Seagoing Memoir part three.
Since I published ‘Best of Days’ and ‘You’ll See Wonders’, I’ve been attempting to take the story forward. It’s a steady, but slow job. I’ve reached 60,000 words and 24 chapters. Perhaps it will be done by Xmas.
Some visitors to this blog have written about how much they look forward to the next volume. I’m delighted to read such reassurance – it spurs me on. It will take a few months longer, but meanwhile here is the current opening of the new book: (comments most welcome)
Still waiting for a title to emerge:
The Bus to Port Clarence
Monday, 23 February 1959.
Mist has risen from the salt marsh — mist too shallow to hide a standing goose. It will soon burn off. Concrete posts poke through every ten yards or so. Twice as tall as a Coldstream Guard, the sentinels stand ready to mangle and smash off the wings of any of Hitler’s gliders should he try an airborne invasion. Other crude structures, blunt and slitted, rise from the white vapour. In case they came by landing-craft, the War Office studded these flat-lands with pill boxes and tank obstacles. The slab-sided, concrete machine-gun posts and anti-aircraft gun positions are abandoned these past fourteen years. They squat here and there — mute, blind, lonely places now, except when whooped through by urchins who play at commandos, or when sneaked into by courting couples, or investigated by bare-kneed entomologists on the lookout for hibernating moths. My insect collection holds a specimen with lilac-grey scalloped wings and orange blotches, the Herald moth, Scoliopteryx libatrix, gathered from just such a place.
The sun has been up for an hour and brightens the steely North Sea. Twenty miles to the south-east, the tremendous sea-cliffs of North Yorkshire stand in blue relief: Hunt Cliff, Boulby and Hummersea, the tallest cliffs in England. Directly south, the anvil shape of Roseberry Topping, North Riding’s little Matterhorn, juts out of the hazed plateau of the Cleveland Hills. There is a lawn of sheep-cropped grass on the summit of Roseberry where Beryl and I sunbathed. Roseberry . . . It’s curious how names drift over time, the Danes who settled at its foot called it Odinsbjarg, the hill of their god Odin. The Danes also gave the name to this district, their new conquest: Cleveland, the Land of Cliffs. The village of Great Ayton nestles in the dale beneath Odin’s Hill. Captain James Cook, the great navigator, went to school there as a boy. The Cook family cottage is now in Australia, rebuilt in Melbourne and clad with its original Yorkshire ivy.
I’m on my way to sign articles for another deep sea voyage with Thos. and Jno. Brocklebank Steam Navigation Co. This time I need not journey from Old Hartlepool on the Durham coast, to cross England by train to Birkenhead; the ship is in Middlesbrough for three days loading, so this trip is a mere ten miles by bus. After helping with the handover from the relief coasting crew, my boss from Lancashire will say, ‘See you tomorrow, Harry. Get yourself off home to the bosoms of loved ones while you can.’ At least, I hope so.
The clippie works her way along the aisle. ‘Any more fares please?’ It’s Maggie, six foot tall and smart in her United Bus Company conductor’s navy-blue uniform edged in red piping. She’s grown into a handsome woman. I’m impressed how she carries her height proudly now; during our few weeks of awkward courting she would stoop a little so as not to look two inches taller than me. I’ve since seen her walking out with a fellow who matches her height. She’s good at baking: once I was invited to her little terraced home when her parents were out. She’d been making cakes. We sat before a blazing coal fire and ate a few. They had currants in them. She kept her pinafore on all evening.
‘Hello, Harry. Still at sea? I hear you’re getting married. And you’re only twenty. When’s the big day?’