THE STORY OF SEMAPHORE SIGNAL
DELIGHTFUL MEMORIES OF MY HALCYON NAVY DAYS
Whenever you have the blues, and you feel melancholic and depressed, there is a guaranteed way to lift your spirits, enliven you and cheer you up.
Just hark back into the past, down the timeline of your life, reminisce about your halcyon days and recall a happy incident, an amusing event, a hilarious anecdote, a comical side-splitting experience – think about that funny episode, relive the jovial experience in your mind, and sure enough, instantly, there will be a smile on your lips and cheer in your heart, and you will be filled with happy vibes and you will feel bright and breezy.
Now that I have “retired” into oblivion, this is exactly what I do, whenever I feel glum and gloomy.
I close my eyes and, in my mind’s eye, I mentally go back in time, almost 35 years back in time, to the late 1970s, and reminisce about my halcyon navy days, the happiest days of my life, and let delightful memories of those glorious navy days perambulate in my brain.
This morning, as I delved into my halcyon navy days, floating over my time line, I suddenly remembered that unforgettable episode about the “Fleet Auxiliary” who I had nicknamed “Semaphore Signal”.
Let me tell you about it. Please read the yarn and do tell me if you enjoyed reading the story, and I shall spin some more yarns for you.
I enjoy spinning yarns, some true, spiced up with lots of salt and pepper, and some apocryphal.
Like I said, I am going to spin a few naval yarns for you.
Now, Dear Reader, you’ve got to remember one thing. 35 years ago it was an all-male navy, where bawdy jokes, ribaldry and profane language was the order of the day, and concepts like gender-sensitivity were unheard of. So let me reminisce and spin a few yarns for you to enjoy, no offence meant to anybody – I just want to make you laugh and drive away your blues, and mine too. I am sure you have a good sense of humour and you will enjoy these yarns with a pinch of salt.
DELIGHTFUL MEMORIES OF MY HALCYON NAVY DAYS – Part 1
A FLEET AUXILIARY CALLED SEMAPHORE SIGNAL
A Naval Yarn
Disclaimer: Please read this apocryphal short story only if you have a sense of humour. This is a spoof, pure fiction, a fantasy, a figment of imagination. So first convince yourself that you have a sense of humour and only then read the yarn, take it with a pinch of salt, and have a laugh. And yes, this story is for adults only, so if you are a kid please skip this post and go onto something academic in nature …
We had returned to port after a long sailing and in the evening I decided to visit my course-mate Horny on his ship which was parked just ahead of us. Unlike mine, his was a small ship, and the atmosphere was totally informal, with just a Snotty and a sailor leisurely manning the gangway.
I identified myself, told them who I wanted to meet and started walking inside when the Snotty said, “Sir, just a moment, he is busy right now, someone is there with him in his cabin.”
“Busy? Okay. I’ll come later. Just tell him I had come,” I said, and started to walk away.
“Sir, why don’t you speak to him?” the Snotty said and dialled Horny in his cabin and held out the phone to me.
“Hey, don’t go,” Horny said, “just come down to my cabin.”
Horny was waiting for me outside his cabin, and I could see that he was genuinely happy to see me.
“So nice to see you after so many days. Come inside,” he said, opening the door of his cabin.
I was taken aback by what I saw in his cabin.
A woman was lying on his bunk.
On the side-table there was a bottle of my favourite Premium Scotch Whisky.
I was not surprised at seeing the girl – Horny was a known Casanova famous for his peccadilloes.
What surprised me was the bottle of whisky, for Horny was a strict teetotaller.
Horny introduced me.
The girl made no effort to get up.
She continued to lie down on the bunk in her supine position and smiled at me.
I smiled back.
Then Horny pointed outside and said to me, “Why don’t you sit in the wardroom for some time? We’ll finish off our business and join you in a few minutes. The bar, the fridge, everything is open, so just help yourself to a drink and whatever you want.”
It was just six in the evening, so I poured myself a beer, switched on the TV and relaxed in the wardroom waiting for Horny and his consort.
I was two beers down by the time Horny joined me in the wardroom.
“Girlfriend?” I asked him.
“No,” he said, “She’s just a fleet auxiliary.”
( Let me digress a bit and tell you the difference between a Fleet Auxiliary and a “Fleet Auxiliary” :
The former Fleet Auxiliary is a support ship, like an oil tanker, a supply vessel, a depot ship, or a hospital ship, which supports the main fleet.
The latter “Fleet Auxiliary” is a moniker, a nickname given to a girl who “supports” the men who man the fleet by having a good time with them and help them quench their carnal passions.
It is a no strings attached relationship.
Of course, there may have been be a bit of “barter” sometimes where she gets to drink the best booze and gets some gifts like an expensive perfume or some exquisite Swiss chocolates.
Let me tell you that in those golden days of the License, Quota, Permit Raj, prized and coveted foreign goodies were was not available in the domestic market and we got them duty-free on board, and a naval officer was quite high up on the social ladder.
Regrettably, the advent of liberalisation and globalisation changed everything, and nowadays, a naval officer is no longer the crème de la crème of society anymore, because today, money determines your status, and businessmen are the new role models.
And as far as “fleet auxiliaries” are concerned, it looks like they have disappeared from the fleet and found greener pastures, because when I asked a young Subbie about it a few days ago, he seemed totally clueless ).
“Oh. So she is your latest Fleet Auxiliary? But she looks quite a Plain Jane,” I remarked.
“Never a judge a chick by her looks,” Horny said, “I can tell you from my own experience. Most of those gorgeous chic beauties who look like sex bombs turn out to be damp squibs, but these prosaic looking Plain-Jane types are terrific. Like this one. She’s real great. Just three drinks and she’s ready for action.”
“Three drinks?” I asked.
“Yes, just three large pegs of neat whisky and she is all primed up – ready for action.”
“Really?” I said, incredulous.
“The first drink, she lies horizontal. The second one, she puts her legs up by 45 degrees. And the moment she has her third drink, her legs go straight up to vertical position and she is ready for action.”
“Like a Semaphore Signal,” I said.
“Semaphore Signal? You mean the flags?”
“No. No. Not Naval Semaphore Signalling. I am talking about Railway Semaphore Signalling,” I said.
“Railway Semaphore Signalling?” he asked, confused.
“Yes. Railway Semaphore Signalling. To be precise your passionate “fleet auxiliary” can be described as a three position Multiple Aspect Upper Quadrant (or MAUQ) Semaphore Signal.”
“Hey, stop the mumbo jumbo and explain to me in simple language,” Horny said.
Now, I am no great raconteur, so I picked up a pencil and piece a paper, drew some pictures and explained the salient aspects of Semaphore Signalling.
If you want to know what I told Horny, have a look at the picture below.
Multiple Aspect Upper Quadrant (MAUQ) Semaphore Signalling
The images above are from the Indian Railways Fan Club (IRFCA) Website Post on Signalling Systems. Indian Railways Fan Club (IRFCA) is a hobby group for discussing all aspects of railways in
India. You you may read the post on semaphore signals by clicking the url link http://www.irfca.org/faq/faq-signal2.html
Let’s look at the red coloured signal first.
The arm at horizontal position means “stop”, inclined upwards at 45 degrees means “caution” and the arm in the vertical position means “all clear” and the train can proceed.
Now look at the yellow coloured semaphore signal.
I think, that in the context of this story, the yellow coloured signal seems more apt – STOP, ATTENTION, PROCEED.
Now just imagine that the legs of the girl (our “fleet auxiliary”) in place of the arm of the signal.
First Drink – Legs Horizontal – STOP.
Second Drink – Legs inclined upwards by 45 degrees – ATTENTION
Third Drink – Legs Vertical – PROCEED
On hearing my explanation, Horny burst out laughing and we both laughed for a long time.
We were still laughing when “Semaphore Signal” joined us in the wardroom.
She had freshened up.
I liked her.
Though she was quite chubby and ordinary looking, she had a very friendly smile and she exuded a sort of affable charm.
Life moved on, Horny moved on, I moved on, and, of course, the “fleet auxiliary” called “Semaphore Signal” moved on, though I did see her a few times circulating around in the fleet.
Many years passed, and I had forgotten all about this episode when I unexpectedly ran into “Semaphore Signal” while browsing in a bookstore.
I recognized her at once.
She was the very same “fleet auxiliary” I had nicknamed “Semaphore Signal”.
Now, so many years later, she had turned a bit plump, but otherwise she looked the same chubby girl with a sincere, friendly smile which radiated the same charming warmth.
I smiled at her.
She did not smile back.
In fact, she totally ignored me, showing absolutely no trace of recognition, and then she turned and walked towards the exit of the bookstore.
She walked out of the bookstore and stood in the foyer.
I followed her with my eyes and positioned myself so that I could clearly see her.
She took out her mobile phone from her purse, dialled a number, held the cell-phone near her ear and spoke briefly.
Then she walked into the food court of the mall and sat down on a vacant table.
I kept down the book I was browsing, walked out of the bookstore, into the spacious food court and sat down on a table from where I could see her clearly.
She knew that I was stalking her but she avoided looking directly in my direction.
Suddenly a small girl came running and ran into her arms.
The girl was followed by a man who smiled at her and sat down opposite her.
They were talking, maybe deciding what to eat – mother, father and daughter – a happy family.
I noticed that “Semaphore Signal” exuded the bliss of domesticity.
I felt happy for her – a “fleet auxiliary” so happily settled down in family life.
It was time for me to leave.
I got up, looked at her for the last time and started to turn.
“Semaphore Signal” looked in my direction, gave me a fleeting glance, a brief smile of recognition, and then she looked down at her daughter and started talking to her.
As I walked away after the encounter I felt happy for “Semaphore Signal”. She was one of the fortunate “fleet auxiliaries” who had put her past behind, moved on into a new world and settled down into a happy married life – the bliss of domesticity.
Others were not so lucky.
Some could not move on in life and persisted with their ways till age overcame them and the only future the could look forward to was to live a life of a lonely spinster, an old maid, with only reminisces to think about.
A few managed to “trap” a gullible naval officer into marriage, but many such marriages ended in disaster, since they remained in the same environment and did not escape to a new world. Much as they tried, they could not prevent the shadow of their past life from haunting their present lives.
I don’t know why, but whenever I see a woman drinking I remember “Semaphore Signal” and a smile comes to my lips.
I really don’t know if there is a connection between alcohol and promiscuity, but then as my friend Romeo would boast: “Give me a woman who drinks and I can get her into bed” – and he proved it.
But that is another story, one more yarn I will spin some day.
Please give me some feedback.
Tell me, did you like this yarn?
Well, I have got so many more naval yarns to spin.
So do you think I should compile my naval yarns into a book?
In today’s world where “Campus Romances” are in vogue, will anyone read such a book on memoirs of my halcyon navy days?
Do tell me, for as I said, I have many yarns to spin and stories to tell.
By the way, the Railways have replaced Semaphore Signals with Electric Light Signals and I don’t think you will see a traditional Semaphore Signal anymore.
The next time you see a railway signal, or a traffic signal, and as you watch it changing colour, do remember this story and have a laugh.
Keep Laughing and have a Happy Day.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
I am sure you will like all the 27 stories in my recently published book of short stories COCKTAIL
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Foodie Book: Appetite for a Stroll
About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a large number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
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