Last month’s announcement of the death of Alex Naylor prompted George Wyllie to send me a 21st century take on the Battle of Trafalgar, ‘fought’ under modern health and safety rules.
Alex, from Old Portsmouth, was famous for playing Admiral Lord Nelson, particularly during the memorable Trafalgar 200 celebrations in the city in 2005.
George, of North End, Portsmouth, is ex-navy, and remembers when Alex, dressed as his hero, was forced to wear a life jacket over his full admiral’s uniform during a trip up the Thames from Greenwich to the Houses of Parliament in 2004.
So, you are now on the deck of the recently renamed HMS Appeasement with Admiral Nelson and his captain, Hardy...
Nelson: Give the order to hoist my signal Hardy.
Hardy: Aye, aye sir.
N: Hold on – that’s not the signal I dictated to my signals officer.
H: Sorry sir.
N: England expects every person to do his duty regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion or disability. What gobbledegook is this?
H: Admiralty policy I’m afraid sir. We’re an equal opportunities employer now. We had the devil’s own job getting ‘England’ past the censors lest it be considered racist.
N: Gadzooks Hardy, hand me my pipe and tobacco.
H: Sorry sir, all naval vessels have been designated smoke-free working environments.
N: In that case, break open a cask of rum. Let us splice the main brace to steel the men before battle.
H: The rum ration has been abolished admiral. It’s part of the government’s policy on binge drinking.
N: Good heavens Hardy, I suppose we had better get on with it. Full speed ahead.
H: I think you’ll find there is a four-knot speed limit on this stretch of water.
N: Dammit man, we are on the eve of the greatest sea battle in history. We must attack with all dispatch. Report from the crow’s nest please.
H: That won’t be possible sir.
H: Health and safety have closed the crow’s nest sir. No harness. They say the rope ladder doesn’t meet regulations. They won’t let anyone up there until proper scaffolding can be built.
N: Then get the ship’s carpenter without delay Hardy.
H: Unfortunately he’s busy knocking up wheelchair access to the fo’c’sle, admiral.
N: Wheelchair access? I’ve never heard anything so absurd.
H: Health and safety again, sir. We have to provide a barrier-free environment for the differently-abled.
N: Differently-abled? I’ve only one arm and one eye and I refuse to hear mention of the word. I didn’t rise to the rank of admiral by playing the disability card.
H: Actually sir, you did. The Royal Navy is under-represented in the areas of visual impairment and limb deficiency.
N: Whatever next? Give me full sail. The salt spray beckons.
H: A couple of problems there too sir. Health and safety won’t let the men aloft without safety helmets. And they don’t want anyone breathing in too much salt – haven’t you seen the adverts?
N: I’ve never heard of such infamy. Break out the cannon and tell the men to stand by to engage the enemy.
H: The men are a bit worried about shooting at anyone admiral.
N: What? This is mutiny!
H: It’s not that sir, it’s just that they are afraid of being charged with murder if they kill anyone. There are a couple of human rights lawyers on board watching everyone like hawks.
N: Then how are we supposed to sink the French and the Spanish?
H: Actually sir, we’re not.
N: We’re not?
H: No sir. The French and Spanish are our European partners now. According to the Common Fisheries Policy we shouldn’t even be in this stretch of water. We could get hit with a huge claim for compensation.
N: But you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil.
H: I wouldn’t let the ship’s diversity co-ordinator hear you saying that sir. You could be up on a disciplinary.
N: But surely you must consider every man an enemy who speaks ill of your king?
H: Not any more sir. We must be inclusive in this multicultural age. Now put on your Kevlar vest, it’s the rules.
N: Don’t tell me – health and safety. What happend to rum, sodomy and the lash?
H: As I explained sir, rum is off the menu and there is a ban on corporal punishment.
N: What about sodomy?
H: I believe that is to be encouraged sir.
N: Thank God for that. In that case – kiss me Hardy!