As I left my train at Portsmouth this morning a woman standing at the end of the platform caught my eye. It looked as though she’d left the recently arrived ferry and was checking out the trains on the big board. This is not a rare occurrence and the only reason I noticed her was because of her choice of outfit.
Of course I was in Portsmouth for work at the library, having missed last week because of the software upgrade. Heather said I was very lucky to have not been there. This week we had a visiting French navy ship but last week it was a US aircraft carrier. (You can always tell by the flags on the main building.)
Security this week was the same as it always is. It was noticeably different to the week when we had the Japanese ship in dock and they had an officer on each gate who stood back, watched and bowed a lot. According to Heather, last week the place was basically locked down given the Americans insisted on having a couple of MPs at every gate checking everyone’s IDs before, after or during the normal security guys.
I know the Americans are ridiculously anal when it comes to checking identities because they always assume guilt before innocence (one of the reasons why I’ll never go back to the US) but I’m surprised that the British security teams put up with being told their work wasn’t good enough. They have always been most assiduous with me.
Anyway, I was fortunate not to have to put up with any US bollocks because the French were nowhere to be seen. I can only assume they were taking petit déjeuner aboard their ship and letting the UK security people do their job.
Of course I had the usual malarkey of getting an escorted pass though, because of a system problem, all issued passes were going to be escorted this week so I didn’t feel quite so ‘special’ with my red one.
And speaking of security, this week a few, meaning three, books I had to catalogue were about the SBS. I’d never heard of this highly trained and scary sounding branch of the Royal Navy.
Like the army’s SAS, the SBS go in and carry out the covert operations that no normal, sane person would have anything to do with. The acronym stands for Special Boat Service, which I think makes it sound rather nondescript, harmless and twee. The truth is far, far different.
Formed during WW2 by a commando called Roger Courtney, the team has undergone a few changes (not least in name) since 1940. The higher ups were not convinced for the need of the SBS so Roger proved his worth by sneaking aboard an RN ship, writing his initials on the Captain’s door and stealing a gun cover from the deck. I’m not sure how this sort of sneaky business proved that the navy needed this sort of sneaky business but it worked and his Folboat Troop was formed.
Folboat refers to the type of folding canoe they used but is rather clunky as a name for a cool bunch of espionaging type guys. Mind you, the folboats are still made and used. One of them, called the Folder or Oru Kayak is made from a single sheet of plastic and folds up into a carrying case when not in use. (The folboats are fascinating, basically being origami maritime vessels.)
After the war, the troop was disbanded as it was then. The Royal Marines took over the SBS name and it became part of the general Special Operations division of the RN.
The SBS has taken part in many covert operations over the years. Possibly their saddest day was during the Falklands when, during a combined SBS and SAS operation, an SAS operative shot and killed two SBS operatives, mistaking them for Argentinians.
In 1987 their name became the Special Boat Service and so it has been since. The members of the Service are called Swimmer Canoeists because of their skills. They also perform their duties on both land and sea. They are highly trained and, quite frankly, not a little bit scary. Kind of like the SAS, I guess.
I have no idea what they would have thought of the woman I saw this morning on Portsmouth station. They probably would have given her a second glance, as I did, but then just carried on with whatever they were doing at the time. Mind you, I reckon her outfit would have made a marvellous double bluff if she didn’t want to be noticed…by being instantly noticed.
Her outfit, which included a dusty pink suitcase with cream straps, started from a white floppy hat atop blue, bobbed, shoulder length hair. This was teamed with little white Japanese style cotton gloves, a light yellow, knitted cropped top and finished off with a mid-calf length, green pleated rubber skirt.
I say ‘rubber’ as if I went up and touched it to make sure or asked her but I’m only going on what it looked like. It was a very fine material but it certainly appeared to be rubber. To be completely honest, it was quite remarkable. Which explains why I’m remarking on it.
I really wanted to tell her how cool she looked in her entire ensemble but I was passed her by the time I’d taken it all in and she’d headed for her platform. I shrugged inwardly and kept on to the dockyard.
Needless to say, I didn’t get a photo. Instead, here’s a shot I took at Guildford station while waiting for the Ascot train home.