up periscope!

Sixty years ago, Peregrine Cope worked on submarines.
‘I bet you must’ve heard it a lot.’
‘Heard what?’
‘Up Perry Cope! You know….your name.’
He looks confused.
‘They called me P,’ he says. ‘Until I thumped them.’
It’s hard to imagine Perry in a submarine. He’s still over six foot, despite the geriatric shrinkage. In his youth he must’ve been an imposing figure. The conning tower was probably the only place he could stand up straight.
‘Was that difficult? Being so tall, in a submarine?’
He shrugs.
‘They had hatches,’ he says.
‘But if you’re underwater…’
He sighs, reaches for his mug of tea, takes a swig, then holds the mug up close to his face to inhale the vapours.
‘You could smoke as much as you liked when you were cruising on top,’ he says, following another thought. ‘On a dive, it was strictly one a day.’
‘I suppose they couldn’t afford too much smoke in a closed environment.’
‘We liked it,’ he says.
His wife Rita brings in a plate of sandwiches.
‘I want to see them gone when I get back.’
‘Very good, sir!’ he says.
She grabs her Scottie dog themed shopping trolley and drags it out the front door.
‘I think I’m probably better adapted for life on a submarine,’ I tell him, turning back to the folder to write out the yellow form. ‘Being so short n’all. Plus I don’t smoke.’
‘I gave up thirty-five year ago,’ he says. ‘Doctor’s orders.’
‘Yep. Submarines. Mines. Outer space. I’d be all right.’
‘Were you ever in the services?’ he says, putting his mug of tea back down, then picking up a sandwich and lifting the top of it to inspect the contents, half of which fall into his lap.
‘I thought about it once. I even got as far as going to a recruitment office. But the guy on the front desk was pretty ferocious and he put me off. I mean – if they’re like that when you’ve just walked in off the street, what’s it going to be like when you’re on the parade ground?’
Perry puts the sandwich back and claps his hands clean.
‘A damned sight worse,’ he says. ‘You know, when I joined up they asked me what trade I had. I told them engineer. So what did they do? They put me down as a cook. It took me ten years to work my way up. But I enjoyed it. Saw the world.’
‘And plenty of fish.’
‘What d’you mean, fish? They don’t have windows, you know.’
‘Really? Shame.’
He studies me a while then shakes his head.
‘How long have you been in this game, then?’ he sighs, reaching for his tea again.
‘Me? A year or thereabouts’ I tell him. ‘Feels longer.’

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