Question 10

Jack Mainland: “You must have retained pictures in your mind of things that you may have seen or experienced and which has left an impression. Do any come to mind?”

Bill Ballingall: “I’ll have to think a little about this… …here are a few…

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  • If we were on the long haul from the Gulf down to Oz (Australia), the relief from the extremes of heat would be quite palpable once we left the Gulf. The temperature would drop significantly within a few couple of days, and there would likely be a cool breeze. The ship would gently sway through the long easy swell, and we would call it ‘good sleeping weather’. Which it was. Just to lie in your bunk, and be rocked to sleep; dreamland……
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  • Again, on the way south, an albatross would generally pick us up near the equator. These huge birds would drift across our wake, swinging 50 or 100 metres on either side of the ship, wings practically motionless apart from the tips which would flutter constantly, sensitive to every nuance of the breeze. They would follow us for days on end, for hundreds of miles, occasionally dropping into the sea if the cook dumped a bucketful of galley waste over the stern. A marvellous sight, just watching these graceful birds…
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  • Anyone who has seen flying fish must be fascinated by these silvery-looking fish with the spray glistening on their ‘wings’ as they leap out of the water, and skimming a surprising distance away from the ship. We would sometimes run into a shoal of these fish and they would scatter in all directions. Some would land on the maindeck, and the crew wouldn’t be slow in gathering them up for the Bhandari to do his bit in the galley…
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  • On one ship we were in the Indian Ocean, and the weather was humid, windy, with dark clouds all around us. A shout went up, and those of us on deck saw a finger of cloud coming down from a black-looking bit of sky. This finger, looking pencil-thin from where we were, came straight towards the sea, but before it reached the sea another dark finger rose up, meeting with, and joining, this downcoming finger; like something from a legendary story. Whatever it was, some kind of a waterspout, was dead ahead, and the Old Man turned the ship off-course, saying that if we went into it, we would break the vacuum, and tonnes of water would crash onto the ship. It was the only time I saw this curious phenomenon, and it was just a wee bit scary…
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  • In my younger days I had picked up some rugby songs, folk songs, and the like, and from time-to-time on board the “British Judge” one of the crew (this being a British crew) would knock on my office door on a Saturday evening, and announce that “the crowd (crew) want to sing”. I’ll never forget the look on the Master’s face – having recently just joined the ship – when he came into the Crew bar on hearing singing, and realised his Chief Engineer was the Choirmaster, in full flow with the rest of the crew, giving ‘Clementine’ some laldy, to the tune of ‘Bread of Heaven’.
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I’ll mention a couple of more sombre memories that remain with me…

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  • Our ship was alongside an old stone quay in Karachi. There were a bunch of women on the quay with the typical delicate features of their race; graceful, colourful saris, and some with infants strapped to their back. They were squatting on their heels, and breaking bits of rock with a hammer. These women were, by hand, repairing the cracks in the quay with these bits of broken rock, and their hands were as coarse and rough as a quarrymen’s labourer. But they were smiling at us, and if no-one else was looking, a hand would be stretched out to us, asking for a bar of soap. I guess we passed over quite a few bars of soap that morning, which they secreted in their bosom. It was quite humbling, and a couple of wives who were on board were quiet and pensive…
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  • And lastly, I have to say I have seen the Towers of Silence, in Bombay. Three of us hired a taxi – an old Ford Prefect – for a tour of Bombay. One of the places the driver took us was these Towers of Silence. It is where Parsi people bring their dead for disposal of the body, by being fed to vultures. The bodies are placed on these flat-topped towers. We saw the towers, the vultures, but didn’t look any further…”
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