Russian Navy

The inspectors

We have more admirals in the navy than we know what to do with. And there’s one particular breed of them, which is specially trained for inspecting. It’s in their blood.

They check everything. Once a week we’re visited by a bastard, I mean a commission. Of course, the navy’s used to them – just like animals at the zoo get used to the public gawping at them. Now only the top brass gets anxious, but even for us the inspectors are a bother.

“But,” you ask, “why can’t they send reserve captains to do the inspections?”

Apparently, they can’t. We’ve got a load of reserve captains of our own, so if they sent someone of the same rank, we’d pack them off to read the graffiti in the gang ways. And that’s why admirals pop up all the time.

All admiral-inspectors have slightly skewed brains because of their non-stop inspections. Their brains are on a kind of slant, with a kind of a twist. However, you can never guess the angle of the slant, so to speak, because it’s different each time.

Of course, if the inspector’s been coming every day, you plan ahead and predict individual episodes or occurrences, but to foresee the whole visit, so you can sleep soundly at night… well, that just ain’t going to happen.

There’s one, for example, who loves stopping his car, calling over an officer and, without so much as bothering to get his body out of the car, starts testing whether the officer knows article 82 and 83 of the disciplinary code. So… spit it out! What’s written in articles 82 and 83 of the disciplinary code? It’s interesting and instructive to watch a serviceman passing such a test… but to watch an officer is far better.

People are going about their business while the officer is sweating it out, it’s as if he is trying to squeeze a blackhead out of his forehead with the sheer weight of his desire to get the right answer. And there’s a kind of warped expression which takes over the officer’s face. “82 and 83?” “Yes.” But he’s stuck. His mind’s gone blank. He can’t tell you for the life of him. He mumbles that he knew it a moment ago, earlier on, he was… but it’s slipped out of his head. Just vanished. And he was even reading those articles a short while ago. Those very articles, as it happens – 82 and 83.

Sweat is pouring down his face; he’s a trembling wreck. Of course, the officer is more than happy to sweat; and his heart only beats on command and stops on command. If he’s a real officer, that is.

So the admiral is watching him squirm from his car, waiting. This admiral’s got only one living emotion –love of salmon – because the rest were all suffocated in embryo. Another inspector, in his sunset years, no sooner arrives than he asks to see the scrap heap. He gets to the scrap heap and says:

“But you’ve got a goldmine here!” Meaning you can bring everything back and add it to the inventory? We all listened to him, naturally, with much tre pidation, but nobody could work out what exactly he meant. What was the gold in our scrap heap? He took that secret to the grave.

There was another admiral, too, just as old, a real old goat, his head was sagging but he was still serving, the poor dear. He loved the word “shit-house”. “You’ve got a real shit- house here,” he’d say. A shit-house was as much as he ever managed to see when he was inspecting the navy.

Then there was an admiral who just loved bolts. He gave a yearly inspection. They’d made a bolt out of stainless steel, and nickel-plated it too, specially for him. It was placed vertically on a stand and capped with top-notch glass. But each year, the bolt had to be made a few milli metres thicker and taller. There were blueprints of this monstrosity lying around somewhere in the navy’s factory. Their handicraftsmen chiselled these souvenirs and our top officers presented them, slobbering all over their sleeves. He would give the previous bolt to the officers in his company. He used to call up a colleague and ask:

“Hey, listen, have you got a bolt? No, not that type of bolt. A souvenir bolt. You can put it on your desk.” And he gave them all away.

Everyone in his division had been “bolted” by him. But the most original admiral of all, the admiral with the biggest screw loose in his head, was the one who inspected us at college. He was kind of short, kind of grey and kind of fat; he had whitish eyelashes. His nickname was “The pig’ll find the dirt”.

He’d arrive in the company followed by a watchful crowd of subordinates. The man on duty – his senses dulled by responsibility – would rush up to him, half-bent over: “Comrade admiral…” to give his report. He’d listen to the report, turn to the subordinate and whisper: “The pig’ll find the dirt”. Then, he’d set off to the toilets.

Of course, everyone knew that’s where he’d go, and they were ready for him but they’d always forget something or other: he’d crawl all over the place and – invariably – he’d find something wrong. Well, you just can’t keep up with him! One day, he set off decisively for the toilets with his subordinates hurrying behind him in a frenzy, but he went straight into a cubicle. They shot after him but he closed the door. There was a silence. They were all standing there, looking at the door, waiting.

Suddenly, from under the door came a hoarse “pull!”.

Nobody understood what to do but they all stuck their heads up like turkeys, ready for anything. Again, a hoarse: “go on, pull!” So, the bravest of the lot stepped forward and tugged the door of the cubicle: the latch came off, the door opened and… there he was on the bog, oops, the admiral, oops, with no trousers on, sorry. Everyone craned forward. And the admiral said: “So, can you see?” – and they all leaned in, as if their lives depended on it: “What, where?” – they all shuffled as close as they could get, and anyone who couldn’t get near the cubicle stretched up on their tiptoes, levered themselves right up to get a glance.

They looked as hard as they could but they couldn’t see anything other than the trouser-less admiral. Well and his bottom was as wrinkled as an accordion in the process of shitting. So, then what?

“Just like that!” said the admiral. “A person’s sitting in here when someone else yanks the door open. The latches are old and the door opens – it’s enough to make anyone lose his appetite to do his business. Where’s your compassion for your fellow man?”

And then everyone looked at the problem again, this time from the other side of the door, really thinking the problem through, and then set off noisily.

And the admiral stood up, happy, pulling up his trousers and then doing them up – with whatever happened to be in them.

After that, we replaced the latches with bolts so you were only able to pull them off with superhuman strength.

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