Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Chapter One — Leaving Home

I want to write my memoirs but I don’t know where to put them. I’m gonna just start writing here until I figure that out.

— 1982 —

It was my last day in the Sea Cadets before I left home to join the Royal Navy. I had just turned 16 and we had just won the Falklands War.

The Sea Cadet officers invited my parents to my farewell party at TS Caprice and we gathered in the officer’s mess for a beer. Everyone was very proud of me. 

Sea Cadet Corp

At my farewell party, Mr Hargreaves cried into his beer as he said goodbye. Mr Hargreaves had been a radio operator in the Royal Navy during World War Two and he taught me Morse code at his house on Saturday mornings. Mr Hargreaves begged me not to join the Navy. I should stay and do my A-levels and go to Cambridge. I could always join the Navy later if I was still interested. But I had made up my mind. I was going to join the Navy.

Before I left home, I led a double life. At home, I barely spoke. At school, I was always in trouble and did not even read a book for the last two years. In the Sea Cadets, I was the star of the show. I was the only Cadet Petty Officer in London District 9 and I won Best Cadet two years in a row. We had competitions practically every other weekend — sailing, rowing, shooting, orienteering, pentathlon, adventure training, guard drill, PT and more. We won pretty much everything for two years with me as team captain. I still have my big box of medals. We won the coveted Burgee Award for Excellence too.

We won everything

At school, I was a clown and a troublemaker. I went to a fancy grammar school but everything was so easy and so boring that I switched off and did no work at all for the last two years. I was always in trouble and did zero homework but I always came top of the class in exams  — especially science and maths. 

Mr Lewis once asked to see my chemistry exercise book after he noticed that he had not seen my work in over a year. My book was empty but I got an A in Chemistry O level. Physics, Biology and English too. My maths teacher entered me for a national maths competition.

Chislehurst and Sidcup
Grammar School

I did my maths homework in French class, hiding my book under the desk. I won prizes in maths and advanced maths and came first in my year. The next half a dozen students went to Oxford and Cambridge but I couldn’t face another two years of this. I needed a challenge. I needed to get away.

At my farewell party, they gave me a gift and everyone shook my hand. My mum gave me a St Christopher for safe travels and my dad gave me twenty quid for beer.

The Commanding Officer of TS Caprice gave me a brass bosun’s call engraved with my name.

The train for Plymouth left from Paddington Station at 9:25 am on the Third of September 1982 and I was off. I had twenty quid, a St Christopher and a change of clothes. I didn’t look back.

Chapter Two — Arriving at HMS Fisgard — is here: