Compulsory companions

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BRITISH seamen cynically, but in friendly fashion, describe themselves not as the crew members but as the Board of Trade Compulsory Companions.

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That said the bad eggs thrown together by circumstance were few and far between. From sailing a ship’s crew, strangers to each other a day earlier, became firm friends. 

I imagine much the same can be said of the other services. People, especially men, often found themselves in the unlikeliest company and had to make the best of things. It is a great way of forming one’s world-view. Togetherness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It is interesting how attitudes changed so radically in such a short period of time. Those of a certain age will identify the humour of there being so many children in a bed that when one turned they all turned. For a child to have his or her own bed in the 1950s was practically undreamed of. The only concession we boys had was that we were not obliged to share a bed with sisters. The thought would have horrified us mites.


Although it didn’t often happen it wasn’t a big deal to kip down with a mate if circumstances left one no choice. Those who watched the movie; Boats, Trains and Planes starring Tom Hanks will have been in tucks as it occurred to him and his hapless travelling companion that their sharing a motel bed was a matter of little choice.

I will never forget the expression on my teenage sons’ faces when I suggested they share a hotel bed when motoring through Europe. Both looked at me like I was something they had scraped off the bottom of their shoe.


The only compulsory companions we are likely to share company with these days are travellers sitting next to us when on a plane. I was facing a seven-hour flight to Washington DC on an aircraft which to me looked no bigger than a Spitfire with windows in its fuselage. A polite smile and a greeting from the person in the adjacent seat is the least we can expect. The lady occupying the window seat resolutely stared out of the window throughout the journey; not a smile or simple hello passed her lips. Perhaps she had personal problems.

I groaned when on the return journey I found myself in the middle seat of the central aisle of four seats. On my left a gargantuan American whose blubber spilled over onto my lap. Thankfully, I had to my right a couple of bright and breezy British teenagers who rollicked with good humour to lighten up the wearisome miles.

Throughout an adventurous life I have bunked down in the unlikeliest of places and chanced upon the oddest of travellers. Happily, there have been no bad experiences; just different ones. As Shakespeare surmised, the world is a stage and we all play a part on it. Yes, it is all part of life’s rich tapestry, Will.



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