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The Demise Of Jack Tar

by Ginge Cundell

The traditional British sailor was not defined by his looks, he was defined by his attitude, his name was Jack Tar, he was a happy-go-lucky sort of bloke. He took the good times with the bad. He didn't cry victimisation, bastardisation, discrimination, for his mum for his often self destructive actions. He loved to laugh at anything or anybody rank, race, gender, creed or behaviour, it didn't matter to Jack, he would take the micky out of anyone, including himself, and if someone took it out of him he didn't get offended, it was a natural part of life.

If he offended someone, so be it! Free from the many rules of polite society, Jack's manners were somewhat rough and his ability to swear was legendary. He would stand up for his mates, Jack was extravagant with his support of those he thought needed it. Jack's mate was one of the luckiest people alive. Jack loved women, he loved to chase them to the ends of the earth, and sometimes even caught one, (less often than he would have you believe though) his tales of the chase and its win or loss is the stuff of legends. Jack's favourite drink was beer and he could drink it like a fish, his actions when inebriated would, on occasion, land him in trouble, but he took it on the chin, did his punishment, and then went out and did it all again.

Jack loved his job, he took immense pride in what he did, his radar was ever the best in the fleet, his engines always worked better than anyone else's. His eyes could spot a contact before anyone else, and shoot at it first. Jack was like a mischievous child, he had a gleam in his eye and a larger than life outlook, he was as rough as guts. You had to be pig-headed and thick skinned to survive. He worked hard and played hard. His masters tut-tutted at some of his more exuberant expressions of joy de vivre, and occasional bouts of number 9's or stoppage of leave let him know where the limits were.

The late 20th century has seen the demise of Jack. The workplace no longer echoes to ribald comment and bawdy tales, where someone is sure to take offence. Where as those stories of "daring do" and ingenuity in the face of adversity, usually whilst drunk, lack the audacity of the past!

A wicked sense of humour is now a liability rather than a necessity, Jack has been socially engineered out of existence, doing what came naturally to Jack is now considered offensive. Denting someone else's over inflated opinion of their self worth is now a crime. Political correctness has usurped Jack's world, friendship and neighbourliness are from a time now lost. Yet Jack's world was a microcosm of the time, 30 plus matelots would live on a small mess deck, sure there would be disagreements and the occasional fisticuffs, but there it ended, respect for senior hands led to mess deck rules being observed, personal hygiene and respect for each other's space meant learning to live together.

It took a special person to live, eat, sleep and sometimes work in the same space, one had to be tolerant, gregarious, and forgiving of others. Protestants lived with Catholics, but no one ever asked "what religion are you" whites with blacks, Geordies with Glaswegians, Scousers with Mancunians, Cockneys with Brummies, Welsh with Irish, no one ever wanted to know another's politics. Indeed those that today are considered natural enemies were then best of pals and Jack's creed was look after your 'oppo', Jack was no Philistine he would not knowingly walk by on the other side, his natural curiosity made him a Samaritan, sometimes to his cost.

Jack could moan and complain about his lot, about his ship, but woe betide any one ashore who had something disrespectful to say about it, insult one sailor you insulted them all, Jack's gospel was togetherness.

The ship and its crew were the very essence of community, reflecting what was good about England, and Great Britain. Here among Hearts of Oak was the heart of Albion, sadly gone now, replaced by political correctness which nurtures suspicion, replaced by the minority dictating to the majority which creates mistrust, replaced by the grasping money led opportunists fuelled by peer pressure, which creates hatred. What happened to the heartlands, to the tolerant caring and supportive society Jack had both in his ship and ashore.

Gone is the family, put the old away, leave the young without direction, leave the ship to flounder? not Jack, the ship was his home, the crew his family, how sad this has all but disappeared.

And so a culture dies!


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