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A Tale of Two Titties!

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Lantern Swinger
It was another fine day in Tenerife, and perfect for setting sail, but Bruce Dashwood and the crew of the Sagittarius weren’t going anywhere. News had reached them that there had been a mutiny in the Royal Namzambiquan Navy. It seemed the sailors were divided as to the line of succession, and in an effort to diffuse the situation, talks were being held onboard the HMNS Huberta.

Well that was their problem, Bruce decided. Nothing is going to stop me getting to Billabongwe, except, of course, if there IS a war, he thought. He knew his father was hopping mad about his pyjamas falling apart. Mad enough to sink a big box boat if the quality didn’t improve. Well, that would teach them, and those box boats were horrendously ugly things anyway.

Still, no point in wasting a beautiful day. Perhaps he could go and cast a line off the quayside, maybe catch some fish for dinner. Maybe go for a cycle. Well, the lockdown regulations on Tenerife hadn’t been widely publicised, so perhaps he could go for a pedal down the splendid boulevards. Being stuck in the Canary Islands wasn’t anything to complain about, he decided, and the developments in the Royal Namzambiquan Navy were certainly worth watching.
 

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Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, a really ugly container vessel, the Ulrich de Matterhorn, was proceeding towards Singapore. Its cargo was destined not just for Namzambique, but for other parts of Africa as well, and consisted mainly of pyjamas, facemasks, pipes, and drapery. The Captain, Jerry Burgersdorp (known to his friends as “Big Mac”), paced the bridge anxiously, aware that the seas were rife with pirates who would do anything to seize a ship as ugly as his.

Suddenly, from nowhere, the bridge was invaded by pirates demanding that the ship divert to their stronghold in the Gulf of Thailand. Big Mac was unable to offer any resistance, so he and his crew were shepherded into the lounge area where they were held hostage while the pirates relayed their ransom demands to the headquarters of the shipping company.

Big Mac was extremely worried. Would the pirates scuttle the ship if their demands were not met? Would they massacre the crew? Would any of that matter to the shipping company or would they just be concerned about the loss of their lousy pyjamas? Big Mac had plenty to worry about. He could see it was going to be a sleepless night.
 

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Jasmine sat in her lounge with her two chums, Mafeking and Dorrit, watching the television news. The Governor-General appeared wearing a Hercule Poirot party mask that made Mafeking giggle, and Jasmine grumpy because she thought her friend wasn’t taking things seriously. The news moved on to an incident in the Gulf of Thailand, and Dorrit said that she was worried that she might know someone on the ship that had been taken by the pirates. Then the news-reporter said that there were rumours of a mutiny in the Royal Namzambiquan Navy, and all eyes were going to be focused on the flag raising in the morning because if the flag of Tottenham Hotspur was raised on the jackstaff of the HMNS Huberta, everyone would know that the mutineers had won. If not, it would just be another day of same old same old and Jasmine and her chums would remain under lockdown except maybe a walk to the shops to buy some fruit and veg and perhaps a box of Hobnobs to enjoy with their tea. This lockdown, they agreed, was getting tedious.

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“Imagine if they held a war and everyone stayed huddled at home,” Bruce said to the crew of the Sagittarius, still tied up alongside at Tenerife. “Well, that’s what this virus thing is like! I’m sick and tired of this now – time we sailed off to Billabongwe, and if we can’t go there then let’s head off to the Bahamas.”

“Not as easy as that, Bruce,” the skipper replied. “Don’t forget that some vessel fired a missile across the bows of the RN ship offshore. Could lead to a war if the Captain has his way. I hear he’s none too charmed, but he can’t do anything until Able Seaman Dominic returns the result of a plebiscite. It’s weird, but that’s democracy for you. Still, things could be worse. We could be taken hostage by pirates like what’s happening in the Gulf of Thailand. Not a happy situation that.”

And so another day passed in the harbour at Tenerife. Would tomorrow be any different? It was hard to tell.
 

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A couple of days later Nobulus, as OC of the Amampondoland Naval Base, was briefing Algernon and Barry on the latest developments.

“It seems there might well be a war,” he said. “The pirates in the Gulf of Thailand tied the crew up in the engine-room of the ship and scuttled the Ulrich de Matterhorn. The people at Lloyds are furious, and the family of the crew very upset as well. Your ship, the HMS Kalahari, is on its way to the Gulf of Thailand now, and it will be joined by the HMNS Huberta shortly.”

“I thought they had a mutiny,” Barry interjected.

“Yes, they did, but it was a storm in a teacup. All over now, and everyone happy,” Nobulus replied. “Further, the Government of Namzambique has ordered a recruitment drive for all able-bodied men over the age of 18. To their credit they have established walk-in recruitment centres in various shopping centres all over the country. Seems it is not just pirates that they are concerned about, but also insurgents on the Namzambiquan border. People are predicting a great boost for the local textile industry as a result of the sinking of the Ulrich de Matterhorn, but the pirates can’t expect to escape without some form of retribution.

“And what about that incident off the Canary Islands?” Algernon asked. “Who was it that took a shot across the bows of the RN ship?”

“Well, they reckon that that was pirates too. West African pirates. They are getting very assertive, and the RN ship took off in pursuit, impatient with the dithering of the diplomats. Furthermore. A yacht in the harbour at Tenerife took the opportunity to slip its moorings and set sail in a southwards direction. That’s all we know. Now, back to work, you lot. We are expecting an intake of recruits any day now if the men of Namzambique answer the call.

A great wad of plaster crashed down from the ceiling narrowly missing Algernon as he sat on a plastic dairy crate listening to Nobulus. “This place is a danger to shipmates,” he said. “They ought to do some renovations.”

“Well it’s not considered a priority at present,” Nobulus replied. “Unfortunately. Still, with this shift in priorities we might see an improvement. Tune in to watch the Governor-General when he gives his pep-talk this evening. It’s unlikely that he will make any reference to the mutiny, but he might mention the Ulrich de Matterhorn incident, and that could be a game-changer.”
 

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Although the Sagittarius had satellite navigation, Bruce still enjoyed trying to plot the yachts position using the sextant. It was something he had learned a long time ago so he was trying to relearn an old skill. He leaned over the chart table and marked the estimated position in the centre of a cocked hat. He checked the position against the SATNAV reading. Not too far out, not too bad, he thought.

Dinner had been a fish pie, and now he was enjoying a glass of chilled white wine under the stars, ideal for the tropics. He thought about the mother of his children. She’d probably have been released from the home in cloud-cuckoo land by now, and would be pestering his father to find out where he was. Well, he’d not tell her, he was sure of that. Lordy, that woman. Well, he’d be safe in Billabongwe, he thought, and she’d probably go searching for him in someplace like Scotland.

He wondered where the HMS Kalahari was at this stage. Had they delivered his International 14 safely to the Billabongwe Yacht Club? Well, he’d find out when he got there. He wondered about the threat of war. News had reached them of tensions in Taiwan. Interesting, he thought. Well enough of that, better to go down to his cabin and finish off a good book.
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Barry, meanwhile, was venting his frustration on Algernon. “I didn’t join up in order to fix plumbing problems in this outpost of the Empire,” he moaned. “I'm a stoker, dammit! Soon as they send another ship I’m going to head off for the East. I want to see the world. Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, Sydney, the works!”

“Well, you do that if they let you, old cock,” Algy replied, “though I am sure that they will miss you here, and you haven’t really given this place a chance yet. We only just got started fixing the place up, and we’ve got an intake of new recruits coming in next week.”

Barry grunted and tossed a blanket off his bunk. He thought again about the girl he had seen on his walk through the park. She, at least, might make the wait bearable, if only fortune would cause their paths to cross once more.

“Well good night Barry”, Algy said cheerily, but Barry just muttered something rude in reply and was soon sound asleep.
 

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It was a glorious June morning when the Sagittarius hove to and dropped anchor some distance off the beach in front of the clubhouse of what is, arguably, the most exclusive yacht club in Namzambique. The Commodore’s broad pennant was flying from the masthead, and presently the man himself appeared on the beach and launched his surf-ski to paddle out to the yacht and greet the sailors.

“Welcome, welcome” the Commodore said in his distinctive Namzambiquan accent, then repeated himself in French and various other indigenous languages as if he was being filmed for a newsreel. “Glad to see you made it here in one piece. A fine yacht! Splendid! Possibly the best I have seen in all my years as Commodore of the yacht club here. Well, come ashore. I’ve invited a customs man to stamp your passports, so you can do that over tea and shortbread. Stay for lunch, have a shower. Stay for dinner. Be my guest! I have things to discuss. Move along, move along.” And with that he paddled further out into the bay and then returned via a stretch of the coastline back to the beach.

Later that day, over lunch, the Commodore told Bruce that he had the International-14 safely stowed in the boathouse and he was welcome to use the facilities whenever he liked. “But first”, the Commodore said,” I must ask, how is your father, the estimable Admiral Dashwood? We wanted him to come and lay a foundation stone at a little harbour some way up the coast, but with this lockdown and all perhaps you can do the honours? Good with a trowel, are you? Perhaps a little speech? I know the people there would really appreciate it. Give it some thought, will you? Best we do these things properly, otherwise brick by brick, things well, they just crumble and decay. Here, have some pickled fish.”

Bruce asked how he was supposed to get to the proposed harbour. Train or car? Perhaps on the yacht? The Commodore said it was up to him, but he suggested that, under the circumstances, by car – that way Bruce could see a bit of the country. “Namzambique is a wonderful country, Bruce,” he said. “You are sure to enjoy your exile here.”
 

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Algernon was experiencing a mild existential crisis, and he confided in Barry that he was having some misgivings about the Andrew. “Look,” he said, ”I heard on this podcast that the stewards are getting reskilled as chefs. Well I don’t like that one bit, mate. True, I hadn’t quite expected to be a steward when I joined, but I am proud of the good work that my branch of the service does. And look at me anyway – I’m a part-time PTI offering sailing instruction! What’s the matter with the world these days? You go into a bank, and there’s nobody there just automatic teller machines, and Lord alone help you if you want to remit some funds back to your folks overseas. You have to have a degree in computers to work out how to do that, or you ring a call centre and hang on the line for hours. Same now in the Andrew – they want to phase out the stewards and replace us with vending machines and automatic shoe polishers. ‘struth! I once hoped I might have a factotum like old Colonel Smedley Whatsisname myself. Doesn’t look like that’ll be the case if I stick around here. Know what I’m going to do? I’m going to transfer to the Royal Namzambiquan Navy. At least they still have stewards.”

“Well you do that, mate” Barry replied. “I joined as a stoker and now I’m sorting out plumbing issues. You can’t expect everything to go your way, you know. Now, seriously, do you really mean to jump ship just because they want to send you on a cookery course?”

“Nobody said they want to send me on a cookery course. I’m just telling you that’s what I heard on this podcast.”

“Well my advice to you, mate” Barry scoffed, “is don’t listen to podcasts designed for business school folk. It’s bound to demoralise you. Why don’t you try learning a new language instead? Namzambique has got a whole lot you can choose from – check these out, I found them in a magazine – yes really! A magazine printed on actual paper! Learn one of these languages and you’ll soon be singing from the same hymn sheet as at least some of the locals.

"You are actually quite wise, Barry" Algernon conceded. "Just because I am a steward now, doesn't mean that I am going to stay one forever, and I've found it a good way of finding my feet in the service."
 

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The following day the first of the new intake arrived, disembarking from the train station near the park, and walking over to the base, such as it was, on the banks of the river. Barry got them to fall in then bellowed out some instructions. They were to stow their kit and then line up for haircuts. This bothered one of the lads, who looked a lot like Whoopi Goldberg with dreadlocks and a disarming smile. “And who are you?” Barry demanded when Whoopi protested.

“I be Lorenzo Marx,” said the Whoopi lookalike, smiling. His bright white teeth flashing like a row of mint imperials.

“Spell it,” Barry barked, unable to find such a name on his clipboard.

“L-O-R-E-N-Z-O M-A-R-K-S”, Lorenzo replied.

“No such name here,” Barry said. “There’s a somebody called Lourenço Marques though. That you?”

“Could be,” Lorenzo replied, smiling, “but you can call me LM”.

“And you can call me Chief.” Barry said, which was not really true, because he was only an Able Seaman, but owing to circumstances he reckoned he needed a little extra status.

“Ok, you be Chief then,” Whoopi answered, “and me, I BLM.”

That night Nobulus briefed his two Able Seamen on the programme for the following morning. The plan was to take the recruits on a run up to the war memorial, a good few kilometres away. Algernon was concerned that the distance might be a bit too ambitious for the first day and that they should just start with some basic drill and seamanship. “I’m worried about LM, he said. I think he might be asthmatic, epileptic or something, and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to him if he has a medical condition.”

“Fair enough,” Nobulus replied, “let’s take it slowly. It’s a long time since I did basic training, you know the rules better than me. But that war memorial is a disgrace – the lawns, for one, need attention. So if any of these seamen give you any uphill or become mutinous, you can send them up there to do some gardening and maintenance.”

And so it was that the basic training for the new intake got under way, and Barry and Algernon, far away from their homes across the ocean, began the process of imparting their skills and knowledge to a whole new batch of raw recruits in the Royal Namzambiquan Navy.
 

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Colonel Smedley Whatsisname was enjoying an afternoon cup of tea on the verandah when he saw Obvious walking jauntily up towards the house. “What’s that cap you’re wearing, Bubbles?” he asked.

“It’s a New York Yankees cap, Colonel,” he replied. “I got it from a sailor guy I met in the zoo. Chap called Lorenzo. He’s from the Congo. Told me a whole story about how one day he stubbed his toe when he tried to kick over a garden gnome, and then somebody rammed into his minibus taxi, so he decided to stay off the road and volunteered for the Navy instead.”

“A wise move,” the Colonel answered. “One has to be very careful on the roads. Lives are precious things, Bubbles.”

“That’s just what Lorenzo says, Colonel. He was telling me about this barge on his river back home, and how he hopes one day to be a river boat Captain. He says his people deserve a better boat than the one they currently have, and he reckons that the New York Yankees are going to organise it, and then he is going to skipper it.”

“Well I hope he’s right there, young Obvious, “the Colonel replied. “because you never can be sure with those damn Yankees.”

“Why do you say that, Colonel?" Obvious asked innocently.

“Well it’s a long story Bubbles, and maybe one day I’ll tell it to you, but right now I am going to take a walk along the promenade. I’ll see you at dinner.”
 

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At 8pm Obvious was seriously concerned. The Colonel had not returned from his walk and his dinner was drying out in the hot tray. He phoned the Colonel on his cell, but the phone rang in the Colonel’s bedroom. Clearly he had not taken it with him.

Fortunately Obvious had added Algernon and Barry to his WhatsApp contacts, so he sent them both a message asking if Colonel Smedley Dawson-Lukin had perhaps impulsively decided to take a walk through the harbour to check on the progress being made at the naval base. Both replied that they had not seen him, but hoped that he was well and would return soon. Had Obvious contacted the Fleet Street police station – perhaps a patrol car might have noticed him somewhere?

Obvious phoned the police station and filed a missing-person report. The police man on duty said that he would notify the radio station, and that he should let them know the moment the Colonel returned.

The sun had set hours before, and there was a chill in the air. Obvious settled down on the verandah and pondered what might have happened to the Colonel. Perhaps he had been abducted, but then surely there would have been witnesses? Perhaps he had walked through the harbour, and perhaps he had lost his balance and fallen into the river? Perhaps he had bumped into an old chum and they had gone off for a drink, but then surely he would have phoned to say he would be late?

Well the Colonel mattered to Obvious. He mattered a lot. But after a difficult night of tossing and turning, Obvious checked the Colonel’s bedroom in the morning and found that he had still not returned.

Meanwhile, back at the base, the colour party was preparing to hoist the Namzambiquan flag. Nobulus was in attendance and had a sudden misgiving. Should we be hoisting the Namzabiquan flag or the Namzambiquan Naval Ensign? He wasn’t entirely sure. It was so long since he had done this. Well, it was probably better than hoisting the Arsenal flag like they had been doing every day until the new bunting had been delivered, and Nobulus had to admit that the design gave him a certain feeling of confidence. It was much better than hoisting some nebulous windsock up the pole, like the material he had found under some cardboard boxes when he had first arrived there. Orion, the hunter. A giant in the sky, dwarfing any human on the ground. And timeless too. Now there was something he really could salute.
 

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It was a dark and stormy night when the HMS Kalamata, sister ship of the HMS Kalahari, came alongside at the Amampondoland naval base. The following morning, Leading Seaman Clyde De Jism stepped ashore and made his way to the office of the Commanding Officer of the stone frigate. He had a confidential message from his cousin, the Captain, to convey to Nobulus.

“Well, what is it,” Nobulus growled. “Spit it out Killick.”

Not much of a welcome, Clyde thought, but he continued nonetheless. “Captain Dominic De Jism wishes to advise you that the Chief Paymaster of the Royal Namzambique Navy has returned from his course abroad and is onboard the HMS Kalamata at the present time. Vice Admiral Paynet-Jetty is proceeding to our next port of call and requests the pleasure of your company at lunch aboard the Kalamata.”

“Paynet-Jetty a Vice-Admiral, eh? I remember when he was a Petty-Officer! We played tennis together, back in the day. Came up through the hawsepipe, you know. Was keen on building model ships. Made a fantastic dredger out of matchsticks with a canvas covered quarterdeck. Pretty thing, always admired it. He was called “the man with the golden banana” for some reason. Not surprised he transferred to the financial side, even his name sounds like a quayside cash dispenser. Alright, affirmative. I will be there at 13h00.”

Interesting, Nobulus thought, that Paynet-Jetty should be aboard the HMS Kalamata, and he hadn’t been told beforehand. A surprise visit. He would have to show him around the base, Captain Dominic De Jism as well. He summoned Algernon and Barry and ordered them to do a preliminary inspection to ensure everything was shipshape and ready for inspection that afternoon.

Nobulus was appropriately deferential over lunch but couldn’t resist asking the Chief Paymaster what had happened to the matchstick model dredger. “Oh, you remember that,” Paynet-Jetty replied. “Well that I forfeited to the Head of the Commonwealth Bank when she beat me at tennis a few years back. Sheer humiliation, I assure you, but also inspired salesmanship on my part, if you get my drift. There is a tide in the affairs of men, and all that. She said, with a wink, that she would mount the model in her office, so perhaps she still thinks of me from time to time.”
 

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Obvious was quietly sitting on the verandah, a tear sliding down his cheek like the first rains in a dried up watercourse. He thought of the happy times when he and the Colonel had taken the old charabanc through the hills and valleys of Amapondoland, waving at the people in their candy floss and crème soda rondavels, piccanins running beside the tjok-tjorrie trying to sell them sticks and clay horses. Just then his cellphone came to life beside him on the couch. Not a number he recognised.

“Hello,” Obvious said. “Who is calling please?”

“It’s Sister Beattina at the hospital. We have the Colonel here. He is asking for you.”

Obvious called for a cab and headed up to the hospital. “What happened?” he asked, relieved to see the Colonel sitting up in bed, his head bandaged like a turban.

“Well, I was walking along the esplanade, the far side, near the caravan park, when I fell down a manhole that had been left uncovered. I must have been down there several hours, unconscious, but fortunately a passing camper heard my groans and called an ambulance, because I was a bit groggy and seeing all these guinea fowl running around my head.”

“You mean like stars? You were seeing stars?”

“Sort of, but these were definitely guinea fowl and the camper had a lemur on his shoulder. Anyway, we have to get back to the barracks because I have been invited to dinner aboard the HMS Kalamata this evening.”

That evening the Colonel was relating the story to Captain de Jism and Admiral Paynet-Jetty as the port was passed around the table.

“So tell me, Colonel” the Admiral inquired, “have you thanked your rescuer for hauling you out of the storm water drain?”

“Haven’t had a chance yet. Still getting my bearings. What would you suggest I do?”

“Well,” the Admiral replied, “I will delegate young Leading Seaman de Jism to take a bottle of this splendid port to him, and that should be adequate recompense for his efforts. Now, let’s discuss this trip to the mountains that you suggested. We’ll have to hire a bus if half the ship’s company are coming along….”
 

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On his first weekend pass Lorenzo took a walk up the high street and wandered into a shop selling luggage and handbags. The very nice lady behind the counter couldn’t resist a sailor and made a date to meet Lorenzo for lunch at the museum, which suited Lorenzo perfectly because he was fascinated by fish and was interested to see if the famous Congo River elephant fish would be on display, or any one of the other 686 species of fish found there, 80% of which are found nowhere else in the world. These statistics Lorenzo carried around in his head. He did not need to consult Wikipedia to confirm them.

Wandering around the museum, Lorenzo discovered that the lady was interested in more than just handbags and luggage. She was fascinated by the maritime exhibit, which pleased Lorenzo immensely, and he told her about his desire to become a riverboat captain back in Kinshasa.

Over lunch the lady, whose name was Yvonne, confided that she used to ride on the little train, the Smartie Express, down near the marina, when she was a little girl. This had inspired her to go overseas and work for a summer at Disneyland. Lorenzo was very interested when she said that perhaps Disneyland had an old riverboat that he might be able to use back in Kinshasa. He thought of those old steamboats that went down the Mississippi River and imagined himself at the helm of one of them.

Lorenzo was about to pay for lunch, but Yvonne insisted on footing the bill so Lorenzo suggested a movie. Yvonne said she had to get back to the handbag counter, and besides the only movie showing in town was “The Incredible Hulk”, and she had seen it ten times or more. So they parted ways, fondly, and Lorenzo caught a cab down to the lagoon to commune with the fish, and the seagulls, and the other things that live there.
 

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Barry Andy Lewis Larry Smith hadn’t joined the Navy to be an instructor for new recruits undergoing basic training, so he was glad of the opportunity to escape and join some of the ships company of the HMS Kalamata on their bus trip. They were to spend a few days camping up in the mountains quite some distance away, so he was looking forward to seeing some of the countryside and learning a bit more about the interior of Namzambique, or at least the district where he was currently located. It certainly was a very nice bus, and Lesley, the bus driver, said that the best buses in the country came from the very town where Barry was currently based. Barry could well believe that. There was something about the suspension that made him wait a while before following the others as they disembarked to get refreshments at their first stop. Then again, maybe it had just been his daydreaming that made him want to savour the seating just a moment longer.

One of the nice things about the ride was that the bus had a commentator, a woman well versed in local history called Madame Lafarge. While the sailors stood around drinking pineapple juice, Madame Lafarge produced from her carpetbag a soccer ball, curiously decorated with the painted face of someone she described as a well-known civil engineer. “Here”, she said, “you can kick that around for a while.”

The ship’s company, however, decided that it was a fine day for a bit of volleyball, so the PTi strung up a net and the sailors stripped off their shirts, divided into two teams, and enjoyed a game of volleyball in the field next to the bus stop. Soon, however, it was time to board the bus again and head off towards the mountains. Barry half-listened to Madame Lafarge as she rattled on about local history, but he found himself nodding off and before long he woke to find the bus ascending a steep mountain pass and heading into a heavily wooded forest area. The temperature began to get a little chilly, and when they finally reached their destination one of the divisional officers announced that they were to spend the first night in some dormitories before heading off into the mountains the following morning. “Great,” Barry thought. “Now perhaps I can have a nice hot shower. I just hope the damn DO doesn’t go and confiscate my toothpaste and soap to share with the local hillbilly’s.”
 

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Back at the base in Amampondoland, Captain Dominic De Jism was reading a signal he had received from the Admiralty. His orders were to get the ship ready immediately to join the HMS Kalahari in the Gulf of Thailand tackling the pirates there. “Well I guess this means we won’t be proceeding to Cadmania then,” Paynet-Jetty said. “I’ll have to make some alternative plan to get there.”

Paynet-Jetty was to take up residence in Johnstown, in Cadmania, which itself is part of Ketchwayoland in Namzambique. It was a fine residence with a tennis court, and would suit him well in his new role as Chief Paymaster of the Royal Namzambiquan Navy. However, he was not pleased when he was told that the best that the base could provide was a sidecar on a motorbike piloted by one Corporal J. Kemp. Nevertheless, understanding that there were budget restrictions, he returned to his cabin and began packing his kit in preparation for the journey.

Paynet-Jetty decided to give Colonel Smedley Dawson-Lukin a call just to brief him on developments and say farewell. The Colonel was astonished when he learned of the transportation arrangements. “That just won’t do, old chap” he said. “I know a jolly good taxi driver who needs to return to Cadmania. He will get you there safely. It is a long way, but I’m sure I can negotiate a special deal for you”

The Captain, meanwhile, sent a message up to the mountains to tell that part of the ships company to return to base as soon as possible. Barry, when he heard the news, wondered whether he could possibly persuade the OC to let him join the HMS Kalamata on their mission to the Gulf of Thailand. Hiking in the mountains had been well and good, but he was determined to get to sea again, and he liked being with this bunch of sailors. Frankly, he thought Algernon was a bit of a pain, always being so cheerful and full of crap about his grandfather and his old school. Well, Algernon could have his sailing and rookie seamen but he, Barry, was destined for greater things putting down pirates and exploring the Far East. That, at least, was his intention.
 

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Algernon, Lorenzo and Obvious stood waving on the pier as the HMS Kalamata left the port, bound for the Gulf of Thailand. Just that week the pirates had driven a ship, the Waikiki Wanderer onto a reef on one of the islands and the resultant oil spill was a matter of some concern. What the pirates had hoped to achieve wasn’t entirely clear, but Algernon didn’t doubt that Barry would finally see some action, even if it was just cleaning up the oil spill from the Waikiki Wanderer.

As the lads made their way back to the Colonel’s villa they commented on the beach huts that had burnt down the previous night. “Odd,” Obvious commented. “The Colonel was just telling me about the anniversary of the Battle of Bruzenberg when Namzambique was finally liberated from the dictatorship of the Presbyterians, way back in the distant past. It was after this battle that the glorious flag of Namzambique, the blue ensign with Orion, was stitched up by the NSP, the one you now have flying over your naval base.”

Algernon was perplexed. He didn’t know what the NSP stood for, but didn’t want to ask. So much was going on that he didn’t understand. Beirut, for example. That had been quite a shock, and then there were the sheep shipments – it gave him sleepless nights just trying to count them as they trotted up the gangplank, bound for the Middle East somewhere. Lorenzo had told him that they eat monkeys on the Congo River, and he wondered why they didn’t ship a few sheep there. He was sure that mutton tasted better than monkey, and sheep made for good woolly slippers too.

Lorenzo was discussing the Volkswagen that had rammed into a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-thru that week. He was disappointed, because he had hoped to buy that very Volkswagen when he had finally saved up enough money. He was hoping to drive it back to Kinshasa sometime, but he wasn’t too sure about the condition of the road. The question of the NSP had obviously been bothering him as well, because he turned to Obvious and asked, “Patrick, what does the NSP stand for?”

“It’s the Namzambiquan Sewing Project,” Obvious replied. “Everybody knows about it. They make the best boardshorts in Billabongwe.”

Eventually they reached the Colonel’s villa where they had been invited for sundowners. Obvious slipped back into his role as factotum and carried a tray of drinks onto the verandah, then he returned with some assorted nuts and other stuff while the Colonel rattled on about the Battle of Bruzenberg and its significance in Namzambiquan military history. Algernon found it hard to concentrate. He was thinking about Barry and the good times they had shared since leaving HMS Raleigh. He would miss him a little, but he had made good friends at the base, and he was looking forward to doing a road trip to Kinshasa with Lorenzo one day, if the road wasn’t too full of potholes, and if he finally managed to buy a car.
 

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Several weeks later Algernon was summoned to Nobulus’s office overlooking the river. “I have some sad news,” Nobulus confided. “It seems that we have lost our battle with the developers and the base will have to close down. Plans have already been drawn up to build low-cost housing on this site. It’s a development called Vladimir’s Villas, and we have to vacate the premises within a month.”

“Gosh, Sir, that’s really awful,” Algy exclaimed. ”How can they do that? Don’t they appreciate the role that the Royal Namzambiquan Navy play in training, personnel development and ensuring the security of the country?”

“Alas not, Algernon,” Nobby replied. “There’s a faction gaining a foothold who want to overturn all the great advances made by the Namzambiquan nation. They have little appreciation of what we do, and low-cost housing is all the rage. There was, however, also an offer by a Kobe businessman who wanted to build a sauna, but he decided to locate closer to the station instead. Anyway, never you mind. I have news that a sailing vessel, the Sagittarius, will be calling in here soon so you can catch a ride with them and they will take you back to Portsmouth, eventually.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of her,” Algy answered. “She was in Billabongwe not so long ago. Brought Bruce Dashwood over, I wonder what happened to him?”

“No idea, old sport. Anyway, you’d better go and get your exercise. The Colonel is devastated, poor chap.”

Algernon returned to his dormitory and put on his running shoes. Soon he was striding through the zoological gardens, up the hill towards Mrs Pillay’s Sweetie Shop. The place had evidently changed hands. Now there was an array of handbags in the window, all made out of crocodile skin. Algernon wondered if the crocodile in the zoo was still there – he hadn’t seen it on his run through the park. Well, that was its problem. Presently he saw Yvonne walking on the pavement towards him. “Hello Yvonne,” he said. “How are things with you and Lorenzo.”

“Great,” Yvonne replied. “We’re going to Disneyland just as soon as he gets some leave and the aeroplanes start flying again.”

“Wow,” Algy exclaimed. ”All the way to Florida?”

“No, silly billy,” Yvonne replied. “Disneyland, Kampala. But only if we can get a Visa. Or a Mastercard. It’s going to cost quite a few handbags before we can afford the flight.”

“Well have a great trip,” Algy shouted as he continued running down the road. He decided not to share his news. Frankly, he was disappointed. He’d been quite excited about going to Kinshasa, but now those plans were ruined. He didn’t like the turn that things had taken at all, and he felt a deep sense of foreboding when he considered the future of the base that he had grown to love.
 

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Later that month the Sagittarius dropped her sails and motored into the port, making fast alongside the jetty near the old stone frigate. Bruce Dashwood was one of the first ashore, and this rather surprised Nobulus as he thought that Bruce was still in Billabongwe. While Bruce stood on the quayside, Algernon approached him to invite him to lunch in the mess.

“What do you do? Have you come far?” Bruce asked.

“Well, actually, I started out on a train on my way to HMS Raleigh some time ago. My grandfather was Admiral Sir Norbet Bowden-Cable. I was a steward, but now I coach sailing and was an instructor for a while. Unfortunately, this base is closing down to make way for low-cost housing. What do you do?”

“Well, that’s very sad,” Bruce replied. “My name is Bruce Dashwood, and these days I am a sort of a businessman. I export boardshorts and import budgerigars. They are very popular here, you won’t believe the demand. Particularly the ladies – they all want to own a budgerigar. We are sailing to some exotic island to see if we can capture some, and then we will return to make a trade.”

“That’s astonishing,” Algernon exclaimed. “I was told I was returning aboard the Sagittarius to Portsmouth, that’s hardly an exotic island!”

“Don’t be disrespectful,” Bruce admonished. “Portsmouth may be short of a few palm trees, but you can still get a good pina-colada, provided you know where to go. Anyway, you say you were a steward, and I am in need of a good batman. Can you read a spreadsheet?”

“Reading spreadsheets was never part of a steward’s role,” Algernon answered, “but as a matter of fact I can.”

“Good. Well the role of a steward has changed considerably, and they are more like personal assistants these days, that can also iron and polish. If an officer wants to keep his mind on the missiles, he can’t be bothered with balancing his personal budget, so he gives that to his batman to do.”

“Well, I’m glad there’s still someone in this man’s navy who appreciates us,” Algernon said. My pal Barry was always quite disparaging of the branch, but he has gone away now to fight the pirates in the Gulf of Thailand. By the way, you are invited for lunch in the wardroom. The Captain would like to meet you.”

“Yes, send my compliments to your Captain Nobulus,” Bruce said. “I shall be pleased to speak to him over lunch. Frankly, I am shocked that anyone would want to decommission this establishment! Where are we to source our sailors from if such a place is done away with? No. This will not do. Besides, we may be here a few days, and I hear you have a nice little dry-dock which might prove useful.”
 

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Over lunch, Bruce Dashwood voiced his displeasure regarding the threat to the continued operation of the base. Nobulus was gratified when he said he would take the matter up with his father. The discussion turned to the problems in the Gulf of Thailand, and Nobulus mentioned that a young RN stoker, seconded to the Royal Namzambiquan Navy, had recently joined the HMS Kalamata to assist in sorting out some messy business there. Presently Algernon interrupted the discussion bearing an envelope on a silver platter which was addressed to Bruce Dashwood.
“Great Scot!” Bruce exclaimed at he read the letter. “I have been invited for some R&R at Avocado Junction. My grandmother had a dip there once and declared it the finest guacamole in the Commonwealth, and she was a well travelled woman. It was my boyhood dream to visit there, and now I shall. Steward, see if you can book me on the train, and thereafter I will continue to Delabella Bay and rejoin the yacht there.

“Yes sir” Algernon replied, feeling extremely envious, for he had heard that there was a lot more to Avocado Junction than mere guacamole.

Nobulus looked around the wardroom at the many crests of ships that had visited over the years. It would be a shame to pack them all away and say goodbye, and he seriously hoped that fortune would take a turn for the better. The effort that had been put into training the last batch of recruits had been considerable, and it could not have been done without the facilities, rudimentary though they were.
 

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Somewhere deep within the Kremlin, Noah Turnipski leaned back against his headboard and punched a number into his Huawei cellphone. After a few rings a female voice answered.

“Virginyah here,” the voice said with a vaguely Australian twang.

“Cut the crap, Olga Honeytrap,” Turnipski replied. “It’s me, Noah. I have an assignment for you.”

“Oh, not again Comrade,” Olga groaned. “I’m busy writing a book, all about my adventures as a teenage belly-dancer and the high life I enjoyed with my ivy-league boyfriend.”

“Yeah, I read about it,” Turnipski replied. “But listen up, I’ve been briefed that’s there’s something happening in Amampondoland. Our attempts to develop some low cost housing in prime dockland is under threat, all because of some budgie-baron called Bruce Dashwood. Can you believe it, he wants to resurrect the naval base and encourage sail training. Klutz! And he’s cornering the market in budgerigar imports. I need to find out what’s going on, whether I can still enter the market as slumlord supremo and whether there’s still scope for my brand of budgie down there.”

“So what’s the plan, Comrade?” Olga asked.

“Simple, Comrade Olga. There’s a stoker aboard the HMS Kalamata that is heading for Sydney after an engagement in the Gulf of Thailand. His name is Barry Andy Lewis Larry Smith, but his code name is Balls. Anyway, we’ve heard that he is a big pal of some steward guy called Algy, who has established a rapport with my big rival Bruce Dashwood. So Balls will get info from Algy and pass it on to you, and then you will let me know what’s going on. Understood?”

“So how do I hook up with this Balls character, and just how far do I have to go to get the info?”

“I’ve booked you into the King’s Cross Koala. It’s a reasonable hotel, and one in the neighbourhood that the sailors frequent on their runs ashore. I’ll let you know when to expect him. I’m not the only one interested in this real estate, you know.”

“Ok, Comrade Turnipski, I’ll do it,” Olga said decisively, “but the money better be good. I’m getting tired of living on fish fingers waiting for my book to be published, and the bathroom needs redecorating.”

“Good girl,” Turnipski said, aware that Olga would probably call him patronising and sexist, but he was pleased to know that he would soon have Balls in his clutches because Olga really knew her craft.
 
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