24 March 2004

First draft: South Shields. Another Hand along the Way

I didn't leave Mrs. Greenwell's immediately after passing my Diploma, my scholarship was still running which covered accommodation costs. I had to find employment with my brand new "ticket", I was better up here at South Shields in the hub of things than at home.

The largest employer of Radio Officer's was the Marconi Marine Company who supplied its Radio Officer's on contract to the various shipping companies. They were always advertising for Radio Officer's and as the largest employer I though that this was a good place to start looking for a job. I penned a letter to the Marconi Marine Company and in a few days received an application form from them for employment. I duly filled in the required details, posted the application off and then came the expectant wait.

During this time a new boarder arrived at Mrs. Greenwell's, an older man who introduced himself as Stuart Mc Kay. Mrs Greenwell told me later he was Chief Engineer of a ship that was in dock for an engine refit. Stuart was a bachelor she told me whose ship was a lonely place in the evenings with no crew on board. Stuart as Chief Engineer had to be present during the engine refit. He periodically stayed at Mrs. Greenwell's when in port for the company, she told me.

Stuart would be... I guess now, in his late 50's, a thin man with sparse grey hair and he wore round wire-rimmed glasses, an easy man to converse with despite our difference in age. A few days after I had got my results of my Exams Stuart remarked as I came into the dining room that he believed congratulations were in order and then enquired what I was proposing to do. I told him I had just posted off my application form for employment with the Marconi Marine Company and I waiting for my acceptance. Presently he enquired had I got my uniform and tropical kit? I hesitated and then said that I had the Marine College uniform, which was basically the same as the sea-going uniform, but tropical kit? Stuart then proceeded to give me the rundown on the tropical kit saying not to delay; I could be required to report for duty the next day after my acceptance. I then remembered the question on the form. Would I be ready for immediate duty? I had ticked yes.

Stuart then said " right, if you like we'll go up to Newcastle on Saturday and sort out the tropical kit for you, there is a good marine men’s outfitters there". Again I hesitated and Stuart said "don't worry, the payment can go on my account and you can pay me later". I then replied that I would be glad of his help.

Saturday morning saw us on the electric commuter train from South Shields up to Newcastle and Stuart took me to large men’s outfitters specialising in marine wear. I had taken with me my uniform jacket to be altered too. As we entered the shop Stuart was obviously known here. He was greeted by a middle aged man with Good morning Mr. Mc Kay what can I help you with? Stuart said "fit this young man out with full tropical kit, please".

The man whipped out his tape measure and quickly had my measurements, waist, chest, hips then arm and inside leg. Suddenly the tidy counter was littered with boxes of all sizes. Shirts, shorts, knee-length socks and shoes all in white... including the shoes. Then came the tropical evening uniform, cotton jacket buttoning to the neck and long trousers, again all in white.

Next came the fitting first the shirt, shorts, socks and shoes... all a good fit on my then slim figure. Then came the evening dress uniform, a little long in the sleeves and leg. These were pinned up and the assistant said " we have a tailor on the premises, they can be altered immediately.

"Anything else, sir" said the assistant. Stuart barked, "Yes! 2 pairs Junior Radio Officer epaulettes and don't forget the cap covers and a M.N. cap badge". Stuart in charge was clearly enjoying this. I pulled out my uniform jacket and asked for the Junior Radio Officer's gold braid to be fitted on my jacket sleeves too. The tropical kit was parcelled up and we said we would be back in 3 hours to pick up the parcels including the altered garments.

Leaving the shop Stuart took me on a walking tour of the city centre pointing out the main features. As we passed through a small square in the city centre we stood for a moment and watched with a crowd of shoppers a one man band perform with his big drum on his back and instruments on stalks in reach of his mouth. The first one-man band I had seen. The gyrating figure today is etched on my memory as if it were yesterday.

Visiting my cousin David Bell in 2003, he took me on a driven tour of Newcastle city centre but I recognised nothing, things had changed so much. As we turned to head for South Shields I saw the latticework of the Tyne Bridge, which I did recognise. The bridge was the forerunning design for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, the Tyne one much smaller of course.

We returned to the shop for our parcels, a quick fitting of the altered garments and Stuart said "put everything on my account please" and the assistant said "certainly, sir". We then headed to the station with our booty to catch the next train back to South Shields.

Stuart gave me the account slip to be passed on to home and money credited to his account at the Newcastle menswear shop. Back in those days people seemed to be more trusting of others than now in the 21st Century.

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