Ahab's Axplanations

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Federation of Grimsby Trawler Operatives

Ahab's Axplanations

An occasional column explaining the workings of the Amalgamated Fishery Management in a lighthearted yet informative manner.

Dear Fellow Operatives,

It is summer at last, and one might expect to see smiles on the gnarled faces of our Operatives as they hang their hammocks between the davits to enjoy some upper deck bronzing in between watches - but no. As I scan my eyes around the crews here at Grimsby all I see are furrowed brows and Operatives pensively chewing at the stems of their clay pipes. What could be causing such long looks? What's blowing in the wind to make such a happy band of salts look as if the ship's cook has served them up a dockyard oyster on hard tack instead of a steaming plum duff?

The answer, it seems, is the impending reorganisation of the Fishing Industry which is bearing down on us all like a crude-oil tanker on a moonless night with the Panamanian helmsman fast asleep in his cabin and all the nav lights switched off.

There are myriad concerns over how this will shape the way we catch Fish, as well as how such radical change will affect the individuals who put to sea, mend the nets and process the catch every day. Established crews will be split up and their functions redefined. Many operatives will be moved to watch-keeping rotas which will adversely affect their work and home lives; others will be moved to ports further away from their homes. Those who work variable watch-keeping hours have had to apply to preserve these, and have been instructed to submit their applications within deadlines which are tighter than the approaches to Yarmouth Harbour when the sandbar's exposed and there's a howling easterly wind pushing your poop up against the northern cardinal.

Nationally our Industry continues to be besieged by the Dry-Land Pirates, who appear set on a collision course to empty our coffers and leave us adrift without a pewter vessel in which to micturate. The smoke from the first broadside against prize money and bonus payments has barely cleared when the second volley has been fired, to bring down the rigging of our pensions and provisions for our dotage when we finally hang up our nets and go ashore.

Older Operatives have been reported to be in fear of being 'tipped the black spot' under Admiralty Regulation A19. This regulation allows the admiralty to dispense with the services of any ancient mariner who has surpassed 30 years before the mast, unless they can demonstrate that they are indispensible members of the ship's crew. This has led to a boost in profits at the quayside branch of Boots in Grimsby where wizened old tars looking uncomfortable in drainpipe hipsters can be seen queuing for the few remaining bottles of 'Grecian 2000' and 'Olay Regenerist Eye-Dermapods' in an effort to convince the Admiralty that they lied about their age when they signed up, and are in fact in their mid-twenties and have only been at sea for a dog-watch.

Admiralty Regulation A20 allows the admiralty to arrange 'The Plank' for those who may be too sick to serve aboard ship. Talk of this has led to some operatives miraculously growing back limbs which were thought to have been severed long ago in a freak sailing accident, while those of a different persuasion have been seen fitting themselves with wooden legs and eye-patches and attempting to mimic symptoms of most of the major diseases listed in the Ship's Captain's Medical Guide.

All this comes at a time when there is still very little clear indication of how the new crews here at Grimsby will actually function, and how they will be expected to harvest the seas with fewer and fewer sailors.

All is not lost, however, as, in an attempt to raise morale and warm the cockles of Operatives, the Admiralty has published a new 'Guide to Fishing Equipment, Shipboard Behaviour and Wearing Of Kit'. This entertainingly illustrated guide includes such useful advice as to 'How To Wear A Sou'Wester', 'Looking Good in a Mae-West', photographs of acceptable sea-boots and an interesting note on tattoos.

Tattoos, of course, have been part of maritime tradition for many, many years. The names of girls in every port, clippers ships in full sale, busty bare-chested mermaids, or merely an anchor with the word 'Mum' lovingly printed beneath, all have been a colourful addition to the chest, arm, ankle, shoulder, thigh or buttock of Matelots and Stevedores the world over for many centuries. I even knew a Welsh sailor who had the word 'Ludo' tattooed on a particular part of his anatomy. Rumour had it that when handled correctly by a dockyard companion it could be made to read 'Llandudno'.

The new guide finally seals the debate on what tattoos can be displayed. All tattoos may now be openly and proudly displayed, except those which might be considered to be rude, crude or lewd. This includes tattoos of food (whether chewed or spewed), pictures of Bude, anything which might protrude, intrude, exude or be otherwise screwed. The new rule certainly prohibits any depiction of items or figures which might provoke a feud, or put a shrewd prude in a mood. A nude dude is right out.

The guide certainly seems to have contributed to the general joie-de-vivre of Operatives, who can be heard throughout Grimsby repeatedly banging their own heads against ship's fittings in amusement.

Yours, braced for a lick of the Cat,

Capt A. Hab (M.N. Ret'd)