A Blip on the Radar (Part 16) “Shithouse Etiquette “
Posted on November 17, 2009
Part 16: “Shithouse Etiquette; Moggy, Moggy, what you DO?? “
People that know me well, marvel how I do it.
I have a unique gift. The ability to waltz, wholly innocently, into all sorts of serious trouble. Then, having unintentionally caused complete and utter chaos, I tend to be forgiven. Personally, I kind of understand the second part. It’s just that I’m so desperately naive and innocent, that I don’t lie. I can’t. I just stand there, embarrassed as hell, without running away, and say words to the effect of:
And the aggrieved ones, with hatchets in their hands, murder in their eyes, gather around. They discern, much to their amazement, a clot. A blithering imbecile, harmless, who thought he had a real good idea. Or who thought he was just being friendly. Nice. They give up, and drift away. Maybe they feel sort of sorry for me. Hell, I don’t know…
When I was first on a tuna purse seiner, I went exploring.
I found the refuse incineration system. Which I thought was wonderful. Proof of environmental sensitivity. GreenPeace would be pleased… I describe the unhappy affair in full in Chapter Ten of the “Blip on the Radar “ series. (It’s called “Porcelain Andy “.) It wasn’t really my finest moment. I also… discovered the shitter.
Now I have traveled fairly widely. And in various parts of the world, I have learned to expect the dreaded hole in the floor.
No commode. No seat. No comfort. Just an ugly looking hole in the floor. If you’re lucky, there might be two roughly foot shaped raised parts. The idea being that you stand there, and then, well, you probably get the idea.
It involves some interesting anatomical contortions. You have to be careful. Trousers and knickers can be seriously…. you know, I’m sure. So you lean, and try and keep your clothes clean, and try and aim carefully. Down that damn hole.
In any sea state. Believe me, it sounds easier than it is.
The Asians are much better at squatting. They practice it all the time. I’m sure they have muscles a-plenty if their calves.
Maybe that partly explains their prowess as lovers. Just look at the Captain.
There were two cubicles. Each had a door, and a hole. You were guaranteed at least a measure of privacy, while you contorted yourself. It was bad enough on a calm sea. When the boat was rocking and rolling, it became purgatory.
Now matter how hard you tried, as a Westerner, disasters happened. It got to be ugly if you ate too much curry.
The flushing system was rather primitive. It consisted of a narrow plastic pipe, connected to a tap. When you were done, you opened the tap, and then the somewhat limp stream of water would trickle down, and hopefully you succeeded in tidying up the remains of the curry. You would think there would be a tap and pipe in both of the cubicles. But no, for some reason, there was only one tap, and one pipe. They were located in number one cubicle. But if that one was occupied, and you were desperate, then you just had to go into number two cubicle. Embarrassing. Now what?
There was also another problem. I’d always choose number one cubicle if it was available, and every so often I’d have this disconcerting experience. I’d be quietly doing my thing, and the next thing some Oriental lunatic would start banging on the partition. They would start off with a few rapid raps. But before you knew it, they were hammering hell out of the place. What was all that about? I didn’t have the foggiest notion. Were they mad because I’d beaten them to the best cubicle? Or…(horrible thought)… were they Chinese Poofters and had I unwittingly stumbled on their favorite meeting place? Sometimes there would be an angry Chinese growl. I had no idea what the unseen growler was mad about.
Heck, it was confusing for a simple Irishman, a long way from home.
Eventually I brought up both matters with the radio operator. He smiled (in fact, I think he was bloody well laughing), and patiently went with me to the shitter block. He then kindly explained to me how it worked. It turned out that there was a system.
A sort of shithouse etiquette.
Only thing was, I didn’t know the system. Hence the puzzlement, annoyance towards me, and the resultant chaos.
All you had to do, if you were stuck in cubicle number two, was to bang on the partition. The good guy in number one cubicle would then turn the tap on, and slide the hose under the partition. Conversely, if you were occupied in number one cubicle, the tapping on the partition was a request for you to reciprocate.
Simple. Worked like a charm. Every time. If I needed the hose, I’d do the bangety-bang thing. When I was done, I’d say “Shay-shay ” (‘thank you’) and they would turn the tap off, and retrieve the hose.
And vice versa.
By the time I’d done it a few times, I was a grizzled veteran. Our international entente cordiale held up well, and seemed to be fool proof. I could now do a grand entrance into number two cubicle, and not worry about the sloppy results. Similarly, if I was doing the heavenly contortion in number one cubicle, and somebody banged on the partition, I now knew the scoop. The full story. Not a problem.
The story could have ended there. Happily, and forever.
Unfortunately… there was number two engineer.
I didn’t understand him. Nor did anybody else. He was a mean, moody, scowling individual. He was not happy with his station in life it seemed, and, well, for some reason, the rules didn’t apply to him. If he was the occupant of number one cubicle, you could bang on the partition for all you liked, he totally ignored you. It wasn’t personal. He did it to everybody.
Presumably it gave him a sense of power. Or else the menial task of turning the tap on and sliding the hose was below his dignity. I don’t know. I can’t imagine he didn’t know the rules. But he didn’t play the game. Instead, he’d just squat there. For hours it seemed. The Chinese can squat like no other nation. They do it everywhere. Where we would look for a chair, or a comfortable seat, the Chinaman happily squats. I can’t do it for more than thirty seconds without getting cramp. But those dudes will happily do the Squats for hours. The second engineer was like that. He’d be smoking away, reading a newspaper, and squatting in the shitter.
And he was deaf to all entreaties. You could knock, ask, plead… he didn’t care. You were stuck with waiting until he was finished, and then you could go and get the hose and slide it under the partition yourself.
Son of a….
But it was just the way it was. You got used to it.
Well… one day.
He was in number one cubicle, reading a paper, smoking his head off, and I really, really missed the hole in number two. A totally rotten shot. And needles to say, Mister Squatter in number one ignored my polite tapping. He ignored my heavy tapping. He ignored my polite spoken request. Just cigarette smoke curling up above the cubicle.
Him and his bloody newspaper..
There was no way I could leave that awful mess. I had to clean it up. So I’d just have to wait until His Oriental Lordship deigned to exit number one cubicle, and vacate ownership of the tap and pipe.
The minutes ticked slowly by. It was noon, equatorial hot as hell, and the whole boat was having a siesta. We’d all been up since just after four o’clock. This was a break time. And here I was, waiting for this tosser.
I ambled to the sea door that lead out onto the deck. It was open, to let some fresh air in. It had a high ten inch sill. I rested a foot on it, and leaned up against the steel frame.
Looking out on the deck, absent mindedly, I happened to notice… a hose.
A ghost of an idea started to vaguely nibble at the back of my retarded brain.
Hose. Water. Flush.
My brain cell came slowly awake. It was, admittedly, a rather big hose. Whereas the one in the cubicle was barely half an inch or so, this deck hose was twenty times the size. But still. A lot of water through a teeny weeny hose equals a little bit of water through a hummer hose…right?
I guessed so. I looked back at number one cubicle. All you could see was blue cigarette smoke curling into the air. He knew perfectly well I wouldn’t leave without doing the clean up. And meanwhile he could enjoy his newspaper and his power.
I stepped over the high sill, and walked out onto the deck to inspect the workings of Master Plan B. I would have to drag the hummer hose, and lift it in over the high sill. Then I would have to turn it on, and run back in quickly, but it seemed a perfectly feasible plan.
The idea of showing the greasy little bugger in cubicle number one that I had found a way around him… now that appealed to me. It would be worth the minor extra effort.
So I started to drag the hummer hose in. It took a bit more effort than I originally thought. It was heavy. I kind of wondered why. But after a bit of grunting, I had it dragged inside, and propped up, ready, outside my cubicle. All I needed now was a little bit of water. I headed back out again, beginning to feel smug.
Ha! I’ll teach you, you little nipster…!
Outside on the deck, I followed the hummer hose back to a vertical pipe. I guessed it was the main manifold. It had four or five wheels on it. Wheel-valves. Okay, no biggie, all I needed now was a slight tweak…
It was stiff. I put more force on it. Nothing. I put quite a bit more force on it. Still nothing. Irritating. I’d gone to all this trouble, and I wasn’t about to admit defeat. I positively hauled on the blasted thing…
There came a thundering, reverberating crash from inside the shitter block, and, alarmed, I positively leapt back in over the sea sill. I was however, completely unprepared for what was unfolding there.
The previously inert -admittedly large- hose, that had patiently been waiting for a little trickle of water, had transformed itself into a raging monster. An Anaconda on steroids. It was like something straight out of a Sci-Fi horror movie, where an alien Space Worm works its way on board the Star Ship, and proceeds to viciously attack the crew. Utterly dumbfounded, I wasted precious time trying to grab on to the out-of-control, demented beast, by the tail. It was utterly impossible. I had never seen anything like it. What was worse, was the fact that the torrent of water, being delivered at a rate of hundreds of gallons per minute, had not only shit blasted cubicle number two, all over the place, including the occupant of cubicle number one… it had somehow managed to self propel itself over the partition into number one cubicle. From whence loud, and very agonized shrieking was coming. With my eyes I’m sure the size of saucers, I wasted more precious time floundering about trying to get out of the place. I was already well over my ankles in water. The hose was beating off the walls with truly astonishing force, and knocked me over twice. To the appalling racket I had unwittingly created, there was now added the unmistakable sound of a ship’s siren. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I finally floundered my way out, back onto the deck, soaked through and severely bruised, in a state of near panic. Rushing over to the control manifold, I was met by two alarmed crew members. Their expressions were totally perplexed. I had no time to try and explain. I was now desperately trying to shut the valve off. I was hauling on it with all my strength, and it wouldn’t go back.
No wonder. I was whaling on the wrong valve…
I finally founded the right one.
I shut it off. The fire hose. The use of which had set off the fire alarm.
Stood there, dripping, wanting more than everything to run and hide.
The whole boat was up now. The whole crew. No more quiet siesta, on a sunny, hot equatorial day…
The claxon was still wailing. I made my way back to the shitter. Faces were everywhere. Perplexed, mystified faces. And, guess what, here comes the Captain…
He looked at the flooded shitter block, now under ten inches of water. He looked at my weary, infinitely guilty face.
“Moggy! What you DO….!??? “
“Well, captain…. “
And I explained, to the amazement of everybody. I explained it honestly and truthfully. How I had dreamed up this wizard idea. All on my own. And not realized it was a fire hose. With two positions.
He listened, incredulously. Everybody stared, incredulously.It looked like I had made the Taiwanese history books.
I probably looked as defeated as I felt. For some reason, nobody was angry with me.
Slowly, one odd thing was becoming apparent to everybody. The unlucky occupant of number one cubicle… had still not emerged. Gone was the lazy blue cigarette smoke. Well gone. The Lord knew what state his newspaper was in. Heck, The Good Lord, with his infinite patience, also knew what state number two engineer was in….
It was the Captain who addressed him, and bade him come out. He didn’t seem to want to. By now, mercifully, attention was being diverted away from me. The sea of curious faces was now switching attention to number one cubicle…
The door opened just a crack. He peered out. A white China man. Pale white. Deathly white.
The fearsome number two engineer. Somewhat the worse for wear.
Beaten up, by forces unknown, and shit blasted.
It looked like he was doing a careful reconnaissance. To see what further unknown forces out there were lurking in wait for him…
Days later, the delighted crew were still laughing about it, and clapping me on the back.
A most unforeseen outcome.
But perhaps the oddest thing was this:
I only had to enter number two cubicle, and the unlucky engineer was already shouting:
“Okay, okay…! “
…and sliding the hose under the partition.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on April 23, 2014, 8:51 am