Monthly Archives: October 2012

From Gijon to Santander

Because Arnau reminded me and he was there.


The forecast warned of a severe gale 9 for our area but we had to sail, there were people waiting for us in the next port.

Down on the Poop Deck, the crew and I let go our ropes and quickly coiled them down in the locker to stop them getting washed over the side when we left the shelter of the harbour. Around us, watching us, filming us and getting in the way were photographers, cameramen and reporters from Spanish TV stations and newspapers.

One of them came over to me and in broken English asked, ‘When we outside.’ He waved towards the harbour entrance. ‘Where will be sea?’

Momentarily nonplussed I gazed at him thinking ‘What do you mean where will the sea be? It’ll be under us …’ Then I got it. He wanted to know where the waves would be coming from. I indicated the ship’s port quarter and explained that the wind and swell would be coming from that direction when we got out into open water.

‘But sea won’t come in here?’ the cameraman asked pointing down at the deck.

‘Oh yes. Water will come inside.’ I tried to indicate to him that the deck would very quickly be awash but I could see from his expression that he thought I was winding him up. He sauntered back to the stern rail with his colleagues.

Busy, I didn’t really take in that our Spanish press pack had ranged themselves across the stern with their cameras pointing out over the port quarter until I felt the ship lift and twist. I looked up. We were passing clear of the breakwater and out into the storm. Keen to get action shots, the cameramen were filming and photographing away and standing on the weather side of the ship. Geoff, one of the crew nudged me.

‘Look, Lol,’ he said.

A hundred metres or so from our stern, the angry, wind-stirred Bay of Biscay was rising. The swell was already big enough but as we watched, this wall of water reared up and up and up, blanking out the evening sky. It raced towards the ship and I swear it was like being in the path of an angry, mobile block of flats. The crew and I tried to shout to the Press guys. Even as we backed up the deck and into the shelter of the accommodation, we shouted. I don’t know if they heard us or if they suddenly realised for themselves that they were in danger of being flattened and drenched but, suddenly, they turned away from the rail to look for safety …

… they were too late. The wall of water engulfed the back of the ship. Splattered across the deck were cameras and cameramen. Small tidal waves rolled them back and forth until the sea drained out of the scuppers leaving them panting like beached fish.

I had the watch after we left Gijon. With the ropes securely away and the Poop Deck mopped clean of soggy Spaniards, I made my way up to the Bridge.

‘That was a big sea we took over the stern.’ Peter, our captain remarked as I joined him in the chartroom. I started to smile.

‘Everything OK down there?’ he asked. I started to laugh.

‘What?’ Peter wanted to know. ‘What is funny?’

I’d never believed it possible that you could laugh so much you couldn’t breathe. I found out the truth of it that night. As the ship bucked and reared and rolled and pitched eastwards towards Santander, I leaned against the bulkhead behind me, unable to talk, I slid down into a sitting position. I laughed so hard I thought I’d suffocate.

‘What?’ Peter demanded. ‘Why you laugh so?’

‘Water,’ I spluttered. ‘Cameras …  They didn’t believe me …’ Hot tears flooded out of my eyes, I held my stomach with both hands and gasped for breath. Over and over again the image of the cameramen turning away from the rail too late to escape played across my mind and I could not stop laughing. Another picture, overlaying but complimenting the first was of the same men – now in the mess room – ignoring their own comfort, fighting seasickness and desperately trying to dry out their equipment. Every towel the crew brought them was not used to dry hair, skin or clothes but was lovingly wrapped around a camera. Two or three men stood around the sink taking it turns to flush lenses and other bits of photographic technology with fresh water.

I shouldn’t have laughed. It wasn’t nice of me. It was bloody funny, though.

The midnight to four watch is usually a quiet time when a vessel is on passage. Sensible souls are in their bunks and watchkeepers are left to do their duty uninterrupted. Unless you’re on a Greenpeace ship. And especially if that Greenpeace ship is campaigning against driftnets with local Spanish fishing fraternities. Then you might find that the two senior men in northern Spain’s fishing community, who are on board representing their colleagues, don’t want to go to bed. Oh no, they want to be on the Bridge with Marijke and me.


Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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She Ain’t No Spring Chicken (with a couple of new pictures)

‘I don’t want to come back from my leave and find you’ve taken on more work,’ said the outgoing Second Mate as he handed his ship over to me. ‘I’ve got this job down to the barest minimum and I don’t want you spoiling it by working harder than I do.’

‘No, no, I’ll be good,’ I vowed and waved him off in his taxi. Then I went in and did all the jobs he’d promised to do before he left …

The ship isn’t going anywhere just yet and there’s only fourteen of us aboard. No surveyors, or client reps, just us sailors which is good because the First Mate and I can get to know the ship without too much pressure. Both of us are first-timers on this vessel and there’s an awful lot to get your head around. Not least of which is learning to drive the ship’s crane. I’m looking forward to that. I haven’t done much crane driving since I left Greenpeace.

Shame we couldn’t use one of the cranes or davits yesterday when the food stores arrived. No. It all had to be carried aboard by hand. Three bloody pallets full. I wondered if the deckhands would baulk at passing boxes, crates and potato sacks to me but no, they chucked it all my way without a second thought. The sods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad, but halfway through the second pallet I thought ‘I’m knackered. I’m too old for this.’ But never say die. I enjoy the physical aspect of my job and I’ve spent years crafting a seamless, non-threatening method of getting my way when it comes to manual labour. I say non-threatening – if you take a rope or box or some other weight out of my hand without being asked, I’ll smile sweetly and speak to you privately about it. I know you’re doing the ‘gentlemanly’ thing. You’re a well brought up chap and I’m not going to embarrass you for it. Do it twice, however …

No one’s done it once yet on here. Guess I don’t look as old as I feel.

You look pretty old from up here …

Speaking of old, the spring chicken of the title isn’t me. It’s the ship. Once upon a time a lighthouse tender was built for Irish Light with wood panelling, separate messing for officers and crew, a Commissioner’s lounge etc, etc. That was forty-two years ago and she’s had a lot of use since then. She’s a bit rough around the edges but she’s still a classy lady and some of her finery is intact.

How beautiful is that?

And that?






I don’t yet know what she’ll be like when she’s rattlin’ and battlin’ through the northern sector of the North Sea and I’ve got to follow survey lines or stop her in a certain spot and hold position while the surveyors take seabed samples but I reckon we’ll do OK. Besides look where I can go to get away from it all.






Life’s not all bad is it?





Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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In Case There’s a Pause …

… you should know that I’m heading off into the wide, grey, lumpy yonder again. Yes, it’s back to sea for me. I’ll be flying up to NE Scotland in a couple of days and joining a ship that’s working the North Sea. Mm, good time of year to be up there …

Anyway, I imagine that we’ll spend a bit of time in port and I’ll post when I can get the internet but, if we do spend all our time at sea, there may be a two month gap. Don’t abandon Shedward though because I’ll be back.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a sweet picture of a poorly Floyd, star of Short Legs/Deep Puddles. Seems he has mysteriously hurt his back. He has been prescribed painkillers and bed rest.

Lovingly wrapped in a blanket and tended by Medusa, Floyd in the car

The dog is laying at the foot of my bed now and he is very uncomfortable despite his painkillers. No boinging around like Zebedee for Floyd at the moment but he is better than he was yesterday. Poor little chap. I haven’t the heart to tell him that I’m leaving him in his hour of need. Mind you, he’s seen my kit bag on the floor and he knows what it means. Perhaps it isn’t just a bad back that’s making him look sad? Oh well, I’ll make it up to him when I come home.

And I’ll make up for any long gaps between posts.


Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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Our ‘ilary and Me

So after writing Fed Up, ****** Off and Far From Happy, I was dragging about, tripping over my bottom lip and generally feeling depressed until my sister forced me out of the house, deposited me in my favourite café and told me to do the crossword or something. Well, I can’t argue with her when she’s in that mood can I? I bought a newspaper and sat with a bucketful of latte in front of me and puzzled over the cryptic crossword. I may have completed four whole clues before I got bored (and stuck) and so decided to actually read the paper instead. And guess what I discovered? Hilary Mantel’s only gone and won the Booker prize. Again. Well done, that woman! I was lucky enough to attend a talk/interview she did at my university just after her novel Wolf Hall had won the prize. I liked her. I learned from her. And I was well jealous. A friend and I christened her Our ‘ilary, and I’ve felt quite attached to her since then so I’m really very happy she’s done the double. Well done ‘ilary, Bring Up the Bodies is definitely on my reading list.

Then …

My nephew, Semtex, had asked if we could get our dog Floyd (Short Legs, Deep Puddles and From Grey to Green) a ragger. Raggers are bits of knotted rope. You hold one end, the dog takes the other between his teeth and a tug of war breaks out. Unfortunately for Floyd, whilst raggers are widely available, they are generally made for dogs with bigger mouths than he’s got so when I’d sloshed down the last of my coffee, I went in search of some suitable cheap rope. I found some, sat on a bench and made a bespoke ragger. Floyd’s ragger is nautical in style because I used sailor’s knots to make it. His end is a monkey’s fist, Semtex’s end is a double sheet bend and I’m very proud of it. Dog and boy like it too, which is the main thing.

And then …

As if crosswords, Booker Prize winners and raggers weren’t enough to cheer a grumpy old woman up, I got home to find that I’ve had a story accepted by a well-known magazine.



Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Struggling Writers


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From Grey to Green

You didn’t want to walk the dog tonight, even though it was your turn. The colour in your eyes fled away before boiling storm clouds and you faced me with a flat, flinty stare of foggy-evening grey.

‘No, no, no,’ you said, speaking over the top of me as I tried to reason with you. ‘I’m not walking him. I don’t care. Shut up.’ Your temper sparked and flashed reminding me why my private nickname for you is Semtex. I stayed calm – against the odds – because one false move, one false word and you’d explode and your fury would pour into the room like lava in a bright orange fire-ball flash.

I won, or rather the dog did, when I reminded you that you didn’t have to take him down by the river. For a change, you could go up the hill into the fields with some doggy treats and your clicker. There you could practice training him like you’ve learned to from that TV programme you watch before school.

‘Come on, Floyd,’ you called, slipping on your boots and pocketing the dog treats. Floyd bounced around on the end of his lead, yapping and wagging the tail that your sister recently dyed pink.

‘Enjoy your walk,’ I said just as the front door slammed behind the pair of you.

From an upstairs window I watched you stride up the hill into the emerald tunnel where the roadside trees reach over and interlock their branches. You were lost to my view then but I knew where you’re going. At the end of the tunnel, at the top of the hill, the fields on either side of the road undulate away to the clifftop beyond which is a glimpse of dark-denim English Channel. You will have stepped into one of these fields, your boots scuffing through stubble that’s faded to a dirty beige in the autumn rains, with the dog hopping and jumping over the prickly stalks.

You stayed up there a while, running through the twilight, squeezing into dark thorny hedges playing hide and seek with the dog until he got bored and refused to play any more. Then, you brought out the treats. You had Floyd sit, stay, gimme-your-paw. You even had him up on his hind legs. He did what you asked, you clicked the clicker and fed him his reward as evening gathered around the hilltop and painted deep shadows beneath the trees. You noticed the creeping dark and came home in good time, bursting through the door full of chat and smiles.

‘Guess what,’ you babbled. ‘We went up the hill. Floyd was really good and did everything I told him but then he sat down and wouldn’t move any more cos he was tired and …’ On and on you went, the endorphins obviously fizzing through your system, your bad temper dispelled and I looked into your eyes and– the clouds had blown away. I saw you again. And I saw the countryside reflected in clear, pale and shining green.


Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Family Life


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Short Legs, Deep Puddles

A Day In The Life Of.

Floyd is not an early riser. When I get up, he curls tightly into a ball and pretends he’s still asleep. Soft touch that I am, I don’t make the bed until he gets out of it.

This morning, because he was snoring at the foot of the bed, I was able to pull it together and straighten the pillows without disturbing him. Or so I thought. Obviously, I had woken him because when I came back five minutes later he’d pushed the pillows off and burrowed under the duvet, the cheeky little sod.

Did I chastise him? Did I drag him out and send him from the room? No, I called my sister and said, ‘Look what your bloody dog’s done now.’

‘My dog?’ she responded. ‘It’s you he loves not me.’

‘Only cos I’m a softie.’

‘Yeah, and ..?’ she smirked.

Once the house had emptied – the kids heading schoolwards and my sister off to work – I took my breakfast into the lounge to watch the Jeremy Kyle Show. Floyd – now well rested and ready to face the day – appeared a little later. He sat at my feet, gazing at me longingly.

‘Come on then.’ I patted my thigh

Floyd bounced up and missed. He bounced up again. And missed again. The chair I’m in is a big, old recliner and he’s got very short legs. He appeared, then disappeared, then reappeared like a canine Zebedee until he managed to gain a purchase on my knee. I smothered my laughter with my hand. I didn’t want to hurt the little chap’s feelings but ha ha, that’ll teach him to unmake my bed.

The rest of his day was fairly ordinary with snoozes on the couch interspersed with trips out through the cat flap into the back garden – until everyone came home.

‘It’s your turn to walk the dog,’ my sister told my nephew.

‘Oh but Mum, it’s raining.’

‘I don’t care. He needs a walk.’

I looked at Floyd and, I may be anthropomorphising here but, I swear his expression said ‘No,no I’m OK. I really don’t want a walk.’ My sister wasn’t his asking his opinion though and she continued arguing with my nephew. Then my niece chimed in.

‘Mum, can we go and see if the river’s flooding?’ she asked.

Our river has already flooded four times this year and with the constant heavy rain we’ve had for the last couple of days, there’s a good chance it will do so again. My bizarre family loves it when the village gets cut off from the outside world by a raging torrent.

‘Oo yes, let’s go and see how high the water is,’ my sister said.

‘Oh bloody hell,’ the dog’s face said.

Down the hill we strolled, in the rain, with Floyd hanging back to the bitter end of his lead. The river was high but still within its banks. We stood on the humped back bridge, looked down into the muddy swirl and then across at the wooden bench that’s fixed to the riverbank by one leg. The bit that the other leg stood on has washed away.

‘Let’s go home by the river path,’ my sister said striding ahead, dragging Floyd with her. Niece, nephew and I followed on. Deep puddles stretched out in front of us. Floyd tried, he really tried, to circumnavigate them but within minutes he was wet and mud-caked to the shoulder. And so was I. I’d forgotten I come from a family of merciless puddle-jumpers until I felt cold water splash up the back of my legs. I turned around. My niece smiled sweetly and lifted her foot again.

Mercifully, Floyd had been let off his lead by now and he escaped the worst of the drenching as my family and I kicked water high into the air, aiming to soak whoever was in front or behind but, being so close to the soggy ground, he quickly came to resemble a mud pie with a tail.

Ten minutes later, in the gathering twilight, we crossed the river at the footbridge and made it to firmer, drier, higher ground. This unclassified, tree-lined and leaf choked road climbs high above the river and leads directly to our house. Floyd knows it well and he trotted along through the leaf litter with his little tail wagging. The central heating would be on when we got home. His dinner and a clean drink of water would be placed before him too. I could almost see the thought bubbles above his pricked ears as we marched home. It wasn’t until we got to the front gate that another thought occurred to him. I know it did because I saw him falter. I saw his back-end droop and his tail stopped wagging. He had realised he wasn’t going to get his dinner, or even free rein in the house until …

he had been given …

… a bath.

Obedient soul that he is, he sat still while the shower head sprayed warm water over his fur and washed the filth away. He didn’t grumble or growl as doggy shampoo coated him in bubbles. But those eyes. The look in those big, brown eyes …

Later, when he was dry and I was in bed, he came to my room. How soft-hearted am I? I lifted up the duvet, said ‘Come on then’ and patted the mattress. Floyd’s day ended where it had started – under my bed covers with his head on my pillow.

It is a dog’s life isn’t it?


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Family Life


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Fed Up, ****** Off and Far From Happy

What sad, desperate daydreams have filled my head today.

I’ve been thinking about university – my tutors, my fellow students – and missing it all. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t enrol just to get an MA. I wanted to learn, to listen, to mix with other writers and make contact with people who could sustain me after the course.

Well, I got my MA so, obviously I did listen and I did learn but now the course is over. I had to move away before I graduated, meaning that I left behind my fledgling acquaintance with a literary society. I don’t mix with writers now. I’m under intense financial pressure (I can’t even afford ink for my printer) and my office is becoming a place to dump stuff (Currently it’s occupied by a large papier-mâché statue from my nephew’s school – long story). How the hell can I get ahead?

It’s pointless to wish I could turn back the clock to my first day at uni but …


Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Struggling Writers


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