Earlier this evening a friend tweeted Made it to the end of part one of Midnight’s Children. Just another 340 pages to go. It’s not a good sign, that I stopped to figure that out…. and this reminded me of the wit and wisdom of a former shipmate, ‘Admiral’ Green (‘first admiral, twice removed’ as the bosun described this always-in-hot-water deck ape…). We were sitting in the crew mess, talking books, one sultry evening in the Red Sea. “I reckon I’ve got through 1700 page this trip,” said the Admiral. “Tom Clancy was 1200… then Andy McNab… reckon I’ll start Chris Ryan this evening…”
This is one way to approach reading, of course; never mind the quality, feel the width. It’s not entirely typical of those who go down to the sea in ships, though. There is usually a core of quietly literary types on a crew, and I have been introduced to the works of all sorts of writers through their influence, over the years. We called it the Alternative Library Service. Though, when I was handing over a copy of Michael Longley’s poetry to one of the stewardesses on my last ship, her companion remarked, in his strong South African accent “Eh- I avoid poetry like I avoid genital herpes”. “Gosh,” I thought to myself. I wondered if this was the first time that these two things have been linked, however tenuously…
Then there was the Donkeyman who loved Kipling, and was very appreciative when I lent him my ancient copy of the Collected Poems. So much so that he presented me with a bottle of J-Lo Glow perfume. It was a touching moment, and I was touched, even though it smelt like something you’d use to clean the toilets, and it’d almost certainly been pinched from the Duty Free Shop. I’m sure that Kipling would’ve approved, too.
Well, today is apparently World Book Day. It is also the first Thursday of the month, and so I was down at the Central Library at lunchtime, for Can Openers, the monthly poetry session organised by Poetry Can. It was, as always, a friendly gathering, and a good place to try out something new. In my case, a poem I wrote last week (I put the first draft over on my old blog), about Bessie the collie, who… well, she was a border collie. Nuff said, probably.
So much life behind those loopy eyes,
I thought, and bodged the hole you’d dug right through the door,
The night they let the fireworks off and I was out.
Always the mad, bad friend, the one that dragged me cringing
Through adventures that I’d not have had if it hadn’t been for you.
There’s me, mopping up the mess and picking up the pieces,
Accepting your so-rueful and bewildered “Had to do…”
And weren’t you in a frenzy in the van, though?
I cut a porthole in the side,
To stop you dribbling on my shoulder leaning out.
Nose in the wind through the whole damned celtic twilight zone,
From Mallaig down to Bantry, never missed a smell.
How the hell did we get mixed up with those armoured cars?
Driving into Derry, the soldiers hanging out of hatches,
Putting their guns aside, going “Wuff. Wuff.”