13th January 2002
Since I last wrote anything here the weather has been really bad (as opposed to bad). Bad weather is horrible as there is absolutely nothing to do. Really bad weather though, by some quirk of my nature, is fun and exciting. You see, in really bad weather the weather itself is spectacle enough to keep you occupied. Yesterday I spent the majority of the day on the bridge watching 10 metre waves rolling in. Now 10 metres is pretty big, 33 ft. for the imperial minded folk. Waves (or swells to be correct) come in sets and every so often you’d get half a dozen, six for the decimal minded folk, even larger waves. As sod’s law would have it, the autopilot packed in completely yesterday and so there was a shift system of helmsmen set up to take the wheel. There was a small scrawny fishermen who was learning how to take the helm, and was sharing the job with an experienced helmsman. Every time the little chap’s turn came around it just so happened to be the time when a set came rolling in, I’m not sure if this was by chance but I suspect the wily helmsman did it on purpose. You should have seen the poor little buggers face, I felt sorry for him because his eyes were all beady with concentration.
We had to sail on a south-westerly course all day yesterday because of the high seas (turning around or going in the same direction as the waves would have been dangerous) and this resulted in us ending up so far south we were on the same latitude as New York! Today the wind has dropped and so has the sea and we are steaming flat out back to the fishing grounds. There should be enough time to make two or three trawls before another monster low pressure is forecast to move in tomorrow lunchtime.
All this foul weather has meant that I’ve tried and failed three times to phone home…very frustrating. We haven’t been able to receive Reykjavik for days but did get through to St Johns radio yesterday. You have never heard such a fuss in all your life. Here is an actual sentence from St Johns in reply to us saying the signal is too weak we’ll try again tomorrow – “Charlie Uniform Foxtrot India, this is Coastguard Radio, roger that is affirmative we copied your transmission, roger roger roger, all received, we will attempt transmission again at a later time, have a good watch, coastguard radio over and out.” Cringe.
Last week I just couldn’t get any sleep; I would lie awake until four or five every morning before nodding off. This week however has been a week of somnia or whatever the contrary term for insomnia would be. I can’t stay awake and if I lay my head down for a few minutes I’m whisked away to the land of nod; it is great. The only trouble with this somniatic lifestyle (or whatever the term for sleepy is) is that for some reason your head doesn’t appreciate all this dreaming and punishes you with a headache. Why then I ask myself, does too much sleep give you a headache? Or maybe it doesn’t give you a headache but it gives me one, am I unique in this?
Not that you’d know it, but I have been away from the computer, had a cup of tea and come back. All the while I have been pondering my sleep and headache mystery and have come up with a part-answer. Dehydration. Obviously while you are asleep you are drying out in a dissimilar fashion to my laundry (because my laundry takes three days to dry, and I, it would appear, take only 8 hours), and therefore the longer you sleep the more dehydrated you will become. This can only account for part of the problem though because even if you wake up in the night for a drink you still get, what I term a ‘sleep hangover’. It still remains a mystery to me.
One thing I can’t begin to express is how much I am looking forward to coming home. The striking thing about that is I’ve only been away for 3 months and have been treated well during that time. Imagine how Terry Waite felt when he was released! Doesn’t bear thinking about. But that is the thing, it feels like a prison here. It’s not like doing a normal job, it’s a 24 hour a day artificial existence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m treated very well and have everything I need, I get on well with the officers and crew but there is always the nagging thought that we are working against each other and not with each other. The role of the observer is based entirely on distrust. I am here because they can’t be trusted to write down what is caught. So no matter how diplomatic and polite I am, I’m here to check-up and snoop on them. The way I see it is that they are here to do a job (catch fish) and I genuinely hope that they have a good trip. The trouble is I also care a great deal about the amount of fish they pull from the sea and therefore must do my job in a way that lets me live with my conscience and live on this boat without being thrown overboard. It is a tricky thing to pull off, my trouble is that I want everyone to be happy and it isn’t always possible.
So you see, though this isn’t a hard job in the conventional sense of being physically difficult or indeed the actual work isn’t mentally taxing, the situation is extremely difficult and the conditions are extremely challenging. So in some senses it is easy money, for example the last few days have been too rough to fish but I have been paid just the same, if only to read books and write in this journal. However when you think that I live this 24 hours a day for four months continuously, not even for a moment being entirely free to speak my mind then you can see it’s not a bed of roses. Even when I’m on the phone to home I have to be very careful about what I say as the captain is only feet away and not only that but anybody with a radio could be listening in to my conversation if they so wish (and it seems they often do). If I mention anything about the fishing or position of the vessel, I could in theory, be instantly sacked.
I have decided, or at least happened across the realisation, that I’m growing a beard. Perhaps this is a subconscious effort to be more Terry Waite, but actually I couldn’t muster the energy to take blade to face and scrape off excessive hair for a week (wielding sharp metal objects at close proximity to the jugular when finding it difficult to stand is generally unwise in these situations!) and so I decided to just let it be.
OBSERVATION: This journal has evolved from a day-day account of things that have happened to a kind of letter to someone. I don’t know who, presumably you – the person reading this, whether that be me or someone else! Who are you reader?
Bastard buggery bollocks! I can’t begin to describe how frustrating it is when after you have been trying to make a phone call for three days you finally get through to an engaged tone. Well since I have nothing to do I’ll try and describe it. Imagine being born into a body with no limbs, deadened senses and internal organs as healthy as a turpentine-drinking tramp’s liver. Imagine carting that limbless body to a factory where all day you pack giblets into frozen turkeys, with the use of your only functional appendage…your nose. You have no friends and no family and the postman laughs at the accumulated decomposing fowl organs which have got stuck to your nose and that you are powerless to remove. You do this all day every day for 60 years when finally you have saved enough money to retire. On your first day of retirement you realise that you have mislaid your bankbook and all that money is stolen by a fully limbed, clean-nosed colleague at the giblet factory…that would almost equate to the frustration I feel when I get the engaged tone.
I’m going to go and get a cup of tea now, everybody knows that tea heals all ills but can it grow new limbs?