Unfortunately one the people I wrote about in this blog died unexpectedly the night before last. Although I never named him and no one would know, I feel compelled to take down Still Not Sailing as a mark of respect.
Monthly Archives: March 2012
I got a Facebook message from a fellow MA student today cheering because she’d handed in her dissertation. Well done her! I know exactly how she’s feeling – total relief that it’s done, and a kind of emptiness.
Well, I can cure the emptiness. Get your a*** into gear girl and get on The Kinky Boot Collective and get blogging. Let’s face it, you’ve got a bit of spare time now.
I am haunted. I noticed this a few years ago but have hesitated to say anything because, well, people might think I’m losing the plot. I have to speak out now though because it’s getting ridiculous.
I’m being haunted by an old woman. A wrinkly, frazzled, tired-looking old woman. Most of the time she stays out of my sight but when I approach a mirror -Bam! – she’s there before me. I can’t get past her. Maybe I just want to comb my hair or brush my teeth, or something but she’s right in the way. I’ve tried peering round her or jumping up in the air to see over her head but it’s like she can read my mind because she does the same thing. It’s not as if she haunts one mirror, it’s all of them. Any mirror I look in, she’s there. If I look towards my reflection in a shop window, she’s there. It sounds cruel but I’m going to have to have her exorcised. Or at least Botox-ed, poor old dear.
One of my fellow crew mates remembered that it’s my birthday today, which was very nice of him. Nature has remembered too and I’ve been gifted with not one but four rainbows so far. This means that we’ve had a number of heavy showers this morning but the sun hasn’t hidden away and it’s a beautiful day. Seals are drifting around the ship submerging and then rising. Occasionally one will have a fish in its mouth but mostly they are just looking up at me, looking down at them, looking up at me …
The wind is blowing out at sea, which is why we’re still glued to the quay, but in the harbour the breeze is quite gentle. It’s a cat’s-paw wind that skips across the water creating paw prints of ripples that disappear as suddenly as they arrive. Watching them, I can imagine a giant, invisible cat pouncing on the water chasing unseen mice or cat nip toys. Maybe it’s a ghost cat. Maybe it belongs to the woman in the mirror.
Back in the practical world, it’s Saturday so we are only working the half day. I am sitting in my cabin tapping away on my netbook, everyone else is in the TV lounge watching Scotland trying to dodge the wooden spoon in the rugby. I could go and join them. But the sun is shining. I’m in the Shetlands. It’s a shame to waste the day inside. Perhaps I’ll take the woman in the mirror and her invisible cat for a walk.
I’ve never read any Mark Twain before. I can’t believe that!
God bless e-readers. I wasn’t sure about them at first (whilst at the same time knowing I’d end up with one because I love gadgets) but just before I joined this ship, my family gave me one as an early birthday present. Now I can travel with up to 1500 books and not go over my baggage allowance. And – as long as I can get on the internet, I can get a new read even if I’m miles from a bookshop. No more scrabbling around in the cardboard box that passes for a ship’s library. Hooray!
Hooray again for whoever decided that several classics could be downloaded free. That’s how I discovered Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of those books you should read before you die but it never got near enough to the top of my list for me to remember to buy it. Now I’ve got it for nothing and it is brilliant.
There is a dark side to Huck Finn’s story in that it deals with slavery and the n-word litters the book but Twain was an abolitionist and it shows. OK Huck feels guilty for not shopping the runaway slave, Jim, several times but once he works out that he has his own moral compass his conscience eases and he stands by Jim through thick and thin. I love this book so much, I’m going to try to strong-arm my nephew into reading it. It has a strong moral. A moral that appeals to me; be guided by your own conscience and stuff the rules. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or how you speak, you CAN do it your way. So there.
Now, having absorbed all that from a master, how do I translate it into my writing? the novel I’m working on is not even nearly as good as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but I do have a young main character who is struggling with moral questions. Do you think I could get away with throwing in a raft trip? Would anyone notice what I’d done?
To have any respect for its decency. Joseph Conrad.
0600 And we’re off. A 360º azimuth bow thruster peeled us off the quay quietly and quickly. There was no wind to speak of so there were no dramas and now we’re in open water and I can feel the ship rolling ever so slightly. That’s good. You can’t get to know a ship when she’s alongside; you have to feel her moving under your feet.
There’s not much wildlife about out here, just the odd passing gannet but, then, I’ve long thought of the North Sea as barren.
00 -0400 watch.
Outside the bridge windows all is dark. No moon, no stars and, although the weather is blowy, there aren’t even any white caps to alleviate the blackness. Inside the bridge, all is light. Insulated from the outside world by banks of computer screens, it’s too easy to forget to look out of the windows – never good on a ship at sea.
We are running lines. That is, we are towing something on a cable that reads the sea bed. I have to watch a screen constantly to check our speed as we must stay between 4 and 4.5 knots. Going one way the speed has stayed constant. Going the other, I’ve had to make regular adjustments to the engine revs. Either side of me, giant radar screens show there’s absolutely nothing out there but I remember to look out of the windows – just in case. There’s nothing to beat the Mark 1 Eyeball – except, I swear the visibility is reduced. There’s a haze round the deck lights. I am better off looking at the radar then.
12 – 1600 watch.
We ran one line in my watch. Just the one, then we had to pack up and run for Lerwick because there’s an imminent gale warning and the wind is already increasing.
On the steam back, the wind got up towards a force 7. The swell, already moderately high, piled up into steel-grey hills with snowy peaks. And did this ship pitch and roll uncomfortably? No. She did not. I like this ship. She’s comfortable and she’s got soul. Her sister ship, however, (or more accurately her stable-mate because they are not actually sisters) is at great risk of losing her soul because she is crewed by the damned. How is it that she left a nearby survey site after we left ours and still bagged the plum berth, right in the town centre? I think the Devil may have had a hand in this.
At 0130 today (15th March) we slid quietly sideways to our berth between the ferry terminal and a fishing boat. All quiet, businesslike and unfussy. Ropes went ashore onto bollards, the gangway was rigged, our engines shut down – and still a certain berth closer to town remains empty. Oh well, in Lerwick, you’re not a long walk from anywhere really.
Yes, the cloud tore apart into trailing shreds around the rising moon and I wandered up on deck just in time to see it. I tried to photograph it but on the small screen of my mobile phone, it didn’t look romantic enough. Well, not with the lights from the ferry terminal starring the picture with sodium flares.
It seems possible that on this ship I will have time to write, whether I’ll carry on with the novel or write in response to my environment, I don’t yet know. I only arrived yesterday and we haven’t left the quayside yet. But I will write. And I’ll write about the writing on here, The Kinky Boot Collective. I’ll write about being a sailor on Shedward.
If there’s a bit of a gap between posts, it’s only because I’m out of range of the internet. When I’m closer inshore, I may have saved up several posts. Who knows? Here’s hoping.
Captain Malcolm opened the throttle, the plane shot down the runway and lifted off into warm spring sunshine. To our left, the gilded waters of the estuary bounced back reflections of the sunlight. To our right, six lanes of traffic threaded along the grey tarmac of the motorway. And on a back road, heading away from the airport was my sister. She didn’t stay to see me off, she never does. She doesn’t like goodbyes. It doesn’t matter if I’m going away for a week or two months, as I am now, she hates the separation.
Once, about twenty years ago, she was seeing me off on a coach. I was going back to my ship after some leave and was going away for six or eight months. Poor little sis was bereft. She was also going back to her ship a few days later but that didn’t make it any easier for her. In a show of strength, she scrubbed the tears from her cheeks and as I looked down from the coach window, she gave me a brave smile. I swallowed the lump in my throat and smiled back. Just then, a tiny nun of about four-foot-nothing, put her arm around my sister and led her away. The nun had also been seeing someone off and had watched our sad parting. She stepped in and comforted my sister and the last view I had as the coach pulled away was of my taller-than-average sibling being led away by this tiny woman with a big heart.
There have been many comings and goings since then. My sister never fails to cry. And she never fails to text me after I’ve left and ask, ‘Where’s a nun when you need one?’
Once the coach or train has pulled away, or the plane has left the runway, I can put the temporary sadnesses away and look to my immediate future. Only today, I worried that my immediate future might be cut short. The pleasant seeming young man who I was sitting next to had a nervous tic; he kept stamping his foot every few seconds. This was quite annoying – for him too, I should imagine – then it became alarming. Was it a nervous tic? Or was he a shoe bomber trying to set his device off?
By the time we landed at Leeds – Bradford, I’d satisfied myself that it was a nervous tic and relaxed back into my seat. We didn’t have to leave the plane, Mr Stampy and I, we were flying on to Aberdeen so all we had to do was sit and wait for the new intake of passengers. Sit and wait with the bloody plane doors open. Yorkshire was not warm. It was grey, drizzly and miserable – and that was just inside the cabin. Then we had to listen to a radio station called Flybe Unplugged. Now that was just plain cruel.
I lost sight of Stampy at Dyce Airport where I joined my flight to Lerwick. The weather was getting grimmer and the planes were getting smaller the further north I went but it was a pleasant flight and a party of English folk on their first visit to the Shetlands filled the cabin with their excitement.
It wasn’t until we’d landed and I made my way into the arrivals hall that I discovered that someone was meeting me. Me and two others who had flown up from the West country on the same flights to join the same ship… At least we did finally meet, I suppose. Even if it was at the far end of the journey.
The beautiful, treeless, grey-green landscape hunched its shoulders against the horizontal rain as we sped towards Lerwick and our new home. My two new shipmates chatted away in the back seat and I stared out at a land I haven’t visited for about ten years, until the blue and white countenance of our ship rose before us and the taxi came to a halt on the quayside.
Faces passed before me. Some spoke. I didn’t take in all the names – I’ll get that right tomorrow – and then my kit bag and I arrived in my cabin.
It’s a nice cabin, very nice and better than I’ve been used to for some years but alone at last, with the door closed, I felt rather lost. This is the point when I feel sad and lonely. It passes, it’s just the nature of my job, but it’s not a nice feeling. To lift my spirits, I crossed to the window and pulled back the curtain. I looked out at Lerwick harbour with its huge sky and its encircling countryside. I looked down at the water. A seal broke the surface and looked up at the ship. That’ll do, I thought. That’ll do.