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Pedal cars, pop festivals, police, perverts & hippies. Or how I ended up going to sea.

Paul Coleman aged three or four dreaming of going to seaxt escape

I dreamed of leading expeditions down the Amazon. I dreamed of becoming an explorer.

When I was three, I pedaled in my peddle car so far away that the police were called and found me at a train crossing, patiently waiting for a train to pass and the gate to open.

When I was four, I climbed into my dad's car, moved the gear stick, and rolled across the street almost causing an accident.

I loved to disappear after primary school to make a little fire in the nearby woods, where long after dark I would sit happily with my thoughts until my mum or dad, neighbour, or police turned up to ruin my reverie.

When I was thirteen I ran away with my friend to London.

Going to sea via Carnaby Street

 I wasn't running away from my family or anything like that.  I just wanted to see the big city that the TV was talking about. Hippies, Donovan, Twiggy, and Carnaby Street, the glitzy fashion capital of the world that was nowhere near as glamorous as I thought it would be.

After a night freezing in a railway caboose and the next at Euston Station where we went to stay warm, it was another trip home courtesy of the police and at the expense of my dad who was not all pleased.

Going to sea via the isle of White Pop Festival

That experience cooled my heels for a while, at least until I left school, found a job and earned enough money to go and see Jimmy Hendrix in what turned out to be his last concert at the Isle of White Pop Festival in 1970.

I was fifteen and had never even seen anyone smoking Marijuana, let alone injecting Heroin, yet here I was, camping with 600,000 hippies, many of whom were shooting heroin and god knows what right in front of my eyes, the results of which were sometimes so sickening that it did me a great service and scared me from going anywhere near the stuff. It was a great concert though and I managed to squeeze through all those people to get right up to the press arena for when Jimi Hendrix came on.

I had a rather scary experience hitchhiking home. I was picked up not far from the concert venue by a middle-aged motorcyclist who invited me to stay at his home. I woke up on his couch to find him sitting in a chair opposite me in a wide-open bathrobe that left nothing to the imagination. I spent all night, awake, pretending to be asleep, expecting him to pounce on me at any moment. I was never so happy as when he dropped me off by the side of a road early the next morning.

I loved the whole happy, lovey-dovey hippy scene, and my next big adventure, which I was to repeat several times was to St. Ives, a charming little fishing port in Cornwall, where the beautiful light and beaches drew artists and hippies from around the world who had fascinating tales of life in Kathmandu and Marrakesh.

Around this time I quit my ‘dream’ first job as an apprentice signwriter after noticing that the company had a habit of firing apprentices before they graduated to a much higher pay grade, wasting years of training and effort. Now I was packing books at Manchester University. As menial as the job was, I quite enjoyed sending packages to exotic locations I dreamed of visiting, but never imagined I would.

Robbed before going to sea

One day I was robbed fetching the salaries from the University administration to my co-workers, something I did once a week at the same time, on the same route through the center of the city, when suddenly I was grabbed from behind and dragged, kicking and screaming while being ignored by passersby into the disused outhouse of a derelict terraced house with a huge Bowie knife at my throat, I eventually curled up in a protective ball on the ground expecting to die on the filthy floor of a disused toilet at any moment.

As if that was not harrowing enough I then had to endure five hours of paging through mugshots while a bullying detective tried to convince me that it was my friends who had robbed me and I was going to split the money with them later.

My mum was worried sick that something had happened because she knew it was my payday and I always came home straight after work, while my Dad was so furious at the police for grilling me for hours and not letting them know what had happened that he dragged me to the local phone box where he called the detective and wrestled an apology out of him, before getting them to do their job and drive me around the toughest pubs of Manchester in a bid to find the criminals. We didn't find the crooks, but I did learn where not to go for a drink.

Going to sea via the National Sea Training School Gravesend, Kent
National Sea Training School

This was not the most rewarding time of my life and my dad must have recognized that, for one day he gave me a whole bunch of information and an application form for the National Sea Training School at Gravesend in Kent. It was a gift from heaven.

I had tried to join the Merchant Navy as a Radio Officer, even though I was not a lover of school I had good grades in all the subjects necessary, but I couldn't because of my eyesight!

Going to see to become a ships steward

There were two categories I could apply for to attend the sea school: Catering or Deck.

I did not like washing dishes and the closest I ever got to a cooker was to make a cup of tea, so there was no way on Earth that I was going into catering.

I applied to become a deckhand. But I was out of luck. There were no spaces left in the deck department.  Looking back  I now see that this was a major turning point in my life.

To achieve my dream I had to knuckle down and do something I did not want to do. With my dad doing the paperwork, I bit the bullet and applied for catering at the sea school. Thankfully, I was accepted.

Through this monumental moment of choice that changed the direction of my life, I see the resilience and determination arising that has enabled me to get up when I have fallen and have achieved when by all accounts I should have failed.

To see the world I had to learn to do a job that I did not like and to jump when told to jump. No answering back, no rebelliousness. Just yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir. To discipline myself I had to become disciplined. Undoubtedly the Merchant Navy did that and more.

 And for that I am truly grateful!


1 commentaire

Great Story Paul.From one Peanut to another all the Best.I started my Career at Gravesend in 1981 and finished my Sea going in 2020.Great Times.

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