN ISSUE AFFECTING SHIP’S STORES.”
“SHIP’S STORES HAVE RUN OUT OF TOILET PAPER. SHIP’S STAFF ARE TO RATION THEIR VISITS TO THE HEADS UNTIL WE DOCK IN SATTAHIB IN 3 DAYS.”
“THAT IS ALL.”
Those who weren’t already caught in their watch stations, immediately made their way towards the nearest toilet and ‘procured’ any spare dunny-paper they could possibly lay their hands upon. Those few days it took for us to tie up alongside were some of the most entrepreneurial I have ever witnessed in my life.
Sadly – I was up to my armpits in a hydraulic leak that could be abandoned at the time – so a much inflated price rise later (demand sure drives up the ‘interest’ rate) saw me handover half a dozen snickers bars, a signed agreement to the purchasing of a weeks worth of (then) Peters Drumsticks (Ice-creams) and two night’s duty cover at the seller’s favourite port – all for One. Single. Roll! It was 1993. THAT was considered expensive back then – especially on a ship at sea. I slept with that damn dunny-roll under my pillow for two nights! I – like every other bloody sailor on that ship – never let it out of my sight. It was worth it.
I suspect the Captain at the time didn’t want to share our predicament with the ship’s that were in company with us then. It would have been to bloody embarrassing. We just steamed along waiting for the next port. The officer’s were fine. The senior sailors – also fine. The junior sailors – well – let’s just say it would have been very interesting if we had of been 5 days out of port instead of 3. I’m just glad we never got to find out. It wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be and we got brave again, eating spicy chilli crab and Pad Thai with a gusto that would have to be seen to be believed.
It was all forgotten in a matter of days alongside. Other things happened and the moment slipped by and became just another one of our silly bugger memories and this has never – NEVER – happened again! I have to tell you though – I still double and sometimes triple-check my toilet roll supply. I’d be willing to bet too that each and every sailor that was there at that time still hides an emergency roll somewhere in their house…
I know I do.
Belongum – Out!