As a young man, I joined the Royal Navy. That was way back when… well, let’s just say it was back in the early 1970’s.
Even in those days I could hear those wild geese calling my name. I think I was born with wanderlust flowing through my veins.
I hail from an average working-class family, growing up on an unexciting estate of standard houses, arranged in rows along either side of unremarkable street.
‘Suburban’ is the term used, I believe.
My life was a happy one, but I always felt it somewhat underwhelming. I knew there was more, somewhere ‘out there‘.
But I was, at that age, uncertain of where ‘out there‘ was. I knew even less of how to get there.
In the late nineteen sixties and the early nineteen seventies the internet did not exist. Television in Britain was limited to three channels. Information was difficult to find. Public access meant the inevitable and often futile visit the public library, located in the city centre a long bicycle ride, or expensive bus trip away.
Therefore, to plan an escape from the humdrum existence of everyday life was not as simple as it might be today.
Then came my Eureka moment.
I should say, then came a string of events, over a period of years, which led me to a conclusion. Which is far nearer the truth of the matter, as my moment of elucidation was actually a slow realisation rather than a naked dash from a bathtub.
Harking back once more, to my 1960’s schooldays. A time when boys were considered boys and girls deemed an inconvenience.
You see, boys were reckoned to be the future breadwinners, they learnt the ‘important crafts’ such as metalwork, carpentry and mechanics, along with English, maths and the sciences.
Whilst girls, the baby makers, housewives and cooks and were given scant attention outside of the basics. Girls education in the major disciplines was deemed secondary to learning basic wifey skills, such as needlework and cooking.
This however played right into my lazy arsed ways. You see, I was never a great fan of educational establishments. Teaching was way to slow, laboured and drawn out. I wanted to know, absorb and move on to the next thing.
Instead, I found myself spending endless hours going over and over the same old ground, the same subjects, time immemorial. So, I switched off and began to live inside my head. At least I could go anywhere I wanted, as fast as I wished in there.
I let knowledge come to me from other sources.
Television, as I have said, was quite primitive, but the British Broadcasting Corporation had recently launched a new channel called BBC2. This was wonderful. It showed programmes about Africa, India and wildlife.
My long cycle rides to the library paid dividends, as each week I returned home with saddlebags bursting with atlas, travel journals and historical tomes about some bloke called Marco Polo, or written by Ernest Hemmingway, Lawrence Durrell or Alexander William Kinglake.
I soaked it all in, like a dry sponge. I placed formal education onto the back-bioler, consigned it to my room 101.
One day, the head teacher arrived at our classroom. I was about nine or ten years old at this time. She invited, or rather told, all the girls they were having a guided tour of the school’s kitchens.
For those younger readers, schools cooked real food back then. They had their own kitchens and cooks. They made ‘proper‘ three course meals; hot soups and salads, meats and fish, vegetables, rice, potato, syrup sponge puddings, pineapple upside-down cake, chocolate crunch and pink sauce; all featured regularly on the daily menu and all were made on the premises from scratch, from the basic raw ingredients.
Pre-packed foods and canteens are a modern disaster of nutrition, diet and health, a ticking time-bomb which the country shall pay in healthcare and premature deaths in the coming years. But that is another discussion altogether.
I stood from my seat and asked the teacher if I could also visit the kitchens, because “I wanted to be a chef when I grew up”. As those words left my mouth, I heard them for the first time. I was making an immediate excuse to be out of the class-room, to skive off the lesson.
The head cook, a massive (to little ol’ me) burly woman said, it was “nice and refreshing to see a boy interested in cooking and that the best cooks in the world were men”.
Fast forward a few years.
I was working, temporarily, as a warehouse boy. I was fetching and carrying for other members of staff to make-up orders of pet equipment ready for delivery to retailers.
I was biding my time until I joined the Royal Navy.
I had already passed my medical, the Maths, English and basic biometric testing, or whatever they called it. I was simply awaiting my called-up papers.
My decision to join the Royal Navy was my master escape plan.
I could not see myself as a warehouse boy forever, or working in the factories or local stores, as so many of my contemporaries seemed happy doing.
Neither was I academically inclined, not after the abysmal education I had received.
My decision to join the navy (as a cook), reflected those five or so years from that day when I toured the school’s kitchen.
I simply put this equation together, based on my wishes and what I was told I ‘needed’ to do to succeed in this world.
Leave home + see the world + learn a trade & other skills = good. + (Don’t go hungry, be a cook) = excellent.
I have, over the past…. (very many) years, travelled to many countries around the world, a large number was during my service with the Royal Navy, others have been in the ensuing years as an independent traveller.
I am still travelling to this day. In fact, as I write this I have only been home for five days; in another eight or nine, I shall be off on another adventure once more.
Fast forward to today. I am now a full-time author and publisher. Apart from my fictional books, I have published historical legacy books regarding the Royal Navy, children’s books and cookery books.
The only injustice I find, looking back on my life, is the pathetic excuse for what passed as an education. However, I now have the benefit of hindsight and wonder if I would have had the same hunger for knowledge, if I would be where, or whom, I am today if my schooling had been better?
Would a formal education have given me two doctorates? Somehow, I doubt it.
Possibly the best thing for me was leaving school at such a young age, for experiencing life early, for travelling the world, experiencing other cultures, for being educated by circumstance, taught and instructed by the raw essence of life itself.
It may not be the way for many.
Yet for me, it was the pathway to my destiny, to the release of those ‘Wild Geese‘.