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London Letter: A Staring Shark

...Bathing was forbidden because of the large number of underwater predators that included some monster killers. One particular shark came every day and stared at me from just below the surface and I threw stones but he did not move. Then I loaded my huge hand gun and fired six shot into him at close quarters but he did not move an inch...

The unsinkable Henry Jackson tells of life in the Royal Navy. He also brings the week's major news headlines from London, along with a poem and a dash of history.

For more of Henry’s columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/london_letter/

New bus patrol to cut crime

Thirty new police teams have been formed to ride buses and patrol bus stations across London in a bid to cut crime on public transport. Each team will consist of a sergeant, a constable and seven uniformed Community Support Officers who have less power than uniformed officers but are allowed to issue fines, seize drugs and detain suspected offenders.

Double crisis hits The Met

The Metropolitan Police Force lapsed into confusion this week after its head, Sir Ian Blair, was sacked by the Mayor of London and leaders of the powerful Asian group of officers accused the Met leaders of an anti Asian and ethnic bias. The future of Sir Ian, aged 59, has been in doubt from soon after he took office and an anti terror squad shot a young Brazilian they mistakenly thought to be a member of an Asian bomb terror squad.

First London Half Marathon

More than 12,000 runners lined up at 9.30 am on today for London’s first official half marathon. The 13 miles race with 12,000 celebrities, amateurs and elite athletes started and finished at the Greenwich O2. Thirty bands provided music along the way.

Windsor Venue for Honours

The Queen is to hold investitures at Windsor Palace instead of Buckingham Palace for the first time.

Terriers celebrate 100th year

The Territorial Army are celebrating their 100th anniversary today with a march along The Mall and a parade across Horse Guards Parade. The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Earl of Wessex attended.

Kents to pay for palace flat

Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are to pay rent for the first time for their Kensington Palace apartment. The charge for their five bedroom and five reception room home will be £120.000 a year from the year 2010. Up to now the Queen has been paying their rent of £10,000 a month from her own funds.

Grosvenor House up for sale

The ruling family of Bahrain is negotiating to buy Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, the 500 room five-star hotel, from the Royal Bank of Scotland. The hotel was built in the`1920s and contains London’s biggest banqueting hall seating 500. A price of £720m has been suggested. The Bahrain family already owns the nearby 219-room Four Seasons Hotel. The Royal Bank of Scotland took over Grosvenor House when the previous owner, Meridien Hotels, went into receivership in 2003.

Hospital patient tied to bed

An elderly patient was tied up with a sheet to his bed at Northwick Park Hospital, North-West London, last year, an official inquiry was told after his family complained of ill treatment. A report following incidents concerning five cases said that the hospital explained that the use of restraints while caring for elderly patients was not automatically wrong as it could protect them from falls. Staff had used bed sheets, men’s braces or the integrated wheelchair straps in some cases for long periods. The incidents happened in a ward where 42% of the patients suffered from dementia. A hospital official explained that the hospital was suffering from a staff shortage at the time and offenders had been disciplined.

Street sleepers at record low

The number of rough sleepers in central London has fallen to its lowest level ever recorded. Westminster City Council’s latest street count shows that since March 2008 the number of rough sleepers has decreased more than 20%, from 89 to 69. It is the fourth drop in a row.

New Crystal Palace planned

Proposals for a reconstructed Crystal Palace are being considered by Bromley Council. It would include a hotel, concert space, restaurants, ski slopes, cinemas and an Olympic standard swimming pool and sports centre and would cost £250m. It is proposed to lay the foundation stone on November 2011, the 75th anniversary of the burning of the previous building. The building will be made of steel and photovoltaic glass which has intergrated solar panels, and is expected to produce enough power to heat and light 10,000 local homes.

Iceland failure hits Councils

Eight London councils are reported to be owed £139m following the collapse of Iceland’s banks.

Tesco rethink Elephant plans

Tesco has withdrawn plans for a major development of its Old Kent Road site after claims that it could undermine new shops at the nearby £1.5 billion Elephant & Castle regeneration area. Tesco had planned a superstore and 369 new homes in blocks up to 13 stories high for the six acre site.

City Airport flights rise 50%

Newham Council has approved an application from London City Airport to increase yearly flights from 80,000 to 120,000. And Stansted Airport has been given permission to handle an additional 10m passengers every year and this means an extra 63 flights every day.

King’s Troop at Woolwich

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery that is based in St John’s Wood, North-West London, is to be moved 15 miles to Woolwich in South-East London. The Troop is one of the most prestigious regiments in the Army and performs at State occasions. The move means that instead of a 10-minute run to Buckingham Palace the horses will have to be loaded into boxes and driven into the centre of London to take part in State occasions.

Busmen want £30,000 a year

Two and a half thousand bus drivers belonging to the First Group went on a 24 hour strike today to back a demand for a pay rise to £30,000 a year.

London police chief knighted

Mr Paul Stephenson, Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has been awarded a knighthood and went to Buckingham Palace today for the ceremony. He began his police career with the Lancashire Constabulary in 1975 and was promoted to his London role in 2005. Sir Paul will become Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner if no candidate is appointed by the time Sir Ian Blair steps down on December 1.


This Wonderful World---5
The Persian Gulf---the place that God forgot

Although I was there 65 years ago I still perspire when I think of the Persian Gulf. If there ever was a place that God forgot this was it. I arrived appropriately in an oil tanker named Empire Garrick after a long and tedious trip from Durban in South Africa and the last four days were chugged slowly through an impenetrable, choking yellow fog.

Our skipper was a seasoned Irish drink hardened seadog who knew the rugged and dangerous coast like the back of his hand and he periodically ventured out of his cabin, took a look round, sniffed the air and put a mark on the chart---and he was right within a couple of miles.

The Gulf is a shallow sea about 200 miles long and our destination was Abadan, the oil port 20 miles up the Shatt-al-Arab River previously known as the Euphrates. The entrance is through the Ruka Channel that was kept clear by a fleet of dredgers that remove the floating deposits of sand and debris flowing downriver. A young Persian pilot joined us here but his advice was not required because our skipper knew the area and its problems much better than he did.

We made fast to the jetty at Abadan, the major Persian oil port, and I took refuge in one of the official bungalows up a hill and awaited the arrival of HMS Full Moon to which I had been appointed as junior officer. She was part of a large fleet of 30 minesweepers based 18 miles up the river at Khoramshahr, the headquarters of the Allied forces, and in readiness in case Hitler moved in his North African forces to take over the oil supplies. He never did but this did not deter the non stop vigilance of the British defence fleet.

After three days in a bungalow where a huge air conditioner unit in the bedroom made it possible to live and the outside temperature of anything up to 120F was reduced to 85F I took passage to the Royal Navy base at Khorramshar, the former Persian naval barracks, and was given a cabin lit by a single electric bulb that stayed cool because the walls were 3ft thick.

My ship HMS Full Moon arrived three days later. To my dismay it was a small converted Norwegian whale catcher with a crew of 19. The commanding officer was Lt John Simson DSC who won his medal in the frantic early days of the war minesweeping round the English coasts. In private life he was an insurance underwriter with his own sailing boat that he used at week ends. I was shown my cabin that was below the waterline and so hot and humid that I never used it.

“Full Moon” had escaped from Norway when the Germans invaded and was very low in the water and had a gallery round the deck just above the water line and this was used when chasing or towing whales that had been harpooned. It was converted into a minesweeper and was good at its task but it was not quite my idea of a dashing naval warship.

The Royal Navy headquarters was something like a club. Vessels arrived and departed frequently and the officers spent most of their time talking and drinking. Crews stayed aboard ship. But the vessels were continuously on the move and we joined in. Our first move was to take station at a tiny island at the entrance to the Gulf called Khor Kuwai and we sat there for ten days at a time flashing signals to tankers, asking them to stop which they did reluctantly, and waving them on.

It was blisteringly hot and the day began at 6 am and work ended at 9 am. The crew wore large hats and long shirts and the tan got deeper and deeper. Rum was served at midday and most of the men then retreated to a hammock in the shade and slept it off. My cabin was untenable and I slept in a corner of the bridge in a folding canvas bed known as a “charpoy”. When I awoke I left behind a little pool of sweat.

We had no problem with food. Local fisherman came round every day and offered us the most succulent fresh fish that I have ever tasted. In the early evening everyone took part in the absorbing sport of shark fishing and there was a high rate of success. Bathing was forbidden because of the large number of underwater predators that included some monster killers. One particular shark came every day and stared at me from just below the surface and I threw stones but he did not move. Then I loaded my huge hand gun and fired six shot into him at close quarters but he did not move an inch.

We had one particular assignment to take an Admiralty agent to Dubai to buy teak for the construction of a radar station at the entrance to the river.

The Dubai of those days was a small but busy commercial centre with dozens of single storey houses and when we arrived I had to get out of the boat and walk knee deep in the water because there was no landing stage. They knew we were coming and friendly hands held out huge umbrellas to shield us from the sun and they led us up the hill where bungalows with wind turrets were clustered and where trading took place.

The agent began talking teak. But it was too soon and the other side smiled, waved hands and brought inky black cups of coffee and told us to taste the delights of Arab brew. It went on and on and on and eventually they took us into a huge adjoining room where the centre was piled high with heavy carpets and they brought in food with stacks of meat and chicken containing the biggest grains of perfect rice I have ever seen.

We invited them to join us but they declined gracefully and left us to enjoy the repast. Much later they returned and led us to an adjoining room where carpets were piled high and we were invited to have a nap. Some hours later they returned with more coffee and led us to yet another large room where the teak bargaining began.

I found out later from the agent that there was no bargaining at all. They offered a deal at a price and when he responded with a lower offer they just smiled and said No. They prevailed, of course, because they had a desirable commodity and the Navy wanted it and had to pay what was asked. The talks were accompanied by big smiles and little whispering but everyone knew who was in the driving seat.

We spent the night ashore and returned to the ship next morning protected from the sun by another set of umbrellas. Then we sailed back

In the next few months we took part in several training exercises and one or two practice shoots where the crew on board were in more danger than the target. But there was no serious minesweeping.

We were given one more task and this was to bring back an Indian dhow belonging to Indian Sea Transport that had been stranded for five months in a little creek down the coast and were provided with a guide who knew the area. He stood up in the bows of the ship and smiled as the shore drifted and then suddenly held up both hands and we stopped. We were there.

About half a mile away in the hazy mist we saw a little opening and he guided us in. Slowly, very slowly we got nearer and nearer and then the creek opened up and we saw our target. It was a large dhow sitting on the mud near the river bank and as we edged in a group of men danced and waved signals to us. The CO told me to go ashore and find out what was happening. Before I left he strapped on a big leather belt holding a heavy Colt revolver “just in case”.

The crew rowed me ashore and then a little crowd surrounded us talking and shouting. The guide explained that they were “very happy” to see us.. In the middle of the clamour a cloud of huge multi coloured wasps zoomed in on us and in defence I struck out at them with a bunch of papers I was carrying and to my surprise the wasps just fell to pieces and vanished into a tiny whisp of smoke and disappeared. There was no moisture to keep them together.

I found that the dhow had come ashore on a high tide and was now heavily embedded in mud and to get it floating again we had to dig all round the hull and wait for the tide to float it again. So my boys got busy and the plan got under way. But dusk was now approaching and to remain safe we rowed back to the ship and spent the night aboard. We returned early the next morning and did more digging and the tide came in but the dhow did not float.

Then the captain sent a heavy steel hawser ashore and we fastened it to the bow of the dhow and passed the hawser back. Then everyone except me and two seamen scrambled back on board before the captain signalled “Slow Ahead”. The tow rope ran out quickly until it came to the steel hawser when there was a great wrench and a shudder and the dhow was under way. We got back safely.

We continued our patrol duties and happened to be at the base when Italy capitulated. It started a huge drinking party and the officers from waiting ships lined the swimming pool with glasses in hand and stripped slowly to keep cool. In a little while they were all naked except for naval caps that were firmly in place.

The official signal that gave the news about Italy ending the war was given by the firing of an ancient cannon in the middle of the parade ground followed by cheers and all the officers lined the edges of the pool. This brought out the Commanding Officer of the base who lost his temper and demanded to know who fired the cannon.

The response was like a well rehearsed naval manoeuvre. Every officer stood to attention, saluted and answered “I did, sir” and jumped into the pool.

The Russian base was on the other side of the Karun River facing the British naval base. On one hot and humid Sunday a boatload of Russian officers, including women, joined in a traditional Sunday drinking routine at the base. They stayed for hours and sang traditional Russian folk songs and the girls cried. As they were leaving their leader, Captain Davidov, invited us over to their HQ for drinks the following Sunday.

We made up a small party and rowed across and were half way up the front stairs when the Russian guard, a young man of about 18, pointed his gun at us and rattled the bolt.

“What you want?” he demanded.

We explained about the invitation and he ordered us not to move while he made enquiries. He returned shortly and said “Captain Davidov not here. Please to go away”. And he rattled the bolt again. We took the hint.

We returned to our duties while a sun blasted year passed and then one morning a signal arrived from HQ ordering us to take the ship to Bombay and hand it over to the Indian Navy. It had been a tiring, exhausting and monotonous period while the war against Hitler escalated and we knew in our hearts that we faced sterner times.


Poems for Posterity

Erotic topics
by Henry Jackson

I try to read between the lines
Of my weekly “Sunday Times”,
It’s a bulky 2lbs in weight
Including Sport which I hate,
I concentrate on the Arts Review
Especially the books, mostly new,
Last week listed an erotic selection
That failed to give me an erection,
One they mentioned, top of the crop,
Was a blockbuster named “Women on Top”,
It consisted of letters, badly spelt,
Describing activities below the belt,
Then another called “Fear of Flying”
With four letter words but hardly worth buying,
Emotional and full of feminine angst
Laughing all the way to the bankst.


This Week in History

1600: Charter granted to East India Company.
1889. “Moulin Rouge” nightclub opened in Paris.
1927. “The Jazz Singer”, a talkie starring Al Johnson, opened in New York.


Famous quotes

Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open. Sir James Stewart

Tears are the silent language of grief---Voltaire

It was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart, it was not my lips you kissed, but my soul—Judy Garland



I had a flu jab this week in what must be the world’s fastest fix. After I arrived at the clinic I went into the surgery two minutes later and just one minute later the super efficient nurse did the jab job. But it had a strange after effect---I felt sleepy all next day.

The Stockmarket went crazy this week with huge falls in prices but I was cautious and avoided the carnage and sold all my shares before the worst came about. Now the prices have only an academic interest.


Friends & Family

Giles and Lorraine flew to Las Vegas on Tuesday for a short break. Lorraine promised to drink to my health with a Pina Colada.


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