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The International Writers Magazine
: Navy Life 1904

Portsmouth - March 1904
Michael Halmshaw

I shuffle awkwardly in my chair, sliding my hands along the splinter-laden grain that runs down the sides. I pick up my pipe from beside me and stroll about the few feet afforded by this room. I imagine sparks from my tinderbox igniting a blazing fire in a fictional fireplace and I contentedly ease myself back into the chair.

The hurried footsteps and calls of dockers confusedly dashing about disturbs my peace, but after not long I return to my senses. I step out of my cabin and into the corridors of H.M.S. Warrior, a titanic black oval ship capable of slicing through the waves like a sabre. I stride calmly but swiftly down the narrow corridors bustling with sailors, shouts booming from the sounding horns. I pass through the messes, tables for the men separating the tremendous cannons. I do my best to ignore the feral grunts of one scraggily dressed man who is throwing fluid beef and egg powder portions down his neck, but I find myself shuddering against my will.

I ascend the stairs leading to the upper deck, glancing at the eight-foot long stern pivot gun as I head past the mizzenmast and onto the aft. As usual, the bosun's hollered orders pierce the air and I hear clicks from the gun deck as rifles are slid into racks.

The bosun asjusts his tattered sou'wester to appear more presentable for his confrontation with Captain Charlton and wipes his sweating brow with a nose rag. A foolhardy young lad I vaguely recognise (for doing his best to scrimshank every job) is attempting to pinch a petty officers' purse as the unsuspecting victim glances idly starboard. It's a good thing that my wage isn't known amongst the men - it's more than double the caulker's mate's two shillings and threepence daily pay.

The bitter tang of the sea assails my tongue as I taste the air. Last nights' meat broth still lingers in my mouth, but I'm thankful that I was at least able to dine at an officers' table. The wine was adequate and I'm warmed by the thought that my incompetent assistants were expected, even now, to mingle with the riffraff on this ship, quarreling at the table for moudly hunks of bread and whatnot. I pace up to the bow, wood groaning beneath my feet, and glance down at the opal-white figurehead that spearheads our journey. It is a Greek soldier - a warrior - one hand bearing a gold-streaked shield that is inevitably the first thing fellow seafarers would see emerging from the mist. A sharp cry bursts out from the fo'c's'le and men rush to the bow alongside me. I look up and see a familiar smoky haze. We've arrived. People have gathered on the homely cobblestones, waving and welcoming us back to Portsmouth. Our final voyage on H.M.S. Warrior is over at last.
© Michael Halmshaw November 2004
Michael is a Creative Writing Student at Portsmouth University

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