IT was 1963 when I left school at Dartford Technical College and my home in South London to join the Royal Navy. I was 15 years old, and I can't actually remember the exact reason for my enlisting - all lost in the haze of time now. I was immediately appointed to a very old training frigate for initial training before beginning my job of apprentice marine engineering mechanic aboard the HMS Galatea, another frigate. I was just another young bloke learning his trade, but I guess you could say the conditions are a little bit different when you're based in Malta and cruising the Mediterranean. The job, with its sense of adventure, obviously had its rewards for a young man, and I found it quite strange, having never left London and Kent, to be suddenly whisked away to this foreign part of the world. Life aboard the ship was a fairly austere one. We even slept in the old hammocks. But everyone else had to, so I accepted it as normal. I think you also got used quite quickly to the discipline, which was informal yet formal, if you can understand that. There were also plenty of characters aboard and there was always someone up to something to alleviate the uncomfortable aspects of life in the confines of a ship at sea. Unfortunately a junior sailor like myself found himself on the receiving end of more than his fair share of the humour. There were 40 of us trainees in the ship's crew of 210. I remember my first time down in the engine room being ordered to go fetch a bucket of steam. There was always a strong sporting culture in the navy, and although I'm involved with rugby union now, back then it was soccer. The rivalry between ships was intense to be the 'cock of the fleet'. When we were in harbour, apart from the usual trappings of food and beverage and other pursuits, there was always lots of sport. There were a lot of friendships I made during that time that have stayed with me. In fact I caught up with a few friends from those days when I served on the HMS Invincible in the Falklands. The pay was terrible - shillings and pence, not pounds - but the trade-off was seeing some of the most exotic and romantic places the world has to offer. It quickly became a way of life - much more than a job. I visited countless places in 30 years with the navy, culminating in a position as barrackmaster at the HMS Tamar in Hong Kong. And I've never regretted my choice. I think nowadays teamwork is a vogue word used in business for whatever end, but in that job teamwork was natural. It was practised naturally and accepted by the whole crew. I used to like the people I worked with because of their humour and also their acceptance of quite a degree of diversity amongst them. I suppose I carry those ideas of a natural teamwork with me to this day and in my position now, as always, the lesson is to take the knocks and maintain the humour.