PC 232 Pockets

This might be conceived as a very male–oriented postcard but in this unisex, gender-fluid world in which we live, I suspect we all wear trousers at some stage – real or metaphorical!

Originally in Britain the word pocket was used to describe a sack containing a measure of hops, some 168lbs, about 76kgs – or, if it was wool, a half sack. Feels like a lots of hops to me!

The other morning changing for our online yoga session, I decided to put the trousers I had been wearing into the washing machine, a process which requires diligence so not to wash a tissue or somesuch. As I emptied the contents of my pockets onto the bed, it struck me how habitual I am, and I suspect I am not alone? From my front right pocket I retrieved my house keys and my handkerchief, for I am sufficiently British to feel naked without one there in case of sniffles. It always amazes me when people who don’t have a handkerchief in their pocket sneeze – watching how they deal with any discharge, for sure there is always some, is intriguing – mostly they try and suggest nothing happened. Hopefully their disgusting personal habit will have changed post-Covid.

Normally my front left pocket is empty, a place for the wallet or mobile phone should I venture out.

In my back right hand pocket I always have a couple of monetary notes and a few coins. Despite losing two folded £20 notes many years ago from this rear pocket, I still take the risk! The advent of plastic notes has actually increased this risk, for they don’t fold as well as the old paper ones. In what used to be a virgin pocket, the left hand back one, I keep a reasonably clean face mask, ready when needed and hopefully not for much longer.

I remember a story from my childhood. A chap not too fond of flying boarded an aeroplane and found himself sitting next to an older man dressed in a three piece suit. As the plane taxied down the runway he observed the guy moving his hand, touching his forehead then following the line down to the waist, then from right to left across his chest. Imagining him rather religious, he asked whether it helped to pray.

“Pray? Oh! No! I was just checking: spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch!”

As a schoolboy one essential pocket item was a penknife – the older you got the bigger and more versatile was the penknife; the search for a horse to help with that stone in its shoe was never ending. Carrying a ‘knife’ these days seems problematic.

I grew up being told it was the correct thing to brush my hair, using a comb to create a parting, so a comb, however grubby, was another essential pocket item.

 That’s how it was, seemingly forever. Then I left the Army, grew my hair a little and decided it didn’t need a parting and a proper comb, just a comb through with my fingers. I am lucky, still retaining my hair and never carrying a comb.

And of course, as a smoker, a packet of Marlborough Reds and a cigarette lighter was always in a pocket; well, until 1994! No wonder the man-bag came into being – for a while!

The word accoutrements, as in an additional item of dress, is seldom used today  but off to a business meeting that’s exactly what I needed to check in my pockets. Business cards in a little silver case in a side jacket pocket and my half-hunter pocket watch in the outside breast pocket complete with silk handkerchief; if I failed to put one in I felt naked and hoped no one would notice – not about being naked, but about no silk pocket handkerchief!

In the army in our field ‘now you see me now you don’t’ disruptive pattern uniform, there were pockets everywhere. Especially useful was one on the outside of the sleeve for chinagraph waterproof crayons, to mark onto maps symbols that didn’t’ come off in the inevitable rain. Not to be confused with the look of the mad scientist with his pens in his jacket breast pocket.

Funny how phrases can be slightly contradictory; if you described someone as in-pocket after a deal, they had made some money, if they were out-of-pocket they had lost money. And if that had been the case it might have been because someone pocketed something dishonestly. Then of course we all remember pocket money?

Military historians amongst you will think ‘pockets of resistance’ and remember the Falaise Pocket when, two months after the June 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy, 50,000 German troops were trapped in and around the Falaise/Chambois area of Northern France.

The original encirclement was penetrated a number of times by the Germans but eventually closed and they surrendered; their loss of men and equipment was enormous. A week later the Allies liberated Paris.

The original meaning of the phrase ‘pocket sized’ was that something was small enough to be carried in ones’ pocket, like a notebook. Not so the design of warship that was somewhere between a heavy cruiser and a battleship, the ‘pocket battleship’; the most famous of these perhaps the German Navy’s Admiral Graf Spee.

Over the years, starting at school I guess, I have played many games of both billiards and snooker, although not so obsessed as to watch the championships played here in the UK at The Crucible. Each billiard table has six pockets; the word can also be used as a verb, to pocket a ball, ie driving a ball into a pocket!

A corner pocket

Needing an outside jacket with lots of pockets when out with my Labrador Tom, I dropped into Farlows on Pall Mall opposite the IOD in 2004. I am not a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ chap but my Aigle angler’s jacket is perfect; pockets galore, even one at the back – possibly to bring back the stolen (poached?) trout – but used by me as somewhere to put the detachable sleeves.

And who hasn’t suffered air turbulence of some sort, some times worse than others? Those bloody air pockets into which the aeroplane seems to fall, your body straining against the seat belt.

Finishing these random thoughts about one’s pockets, I found this from Italy around 1850: ‘Shrouds have no pockets so money is for spending, not hoarding; you can’t take it with you!’

……. and no hands in pockets!!

Richard 28th May 2021


PC 231 Ropes Warps and Sheets

Over the centuries those who sail have come to name every conceivable part of a boat, ship or yacht so that, in times of crisis, the exact name, particularly of a sail or rope, can be used. ‘Slacken off the main sheet’ cried the mate and a crewman jumped to do it. These scribbles are not designed to educate you to become an experienced sailor but simply to describe a couple of occasions when ropes, whether lifts or warps, made a difference.

I should declare my love of ropes and warps and sheets and halyards and guys and hawsers ……. will whip any lose end and splice ropes to make lanyards etc. I even made a Star Knot but my five 60cm lengths soon disappeared and I never had a tail, the knot that is!  

Star Knot on the left and my sailing knife with spliced lanyard

When I arrived at the British Kiel Yacht Club on the western shore of the  Kieler Fjord in northern Germany in 1969, all the club’s training yachts were ‘Danboats’; GRP, about 30ft long, sleeping 6 and without an engine, they were ideal for teaching the rudiments of sailing.

The BKYC Pontoon with Danboats on both sides

Rather like flying, taking off is easier than landing and when the yachts came back to the jetty they had to carry out a complicated manoeuvre to tie up.  Diagrams are the best way to illustrate this.

This is how the yachts are moored, bow to piles and stern to jetty

To get there you had to come alongside the piles, with both mooring lines having Bowlines (Note 1) made into their ends. You had no brakes so it was a real judgement about when to let the sails down. The starboard (green and right) warp was brought around the yacht’s stern to the port (red and left) side.

When you could you placed both bowlines over the cleats on the wooden piles and checked the forward motion a little.

When the stern was clear of the second pile, you turned the yacht through 90° by pulling on the starboard line first; squared up into the berth and pulled backwards, ensuring two crew were at the stern with mooring lines.  

The previous year my regiment spent three weeks in the Dhekelia Sovereign Base area in south eastern Cyprus, near Larnaca, undergoing ‘Adventurous Training’ and skills assessments. I was a second lieutenant and you don’t get lower on the officer ladder than that (Note 2). My troop commander, a Captain James Scarlett, loved sailing so he chartered a 44ft RAF yacht based at RAF Akrotiri, near Limassol, called Highlight.

On the first day of the charter we set sail for Dhekelia. Cyprus in August is hot and 1968 was no exception; generally the nights were calm with little breeze but by 1100 there was a strong onshore wind that got up from the south.

We arrived well after dawn off the sandy beach. We anchored and James Scarlett suggested we all went ashore for breakfast, Scarlett and me to the Officers’ Mess, two sergeants to the Sergeants’ Mess and the three soldiers to the mess hall – all very hierarchical!! In retrospect he was showing too much bravado and not much common sense as he left no one on board; sand is often a poor holding ground. By 1030, just finishing scrambled eggs and grilled bacon a mess orderly appeared and whispered in Captain Scarlett’s ear: “Sir! Thought you ought to know that your boat seems to be too close to the beach.”

Never seen James blush so quickly and we legged it out the door and down to the beach to find Highlight bouncing up and down in the surf, her keel firmly on the sand. We managed to bring her around, head to wind, but by then she had created a little trench in the sand with the constant up and down action of her keel; I stood with water up to my thighs next to her and her draft was 6 feet!

A still from some cine film. The chap on the left of Highlight is standing!

There was much scratching of heads and eventually a local Royal Engineer offered to bring over a tug – essentially a large metal assault boat filled with engines. A hawser was attached to the Samson Post up in Highlight’s bow and paid out to the tug. The first hawser, a rope, parted as soon as tension was increased; the second, a wire one, started to lift the Samson Post out of the rather rotten wooden deck. Back to square one!

By now it was late afternoon and the wind had died down a little. To break the suction of the sand trench, we needed to be imaginative. Our solution was to take the topping lift and attach it to a large kedge anchor and put that in the sand some 25m off to the starboard side. We then winched in the topping lift; gradually the yacht heeled over and when it was about 40° the tug, sitting at an oblique angle, began to pull.

There was a great sucking sound and Highlight came free. We later tied up to a buoy in a nearby bay and inspected the keel. There was a slight dent in the keel plate but otherwise no damage. We were extremely lucky!

Lessons are always learned when sailing and I was reminded of Cyprus and near disaster when anchored off Lamlash on the Isle of Aran in Scotland, in the midst of sailing St Barbara IV from Liverpool to Oban.

The little village of Lamlash top left; Holy Island on the right

It was 1983 and the Royal Artillery Yacht Club was celebrating its 50th birthday by sailing St B IV around Great Britain.  I set an anchor watch as we turned in, for we were a bit exposed. At 0310 Chris woke me, worried about the rising wind and possibility of dragging the anchor. We started the engine, hauled the anchor in and motored three miles or so into the lee of Holy Isle. Anchor firm, engine off, back to my bunk. Job done!

Richard 21st May 2021


Note 1The Bowline – an essential knot which can be undone very easily

Note 2 It had its advantages, being the lowest of the low, as towards the end of the three weeks the Commanding officer took me aside and asked me to be in charge of the 4 man Rear Party – another 10 days to make sure all the Regimental freight left as planned. An onerous task which took all of one day!

PC 230 Observations

It’s fun to consciously observe one’s surroundings; too often it’s all in the mush of generalisations and we fail to see the detail, where the interest is. On my way back from collecting my newspaper the other morning, I observe a silver Porsche pull out from the kerb; we live in a posh area!

It wasn’t this one but same colour!

If I owned a Porsche I am sure I would do a little ‘look at me’ exaggerated movement or throttle revving – why not! But this individual had forgotten the basic lesson about never cross your hands on the wheel – and with a mixture of too much throttle and whirling crossing hands fighting to control the steering wheel, almost took the car across the street into another one. Writing ‘look at me’ brought back a memory of one of my first cars, a VW Variant, not the sexiest of automobiles. I bought some very nice Chrome wing mirrors and two seat belts, fitted both and drove around thinking ‘look at me’. Simpler age maybe?

Did you see that lovely reproduction of Leonardo’s Head of a Bear in a newspaper last weekend? A ruler at the bottom showed it to be 7 cms long – and it was square. So it was 49 sq cms and not 7 sq cms as described! And I thought the editorial staff at The Sunday Times were numerate!

Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Head of a Bear’ measuring 7cms by 7 cms

I sense everyone is trying to outdo everyone else with their ideas for saving the planet, doing their bit to slow the man-made element of climate change. Reducing the amount of plastic we use, improving recycling rates, moving from fossil-fuel powered transport to electrical, trying out new fuels ….. to our own efforts. We recycle but get frustrated that ‘stuff’ we think should be recyclable isn’t and we don’t understand why the industry isn’t publicising why we can’t do this or that or indeed why they can’t do this and that, and buying a Hotbin composter. In addition to the pile of loo paper from ‘Who Gives A Crap’ (minimum order 48 rolls) we now have a little plastic (sorry, couldn’t find a wooden one!) container in the kitchen for the food waste.

And I am reminded of my late step-mother and her habits. She and I didn’t have the greatest of relationships so I can indulge my memory in its entirety. She and my father lived in the middle of a damp wood in an old keeper’s cottage, in Wigtownshire. She kept chickens. One disgusting habit was to take the scraps of kitchen waste out in their little bucket to the chickens, scoop up the contents with her hand, come back into the kitchen and start preparing a meal – without washing her hands – well, to be fair, she might have wiped them down on her not-too-clean apron first.  

Unbelievably, the slippers sent to my mother-in-law in Portugal in November, and returned, and returned, have now been returned. They must be the most travelled slippers on the planet, having completed 4500 miles and still not worn! (PC 220 Soleful Tales and 221 Ephemera refer) We thought they had complied with the “Fill out the customs form and you might have to pay this or that but we are not sure so we can’t release them yet” request. Then silence …… until Royal Mail delivered them back to our front door.

Monitoring the amount of energy you use is other way, so we are told, of helping the planet. Sadly the electrical meters for Amber House are in an outside cupboard more than 25m from my apartment and a Smart Meter wouldn’t work. Trumpeting the benefits of a Smart Meter, a recent advertisement stated it costs 63p per hour to boil your kettle. Who would want to boil their kettle for 60 minutes?

In the United Kingdom the Office for National Statistics conducted a census on Sunday 21st March. In the book ‘Britain: An Official Handbook’, published by the Central Office for Information, you can garner every conceivable fact about this country. Whenever I read the word census I am reminded of why Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem, such are the Christian stories embedded in my psyche! Sorry! – Oh! Yes! The national census – these days completed online, done easily and without too much thinking. So it was a surprise to have a census chap ring the doorbell the other afternoon. “We need to verify some of the responses from a sample of the population and your address came up.” On Thursday a chap presses the door-entry phone and came into the inner hall but didn’t want to enter the apartment.

Our Apartment front door – and the view the census chap had!

I thought he was simply going to ask me a couple of questions and enter my answers digitally and that I would only going to prison if I my answers were not the same as those I gave on 21st March. But no, unable to get an internet connection, he withdrew a paper booklet from his satchel and proceeded to ask me every question on the census form. After ten minutes the question “What sex do you declare?” came up. I am not so much of a dinosaur that I am unaware that this is now a multiple choice question. “Really?” I asked. “Yes! Particularly as this is Brighton (& Hove).” “I am sorry I am not going to answer that!” I said, putting my hand in my trouser pocket, searching for something. (Note 1)

The founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, a John Richards, died last month aged 97. Twenty years ago this retired journalist was so concerned for the apostrophe’s survival that he created a website (www.apostrophe.org.uk) aimed at preserving its correct use. “The apostrophe plays a vital part in written English. Just take this sign outside a block of flats: ‘Residents’ refuse to be placed in bins.’ Remove the apostrophe and you see a very different notice.” You may remember PC 195 illustrated with Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ and the misplaced comma? Apostrophes have, I think, an important part to play in modern written English; it’s true isn’t it or is it “its true isnt it?”

Richard 14th May 2021


Note 1We are getting our knickers in a complete twist when it comes to gender and its variants. Here the LGBT charity Stonewall has a ‘Diversity Champions’ scheme urging employers to sign up to its goals, but not allowing individuals to argue against its diktats. Apparently ‘dozens of woman have faced disciplinary action at work for offences such as stating JK Rowling is not transphobic (interesting a word the online dictionary doesn’t recognise!), asking questions during equality training or requesting female-only loos’ – actually they used the word ‘lavatories’ but this is not a word I recognise!! I did, by the way, find what I was looking for.

PC 229 500 miles to Oslo

If you are a Netflix fan you may have watched ‘Occupied’, a very interesting drama set in the future about a partial occupation of Norway by Russia.  (Note 1) There was some good coverage of the beautiful city of Oslo and I was reminded of my many trips there, but one in particular, approaching from the sea.

Sailing up in Scotland Aged 9

Regular readers will know that I have enjoyed many years of offshore sailing, clocking up some 15,000 miles since 1969. (See PC 106 (Sept 2017) Sailing in The Baltic and PC 161 (Sept 2019) The Atlantic) Some voyages are naturally more memorable than others and so it is with my 500 mile Oslo trip in August 1974. I was based in Sennelager near Paderborn in Germany and chartered the Royal Artillery Yacht Club’s yacht St Barbara II (St B II) for a fortnight. (Note 2)

Crew Kiel to Oslo

Arriving at the British Kiel Yacht Club on the outskirts of Kiel, we were met by the bosun, a likeable and competent Bombardier on secondment to the club.  “You’ll have plenty of storage for your trip as the engine is out for maintenance and we are awaiting spares.”  St B II was a 42ft Rebel and I had sailed her a number of times, so wasn’t particularly fazed by this news, except in relation to the provision of electricity. A yacht’s engine was useful for charging batteries which, inter alia, powered the navigation lights essential for night passages. It was also useful for manoeuvring in tight marina berths, particularly in a 40ft plus yacht.

The outward trip in red, the return in green

The crew numbered seven, 3of whom knew how to sail, so the trip was a mixture of training and sightseeing. Slipping the BKYC jetty on the Friday morning we sailed north up the Little Belt between the Danish mainland and the island of Fyn and into the harbour of Middlefart (Yes! Really!). From there a short hop to the university city of Aarhus (Note 3).


We did a little sightseeing while recharging the yacht’s batteries and then set sail, north up the coast, passing Skagen on the tip of Denmark, so loved by international artists for the purity of its light. The sea north of Denmark marks the exit of the fresh water of the Baltic, from the Kattegat into the Skagerrak and then into the North Sea. I didn’t want to sail the majestic Oslo Fjord at night as I had no means of getting out of trouble without an engine, so drifted into Hortens on the west coast of the fjord for an overnight stop and essential battery charging. The wind tends to funnel down the fjord so it was hard work beating northwards, but in daylight the following morning it was a wonderful experience, as sheer mountainsides close in from both sides, waterfalls tumble down, wind shifts are numerous and the water is extremely deep. Eventually we tied up alongside in the marina in Dronningen on the west of the city, did some sightseeing and welcomed a new crew from Germany.


On Sunday 25th we sail south, this time goose-winged (Note 3), feeling very small as the mountains dwarf the yacht. Our initial destination is Marstrand, just north of Gottenburg on the Swedish west coast. The town is Sweden’s equivalent of Cowes on the Isle of Wight here in England and the focus of international racing festivals.

Marstrand, Sweden

From the chart and from the various sailing guides I had interrogated there were two ways in ….. and the southerly one looked more interesting – I wished I had listened to the little voice in my head ‘play safe’. This approach required lining up a transit and sailing that exact bearing.

Lining up a transit of rocks and a lighthouse, sailing a course of 42°

Why? Well, the west coast is strewn with rocks and the transit took us between two large patches. It was blowing about Force 4-5 from the north, the wind was abeam and this made for fast sailing. Having lined up the transit we committed ourselves, knowing that we couldn’t deviate much from the line; the sea surged over some rocks visible on the bow to both port and to starboard but there was space between! The guides had described it as easy; my heart started beating faster than normal and I remember asking the mate what he thought, was this sensible … or not!

In Marstrand our arrival created some local interest and it wasn’t long before the jetty was crowded with onlookers. One particular chap and I struck up a good report and I invited him on board for a drink. Invariably we talked about the prohibitive cost of alcohol in Sweden and he told me that most Swedes brewed their own. “I use an old bath in a shed.” Olav said. “So how do you know when it’s ready to drink?” I asked. He held up his fingers; one was missing its tip. “I dip my fingers in; too strong and this is the result!”

From Marstrand we sailed south into the channel between the Danish island of Zeeland and the Swedish mainland, passing the twin castles of Helsingør, used by Shakespeare as Hamlet’s Elsinore, and Helsingborg at the northern narrows.


As we approached the outskirts of Copenhagen what wind there had been vanished and we drifted. Fortunately we were spotted by Stan Townsend, a British retired engineer officer and well-known Baltic sailor. A tow was proffered and gladly accepted and we made it to a marina just north of the city. Judging when to let go the tow so that you have sufficient way to make a berth is tricky, for yachts without engines have no brakes!

After some sightseeing in the city we slipped the marina moorings and made our way south, down the west coast of Zealand and into Stubbekøbing.

Stubbekøbing’s marina is new!

Black Jack, the yacht’s mate, was responsible for taking St B II into this rather commercial harbour. Good practice for him I thought …….. until we found ourselves heading towards a fishing boat tied up alongside the quay too fast and emergency manoeuvres were required! 

The Army called this ‘Adventure Training’; for me an absolute delight!

Richard 7th May 2021


Note 1 Norway is not part of the EU and this drama has been mirrored this week in a stand-off between French fishermen and the State of Jersey, part of The Channel Islands, over fishing licences. A French minister threatened to cut off the island’s electricity supplies, 98% of which come from EDF a French energy company!

Note 2 We covered 1050 miles and spent 45 hours sailing at night, between Thursday 15 August – 4th September 1974.

Note 3 The Danish TV series Dicte was based in this city

Note 4 With the mainsail set to one side and the foresail to the other, only possible with the wind well aft of the beam, the sailing term is goose-winging.