In Their Own Words:  Ten Years On
Community Celebrations with the Characters from Mary Renault’s Novels
part of the In Their Own Words project of the Mary’s Handmaidens LiveJournal community

Ralph and Laurie
(Part One)

Florence A. Watson

Interviewer:   Thank you so much for this.  I do have a few things to ask that I thought of but first I’ll start with questions from some of the community members.  It seems the some of them worry about the two of you.

Laurie:   Oh?  Why?

Interviewer:   Well, in your case, they are worried about your leg.  I mean, it healed, but left you with a limp.  And there were problems with the boot you were given.  Does it really get better?

Laurie:   It’s never as it was, if that’s what you mean.  I was pretty lucky to have kept it, though there were times—when I was in the thick of those endless operations and physio­therapy—when I think I’d have cheered if they’d just cut it off.

Ralph:   You were bound to feel low at times.

Laurie:   I suppose.  Though compared with others, I was lucky.  What would have happened had I not been evacuated at Dunkirk really doesn’t bear thinking of.  I gather the medical care in the POW camps was pretty basic.

Interviewer:   And are you all right?  In the long run, I mean.

Laurie:   Well I keep the leg, if that’s what you’re asking, though the limp gets worse as I get older.  After the war, once I’d settled into a civilian job, and could be sure I wouldn’t be moving round a lot, I bought a bungalow.  That made life a lot easier.  Fortunately I was never much into running and only an average cricket player.  Swimming was my sport; and that’s actually quite good exercise for a gamey leg.  I go to the local swimming baths three times a week.

Interviewer:   Your sport … does that mean you competed in the Paralympic Games?

Laurie:   The what?

Interviewer:   The games for the disabled.

Laurie:   But I am not disabled.

Ralph:   (taking pity on the Interviewer’s frustrated expression)   No Laurie, I know what she’s on about.  You mean the Stoke Mandeville Games that were held in 1948.  They were for only veterans in wheelchairs and amputees.  Laurie wouldn’t have been allowed to compete.  Besides, I’m not sure they included a swimming competition.  As Spud said, he was never more than average at any other sport.

Interviewer:   I see.  And how is your health, Ralph?

Ralph:   (looking startled)   Mine?   (He holds up his maimed hand in its glove and wiggles three fingers.).   As you see.

Interviewer:   Hmm … yes … that’s not quite what I was referring to.  Oh dear, there really isn’t any delicate way of putting this….  Some of the fans are worried about your drinking.

Ralph:   Why?

Interviewer:   I gather there is a scene in the novel where you get rather tight.

Ralph:   Let’s call it what it really is:  I was completely wasted.  You do remember that was largely down to Bunny spiking my drink?

Interviewer:   Yes that time was; but you do seem to be a fairly heavy drinker.

Ralph:   I’m a sailor.

Interviewer:   I beg your pardon?

Ralph:   You don’t suppose I drink on duty?

Interviewer:   Umm … well….

Ralph:   Look, what you’ve got to understand is that when I’m at sea I don’t drink—at all.  One simply can’t.  Well, I suppose I could in the sense that there is always grog somewhere on a ship.  But one cannot drink and captain a ship safely.  Perhaps the ratings can drink when off-shift; but an officer really shouldn’t (those that do may find themselves without a berth on the next trip) and a captain is never really off-duty.  So, no:  when I’m on ship I’m completely sober.  On land is another matter.

Interviewer:   I see.  But that’s the past.  I mean, you lost your ship and couldn’t get another.  And you were drinking a lot—in the novel.

Ralph:   I was unhappy.  God!  You don’t suppose I would ever have gone with someone like Bunny otherwise do you?  So yes, I drank too much.  I felt I had no reason not to.  But then I found my reason.

Interviewer:   Are you saying being with Laurie provided the reason?

Laurie:   Good Lord!  Is nothing off limits?

Ralph:   Where angels fear, I think.

Interviewer:   It was one of the community members who asked.

Ralph:   Have you never drunk too much, young lady?

Interviewer:   We’re not talking about me.

Ralph:   I know; I’ll get to it.  Just humour me.  Have you ever drunk too much?

Interviewer:   Well … yes.

Ralph:   And how did you feel the next day?

Interviewer:   Sick—from the hangover, and … well a bit of a fool, really.

Ralph:   Well so did I.  Only in my case it was more than a day.  But unless one is an alcoholic, even if it takes several months, eventually one wakes up from it.  And feels the fool.  And decides not to keep doing it.  I drank too much but I wasn’t dependent on it.  Few are, you know.  Real alcoholics—the ones who imagine purple spiders when they are coming off a bender—are quite rare.  For most it’s a crutch when one is unhappy or rudderless.  Which I was for a while.  Once I found my purpose, I didn’t need it any longer.

Interviewer:   And Laurie was your purpose?

Ralph:   Nonsense, woman!  I wouldn’t put that burden on any person.  No Laurie was—and is—my joy, and my safe haven.  My purpose was to beat the Germans.  At least it was during the war.  There was a time when I doubted if I was fit to be a part of that, given my murky past.  Laurie helped me to see otherwise.

Interviewer:   That brings me to another question.  What did you do for the rest of the war?

Ralph:   Continued in the Merchant Navy.

Interviewer:   Yes, I knew that.  But what did you do?  I mean, in the novel you are taking some sort of hush-hush course.  I can appreciate you needed to keep that secret then; but can you tell us about it now?

Ralph:   Sonar—and radio relay.  I was training to be an operator on one of the large sea-going vessels.

Interviewer:   I see—and did you?  Serve on one of the large ships, I mean.  I ask because I thought your injury meant you had to remain on land.

Ralph:   Yes, for a time.  It was one of the peculiarities of the service that I wasn’t considered fit to command a small ship but could serve on a larger vessel.  I think the idea was that on a small vessel one had to turn one’s hand to anything whilst in a larger crew the loss of fingers was less of an issue.  And, of course, as the war progressed they just needed trained sailors.

Interviewer:   So you saw action again?

Ralph:   Yes, in the Atlantic, on convoy duty—and very dull action it was too.  By the time I was sent out they had broken the codes; so we were reasonably successful at avoiding the submarine wolf packs.  And let me tell you that back and forth across the Atlantic on a supply ship in winter gets very dreary.

Interviewer:   So, no action?

Ralph:   Not much.  There was one convoy where a submarine got inside the perimeter.  But fortunately for me they attacked the other side and there were several ships in between.  I saw the flashes of the explosions in the distance that night; but that was all I did see.  The escort destroyer used depth charges on the poor bloody bastards and that was that.

Interviewer:   Poor bloody bastards?  They were trying to kill you!

Ralph:   Don’t get me wrong:  it was them or me; and I’m entirely thankful it was them and not me, if you get my drift.  And not just because I wanted to live.  Our side needed those supplies.  Shipping flour and powdered milk wasn’t glamorous; but it was vital to the war effort and everyone in those convoys knew that.  But any sailor couldn’t help but feel sorry for those submariners—stuck in what was effectively a sardine tin, hundreds of miles from home, with precious little chance of seeing it again.  Our losses were bad; but theirs were much worse.

Interviewer:   So no decorations?

Ralph:   You knew I got a gong for that doings at Dunkirk.  As did Laurie.

Interviewer:   Yes, but after that.

Ralph:   Not unless you count campaign medals.  I did get the Atlantic Star.

Interviewer:   I heard it was more than just a campaign medal.  Weren’t you decorated for bravery?

Ralph:   No.

Interviewer:   No?  I thought you did get another medal.

Ralph:   No.  I was mentioned in despatches.

Interviewer:   Would you like to tell us about it?

Ralph:   Not really.

Interviewer:   The community members would like to know.

Ralph:   Not your editor?  Five years ago, you badgered me on his orders.

Interviewer:   Well, of course, given this year is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, he would like the story; but the community wants the story too.

Laurie:   His ship was sunk.

Interviewer:   Again?

Laurie:   Again.  The Merchant Navy came under heavy fire providing support to the landings.  When they show documentaries about the invasion of Europe they always talk about the casualties on the beaches.  And I’m not saying those men weren’t brave.  But the logistics of supply were horrendously complex; and unlike the soldiers who moved off the beaches and out of the line of fire, the merchant navy had to stay floating in one place.

Ralph:   Or sink, as the case may be.

Laurie:   Or sink.

Interviewer:   Oh dear … again.

Ralph:   Again.  It seems I would have been better off captaining the swim team at school, rather than the First Eleven.

Laurie:   What he’s not saying is that he stayed until last, helping others get away safely in the lifeboats, and then shot down enemy aircraft attacking the ship next to his, before finally abandoning ship, so he was mentioned in despatches.  Which means, he’s entitled to the France and Germany Star as well as the Atlantic Star.

Interviewer:   (beaming)   Three medals!  Oh my!

Ralph:   No, you’re not allowed both.

Interviewer:   That hardly seems fair.

Ralph:   This isn’t school, young lady; it’s real life.

Laurie:   He gets a clasp added to the Atlantic Star instead.

Ralph:   Let’s talk about something else, shall we?  Haven’t you any questions on other subjects?

Interviewer:   Well, yes.  Community members want to know a little more about your thoughts when you were courting Laurie.

Ralph:   God!  Surely not dissecting my feelings again!

Interviewer:   No, no—more what you were thinking than feeling.

Laurie:   Perhaps, if we took a short break?

Interviewer:   Yes, of course.  I appreciate it cannot have been easy remembering D-Day.  Only … you will come back won’t you?

“ITOW - Interview with Ralph and Laurie” was originally posted to the maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community by fawatson on 3 August 2014. .

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These stories and interviews are written purely for entertainment, and as a tribute to the creator of the characters and author of the books, Mary Renault.   No copyright infringe­ment is intended.

The mottled tan and blue backgrounds, and the satin and ripply backgrounds came originally from, and had their colour altered at, and/or were altered using Microsoft Picture Manager.
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“ITOW - Interview with Ralph and Laurie” copyright © Florence A. Watson 2014.
All other original material copyright © Greer Watson 2014.