Thursday, August 27, 2009

My life as a sailor

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a member of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, in the musician trade. (In case of war, musicians were to act as stretcher-bearers on the battlefield, being not much good for anything else war-related.)

I joined the Naval reserve while I was in my final year studying music (clarinet) at the University of Toronto, and stayed in for six years, reaching the rank of Master Seaman (which wasn't much of a jump, since I was admitted one rank below, as a Leading Seaman.) My cousin, who was in the regular-force Army (and won a medal for his action as a UN peacekeeper in the Medak Pocket in the war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s) used to tease me because first, the Navy was considered laughable compared to the Army, and secondly, the reserves? Puh-lease! That's not the real military. Not to worry; I would never compare my military service as a clarinetist to his as a real soldier! That said, I did once have to guard the small-arms locker at HMCS York. My weapon was a telephone; I was required to call in every so often to say all was well. I suppose they would have sent in reinforcments had I not called, by which point I no doubt would already have had my throat slit.

Basically, being in the reserves was a fun part-time job that paid me to play clarinet. I also learned rifle drill for the rifle guard, though I never fired a gun. But I looked impressive! And I can polish boots like nobody's business. Of course nowadays, you'd be about as likely to find me on the planet Mars as you would in the military, now that I'm a granola-eating, organic-lovin', pinko bleeding heart socialist peacenik whatever-it-is. But back then, it was a huge amount of fun AND I met my husband Gordon there:

Mmmm. I love a man in uniform. Mmmm.

Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Halifax, 1991. We got married a couple of years later! I can't explain my hair, other than to say I had a bad case of hat-head.

That year, we played a gig on the flight deck of the destroyer the HMCS Athabaskan, which was just back from the first Gulf War and docked in Halifax Harbour. Here I am next to a Sea King helicopter (aka "10,000 bolts flying formation"), pretending to be a naval aviator in entirely-the-wrong-kind-of-sunglasses:

Note "Persian Pig" stencilled on the side of the 'copter. I was too cool for words, baby.

Like I said, we had fun in the Navy. On one long bus ride, we had a "Dirtiest Kiss" contest (out of uniform, of course. No PDA* in uniform! Civvies only!) These two sailors were the winners, but they cheated, since they ran into a nearby delicatessen for a prop just before the competition started...
(*Public displays of affection)

Oh, so rude. But fine musicians! As I recall, he played trumpet and she played... clarinet? Flute?

Meanwhile, I was in love with Sax Boy. Still am!

Gordon outranked me for awhile. That didn't last long. Ask Gordon where he ranks now.

In the summers, musicians (most of them university students) from reserve units across the country would form the Naval Reserve National Band, aka the NRNB. We toured the country playing gigs, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. We'd start in Nova Scotia and end in BC, and I never managed to stay on a military base; there never seemed to be enough spare rooms for the national band while I was a member. Instead we were accommodated in either university dorms or, for one glorious stretch in BC, a HOTEL. There were several romantic couples in the band, so we all switched roommates and ended up bunking with our boyfriends at the hotel, which must have been against some military regulation. Musicians, eh? Gordon and I weren't the only ones from the band who ended up married.

One of my fonder memories from the summer of 1990 is flying in a Hercules aircraft from Greenwood, Nova Scotia to Edmonton, Alberta. One of the flautists had a pet fish who made the flight with us, poor creature. The inside of a Herc is NOT a quiet place. We were allowed in the cockpit, and the view was fantastic. I drew portraits of everyone on their paper barf bags.

Another happy memory involves me playing a Weber clarinet concerto at the Mozart Festival at Whistler, BC. We played outdoors and you could smell the smoke from nearby forest fires. By contrast, the worst gig ever had the band playing at a bus stop outside a shopping mall in downtown Halifax. Nothing like taking in a lungful of diesel fumes every time you breathe!

Nowadays, the cl0sest thing I wear to a uniform is my beekeeping suit. But ah, the memories. Go Navy!


  1. Great story!! Love it!

  2. Wow! you two look so smart!

  3. It's always fun to get peoples back stories. Looks like an adventurous time in your life and fun to look back on.


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!