The other two services are forever amused by how we, in the Navy, do things “the other way round”; for example, our wearing our ribbons and medals and saluting with our palms inwards. However, two things that have fascinated them are: PLD or Pre Lunch Drinks and Small Eats.
The former came about due to our observing Make and Mend days on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The tradition goes back to days of sail, when the ship’s company (crew) used to mend and make do rigging on the afternoons of these days.
However, later, nothing used to be made and mended on these days except everyone got together on the quarterdeck or wardroom and gulped large quantities of beer and had small eats. Small eats is the naval lingo for ‘starters’.
It was quite common, during those days, for senior officers ashore such as Fleet Commander and CinC to join in the revelry.
During one of these PLDs, on my ship INS Vikrant, where I was an Acting Sub Lieut, there was a circle of senior officers such as the CinC, ASD (Admiral Superintendent Dockyard, Fleet Cdr, COS (Chief of Staff) and our CO. Surprisingly, our Lieutenant (SDC) ( Special Duty Communication; that is, he had made to an officer from being a sailor in the communication branch) joined the group.
It was quite a sight; there were these most senior ranking officers in the Western Naval Command and then there was this Lieutenant also in their group. So, whilst the senior officers chatted and cracked jokes, our Lieutenant was, for courtesy sake, included in their conversation. He had, of course, nothing to contribute, by way of repartee, comments or anecdotes.
Gradually, it became rather embarrassing and our man was the first one to notice it. In order to get over the tense moment, he blurted out the truth, “Respected Sirs; don’t please pay attention to me. I am standing here only for the small eats (starters).” (What he didn’t say was that most starters were served by the stewards to the senior officers; who, at their age and appetite, hardly required any of them.)
The senior officers’ laughter could be heard across several ships.
John Milton would have turned in his grave with the modern-day use of, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
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