Rated: E · Short Story · Comedy · #2283873
A short humorous story about a security check on board a Royal Navy Warship
|Manners Maketh Man|
Here is a tale that demonstrates how although pride might go before a fall, sometimes, pomposity beats it to the starting gate.
In 1991, onboard HMS Boxer, Leading Seaman (Missile), Paddy Higgins, was carrying out the duties of Quartermaster at the ship’s gangway. As part of his duties, Paddy was responsible for ensuring that everyone who came aboard was entitled to do so by way of checking identity cards and in addition, where officers were concerned, showing the proper respect for the rank by saluting as they came onboard.
Over time, like every other crewman, the ratings who carry out the duty of Quartermaster inevitably come to know and recognise every member of the ships company on sight without the need for checking of identity cards (the maxim being that visual recognition is a far superior security check than Identity cards).
One bright but busy morning, as Paddy was about to go off watch after a long but uneventful night, he spotted a man heading up the gangway, dressed in motorcycle leathers, carrying a briefcase and wearing a motorcycle helmet with full visor. Though these were pre 9/11 days and the IRA were never really going to bother the Navy, it was still necessary to carry out proper security checks and this was something Paddy Higgins did with aplomb.
As the leather clad man approached Paddy to walk past and enter the ship, Paddy deftly stepped aside, blocking the man’s way and smiling
" Can I see yer ID card please mate?" said Paddy, holding out his hand expectantly.
With no break in his pace, the mystery man sidestepped Paddy and attempted to continue along his way as if oblivious to the request being made of him.
Nervously, Paddy placed a hand on the pistol grip of his SA80 service rifle and held up his other hand, motioning to the man to stop." I said can I see yer ID card please mate." said Paddy. This time he left out the humorous inflection and offered no smile.
The attempted security breach stopped in his tracks, clearly irritated, and swung round to face Paddy head on.
"What is your problem, QM?" He said, with barely disguised disdain. “I don't have time for this crap."
"If I can just see yer ID card please mate." Said Paddy, staring straight at the visor in the helmet, attempting to see in.
The mystery biker stepped forward aggressively, pulling out his wallet from a pocket in his jacket and produced a Royal
Navy identity card which declared the holder to be a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy, holding the rank of Lieutenant.
Noting the Rank first, Paddy stepped back slightly and then stood smartly to attention, saluting as he did so.
"Thank you, sir!" Paddy now adopted a more friendly yet respectful tone. The mystery boarder was confirmed by identity card check to be a Royal Navy Lieutenant and Paddy would offer all the respect that this rank deserved and indeed, demanded.
The Lieutenant now sighed loudly, demonstrating his irritation at having been stopped by the Quartermaster, before turning quickly on his heels and stepping away in the direction of the officer’s mess.
"Excuse me sir!" Paddy shouted respectfully towards the officer. "Can you please remove your helmet so I may ensure the officer in the photo on your ID card is in fact the man inside the helmet?" Paddy seemed almost cheerful as he warmed to the task of ensuring security was not breached on the gangway of HMS Boxer. Not on his watch anyway.
The Lieutenant stopped abruptly in his tracks, arms and legs motionless as if the video of his life had been suddenly paused. At this point, nobody would have been surprised to see Rod Serling edge into view narrating the scene, perhaps pointing out that Paddy Higgins was a man about to have a date with destiny. Other crew members working in the vicinity, sensed that things were about to turn ugly and gathered round to witness what they hoped would be Paddy Higgins taking a starring role as David in the remake of David and Goliath, only this time, it was Goliath who had done some training.....with a rousing musical montage and backdrop of famous landmarks.
Being shouted down by an officer in a public display of authoritarian control over a subordinate is never a good experience for the person on the receiving end but schadenfreude has no compassion and neither, unfortunately, do sailors of her majesty's Royal Navy. Some people at the back seemed to have produced popcorn and were sitting back for the main event.
Back at the gangway, Rod Serling had pushed the play button and stepped back to allow fate to run its course. The Lieutenant turned slowly around, shoulders hunched as if resigned to complying with the wishes of the insistent yet still polite quartermaster. Stopping directly in front of Paddy, The Lieutenant drew himself up to full height, as the well-disciplined crowd seemed to close in on the scene quietly and in an orderly fashion. The air seemed to crackle with anticipation and excitement although this might also have been the sound of some welding now taking place at the stern.
Slowly and deliberately, the Lieutenant removed his helmet and stood before the quartermaster. Holding out his identity card in his right hand, he slammed his motorcycle helmet down hard on the quartermaster’s desk with his left. The watching crowd, startled by the resultant loud bang, stepped back a few paces as if expecting a secondary explosion. Even the seagulls overhead appeared to stop their wailing and an expectant hush descended over the flight deck of HMS Boxer.
"Happy now?" Demanded the Lieutenant. His eyes flashed with rage as his angry red face competed with his tousled blonde mop in a war of extremes. Eyes bulging with fury the Lieutenant jabbed a bony finger into Paddy's chest. “Happy now?"
Somewhat shocked by the physical attack on his person, though resolved to remain calm and respectful, Paddy replied that he was. "Yes sir! Thank you, sir! I am satisfied that the person on the ID card is you."
Paddy smiled at the officer now stood before him whose colourful, rage induced face and helmet hair gave him a kind of manic look that Jack Nicholson would have paid good money for on the set of The Shining. The officer stepped forward and jabbed another finger into Paddy's chest, apparently unwilling to leave things as they were.
In the background somebody yelled "Ding! Ding! Round Two!"
"What's your name, QM?" Demanded the Lieutenant.
"Leading Seaman Higgins, sir." said Paddy cheerfully.
"Well, Leading Seaman Higgins," barked The Lieutenant, deliberately emphasising each word as he clearly began to enjoy his interrogation, “You bloody well stand to attention when you address me, do you hear me?
"Yes sir!" Paddy stood to attention, focusing on the Lieutenant.
"How long have you been on this ship?" The Lieutenant's questions and even mannerisms seemed theatrical, as if he were playing up to the gathered crowd.
"Two years sir." Replied Paddy, wringing both ends of his rifle in the absence of a flat cap to strangle.
"I've been the Supply Department Officer on this ship for two years and nine months. You've been on this ship two years and you don't know who I am?" The Lieutenant asked, incredulous. He glanced round at the crowd, like a barrister who just asked a difficult question of a witness and wanted to gauge the reaction of the jury.
" I don't sir, no." replied Paddy, wondering what conclusion the conversation was leading to.
"I find that difficult to believe QM. Do you actually pay attention to what happens on this ship or do you just drift along aimlessly? You're pathetic. I will be speaking to your Divisional Officer." Sensing perhaps, that this dressing down was becoming a little too public, the Lieutenant changed tack. “Right, what time do you get off watch?"
"Five minutes sir." Replied Paddy, relieved that his public flogging seemed to be reaching its conclusion.
"Right! My cabin. Five minutes!" Barked the Lieutenant. He turned quickly on his heels and stomped off along the ship’s passageway, finally disappearing into a doorway further along the ship.
Paddy puffed out his cheeks and blew hard with relief as the gathered crowd began to disperse, the disappointment visible on their faces. Behind paddy, the now familiar figure of the Lieutenant appeared through the door he had disappeared through only moments before.
"Oh shit!" Shouted someone in the crowd. "'E's comin' back"
The rumble of boots on the deck as crewmen jostled for a view of the inevitable showdown, caused some people on the shore to look up for the expected storm clouds whose metaphoric gathering was just taking place on the flight deck.
Paddy turned to face the rapidly approaching officer, steeling himself for another round of humiliation but determined not to let this affect his demeanour or ability to carry out his duties effectively. To his surprise and no doubt dismay of the crowd, the officer stepped rapidly past paddy, head down as if actively avoiding eye contact, almost running for the gangway to leave the ship. As he went past Paddy, he spoke almost too quietly for Paddy and the assembled crowd to hear.
"Sorry, QM. Wrong ship!"
The loud, raucous laughter resulting from this admission seemed to buoy the Lieutenant along as he was slow clapped down the gangway and along the jetty astern of HMS Boxer, where, tugging gently at her moorings, HMS Brave lay alongside, patiently awaiting the arrival of her supply officer. Identical ship, identical layout, different name.