Friday, 29 December 2017

HMS Tartar 4th Commission 1970 19

We were moved ashore to HMS Terror for some time and given leave as the ship was put through repairs in the dockyard, at that time Singapore dockyard still looked like a proper fleet dockyard, it had several large ships alongside to support repairs, large aircraft carriers beyond their useful life at sea now depot ships. I remember being quite awed by crossing the deck of one to get ashore, a hive of activity.

We quickly established a small bar in Sembawang village as our first stop for a night on the town, as soon as you entered the dim light, it was always dark no matter what time you strolled through the door, you found a 'hostess' at your elbow, their job was to butter you up so you would buy them a drink. They never actually got a drink they instead sipped some kind of green liquid which became knows as 'sticky greens', it cost as much as a proper drink of course which was the point.

Ship Inn, Sembawang New Years Eve, 1970

Sembawang Village, the bars at least.

One of the main attractions here was that you could get everything hand made, from shoes to shirts and it didn't take forever or cost you a fortune, you could get kitted our from head to toe in a matter of days. I got a suit and a couple of shirts, one of which was so well made and comfortable it turned into my 'thousand miler' which is a garment you wear almost as default. Electrical goods were also a great buy, I got a portable Sanyo tape recorder/player which was state of the art at the time as despite being almost the size of a shoebox you could carry it, this would become an object of envy once I was back in the UK.

It wasn't all fun and I had to go on a Naval Gunfire Support course in nearby Nee Soon village where the army had a base, it was more of a jolly than anything and I loved it, I was very good at communicating with spotters, you could not afford to make a mistake when giving orders out to guns, later I would be asked to become a spotter but turned it down, life expectancy was 24 hours at best and the regime was Spartan. A friend of mine did join and he turned into a humourless machine. Apart from this however our time here was very leisurely.

The big attraction for sailors in Singapore was Boogie (Bugis) Street, it had flocks of those women who were in fact men, Kai Tai's as they were called back then, again many were there for you to buy them drinks, but most of these offered more than drinks. They also tended to hang about the only toilet in the area, a horrible, dilapilated building green with mold, most bars spilled out onto the street with basic chairs and tables and it helped navigation if you were sober, which, if you were in Boogie Street you would not be. If you managed to stay on your feet all night and see sunrise on Boogie Street you became an instant legend, I cannot recall meeting any legends. It was also a dangerous place, my mentor Lofty, a hefty lad at six feet plus did not want to leave one night and had several too many, he stood up swaying in the road and called out "I'm not leaving here without a fight!" Unfortunately for Lofty, tied up in the dockyard was the HMNZS Otago, which, true or false had been strafed by the Americans off the coast of Vietnam, and they were in a foul mood, the last I saw of Lofty was him disappearing under a heap of Moaris, he ended up in hospital and missed the ship when we sailed in early January.

The infamous toilet with a traditional dance taking place on top.
Kai Tai's

Another legend of Singapore was the large scale Scalextric type racing track at the top of the Victoria Club opposite Raffles Hotel, I ventured up there to see this marvel and sure enough there it was, it had seen better days as the 'drivers' were in the main drunken British servicemen and crashes were the order of the day, by the time I saw it is was showing its age and although it still worked it was a shadow of its former self.

Then there was the Peanut Vendor in HMS Terror, he would turn up as the bar opened, a withered old man with a small tray shouting at the top of his voice "Tiger Balm, Peeeeeanut" he kept this up until the lights went out. It was the first time I had enountered Tiger Balm, a cure for every ailment on the planet I believe. Not made from real Tigers.

The Armada Club, HMS Terror, haunt of the Peanut Vendor.

I was the instigator in the second ruckus in Singapore, on the way back from Boogie Street to the ship I fell in with two Greenies (electricians), one very drunk and ready to pass out and the other a Scouser on the same level of intake as myself. The taxi pulled up at the gate in Sembawang village which looked deserted and the driver asked for ex amount of klebies, I got out my share and asked Scouse for his, no way was he paying was the reply. A heated argument ensued with the driver shouting for his money and me shouting at Scouse for his share. I eventually got fed up, threw two thirds of the money at the driver and said this is for me and the drunk, you will have to see him for the rest, pointing at Scouse, I dragged the drunk out of the car and headed for the gate, as I looked back the street had come alive with people emerging from the shadows and I watched as Scouse run back down the road towards Singapore with about twenty enraged locals after him. He survived as I saw him the next morning in the mess, I think all he lost was his jacket in the end, lucky man. I was briefly in touch with him decades later and he still remembered the incident.

We were supposed to drop in at Hong Kong and then spend Christmas in Australia, next to America another first class run ashore for Jack Tars, but our repairs put an end to that as they are going to take a lot longer than anticipated. I am not too bothered as Singapore held enough interest for me, hundreds of bars, posh hotels, great weather and a lazy attitude had overcome us as we enjoyed ourselves to the hilt. Sadly however we will be back at sea just after New Year on our way back to Blighty having kept the Russian Bear and Yellow Peril at bay, the good news is that it seems we will be deploying to the West Indies as Guardship for six months after a quick turnaround, bring it on!