Back story: this is part of the series of “sleeve notes” to the CD(s) I intend to compile featuring music that brings events from my life back to me with great clarity. It also might help me remember my own life if someone accidentally formats my brain at some time in the future.
Those of you under 35 years of age will probably not remember, first hand, the Falklands War and the ships that formed the South Atlantic Task Force transporting British troops down to that remote corner of the world. One of them, conscripted into service as a hospital ship, was the SS Uganda.
The Uganda does not, itself, have any connection to me but it had a sister ship that DID.
And THAT was the SS Nevasa, a former troopship that was converted (very minimally, I should say!) to take large numbers of schoolchildren on “Educational Cruises” around the Mediterranean Sea in the 1960s.
Places on these cruises were offered to Local Education Authorities in rotation but I have no idea how the LEA covering Ipswich decided which schools to invite to fill its allocation. It may be that Copleston was included because it was one of the few non grammar schools to take GCE “O” Levels (actually outdoing Northgate Grammar school on an “average passes per head” basis) and this was a reward.
If it was, then the people who had achieved those results for the school didn’t benefit from them – they had already left!
In November of 1966 some guys from my class got to go on one of these trips along with others from our year and it sounded like fun. They must also have behaved themselves impeccably because shortly after their return
the school was offered more places on a cruise due to start in March 1968.
Rather surprisingly applications were invited from pupils in the 2nd and 4th years (years 8 and 10 in new money) which meant that my own year got another go despite being about 14 months away from the big examinations.
After discussing it with my parents it was agreed that I could apply but ONLY if I agreed to find half the cost by my own efforts.
And the cost of this 16 day Mediterranean cruise (including flight home)?
SIXTY THREE POUNDS!!
So I had to find the colossal sum of Thirty One Pounds, Ten Shillings (£31.50) in less than a year to fulfil my part of the bargain!
It doesn’t sound much now but consider my income which came solely from my newspaper round – the grand sum of 15 shillings (75p) per week or £39.00 per year if I didn’t take any holidays (which I did).
This weekly total would have been 7 shillings (35p) a week higher if my Dad hadn’t used the same system that HIS father had used – pocket money stopped when you got any kind of paid job!
I only managed it by asking for cash for Christmas and Birthday presents, by charging the other paper boys for doing their evening deliveries when they couldn’t do it for any reason and by working occasional Saturdays in the shop – but make it I did!
So, at the beginning of March 1968 a coach full of Copleston Boys School pupils (the girls school had a turn a year or two later – my sister went that time), including yours truly, set out to join the ship at Southampton docks. Oddly, the only thing I remember about that coach trip is that I consumed over half a pound of wine gums on the way. Working part-time in a sweet shop had its advantages!
At Southampton we were herded with our luggage into a massive shed which contained passport and customs desks and access to the ramps up to the doorways high on the side of our vessel. From there we descended to
our dormitory just above the waterline, chose our bunks and then rushed up to the main deck to watch the departure which was memorable for two reasons.
Firstly, just as we were about to leave, our vessel was required to wait while the liner QE2 moved gracefully up the Solent to a berth just behind us. It must have been returning from one of its very early cruises (having only been launched the year before) and it was MASSIVE! It seemed to be at least four times the size of our 22,000 ton ship and towered over us as it passed us.
The second thing I recall very clearly is the fantastic sunset that we were able to watch as we came out of the Solent and rounded the Isle of Wight. I think that was the first time I ever saw the sun SET over the sea (I had seen it RISE from the water lots of times from my Grandmother’s caravan at Felixstowe) and it was very red!
Our days between ports were spent attending lectures on the places we would be visiting and doing the copious amounts of “homework” that the teachers back in Ipswich had given us to ensure that we didn’t get too far behind the rest of the class. To ensure that we completed this work two teachers accompanied us – Mr Keeble (aka “Tom”) and Mr Chenery (known as “Min” after the Mary Poppins song), possibly the most laid-back pair we could have wished for. After “lessons” they left us to our own devices and adjourned to the Teachers-only bar until “dormitory lights-out” when one or other of them would come down, smelling strongly of alcohol, and call the register before saying goodnight.
The itinerary, in case you are interested, was as follows:
Ceuta, Morocco – the port on the North African side of the Straits of Gibraltar from where we had a coach trip inland to the old Spanish enclave of Tetuan. They sold a lot of hand tooled leather stuff there and I recall some of us attempting to exchange a small second year boy for some camel whips! I’m sure the trader was willing but we failed to complete the transaction because teachers have old-fashioned views about such things and intervened!
Heraklion, Crete – including coach trips to the ancient Minoan cities of Knossos and Phaestos. Northern Crete was, twelve years later, to become much more famous as the venue of my honeymoon with Faith!
Istanbul, Turkey – many tourist-trail places were visited but I mainly remember getting lost on foot with a group from my school during an hour or so of free time in the city and winding up at the main fish market ankle deep in stinking fish scales!
Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece – again we did all the usual tourist things in the main city but my prime memory is of more free time which I spent wandering around the port in the company of my classmate John Lamb who, at that time had a thing about boats – I seem to remember that his dad kept a yacht at Woodbridge.
He spotted some masts showing over the top of a wall about eight feet high and resolved to take some photographs by the simple expedient of standing on my shoulders! It was at this point that we were accosted by a member of the English-speaking Tourist Police who advised us that while there were indeed yachts behind the wall it was mainly a base for the Greek Navy who, then as now, did not approve of such acts of espionage. He let us go back to the ship but bearing in mind that Greece had only recently (1967) chucked out its Monarchy and replaced it with a Military Junta I think we were quite lucky not to have been slung into jail!
I remembered that part with something of a shudder a few years back when a bunch of British ‘plane-spotters were locked up for quite a while in a nasty Greek prison for something essentially similar!
Venice, Italy – we woke up here on the last day of the trip and all we saw of the place was whatever came into view as we passed along the Grand Canal on a waterbus from the dock to the point on the mainland where a normal coach picked us up and drove us to Marco Polo airport and the flight home. Still, we did get to see the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge’s Palace even if it was only from the water.
The flight home was on a chartered Dan-Air BAC 1-11 jet and the trip was remarkable mainly for it being the first time I had ever flown.
And where, you are probably screaming, does the piece of music mentioned in the title come into this tale?
Well, every morning aboard ship they would wake us up by playing a current chart hit very loudly over the Tannoy system and “Substitute” was the one that cropped up most often. I do keep a running list of songs for inclusion in this series along with a note of the specific memories they evoke – and this one wasn’t on it. Then I heard it on my mp3 player and ALL of the stuff I’ve spouted above just popped into my head.
Anyway here is a good link to it:
(this may of course be an amendment to what I originally typed if my friend Vincent tells me he’s done a better one).