Tag Archives: Glenfarg Folk Club

The Story of “My Poor Old Mk 1 Eyeballs”

My Poor Old Mk 1 Eyeballs

Every April the Glenfarg Folk Club holds a festival called the Folk Feast. I have only missed three since the early 1990’s so you can tell I enjoy them a great deal. There are ceilidhs, concerts, singarounds and sessions and it is a great gathering together of old friends from the world of folk music.

There is a chance to take part in the World Puff-a-Box Championships to see who can blow the inner tray of a match box out of the outer section of the box the furthest distance. The competitiveness of the event is only matched by the hilarity it generates.

The other event which is hugely popular is the Original Song Competition. Each year a theme is announced, and song writers are invited to compose a song relating to that theme but with a strong emphasis on entertainment and humour. All money raised at the competition goes to charity.  It remains one of my favourite parts of the Folk Feast and has played a big part in making me write outside my comfort zone.

This year, 2020, the Folk Feast had to be cancelled because of the outbreak of Coronavirus. The theme for the song competition was, because of the year, 20-20 vision and matters related to vision and eyesight. I composed my entry just before the news of a new virus being found in China was announced. So, there I was with a song entry but no competition to take part in.

I fret and worry each year that the puns, jokes and humour I put into my entry will be used my some of the other competitors. Worse still, if they get to perform before me and spoil all my punch lines. I have been entering the competition for many years and, so far, nobody has tackled the theme in the same way as myself or used any of my gags.

This year however I was 100% confident that my entry would be nothing like any of the other songs in the competition. I did not even have to spend ages trying to find an unusual and funny way to address the theme. I instantly knew what I would do.

The song tells a true story set back in 1978, when I was still a young sailor in the navy.

I had accumulated about four weeks leave and rather than laze about for a month, I approached a farmer friend, Ian Smith, (who incidentally owned a sheep called Nijinsky) and got some paid work on his farm, called Crosswoodburn.

One day, we were working in the fank with sheep, when a large black cat sitting on top of a dry stane dyke caught my eye.

I had never seen a cat around Ian’s farm before, so I said to Ian, “When did you get a cat?”

“I’ve no’ got a cat.” He replied

“Well you’ve got one now. There’s one sitting on top of that dyke.”

“Where are you seeing a cat?” said Ian as he scanned the length of the dyke.

“Down there,” I said. “On top of the dyke.”

“I can’t see any cat on the dyke.”

I pointed out the exact location to him.

“Duncan, that’s no’ a cat. That’s a shadow where a coping stone has fallen of the dyke. If you think that is a cat, then there is something seriously wrong with your eyes”.

I climbed out of the fank and jogged down the slope to where the cat was, confident that I was right.

Oh… It was a shadow. Crest fallen I returned to the fank. Ian suggested that when I got back to my ship, I should get my eyes tested and that is exactly what I did.

The rest of the story is covered in my song, and improbable as it may seem, the tale is absolutely true.

Check it out on YouTube at:

My Poor Old Mk 1 Eyeballs

 

My Poor Old Mk 1 Eyeballs

  1. When I was in the Navy, I headed off to sea

But I couldn’t see the sea the way that others see the sea

My poor old Mk 1 eyeballs weren’t working well for me

So, I went to see the medic, to see what he could see

Just to see what he could see

  1. “What seems to be the problem?”, the medic said to me

“I’m having problems with my eyesight!”, the medic said, “I see.”

“There’s a chart of letters on the wall, could you read them out to me”

“I can only make out the topmost  one – I think it’s the letter C”

I think it’s the letter C

  1. Well we seem to have a problem, of that there is no doubt

An Ophthalmic Surgeon is just the one to sort your problems out

I’ll make you an appointment, to find out what is wrong

But your days not wearing spectacles, I fear they’ve nearly gone

I fear they’ve nearly gone

  1. Well I attended at a military hospital, sat down in the waiting room

There were two other sailors sitting there, their faces filled with gloom

And one by one they were summonsed, by a rather scary nurse

I thought, “Och, just an eye test, it could be so much worse.”

It could be so much worse

  1. And then at last it was my turn and the nurse called out my name

I was excited at the prospect of seeing well again

“If you go behind that screen” she said, “and take off all your clothes

You’ll find some gowns are hanging there, so put on one of those”

Just put on one of those

  1. Now I was trained to follow orders – but this one went too far

To strip off for an eye test, that seemed a bit bizarre

I couldn’t see the logic of taking off my clothes

When the bits that needed checking were both above my nose

They were both above my nose

  1. Well I turned to the scary nurse and said “I really do object”

But the scary nurse said sternly, “Well what did you expect?”

“There is no point in you just standing there looking all surprised

Of course, you take your clothes off when you’re getting circumcised!”

When you’re getting circumcised

  1. “Haw hang on just a minute! I’m here about my eyes

And I won’t see any better if I leave here circumcised

There is no ophthalmic surgeon going to lay his hands on me

If he thinks no’ having a foreskin is going to help me see”

Is going to help me see

  1. Well a few weeks later on my ship I was talking to a mate

And a fascinating story to me he did relate

He said, “I was having problems with my foreskin, so I went to see the doc

But the thing that happened next left me in a state of shock.”

Left me in a state of shock

  1. I attended at this hospital in pain and feeling sick

And prayed that a circumcision would quickly do the trick

But imagine my confusion when the doctor said to me

“There’s a chart of letters on the wall, could you read them back to me?”

Could you read them back to me

  1. Somehow there’d been a mix up – they’d got our names both wrong

                But my shipmate’s pain and foreskin are happily long gone

                And I’m delighted with my spectacles and it surely is a fact

                I’ve got 20 20 vision now but I still remain intact.

                Yes I still remain intact

 

 

Hopefully, we will all survive this dreadful Covid-19 virus and the Glenfarg Folk Feast will be up and running again next April. Whatever the theme of the next original song competition, I’ll be there, scratching my brain and writing a new song, this time without the drawbacks of circumcisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ring on the Homeward Bounders

In the song ‘Ring on the Homeward Bounders’, Maggie Ann features for the third time. She had now, for the purpose of this song, come to represent all the women in my life that had meant a lot to me.

The Royal Navy has a language all of its own. Many of the terms used by Jolly Jack have distant and historical origins. The phrase ‘ringing on the homeward bounders‘ originated from the ring of the engine telegraphs. I should stress that things have moved on, modernised and changed since I was a sailor in the 1970’s and what follows is based on my experience and memories of that time.

Ordinary Seaman McNab (with beard) aged 19 years

Back then, the ship’s wheelhouse was often as not, deep inside the ship and not up on the bridge as you might expect. The sailor steering the ship could not see where he was going and relied on orders being passed down from the bridge, where the Officer of the Watch would be in charge.

In the wheelhouse there was a seat for the helmsman in front of the ship’s wheel. On the bulkhead in front of him, there was the compass display, giving the ship’s course. The engine telegraphs were next to the wheel giving the options for both Port and Starboard engines. Each could be set to Full Astern; Half Astern; Slow Astern; Stop; Slow Ahead; Half Ahead; Full Ahead. Another control was mounted on the engine telegraphs to set the engine revolutions. The Officer of the Watch would make his decisions regarding course, speed, etc, and would call up the wheelhouse on an intercom. A typical exchange at the start of a watch on the wheel might go as follows.

Helmsman:    “Bridge – Wheelhouse”

Officer of the Watch:     “Bridge”

Helmsman:    “Bridge – Wheelhouse. Permission for Able Seaman McNab to take the wheel Sir?”

Officer of the Watch:     “Granted”

Me:    “Able Seaman McNab on the wheel Sir. Course to steer 135, both engine telegraphs showing Half Ahead, 120 revolutions set Sir.”

Officer of the Watch:     “Very good. The weather and swell is on our Port Quarter but we should be altering course an about half an hour which will make things easier for you. In the mean time keep her steady.”

Me:    “Aye Aye Sir”

The job then was simply to keep the compass reading as close as you could to the course given by the Officer of the Watch. Whilst you did that, the motion of the waves would do its best to knock you off course. It was a boring job, but in wild weather, you were kept busy, and more importantly, warm and dry with a hot cuppa to hand if required.

Whenever the ship was away from its home base for a prolonged period of time, the day would eventually come when all that remained was for the ship to head for home. When that time came the order would be passed to the wheel house to alter course for home. That process was called ‘ringing on the homeward bounders’. It may be the Officer of the Watch who gave the order, but if the ship had been away from home for several months, invariably the captain would come on the ship’s intercom system, make a few comments about how well we had all done and then give the order to ring on the homeward bounders.

Meanwhile in the wheelhouse the lad on the wheel would wait for the order to come from the Captain on the bridge.

Captain:     “Wheelhouse – this is the Bridge”

Helmsman:     “Wheelhouse”

Captain:     “Yes Wheelhouse, that is us clear of the navigational channel. There are a few vessels around, so we may have to alter course once or twice until we are well clear. But for the time being… Course to steer 340. Engine telegraphs Half Ahead. 220 revolutions… Ring on the Homeward Bounders… We are going home!”

The lad on the wheel would repeat the instructions back to the Captain on the bridge to confirm that he had heard correctly, and as he adjusted the engine telegraphs they would make that classic ring as the stokers down in the engine room confirmed they had received the orders. A smile would then spread across his face and his heart would beat just that little bit faster.

It was always good to be going home.

Many years after my time in the Navy – still on the wheel, escorting HMS invincible home to Rosyth (2003)

Although I never did a round the world trip during my naval service, I felt as if I knew all the big sea ports of the world intimately. Many evenings were passed swapping sailor’s stories of adventures in far flung places that usually involved drink, women, fights and hangovers.

Verse One, deals with the tough issue of separation. The opening line refers to the sailor having been away from family and loved ones for six months. But in years gone by a tour of duty could easily take up to 18 months or more. There is a cauldron of powerful and mixed emotions on departure day. There is great sadness, or in some cases relief, knowing that you will not see you family, sweetheart or wife for a prolonged period of time. In some cases the families are present to wave off the crew and inevitably many tears are shed. But for the sailor, there is also a sense of excitement and adventure as you sail off to foreign parts. There is also the relinquishing of family responsibilities. During your months away at sea you have no need to look after children, go to the supermarket, cut the grass, do the washing, etc,. On board ship your meals are cooked for you, your laundry is done for you and all you have to focus on is doing your job and enjoying some down time with your ship mates.

But the pain of separation is always there, lurking in your thoughts. As a serviceman there was no option to say “Actually I’ll sit this trip out if you don’t mind because I’d rather spend the night with my new girlfriend than sleep in a mess-deck with forty drunken, snoring, farting matelots.”

Verse Two, deals with the Biscay Bay and Gibraltar. I crossed the Bay of Biscay many times and have yet to see it calm. The Atlantic swell would come rolling in from the west towards France and northern Spain. We, of course, would be heading south at right angles to the swell. Whilst I fortunately never suffered from sea sickness, that crossing was never a comfortable one. The swell was always mountainous and to this day I refuse to believe anyone who tells me that they have seen it calm.

During my service I visited Gibraltar more times than a can recall. My ship mate Dave and I used to sing in the bars of Gib, including one called the White Heather Club. I also celebrated my 21st birthday in Gib which was memorable for two things. After a 12 hour drinking session I passed out on my bunk. In those days I sported a large bushy beard, which proved too much of a temptation for my so-called pals, who burned half of it off with a Zippo lighter whilst I lay in a drunken stupor. The next day I should have been on duty and failed to muster on the jetty. My mates were sent to get me and the duty NCO decided to sober me up my throwing me into the waters of the harbour. Ah… happy days.

Verse Three is all about crossing the equator and also the draw of Bugis Street in Singapore. Other than in exceptional circumstances the ship would always enjoy a crossing the line ceremony if there were lads on board crossing the Equator for first time. Drink would be drunk and various games and nonsense would take place on the upper deck.

Photo of HMS London Crossing the Line by John Simm

Bugis Street in Singapore was a notorious run ashore for sailors. The street was the place to go for any sailor with shore leave in Singapore. One of the big attractions were the Kai Tais or Beaney Boys. They would parade up and down teasing the drunken sailors with their sexuality and beauty. But literally, underneath it all, the stunning Kai Tais ladies were in fact men.

An old post card from the 60’s showing four of Bugis Street’s Kai Tais lady boys.

But above all I wanted to get across the fact that most sailors, whilst they might be enjoying seeing exotic parts of the world, just wanted to get back home to their loved ones, and the longer you were away, the stronger that emotion became.

The video below was recorded at Glenfarg Folk Club with Stan Ginter on banjo and Hamish Grant on backing vocals.

Ring on the Homeward Bounders

 It’s six months to the day, since first I sailed away

And I bid my love a tearful fond goodbye

And on that wind and rain swept quay, she was smiling up at me

But I could see the tears were welling in her eyes

Now I’m a jolly jack, and there’s no point in looking back

For a sailors life is upon the surging foam

But I’m a sentimental man, and I miss my Maggie Ann

And I wish this ship would turn and head for home

 

Ch. So ring on the Homeward Bounders, ring them on, (ring them on)

Ring on the Homeward Bounders, ring them on, (ring them on)

Turn the wheel around, and let this ship be homeward bound

Ring on the Homeward Bounders, ring them on

 

It was a wild and wintry day as we crossed the the Biscay Bay

The Atlantic swell was running long and high

And the waves crashed o’er the bow as through that swell we’d plough

And the rain lashed down from a black and a leadened sky

Then Gibraltar and its rock, that was where the ship did dock

And we had ourselves a mighty run ashore

But my thoughts would always roam to that girl I’d left at home

And to the time when I could hold her close once more

 

The weather it was fine as we sailed across the line

And Neptune kept the gophers far at bay

And we sang and drank our beer in the Southern Hemisphere

Before we got our ship back underway

Then the storms we did escape as we sailed around the Cape

And set a course for good old Singapore

But a night down Bugis Street, it never can compete

To an evening with the girl that I adore

 

We drank rum and beer amid all those bars in Honkyphid

Before we set of eastwards once again

And we crossed a typhoon’s path, and how we felt its wrath

As we rode the storm out on the raging main

Then we gave a loud “Hoorah” as we passed through Panama

For now we know that it will not be long

Until the order it rings out and we hear the skipper shout

“Ring on the Homeward Bounders… ring them on”

 

gophers – waves

Honkiephid – Hongkong