All aboard the good ship SS Framework
There’s a great deal of responsibility being the captain of a passenger vessel, and it’s vital to maintain an accurate up-to-date list of how many passengers are on board, categorised by numbers of men, women, and children. In an emergency, for example, one would want to be able to gather the passengers together, tally them up, and compare the results with the manifest to ensure that everyone is accounted for. In principle, it’s not a difficult task. The only entry point on the ship is a single gang plank, so all it takes is for a responsible crew member to count them all aboard and write down the numbers somewhere. As the ship stops off in various ports, this process is repeated, a note is made of passengers as they get off and on the vessel. Nothing too difficult, you might think.
On board the SS Framework, things are done a little differently. Manning his position on the bridge, Captain Handcock surveyed the horizon through a pair of binoculars. “You know Jones, I don’t recall the harbour entrance being so far away the last time we docked here”. First Officer Martin Jones leaned over to the captain and murmured “Excuse me sir, if I may…” as he took the binoculars from the captain’s hands and turned then around. “Ah, much better Jones, thank you. Go and fetch me the passenger manifest, there’s a good chap. Let’s see how many of the blighters we have aboard” “Aye-aye Sir” replied Jones, and he went below to find Petty officer Parker.
He was not an easy man to find, but Jones eventually found Parker in one of the ship’s bars, seemingly engrossed in chatting up a rather severe looking brunette that must have been half his age. From her accent he guessed she was dutch. Standing behind Parker, Jones gave a loud ‘harummph’ to make his presence known, which Parker appeared to ignore, so Jones gave him a tap on the shoulder and said “Parker, may I have a word?” The fat ox slowly wheeled around in his seat and asked “Whassa matter with you mate, you lost or somefink?” “The Captain needs the passenger manifest, bring it to the bridge at once” commanded Jones, to which Parker replied “Listen pal, can’t you see I‘m busy, I ain’t got time for counting no passengers” after which he turned around and resumed his conversation. Jones was taken aback at this insolence from a junior rank, so he drew himself to attention, tapped Parker on the shoulder once more, and began to speak in what he considered to be his most authoritative voice. “Damn you Parker, you'll do as you’re told, and if you refuse I’ll jolly well…..” His words faded away as Parker turned around to face him, standing up from his stool so that he loomed over Jones, who hadn’t quite realised just how much shorter he was than the menacing petty officer. Jones gulped, and then continued “Errr…I’ll jolly well go and do it myself.” Parker gave a little smirk and gave Jones a condescending pat on the cheek “Yeah, that’s right Cap’n Bligh, you run along and do yer little errands, and leave me to get on wiv my business, all right?”
Jones turned smartly away and stalked out into the corridor, his ears flushed bright red with embarrassment. He had a good mind to report Parker to the old man, but that would be a little awkward as he, Jones, had recruited Parker in the first place and recommended him to the captain. Admitting he’d made a mistake wasn’t in Jones’s nature, so he resigned himself to the task in hand. Counting the passengers as they came aboard would have been quite simple, but now they were dispersed throughout the ship it was infinitely more time-consuming. He would have no option but to visit every cabin in the ship, and take a look inside to see who was actually occupying it. He couldn’t do it during the day when everyone was milling around the vessel, it could only be done at night when he could be sure that everyone had returned to their cabins. One thing was certain, he wasn’t going to get much sleep over the next couple of nights, and he couldn’t ask to be excused his normal duties as this would expose the fact that he’d allowed Parker to get away with not doing his job.
48 hours later, Jones wearily rose from his bunk and glanced at the thin folder on his desk which enclosed the precious manifest he had collated. It was an exhausting job, tramping around from deck to deck, knocking on doors and making a feeble excuse to the passengers he had disturbed from their slumbers. One cabin was odd in that it was occupied by a cat and a rabbit, with no human occupants, but he assumed they must have been around somewhere so ticked it off as a couple with two children.
Jones saluted Captain Handcock and presented the folder to him. “The passenger manifest, Sir. I recall you wanted to see it” “Did I?” replied the Captain, “well, just leave it in my cabin will you, there’s a good fellow.” Jones was a little deflated that his efforts were not appreciated. “Excuse me Sir, but don’t you think you should check it now?” Captain Handcock turned to the eager young officer and patted him gently on the back. “Look here Jones, you’re a fine chap, and I don’t know which shipping line you served on before, but here at Ministry Cruises we take a more relaxed attitude to how we run our ships. You’ve told me the manifest is complete, and that’s good enough for me. If I was to check everything I’ve asked you to do, why, it would as though I didn’t trust you, and that would be terribly rude, don’t you think?” “Aye-aye Sir”, Jones replied with an air of disappointment.
“Now then Jones, who’s on watch this afternoon?” asked Handcock. “Beasley, Sir, she’ll be taking the helm when we’re off-duty” replied Jones. “Good show, Jones, let’s hope she doesn’t run us aground before the ten o’clock cocoa”, Handcock guffawed. “I’ll think we’ll be safe Sir, especially as we have the new charts supplied by that Wheeldon chap. The short cuts he plotted will save us an absolute fortune on fuel”. Handcock nodded in agreement: “Yes, I liked the cut of his jib, smart fellow. A bit odd that he didn’t want stay with us for the whole voyage. Got off the ship just as we left the harbour, didn’t he?” “Yes sir, he said he’d have loved to have stayed but had some other business to take care of, and wished us bon voyage”.
The next morning found the senior crew bobbing up and down in the life-raft, the gentle lapping of the waves against the sides of the craft were the only sounds to be heard, apart from the sobs emanating from second officer Beasley, who dabbed away her tears with a hankie. “I’m so s-s-sorry Captain” she blubbed “those rocks weren’t m-m-marked on the chart, and they looked so f-f-f-far away, we had plenty of room to s-s-s-sail past them”. Captain Handcock thought for a moment before proffering a few words of advice to the distraught officer. “Look here Beasley, try not to dwell on it, it’s an honest mistake, could’ve happened to anyone. Do yourself a favour, the next time you take the helm, take Jones with you. He knows a thing or two about binoculars”.
This little parable was inspired by the latest response to an FOI request (see letters section).