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Royal Naval Hospital Plymouth
A Day at the Races

By Ironteeth Rum Spigot (UK)

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Royal Naval Hospital Plymouth – A Day at the Races.

Less than half a mile from Plymouth Sound lies the Plymouth Naval Hospital, Stonehouse. An eighteenth century institution for sick sailors, a walled in haven of peace and human repair.

This Boneyard cares for all the sailors, marines, soldiers and civilians within its purview. A local nonpareil held in great esteem by all who have had come under its ministering wing. To pass its gates is like entering a time portal.  The visitor is taken back to a different time with history soaked into its thick, weather worn walls.

Midst all this period charm of the buildings, both old and new, events unusual often occur.
The inmates’ imperturbability at the constant clamour of sirens, their serenity at the sound of gunfire from the nearby ranges, and their underwhelming nonchalance at the deafening, thundering clatter of large Sea King helicopters landing on the football field, manifestations of the Stonehouse equanimity, shatter in the face of a mere recreation.

Their sang froid détruits, their faculties aroused, they anticipate the singular event with fervour. The preparations have been weeks in the planning and when the moment comes upon them all they will have to do is, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

They leave the Wards, by foot, by crutch, by wheelchair, by bedstead. They take with them their intravenous drip stands, their pillows, their medication pots, fags and goody bags, in essence all the necessities they will require during the afternoon’s irresponsibilities.

Bed pans, urinals, sputum pots, Dorises and scablifters consort in appurtenance.

Convalescents throng the four roads surrounding the main blocks, only the unmoveable remain indoors. Their collective disposition is orderly and full of cheer as each and every one finds himself, or herself, a happy position.

They cluster in doorways, on the fire escape ladders, on the small ledges at the doors of each floor in each block. 

All the windows facing the roads are packed, bodies hanging out, waving at each other and everyone else in sight. The grass verges become concourses of convalescents and the car parks are turned into no go areas for anyone wishing to retrieve a vehicle.  Security happily close all roads to traffic, gleefully waving no-no fingers at exasperated drivers as they send them packing.

The hysteria is infectious as the time draws near and the crush of the ailing, bedridden, debilitated, frail, hospitalised, their relatives and friends, the medical staff, the nursing staff, the hospital porters, domestics, gardeners, chefs, storemen, drivers, innumerable sailors and Marines and the odd, genuinely morbidly interested, have gathered in their swarms in keen anticipation. 

The local Stonehouse commonage, well used to this delight, have set up camp alfresco.  Hilarity, hoopla, laughter and a picnic merriment regaled from their position.  From long experience they have chosen the premier spot from which to appreciate the oncoming.

The Surgeon Captain is about to launch the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth Bed Race.
The race is run clockwise round the road that encircles all the hospital Blocks.
The Blocks, which form a quadrangle around a landscaped square, dominate the hospital. There are eleven large blocks built of Plymouth limestone with Purbeck rusticated quoins beneath plain architraves under hipped roofs behind parapets. Stonehouse was one of the first hospitals to be built in the “Pavilion” style with separate ward blocks to isolate different medical conditions.  All the brainchildren of one Alexander Rovehead. The whole ambience of Stonehouse is of old, clean, practical elegance. It is a Limestone Loveliness.
It has to be considered how Alex would regard his wonder being abused some three hundred plus years later.  This was about to happen. He would undoubtedly consider this event a most appropriately admirable, indeed, a first class capitalisation of, his endeavour. He was, after all, a man before his time.  He would unquestionably revel in the fun about to be had.
The start is at the West end of the South road, the end nearest the Main Gate, and, once the firing squib is set off, our examplars race along the 16 foot wide, 177.66 yards long, first stretch.  They race between the Stores Block, Orthopaedic Outpatients, the Looney Ward and Medical Block and the empty F Block to their left with the Training division, the Toothwrights sheds, the allotments and the long, long, cliff like slope down to the football pitch, Staff Quarters and the Geneva Club, on their right.
At its end they have to screech round the first ninety degree bend, often with wheels leaving the ground, hang away from the long drop to the right, straighten up and fly right, to cannon down the second stretch.
The first dozen yards takes them between F Block and another long drop until they come level with the East end of the South colonnade opposite the Octogonal Isolation Ward, a vestigium from the days of endemic pneumonia, and the Church of the Good Shepherd. Then its balls or burst, streaking past Trafalgar Block to the left and the old anti-aircraft gun emplacement and Sick Officer’s Block to the right as they burn down to their next career around the second right angled bend, whorling the camber, holding tight to D Block, wheels midair, and thunder down the third 177.66 yards stretch with the Operating Theatres, Orthopaedic, Children’s, and Surgical Wards to port and the Eye department and its long drop to starboard.
Another wheel losing, ninety degrees hurtle around and into the third stretch.  Fly like the wind along the 160 yards at breakneck speed, past the casualty Department and stores Block, past the large gap between Blocks opening out onto the quadrangle with the Cherry Blossom trees blossoming beautifully, blissfully unaware of the earth shattering jeopardy that has just shot by, and into the fourth hairpin curve for the penultimate headlong back along the 177.66 yards between the main gate and the Geneva club. This is where the alacrity really gets stepped on. Fleetness is all, get to the front or lose, get to the front.
This is always the most dangerous, lung bursting, run.  The remaining beds doing anything possible to get in front. Cheating and ungentlemanly conduct positively encouraged here.  It is what the mob has come to see. Ben-Hur can eat his heart out.
The final half pirouette at the end is the dreaded zone of greatest danger.  Commonsense, years of watching the gee-gees, motor racing, and athletics on TV, tells our lions they should get on the inside.
Shorter distance to travel, tighter turn, first advantage on the straighten out, that sort of thing.  Always goes to rats here. Our paladins do go for the inside turn, but not for the poetry of the physics of Newton, the mechanics of the scientific, or as the dashed sporting gentlemanly thing to do. 
They do it to push the hostiles to the outside where, with a bit of unsolicited help, they might lose the bubble on the bend and find themselves precipitating the downward slope with some despatch.
This often happens to be the enlivening outcome, and the Stonehouse stalwarts are always there to cheer on those who plummet, with lighthearted, mirthful, joyful, jovial, jocundity.

This is their gladsome spot, a position of best advantage upon which they have been, with gleeful aforethought, implanted from before the outset, awaiting the inevitable in hopeful good spirits.
The survivors, or survivor, of this final difficulty then only have to lunge past the finishing line at the Octogonal Isolation Ward to receive warm congratulations from the Surgeon Captain, or the Matron, with manly handshakes all round.  There has never, ever, been a photo-finish to this race.
Then it is time for a quick beer and the second round.
The authorised carriages are required to be regulation hospital tubular frame beds. No go-faster stripes, no spoilers, no underhand transmissions allowed. Four wheels on four corners with four ropes (manila, one inch) attached to each bed post.

The hauling dynamos will be homo sapiens, various, indeterminate, medical branch.

Each chariot will present itself to the Surgeon Captain and his Staff for perusal and approval before its entry is allowed.

The only stipulations that are remotely followed are :

                                    Each bed must carry a passenger.

Once the stipulations have passed perlustration,  the palanquin  then undergoes the Matron’s deliberation, an exacting procedure.

The mattress must be appropriately caparisoned.  Sheets to be properly folded over the bed cover with its large blue Navy fouled anchor crest dead, and dead means dead, centre. Hospital corners to be corrrectly folded and aligned at a forty five degree angle, a protractor usually shows its head here, and flush horizontally.

All has to be ship shape and, when the passenger is embarked, Bristol fashion.

Then it’s the turn of the engines. Sturdy thousand miler boots de rigueur with no other stipulations upon attire.  Plimsolls, trainers, all girly feetings banned.  To be clad in such means instant disqualification. There is reason behind this ordinance.  The proceedings most assuredly become somewhat dangerous underfoot therefore:  nulla puella calciamentis aut.
All other habiliments are entirely at the wearer’s discretion, public morals taken into account, of course.
The only prerequisite, a passenger, is usually the final component of the whole pre-run appraisal. Tradition has it that the unfortunate cargo is a Naval Nursing Sister dressed in full Ward uniform, cuffs on, with her sister’s veil worn in it’s full splendour.  Black stockings and suspenders optional.

Once Matronly approval has been apportioned, each barouche may hazard upon  its adventure.

With the proprieties complete the Surgeon Captain awaits the line up at the starting line to become organised.  Once the factions are in line, the squib goes off and the beds hurtle forward.  This all takes place at the South Western end of the Block square.  Once the beds are away, the assemblage make their leisurely way up the south collonnade to the East end where the finishing line will be stretched once the beds have whizzed past.

It is here where most of the convivialities are prepared and made ready, and drunk, and eaten, whilst the hurly burlying goes on all around.  A finishing line is stretched from the end of the collonnade to a post outside the Octogonal Isolation Ward and left to await the winner’s remains hurtling, racing, or, more likely, limping in.

Frank the Röntgen Dog has set up his Turf Accountancy agency at the side of the road, now the “Track”, with big Taff  M as his runner, ambling his six foot two frame along, as is his unhurried wont, to do his master’s bidding.

Röntgen, resplendent in his tweed waistcoat, Burberry flat cap, and plus fours, stands upon a small crate before a rather large blackboard where big Taff is carefully chalking in names and odds, constantly checking a notebook, and with Röntgen, as he scratches up the numbers.
At their side they’ve shanghaied, or so he told everyone later, Alan, a baby Technician, sat behind an X Ray department desk complete with typewriter, blotting pad, telephone and an Imperial Ofice Master.  Alan sits there studiously studying notes in front of him through Joe 90 glasses, painstakingly pulling on the Imperial’s lever, checking the slip and thoughtfully making notes.  All the while his tongue protruding, most noticeably, from between his lips.

There is not a telephone, or indeed any, wire anywhere in sight.

Röntgen, megaphone to glottal, exhorts vociferously:

“Nice to see all you faces out there. Its early doors yet, but we got a great day ahead for

“Welcome to us Boneyard Bookies.  We ain’t under the arm, straight as a die we is. Come one come all.  We can ‘andle anyone, from a fiddler to a Vesuvius, no punter too big, no punter too small.”

“We do the lot.  Accumulators, Yankees, Trixies, Gord – we’ll even do an Asian for you, Gord bless me. All winnings paid straight up and no beeswax.  Starting prices as on the board, but if you play your cards right I’ll let you ‘ave the nap for next to nuffink or, Gawd help me, I might even let you ‘ave the tissue for a pony.”

Queen’s regulations expressly forbid gambling of any nature and here, within the cofines of one of her establishments, such precepts are obdurately adhered to, inexactly.  Monies are not to change hands, publicly, and any profits, God forbid such a thing should happen, should immediately be relinquished to the Hospital Welfare Fund.

The Nelson Ophthalmic inconvenience usually exhibits itself in view of the consequential remuneration expected.  Today will outclass the Hospital Pantomime, Soirees, Potlatches and any other fund raising miscellanies on the shekel front. A fleeting, focussed, endemic Kalnienk’s loss of peripheral visual acuity will come to pass apropos Queen’s Regulations. Periods of high adreneline production, Alcohol consumption and other loss of blood to the brain, some of the predisposing factors for this condition.

Around the Turf Accountants things are happening.  Activity in every direction. Patients being wheeled, pushed, crutch assisted, carried, generally helped to their positions of choice.

Bodies everywhere bedecked in togs, outrageous, various: 

Improperly dressed sailors, Marines, Army types; eye patched, musket wielding, cutlass slashing pirates; gun toting, ten galloned, cowboys in resplendent spurs; rather effeminate looking Hell’s Angels swirling their bandanas; Scouse doing his brilliant, walking stick twirling, Charlie Chaplin; Little and Large doing the Laurel and Hardy; a trio of coarse clad monastics friaring like billy- o with their tweak pipe looking suspect thuribles issuing white clouds; and a troop of singularly outlandish drag queens.

The drag queens, the McCoy from Diamond Lil’s, in full ebullience with all the chaps.
The chaps reciprocating with even fuller ebullience.

The whole cheerful, buoyant, lighthearted, merry-making and general gaiety a happy contagion.  A contagion?   In a hospital?  My goodness.  Must be Navy.

However, a social event is taking place.  The presence of the Surgeon Captain assures the slithering of a large congregation out from under the woodwork.  A points only exercise here. Not at all interested in the race or joining in the fun.  Their thing is to be here and to be seen to be here by others of their ilk. Wouldn’t be seen alive at a thing like this otherwise.




Still they mingle, making the appropriate noises etc, and totally miss the whole ambience. Unknownst to them but knownst to everyone else, they are tolerated because it would be bad form to persiflage them aperto.  Patients are having a good time, and as some of these creatures have forgotten, if inded they have ever thought of it, patients are the whole reason a hospital exists.  Without them they would have to find an alternate stage upon which to perform their obsequity. The Kalahari or, perhaps deeeeep in some jungle inhabited by sadistic, polysexual, cannibalisitic sadists.  Oh yes.

The unspeakable aside, Stevie C is doing his thing.  Stevie, the hospital mood guru with fiendish thaumaturgy is harmonising his operation. 

With intra-platoon level backpack VHF FM transceivers shouldered by the Honey Monster, Slipper, Mad Mack and Lenny at the four Block corners and with the big “C” himself at “Headquarters One”, the combat net Royal Naval Hospital Bed Race radio system is in place.

A Heath Robinson Tannoy system has been rigged up with Spanner, the Hospital Petty Officer Stoker, lavishing tender loving care upon it, between batting it with his namesake.

From his vantage by the finish line, in the centre of the frivolities, and with the incoming from his four “outriders”, Stevie will be performing the running commentary a la Murray Walker on each pile up, collision, mishap, episode of ungentlemanly conduct and near death experience as they unfold, Tannoying like an unstable banshee. He always does his Murray Walker in the belief that, in his quieter moments, MW sounds like his trousers are on fire. Stevie does his best, his very best.

The Padres also very much in evidence. Padres are attracted to hospitals - captive audience, the proximity of death, closer to God, a proselytist’s paradise.  But today they are more attracted to the Surgeon Captain.
Church of England, Church of Scotland, Methodists, Church of England, Free Church, Presbyterians, Episcopals, Church of England, all there.  Hurrah-ing, ho-ing, Gin and
Tonic-ing, mingl-ing and being jolly good fellows.  But there is an Ulster in their porridge.

It moves around ubiquitously beneath a trim trilby and surrounds the corporeal presence of Father Tim Mulcahey.  There it goes, mixing with the ungodly secular, accepting drinks, cracking funnies, patting shoulders, shaking hands, cheerfully telling rude jokes to the ladies who curl up with laughter.

A microcosm of joy meandering everywhere and spreading good feelings upon its passage.
Behind it it leaves the Proddies snorting and guffawing loudly at the Surgeon Captain’s every remark. Such sycophancy is without its catechism.  It is a Catholic, more exqusitely, an Irish Catholic.

A small band sits quietly behind the Octagonal Isolation Ward. The aimless wandering commend them congratulatingly upon their attire.  They look almost like the real thing, well done.  Even the surgeon Captain congratulated them.  This last they were unsure how to take. All the others they had just humbly accepted and thanked them, but him?  They, wisely, humbly accepted and the Surgeon Captain and his entourge proceeded on their way.

Snag was - they looked like the real thing because they were the real thing.  The Accident and Emergency Department had formed a Crash Team specifically for the occasion, to be on the spot with their kit, ready, willing, and able, to save lives. And they were it.

Back at the South West end the beds and crews are gearing up, girding themselves for the off. Everyone knows the score and the running order is being bludgeoned out by two Chiefies, each steadfastly immoveable in his standards.  Chief South loves his horses and Chief Podlock is into his Formula One. Logic and reason are lost in the fracas and it takes Father Tim to calm things down and, being Irish, is acknowledged as the expert on horse racing, which this bed race is more akin to than motor racing.  This meet is all about animal behaviour and nothing at all to do with reciprocating metal pistons. Anthropomorphism won the day.

Today there are eight beds, one from each main Block, a Barnacles bed and a ringer from the Booty Medics at Stonehouse Barracks.

All were in agreement it was sudden death. To save time, and limbs, the first run will be all eight beds at once, the first four to carry on to the semi finals.  Then two races with two beds and the final run with the last two. Democracy had no place in this decision.  It was do as we say and not as we do. If you can’t hack the first run, then you will be useless for the other two. Logic indeed.

The bottom line is that to win, you had to do three runs.  One is bad enough.  Two is completely knackering.  Three is outrageous, especially when the engines were well aware of what was going to happen on that last run.  Still, Hearts of Oak and all that.

Larry, because he was off a ship, was in the Barnacles crew.  He had on a suitably distressed tropical white jumper with blue jean collar, pirate bandana – negative eye patch, polka dot shorts and a clumping great pair of boots, black, DMS.  Dawson was wearing his Yorkshire rugger shirt with a straw boater, black Groucho Marx eyeglasses, nose and moustache and a huge black cigar chomped between his teeth.  Honka was going for the ultimate butch St Trinian, and succeeding.  The Malteser had his Spanish sombrero and poncho, come to bed painted black eyes and a bloody tambourine!  Whistler was seriusly taking the micturate out of Lou Ferrigno with the green face, plastic neck and a black toupee flattened to his skull, shirt a torn and tattered Ben Sherman. Jimmy outdid himself, wearing his best Bay City Roller tartan three piece with Jock aplomb.  Shagger must have trawled every dodgy Bernardo’s in town to get his diaphanous see through night gown, either that, or he had a very carefully hidden lady friend.  The others had made a note of this.  Dodgy outclassed everyone again.  Where the hell he had got it he would never tell.  But today there it was, walking around outside of Dodgy, a complete 1920s Admiral’s jacket, a full Admiral, all the braid, all the medals, even the battered thousand miler hat. Vallely was surprised.  Dodgy must know what was coming up and his rig would be ruined.  He knows something Larry concluded.  Still. Who cares?

Their Nursing Sister was Molly the Mauler.  A stranger to demure was she, wearing her uniform but over a green denim jump suit with her favourite tan Doc Martens on her feetings.  At her side, and clutched between her knees, she was checking her ammo bags.  Old fruit, stinky veg, soft spuds, green bananas; she had buckets of gooeys that the wardroom chefs had been saving up for her.  They were going to be used to good effect.  They didn’t call her “One Hundred and Eighty” in the Doctors’ Mess bar for nothing. Their Doris Dead Eye.
Next to them were the Bootnecks.  They were being unapologetically stared at.  As Commando Medical Assistants they were the hot favourites, but as Röntgen would say;

“They is the Jolly, but they could be a ringer Bismarck!”

They hid their trained killer, green machine, machismo behind their clobber today. Each one was dressed as a Naval Nurse.  Eight Commandos in starched white aprons over blue denim dresses hitched up to show their black stockinged legs, with suspenders visible, down to their ginormous black combat boots.  They pranced and preened, showing off their shapely thighs to one and all and blowing kisses everywhere. They even wore garter belts of wildly different colours which they twanged suggestively at the unwary. Just to complete the effect they had gone to town on the slap.  Luscious red lips, Egyptian mascared eyes, rouged up cheeks, and, for God’s sake, Jumper was wearing huge false eyelashes, and Jock, and Terry, and ……..all of them.

But the greatest goggling was intent on Sultan.  He lay there on the bed, all six foot three of big black man.  He beamed his dazzling white smile at his wondering public, waving to one and all alluringly.

He too was dressed as a Naval Nurse.  A Naval Nursing Sister.   Lying semi recumbent on the bed, provocatively slipping the hem of his dress up, teasingly showing the suspender clip and the laughing band of his sheer black nylons, all the while swirling his lovely white veil here and there -  a vision is our Sultan.

Very slowly and carefully he slid his silk garter belt, with lace accents and trimmings, down his muscular leg and then threw it a la jarretière to his crowd, his coif curling, twirling, above his shy, enticing fizzog.

Visible implorations hurtled at the Inspecting Officer.  The Matron acknowledged the supplicants with a twirl of her own veil, a hug of her Hindenbergs, and a beguilingly sly smile at Sultan - she had captured the trophy.

There is no stipulation that the Nursing Sister has to be a female.

Another crew were the Orthopods. Dressed in Operating Theatre greens they were all big blokes.  Half of them were the Rugby Club, the other half the Franken Steins. Snorting and raring to go they chomped at the bit causing an onlooking Toothwright to rub his hands gleefully together.

Their Head Honcho, Jonesy, in full regalia, mounted the bed, held up his arm and, beard a-twitching, let forth:

            “When the blast of war blows in our ears,
              then imitate the action of the tiger,”

Back bent, arms flagellating slowly, tearing at the air, fingers curled into claws:

            “Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
              disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage:”

Spine tautens, arms flex, claws hook:

            “Then lend thine eye a terrible aspect,
              now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,”

Eyebrows furrow, lips form snarl, muzzle splays:

            “Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit,”

Breast distends, countenance emboldens:

            “I see you stand like greyhounds on the slips,”

Eyeballs his entranced crew:

            “Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
              follow your spirit, and upon this charge….”

Spine unravels to the perpendicular, right arm thrusts to the sky, beard quivers:

            “Cry “God for Harry, England and…… the Orthopaedic Department!””

 A huzzah from his enraptured crew.

“I’ll have ten milligrams of what he’s on.”  Larry to Dawson who nods, agreeing.

All eight droskys line abreast at the bottom of the West hill for the run up to the first Block.
This first hundred yards is where most of the initial ungentlemanlies will take place. Like the formula one racers on the telly they will jostle to get to the front but, unlike those chaps, they will not give a monkey’s how they get there.  Beds will be ramshackled, indignities dispensed, manhandling, maltreatment de rigueur as the offensive onslaught begins. The road is, after all, only 16 feet wide and it pays to get there first.  There are still the corners however.

Larry was ready to rock and roll.  He was at Number Three, the back, outside wheel. His job was to pull like there was no tomorrow along the straights but on the corners he had to completely change tack. On a corner the bed will oversteer and, with the yaw on the corner, the rear wheels will not follow the front of the bed and will head into outer space of their own volition. In other words they go airborne, and the bed, and the lads with them.

Larry’s job was, on the corner, to fall back, work with Honka, and brake the rear end of the bed as the others pulled it round and forwards.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Supra-renal adrenal glands preternaturally eructating Adrenaline in endocrine splinterising hypersonic laminar flows, gargantuan efforts from six other blokes in tangenitally contradicting directions and a  cannonballing quarter ton of bed to control. Not to mention the danger of deceleration trauma. Heels skidding, pulling and leaning like some numpty on a small yacht but with both legs doing a Fred Flintsone. 


No one else notices what you are going through.  They’ve got their own problems. Brake and turn Vallely, brake and turn. Then run and haul, run and haul. Quite simple really.

The Surgeon Captain stands upon a small crate, no podium here, surveys his troops with a sympathetic smile, raises his arm and with a nod to Joanna, the gorgeous, blonde, Lumley, British Red Cross lady in her tight fitting grey uniform, flings his arm downwards.

Joanna practically skips as she lets the starting squib off.  Not one blue blooded male watched the beds explode into action, their attention was elsewhere.

The first run a befogged blur for Vallely.  He smashed his wrists on the twisting ropes when the force was upon them, his lungs burst, several times, on the straight runs and the corners were a shreiking squealing horror. None of the shreiking or squealing was made by the bed or any inorganics. Collisions with Honka, the bed, the ground, all coalesced into one as the mentality of the run took over. 

To add colour to the enterprise Larry remembers being struck by objects, numerous, wet, smelly and noisome. The crowds were there not just to encourage and excite, but to rain munitions upon, to trebucket, to bombard, barrage and canonade just about anything they could beg, steal, borrow or manufacture, upon the funambulists.  Which they did, enthusiastically. 

He does remember seeing the Crash Team rush across the road in front of the Orthopods near the deadly South East corner.  The Orthopods avoiding the Crash Team by going on the outside then trying to get back on the inside and conquering the turn all at once. An impossible feat to do at speed, especially with all the other beds intent on similar.

Co-ordination went out the scuttle, The bed frame went on a frolic of its own, the Franken Steins lost their feetings, the Rugger players went for different touch downs and the whole covey went over the edge, down the hill, straight for the Geneva club.

On this purlieu the Stonehouse lasses were always shouting encouragement, whistling, yelling, showing a leg and jumping up and down. But now they went delerium unrestrained. To a one they cheered, cried, hollered.hooted, howled, screamed and shrieked in delight.  In short they went all Thesaurus on themselves.  Their whole raisond'êtrelà  vindicated.  And it was only the first run.

The Barnacles made it in fourth place, just.  Larry collapsed against the Octagonal Isolation Ward, totally knackered, soaked, cut, grazed and bruised.  After a few minutes and a long, long swallow on a bottle of Cider, he did a visual search of extremeties (VSE), a leper thing he had learned, and was happy to find himself not too badly damaged. Honka looked worse, but Dawson was not a sight for sore eyes. Surgeon Commander Slasher, in his outlandish dress, was checking him over. To the uninitiated it may have seemed incongrous to see Groucho Marx being examined by a Panda, but Larry failed to note the ludicrously droll aspect, just too bloody knackered. He found himself shuddering at the thought of the next race.


Run two could never have happened as far as Larry was concerned.  All he remembers is leering at Joanna, getting his backside thumped by Honka, and another eight hundred plus yards of who knows what.  Just more pain, more missiles, more screaming, yelling and shrieking.  He ended up just as wet, just as shattered and just as collapsed againt the selfsame frame of the selfsame Octagonal Isolation Ward, again.  After a longer, much longer, swallow on another, larger, much larger, bottle of Cider he lay out flat on his spasming back and took stock.

The Barnacles had won this one. They only got to the finishing line first because the Medical team underwent a catastrophe.

On the final stretch a baby Surgeon had leapt onto their bed dressed in his proper uniform: white shirt, black tie, black trousers, British National Formulary bulging in his white ward coat pocket, pens clipped on his breast pocket, name tag, stethoscope around his neck, white Officer’s cap at an angle on his skull. He brandished a red Gas/Water Fire extinguisher in one hand and a CO two extinguisher in the other.  He waved a cloud of CO two gas around himself and in the air, and sprayed wither and thither with the contents of the Gas/Water.

What fun what divertissement !  But the shameless barbarian had exchanged the plain water in the extinguisher for a solution of Gentian Volet. True to its name it turns targets violet. It, however, is inerasable.  Once smitten, no water, no soap, no alcohol rub, no scotchbrite and dettol will remove it.  And the baby Doc was dementedly spraying all and sundry.

The participants were more than prepared for the bombardments, crossfires, enfilades with absolutely no defilade possible, showering, and mass ravaging from all sides. The onslaught was pressed home with great enthusiams by the spectators.  To a man, and woman, this was the main attraction of the whole affair. They came suitably armed and provisioned for repeated broadsides to be deluged on the racing beds and their crews.  A Coliseum mob enjoying wild animals having Christians for big eats would feel at home in their number.

But Doc Tinker went ballistic.  Bubble well and truly lost, his twittering went beyond hysterical into hypomanic, his dislocation of lucidity unconditionally apparent to anyone utilising a functioning brain cell.

Containing his enthusiasm without undue manhandling took the Medics a few precious moments, alowing the Barnacles to pass by. They did not even have the courtesy to slow down with Samaritan intent.  No fear, my dear.  All’s fair, etc.  Vallely guiltily thought that they didn’t deserve to win and suggested they give the Medics a bye.  This last to the Malteser who, knowing Vallely of old, told their gang, loudly ;

“Larry here’s trying to get out of the final.” 

Vallely found himself shuddering again, this time in defeat.  Sussed out.
Larry, Honka, the Malteser, Whistler, Jimmy, Dodger, Shagger, and Dawson against the Commandos.  Dead meat.  Dawson, bottle of Old Peculiar in one hand and a battered old spiral school notebook clutched in the other, was horse trading last will and testaments with the condemned, roundly chastising the Malteser for leaving all his worldies to the “Royal Society for the Prevention of Animals”, and Shagger, not to be outdone, bequeathed his trappings to the “Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals.”

Admiral Dodgy, settled agreeably next to Larry, gargling with huge carelessness on a Party Seven, absentmindedly preoccupied with the soaked gold braid aiguillettes and hanging medal ribbons, perhaps he had not known anything after all, mused pensively :

“I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.  I cannot tell them how grateful I am right now, I am filled with humidity.  Have you ever thought how you can’t taste your tongue. There’s too much adrenaline in my alcohol system……………..”

Shagger gossammered his diaphanous starboard of Larry, landing with an indelicate thump.  Pointing at Dodgy, bottle of Guiness spilling, he observed :

“Dodgy lost in thought ?  Unfamiliar territory.  Larry, do butterflies get humans in their stomachs when they’re up against the Kiddo doe ?”

“ My imaginary friend’s telling me that we were looking good from afar, now we’re far from looking good.   As Woody says,“ I ain’t afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

“Well, we’re there.  I am going to scupper as much pop as is inhumanly possible before the offski.  Yourself ?”
“Pass the bucket, Shippers.”

And our athletes fortified up for the oncoming engagement.

Barnacles, their dépouille mortelle arrayed alongside the Booties. Jumper, un-nurseylike, was doing an Apollo Creed against Jimmy from a range of about two inches, eye to eye.  In the excitement Jumper must have forgotten that James was no Italian Stallion, but a Clydeside Osculator.  It nearly came to pass, but MacDuff disciplined the Malky actuation impulse.
Vallely again enraptured by Joanna.  Elegant in British Red Cross grey, statuesque in black high heels, no flatties today, exquisite in her long, silk covered, legs, divine in her all. Larry, entranced, missed all the surrounding hullabaloo.  Her lithe, mercurial, hippety-hop, her blonde tresses bobbing at the crack of her starting squib, had him Faraway.  Far, far away.
Another wallop on his arse from Honka and he was in the explosive off.
The two beds were neck and neck up the slope to the South Road, where the legions, in their malevolent intent, disposed themselves.
Patients screaming, hanging out ward windows everywhere.  Patients sitting, standing, balancing precariously on the small verandahs on the two upper floors of the blocks facing the South Road run. Patients at fire escapes. Patients waving bed sheets and blankets, some waving their pyjamas, happily oblivious to their state of undress, and no one caring. Patients with water bombs, inter continental ballistic coloured fluid filled surgical gloves, happy missiles and ecstactic artilleries various. Patients having a pillow fight between two beds.  Patients moving Ward Hoses to ward doors and windows.  Patients deliriously happy.
Buffer’s Party reeling fire hoses and laying them with auspicious convenience midst the concourses of convalescents. Fire Party rigging up their cream coloured twenty gallon wheeled foam fire extinguisher, usually used for aircraft “crash on deck”, borrowed from Culdrose Air Station especially for this occasion.

Everybody and his dog, and the ship’s cat, on full alert, ready to rock and roll. The ground zeros designate locking horns up the slope, straight into the killing ground.

Larry and Honka pulling heavily on their manila, digging in with their boots and bending with outrageous effort, heaving the bed up the slope.  The Booties on Larry’s right, on the outside, devilishly trying to overtake and slalom into the Barnacles like wot they seen in every car chase in every bonkers Hollywood flapdoodle. And doing extraordinarily well.  They appeared impervious to pain or injury, the pain or injury they inflict upon others to be precise. Larry and Honka, with Jimmy and Dodgy in their front, were the inflicted this day. 

Jumper and Harry, Larry and Honka’s opposite numbers on the Bootie bed, practically breathing down their necks.  Body slamming and out-and-out manufactured collisions the order of the Commando day. Indecent imperiousness towards their lesser adverseraries a happy extra.  Jumper wanting, but not daring, to release his rope, and push Larry heavily into the ground  For this Larry was most grateful. Sixteen men straining at full throttle to get the beds uphill as fast as possible and not caring what happened to get there. Breathtaking! What!

As their engines manifested cardiovascularly devastating tendencies, the passengers were endeavouring their best to blister the bejasus out of each other and the crews.

Dead eye against the giant Sultan.  No contest to the uneducated. Sultan had the muscle, the power and the grit.   Dead eye had the arm and the eye.  Every projectile she trebuched hit its mark, and she was Mauser like in her trebuche-ing. 

Sultan discomfited as Dead Eye barraged him with ancient soft potatoes, green oranges, squiffy tomatoes, decomposing edibles, various.  She had secreted her secret weapons for this race in particular.  Brown paper bags filled to bursting with a mastication of old peas, carrots, mashed potatoes, bits of onions, gravy and dollops of brown stuff.  Dead eye referred to them as her feculent regurgigates, lovingly.

Dead Eye and Sultan so close.  Leaning in toward each other, their throwing arms practically collided. Yelling and bawling, expending superabundant vigor, deranged “in the moment”, oblivious to the extramundane, they may as well have been on some astral otherworld.

The others, on the wrong side of completely wrecked, pulling like frenzied berserkers, lungs bursting, blood pressures sky-high, beyond the pain barrier now.  The missiles striking them left right and kid do-do were simply part and parcel of the occasion and had to be endured with fortitude. All in the game, alllll in the game.

As they tore along the final track, a whole enthusiastic medley tearing after them, running alongside, belting them with everything conceivable, and inconceivable, they kept their heads down and charged on.


The “unwell” stood at the side of the road, arms gripping the fire hoses arranged wherever and let loose, full force, on them as they went past.  Once they were gone, as an afterthought they turned the hoses on everyone else.  Reciprocation ensued and all were in huge good cheer as reciprocate begat reciprocate. The beds were running through a long water obstacle that went on and on, with a frolic of its own scrimmaging behind them.

Behind them the carousers had formed a cheering, laughing, very happy convoy. A sight to be appreciated.  All the different colours with raiments outrageous galore and happiness beaming off every face. Looneys with gas/water fire extinguishers discharging all over the world and right in the middle of them the Keystone Cops Firemen, with their twenty gallon foam fire extinguisher, wheeled, spraying plumes of fire fighting foam far and wide, sometimes hitting their targets, the beds, but more often that not any, and every, thing that crossed, or didn’t cross, their path.

A Daliesque spectacle indeed.  A tunnel of water, eccentric foam sprays arcing, projectiles whizzing zigzag. Bodies in costume dress disarray cavorting.  Barrelling through the middle two hospital beds rocketing for dear life, sixteen galleasseers exerting their everything. Two hellions, banshee wailing, locked in mortal combat upon the speeding horizontal resting surfaces.  Just another Plymouth Naval Hospital afternoon.

Larry will never know how they made it round the last corner.  The Booties on the inside, hell intent on forcing them down the hill. Murderous resolve glinting in their eyes. Larry, nearly out of the bubble, felt Honka pulling him back as they stuck the anchors on on the bend. He heard something crack, probably his Hercules tendon, as they attemped, for the umpteenth time, to do the impossible, on paper, maneouvre, but did it they did. They got round the curve without sailing down the slope into the arms of blessed oblivion.

Then, the all out last few yards.  Booties to their left, the slope to their right and bodies on all sides cheering and yelling them on. Larry got that buzzz and felt an adrenaline overload and just could not stop staring at the people yelling at them. 

Half a dozen Naval Nurses in their lovely uniforms looking and pleading for them to get a move on. My goodness, Larry didn’t know where it came from, but he had to get his finger out, sharpish.  He was not alone in this inclination. 

He knows, and was told afterwards, that he looked like a leering madman as they ran in, his eyes focussed on the Naval Nurses, oblivious to all else. He had no interest whatsoever in anyone else, just the Dorises.

Somehow they made it to the line in a dead heat with the Commandos.  Unheard of.  Vallely has a vague recollection of passing the line and then, again, found himself with his face in the grass next to the Octagonal Isolation Ward.

Spent was not the word.  Drained was not the word. Exhausted was not the word. The word does not exist to describe his state, and he made a note to invent one at the first opportunity before losing consciousness.


He surfaced with his cheek pinned to the grass and, with one squinting eye, managed to discern Sultan, all a-besmirched with Dead Eye’s regurgitates, receiving the trophy from the Surgeon Rear Admiral. Where the hell had he come from?  By Sultan’s side stood the Matron full of congratulatory hand shaking and hugs. Hugs?  Bloody hugs!  Says it all, thought Vallely.

“Larry, Larry.”

Larry was about to trip off insensate again when he was jolted by a lovely voice coming from above. He switched squinting eye, looking up past the starched white apron, the blue cotton dress shoulders, the white starched collar into dreamy blue eyes underneath the halo of a white, starched Naval Nurses bonnet.

Lovely, lovely, Julie Andrews all wrapped up in an even lovelier Naval Nurses uniform.

Valley, in full Sean Connery, said, “I must be dreaming.”  And zonked out.

It was all well worth it.

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