Milverton, Somerset

Cheek to cheek, man to man

After just a few minutes of casual conversation with the stranger, it dawned upon me that in my early twenties, I had spent the best part of an hour of significant physical intimacy (much of it cheek to cheek) with the bearded character beside me at the bar of the Globe in Milverton. It was an exhausting, but exhilarating, experience. However, the deep, steaming bath we shared afterwards brought blissful relief to our pummelled bodies.

Nursing the dregs of a pint of Otter, my bar room companion confessed to having once been a matelot. He was in the Royal Navy Reserve, based at HMS President then moored on the north embankment of the Thames. As HMS Saxafrage (what sort of name is that?), she was a Q-ship in WW1. Being small, she would be regarded as an easy target by U-boats – not worth a torpedo. On surfacing to dispatch the little ship with cannon fire, the U-boat would suddenly be faced by an armed vessel ready to blow it out of the water.

I had once spent a jolly evening on her sister ship – HMS Chrysanthemum. The beer flowed like Niagara Falls. Fish and chips cooked on board were served to all, and to round it off, a screen the size of a large pocket-handkerchief was erected and a series of dodgy movies streamed. “My goodness!” exclaimed the ex-matelot. “I was there! It only happened once. Someone reported the films and the Brass banned them”.

HMS Chrysanthemum had a rugby team, but no ground. To reciprocate hospitality, every month the teams played were invited to an evening aboard ship. I was loose-head prop for Charing Cross Hospital’s Extra A XV. My bar-top companion was tight-head for the Navy. We had spent 80 minutes with our arms around each other, cheek to cheek. Oh- the shared bath– 28 other players (and the referee) were also in that plunge pool. The bearded gent – Chris Mann, of course!

Dr Tom Ferrier (aka Jim Murray)