Folks, long ago, my high school teacher asked me what job I wanted to do after leaving school, and I eagerly replied, “Emperor for life!”
For some reason, she started laughing.
Picking a lifelong career at sixteen was a bit daunting, as I was struggling to figure out what to do with my weekends, let alone the next fifty years.
Anyway, the role of Emperor was temporarily unavailable, so for my work experience week I chose ‘Sailor’ in the misguided hope I’d be sent on a luxury cruise around the Pacific islands. This cunning plan was quickly scuttled by my wily teacher who shipped me off instead to the tugboat docks.
That was an education.
My trainer was an old deckhand called Frank, who was extremely frank. He met me at the gangplank and growled, “I can’t be bothered learning your name, so you’ll answer to ‘Boy’, and when I tell you to do something, do it pronto, or I’ll kick your pants in. Understand?” My first mistake was thinking he was joking.
After limping up the gangway, I was given a quick tour of the boat and my duties aboard; basically, everything Frank was supposed to do. Only if I ran into serious trouble, e.g.: found a fire, or discovered the vessel was sinking, was I to go to the galley and wake Frank up.
Unfortunately for Frank, every job he gave me I stuffed up in some small, but vital way, so he didn’t get much sleep that week.
In Franks eyes, I was a seafaring calamity, but I loved this world of men, their rough ways and salty talk, and I lived for those rare times when he’d mutter in amazement, “Well, you’re not completely useless after all?” That was like winning an Olympic gold medal!
Sadly, around this time Australian sailors were on the verge of becoming extinct, and nowadays there’s more chance of becoming Emperor for Life than getting a job on the high, or low, seas.
As a result, I’m still struggling to work out what I want to do when I grow up.