Saturday, 20 July 2013

Shep Woolley - Rammit Mate I'm RDP

I’ll be driving along on my own, heading to work or down to Bunnings, and I’ll put on one of my Shep Woolley CD’s and I let him take me back to madcap days when life seemed less serious or made less serious by irreverent characters you came across in the Navy; when work was fun and we still got the job done; and today is today and tomorrow will take care of itself, so let’s have another beer – and I’ll shout out loud, right there sitting in the car at the lights, ‘Rammit Mate! I’m RDP!’  This is another of my favourite Shep Woolley songs.  I couldn’t do a better job in explaining what RDP is, so this is how Shep introduces it on his album:

“RDP – in every sailor’s life, there comes a period which sailors call RDP. This means, Run Down Period.  From the very first time a sailor joins the Navy he joins a grotty training establishment somewhere probably stuck out in the middle of Ipswich like mine was.  And you’re there for something like about, a year, you see, and when you’re leaving, you’re so bloody chuffed, you know, “I’ve had enough of this bloody hole, ooh if he got up my nose one more time I’d have him”, you know. And that is when you’re having your run down bit, you see.  And then you’re dying to get to the fleet, and you get to the fleet and you get on a new ship, and it’s great! – for two hours!  And then you start again, “e’ gives me the bloody earache e’ does”, you know, like that, you see. And this is what you call having a run down period, you see and in every commission and every sort of barracks you go into, at the end of it all you always have this RDP bit.  And the best part in a sailor’s life when his most important RDP comes, is before he embarks on that lovely ship called citizenship, you see, and he enters that great big cavern outside called civilian street, you see, and this song, particularly, I wrote, I was standing one morning on the gangway HMS Blake and I went out in the dockyard to have a slash and I came back and saw this submariner walking toward me with his mac on and his cap pulled down over his eyes and I said to him, “have you got the time mate?”  He said, “Piss off!” just like that, he did, and I thought I’ve got to write a song about that, you see – and so the ensuing song”:

Rammit Mate I’m RDP

(Shep Woolley 1940? - )
la la la  la  lala la  la la la  lala la,
la la la  la  lala la  la la la  lala la,
la la la  la  lala la  la la la  lala la,
         Rammit!  I’m RDP!
I was walking through the dockyard,
one morning bright and fair,
When a sailor came towards me,
he had long and shaggy hair,
And he looked for all the world as though
He didn’t have a care
And he said, why are you looking at me?
I said, well it’s your uniform, you really look a scruff.
He said, see me in me civvies mate,
I’m really quite the stuff,
And when I put me BRUT on,
I smell just like a puff,
I’m a smoothie from RND.
I’ve been to Honolulu and I’ve been to Tokyo,
I’ve been to San Francisco, most any place you’ll go.
I’ve been nine years in the Navy,
And there’s just three days to go
         Rammit mate!  I’m RDP!
There’ll be no more get your hair cut,
No standing out in road,
No more duty watches, no more RPO’s
No killicks, pigs or PTI’s now they get up my nose
       And Rammit mate! I’m RDP.
As I return me pusser’s dirk,
I’m sure I’ll feel the loss,
Two blue suits and steaming boots,
For now I’ll count the cost,
But I’ll stand outside the barracks and make rude signs at the Joss
        And Rammit mate! I’m RDP.
I tracked polar bears in Iceland
Film stars down in Nice
Grissly bears in Canada
And snappers in the fleece
But now it’s nearly over
And there’s two days to release
          Rammit mate!  I’m RDP!
I’ve held me share of punishment
I’ve sweated in the sun
I’ve had 9’s and fines and DQ’s
But now it’s nearly done
And now some silly basket has just asked me to sign on
         But Rammit mate!  I’m RDP.
But now I’ve stood here talking really long enough
I’ve got to go to barracks mate
You see, I’ve got to pack me stuff
Perhaps I might come in again
If civvy street gets rough
But Rammit Mate!  I'm RDP!
Here’s another Navy poem that I wrote, Kye and Cake Blues.  The genre is Navy, Shep Woolley, but influence for the rhythm came from an American folk, bluegrass singer, John Hartford (you probably know of him for the song he wrote and made more famous by people like Glen Campbell, Gentle on My Mind).  I’m driving along listening to a John Hartford CD that I picked up in a music shop or car boot sale, and I’m captivated by this song, Corn Cob Blues.  I love the monotone, talking style and quirky lyrics.  I just had to write a poem like that.
2010.  Every kid who joined the Royal Australian Navy as an apprentice ‘MOBI’ remembers the winter evening ritual at HMAS Nirimba of risking encounters with senior apprentices, regulating staff and cranky cooks to reach the galley and get a kye issue in winter - hot cup of chocolate and  a piece of cake.  Like salmon in a mountain stream, success was not always a certainty.

Kye and Cake Blues

Now the cook stood guard at the galley door
Only picked up his hook two weeks before
The poster swivels on a government stool
And ships him out to Mobi school
The cook did Nam and believes in fate
But he’s never guarded kye and Madeira cake.
The first term sprogs grow bold in a week
They crawl on their knees through a muddy creek
The cook he snuffles at the air that stunk
And they blame dry cleaning that their battledress shrunk
So he studies the drain like a greasy lake
And ponders on kye and Madeira cake.
The seniors listen for the scran hall squeal
And they play another hand of mah-jong deal
The Reg Chief’s asleep by nine o’clock
Lurking in the shadows near the dhoby block
And everybody thinks how do they make
Cocoa kye and Madeira cake.
Well the fog rolls in and the cook he sneers
At a scran-bag birdie with his beret on his ears
He’s been back classed and looks corrupt
With his fingers all made from Bakelite cups
Still the birdie hopes the cook’s his mate
Or he gets no kye and Madeira cake.
Now a chippy with a pannikin excites concern
It’s twice as round as the cookhouse urn
The sprogs get to thinking it ain’t their night
And they jostle each other and start to fight
The cook wonders why his life’s at stake
Doling out kye and Madeira cake.
A fat kid’s ribbed when he turns up cute
Dressed in his slippers and a sleeping suit
His mother he knows doesn’t quite understand
And she wants him to play in the Mobi band
Night dress code you never can break
If you wanna get kye and Madeira cake.
The mob’s in a mood and the mood is hate
The cook stands up on an old milk crate
And he thinks he heard something said
About an O.D. chef and a mullet head
There’s only so long he can make them wait
For cocoa kye and Madeira cake.
Well the cook has a rage his face is red
And he orders all the Mobis off to bed
The seniors fume they were messed about
And they badger the sprogs well after lights out
The Reg staff plan for the next intake
As they clean up kye and Madeira cake.
                                                                J. O. White

Bakelite cup -   standard issue cup made of tough plastic.  Apprentices were given a cup as part of their kit.
Battle-dress -   clothing issued for wearing at night in winter (night dress). It consisted of heavy woolen black trousers and a waist jacket that could be buttoned to the trousers.  The jacket had two breast pockets and red Australia flashes on the shoulders.
Beret - naval apprentices wore a dark blue beret with a blue metal badge -  single anchor in a rope circle topped with the Queen’s crown.
Birdie - anybody belonging to the fleet air arm branch  -  aircraft apprentice.
Chippie  -  a shipwright.
Dhoby  -  to wash; dhoby block, bathroom.
Hook  - single anchor denoting the rank of Leading Seaman; picked up his hook -  got promoted to Leading Seaman.
Kye  -  a hot drink made from thick blocks of dark chocolate .
Mobi  -  name given to naval apprentices training in HMAS Nirimba  - used as an acronym for ‘Most Objectionable Bastards Imaginable’.
Mobi school - HMAS Nirimba  located at Quakers Hill, Sydney was the RAN’s apprentice training establishment from 1956 to 1988.
Mullet head  -  derogatory term for anybody of the seaman branch.
Nam - Viet Nam -  the Viet Nam war.
O.D.  -  derogatory term for anybody who is raw, inexperienced.
Poster  -  the person responsible for transferring personnel between ships and  establishments.
Reg chief / staff  -  regulating chief and staff responsible for administration.
Scran  -  food served up in naval ships and establishments  -  used as an acronym for ‘Shit Cooked by the Royal Australian Navy’.
Scran-bag  -  untidy.
Sprog  -  any apprentice in a lower term than oneself.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Harold Norse - I Am Not A Man

I first heard of Harold Norse when he was mentioned in a biography I read about W. H. Auden.  The biography told how, in 1939 Norse and his then friend/lover, Chester Kallman, went to the first poetry reading that Auden and Isherwood presented in America.  Auden met the pair after the reading and from that meeting Chester Kallman went on to become Auden’s lifetime lover and companion.  Harold Norse went on to become an accomplished poet in his own right – homosexual/gay liberationist; part of the beat generation (Ginsberg, Bukowski); befriended by William Carlos Williams who gave strong endorsement and support for his writing, calling him ‘the best poet of his generation’.  My next encounter with Norse was when I read his book, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel.  From Harold’s account of the meeting with Auden, I get the feeling that Norse believes it was he who Auden really fancied on that fateful reading night, but that his friend Chester went behind his back and ‘cut his grass’, so to speak.  The book is a good read if you’re OK about the homosexual, pre-aids lifestyle scene told with frank honesty.
Despite my introduction to Harold Norse, I have not read a lot of his poetry – not easy to find here in Australia – bits and pieces on-line.  One poem that I like and have been influenced by is ‘I am Not a Man’.  This poem would have presented a much more powerful statement back in the time it was written, and for that it serves as an interesting benchmark against which to measure social change.  When I read this poem now, forty-one years after it was written I am strengthened to believe all barriers, all prejudices, all bigotries, vilifications, persecutions, can disappear as our society evolves (hastened by people like Norse who are willing to stand up and speak out, and who have the ability to eloquently record it for the record).  I Am Not A Man is a challenge for all males who may be blindly caught up in some societal fabricated norm of what it has got to be to be a ‘man’.

I Am Not A Man
(Harold Norse, 1916 – 2009)
I am not a man. I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family.
I have acne and a small peter.
I am not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars.
I like to express my feelings.
I even like to put my arm around my friend’s shoulder.
I am not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me –
the role created by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell.
Television does not dictate my behaviour.
I am not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would never kill again.
I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick. I like flowers.
I am not a man. I went to prison for resisting the draft.
I do not fight when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence.
I am not a man. I have never raped a woman.
I don’t hate blacks. I don’t get emotional when the flag is waved.
I do not think I should love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.
I am not a man. I have never had the clap.
I am not a man. Playboy is not my favourite magazine.
I am not a man. I cry when I am unhappy.
I am not a man. I do not feel superior to women.
I am not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.
I am not a man. I write poetry.
I am not a man. I meditate on peace and love.
I am not a man. I don’t want to destroy you.
Notice in the last line how Harold stops reflecting on himself, looks up, and addresses his audience.  That gesture is like a hammer blow that triggers a sense of shame – I don’t want to destroy you (so what’s compelling you, that you feel you have to destroy me?)
Reading Norse’s I Am Not A Man, made me think of areas of my life where I feel I’m out of step with the accepted norm.  One of those areas happens to be the town I’m living in – there’s a word, ‘parochial’.  Don’t get me wrong, Newcastle offers everything you might tick in a top ten towns to live in survey – open space, great beaches, fishing, boating, sport, on the doorstep of fine wineries, a nice, safe place to bring up the family, etc.  However, not having been born and bred in Newcastle, I see a problem with how the locals believe it’s so damn good that they just want to leave it the way it is; keep it a secret; become inbred.  So I’m thinking of the things I find irritating about the staunch defenders of this town, and I set it down with, ‘I am not Novacastrian’.  Working on my poem, I became aware of something about Harold’s expression compared to my expression.  Harold presents a calm balance between what he is not and what he is.  However, where I found I could easily state what I was not, by attacking the thing that set me apart, I was at a loss to state what I am.  I’m going to have to work on that!
2011.  Newcastle in NSW, Australia, is a working class town – former steel-works, coal shipping port, industrial blue collar jobs.  People born here, have their family from here, call themselves ‘Novacastrian’.  I’ve lived in Newcastle for near on twenty years now, but I’m still quick to point out that I don’t come from ‘round here.
I am not Novacastrian
I’m not Novacastrian,
I’ve never spent a weekend pig shooting
on somebody’s private property
somewhere west of Nyngan or Narrabri, or somewhere.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t have a holiday house at Bluey’s Beach
nor do I hitch my caravan to my Toyota land cruiser
each year at Easter,
drag it to the same park, same site
somewhere near Tuncurry
or on the banks of the Clarence River.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t own a boat,
go fishing off the drop-over,
Stockton beach, Nobby’s,
or tow my kids around the lake on a rubber do-nut.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t know how to build my own home
from plans I drew up myself,
with scraps of building material
pilfered from work, or a mate’s work
or bought second hand at Bunnings.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t know any of the Knights players, personally
I think the entertainment centre’s a barn
the art gallery, a barn,
I won’t go to the trots, the show, the workers club,
Mattarra festival,
I don’t get excited over a Saturday night out
in Darby or Beaumont Street,
stagger around drinking, drunk, socially loud
in front of bullet-headed bouncers outside the Brewery
or Finnigans and ego charged youths from up the Valley.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I will vote out any political party
that has done nothing in twenty years
to secure funding for projects in their electorate,
that allows a city to stagnate, ripen
with concrete cancer rot,
I don’t point out, with pride
examples of inaction such as
the Great Northern, the Post Office,
the rail line, the Hunter Mall, Honeysuckle.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I haven’t worked in the one shed for thirty-five years,
owned the one house, paid for by the time
I was twenty-five.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t get jealous
if you happen to have more than I’ve got,
nor do I gloat if you’ve got less than me,
or lose what you’ve already got,
I don’t count knowledge, education,
experience and culture
as things to get jealous over.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t use the model car a man drives,
motor bike, chain saw, golf clubs or brand of beer
to classify him as a dick-head,
or someone clever.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I don’t ride a push bike I had when I was a kid
in traffic along Stewart Avenue, wearing a crash hat
made from an ice-cream container.
I don’t own a furnace jacket from the steelworks
or use bicycle clips to hold up track-suit pants.
I’m not Novacastrian,
I’m not Novacastrian.

                                      J. O. White