Monthly Archives: July 2013


The semi-submersible rig is under tow but hove-to. My ship is deliberately getting in the way because we’re protesting about oil exploration in this area. It’s summer, we’re a long way north and it’s light most of the time – but not at midnight when I come on watch for a twelve-hour stint. It’s dark then and the fog that’s been hanging low over the shiny-smooth sea is blurring the lights from the rig.

‘The tug is going to keep the rig head to wind, like she is now,’ our captain, Jon, tells me as I rub the last of my too-short sleep from my eyes. The residual warmth of my bunk is fading fast and the chilly, clammy fog is creeping in the open bridge doors to wrap me in a damp embrace. ‘If she changes direction and starts moving towards her location, call me.’ He means if the tug and her tow make a run for it, we have to mobilise my half of the crew, who are on standby, and launch the RIBs and put people in the water as a human barricade. I truly hope this doesn’t happen, I’m tired, I could do with a quiet watch. On the other hand, twelve hours of staring out at the red, rusty ballast tanks of the rig could become ultra tedious.

Jon goes to bed and my watchkeeper and I settle into our watch. Half an hour passes then I must rouse myself and go into the chart room for the shipping forecast. The sugary notes of Sailing By trickle through the crackly speaker and fade into a moment’s silence before the posh voiced announcer informs me that there are warnings of gales in Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire …

‘Lorraine.’ My watchkeeper, who is on lookout in the bridge, cuts across the gale warnings.

‘Mm?’ I’m busy assembling pen and paper and writing down anything relevent to our location.

‘Lorraine, you’d better come and look at this.’ She sounds worried. This is not good timing but I must go and look and Oh my God! The bloody rig is no longer head to wind but is moving TOWARDS US! And she is very bloody close. Are they coming aboard for a cup of tea or what? Quick appraisal – there is no sea room to starboard as the rig is close by the starboard bow. Is there enough room to port to swing the ship away and head into clearer water? Maybe but it’s a risk. I don’t want the arse-end of the ship to smack into the rig’s leg. Praise the lucky star that was watching over us that night because at that moment, the second engineer came up to get a breath of fresh air.

‘I don’t know if it helps,’ he said. ‘But the astern engine is still running.’ Oh thank Christ for that! And before you ask, no, I couldn’t simply go astern to get away unless one of the two engines is set to go astern. As we generally dodged about on one engine, going astern wasn’t usually an option. Bless the decision to keep that engine running and bless that engineer for letting me know. I rang slow astern on the telegraph and waited eons for the engineer on watch below to respond. The needle on the rev counter vibrated and slowly we backed away from the marauders. I’m watching the rig, I’m watching the variable range marker on the radar, I’m willing our old tub to pick up a bit more speed and contemplating ringing half astern. I’m under orders not to get more than a mile from the rig but I’d like to get to get to a point where I can no longer reach over the bow and touch the damn thing. The gap grew, the rig became hazier as fog filled the space where we’d been. I almost breathed a sigh of relief. Almost. But then I remembered the RIBs weren’t back on board in their cradles. Due to the need to launch them four or five times a night, the previous watch had left them tied alongside.

‘Check the boats!’ I shouted at my watchkeeper. She ran out on deck. Seconds later, she was at the door. ‘Blossom’s sunk!’ she said. I hot-footed it out to look over the side. Yes, Blossom, our only non-Rigid Inflatable Boat was submerged.Only her painter lines had prevented her from sinking completely. Her aluminium hull had no transom and being tethered for and aft, instead of swinging around when we’d come astern, she had simply scooped up gallons of Atlantic seawater and been overwhelmed. Back in the bridge, the VHF radio had come to life. Ships all over the area were informing each other that the Greenpeace ship had turned on of her small boats into a submarine. Ha ha.

‘Get the Bosun up,’ I told the watchkeeper. ‘Get everyone up and get that boat inboard.’ She ran off down the deck, her boots thump-thump-thumping down the ladder to the lower deck where the watch was sleeping in the messroom. I stopped the engine. We were far enough away from the rig now and I didn’t want to put any more pressure on Blossom’s painters. Then I had to answer the first of ever so many VHF calls.

‘We know that you dispute our 500 metre exclusion zone because we’re not in position yet, but it is still an exclusion zone and you breached it at 0115 this morning,’ Said a man on the rig. ‘I am just letting you know that we will be filing a report.’

‘Thank you very much, I copy that. Standing by on this channel,’ I responded to the rig. ‘How are the boats looking?’ I called over my shoulder to the engineer.

‘The crew are out on deck. Some are in another boat. They’re getting it sorted.’ he reassured me. The VHF got busy again, this time with a smug sounding Geordie on one of the big supply ships who made no attempt to hide his glee at my misfortune.

‘I see you’ve got a problem with one of your boats there. Unfortunately your pyrotechnics have floated away,’ he said, referring to the watertight plastic canister of flares carried in the boat for emergencies. ‘We can’t have pyrotechnics floating around an oilfield now can we?’

‘No, absolutely. We will pick them up as soon as we are able,’ I told him.

‘Righto. Well I’ll leave you to it. You look very busy over there.’

‘Thank you very much for the information, standing by on this channel.’ He was a liar, that Geordie. He didn’t leave me alone. The rig’s still charging towards us and they want to know if I intend re-entering their exclusion zone. You know, just asking, so they can make another report. Funnily enough, I have no wish to take this ancient tug within 500 metres of a very large lump of metal but in case no one’s noticed, the crew have Blossom attached to the crane but she’s still half-submerged. I cannot go move the ship right at this minute and, after all, you are coming at me… I didn’t say any of this over the radio though, I just assured them that I wasn’t intending on breaching their zone.

Then Geordie’s back on the blower. ‘We can see your pyrotechnics so we will go and stand by them until you’re ready to come and pick them up.’

‘Thank you very much, I will send a boat over as soon as one becomes available.’ I run out on deck to check on the rescue operation. Blossom is slowly being lifted clear of the water. One of the other RIBs has attached taglines to her stern and are guiding her and keeping her steady so that she doesn’t swing and smash into the ship’s side as she ship rolls.

Geordie boy’s on again. He has his big orange ship next to our tiny flare canister. ‘I see you have a boat crewed up, is it possible you could come and collect your pyrotechnics now?’ he wants to know.

Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck OFF! I am busy right now  checking on Blossom’s rescue and watching a God damned rig who is hell-bent on playing dodgems with us. Now fuck off you tosser!

‘Yes we do have a boat in the water but, as you can see, she is assisting in the recovery. As soon as she becomes available I will send her over to you.’

‘OK then, if you could send her to collect your pyrotechnics as soon as possible. We are still standing by them.’

‘Yes that’s all copied, thank you.’

‘OK, well if you could send your boat over.’

I said I would didn’t I? Now shut the fuck up. ‘Simon,’ I call down to the bosun on the lower deck where he is in charge of bringing Blossom aboard. ‘As soon as you can, release that boat so it can go over to that big orange thing and get our flares back.

‘Aye, aye, will do.’

Back in the bridge, the rig’s still coming.

‘You are now on the edge of our 500 metre zone, if you do not move, we will have to report you again.’

Leaning over the bridge wing, I check on Blossom. She’s out of the water. She back in her cradle. Quick, back inside. Whack the ship astern. The old lady shudders and picks up speed, backing away from the rusty-red wall of steel that’s steaming towards her. Blossom’s safe, though her outboard is full of seawater. The RIB’s speeding away to collect our flares, the rig is now a mile distant but what is Jon going to say. How come the noise hasn’t woken him. He will kill me. My first trip away with Greenpeace is going to be my last. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I think I may spontaneously combust. All anyone will ever find is a pair of singed safety boots.

‘What’s going on?’ Jon’s behind me.

My heart drops into my, so far, unsinged boots. ‘I er, I sort of sank Blossom,’ I tell him.

‘Oh,’ Jon pauses, looks out at the rig and then says, ‘Don’t worry about it, I do that sort of thing all the time.’ He turns away and strolls out on deck. Behind him, in the bridge, leaning heavily on the engine room telegraph the mate on watch is drowning in her own adrenaline.

Stress Mmm, Is That What This Is?


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My next door neighbour got a brush stuck up his chimney, today. That’s not a euphemism, he really did get a brush stuck up his chimney.

The meadow on the other side of the river from my sister’s house is the greenest strip of countryside in the three-hundred and sixty degree view from up here, and this morning it was bustling with walkers. Even there, the lushness of spring, the acid green of new growth, has faded to a tired, threadbare state in this heat wave. Blades of brown grass snap beneath your feet and the leaves on the beech trees look dusty. Only the silvered willow weeping into the river gives off a feeling of freshness. Tromping along the path with dust filtering into my Crocs and sticking to feet that have waded into the water to persuade Eric to come in and cool down, I was absorbing as much of the moment I could manage. Perhaps because I was uprooted many times as a child, I have a habit of trying to imprint my surroundings in my memory so that if I can’t revisit a place physically, I can at least revisit in my mind. It doesn’t work – you can’t (or at least, I can’t) come back into a moment. You can’t feel it, smell it, hear it. You can overlay mental pictures with a soundtrack and try to remember how you felt but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as being aware of the breeze lifting a strand of hair and brushing you cheek with it. It’s not the same as looking down and saying, ‘Dear God, Eric! Did you really have to do that there?’ when a particularly ‘country’ smell terrorises your nose. And it’s not the same as slowly becoming aware that the herd of curious heifers are coming across their field to cluster near you on the other side of the electric fence. Those things are in the moment only. But … I still imprint. At least, when I look back, I am comforted by knowing that I was fully in that moment.

And then, I went home. Approximately three minutes after entering the house there was a knock at the front door. Eric snapped his head round to look at me, his ears flying, then he looked back to the front door. An embarrassed face peered in through the window. That’s when I discovered my neighbour’s chimney dilemma. After getting his brush wedged through the top of his chimney, the poor chap had rung the local sweep to see if he could borrow some ladders. The sweep told him that, yes, he could but not for another three days. When he remembered the previous tenant of my house talking about the amazing views from the attic, my neighbour had an idea. Unfortunately for him, I was lost in a moment down by the river when he first knocked on my door. How tense must he have been whilst I was at one with nature?

When we did meet on the doorstep I was only too happy to help. I took him to the foot of my ladder and sent him up into the attic. He was most impressed with the conversion up there, he was envious of the view and he was ecstatically relieved that he could reach the chimney top from my window and extract his rebellious brush. I was pleased that his trauma was over. I like my neighbours. Eric likes their cats. He would like to get to know them better. I tell myself that he wants them as playmates and not snacks but I’m not in a hurry to find out in case I’m wrong. How embarrassing would that be? (I’m pausing here to lose myself in imagining that conversation. ‘Er, hi. You know how you said that if I ever needed a favour …? Well, my dog was hungry and …’)

Disinterested in people, unless they are passing by outside whereupon he’ll throw himself at the window and bark like he’s demented, Eric flaked out on the cool of the kitchen floor whilst I showed man and brush out again. He snored on while I boiled the kettle for coffee but he did raise his head briefly when I stepped over him on my way out the back door. Realising that I was taking shears to the head-high nettles that have tip-toed across the field and hopped down into the garden in a slow-motion game of Grandmother’s Footsteps, he lay down again signalling his disinclination to come and help. Twice he’s got off his rope and taken off across that field and when I’ve examined the rope for damage, I’ve found none. Therefore, he must have undone the clip that fastens him to the rope. That means he’s hiding an opposable thumb somewhere and, if so, I feel he could do more to help around the house. He’s not playing though. When I ask, he looks at me with a sulky expression that seems to say, ‘sod off, I’m a dog.’

It wasn’t until the heat of the day had ebbed to a level that’s bearable for a black dog that Eric roused himself and ambled out to wedge his bum on my lap. We sat like that for some time watching the golden late-afternoon light withdrawing up the hill as the sun sank. I absently rubbed the dog’s ears and scratched his chin and looked out at my small slice of the world. I’ve seen the green flash at sunrise and sunset, I’ve seen the clouds falling like a cloth over Table Mountain and I’ve watched butterflies as big as dinner plates fluttering around hibiscus flowers (and tried to imprint it all) but those moments are far away in time and none were better than these silent minutes spent with my best friend.

Later, I shifted the dog to allow the blood supply to return to my feet and took him for another walk. This time we gazed down on our village from the hill-top as the day turned monochrome and lights came on in the windows of families settling down for the evening. Lower down the hill, at the edge of the field Eric and I were strolling across, the glow from my sister’s windows shone an invitation to call by but we resisted and stayed out until it was dark.

Under a clear sky dominated by the wonky W of Cassiopeia, we crunched across the desiccating grass of a field neatly bisected by silver light. Behind us, peeking through the trees, the fat moon hung low creating half a field of shadow, half a field of shimmering brightness. Around us, on the other side of their lit windows, people went about their lives unaware of woman and dog paused mid-way home. We were outside in every sense, Eric and I. We’d nodded and passed the time of day with the walkers by the river and we’d spent a little while in the company of the bloke from next door. Now, we were alone with the screech owls and the little rustling creatures in the grass. We could go into the warmth and welcome of humanity if we needed to, if we wanted to, but we’re creatures of the margins, happy to step into the world and often relieved to step out again. We’d been among people enough today so we went home and turned on our own lights.

Solitude, Interaction, Solitude. Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.


Posted by on July 21, 2013 in Musing, Nature


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Oh. My. Days!

So I thought I’d pop on to Shedward and see if anyone has read my latest post, Dog Days and ta da! I’ve had 66 views! This equals my best ever and I see that I’ve had visitors from Australia to Mozambique. Fifty of the views came from the United States alone. I am profoundly chuffed and I’m sure that Chris and Paula will be thrilled to think that their little dog, Ashar’s fame has spread so far. Thank you Shedward readers and a big thank you to all my followers. 

Dog Rule! (and cats and chameleons and hippos and kangaroos and beetles and wasps [yes, really] and … well you get where I’m coming from.)


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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Dog Days


Ashar grabbing life with both paws

Meet Ashar.

Once upon a time, in common with many Staffordshire Bull terriers in this country, Ash was a bait dog/fighting dog. If you don’t know what that is, I urge you to look it up. And then be grateful that the UK doesn’t have similar gun laws to the States. If I ever came across someone engaged in such evil, mindless cruelty to ANY creature I could not be responsible for my actions – better that I’m not armed.

As any regular readers of this blog will know, my beloved pal, Eric came from a charity that rescues and re-homes dogs. A fantastic thing to do by anybody’s standards but, wait, there’s more. This charity specialises in re-homing bait dogs – Staffies usually – and for that I would give all involved a medal.

Eric wasn’t a bait/fighting dog, thankfully, but he needed rescuing just the same and the woman who saved him, Chris, wanted to keep him. He was her personal companion and she adores him. However, Eric is a handful (a bucketful, a lorryloadful) and he needs a quiet home. I can only imagine how hard it was for him in a place where lots of dogs and people and horses and goodness knows what else were to-ing and fro-ing. He must have been a nightmare to live with. None the less, Chris tried and tried but, in the end, she had to place him somewhere less busy. For his own sake and the sakes of all the other animals that needed care. Lucky me! Unlucky for those who now miss him terribly.

There is an upside to this (apart from me getting Eric!) and it brings me back to the picture at the top of this post. Ashar.

Can you imagine the injuries that poor little fella suffered? The fear? I haven’t heard his full story because I can’t bring myself to endure the details – I am too distressed by what I know already – but I do know that Ash was in the pound. Ash was too traumatised to live. Dangerously aggressive, he would not allow a human being near him (unsurprisingly) and could not be re-homed. Up rolls Chris and her gang and on seeing him she asks permission to try something. Aware that she cannot make eye contact with the dog or he will attack, she goes into his cage with a book. While Ash growls and threatens, she calmly sits and reads. Day after day, until one day, Ash accepts her.

Go back and look at the picture now. Can you tell? Can you see an animal that has suffered the worst side of human nature? Or can you see a happy, loved family member? He will never fully trust the human race, he will never entirely get over his past and will remain suspicious and wary but he knows that Chris and her partner Paula will love him and protect him and treat him kindly forever. Maybe Eric’s loss is Ash’s gain. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

I’ve never met Ash but I love him – I truly love that little guy. I’ve never met Chris and Paula but St Francis has and if my sister likes them, I like them OK?

So, if you’ve got a minute to spare and you’re on Facebook, go to the Dog Adventure Centre page. Or click on this link There is a  competition for summer fun photos of dogs. Find Ashar and like his picture. Vote for any of the dogs if youprefer but if, like me, you think Ash is a super hero then vote for him. He could win a cooler vest that will regulate his temperature in this heat wave we’re having. He could – but you know what? He says that if he wins he’s going to donate the prize to a less well off dog because he’s just that kind of character. Rock on, Ash!

And while you’re at it, surfing, Facebooking and such like, take a look at some of those little, under the radar charities. Some phenomenal people are doing phenomenal work with phenomenally disadvantaged animals and maybe, just maybe you could throw one of them a lifeline.


Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Uncategorized


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How Old Is A Grown-Up?

Once upon a very long time ago, I used to read Jackie magazine, a weekly treat for girls of a certain age before the Internet came along and made us all streetwise. In a time when , if you were ‘going steady’ with a chap, you saved up to get married, Jackie was packed full of true stories, romantic fiction, fashion/make up tips and pictures of our favorite pop stars. Best of all was Cathy and Claire’s problem page where girls confided that they’d ‘gone all the way’ with a boy who was now ignoring them or, that they fancied their best friend’s fella. Or, shockingly, that they’d kissed the husband of the couple they babysat for when he gave them a lift home!

I was nine when my mother bought me my first copy and, boy, did I find teenagers complicated. I would read most of the magazine in the car before we got home, so thrilled was I to dip into that world. Jackie advised me about periods and spots and how to enjoy my first kiss when it happened. It terrified me and thrilled me at the same time.

One thing that dawned on me over the years of my involvement with Jackie was that many of the letters, both to the letters page and the problem page, were from girls of fourteen. This lead me to realise that, despite having crushes on teachers or being caught shoplifting etc., fourteen-year-olds knew it all. Fourteen was the age where everything clicked into place and, suddenly, you understood the world. You were more-or-less a grown up. You had it all going on when you were fourteen.

Imagine my disappointment when I woke up on the morning of my fourteenth birthday and … nothing had happened. I felt exactly the same as I did when I was thirteen. What a swizz!

Last Tuesday my niece, Medusa, turned fourteen. I have joked with her for some time that fourteen is the golden age and on her birthday I asked, ‘well, do you know the secrets of the universe now?’ She assured me that she did but I think she was telling porkies. And yet… Just today my sister commented that she felt that Medusa had changed. Ok, she’s still a moody, stroppy teen with a death-stare but perhaps she has suddenly matured a little. Maybe being thirteen is only just a teenager and being fourteen has more street-cred?

If so, how come this has passed me by? How come I, at forty-eight, am still waiting for it all to click into place? I read Jackie, for God’s Sake, I should know everything.

Is there an age when you thought it would all make sense to you? And did it?

By the way, Jackie gave me my first publishing credit (when I was fourteen!!) by printing my letter about a note in a bottle I’d cast into the sea which reached its destination.


Happy Birthday Medusa


Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Musing


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