4th December 2001
The weather is absolutely stunning, the sea is calm, and I’ve had the best night’s sleep since leaving land. Consequently I feel happy! I spent hours roaming around outside on deck, watching the sea and anything else that might bob past. Of course it’s still cold, but crisp and sunny. It was so nice to be able to go outside in the sun. I went up to the bridge and had a chat to the Mate. He’d obviously seen me out on deck and said ‘You like to breathe the air?’ and roared with laughter muttering something about Pink Floyd song called Breathe or something.
We started talking about other places where fresh air was plentiful, and the conversation soon came round to Cornwall. He hasn’t been there but he seems to know quite a lot about it. We chatted about shipwrecks and maritime disasters. It was a hilarious conversation, not because of what we were talking about, but the way we were talking. Obviously there is a huge language barrier to contend with, but more than that the Mate is a hilarious caricature of a person, and a fantastic story teller. He is really enthusiastic and passionate and loud and animated. He’s average height but stocky and looks a bit like my uncle Barrie, though a bit more gnarly. He blows hot and cold, but when he’s happy, he’s very vary happy.
His funniest trait is that he talks to himself constantly. He barely draws breath from his own private monologue, and sometimes I have to make some other excuse to hide my laughter. That’s tricky on the bridge of a ship because there aren’t many funny things to blame. I once blamed one of the crew tripping on deck (though he didn’t trip at all) and another time I inappropriately aimed my laughter at the pious plastic figurine of the Virgin Carmen who watches over the bridge, and indeed all seamen to protect them from harm. When I realised it was inappropriate to laugh at a deity, it made me laugh even harder and I had to leave the bridge snorting and giggling for no apparent reason. I hope I don’t get struck down and sent to the fiery gates. Cringe.
The Mate’s monologue is more pronounced during hauling, and while I can’t understand all of his words, I do understand that he is outraged and dismayed by the crew’s inability to bring in the net quickly. He tells me this is the worst crew he has ever seen. I expect though that he has a new worst crew on every voyage. He is a captain himself, but acting as a Mate or First Officer on this voyage.
Another quirk of his is that he has to fix a date for every event or occasion in his story. Every story starts with ‘In 1972, 73, 73, no 72, in 1972…’ he will mumble on for ages trying to fix the date in his memory before continuing, even though the date is irrelevant, it must be correct and he won’t move on until he is happy when it occurred. Usually this makes a story teller dull, but he does it with such enthusiasm, striding up and down the bridge waving his arms wildly, that it’s quite a spectacle.
‘Bloody Russians, I am not understand what they do here, they go from here to here to here making water and still they do not fish.’ He bellows, ‘I remember many many years ago in January, February, Mars, yes the middle of Mars in 1981…’
I wonder why the date is so important to him? Perhaps it’s because he has been at sea for his entire life, if you had a lifetime of this I suppose it would be important to mark events with dates. Most people mark events by stages in their life or significant events but at sea one day is the same as the next, and one year is the same as the last. Dates are important in a monotone life.
When he finally gets to the juicy bit of his story, he has already exhausted all of the usual dramatic effects of good story telling – he has acted, gesticulated, used his entire tonal range. His face has portrayed every emotion. He has slammed cups down to mark a new scene, and used props (often abstract) to bring more depth to the illusion. So you might ask how he can bring the final flurry of dramatic effect to the punchline? Well, he rushes towards you so that his face is about 5mm from yours, and bellows the final line in your face ‘They cut the nets!’. He finishes with a shrug, a downturned mouth and his arms asking questions in the air.
4th December 2017
I didn’t have the Pink Floyd song Breathe on that trip, and hadn’t heard it at the time, but the lyrics are interesting. I think the first two verses about exploring the world and remembering your roots, the ups and downs of life and how ultimately life is what you make it, were very relevant to me on that trip (and are in life in general). The last two verses are a warning about being greedy, again something that went through my mind a lot when looking at the huge catches, over fishing and damage to fish stocks and the environment. Looking back, I felt that the officers were not really ‘living’ their lives, but were unhappily working day after day in a boring and dangerous job, so that they could accumulate more riches, they were digging those holes and balanced on the biggest wave. I think that song was more relevant to both myself and the Mate than I realised back then.
Breathe – Pink Floyd
Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and choose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be
Run, rabbit, run
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one
For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race toward an early grave.