Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The Power of Power

Crikey! It’s been days!

Sorry about that, I’ve been rather busy. I’m at the mid-point of a novel on a very tight deadline, and I had a short story to slot in, too.

There was also research. It was a big bit of meaty research. I was very, VERY lucky to be able to do it. It’s not every day a writer has the opportunity to be a guest of Her Majesty’s Navy. It’s not every day a writer has the opportunity to go to sea in a warship.

Seriously... I’m not kidding!

I’m what some people might refer to as a little highly strung. I call myself neurotic.

I think it’s because my mental states can’t always be relied upon that I like order. I like routine. I like people and places and things that I know. I don’t like unpredictable situations. I don’t like chaos.

I can come across as a bit of a control freak, but it’s not really like that.

I like decisiveness.

All of that’s fine when I’m in charge. When I can take control and make a decision at least I have no one but myself to blame if things go awry. 

Of course, life is seldom like that, because most lives involve other people. I have the husband and the girls, so there are always others to take into consideration. I am also a very compliant person, and the husband is a big personality.

I’m not suggesting that we live in a state of chaos. You can’t do what we do and live in chaos. 

Then, of course, there are the people I work for. Don’t think they don’t exert a certain amount of control over my life. Of course they do.

Anyway, back to the warship.

Trust me when I tell you there is no space on a warship. Even officers live two to a cabin, and the cabins barely have room for a couple of bunks and standing space between them. Every square inch on these vessels is spoken for. There is a place for everything and if everything weren’t in its place there would be total chaos.

There is no room for chaos. 

Everything, but everything, is done in an orderly manner, by the book, and most of the things these men and women do are routine duties that are performed over and over again, sometimes several times a day.

The precision with which tasks were performed was astounding.

Take the salute.

I was escorted all day by a sub-lieutenant. Every time that he was spoken to by anyone of a junior rank he was addressed as ‘sir’. Every time he spoke to anyone of a senior rank he addressed them as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. Every single time. No one ever deviated. No one ever forgot who he or she was speaking to.

I’m a person of immense discipline and I can’t imagine remembering to do that.

The point is, though, they don’t need to remember. It becomes utterly ingrained in them. It becomes second nature.

I stood on the bridge while the manoeuvreability of the ship was demonstrated. Instructions were being called and answered constantly. One of the things that happens is that a visual check of the horizon is made. Various people literally get up to look out of the windows and report what they can literally see. They’re also constantly moving between various machines and maps, and reporting back and forth between other areas of the ship, including the captain or officer of the watch, and the war ops room. It’s like watching bees in a hive.

I saw speedboats deployed for boarding actions, and I saw a man overboard drill with divers, and that’s without the actual sailing part. Just getting a warship in and out of harbour is an extraordinary event.

The Captain saluting another vessel.
The piper is behind my head, left of pic.
We were at a big naval base. When a navy ship leaves or enters a harbour it hails every other navy ship that it meets, domestic and foreign. The captain and a piper stand on the deck and pipe and salute every ship by name. Every ship responds, its own captain and piper standing on the corresponding deck and answering.

There is ritual and order and routine. There are rules, and everyone knows them, and everyone adheres to them.

As I’m sure I said, I am what a lot of people might call highly strung.

I expected to feel nervous on a warship. I expected to feel uncomfortable. I expected to be wary of the whole experience.

But that’s the power of power.
The First Sea Lord returning the salute

Order and routine, and rules and the expectation that people know what they’re doing make for an extremely calm environment.

There was no conflict. If a decision had to be made, everyone knew who had the power to make it. There were no hotheads. There was no room for arguments. 

I was on a bloody warship for crying out loud, with guns, and missiles, and the capacity to do God only knows what. Just standing on the upper deck with its narrow railings should have made me feel insecure, and there were people in the water, and speed boats jumping off it, and they threw that ship around so much that the horizon was at a forty degree angle at times, and I never felt anything but calm and safe and perfectly happy. 

It was a life lesson for me.

I’m going to apply this shit. I’m going to damned well take charge. I’m going to be around people who know what they’re doing, who make good decisions, who stay calm and take charge and who are organised.

And when I can’t be around people like that, for whatever reason, I’m bloody well going to do it for myself.

Here’s the thing, though. In a small way, this is what I always did for my kids. We had routines, we had order and we had rules that we stuck to. It worked for me as a parent, I wonder why it never crossed my mind that it could work for me as a person.

1 comment:

  1. If I were tell you some stories about my friends and relations who serve in the military and their families, I'd probably leave you disillusioned, so I wont.