“All is Lost.” The film.
There is no question that this is a terrific movie and Robert Redford does a wonderful job. The audience remains enthralled more so in the light of the fact that there is virtually no dialogue and only the one character….played by Robert Redford. What is of considerable interest are the comments made by people who’ve never set foot on a sailboat but even more the comments made by sailors of experience.
If you haven’t seen the film the scenario is simple. The participant is single handedly sailing his boat in the Indian Ocean, 1700 miles offshore and outside of the major commercial traffic lanes. He collides with what is obviously a 48′ container that has gone overboard from a bulk container ship. The tale is one of his attempts to survive after the boat is holed and in the face of a building storm.
One could argue that the Director has exercised considerable poetic licence in the interests of drama. However it is equally arguable that a truly “interested” audience would comprise mainly of sailors, which might well be one of the reasons for the film not being generally released. We saw it as part of a film group, a special showing aimed solely at members of the group.
For those that don’t know me that well I’ve spent many years of my life sailing both offshore and onshore both as part of a crew and single handing my own 42′ boat in many of the oceans of the world. I think this allows me my opinion even though there is very little that cannot be reasonably argued.
As far as can be ascertained from the film the boat is most certainly of an older vintage, probably in the 36 to 38 foot range. However I would argue that the boat was ill equipped and the sailor ill prepared for what occurred.
The Director would have us believe that the collision with the steel container did not wake up the sailor but that he was asleep and only discovered the water in his boat after naturally waking up…..by now the water would appear to be over a foot deep over the sole of the boat inferring that his engine and the batteries are now flooded. This very notion is ill founded to the extent of being ludicrous. The hole created, right on the water line, was obviously the result of a considerable collision the noise of which would have awakened the dead. Unfortunately for me this now made the movie less believable and I gave in to what can best be described as dramatic licence.
Had the noise awakened him, as it surely would in normal circumstances, he could have put the boat on the opposite tack immediately and by doing so prevented the significant taking on of water……of course, at this stage, the story line goes down the toilet….so give in to the dramatic licence.
The boat was not carrying an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) a condition virtually unheard of by offshore sailors. A beacon of this nature, activated either manually or automatically, emits a radio signal on at least two frequencies. The beam also carries the location of the beacon using GPS technology. It is aimed at geo-synchronous satellites plus vessels, particularly commercial, are obliged by law to monitor these frequencies. The system has been in place since 1988 and has proven to be extremely effective worldwide. Again we must bow to dramatic licence.
So now the boat has water half way up the berths which after temporarily repairing the hole he is able to manually pump out. He now checks his VHF radio which is soaked but checks only one of his batteries for some reason. He must have had several but only checks one…hmm. To determine the exact issue he goes up the mast to check his antenna……no mast steps…..almost a must have for offshore sailors, single handed or not. He finds the connection to his antenna broken…..hmm. On my own boat I had a spare antenna which could be hooked to the stern rail. It was pre-wired which was easy with a waterproof connector on the deck……highly recommended. VHF radio by the way is only good for line of sight. Most offshore sailors carry single sideband and many some sort of sat phone in this modern day and age.
Whilst up the mast he spots weather on the horizon that is obviously coming his way. There are many steps to take at this point in time. Properly secure everything below decks being just one. He does this but his work is either poor or the boat was not designed to be offshore…….I’ll go with the latter. At no point in time does he don any sort of life preserver….a little strange. Only when the blow is upon him does he don his safety harness…far too late! Neither did I see any jack lines on deck which would prevent him being washed overboard. (Now I’m losing interest in the movie as this guy is an accident waiting to happen.) It would appear he had nostorm sails. Had he had such he could probably have brought head to wind and streamed his storm drogue/sea anchor (which he did have) from the bow thus keeping the head to the weather. Had he done this he might well have prevented the boat being rolled as occurs later in the film.
To cut a long story short he eventually abandons the boat to his life raft…..sans ditchbag! My own life raft and ditchbag contained amongst other things a handheld water purifier that produced two pints of fresh water per hour from seawater, a handheld VHF radio plus extra batteries in a waterproof container, an extra flare gun with extra parachute flares plus sundry other stuff! Also when I had the raft re-packed it contained extra water and dehydrated food as much as was practical.
It would appear he had none of this although none of it is unusual…..most offshore sailors would consider all this “stuff”essential!
I’ll stop here as you might want to see the film. There’s no question that it’s great entertainment if more aimed at the nautical fraternity but in real life with a well found boat and a properly prepared and aware sailor on board it all might never have happened. I have it on good authority from a sailing buddy of mine that the container might well have shown up on radar and activated a collision alarm had one, in fact, been installed. Good movie though!!
Ditch Bag Mast Steps Handheld VHF Radio
Flare Gun Water Desalinator
My extremely good friend Barry, of many years standing, recently sent me a series of little “life titbits” that I will sprinkle through this post just for the hell of it but not accepting any credit for the wit……..just the typing!
Age and cold don’t seem to mix well……and I chose to live in Canada…..dugh! Well …life is all about “choice.” As Father Time puts one foot in front of the other, inexorably I would add, we tend to look back at the choices we made, be they good or bad although I must admit one tends to focus on the bad. We ask ourselves…”what if….would I make the same decision, the same choice now?” Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t but now you have the benefit of hindsight and the product of your decision, so it’s not really fair but it’s a fun process when gazing into the fire willing the winter to come to an end and the golf course re-open.
“If God wanted me to touch my toes he’d have put them on my knees!”
I guess we have to consider that we were fortunate to ever have the “choice,” although many didn’t because of a previous “choice.” I think, after a few years life experiences, from brilliant to miasmic, “choice” was and is the biggest word in my life’s dictionary.
“I finally got my head together and now my body is falling apart.”
Having said that, next week is a string of scheduled medical stuff. Cardiologist wants to check my heart, hospital mechanics want to check my Pacemaker and the local bum bandit wants to shove his camera up my arse and have a looksee. Should get it done all at once then they could meet in the middle and party.
“Funny…..I don’t remember being absent minded.”
This is one area where I can claim to be fortunate…..not only mentally but physically too. With the exception of my heart doing some weird shit every now and again the rest of me seems to be good for my age. My faculties are as sharp as they ever were…….don’t anyone say a bloody word. Physically I’m good but out of shape but I did break a rib last September and it’s only now I feel fine….so back on the bike and lose a bit of weight. Still have all my hair and I’m not turning grey…..yet that is ….the moustache is an exception. It’s grey! Has been for years…….why is that?
“The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.”
Now that’s an interesting one and how true. It’s twelve years now since I retired. I can claim to never being bored, always broke, always curious, never afraid (the heart gave me a bit of a stir) but as happy as I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve found that the trick is to never go to bed without knowing exactly what you’re going to do the following morning. Not doing this certainly and inevitably leads into a rut of varying depth. You also need something that stretches you a little and puts you slightly at risk in one way or another. Most of us are risk averse but we’ve all been at risk at some time even though we might not have considered it as such……so why break the pattern if it’s your comfort zone.
“These days I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the hereafter…….I go somewhere to get something and then wonder what I’m here after.”
Frankly…..Shirley…..I do neither. (A private joke.) I was there! Looked over the fence at the hereafter and wasn’t overly impressed. No nice fluffy clouds, no angelic folk strumming on modified strads, certainly no virgins which is good reason not to convert. Simply nothing….so I came back and focused on the here and now and the “after” can take care of itself when I’m good and ready.
Someone asked me recently about the “writing” thing and how the three books were doing in the market place. Concerning the latter I don’t really know and frankly…..Shirley…..I don’t care. I cover expenses….I know that. Really I’m just waiting for my namesake to call me to offer a movie contract for the three tales…..they’d make a good movie. Concerning the former thing…..I did in fact start another book quite some time ago…..”The Tenant.” I actually wrote about thirty thousand words….got stuck……didn’t like it……shelved it for six months ……took it out recently……read it…..trashed it! So there you are. I do have a notion for another one but it’s still just floating in the back of my mind…it will be entitled “637.”
“My wild oats are mostly enjoyed with prunes and all-bran.”
Of course things were not always that way. For people fascinated with this type of stuff I’m delighted to report that everything is functioning just fine and dandy in this department although it’s hard to see it sometimes. ( no….there are no pics.) It’s curious to note that as you age your doctor seems to get less interested in your balls and more interested in your arse to the extent that you forget what he looks like. (See Connelly on you-tube.) It’s funny how you can inadvertently go full circle. One of my first posts was on the subject of “memory” and here I am again. I can remember “stuff” from fifty years ago in the most astonishing detail. What brought this to mind is that as I type I bring to mind my first girl friend….I was fourteen! Our first holiday after the war (no not the Boer war smartass.) We were in Fowey in Cornwall in the south of England. Just there for two weeks. Of course after that there were a string of love letters going back and forth which lasted all of a couple of months and then life went on. I can remember everything in detail….even her mailing address to this very day….how weird is that. Anyway on with the show……read the post on “memories.” It’s there somewhere!
So there you go….for now anyway…..a load of nothing really. I leave you with this:
“When I’m finally holding all the right cards, everyone wants to play chess!”
Ain’t that the truth.
By the way….the pic is a whisky tasting in Scotland last summer……a distillery tour! Sounds about right for me anyway.
Well at last I bit the bullet and bought an ipad. Apple……love it. Now to buy and Imac. 27″ of course……loaded of course. Bit of a learning curve but that's OK. Much prefer the Apple softwear…….after years on Windows…..go figure.
Question: How do you sit down and write a book?
Answer: No bloody idea! Although that’s not strictly true.
I usually start with an idea, get something down on paper, perhaps think about the characters and consider their profiles.
Q. Do I have a plot?
A: Not necessarily…..not even usually.
Q: Do I know how it’s going to end?
A: Absolutely not…..there would be no fun in that.
Q: Do I have a deadline?
A: Nope…..don’t have an editor to deal with or a “press time.”
Q: How long does it take?
A: Sometimes a month, sometimes a year. It goes in fits and starts, you get on a roll……or you don’t!
Q: When do you write?
A: Usually first thing in the morning…..either to a blog or a novel.
Q: Do you make any money?
A: Don’t get rid of your day job.
These are questions I was recently asked by a good friend; I’ve been asked them before!
Below is a press release coming out shortly………….yes I’ve hired someone to do this!
The three books are referred to as: A Trooper’s Trilogy.
A Trooper’s Trilogy: Compelling Novels Tell an ‘On & Off-Duty Story’ of an Audacious Special Forces Trooper.
Fusing stories of battle and weapons with his passions for offshore sailing, horses and farming, author Peter Jackson calls on many aspects of his own life in his powerful new fiction trilogy. Telling the story of a tireless Special Forces Trooper, ‘A Trooper’s Trilogy’ is resonating with readers around the world.
For Immediate Release
Aurora, Ontario – Just like his book-born protagonist, Canada’s Peter Jackson has led an eclectic and exciting life. Fusing his own experiences, passions and memories with gripping fiction, Jackson’s new trilogy offers readers insight into a busy life that’s always led on the edge.
‘A Trooper’s Trilogy’ is more than just a story; it’s a medley of the author’s own encounters that many will never experience.
‘Gema: A Trooper’s Tale’: A novel of clashing cultures. From the jungles of Borneo to the traditional living room of a country house in England. A story of love and revenge. From the Special Air Service operating in Sarawak to a golf course in Herefordshire to a terrorist arms cache in London it is indeed ‘A Trooper’s Tale.’
‘Dire Straits: A Trooper’s Tale’: It was just luck that placed George and his boat in such a place and time that he couldn’t help but be faced by a terrorist group intent on one final act of mass murder. The yarn carries us from the splendour of Western Canada, through the urbanity of Southern England to the jungles of Costa Rica.
‘A Trooper’s Wife’: Jennie…..the retired Detective Sergeant, George, her husband, a retired Special Forces Trooper, CEO and sole proprietor of a large security firm. He’s into boats…..large boats, she’s into horses…..thoroughbreds….they can afford it. Their past catches up with them but George is off delivering a boat on the other side of the world, Jennie, therefore, is left to deal with the threat to their very existence. The tale takes us from the soft folds of the Herefordshire countryside, through the mixing pot of Central America, to the mountains of Southern Mexico……and back.
As the author explains, his own life provides an abundance of inspiration for his writing.
“All the narrative revolving around offshore sailing, horses, farming and weapons I have personally experienced. All the locales I have visited enabling personalized descriptions. For example, I have single-handedly sailed the entire West Coast, experienced Equatorial jungles and raised horses and dogs on my own Ontario farm,” says Jackson.
He continues, “Each book is totally unique and stands out in its own right. I want readers to get lost in them, hopefully able to visualise experiences they may never encounter for real. ”
The books are garnering a steady string of rave reviews. For example, one reader was delighted to share high praise for the trilogy’s first book; “This book is a suspenseful & exciting read right from the first page. The book is along the lines of a Vince Flynn novel or a Lee Child book where you are immediately drawn in to the story & do not want to put the book down.”
With overwhelming success on his hands, Jackson refuses to lose sight of what is really important.
“My books are a tale, a yarn. The good guys wear white hats, the bad….black but quite often good is not good and bad is not bad. All will become clear………even to me as I never know how it’s all going to end until the end…..that’s the fun of it!” he adds.
With the books’ demand increasing, interested readers are urged to purchase their copies as soon as possible.
‘A Trooper’s Trilogy’, published by the author, is available now:
About the Author:
Born during a world war and educated in England, France and the United States.
Married with two, adult children and residing in Canada for more than half his life.
Although having to work for a living he raced a large sailboat in most of the oceans of the world, raised dogs and horses on his property in Ontario and rode his Harley all over Western Canada.
Based in Victoria he spent two years cruising the West Coast single handed, fishing, crabbing and relaxing in his 42’ sailboat…..’Bailey’s Ride’.
Retired since 2002, he spends his mornings writing and shares the rest of the day with his dog, the golf course, messing around in the kitchen and spending time with wife and grand kids in Ontario.
I never realized how much work is involved in getting a “tale” that is in your head onto a sheet of paper or how the story will twist and turn in ways that, originally, you couldn’t imagine.
This is my third book. It doesn’t get any easier but I think I’m getting better……………someone has to think that.
For sure I shouldn’t give up my day job but it’s a great hobby in my twilight years……fun too!
It is said that fictional novels invariably draw on the personal experiences of the author. I have found this to be so true as personal experience is so much easier to describe. Having said that an author has to thank Google for speeding up the process of research and opening up worlds that would be unknown without considerable travel and visits to libraries.
“A Trooper’s Wife” will be published in February 2013 and will be available in all electronic forms. The cost, after months of work, will be less than that of a latte!
Some days are best described as “watery.” No pun intended.
The water itself is often a steel grey and the sky a light, light blue dotted with high cirrus…… like stretched out cotton wool.
The sun is filtered but it’s not cold. You’re aware that summer is waning. Autumn is around the corner. Some of the trees, at the waters edge, are starting to turn and the geese are looking to the south but there’s plenty of life left in the year.
It was a day such as this that Jason and I shared our last sail in “his brother in law’s skiff.”
We pushed off with me at the tiller……by now I was, at least, comfortable with the dinghy but still on a steep learning curve. I had acquired foul weather gear recently, having learnt the hard way. The gear cost me more than the darned boat!
Jason, as usual, was in his old dark green gear and black rubber boots that he often wore about the yard on the muddy days. He’s brought with him a flask of hot, sweet, milky tea which I detest to this day…..I prefer no milk no sugar……plus a couple of truly thick sandwiches made up for us by his wife. We had the customary gear in the boat including a couple of floater cushions plus life jackets. All this and two intrepid adults left little room!
As we hoisted the sails I commented that we were about two hours into the ebb and noted that the breeze was out of the south west. Wind against tide produced a healthy little chop for a small boat.
It’s days like this that you remember. We wore upwind not that the boat pointed very well. Spray flying from the chop. Sun shining. Not having to work hard. Sitting on the weather gunnel tiller extension in one hand……a new and recent addition……main sheet in the other periodically leaning out to weather as the gusts threatened and to keep the little boat trim.
Jason sitting up forward totally relaxed, cheerily puffing on his pipe; enjoying the moment but aware of everything. A look of contentment on his face. An ageing man comfortable with himself and his surroundings.
For a couple of hours we worked our way up and down the channel waving at passing boats some going with a destination in mind some, like us, simply enjoying the afternoon going nowhere in particular.
Not many words passed between us. A few simple instructions from Jason periodically in order to get the best out of the dinghy. Comments on trim and adjustments; the boats heading relative to the constantly shifting breeze. Jason teaching….me learning.
“Not sure you want to be over ‘ere this toime of the arternoon” he says suddenly. “Put ‘er about and ‘ead back across the channel.”
Woomph….too late…..we ran aground! “Thought so” he says. “Must be four hours into the ebb. This bank is a shifty one alright.”
We tried to pole her off using the oars but she wouldn’t budge. We upped the centreboard and leant her over. No luck. We were stuck for a while.
The water sluiced by the dinghy as the little bay emptied like a bathtub. Mud flats started to appear. “Part of the larnin’ ” says Jason lighting his pipe. “We’ll be ‘ere at least four hours. Must be an hour or so left in the ebb then about forty five minutes slack then it will take at least a couple of hours of flood to float her orf.” “Might as well make ourselves comfortable.”
He poured himself a mug of his disgusting tea and shared a sandwich after which he loaded up his pipe and settled back comfortably leaning against one of the cushions at peace with his world waiting for the tide to come in and float us home.
“You’ve never told me too much about yourself Jason” I said. He looked at me over his pipe and thought for a few moments. I think he knew that, as I grew, we would see less and less of each other. He was right in this.
“My father owned the yard before me and his father before him. I’m seventy one years old and was born in a different time…….. but aren’t we all.” I was born in 1890 in that old house by the yard. My family has lived in that house for over two hundred years that I know of. Queen Victoria was on the throne. Did you know that she died not very far from here? In Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1901. I remember it quite well.”
He paused, spat over the side of the boat and began to load up his pipe again out of the old oilskin pouch that I had become so used to seeing. He was thoughtful. “What is it you actually want to know?”
I said “How much does your son know of your history and your family’s?” “Not much” he replied. “We don’t talk too much.”
For me….there’s the rub. Quite often too little is passed down. Much gets lost in the passage of time. We lose our identity making it that much more difficult to determine who we are and why we are the way we are.
“Oi’ve seen three wars.” he said. “One first hand…..I was in the Navy. The next sort of second hand as I was working in a yard in Portsmouth. I was too old by then to fight but I had to do my bit but they bombed Portsmouth all the time. The third was just in the newspapers. They never larn.”
“Oi spent ten years in the navy. Oi joined up in 1914 at the start of the war against the Kaiser. Oi ended up Bosun on a destroyer. I was at the Battle of Jutland under Admiral Jellicoe. Oi dunno if you know but that battle was the largest navel battle in history in terms of the number of warships involved and men killed.” “Oi was a lucky one though!”
“After oi was finished with all that I come back to the yard and worked with me dad.” “It was about then I met the woife. Couple of years later my boy was born.”
“Times was ‘ard then.” “Not a lot of money around. Folk picking themselves up arter the war. We did OK though. We grew all our own vegetables and had a few chickens. We ate well but the business was poor.”
“Then, bugger me, if it didn’t all start again. Hitler this time. I was too old to fight and my boy too young. I think he was only twelve when it began. Lucky it didn’t go on another year he would’ve bin called up.” “Dad stayed in the yard. Me and the family went down to Portsmouth to do war work until it was all over……do our bit loike.” “Later on the Korean war came and went but it seemed a long way orf and we just read about it in the papers.”
“Things got better then.” More people took to the sailing. Dad and I built a few small boats and repairs kept us busy….roight busy in fact. Dunno wot is going to happen in the future though. Things is changing. There’s all this fibreglass and suchlike now.”
Our little boat gave a lurch. “Water’s coming up.” says Jason. “Won’t be long. Should be off soon.”
He was quiet for a few moments gazing across the rapidly filling bay.
“By the way Peter, I never told you, but it was me dad that built this little skiff for the wife’s brother.” “Brings back memories.”
That was the last time I sailed with Jason. I saw him about the yard through the Autumn months but I already was dreaming about joining a yacht club and moving up to a modern fibreglass, competitive dinghy. As an aside I ended up buying a 505, an Olympic class at the time, and club raced until I moved back up north.
Jason died in 1966. He was seventy six years old. I saw his wife before emigrating to Canada.
She said his last words were “It’s toime.” She said he was content.
He has a headstone, next to his father’s, in the churchyard. It reads:
“Jason… Fair Weather”
The image is a 505 dinghy in full flight. I ended up buying one very similar.!!
Mudeford Water…just outside Christchurch, Dorset. A haven for small boats and fishermen. The larger boats tend to inhabit Poole to the west and the Isle of Wight to the east; the center of British Yachting.
On a fair day, from the air, the small boats on the water look like feeding gulls except they leave a momentary trail in the salt water in their passing.
A special day! With me hanging on to the painter Jason, pipe in mouth of course and one plimsoll sans laces, floated her off the dolly into the water.
She bobbed there. Hull, mast and boom gleaming in the bright sunlight. Mains’l neatly furled. We’d used some light stuff. Jason did that not I! The jib, neatly folded in the bow as we didn’t have a bag that suited the dinghy’s new suit of clothes. “She roids in the water roight noicely”said Jason punctuated by odd puffs of smoke from his pipe. “Once we ‘ave our weight in ‘er she’ll settle on ‘er lines.” I nodded sagely. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. She was floating and she was mine….that’s all I knew……at the time.
She looked happy.If she could smile she would have. It’s almost as though she was asking why it had taken so long to get her back in the water. Eager.
“Well get in.” says Jason. “Get your weight on ‘er centre line and sit yourself down on the forward thwart.” Whaaaa. Centre line? Forward thwart? This boat has her own language. I knew I wasn’t going to be driving so, by elimination, I concluded that a thwart is a seat and there were only two. I got in and sat down. Not much room. Jason stepped over the gunnel and sat down.
He just sat there for a while not saying a word, tiny puffs of blue smoke coming from his pipe as he breathed. He looked about our little world. “You’m did a roight, noice job on ‘er. All Bristol loike.”
He picked up one of my bright, shiny, clean oars upon which I’d vested hours of work and actually put it in the water. He poled us off until we were in a few feet of water.
“Grab the jib sheets and bend them onto the clew of that thar little jibs’l” he says. I looked at him questioningly. “Hmmm” he says. Another puff of smoke. “Watch me. When you don’t understand…..ask! Stupid not to ask.”
He was a good teacher. As he worked he named each item, each part. He recited its function and how each was a part of the whole. There I was, sitting in a small boat, listening to an old man who, only a few short weeks before, had been a complete stranger to me. Listening to him opening a world to me that I’d rarely thought of until, on a whim, I’d parted with my fiver and bought a small boat. Watching his gnarled old hands, burnt black by the sun, calloused by years of manual labour, deftly tie knots with a skill I have not matched to this day fifty years later. Always punctuated by little puffs of smoke. What did he do at night?
I remember him looking at me over his pipe and saying “if you’m only larn one knot larn the bowline. You’ll need her if you take to the sailing. Learn to tie ‘er upside down, blindfold and soaking wet. You’ll need ‘er. She can save your life.”
He was patient. Never critical. If I got it wrong he would simply grunt and show me again.
Soon we had the sails up and I do mean “we.” My bowline on my clew. My hanks on my forestay. Cunningham off. Outhaul tight. There we were head to wind, sails gently luffing.
Jason pushed the tiller over and fell off the wind slightly. The boat actually started to move!! Miracle of miracles. “Haul in on that thar jibsheet until the jib is full and bye.” I actually knew what he meant.
The dinghy accelerated…..as much as an old wooden dinghy can accelerate. The sound of the tiny waves lapping against the hull as she moved through the water was payment enough for the hours of labour.
As we moved away from the shore the light breeze filled in slightly and the lapping of the waves turned into a hiss and the dinghy developed a slight heel. The joy of sailing! Drops of water sparkling in the sun. Saltwater wake astern of us. Eddies around the rudder. Slight weather helm. Quiet. Gulls wheeling high above. Wind in the air. The boat talking her own language.
Jason sat there. Tiller in one hand mainsheet in the other his pipe doing it’s best to lay a smokescreen astern of us. He crossed his legs and, leaning against the transom, spoke of sailing.
“Sailing a boat is a feeling.” he said. “She’ll talk to you if you’ve larned to listen. Feel the wind on your cheek. Feel it shift. Larn how your boat reacts to adjustments.” I didn’t realize then just how many adjustments there are on a well fitted sail boat. “Larn in a dinghy!” He was adamant about this. “The dinghy tells you immediately what’s up. You sail with all four cheeks sensitive to what is going on. The cheeks on your face tell you what the wind is doing. The cheeks on your arse tell you what the boat is doing.” “Get it wrong and are insistent she’ll get mad and dump you in the water. Get it right and she’ll sing to you down the waves of the ages. If you can sail a dinghy you can sail anything!”
He was so right. Fifty years later I still pass on the advice of this old man.
We sailed together through that summer. I think he looked forward to it as much as I. He spoke of the intricacies of trimming a boat large or small. He talked of the weather and how to observe. He talked of trust and trusting your boat providing she was well found. He talked of tides and the effect of the moon. He talked of currents…the danger of wind against wave. He talked of open water, the danger of a lea shore, the thrill of a big boat, rail down, charging through the water.
In retrospect he was talking about life, analogous to our needs and the needs of a successful relationship. He walked the talk!
We talked of many things but never of himself or his family and rarely of his experience.
Except once……..but that’s another tale!
The photo by the way is the dinghy complete with me in my youth. Taken in 1960. Regrettably I have no photo of Jason. He would have been a good subject.
Although time tends to erode memory and memory itself is impacted by the present there are events and characters in our lives that remain so well imprinted it’s as though it were yesterday.
Jason was one of those characters!
Jason…not tall but erect as any Guardsman even in his advanced years. Jason with the pale blue eyes that always looked slightly amused, squinting as though looking up sun at some distant horizon. Jason with the omnipresent pipe and cloud of pale blue smoke that followed him wherever he went. Jason with the shock of white hair, bushy eyebrows and few words. A grunt and a gesture was often sufficient. You knew exactly what he was saying. You always felt as though you wanted to please him.
I don’t know exactly how much time I spent scraping down that old, carvel built, dinghy. The yard was like a time machine for, once inside, time seemed to stand still and the work didn’t seem like work at all. No belt or palm sander. Just a scraper that Jason had slightly modified with a file to take the corners off preventing it from gouging and a stack of sandpaper of varying grits.
People would stop and gam for a while or just stop and watch the progress as they made passage from one part of the yard to another. Everything unhurried. The buzz of the occasional fly. Sawdust motes hanging in the sunbeams flooding through the large doors to the shed. The rasp of the scraper. No thought given as to when the job would be finished.
At first my yacht was a lifeless turtle lying on those oversized sawhorses. Twelve feet of wood covered by a peeling layer of yellowing varnish which, in turn, covered another coat which, in turn another. Some of it dry and brittle. Some hanging on like a limpet not wanting to be worried off the wood beneath. Brass gudgeon pins and pintles, rowlocks all green with the verdigris of time.
As I scraped the wood below slowly came into view. Golden in color and soft to the touch. I soon came to know what Jason had known all along. Still plenty of life beneath those multi coats of aging varnish.
He would periodically stop by to view the progress and assess the quality of the job at hand. He rarely said anything. Sometimes he would look at the boat slowly coming to life and just walk away beneath his cloud of smoke. Other times he would run his hand over an area recently finished, grunt, look quizzically at me and then walk away. You knew he wasn’t satisfied and you wanted him to be pleased.
I arrived one Saturday morning to find a gaping hole in the port side. A plank had been removed. I hunted down Jason. He was busy stoking the wood burning boiler that generated the steam for the bender.
He looked up. “Oi tore out one board. Didn’t have no loife left in ‘er. Oi’ll bend a piece to fit for ee.” That soft west country accent accompanied by a puff of smoke from his pipe. “Oi found the perfect piece for ‘er in the seasoning shed.”
He bent down and picked up a board to show me. I learned something else about him at that moment. He picked the board up almost as though it were alive. He didn’t see just a board as did I rather he saw in it the function and the form. He could see it’s shape and how it would become part of the whole. He exposed the artist in him…..unintentionally.
It took weeks to refinish that little boat. I think, under Jason’ pale blue critical eye, I might have finished it several times. The hull both inside and out. The thwarts and gunnels. The centreboard, the rudder. The mast and boom. The oars. Jason laminated a new tiller as the original had gone missing. Perhaps rooted in the garden in which she had lay for so long.
At last she was finished. At least to the extent that any boat is actually finished. Experience has since taught me that boats are a constant work in progress.
We manhandled her onto a launching dolly and wheeled her outside for to meet another chapter in her life.
Jason took a hose and filled her with water while I watched in astonishment. “If it can’t get out it can’t get in.”
Logical to me. Nothing got out!
Perhaps too soon she lay, right side up, in the sun showing off her several coats of new varnish. Now I know why varnished hulls are referred to as “bright.” Her brass bits glinting. Her new lines coiled as if on a navel vessel. She was ready for the water. Problem…….. I wasn’t!!! I’d never been in a sailing dinghy before. Now what?
Over a mug of tea served in the cozy little shed that served as an office I said “Jason do you ever get out on the water?” He looked at me over the rim of his mug. “Ar ‘ee wants me to take you’m out in ‘er.” “Oi’d like that. Must be twenty year since oi sailed that little skiff.”
So began my sailing lessons. Jason in his overalls and flat cap. His only concession being that he exchanged his old army boots for an even older pair of plimsolls that had seen better days a long time ago.
Mudeford Water. An almost enclosed stretch of tidal water that the ebb emptied like a bathtub. Tidal flats that suddenly were there and least expected. Gusts of wind that exposed the frailties of small dinghies but sufficiently sheltered from the rowdiness of the English Channel…..but more of this later.
Not No.5 like our erstwhile Coco of Chanel fame who died in 1971 leaving serious doubt in the minds of historians as to her allegiance during the last world war. (Are you aware that Hugo Boss designed the German SS uniforms? How soon we forget!)
No….mine is No.3. My third book! Another ‘something’ out there with my name on it. The idea of leaving something out there besides a headstone and some ‘soon to be forgotten’ memories is somewhat appealing but all that sounds rather maudlin, must be the time of the morning when the house is still asleep. For some reason that first coffee always gives me cause for reflection……amongst other things.
It’s still dark outside and bloody cold. It’s the day before the Mayans forecast the end of the world, December 20th 2012. Of course they never factored in the concept of leap years which was established by Julius Caesar so really the end of the world should have occurred months ago…..when it was a little warmer perhaps. Digression, but it’s that time of the day, the time when we ramble off down the corridors of our minds twisting and turning without any set plan. It’s the time when the ideas come, the plot, the tale.
Now it’s finished…No 3 that is…..”A Trooper’s Wife.” Now the nasty part…the editing. Tedious is as tedious was as tedious will be. The more you edit the more you edit. It drives you crazy. I refuse to have the “tale” professionally edited. I paid to have that done once and it came back…..but it was not ‘my book’ anymore. It was the editor’s concept of what the book should be like. Well…..you write the bloody thing then!! We will do the best we can then put it out there. It’s not cleaned up, not sterilized, not made harmless, not green necessarily…..just my book, a tale to take you ‘somewhere else’ for a while. If people like it….fine. If people don’t like it…..equally fine. Have you written or published a book? If you have…..good on ya! Join the club. If not….hey try it sometime. They say there’s a story in everyone but of course we don’t know who ‘they’ are do we. It beats the crap out of watching the interminable violence on the TV or the mindless reality shows. If nothing else it make’s you think and prevents your mind atrophying like an unused muscle.
Talking of an unused muscle……………………………………..
What exactly is a “good book?”
Surely beauty most certainly lies in the eyes of the beholder. Are the books of J.K.Rowling good books? If you measure by sales success, movie rights, revenue then surely she is probably the most successful author of all time but if you don’t like fantasy then, to you, it’s not such a good book. Same can be said of E.L.James and Fifty Shades. Many of the so called literary pundits claim these books are literary rubbish but they sold extremely well….might even be responsible for a spike in the birth rate…quite the impact but then if you’re not into or interested in sex and control……….so go figure.
What right does a movie critic have to say whether or not a movie is good, bad or indifferent. Their “right” is exactly that….a “right to express their opinion” but that’s all it is…..their opinion, to which of course they’re entitled but, unless you have proven that you share likes and dislikes, go see the movie and come to your own conclusion.
We read all the time of literary organisations giving kudos to books that the average person in the street would not read. Dry, boring, deep and probably erudite to the extreme but don’t sell worth a crap. Good book? Perhaps but by what standard?
Most authors are looking for validation but again what is this ‘validation?’ Peer recognition perhaps or sales, the satisfaction of leaving a record, a trail of your passing? Perhaps it is simply the fact that a stranger read your book and left you a good review and that, for me anyway, is ample validation.
For most of us writing a book is some sort of catharsis. Most novels are based on some fact….somewhere. The author draws from their own experiences and then imposes their imagination to develop a tale. Do they write to entertain, to educate, to leave a record? Doesn’t matter…write the damn book, throw the manuscript on a shelf for a couple of months and then go back to it. It’s probably not what you thought it was so make the corrections, re-write it if you have to and then, at some point in time, take the plunge, hit the ‘publish’ button even if that is meant metaphorically. You have the satisfaction of your book being out there. You have the satisfaction of having created something. Your ego is satisfied…..there is a book cover out there with your name on it.
Is there such a thing as a bad book? I don’t think so. Every book took effort so kudos to that.
So here we are. November 9th 2012, just five days after Hil’s birthday but two and a half years since she was diagnosed with the big “C.”
Today it all came to an end……the last chemo! Now it’s down to a periodic check up, a bit of blood work and an annual CT scan and that’s it! In the ward she was so excited. She was telling everyone that this was the last visit. Hopefully it served to lift the spirits of the people there that are at the beginning of the road not the end or that interminable “middle.”
Of course it will never “go away.” The threat is always there but she managed it and now it’s controlled….beaten into submission. Quite the “road,” time flies at our age but there’s plenty of it left. Time for tennis, golf (have to wind up my new pacemaker,) time for grandkids, time to plan our distillery tour with good friends next year.
As for me…it’s great to see her happy and her friends happy for her. I just have to get used to this new gadget in my chest, to learn to trust it. I’m typing so it must be working!
It’s really all about support and for that we are both grateful.
The sibilant hiss of the air conditioning is the only constant background noise. The room is quite large with windows all down one side although the blinds are drawn now. It’s dark but it’s not dark. The gloom is broken by the greenish light cast by the several monitors at the side of the bed. The quiet of the night is broken by the quiet murmur of the night nurses, located at their central control station, as they stand watch over the eight rooms. I’m lying in bed covered by a thin sheet. I’m not cold but it’s cool. I still have my socks on but other than a brightly colored smock thing, that has a mind of its own, that’s it! I’m in hospital………my heart had simply…….stopped! It had run for 25,898 days and it just decided to stop. No warning, nothing in the small print, never anything about extended warranty…………it just quit! I’ve tried the manufacturer’s call center but it seems to be constantly busy.
My wife, Hilary, and I have disparate tastes when it comes to watching TV. Her tastes lean more towards “Dancing with the Stars,” except when the tennis is on of course, mine lean more towards Super Rugby. As a result of this it is not uncommon for me to watch TV in the study downstairs with Sam (the dawg)……….. with Hilary upstairs…..without Sam (the dawg.)
Fate is a good thing……the stars are aligned……last Wednesday night, September 26th to be precise, we are watching TV together in the study downstairs. I passed out!! The next thing I know is a hulking big EMS guy standing in front of me plugging me into some sort of gadget or other. Within minutes I’m in Emergency at the Southlake Hospital in Newmarket. Hilary had seen me pass out, had had the presence of mind to shake me or thump me or something and stayed calm enough to call 911. I guess she’s not sick of living with me quite yet.
Within an hour of arriving in Emergency it quit again! As my dad would have said…”that’s twice!” This time though I’m hooked up to all the hospital’s monitors. Now they can see what it is. Round about midnight it happened again. Must be telling me something…….it’s quit now three times in three hours. For me all that happens is I pass out although I must admit I felt it coming the third time. This is scary because by now you know what it is! I’m admitted to the CCU!
CCU…….the Coronary Care Unit in Southlake Hospital. A space age facility on the fifth floor. If you ever wonder at the cost of health care…….visit one of the facilities! If you ever object to the expense of health care…….get sick!! How can anyone in their right minds object to universal health care and its expense. In the grand ol’ US of A its simply a few incredibly greedy people funding a governmental lobby…….don’t get me on a rant.
Now, two mornings later, my street value has increased considerably. I’m the proud possessor of a Medtronic Pacemaker. A chunk of Titanium with two leads to my heart. I still have the dressing on my chest although that’s coming off tonight. The operation is quick but scary. There is no general anaesthetic!! Dugh…….it’s done with a local. They put a blue tent over your head so you can’t see what’s going on but you can feel all the pushing and pulling, you can hear all the weird noises, you can hear all the chat………..NO LIKE!!
So it’s done now. I was afraid to fall asleep at home yesterday. Now I have to trust that this chunk of metal has my best interests at heart……excuse the pun.
I can’t do anything really for a month so there goes the golf season. I can’t drive for a week but the Ryder Cup starts today.
I need a bath (can’t shower) but I’m alive!
Now my two books have been published by Amazon and are available on all the Kindle readers. At last I have access to a gazillion readers. No longer is “Gema” free but is now being sold at the astronomical price of $0.99……..cheap at twice the price.
I also have the luxury of an “author page” which I guess I have to periodically update…..something else to remember. This can be accessed at:
Of course don’t forget the books are still available for Kobo, Sony, I books etc and can be downloaded from Smashwords.
The next book in the trilogy is on the go……..”A Trooper’s Wife.” It comes and goes in fits and starts although I find writing early in the morning the easiest. It’s dark, it’s quiet except for the dog’s heavy breathing. I can let my mind wander far afield only to be brought back to reality by the dawn light. I think I have to try harder.
Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.
It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.
They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.
You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?
After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
And where do they get this mulch?
They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about….
Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.
Well this was an interesting week!
Way back in January I got an early advise from the Vintages Section of the LCBO……….a limited offering of the new Highland Park Thor……buy one now or forget it for quite quite a while. What the hell……buy it.
Earlier this year my sister in law and husband decide to visit us for a while from England. Ha…great!! Someone who can stop at “Whiskies of the World” at the airport and get me something that you can’t get in Canada.
Do the research, look at the inventory, send the husband a list……works for me. “Get any two of the three on the list,” I tell him over the ether…..doesn’t matter which….they’re all expensive.
Jump forward eight months…all the way to last Wednesday Sept.5th. The long awaited call from the LCBO. “Mr.Jackson your whisky has arrived you can pick it up today.” Ha is this cool or what? Zip down to the store, grab the loot, zip home, admire bottle on counter….life is good.
Two hours later…..front door bell! Sister in law and hubbie fresh from England……..and “Whiskies of the World.” Two out of three….nope…..all three. Yikes, going to be an arm and a leg. More on the counter to be admired…..life is better! Work out currency conversion…..life deteriorated just slightly………….still good though.
From where I got the notion to write a novel I do not know! The notion to write a trilogy stemmed from being asked, by a friend, to write a sequel to “Gema:A Trooper’s Tale,” hence the birth of “Dire Straits:A Trooper’s Tale.” At last, six months later, it’s finished!! For months I wondered how it was going to end as, when I write, I just let it go it’s own way as long as it makes sense, seems interesting and, hopefully, generates tension. This time the “ending” came within the last few pages….as did “Gema.”
Indie Publishing is not for the faint of heart. To see no sales for yesterday or the day before is as demoralizing as receiving rejection letters. “No one likes your baby!” Well tough shit…..just keep plugging along. If you quit you’re guaranteed not to sell a thing. Why did you start to write in the first place? To make a living? God forbid!
I find it relaxing to write……most of the time anyway. If I get stuck….which is often…..just leave it and come back to it when the light dawns…..it does eventually.
I’ve started the third book in the series as the second is about to be published. Its temporary title, although I like it is” “The Trooper’s Wife.” Where it’s going to go I’ve no idea….that’s interesting, for me, in itself. I’d like to finish it before the end of the year……but who’s to know really.
“Focus at four “
He’s four but we started him at a really young age……last year…….he was three!
The other day he’d already hit several balls although not very well. Of course you have to understand my dog is taller than him but he loves the golf course. The highlight of the day for him is getting a ride on the cart! The first time he showed up last year golf bag in one hand, Epipen in the other (he has a peanut allergy) he was dressed like a midget Ian Poulter……he drew a crowd!
He has his own little bag with a driver, a 7 iron and a putter. We go to the course once a week and rotate between the driving range and the putting green. He has the attention span of a puppy……which is OK. Anyway…..back to his latest pearl of wisdom.
“Grandad…will I be able to play golf when I’m twelve?”
“Sure you will Jackson…..by then you’ll be able to hit the ball really well and go out on the golf course. Of course by then I’ll be nearly eighty!”
“But then you die Grandad…….at 12 o’clock!” (The guy hitting balls next to us starts to crack up.)
I’m disappointed! My grand daughter, who is now six, is developing into a really good soccer player and I was rather hoping to see her in the 2024 Olympics. Unfortunately, according to Jackson, I’m going to be a little shy.
I’m really concerned about the 12o’clock bit! Does he mean noon or midnight.? If this is all the time I have left the 12 hours might become important.
All this stems from driving by a particularly large cemetery. What in the world did my son in law say to him?
Damnit I’m sick. I hate it!
“Take two aspirin and come see me in a week!” Yea riiiiight.
I haven’t bin sick in years; I even missed a couple of days at the golf course, the first instance of missing a bit of time in seven years! I ache in places I didn’t even know I had. My eyes are streaming so much it’s hard to read. The local drugstore recently put up my picture on their notice board as being one of their major supporters. My throat is so sore I can hardly speak……much to the wife’s delight. Even the bloody dog is staying away…..some canine sixth sense that I might have something catching…..Distemper or Heartworm perhaps.
Catching my arse!! It’s a bloody cold! Millions spent on the development of Viagra and Cialis……if you have an erection that lasts more than four hours see your doctor…………….doctor? I’d be calling the Guinness Book of Records! We can fly to the moon, put a little machine on Mars, shove a camera either down my throat or up my arse to find out what is going on but they can’t fix a “cold.”
Massive “charity” drives to raise funds for the scary ailments with executives making a fortune on the side. Have you ever seen or heard of a charity drive to support developments for erectile dysfunction? I think not…….or the “cold” for that matter…..I think not. Too tough to market……not enough sex…..lousy optics.
“Take a couple of Advil and stay home for a couple of days.”
I wonder how many work days are lost to the “common cold.” Maybe that’s the problem….it’s too “common.”
The wife came back from Costco yesterday. We now have more Strepsils and Advil than a family could consume in a lifetime. We have Kleenex sufficient to go round the world twice…….I think they must have been having a skid sale. Now I know why she took the pickup and not the car.
Guess what? I’m feeling better…..just a little. The keyboard is still a little blurred and my coffee still tastes like something that came out of the wrong end of a horse but the sun is shining and the Clematis is in full flower. Nothing better than a good “rant.”
Maybe a little walk this morning; not sure if the dog will come though. She’s still keeping her distance.
Week 3674 of my life just slipped by to slide into the archives. Was it memorable? Nope…..just another week but that’s not really true is it? Each and every week is unique and can never be repeated. Good or bad, regrettable or otherwise there is no going back! It’s a done deal……chill…..move on. In retrospect they’re all memorable even the regrettable ones. The really regrettable ones are like a blemish on a good piece of wood. You can’t necessarily see it at first glance but if you scratch away at the varnish…..there it is…..just waiting to be revealed, waiting to be considered and reconsidered. Give it another coat of varnish…..it’ll be as good as new! Only you know it’s there, only you know what lies beneath the shiny surface. Hmmm…..got you thinking a bit?
My wife and I used to own an old farmhouse in Southern Ontario built around 1885. It was originally a frame building but was faced with red brick somewhere around the turn of the century. This is old here in Canada but then the country is very young, all shiny like a new penny although the penny is going to be phased out…..sign of the times. My brother lived in a cottage built in 1585……..now that is old but that, of course, is in England……………not the England I knew almost fifty years ago although the cottage is still there.
We filled the house with antiques…..at least antique by Canadian standards. Some of it was weird, some less so but many items were conversation pieces. One of these items was an old washing machine! It was wooden, rather like a barrel with the top chopped off. It had a wooden lid and by turning this huge handle on the side you activated paddles on the inside which agitated the water. Principles are just the same today but this required muscle power not simply plugging in to a wall outlet. It had an old fashioned mangle on top for wringing out the clothes located in such a manner that the water would run back into the body of the thing. It was in great condition! It was one of the few items that we retained when we downsized. Now it sits in our kitchen……still a conversation piece!
Our grandson is three going on four going on twenty seven! He’s probably only about three feet tall, maybe a little more. He’s a little man who started to learn golf last year when he was still three. That, in itself, was a conversation piece. People would stop to watch him on the driving range; all dressed up like Poulter…..a little man.
I’ve always been a proponent, indeed a champion, of being curious, of being inquisitive. Ask questions….find out…..do your due diligence…..come to your own conclusions. Don’t take it as a given just because someone said it was so. Jackson, our grandson, is like that, a remarkable and enviable trait in a three going on four year old.
In week 3674 of my life he stood in the kitchen gazing at this old machine, head cocked to one side.
“Grandma….what’s that?” He said pointing to the old machine.
“It’s a very, very old washing machine,” said Hilary fondly, “really old we’ve had it for years your Granddad and I.” He stood there looking a little perplexed.
“Grandma……..why don’t you buy a new one?”
Three years ago I acquired the first I-Phone. Taraaaaa!! What a toy. Of course having a simple phone is no longer “de rigeur.” Now making a simple call is no longer “de rigeur.” Now we can text! Such a thrill. We can find our way out of the bush with the GPS……a daily occurrence. We have apps. We have the internet, we have the music. We have our own weather station, we have our own stock market reports. We have the internet in our pocket….what did we do without it??
Well, after three years, disaster struck…..the battery failed. Simple……get another one….battery that is! To cut a long story short it was cheaper to get a new phone than a replacement battery…..go figure…..but this one had an alarm and, gem of gems, you could choose the sound! How had I ever lived without it?
I’m no different than most…I fiddle with new toys so I set the alarm for Saturdays and Sundays as I always get up really early on those days; I set it for 5.20am…..then forgot about it!
Every night I leave my billfold, my car keys and my phone on the table in the hallway. This morning I got up very early…..before five and was working in the study catching up on my e-mails before heading out to the golf course at six. The house is quiet, my wife fast asleep upstairs, the birds are just awakening outside and my dog Sam is stretched across my feet, my coffee cooling on my desk.
“Cock a doodle-do.” What the bloody hell. “Cock a doodle-do” really loud. What the hell. Sam jumps up, head to one side. It’s a really lifelike, farm type cock waking up to the dawn of the morning. “Cock a doodle-do.” It’s coming from upstairs. (I still haven’t figured it out…..) I look at the clock on the computer screen……5.20. I rush upstairs…..it’ll wake up the wife. I hit the landing and then the hallway. I looked at the table, my phone was leaping around like a demented bug……it was on vibrate!! “Cock a doodle-do” it yelled at me…..still dancing around. The bloody alarm…it won’t stop! I can’t figure it out……too early in the morning. I turn it off. “Cock a doodle-do.” It’s still doing it…..it’s like a bloody zombie. I try to turn down the volume. “Cock a doodle-bloody do.” It defies all attempts to be quiet. I put it in my pocket! It’s still vibrating and calling out to the early morning. I hear the wife stirring. Great just what I need. I turn it on again…..then off again. Finally it was quiet!! Still on the desk….quiet. I gave it a poke….it didn’t stir…..dead at last. All is quiet. Sam lies down but has one eye open. Quiet upstairs
I even got to the golf course early.
We’ve all heard about “empty nesters,” I’m one myself, at least we are, the kids being long gone. Our kids left out of choice but I’m sure there are instances of it being less than their choice and more that of the parents….’okay sport time to go.” This is a slightly different tale the choice being neither that of the kids or of the parents.
Hard by the 10th tee on our golf course is a stand of Blue Spruce. Earlier in the week we had a humdinger of a windstorm that blew hearth and home of a Great Horned Owl out of the tree and down onto the ground. Later in the day our grounds crew found two chicks by the tee and the remnants of a nest. Mum was floating around having a bit of a bird (snicker.) Don’t tangle with a full grown Horned Owl they’re pretty big! The guys fixed up a nest out of an old milk crate, climbed the tree, complete with chicks and tied it off high up in the branches. It didn’t take long for mum to figure it out and she’s been happily brooding ever since.
Lends a different meaning to “empty nest.”
I’m a napper! In fact if napping were an Olympic event I could probably represent my country!
I haven’t yet concluded if napping is a learned skill, a habit or simply something innate, something with which we’re born; doesn’t alter the fact that I’m good at it.
This is not something new for me, I’ve done it for the last thirty years or so but never having studied it or consciously considered the benefits. When I used to work for a living, some time in my faded past, it was not unusual for me to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Close and lock my office door, stretch out on the couch, set my alarm and snooze for thirty minutes. When managing a business comprised of three shifts in two different time zones it was a boon and made the fifteen hour days easy.
Today I might “nap” two or three times a day, never for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, perhaps that is the reason I can get by with five or six hours sleep per night. I’ve been known to doze off at the dinner table after having finished………….never with company of course.
Talking of “company” I’m in good company. For some very ‘serious people’ the afternoon nap was sacrosanct. Winston Churchill admits he was a night bird but without his afternoon nap he could not have put in the prodigious work hours. He once said that the Battle of Britain was won by the “few” but his rhetoric was enhanced by his afternoon nap. John F. Kennedy took a nap every afternoon and White House staff was instructed that he never be disturbed. In fact his wife joined him in bed every afternoon. Bonaparte took a daily nap. It was said that he could sleep within the sound of the cannon’s roar. The list is in fact endless but the common denominator is it enabled these people to work incessantly and to get the most out of the hours available to them……two more come to mind…..Lyndon B. Johnson and Thomas Edison.
Today there are innumerable studies on the subject, the different levels of sleep, the duration and their impact on the brain. All far too technical for me, all I know and care about is that napping is not an “old man’s” game but rather a way to plug in your battery, re-charge yourself and get the most out of the time you have available.
Below is an excerpt from a technical “napping” article but like I said…..just go for it…..Happy Napping!
If you can’t find extra time at night, daytime naps can be one way to treat sleep deprivation, says Sara C. Mednick, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping,” she says. “You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”
The length of your nap — and the type of sleep you get — helps determine the brain-boosting benefits. The 20-minute power nap — sometimes called the stage 2 nap — is good for alertness and motor learning skills like typing and playing the piano.
What happens if you nap for more than 20 minutes? Research shows longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity. Slow-wave sleep — napping for approximately 30 to 60 minutes — is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problem
I’ve actually finished the text as of yesterday March 26th. I was “stuck” for ages then suddenly it came to me and I got on a bit of frenzy. Now to start the editing which takes forever. The more you edit the more you edit……drives you crazy but it has to be done. As a reader guessed “Dire Straits” is in fact the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island and Washington State, a stretch of water in which I spent many a happy month…..or was it the company. The tale doesn’t end there but it has its beginnings there.
Sometimes, in the solitude of an evening, I tend to mentally reminisce……to look back……to dig into my data base of memories. It’s not that I’m being depressing it’s just that, at my age, there are more days behind me than there are in front…..an irrefutable fact. So as not to paint the wrong picture, life is grand just now and who knows how long we’re all going to live now. I spoke to an old friend last week, someone I haven’t seen in perhaps thirty years, he’s eighty six now and still working he said:
“The older we get the longer we’re going to live.”
It’s the technology you know. I believe him…….I just hope we can afford to live that long but that’s another story.
So….the “digging back” bit:
For some reason old school friends came to mind, people I haven’t seen in fifty or sixty years. What happened to them? Are they still alive? Even that is not the point in mind. What I ended up questioning is how we got our nicknames.
I went to an old fashioned boy’s school in the North of England, the type that hardly exists any more. Fourteen hundred boys wearing a very specific uniform until you were sixteen, then you were allowed to wear long pants and a blazer. A school where there was a very specific hierarchy within the student body with a “cock of the school,” a head boy, prefects, the jocks, the egg heads. A school where the jocks held greater sway than anyone…..a rugby school and proud of it, a school where most of the teachers wore a black gown and were not afraid of the “big stick.”
The point is we had nicknames! The question is where did they come from? Most are obvious, some less so and some downright well and impossible. Most of them I can’t remember probably because they were born by individuals who did not indelibly etch themselves onto my mind……but some I do remember, remember what they looked like, what they sounded like and what they were “like.”
“Hairy” Harrison comes to mind. I met him when I was seven or eight at a private junior school and knew him until I was about fifteen. “Hairy?” That came about because he was the first one of us to grow pubic hairs and was quick to show them off.
“Big” Lowenstein! We often thought this chap was a little deformed. He was short and skinny with a huge nose and ears that stuck out worse than Prince Charles. He wore incredibly thick glasses…..he looked like a gnome….smart though. Unfortunately due to his looks he was the butt of teasing and some bullying. I met him when I was eleven. He got his nickname after we saw him in the shower after gym which was compulsory in those days. After we saw “that” he gained the utmost respect in our jock community and it quickly got around that he had protection and the teasing quickly stopped.
“Kipper” Knight. I never found out how he got his nickname….his real name was Steve and we were good friends until we left the school at the age of eighteen. He was “cock of the school” from a young age and in those days it was a title you had to periodically defend……usually within a circle of hundreds of screaming boys. As long as no one was getting hurt the staff turned a blind eye. In those days a black eye, bloody nose or a thick lip was not the definition of getting hurt.
“Tess” Mattick! Another one with the mystery nickname although his first name was Terry. He chummed around with “Kipper” Knight for years and usually had his “back.”
We had two “Willie” Wilsons which was very confusing. One was short, one was tall. One could walk the length of the gym on his hands the other played rugby for the school. “Gaga” Hall was a little guy with an infectious sense of humour, trouble stuck to him like a magnet but we liked him. We had another “Hall” but his nickname was “Jumbo” for obvious reasons. I wonder if he ever lost the weight?
I’m sure there are more but I don’t recall. We always wonder what happened to the people we knew when we were young and relatively innocent. I know of a boy I knew quite well at school but tended to avoid. He was rough and tough. I think today he might have been diagnosed as bi-polar. He ended up a respected neurosurgeon. Another I remember well….he didn’t want to work….he wasn’t part of the jock community, he was almost in limbo. Eventually he was expelled for some reason……he ended up a lawyer in Canada…..go figure.
Some time ago I went into a rural pub in the north of England……it used to be my local. An old friend looked up, Martin:
“Have a pint Jacko?” My nickname……….I hadn’t seen him or been in that pub for twenty five years!!!
Traditionally “The Valley” opens, if we’re lucky, at the beginning of April. We know, unless the weather goes totally stupid on us, that the course will be open for “The Master’s” weekend.
Well this year the weather did go “totally stupid” on us and we opened on March 17th!!
Saturday morning dawned misty but by 8.30am there was a lineup of folk wanting on the golf course. It didn’t let up all day and the mist burned off by mid morning. The following day, Sunday, was quite the experience, never mind reminding ourselves it was the middle of March! The day awoke sunny and clear. The first tee time was 7.20am and the last was 4.10pm and all this without a break in the action. By lunchtime we were down to shorts and golf shirts. The range was completely full on our brand new mats as was the parking lot…….it’s only March!!!
This week the forecast is for warm and a bit of rain. The course will green up in a hurry in fact you could see the effect of the sun by Sunday afternoon…..it doesn’t take much.
So we’ll get out on the course a couple of times this week and watch it green up. Maybe there’s an upside to global warming after all.
Click on all the red bits :)
Being born in the North of England, Yorkshire specifically, the textile industry has a gravitational pull. To cut a long story short I gravitated to Dormeuil Freres with offices and warehouses all over the world. I started in London…….but ended up in Paris…….young and single in Paris in the early sixties…….a true adventure.
What a wonderful time it was.
Paris in the early sixties was a dangerous place. Algeria had just gained independence and nobody seemed to be very happy about it. There were riots, bombings and killings almost nightly and the police insisted on a curfew on a regular basis. There was one day in ’61 that the police killed over 200 rioters and threw many of the bodies into the Seine. Hardly anyone remembers that and the government to this day has not admitted culpability……but I digress and get way ahead of myself.
Paris is a beautiful city and it was declared “open” during the war. (Remember we’re talking about my adventure in the sixties.) As such it was not damaged during the advance and occupation. I had already seen the ravages of war having visited parts of Holland and been in Germany……..specifically Dusseldorf and Cologne………both virtually flattened…….except for Cologne Cathedral……..go figure!
I had a smattering of schoolboy French and knew no fear. The inhabitants of the office in which I worked had instructions never to speak English with me and in fact threw me into the deep end after a few weeks by putting me into Customer Service………on the phone for crying out loud. You learn in a hurry!!
Living in small hotels in Paris used to be the norm. They were small, incredibly old buildings, mostly on the Left Bank. Of course that’s where I ended up…..La Rue Jean Lantier……..ex-pats……American students. It took me three months to figure out it was a very active whorehouse…….of course I was young then…..what did I know. (Part of my education? Me to know, you to wonder.)
Eventually I moved into a tiny flat overlooking the river and Notre Dame Cathedral…..a true garret……but I loved it. I had a Vespa scooter but could walk to work……if you could call it that. I drank Sancerre
for breakfast with a coffee and a croissant…the same little bistro for years. I remember it well…...Aux Bons Crus
…..just round the corner from work on La Rue Vivienne…..strange how things come back like it was yesterday. The art galleries and little book shops were everywhere. Open air cafes…Gitanes in the air all the time. Down La Rue Huchette where there was a constant haze from the pot being smoked in all the little jazz club
What a wonderful time it was.
After a couple of years I was no longer a tourist. My French was fluent……with a Parisian accent…….. all my clothes had been replaced. I had friends……some of which I still have fifty years later. I was playing rugby with an ex-pat team at the old Stade Francaise and I was travelling……………..South of France, Italy,
Spain, North Africa, Germany…………..even went through Check Point Charlie into East Berlin………..just for the hell of it I guess in those days.
We had our moments for sure. During the “troubles” the police would periodically drop a “net.” If you didn’t have your papers they’d lock you up for the night. Twice I had to call my boss, Jacques Pasquier, to come and get me……the night having been spent in a large cage complete with hookers, pimps, petty crooks and of course your friends as we were never alone. Young and carefree!! I got into trouble in a bar one night and was rescued by a very large colored guy who dealt with the “trouble” easily and swiftly. I found out later he was the Light Heavyweight Champion of the American Forces Overseas…….no wonder it was easy! I found out later he was killed in Viet Nam.
After a couple of years a lady friend came to visit……Hilary…..she’s upstairs now sleeping while I type! Fifty years ago!!
I was also fortunate in that the company allowed me to go to the Sorbonne at their expense……….co-ops were unheard of in those days…………so I was busy. It never seemed to bother them as to whether I was at work, at school or travelling somewhere. It was as though I existed on a different plane. I got paid every month though. Of my group of friends I was the only one that got a regular pay cheque. Didn’t alter the fact that it was a pittance…..maybe that’s why they didn’t seem to care. I regularly ran out of money a week before pay day……you can exist on cantaloupe you know but it’s not good for your inner workings.
I think my best memories are sensual, the music, the smell of Gitanes, the distinctive sound of French Police cars, the smell of fresh baguettes and even more music. Yves Montand, the jazz of Coltrane and of course who could forget Dave Brubeck and Take Five.
It’s easy to travel today. Paris is just a short hop. People travel to all the countries in Europe, from England, just for a day’s work.
Fifty years ago things were different. A channel crossing was a major event. Brits were barely going to the “Continent” for a vacation. Working in Paris was an adventure…………..I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Who is” me” and do many people really care? Probably not. My dog cares, my family cares, the people I make laugh care. I’m older now, plumper……a more mature figure I like to think. Other than my family and close friends my most wonderful possession is a storage bank of memories.
Ever since being a teenager I considered life an adventure and death the last great adventure. Is that when we get the answer to the great question…..heaven or hell, seventy virgins………….worms and dried out bones? We’ll see!
The blog is the search engine of my memories. They might be decades old it might have been just yesterday.
I used to play rugby, race a sailboat, drive fast cars, tour around on my Harley, work with dogs and horses, ski. I even bungy jumped naked once…..but that’s a story that stays in Vegas!
Now I write novels, maintain a blog, collect single malt whisky, play golf, practice the piano and guitar, enjoy the grandkids…….life is good.
Enjoy the blog……enjoy the stories…..if you like ‘em either “Comment” or Follow,” Recommend it to your friends even. If you don’t like it that’s OK too. The fun of it is in the writing.
Quite some time ago probably as a result of this blog I started to write a book!!
Someone asked me quite recently from where did I get the idea. (Note the lack of a dangling participle!)
I’ve no bloody idea!! I’d recently read an article somewhere on the activities of Special Forces in Borneo and I just started writing. Darndest thing…..it took on a life of its own! The characters became real people to me. It actually became invasive which is something I didn’t expect. After I’d killed off a couple of the characters I had the idea of creating a trilogy…….”Gema: A Troopers Tale” being the first tale. Now it’s published and I’m half way through the second epistle entitled: “Dire Straits: A Trooper’s Tale.”
It’s exciting; for months I didn’t know what to do. Traditional Publishers have gone the same way of big box stores making it almost impossible to get published in a traditional manner but e-books are a different cup of tea altogether! The growth of e-reading is staggering with the proliferation of readers and pads.
Books such as mine are published in a number of electronic languages allowing them to be purchased and read almost anywhere and utilizing any brand.
That’s exciting! I wrote the book for fun and now it’s published. How about that!
Take a look!! Click here
I came across this in the dark of the early morning whilst the house was still sleeping. I thought it a propos of yesterday’s blog. Whereas my comment was clumsy this piece is the opposite.
From A Brilliant Mind
by: George Carlin
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider highways , but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
Many drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.
Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.
Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.
Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.
Remember, to say, ‘ I love you ‘ to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
George Carlin was a comedian, writer, television/movie actor and Grammy winner.
I’m not sure how I gravitated to Harry other than that he was standing at a waypoint in my life. For some, long forgotten, reason I was looking for an old shepherds crook to take back to Canada as a reflection of our family’s heritage in Ripon.
I was following a trail, like breadcrumbs, starting in Harrogate, looking in Otley, Ilkley and all the way up to Hawes.
No matter what the weather it’s spectacular up there and yet you’re really not far from anywhere by Canadian standards. Nothing has changed much up here in the Yorkshire Moors. They got electricity some time back and that’s about it.
If you’ve never been there this is the land of Herriot
, the Fells and soaring moorland. The only sounds the constant wind, curlews riding the air, the bleating of distant sheep and the burbling of a close by beck. The Lake District beckons slightly to the West but that’s a different area….a different story.
All of us, as we cruise through life, have contact with characters. Not just characters in our play but people who are slightly larger than life in their own way. People who, although they might have stepped onto our stage for only a moment in time, leave an indelible mark on our consciousness.
For many of us our lives are parochial…..certainly not a bad thing. We live, work and die in our parish and are happy with this. We live good productive lives, rear good productive children and are remembered for being just that – good people but parochial.
Some of us live or have lived, at times, a different type of life, quite often brought about by travel more often brought about by curiosity. Certainly less parochial. Certainly more risky. More rewarding? Depends on your parish.
These characters that punctuate our lives. These folk that are “larger than life.” Larger than whose life? My life? Your life? Life in general?
Quite often they could easily have lived in a different time. They march to their own drum. Some are well educated. Some have no formal education at all. They all have one thing in common. They are happy being inside looking out!
It was easy getting out of Leeds/Bradford Airport in my rented car.
Now I had to navigate my way to my mum’s place in Harrogate…..on the wrong side of the road I might add.
I wanted to avoid Leeds. Leeds was the antithesis of everything I disliked about the industrial north. Each to his own for sure but I never liked it. I remember it as a dirty place. Grey with grey people, grey buildings, grey lives. I also am well aware that these are my glasses I’m looking through, certainly not rose tinted when it comes to Leeds. Perhaps your glasses have a different tint…..which would be a good thing.
There is one fact that is and was always phenomenal to me, surely planned at some point in time. You drive North out of Leeds, turn up the Harrogate Road, drive through Moortown and Alwoodly and pass Wigton Lane.
Leeds ends right there !
Like a knife cut. No gentle transition here. Leeds just ends! North of Wigton Lane the land is soft and pastoral. The Harrogate Road leading you through one of the more southerly, more benign Dales. Through Harewood, the home of the Queens cousin. North into a different world -The Yorkshire Dales
So I turned a different way, map on lap, looking the wrong way at roundabouts. Heading up the Otley Road in the general direction of my brother’s haunted house on the Killinghall Beck. Woops……turn right. My mum’s in Harrogate hard by the old Granby Hotel . A jumping place in the forties and fifties. Now a retirement home for the well healed.
Mum’s place. An island of nostalgia. My dad had passed on five years previous. My mother never got over it but what has that got to do with you. Not much I guess.
The flat was filled with all things remembered. The only difference the building itself. A retirement flat. A modernized Victorian throwback. The groundfloor with a stunning, very “Harrogate” view. The “Stray.” A two hundred acre common in the middle of town. A huge grassy areas dotted with ancient oaks surrounded by buildings all built from local Yorkshire stone. All trimmed in white, most with roses out front.
In the distance, out of my mother’s front window, the square tower of Christ Church, known locally as St Johns
. Nothing between us but two hundred yards of well tended grass and a couple of oak trees. Gravestones, crooked sentinels of the past, huddled behind the moss covered stone wall.
Where did this idea of a shepherd’s crook come from? Still haven’t figured that part out so many years later. Perhaps it was from watching “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS.
My search for the Grail (replace Grail with Crook) started in Harrogate and ended in Skipton. I won’t bore you with the trek itself other than to say that it took me through some of the more spectacular parts of the Yorkshire Dales. Certainly a most circuitous route as Harrogate to Skipton, in a straight line, is only about ten miles.
The real “characters’ in my life can perhaps be counted on one hand. Jason who taught me how to sail a small boat on Mudeford Water. Jacques a crazy French rugby player with fingers like bananas and a family that owned a chateau in Normandy distilling Calvados, that apple brandy, they drink like water. Donald (Dongo) a logger on Vancouver Island, a woodland philosopher and Harry a dour Yorkshireman with a startling side.
Not one of these folk was well educated, formally that is. In fact just the opposite is the case. All of these folk were distilled products of their environment. Steeped in tradition and honed by experience. The net result a spirit to be envied.
These four had traits in common. An inner satisfaction with their lot. An abiding love of history and how they saw themselves “fit.” A philosophical view of their world and, at times, critical of the new and perhaps outside world. An innate curiosity.
All this wrapped up in a quirky sense of humour.
Harry from Skipton was the most surprising of them all.
By asking around I had been directed, in almost unintelligible Yorkshire dialect, to a gunshop called The Shooting Lodge. I had been assured that they had a selection of walking sticks and crooks.
A gunshop! Not like a North American store with it’s camouflage, blaze orange racks, handguns under the counter and insistence upon the rights of the second amendment. Rather a quiet, tastefully decorated shop. Behind the counter a gentleman in blazer and tie, not Harry by the way, no handguns in sight and very few rifles.
This is the world of Purdey
and Churchill. The world of old money, tweeds and huge estates. A world in which the most important date in the year is August 12th……..the glorious twelfth.
No Harry though. No sticks. No crooks. More breadcrumbs. The clerk in the blazer directed me to another shop just across the cobbled yard, no more than twenty paces away. Waxcoats and Wellies!
Beams in the ceiling and an old pine floor. Counters that looked as though they belonged in a Dickens story and the smell of floor wax. All this not the mental machinations of an interior decorator seeking ambiance. The beams held the roof up. The floor was the original. No attempt to duplicate times gone by here. This was as it was…as it is. No elevator music. Quiet.
It was the type of store described in England as “A purveyor of country clothing to gentlemen” as pompous as that might sound. The home of Barbour and green wellies. Jodhpurs and cavalry twills. Plus fours and flat caps. Real Arran sweaters and shoes that might cost a months salary. Truly if you had to ask you couldn’t afford it. Most items bought “on account” unless you were a tourist. A visitor. Just passing through.
Waxcoats and Wellies. Owned by The Shooting Lodge. Owned by Harry.
Harry, as bright in my mind as the day I met him fifteen years ago. A Yorkshireman through and through. Not overly tall and a little older than myself. Extremely ruddy in complexion, as a result of a lifetime outdoors, but clean shaven. Salt and pepper hair usually hidden under an old Trilby. Inevitably wearing a tweed suit that would weigh a normal man down. Jacket cut in the hacking style.
Pants with cuffs. Brogues with a military shine. Pale blue twinkly eyes that always seemed to be laughing at some unspoken joke.
Harry was not, in fact, your typical storeowner although it should be said he was entrepreneurial by nature and typically canny. He was in fact a cattle breeder of some renown. He was also a cattle judge at the many “Fairs” held both locally and in Scotland his breed of choice being Aberdeen Angus
. He also kept some Highland Cattle simply because he said he liked the look of them.
“Crooks? Nay lad nuthin’ in t’shop. Might ‘ave summat at’ome I might be willing to part wi’.” “Why don’t you drop in at farm later in t’day?” My first encounter.
The end of the breadcrumb trail is perhaps in sight…….but the tale is only just beginning.
He gave me instructions to the farm:
“Go out of Skipton and bear right at t’fountain. Go three, four mile then turn left at t’church. Follow thee nose until tha gets to auld barn on t’right.”
OK I’ve already had it. There’s no way I’m going to be tramping round the tops, in a rented car, looking for a farm I wouldn’t recognize and Aberdeen Angus cattle….they’re mostly black aren’t they?
“Why don’t I come back when you’re ready and I’ll just follow you home?”
“That’ll work right fine” he said.
Later in the day I followed his, mud splattered, Land Rover out of Skipton driving, as if in a tunnel, between the dry stone walls that crisscross the entire countryside in this part of the world.
We headed west. The sun was low in the sky making it even more difficult to see. Harry was in no hurry. I don’t think he ever was now I think about it. After a while he pulled over onto the well cropped verge. I pulled in behind him. He got out of the car and climbed over a stile built into the limestone wall. I followed him.
“I often stop ‘ere on t’way ‘ome when sun is low like this” he says. “Reminds me of wot I am and ‘ow little I am.”
The close, sheep cropped grass, ran down to a little beck running through limestone rocks. On the other side the fell rose up, beneath the vaulted blue/grey sky, checkered with dry stone walls and the odd stone barn . Little white dots of sheep in the distance. Beyond this, across the valley, the land became the land of heather bright purple and red in the waning day. You could see the shooting butts marching along the horizon and a huge limestone escarpment off to the west with the sun seemingly balanced on its lip. Quiet now but busy come the middle of August.
“Quiet” is the word.
The only sound the ticking of the car engines as they cooled down. Every now and again the sound of a pheasant in the distance happy that it’s not August. Hardly a breeze at this time of the day. In the background the sound of the beck as it made its way towards the sea. Reminded me of Smetner’s Moldau. If I missed anything about the England I’d left so many years ago……this was it.
Back in the cars. Stopped a couple of times for sheep on the road. They seemed to think they had more rights than we did. Across a splash where a beck ran across the road. Not worth building a bridge. Hardly anyone passes this way…..not even the tourists. Up the steep, winding road on the other side. Cresting the top of the hill, to a new vista, Harry suddenly turned sharp left through a wide gateway. No actual gate but a cattle grid across the laneway. He stopped. Got out and beckoned me over to him.
“There ye are lad. T’home farm.”
Nestled in the valley below us at the end of a winding, deeply rutted track, lay a group of buildings that looked as though they’d been there since the beginning of time. They seemed huddled together as if for protection.
“Bought if ofn ol’ George Hislop almost thirty year since” he said. “’aven’t changed much since then. Put in a new generator. No electricity up ‘ere. T’farm isself is four hundred acres but I ‘ave grazing rights over another thousand. I keep big beasts close to farm but ‘ave Swaledales on t’tops.”
We pull into a cobbled yard my rented Golf happy to arrive. Two border collies tear out of a stone shed, greet Harry then sniff me carefully to make sure I pose no threat. “ ’ang on a minute” he says “ ‘ave to turn on generator, get some lights on.”
By now it was almost dark the sun having disappeared behind the fell climbing up to one side of the farm. I was already wondering how the hell I was going to find my way back to Harrogate which was starting to feel like a distant, far away place.
A muttering from another stone shed a little further from the house and with that lights sprang up in the old house shining yellow onto the old cobbles.
“Come in lad. Don’t ‘ave to tek shoes off. Mek your sen at ‘ome.” His accent was deeply Yorkshire but seemed in keeping with the surroundings.
We were in the kitchen. Stone flagged floor. Huge green Aga off to one side. He saw me looking at it. ‘Ave propane tank outside. Runs Aga and water ‘eater” he says. Answers that question I thought. “Waters good” he says. “T’wells not deep but t’water ‘s just grand. Never’ad it dry up neither.” Another question answered.
Coats hanging on wooden hooks. A row of boots on the stone flagged floor. An enormous pine table occupied the centre of the room scrubbed almost white over the years. The sink was old porcelain which reminded me of my grandmother’s kitchen. Beamed ceiling. Plaster and lathe walls. Chilly just now.
We go through a low door. “Watch your ‘ead” he says. “all doors are real low. You’ll only crack yoursen once.”
We enter his living room. Dropping to his knees in front of the fireplace he put a match to a fire already layed. “Soon warm up in ‘ere” he says. “Walls are real thick.”
A man’s room. A man’s house! Comfortable furniture drawn up to the fire, dogs already on the rug waiting for the warmth. Magazines everywhere. Shotguns in the corner, slippers in the hearth. Cattle prints on the walls. An old roll top desk in one corner and a TV, incongruously out of place, in a nook to one side of the fireplace. He saw me looking at it.
“I see you ‘ave a lot of questions. Let me tell you about the place. Like a drink?” We settled into chairs either side of the fireplace single malts in hand, fire just starting to take. A satisfied whimper from one of the borders.
“Like I said I bought the place from old George over thirty year ago. I don’t know how long he ‘ad it but I think it ‘ad bin in ‘is family for a long time. He’d done nothing to it! I added plumbing and wiring and installed the generator. There used to be an outhouse. Terrible in the winter.” He smiled at the memory and took a sip of the whiskey.
“There’s no phone but I use my mobile. It’s only recently I put in the dish for the TV but the reception’s a bit wobbly being down in the valley ‘ere.”
The main house, this building, was built just before the civil war as a gamekeepers cottage. The only thing different today is the plumbing and wiring I put in.” He stood up and shoveled some coal onto the fire. The room had quickly warmed up. “I never married. Haven’t found t’right woman yet. My neighbours wife comes over twice a week and fettle’s place for me. Does a right grand job. Not that I mek too much of a mess being on my own an all. I pay her a few bob and she’s ‘appy. Anyway lets ‘ave a look at wot we’ve got. Follow me lad.”
He got up and I followed him down a stone flagged corridor. The heat hadn’t got down here yet and it was cool. Not damp just cool. He entered another room and flicked on the light. “Lets see if we can find you summat in ‘ere” he says. I stood there in amazement. The end of the breadcrumb trail!
I discovered later at the Great Yorkshire Fair
that Harry had, by far, the largest collection of sticks and crooks in the UK and quite possibly the world.
They were everywhere. Stacked like cordwood. All shapes and sizes. All colors. Many of them carefully carved. An incredible mix of woods, horn and bone. A lifetime of travel and collecting.
“Not all of ‘em are fer sale” Harry said. “Most o’them are irreplaceable but I’m sure we’ll find you summat.”
An hour later we were done. Spit on palm handshake in the old tradition. Four crooks and two walking sticks. Paid far more than I had anticipated but what the hell. I told you he was canny.
So now you think this is the end of this yarn? No way….it’s only just begun.
My search for crooks had led me to one of the more fascinating people in my life , one of the more weird experiences in my life and certainly one of the more startling sights in my life……all in one evening of my life……all in the one, unexpected, location.
“Dust tha’ want summat to eat lad” he says. “Nobbut take a few minutes to ‘eat something up.” “ ‘elp yoursen to the whiskey. I’ll ‘ave one too.” he said disappearing into the kitchen.
Half an hour later we’re sitting at the kitchen table. Huge plate of stew in front of me and a Guinness in a glass. Should go well with the two large whiskies I thought.
Harry was a comfortable man to be with. A man’s man in a man’s home. Stew on the table, dogs under the table, fire glowing in the room next door. Not much conversation. It wasn’t necessary. The lights flickering every now and again as the generator hiccupped. Must be great for TV reception I thought.
Harry in his braces. Stuck into his stew like it was his last meal on earth. Periodically tipping up his Guinness. “Want another beer lad?” he says.
“No thanks Harry at some point in time I have to find my way back to Harrogate.” It was getting late already and it was as dark as it can only get in the country.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Someone banging on the front door. I look up, startled. Who, in the world, can this be? We’re on a lonely farm in the depths of the Yorkshire Moors quarter of a mile down a worn, rutted laneway that demands a four wheel drive of one sort or another. Harry barely looks up. Picks up his beer then resumes eating. More banging on the door.
“Aren’t you going to get that Harry?” I said.
“Nay lad” says Harry. “It’s only George. He’s bin banging on the door since he died ten year ago. He’ll go away after a while. Thinks it’s still his place tha’ knows.”
Fair enough…….. not that I’m particularly looking forward to walking across the yard to my car later. Cross that bridge when we get to it.
“Nuther whiskey?” “I think so” I say as we retreat back into the cozy living room.
“Lotsa strange goings on up ‘ere” he says. “Nobody’s ever surprised. Strange sightings. People disappearing for several days then showing up again. Bright lights in the sky Bit further down t’road government has an observation post on top o’ fell. RAF blokes in there quite often. Supposed to be ‘ush ‘ush.”
We sat there, in front of the glowing fire, in companionable silence, gazing into the embers glasses in hand.
“ “ere lad there’s summat else I’d like to show thee.” I followed him down the passageway again but this time he turned into a different room and flicked on the light. “What do thee think of that then?” he says. I walked into the room and stopped dead. It takes a lot to truly surprise me but I was stopped in my tracks. It was so unexpected, so out of place, seemingly so out of character.
The room was quite large. A bedroom. Decorated in pink and white with a highly polished wooden floor partly covered by a beautiful far eastern rug glowing in the soft light. Chintz window coverings matched the coverings on the two easy chairs and the seat at the dressing table. Matching silver hair brushes and mirror on the dresser with fresh flowers in a cut glass vase.
Harry proudly walked across the room and opened another door giving entrance to a tastefully decorated modern ensuite complete with white, fluffy towels on a rail and lavender soap, still in its wrapper by the sink, all poised as though waiting for its user.
A woman’s room! Probably not just any woman but a woman of discerning taste and a love of nice things.
“I thought you said you’d never married Harry.”
“That’s quite true lad. Just never met the right ‘un….but when I do her room’s ready!”
An amazing, startling, loveable man full of surprises. He’d never used the room. Didn’t use an interior decorator. Got all the ideas out of magazines. Had his cleaning lady replace the flowers he brought up from Skipton every few days.
When I left he thoughtfully turned on the yard lights. I still watched the darker corners carefully and the shadowy sides of the lane as I drove off the farm.
I got lost of course. Ended up in Burnley which is in Lancashire in the exact opposite direction. Got instructions back to Harrogate, which is in Yorkshire, from an East Indian making Fish and Chips for locals in flat caps!
Had to use the expressway. Traffic. Trucks. Bright lights. Smell of diesel. Noise.
I much preferred Harry’s world……even with George.
I never knew if he found a woman befitting his room. I hope he did!
Ripon and Killinghall Beck
1622 to 1641
Michaelmas, Sept 29 1622, the first day of a bright Autumn. Henrietta, wife of Mark Fletcher, gave birth to a strapping son…….Henry. Henry’s birth, however, would have no effect on world events or even local history, remarkable only that he would live in a house later, much later, bought by my brother Tony in 1988, 350 years later.
Mark Fletcher, Henry’s father, was born and bred in Ripon in what used to be West Yorkshire. He was a stonemason as was his father before him. Generations of Fletchers had been stonemasons spending much of their time and tradecraft working on Ripon Cathedral
, a building originally started in AD 672 with the major portions being completed in 1220. However a Cathedral is a work in progress providing the Diocese has the funds….then as now.
Young Henry had very little schooling and at an early age was apprenticed, through the Guild, to his father as a stonemason. Slowly, over time, he became stronger. Strong in the back as the work required. Hardened arms befitting his trade. Bronzed by the sun.
In 1640 Henry finished his apprenticeship and chose not to continue working with his father on the cathedral but to strike out on his own.
Unbeknown to him he lived in turbulent times. News travelled slowly in those days if at all. They were times that had had, as yet, no impact on tiny Ripon or the surrounding countryside.
For years now there had been serious discontent between Parliament and King Charles 1st. Parliament had, in fact, been dissolved by the King on more than one occasion. Civil War
was in the offing.
Other than in and around the Church money was getting scarce. As a result young Henry didn’t get too far by modern standards. He made it, on foot, down the road, in the direction of Harrogate, as far as Ripley
Castle and the quarries owned by Sir John Ingleby. With his experience and qualification and with no better prospect directly in front of him he took a job finishing stone after it was quarried.
Sir John had had built a row of quarry men’s houses along the Killinghall Beck facing the old packhorse bridge and within walking distance of the quarries. At one end he built the Starre Inn to provide lodging and food to both visitors to the Estate and travelers using the footbridge across the river.
A year later, in 1641, Henry, with his new wife Margaret, a scullery maid up at the Castle, moved into the house at the other end of the property. A home slightly larger than average directly opposite the packhorse bridge crossing Killinghall Beck.
It was exactly a year before the English Civil War broke out in earnest.
West Yorkshire 1642 to 1643
Discontent had been simmering between Parliament and the King since 1638. King Charles had recalled Parliament solely because he was desperately in need of parliamentary subsidies as a result of his wars with the Scots.
By March 1642 the quarrel had escalated to such an extent that the King moved his court from London to York thus making York the de facto capital of the country. It is to be noted that, at this point in time, the majority of Yorkshire was pro Royalist although the tide was soon to turn.
Parliaments leading commanders in the North were Lord Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas Fairfax. They had, at their own expense, raised over nine troops of horse, two thousand musketeers and two thousand clubmen. No mean feat!
Early in 1643, with the snow still on the ground, Fairfax attacked Leeds from both sides of the river Aire. Leeds was defended by Sir William Savile but had little chance in the face of overwhelming odds. The Royalists were able to hold out for only three hours and were then quickly overwhelmed. Over 450 prisoners were taken together with several canons and a great store of other weapons.
Savile escaped on horseback to the North West in the direction of Ripon knowing this area to be pro Royalist.
Sir William escaped to his old friend Sir John Ingleby at Ripley Castle and it is upon this fact hangs our tale!
Anthony Mellor 1948 to 1993
Tony, my brother, was born April 29 1948. I was already seven years old and playing with the big boys. 1948 the year we moved into our new house in Moortown. The year Monty the cat disappeared. The year we acquired Kim the Cairn terrier of air raid shelter fame.
Sadly Tony was born with polio, seven years before the discovery of the Salk vaccine.
The disease left him physically hampered for life and somewhat quiet and withdrawn.
As he got older, not able to participate in most childhood activities, he developed an interest in history, more specifically Yorkshire’s history. An interest that became a vocation and ultimately a business.
It is to be said that he also developed a dry and wicked sense of humor that would stand him in good stead in later years.
After finishing school Tony opted not to go to university although he had attained the necessary qualifications. He chose to go to work with one end in mind. His sole objective was to amass sufficient funds to enable him to open his own antique store in rural Yorkshire.
It took him almost twenty years, all this time striving to become more knowledgeable and intimate with the history of Yorkshire.
He saved every penny but periodically acquired antique items of specific interest possibly unique. He avoided large pieces of furniture thinking that he would not be able to afford premises sufficiently large.
He also met Janet. She was a like traveler. She belonged to historical societies in Ripon and Harrogate and had a specific interest in 17th and 18th century Yorkshire. Invaluable!
Although they never married she stood by his side until his dying day.
In 1983 his dream came true. He opened an antique store in Poole in Wharfedale. His store rapidly became well known as far away as London for small, rare items. Shying away from commercial collectibles he focused solely on smaller items of proven provenance and historical value.
As his store became better known his financial situation improved proportionally. He was able to acquire rural properties that reflected his love of antiques and local history.
In 1988 he bought his last home. A 17th century stone cottage. The end house of a small row of quarry men’s cottages directly opposite an ancient pack horse bridge crossing Killinghall Beck.
Killinghall Beck 1643
In 1643 Killinghall, Ripley Castle and Ripon itself was an island of rural tranquility. Although a centre of Royalist support in the North it boded no military threat to the Parliamentarians. It was to Ripley Castle and his friend Sir John Ingleby that Sir William Savile fled after his defeat at Leeds thus bringing the Civil War to this quiet part of the Yorkshire Dales.
The Government commander, Lord Fairfax, understood the political value of capturing Savile after his escape at Leeds and ordered Sir Thomas Mauleverer in pursuit. Sir Thomas, although having been knighted by King Charles, raised a regiment of foot, a troop of horse and, changing allegiance, joined Fairfax and the government cause. These troops had become notorious for pillaging and defiling churches. Doubtless the proximity of Ripon Cathedral was added incentive for them.
To better enable his search for Sir William Savile Sir Thomas divided his force into small groups of men, some sufficiently small to be under the command of a sergeant, assuming that there was no local military threat of any concern.
One of these small groups arrived at the far side of Killinghall Beck in the spring of 1643 causing the inhabitants of the cottages to flee. Henry and his wife Margaret fled in the direction of Ripon and his father Mark Fletcher the stonemason.
Crossing the pack horse bridge this small group of government troops occupied the cottages recently vacated by the quarry men and their families including the Starre Inn although Will Foster, the tenant and landlord, opted to stay.
At Ripley Castle Ingleby and Savile became aware of the activity down by the river. As was common in those days Ingleby had at his disposal a small troop of cavalry maintained solely for the defense of the estate but posing no threat to a large military force. Ingleby was sufficiently astute to recognize that only small enemy groups were in the area and that no cavalry had been sighted.
Ingleby’s cavalry attacked the troops now occupying the cottages and the inn.
Mauleverers troops had no defense against the cavalrymen and were killed to a man both in and around the cottages.
As an aside Fairfax’s and Mauleverers forces were later routed by Savile at the Battle of Adwalton Moor in June of 1643. They escaped to Hull………but that’s another story.
Killinghall Beck 1993. (350 years later)
I visited my brother in this glorious old house, in the summer of 1993, the year before our dad died. The building was designated a Heritage 3 house so very little could be done to it.
It had modern plumbing and electricity.
A new roof had been installed the slate taken from the very quarry in which Henry Fletcher had worked so many years before. The windows had also been replaced one of the few concessions to modernity allowed by the National Trust. Other than that the cottages stood exactly as they had 350 years before.
The river still ran just in front of the houses spanned by the pack horse bridge crossed by the government troops in 1643.
The Ingleby family still lived in the “big house” and horse riders still used the old bridge. Unfortunately the Starre Inn no longer existed having been converted to a private residence over a hundred years previously.
Hard to believe that so little had changed.
The ceilings were low, the floorboards footworn and cockeyed. All the woodwork was original except for the new windows. A huge stone fireplace dominated one wall surrounded by 17th century accessories acquired by Tony.
The downstairs consisted of two rooms plus a small kitchen. Upstairs were two bedrooms and a small separate washroom. A long, narrow, creaky landing ran the length of the house upstairs with a right angled turn at the end leading to the stairs. Tony had furnished the house with legitimate period pieces and no broadloom anywhere just area rugs where appropriate.
The house was a time capsule.
With the front windows open you could hear the beck flowing by the front of the house the rich warm stone of the buildings, the walls and the bridge soaking up the summer sun.
The following is a poem found by my brother’s girlfriend, Janet, relative to the Starre Inn when occupied by Parliamentary troops. The original resides in a Yorkshire museum:
A bande of soldiers with boisterous dinne
Filled ye large kitchen of ye olde Starre Inne
Some rounde ye spacious chimney,smoking,satt
And whiled ye time in battle talk and chatt
Some at ye brown oake table gamed and swore
While pikes and matchlocks strewed ye sanded floore
Will Foster ye hoste ‘ mid ye group was seene
With full redd face,bright eye and honest miene
He smoked in silence in his olde arm chaire
No joke nor jeste disturbed his sadden’d air
I would doubt if pikes were actually in the building as they were at least 15’ long. Either some poetic license or they were Halberds
being somewhat shorter.
More often than not my brother had to take a pee in the middle of the night, leaving his bedroom, turning right and walking the length of the old landing to the washroom.
One night he was not alone! In the corner where the landing turned towards the stairs stood a man in uniform. Not all cloudy and ethereal like a ghost in a movie but with stature and a presence. What was more curious was that there was nothing to be seen of him from the knees down.
With a doubletake Tony continued to the washroom. After he had finished the soldier was still there. In the morning he had gone.
The following night Janet stayed over.
In the middle of the night they both walked down the landing. He was there again…….still cut off at the knees.
Janet did the research on the man’s uniform. He was a sergeant in the Parliamentary army typical of the period of the Civil War. More specifically a sergeant in the musketeers wearing the required buff leather jerkin, the Morion helmet and carrying a short sword at his side.
Off and on my brother and Janet saw this soldier over the course of a couple of years. They tried to photograph him without any success. They repeatedly tried to engage him in conversation with an equal lack of success.
At one time they brought in a medium who was immediately aware of multiple presences in the house. She felt that several people had met violent ends in the house but that she felt no ill will. Having said that the sergeant never manifested himself to her.
It was a good friend of my brother’s that solved the mystery of the knees. He questioned whether or not the floor on which he was standing was the original. My brother and he very carefully took up the floor in that corner of the landing only to find the original floor beneath. At some point in time over the last few hundred years someone had replaced the floor.
The sergeant was standing on the original!
My brother was killed under mysterious circumstances in 1998.
After flying over from Canada I stayed in the house a couple of nights……not that I slept much….in an attempt to see the sergeant for myself. I never saw him. Perhaps if I’d stayed in the house longer he might have manifested himself to me concluding I was friendly.
I still have in my possession the letters from my brother describing, in detail, the events of those two years. What is fascinating is that everything my brother saw reflects the historical and well documented facts of that period so long ago.
I sold the house very quickly being the executor of my brother’s estate. I made no mention of the sergeant to the realtors although his presence was well known to the neighbors. Should it have formed part of the “disclosure?”
* The photograph is the cottage as it looked in 1998.
In 1940 Mickey Trenholme’s dad built an air raid shelter in his front garden. Not one of those Anderson shelters made out of corrugated iron with a couple of feet of earth dumped on top but a real shelter. Two feet of poured concrete including the roof. Fourteen feet down in the earth with a steel door at the top of the stairs and a concrete slab covering an escape hatch at the other end.
Old man Trenholme was a grey stick of a man. A teacher for many years. A teacher of the old school. Heavy of hand, heavy on repetition and deadly accurate with the old board duster. Having said that he had a heart as big as his shelter.
I met his son Mickey in 1948 when my parents bought the house directly opposite. We moved from a flat my mother and I had occupied during the war years. Now the war was over. My dad had somehow survived six years of very active service and my brother was on the way. Dad had not yet retired but we were not going to be moved by the “army” any more, due to his service, so the timing was good for a more permanent home.
We moved! The three of us dad being on leave. Mum well pregnant with Tony my brother, who was to be killed exactly fifty years later, plus the cat Monty!
The “boys” in my new street were all a couple of years older than I. Of course when you’re in your sixties this is meaningless. When you’re eight…..well that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
There was Mickey of course. He ended up going to Manchester University and became a quite prominent physicist. Trevor Newnham who took an accounting course, was articled, but preferred fixing cars so he bought a garage but only after losing an eye and and three of the fingers off his left hand after finding a hand grenade up on the moors. Last but never least Dave Jenkins. Dave whose dad was a retired sergeant major and acted the part all the time……scary to an eight year old. Dave who joined the paratroopers, had a shute only partially open and fell into a ploughed field breaking an arm and a leg. Survived though. Dave who loved old MG’s and always had one …….of one marque or another……and of course me. New in the street. Younger. Vulnerable….not overly shy though.
Monty the cat, he was named after one of my dad’s heroes…Fieldmarshal Montgomery, didn’t last long. He was black and big with a mean disposition. I think he preferred the old place because he took off there. He was periodically seen by some of our old neighbours but eventually disappeared going to wherever it is that big, black, mean cats go.
From a cat we went to rabbits! Of course I had no say in these matters at the time and I never really knew whose idea this actually was…..mum or dad. Probably dad. He always was a bit of a nutter! I remember that it was my lot to keep them clean but what the hell do you do with rabbits. You can’t really take them for a walk or play with them in the yard. Never really understood it! Ever see a rabbit “fetch?” Daft idea. They disappeared eventually. The novelty wore off.
Budgies. Guinea Pigs. A tortoise. The budgies escaped. My brother was allergic to the guinea pigs and the tortoise dug a tunnel under the fence and disappeared into tortoise land.
Dad finally bought a dog!! What took him so long?
That first dog was a little Cairn Terrier. Kim. We had him for years.
Cairns are an old Scottish working dog. Love to dig and are wilful if not carefully trained as pups. They are excellent ratters and will do the job of a cat as in “doing a number on mice and their ilk.”
Dad loved to hunt and often went out with his trusty 12 gauge…..plus me….plus Kim. Five in the morning is a stupid time if you’re only ten years old! Often is the time we’ve spent hours digging that darned dog out of a rabbit warren. Dad never learned. Neither did Kim.
The “boys” in the street. One of the first things they did, after stringing me up by my thumbs to an old fashioned gas lamp post, was to introduce me to the one thing that was totally off limits. Old man Trenholme’s air raid shelter! Boy do I mean off limits!!
It was dark and wet down there. Sufficiently wet to have a hand pumping system built in in order to pump out the water as it seeped in. It echoed! There were still some iron framed bunks installed but no lighting. They used the old Tilley gas lamps when Jerry came calling. A little light seeped in around the escape hatch making it look framed in white trim.
What a place for kids! Our imaginations ran riot. The old man kept changing the padlocks. The old man kept punishing Mickey. The old man kept talking to the other parents. The “boys” always figured a way around everything and it was well worth the periodic punishment.
We never played there in the winter! In the spring the seepage was so bad that the water reached grade level and was dangerous. You could see the water level from the top of the stairs. Still, dark and sort of greasy looking. No more echoes the water being at least eight feet deep.
Once a year, in the spring, the parents got together and emptied the old shelter. A combination of bucket brigade and hand pump. An event that took several days. Slowly the water level would go down. The further it went down the further our imaginations went up developing scenarios for the coming summer.
Of course, over time, the boys got older. Interests moved to girls and rugby not necessarily in that order. Still every year the old shelter got pumped out to remove the danger.
Dad and I continued to hunt with Kim. By now I had my own 16 gauge shotgun. Hunt? More like dig!! Kim ,constantly, would worry himself down a rabbit burrow and not be able to get himself out so we would dig. We carried with us two old trenching tools solely for this purpose. Dad never tired of it. Struck me as being rather pointless. Much preferred going after pheasant. They don’t dig!!
One winter Kim disappeared. He had the run of the garden which was well fenced. He was about eight at the time. The whole neighbourhood looked for him for days. Dad put ads in the local papers and notices in many of the local stores. All to no avail. I was devastated. By now I was a teenager but had spent half my life with this little dog. He slept on my bed and followed me around. No more digging. No more blisters. No more Kim. Tears!
I distinctly remember a family discussion regarding getting another dog.
Sixty years later I’m, hopefully, a little wiser. After losing a dog that has become a family member you either get another one straight away or you wait a while. By waiting the memories of the dog that has passed wane a little and you do not have expectations of your new acquisition that are based on the character of the previous. We chose to wait !
The following Spring the neighbours gathered for the annual event of pumping out old man Trenholme’s air raid shelter. It, most certainly, had developed into an event. Beer and sandwiches. Sitting around on the front lawn and taking it in shifts to man the pumps……or the buckets!
Usually a fun day with a specific end in mind.
Kim was in the shelter! He’d obviously been dead for a long time. He’d probably chased a rat or a mouse through the little gap around the escape hatch facing the street and then couldn’t get out. Perhaps he’d barked for a while but nobody would have heard him through the earth and the concrete. He drowned and he was on his own.
The following summer four local neighbours pooled resources and had a contractor fill in the old shelter. That place where the “boys” had had so much illicit fun for so many years. That place where my first dog died. My first experience of death…….of loss.
Foggy this morning!
Not the type that is muffling or eerie
. Not the type that asthmatics fear. Not dirty or threatening, the stuff of “B” rated movies. Rather lying in green hollows, light and fluffy, laying diamonds in the grass as the dawn light reaches out. Cool and damp but soon to disappear, like it had never been, as the sun rises and burns it off.
Wet enough to hold all the good, new smells as Sam trots along nose in the grass. The canine equivalent of reading the morning newspaper. Who was here? Who has passed during the night?
Golfers striding off from the first tee leaving tracks in the grass soon to be obliterated as the sun slowly rises seemingly out of the clubhouse roof.
The precursor of another beautiful day.
It reminds me……..but there we go. This notion of memory. The extent to which all our senses are evocative. How sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch all evoke memories. How suddenly the forefronts of our minds are flooded with images, not necessarily pictorial, of things or events long past.
Why are we the way we are? Why do we behave the way we do? Is it genetic? Perhaps, perhaps not. Are we a product of our environment? For me, at least, absolutely. Directly and indirectly.
Hmmm I see a very large and very wriggly can of worms opening up before me. Frankly not just “opening up.” It’s been “open” for a number of years now as I struggle with the memory of an environment of which I am a product. (Frankly !! )
I suppose, by most standards, I am a reasonably educated individual but most certainly not in the fields that encompass memory. What I find interesting is that these fields have changed over the last few decades as our knowledge expands. Changed ? Perhaps not. Rather they have, evolved, become more specific however, having said that, they have drastically changed from the notions of ages past……or have they?
A description of memory could be as follows:
As I delved more into the subject the more I became aware of the extent to which many paradigms are inconclusive although mostly in those areas of the non-physical. It’s only in recent times that students have become aware of the connection between physical and non- physical giving rise to the “crossover” discipline of cognitive neuroscience.
Does this bore me? You’re darn right!! Yet only because I have many interests that leave little room for it. What I do know is that there are things/events in my past that, you would think, I should be able to remember and I can’t. Events that served to shape me; in that I believe that behaviour is a learned experience and that the more we understand that experience the better we can understand our behaviour. For that we need to be able to remember!! Full circle!!
Am I different from anyone else? Nope….not really….but is that really true? I know many people who have far better recall of events long past than I but there you go…….a product of our environment. So we’re all the same!
Behaviour is just that. Not necessarily good or bad just behaviour. An action or a reaction. Acceptable or not acceptable but impacted by the recipients experience and subsequent behaviour. Wheels within wheels.
Leaves one to believe that in a successful relationship not only do you need to understand the “why’s” of your own behaviour but those of your partner or associate also. A tall order indeed.
A scholar claims that memory is a phenomenon directly related to the present; our perception of the past is always influenced by the present, which means that it is always changing. More wheels!
It gets worse!
Crucial in understanding memory is the distinction between memory and history. Simply put, memories are the events that actually happened, while histories are subjective representations by the historian. In our personal lives these historians are close relatives. Parents, Grandparents, uncles, aunts or people simply close to you. All very subjective in the telling.
Even more wheels. No wonder it’s so hard!!
However it serves to underline the importance of autobiographical memory in us in order to better understand our behaviour. Get it? Yea right. Easy? Yea right.
Memory is constructive. Block by block. The problem is that memories and the ability to recall differ for different periods of our lives. The periods being infantile, adolescent and adult. The vaguest of these being the infantile. Studies have proven that in the majority of instances people recall few personal events in the first five years of their lives. It is referred to as infantile amnesia. (It’s an interesting topic and there’s tons of reading available to you.)
Sooooo…..back to me!
The first five years of my life were probably the most traumatic of my life. The problem is I don’t remember!! I used to think this was an issue peculiar to me. Now I know better!
I was a war baby with everything that entailed! My father was away on active service for most of the war. Must have had a huge and ongoing effect on my mother who would have been , of course, my prime source of emotional information.
I don’t remember VE day although it was well within my cognitive experience. I don’t remember my father coming “home.” Although one would think that would be a major event in my life. I don’t remember my brother being born but I do remember the winter of 47. Ain’t life weird.
Classical music reminds me of my mother sitting at her piano lost in Mozart or Lizt. She was a concert pianist in her youth.
Adagio reminds me of my younger brother. Gone now.
Wet leather reminds me of my dad. Heading out at 4.30 in the morning. Fishing, ferreting, shooting. Feeling sick in the back of the car. The air a mixture of gun oil, damp leather, pipe smoke. I can smell it now.
The sound of wind evokes memories of the Yorkshire Moors. Wheeling curlews. The silence broken by the bleating of a lost lamb. The landscape crisscrossed by dry stone walls and becks you can hear down in the valley.
Mist reminds me of the West Coast. Leaving the dock before it’s light. Visibility down to 50 yards. Eyes glued to the radar as it’s a difficult exit by Whiffen Spit.
Church bells remind me of the old country.
Bigotry reminds me off a grandfather.
Contentment reminds me of another grandfather.
Alzheimers remind me of an uncle. He died not knowing where he was or who was there.
Why do I love potato pancakes and hate tripe?
Why are some of us passionate and some not?
Why can some of us move on and some not?
Anabelle (another story) was money well spent.Her real name was Mary Trokenberg. I prefer Anabelle.
She caused me to look where I hadn’t looked before. To question what I hadn’t questioned before. She demanded honesty. She insisted on communication. The type of dialogue that bared past experience which, in turn and block by block, exposed memories giving rise to better understanding my behaviour.
Now where was I?
I lived on a boat !
This boat to be specific………… forty one feet of haven……or was it escape.
Today….this morning, four years later, I look at all the photos and try to come to terms with the “why” of it.
It’s not too difficult.
Whilst going through this period of my life my daughter got married and I was obliged to give the customary speech. I worked diligently on this in my teak and cedar lined cave…..yes cedar. Made notes, the traditional jokes and comments about her youth, her new husband. All very normal and expected and, in the end, not what I wanted to say at all.
I travelled East, backward in time, burnt black by the wind, the sun and the salt spray, feeling conspicuous in clothing from a previous life. On arrival in Ontario my family promptly stuffed me into an extremely dapper tuxedo. Even worse it showed off my tan. The service was a sea of flowers and Krista looked spectacular. Whose daughter doesn’t on their wedding day?
Fast forward to the reception and the obligatory speech from the father of the bride.
I stood in front of a couple of hundred people most of which I’d never seen before and haven’t since by the way. I looked at them looking at me.,me looking at them and knowing that they expected the normal traditional speech and wishing that it were over………..let the dancing begin.
I took out my notes,glanced at the first page and promptly stuffed them back into my pocket. What I had written was the “tradition” the “expected.” Not my schtick at all. (Schtick…..I should look that up.)
I talked to them from my heart about adventure. Not the adventure of starting down the path of married life but embracing adventure for it’s own worth. Talking to a newly minted son in law who’d never been further West than Port Credit, never been in a plane. Talking to a very professional daughter with a high paying and very secure government job. Two very modern, very respected young people of the age.
I talked about the world. Its size, its oceans, mountains, deserts, jungles, its variety. I talked about fear. I talked about respect for the elements……….. after all I had the tan to support the words. I talked about self sufficiency. I talked to them about not getting seined into this trap of backyard barbecues, office politics, weekends at a cottage and the occasional holiday in the Dominican Republic.
The more I talked the more I realized that people were listening. The more I talked the more I realized I was talking about myself. …….I had them. They listened! Not just the newly married couple but everyone. To them I brought to life what perhaps previously had been the thing of books, of TV. I knew I had given them cause to stop and think and I was satisfied with that.
My life has been one adventure after another. Was this planned? Ordained? Fate? Not really. More the result of not being afraid. I had a bucket list years ago,long before the movie and Jack Nicholson’s success.
Hence the boat……. Baileys Ride. Bought less than a week after completing a non stop voyage from New Zealand to Victoria BC…….. fortuitous timing. Retirement was close aboard for me and forty one feet of proven passage maker sounded right….. a number on my bucket list….. an adventure….. another challenge. ….a rush.
I lived on her and with her for over two years. I trusted her and she looked after me.
Perhaps more of this boat and my adventures in some future blog. When my mind wanders down that watery way along the edges of lotusland and beyond.
Suffice it to say that when I “move on,” John Cleese had a dozen different expressions for this when talking about his parrot, I’ll be satisfied. Now or twenty years from now I’ll be satisfied. Sure there are things I still want to do. They are less physical now as I get older but still things to do. To me every day is a gift. My only wish is that my memory were better but I’ll write of that in a future blog. I’m fascinated by it…memory that is…or the lack of it.
One thing is for sure. I will not lie on my death bed saying “I wish I’d.” “I wish I’d.” “I wish I’d.”
The photo by the way was taken in Toba Inlet in BC.
Did I tell you I lived in Paris for a number of years? Hmmmmm another story for another time.
It’s dark! Not the scary type, the Stephen King type but dark nevertheless. Stygian is the word.
I know I’m safe. I’m warm and being fed on a regular basis. Dress code leaves something to be desired and the decor is not great…..but I digress.
Not far from where I am is one of the largest tank factories in Europe. Barn Bow. Three dimensional camoflage so good that, unless you know better, from a hundred yards you’d never know it was there. Jerry didn’t know either apparently. He knew of it’s existence but not it’s exact location. He’d try for it every now and again but there was nothing close that was worth the expression “justifiable collateral damage.” Of course by now the Battle of Britain was over. Goering had changed his tactics from attempting to destroy the Royal Air Force either on the ground or in the air to the bombing of strategic targets and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians with an eye to a quick capitulation. The beginning of the “blitz!”
Leeds was/is at the apex of an industrial triangle, in the North of England, formed by Huddersfield, Bradford and, of course, Leeds. A triangle brought about by effervescent soft water and a proliferation of sheep. To the North the incredible Yorkshire Dales. To the East the rich Vale of York. To the West the purple moors. The Pennines, that barrier of old. A physical line between the red and the white. The Roses of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Leeds became a wealthy city. Heavy engineering, light manufacturing, clothing and textiles.
In the 19th century one of the larger mills was owned by a Mr. Brotherton. The son of the founder but with a much broader world view. A view that encompassed bettering the lot of his employees. When he passed away his will stated that a new wing to the Leeds General Hospital was to be endowed by his estate. The Brotherton Wing ! An imposing Victorian building not too far from the site of Barn Bow. Of course in those days Barn Bow didn’t exist and flying was a thing of the future.
I still can’t see because of the darkness. Sounds are muffled and I’m soaking wet.
Jerry has just raided Liverpool to the North and West. Heinkel bombers in all probability as they had the range for a quick visit although not the payload of the Junkers 88. The docks were a tempting target being on the West coast. One of the main points of ingress for the needs of war originating in the US of A.
One of these bombers is mortally hit by anti aircraft fire and is limping home but losing altitude at an alarming rate. He never made his bombing run on the Liverpool docks and chose to jettison his bomb load.
The Brotherton Wing took a direct hit at the Eastern end of the building. Ironically the end that housed the rehab services tending to wounded servicemen.
Today births quite often are chemically induced. For sixty seven years it has been my opinion that nothing induces a birth better than a 250 pound bomb detonating 300 feet from your bed!
I still can’t see but sounds are no longer muffled. I’m naked as a jay bird and still wet. Somebody whacks me on the bum……a portent of what’s to come? I have no teeth but my hair is dark. I’m wrapped in something warm. Feed me I’m hungry….at least the decor has improved!
It’s October 12th 1941. Welcome to the world Peter. The beginning of the road to now.