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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Book of Shoals - Excerpts from the Diary of a Seaman.

I hope some of my old friends will remember that I wrote a few pieces for our sharing sessions some years back under the collective title "The Book of Shoals...etc" (as above). I entered Amy Knepper's story competition again, this week and decided to dust the idea off and write a postscript to the original tales.

At the same time, it struck me it might be fun to re-visit the originals so, without apology, here is the first entry from the diary for old times sake.  By the way, guys, don't forget to go to google+ and vote for my piece (please).  I could do with the exposure with Finn's tales in final editing with an aim to have a proper publishing house take them up.

The Book of Shoals - Excerpts from the Diary of a Seaman  - One.



They say the sea is cruel.

I should know. Fifteen years I have lain with her as an uneasy bedfellow and I would say this;
She is not cruel, just dispassionate about our fates.

When I wake for my watch she is always there although she speaks to me with many different voices.  Today it is a song about freedom she is singing as I watch the Shearwaters fly past, trimming the wave tops, dipping sails to steer after the seemingly endless stream of mackerel who flow against the current.  She is weaving with her mind on other things and I hear her song clearly.
I have heard this one before and it always awakes disquiet in my soul.

I turn to my duties;

"Looks like a storm coming"
Old Jack flaps his arms to keep warm. He’s always the pessimist. He was probably born that way in the Glaswegian slum that was his home, what, seventy odd years ago now? 
Born, more like forced screaming into a world he saw only the worst in. Jack’s mother was an alcoholic so he says, father when he was there, a bitter, repressed, angry man, well, he had his reasons I suppose. To find yourself skilled in shipbuilding, and only that, and then be tossed aside when the warships were no longer needed to protect these shores, it breaks even a tough man's spirit.   Some days, though, I think Jack only keeps up this act because he knows the rest of us will make light and chide him humorously. It's the closest he can get to feeling loved, I think.

Pete "The Wreck" stumbles out of the cabin, coughing, retching. Spits something, probably tobacco. His pale and haggard features give him the look of a first timer, seasick and lacking sleep. But, he’s in his eighteenth year of this. He always looks that way, dry land or sea, rain or sunshine. His wan grin as he smoothes out unkempt hair says he is in as good a humour as he gets. He whistles out of tune. 

I wince and wonder what is it with some folks. How can you be so tone deaf that you can't tell when you entirely miss a note? I shake my head.

Grey horizon, brooding. Perhaps Jack’s right, maybe there is a storm out there, grinding its teeth and waiting with hungry eyes and greedy hands to feed on our fear and exertion.

It is true. Any seaman will tell you, in that moment of quiet reflection, that however long you ship, the bad storms never lose their terror. You just expect the struggle and look forward to getting your hands around a hot mug of tea or coffee when its done.

The waves are darker now and the Shearwaters long gone.