Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Ship’s Ghost and Me

Pale, blonde hair picked up the back-scatter of the starboard navigation light and glowed a soft green. My watch-mate, Arne, tucked tightly into the corner of the wheelhouse, braced himself against the ship’s movement. Not a sailor, Arne was an activist who had come aboard for a specific purpose but doubled up as a watchkeeper.

‘Quiet,’ the captain said. ‘Can’t get a word out of him. I call him ‘The Ship’s Ghost’ because he never says anything. He just appears in the wheelhouse and stands in the corner.’

A student on his summer vacation, Arne had joined us to climb up the legs of an oil rig or to chain himself to something, as environmental protesters are wont to do, and I wondered if he’d been overwhelmed at being put on watch with the vessel’s master. I wondered this because, when Arne moved on to my watch, I couldn’t shut him up. Who knows, it could have been sea-sickness that kept him silent but, whatever it was, I’m glad he loosened up.

I can’t tell you all the things we discussed in the long watches of the night – not because they are secret, but because it was sixteen years ago and I can’t remember it all. And, anyway, at that time of day conversation can wander from swapping stories to inventing excuses about how the captain’s coffee pot got broken (It was aliens, have I told you that one?) and I hesitate to reveal how daft sailors are in the dark.

I do know that Arne had travelled in South America, been ill with dysentery and come home disenchanted. Not disenchanted with the places he’d visited or the people he’d met but with his expectation of learning something profound from different cultures. He’d gone hoping to find himself, he told me. He’d been looking for a sense of place.

I don’t know if the last coffee he’d made before he said that had contained water from Delphi or something, but suddenly I went all mystical on him.

‘Go home,’ I told him. ‘Go back to your mother’s farm in Denmark and hike out into the woods. That’s where you’re from and the landscape, the climate, the actual bedrock is part of what formed you. That’s where you’ll find your sense of place. Only then will you be able to comfortably absorb from other cultures.’ Arne moved out of the green glow of the starboard light and came towards me. By the faint glimmer coming from the gyro compass, I saw he was smiling.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I think I will do that.’

Today, sixteen years and many miles from that night in the Atlantic, I stood on the hill above my village. Whilst my dog snuffled around in the clover I turned three hundred and sixty degrees and I thought of Arne as I absorbed the life-force radiating from this green land with its red soil.

I was born in the next door county but we moved away when I was very small. I’ve lived in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, London, Norfolk, Gambia, Nigeria, Middlesex and many other places so I can’t say what landscape, what climate or bedrock helped to form me but here, in this village with my little house and my big, daft dog. I feel a strong sense of place.

I hope Arne found his.


Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Musing, Shedward Seawards


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Back On The Soap Box

‘I think it’s just a witch hunt now,’ said a woman, leaning over the newspaper rack where my sister and I were browsing the headlines. Before my eyes were three pictures, three well-known faces side by side. Stuart Hall, William Roache and Rolf Harris. Men who have been in famous since before I was born. Men who had been adopted by the British public almost to the level of National Treasures and now all three have been arrested for/accused of rape.

‘After all,’ the woman continued. ‘We’re talking sixty years ago.’

Actually it’s not quite that far back but even so …

‘I hope they’re innocent,’ I said (although Hall had admitted to most of his charges earlier that day) ‘But if they’re not, I hope they get put away.’

A human-rights barrister has commented that the age of consent should be lowered to thirteen to prevent the ‘persecution of old men.’ She has apparently said that child sex abuse crimes are ‘low level misdemeanours.’

Ah. So indecently assaulting a nine-year-old girl (which Hall has admitted to) is a misdemeanour? Silly me, I thought it was a heinous, sick act which scars it’s victim FOREVER. Naughty Mr Hall, don’t do it again.

I know there are shades of grey in all things but if one more woman says, in my hearing, that it was all a long time ago and the girls were probably asking for it I will not be responsible for my response. Funny, I have yet to hear a man make this sort of remark.

Moreover, yet another gang of child abusers has been jailed in this country. Young men this time. Young men who operate in gangs and prey on vulnerable kids and groom them before raping them and selling them into prostitution. The papers are full of tales of how the police missed opportunities to stop these creatures and at least one care home manager has been revealed as careless, to say the least. When a missing girl returned to her care home in a taxi, he refused to pay the fare so she got back in the car and returned to her abusers. Nice one, mate. Having said that, I did work with ‘looked after children’ as they are called. One of the homes I worked in specialised in children with problems arising from childhood abuse and I know from experience that it isn’t an easy job. A child who has been prostituted or raped is not big on trust. A child who has been prostituted or raped is not big on obeying the rules just because one in a long line of care workers says they must. So I can sympathise with that manager. I don’t know all the elements of that situation so I will do him the courtesy of keeping an open mind.

But … To the doctor who examined one of these wounded, traumatised girls whilst simultaneously conducting a phone conversation about his upcoming golfing trip I say shame on you. Shame on you, you heartless ****

During my Safeguarding training, before being let loose on vulnerable kids, I learned that we ALL have a duty of care for children. Yes, I am British and yes, this is a very Britain-centred post but wherever you are reading this, I would say that you too have a duty of care. Look around you. Is there a child near you that needs someone’s/anyone’s help? Is that group of people hurting children? Is there a cellar with unexplained noises coming from it? Has that man across the street really got three young women locked up in his house that he abducted TEN Years ago?

Don’t mind your own business. Don’t look the other way. And, whatever you do, don’t assume that when someone reveals that they were abused five minutes or five months or fifty years ago that they have got over it.


Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Long shadows, afternoon sun oozing down the hillside like Golden Syrup and randy cock-pheasants guarding their harems from young would-be lovers in the fields. Spring has sprung.

Larks dash skywards from the clover when Eric and I enter the field for a game of fetch on the hilltop – well, I say fetch. What I really mean is, I chuck the ball, he runs after it, finds it and runs off in the other direction chewing it. I can shout, ‘here boy” or ‘gimme the ball, damn you’ but, unless I run after him and grab the ball from his mouth, Eric is going to chew it until all that remains are a few bits of rubber dripping in drool. The larks think that’s hilarious from the sound of it. They can laugh but that dog is costing me a small fortune in rubber balls. I thought I’d get one up on him. I’m a sailor, I can make him a ball. At sea we use a large knot called a monkey’s fist as a weight when sending a messenger line (aka a ‘heaving line’) ashore for mooring up. That knot is round and, when using a decent thickness of rope, quite hard-wearing when attacked by a dog’s teeth, But will he chase that? Nah. I throw my lovingly crafted ball and he looks at it, he looks at me and then he stares off into the middle distance looking for something ‘interesting’ to run after. My sister informs me that it’s because the monkey’s fist doesn’t bounce. Talk about picky!

So, I have thought about this and when I can afford it I’m going to buy a length of bungee rope. Hah! You want bounce, Eric? I’ll give you bounce. And… when making a monkey’s fist, it’s necessary to put something in the middle of it to stop it collapsing. Years ago, it was common to put lumps of metal such as shackles or large nuts in them but that was outlawed – something about rope-men around the world suffering fractured skulls – so we used to put a rag in the knot then soak the knot in red lead (an old-fashioned paint) but that too caused injuries to the guys ashore so now we are only allowed to put un-doctored rags in them. But, I’m not using my fist on a ship, I’m using it in a West Country field to amuse my fussy Doberman. Therefore I intend to put a small rubber ball in the middle. It’s one of those super-bouncy ones that I’ve had in the bottom of my rope bag for years. Watch that sucker bounce!

You let me know when you've got a 'proper' ball to throw

You let me know when you’ve got a ‘proper’ ball to throw

Please make him a ball he can chase, Lorraine. I'm fed up of running away from him

Please make him a ball he can chase, Lorraine. I’m fed up of running away from him

Look into my eyes, Eric. You are feeling sleepy. You want to chase a monkey's fist ...

Look into my eyes, Eric. You are feeling sleepy. You want to chase a monkey’s fist …

Watch this space because I will let you know of my success (failure is not an option.)


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