A Fifth of an Ounce
By Ironteeth Rum Spigot (UK)
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And here Her Majesty’s Frigate was, floating amid the North Atlantic Ocean and Greenland Sea towards the north west of the United Kingdom, roughly 65 degrees North, her crew clear lower decking on the upper scuppers freezing their extremities off in the icy wind.
Another grey, overcast mid morning with woolpack haziness scudding overhead over slowly swirling growlers below. Larry chattered on the starboard waist in a lee under the bridge wing. He had to cram in with Goatham, Ingles, Smudge, and the Honey Monster, amongst others. It is quite amazing how many sailors you can get into a small space should the need arise.
Larry was wearing thermals, T-shirts, a set of number eights, two woolly pullies, a body warmer and a combat jacket all under his Jacket, Foul Weather, Waterproof with Trousers, Foul Weather, Waterproof.
The Michelin man had nothing on him. On his head a Russian Border Guard hat wrapped itself around his capitulum. Their select huddle was all clad in similar clothings.
Needless to say, it was Siberian, probably literally.
They stood in the freezing cold listening, with absolutely no interest whatsoever, to an over-excited voice on the Tannoy escalating the crew’s nonexistent anticipation of the big event:
” All hands look to starboard. Any moment now she will appear!”
The disembodied voice emanated from Lieutenant Commander Schnozzle’s glottal. A thrusting, failed Perisher, compelled upon the ship after the submarine world imposed upon his substandard submariner’s bottom the ignominy of General Service.
And here was he, exposing his credentials to these skimmers. He had called up a chum who was commanding a Black Pig, must have passed the Perisher, and had talked him into a display of his Billion pound piece of kit to its “Targets”. What fun, we’ll show them.
However, here he was, at it. Freezing their sterns off, again, Larry and Billy chatting away with the others, and no one looking at the sea at all. Larry tried to find Ten Men’s, his favourite chef, whom he intended to shamelessly beg at to rustle up some Rosy Lee for them.
Then Schnozzle freaked, practically wigging out:
“All hands! On the surface, there, there! The search periscope has broken surface and it’s ......looking at us!”
Billy was the only one who looked.
“Stick sticking up in the oggin, whooopy do.”
The rest of the huddle kept their heads out of the wind and let Billy do the running commentary.
“Here comes the rest of it. Goodness me, I think I’ll join up! The nice warm Army next time.”
Then Bill burst into song:
Larry quickly marked that he was not alone in his disbelief. The whole huddle had seen it, but no one moved or said anything. To a man they had no wish to disturb the wee beastie. They just drank it in. How long this lasted none of them would remember and it was the feathered one who made the first move. It started pecking at Knobby’s hat.
Reverent to a man they watched as Knobby, with help from Billy and Ingles, gently took his cap off and placed it in a recess, out of the wind.
The petite fellow seemed not to mind and looked like he was digging in. He pushed his beak up under his port wing and gave it a good pecking. He was grooming himself, obviously happy to be out of the wind and on terra firma(ish).
No one said a word but quickly, and quietly, their numbers had increased. How the buzz got around so fast was anybody’s guess, but soon there were over a dozen sailors crammed into the small space.
Schnozzle and his playmates above happily misconstrued this gathering beneath as a sign of interest in his great accomplishment, entitling him to further enjoin the crew to marvel at the Black Pig.
Out of nowhere Trev the Twitcher appeared, behind him what seemed like all of the ship’s twitchers turned up as well. What occurs here? Thought Larry. Trev had his “Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Ornithology” – his bible – open, and was feverishly leafing through it when Terry the Twitcher avalanched on the scene and pronounced, with no contradiction, countenance of, that this wee beastie was a Goldcrest.
He was accorded the post of the only present authority on the subject of such critters as all could see he held in his hands the “Atlas of Bird Migration; Tracing the Great Journeys of the World’s Birds.” He not only held it, he waved it above his head for all to appreciate.
Terry did not pose with affected knowledge, he simply read from his tome, telling everyone,
“This species is partly migratory and they leave their homes in ScandiLand and Russia round about this time of year and head south to Europe and parts of Asia. Adverse conditions, however, can disorient the small creatures and they gather in large numbers on ships on overcast or wet nights.”
Trev, not to be outdone, continued the education:
“Goldcrests can fly 150 to 500 miles in one day, although they keep at a lower level in heavy headwinds.... Rare sightings occur when birds are blown off course by high altitude jet streams”.
“Blinking blonk! 500 miles, this little thing, in this wilderness. Shave Off!”, Gotham.
Trev and Terry smiled at each other. Blessed are the ignorant, for they know not what they are missing. Terry continued;
“This is a tame and inquisitive bird, and tired migrants will land near or on humans, sometimes searching for food on their clothing.”
“Yo Scribes, got any worms or owt in yer cap?”
Everyone looked as Knocker approached his hat slowly, carefully perused it, found something, picked it off and put it in his mouth. Chewing happily and making yummy sounds, curling his tongue round his lower lip, he appeared blissful.
Back to Terry;
“This tiny bird, weighing a mere fifth of an ounce, is one of dozens of bird species that migrate in their thousands across the North Sea in spring and fall. Many alight on oil rigs to rest. Others, disoriented by bad weather, circle around rigs - sometimes for hours - awaiting better flying conditions.”
“Now hear this.......The typical contact call of the Goldcrest is a thin, high-pitched zee given at intervals of 1–4 seconds, with all the notes at the same pitch. It sometimes has a more clipped ending, or is delivered more rapidly.”
“He’s too bleeding tired out to give us a any-bleeding-thing from the looks of him.”, Goatham.
“Aristotle, the Greek guy, wrote about a legend where they had a contest between birds to find the bird king. The winner would be matey who could fly the highest. Obviously, an Eagle was odds on, but as he got fagged out, a small bird came out from under his feathers and flew even higher and won the lovely old crown. The Europeans claimed this bird was a Jenny and called the Wren “the king of the birds”. But there was dispute amongst them because the Goldcrest has a golden crown and is the smallest bird in Europe, smaller than the Jenny, so it’s also got the title “the King of the Birds”.
“Apparently Suffolk fishermen call them “herring spink” because when they are migrating they land on herring boats rigging out here in the North Sea.”
“We ought to report this to the North Sea Bird Club. They’re big on this kind of thing.”
Ten Men’s hulked into view with Tommy the Twitcher in tow.
“Tommy here’s just gone through the dry store wiv me and he’s found summat for our feathered friend’s scran. Oh, and here’s some fresh oggin.”
Tommy, as Twitcher in charge of fodder, gently offered the miracle some concoction he’d made up. The wee beastie promptly made a pig of itself.
“Blinking blonk, Tommy! What is that, birdy pot mess? Ingles
“Bird Bitsa. Ten Men’s let me loose in the provision shack and I snagged some oats, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Can you believe they’ve got sunflower seeds in there?”
“Probably Pig swill”, Goatham.
“Too right. Ten Men’s let me into the dried store as well and I got some dried fruit, you know, raisins and the like. Scrummed it all up and presented it to our guest, as you saw.”
“Excellent!” All round, and Tommy bowed to his chorus of approval.
Tweety Pie, for it was he, was gently moved inside the ship into the Wardroom flat where he drew groups of sailors coming to see this amazing thing and receive ornithology lectures from the Twitchers, who were in their very happy element.
All this time Schnozzle was very happy in his element, totally unaware of the much more interested gathering a half deck and about fifteen feet from his fevered, tannoying, features.
There was a “Jack Jump” when the Skipper appeared, unobserved, in their midst. Commander Leeds smiled looking at Tweety and happily took instruction from the Twitchers, asking questions and looking quite delighted at this most unusual state of affairs.
All the sailors knew, or thought they knew, that there was no love lost between Schnozzle and the Skipper.
Commander Leeds made arrangements with the Chief Bosun’s Mate and the Buffer soon organised a berth for the new crew member. Buffs and his party made a sheltered space for Tweets under the Bridge where he could just fly away when, and to wherever, he felt like.
Everyone knew he wouldn’t stay, places to go, things to do, birds to meet, Jack knew the routine. So he was left to rest and feed himself up for the next leg of his migration. He would just have to put up with all the photographs and poses he had to adopt for the sailor’s albums.
He sojourned until he must have felt ready, then departed. No one saw him go. He just left. But he did leave behind a lot of happier sailors who had been reminded that there is more to life, and all living things can survive, and even prosper, in the most outrageous conditions.
However, on the other hand, they did not have to suffer the Schnozzles of this world. On a more agreeable note, Schnozzle never found out about Tweety, never was told that his Billion pound, high tech, wonder of the submarine world was hopelessly outclassed by a fifth of an ounce of feathered wonder.
And no-one told him about the nuclear depth charges back aft.