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Saturday, 22 December 2012


Dear old "Laffy" was paranoid about smell. He had a very finely tuned nose and was quick to tell you that these was a smell about something, paint, putty, oil, anything in fact.

He would not permit perfume or cologne to be worn around him.

In 1967, in Las Palmas, his shower room on the Avon was being refurbished. Putty was used to seal the gaps (as you do). He came to inspect and promptly went ballistic (No! you say, surely not!)

It was a Sunday morning and I was dispatched to the local hardware store to find non-smelling putty. The owner was getting ready to go to church with his family and whilst I tried to explain the urgency of the matter in halting "dockyard" Spanish, he made it clear that God was more important than "El Capitaine".

I had to return and tell Hubbard the news. I must say, he took it quite well, only a medium hissy fit. The next morning I was dispatched again to purchase putty based on linseed oil (non-smelling). I came back with some, this time Hubbard became rather abusive. Linseed oil had a slight odour. I pointed out that a form of oil was neccessary to make putty. John, our Chief Officer (he looked just like Bluto) ventured a suggestion that perhaps we could make our own putty with cooking oil. Hubbard looked at him, unsure if he was being serious, or quaintly just taking the piss.

Anyway, we used the putty, painted the shower with odourless paint and that was that.

On the Royal Scotsman, in Corfu, Hubbard wanted the Bridge repainting. Of course, odourless paint had to be used. It was painted, he came to inspect and went ballistic (What? I hear you say, Again?)

Hubbard was convinced we had used the wrong paint. We showed him the tins, clearly marked as odourless paint. No, they were obviously an inferior make. We had to find the absolute top of the range (and most expensive), have it flown from Germany to the ship (not cheap) and repaint the bridge.
Now he was happier.

The funniest episode came when he ordered a chartroom to be built on the side of the bridge. Seasoned wood was used and this needed to be stained.
The guy doing this was called Steve Koffee (apt, as you will see). Steve was a bright, innovative guy who simply got on with whatever task he was given.
As usual, Hubbard wanted things done immediately, so Steve, whilst staining the woodwork to a rich mahogany colour, ran out of stain.

In order to improvise, Steve made up his own stain....... by using instant coffee!

He experimented on spare pieces of wood until he hit the right colour and proceeded to stain the rest of the chartroom....with coffee.

Hubbard came to inspect the work and asked who had been drinking coffee in his new chartroom. Steve, possibly hoping to score brownie points for his inginuity, stepped forward and gaily told Hubbard about his innovative steps to complete the work.

Krakatoa doesn't even come close!!

Those of us who knew what was coming quickly stepped out of sight. Hubbard's bulging eyes, the neck veins swelling, his mometary gob-smacked silence were all clear indicators of what was about to unleash. Poor Steve simply did not know what was about to happen.

You have never heard anything like it before, the screaming, cursing, he tried to throttle Steve, all of this could be heard 100 yards away. Hubbard's blood pressure must have gone through the roof !

The recriminations were legion. Everyone, even remotely connected got waylaid. He turned on me, as 1st Mate, I quickly produced the written instructions I had from the Chief Officer (always carry a "Get out of Jail" card). He got busted from post.

I was given the job of repairing the work. (Always prudent to nod your head vigourously on such occasions)

On reflection, these episodes were indicative of early stages of Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Later on he would insist his plates and clothed had to be washed and rinsed many times. The story goes that in his final years he developed a "Howard Hughes" syndrome. I don't know. I was not there for that, but it has been told several times.


No, I did not call him "Laffy" to his face. That would have been counter-survival.  

I know once when he "summoned" me, I said "You screamed?" He thought it was funny.  

However, after giving me a full set of orders (mainly with his index finger jabbing at me) I did say "I live to serve". He was not amused. 

He did have a quaint little vindictive streak. He had written out my promotion in rank. Something had upset him and I was sent down to see Ron Stone, Mimeo Chief and ask for the handwritten promotion. Back in his cabin he said read it. I did. I was pleased. He said "Now tear it up". I became displeased.

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