I am packed. My alarm is set, and a mate of mine, Mark, who drives a Taxi, is picking me up at 8 am. Tomorrow I leave for my first ship. A combination of trains, boats, and auto-mobiles will deliver me to my vessel in Northern France. I don't know where it's going, or how long I'll be gone. "A while" my training officer told me. I will miss my Daughters 6th Birthday, and Cheltenham, and the Grand National. It's hard to write out what I'm feeling at the moment. It's quite surreal. I'd say emotional. Listening to Phil Ochs is probably amplifying things ten fold; especially that song up there. I fucking love Phil Ochs. I've said all my goodbyes today; and it was actually harder than I thought it would be. I'm becoming more emotional the older I get. Evelyn, my daughter is at that age, where she acts up; and at our meal last night she said she didn't care that I was going away . . . she's six in three weeks; and I won't be there for her Birthday. Kids....This is the hand I've been dealt. My family have been immense with me over the years; I was the Black sheep for a while; but I think deep down, they knew I had the potential, even when I didn't. Lookin' back is a bad habit! I hope to repay their support, and make them all proud of me.
I'm not far off a month into my "sea phase" and I have heard little from my training company about going to sea. Many of my fellow Cadets have; so I'm sitting around, feeling frustrated, and generally not liking things. The word is, that the beginning of April is a likely date for a birth to become available. Don't be fooled, it's not all been sitting around moping- two weeks ago, I impulsively booked a two night trip to Krakow in Poland.
It's funny that I said I wouldn't go there again, on the count of so many rude people there; in hindsight, that's not really the problem. I'd rather people act how they really are, than put up a charade of pseudo-friendliness, like here in the UK. For the second consecutive year, I gave up my seat on the bus for an elder, only to be scowled at. I'm beginning to think that manners are quintessentially a British custom. I was pretty inebriated in a bar, in the Jewish district, and I ended up playing some Mercury Rev, and Echo and the Bunnymen songs on a Piano; which was a particular highlight. The low point, being on the first night; my 'beer compass' must have needed recalibrating, as I didn't get back to the hotel til' 5am; after walking up and down in the snow for what seemed like eternity. I wanted to go and see inside the churches; and there was a few orchestral concerts on; I hinted to my mate about going, but I think he was just interested in the beer. Which wasn't a bad thing; but next time, I'm going to go for longer, and do what I want to do, as two nights wasn't enough.
This week I've been attempting to keep busy. I've done 30 miles on the bike so far; and I'm intending on doing another 70 before the weeks out. 100 lousy miles; Considering last year I'd do 100 in one day; this isn't really acceptable. Yesterday I took my dog across to Hilbre Island, which is a small group of three Islands off the coast of the Wirral; which you can walk over to at low water. The intention was to test out my new (ish) camera by photographing the Seal colony; but they were not there; they must have been frolicking on some sandbank somewhere. So I just took some of the Island.
Lifeboat Launch (1849) - Last used in WW11
I made my way across through the morning mist; and when I got there, it was beautiful. I was the only one there. For a twenty minutes or so; I took my hat off to Tom Neale. I'm reading Tom's book at the moment "An Island to Oneself" in which he tells of his 6 year stay on a tropical Atoll in the south pacific. Just as I was beginning to appreciate the solitude; a family arrived, running amok; and a group of young hoodlums, one of which was a 'brummie'- he was louder than the American woman on the bus in Poland. Forgot to tell you about her, didn't I? Anyway...back to the concrete jungle I went.
I bought my self a concert ukulele to take to sea with me; which over the past week, I've managed to master. I've been working on all different types of fancy strumming techniques, and I have to say that I love it. I don't go near my guitar any more!
Another 6 weeks or so, of PHD level procrastination awaits me, before I finally go to sea. I suppose I'll get stuck into to some rule of the road; and go over all the academic stuff from phase 1.
Oh death, won't you spare me over, til' another year . .
I was rummaging around in my parents house yesterday, when I came across a local newspaper article dating back to the year 2000. It was funny to read, and reminisce about that time that I came close to meeting my maker; which triggered me off thinking about all the other times that I thought I might have died. Here are those moments, catalogued in all their glory.
#1 Aniseed Ball
Seven, maybe eight years of age; bouncing up and down the hall, not caring, eating a hard boiled aniseed ball; when suddenly, one of them got lodged in my throat. For thirty seconds or so, I couldn't breath, and I was panicking; until I realized I could just swallow it. Hardly close to death; but for those thirty seconds, it felt like it was, let me tell you! I've never had an aniseed ball since.
#2 Over the hedge
Eleven years old, out playing with my mates; when we spotted this rather large, and springy looking hedge. For hours and hours, we'd run at it, top speed, and then leap into it, and get sprang back onto the pavement. Without thinking what was over the other side, we went on and on. Until..... I leaped too far, and toppled head first over; and landed on my head from a 5ft or more drop; onto concrete. I never blacked out, and ran home screaming; and after a 4 hour trip to A&E, head and neck scans- I haven't jumped aimlessly into a hedge since.
#3 Tidal Drama
I was 15 years old, and I was interested in yachts (Not much has changed in 13 years) - I was out riding on my bike along the promenade from, with a friend, from where I lived in Moreton, to Meols; which is the next town along the coast. I was going there with the sole purpose of looking at the yachts on the swing(tidal) moorings. We didn't bother to check the tides; because on initial inspection, it was miles out. We walked out with our bikes, and inspected all the yachts; I remember being dismissive of the trawlers initially. After about 20 minutes of inspecting the sandbank stricken yachts, we made our way back to land, when it became apparent that we had been rather unexpectedly cut off by a torrent of water. My friend made a dart through the water with his mountain bike, with it's large wheels that he used to support him and managed to get across; I however, hesitated, due to the wheels on my racer sinking into sand, and offering little in the way of support. Just thirty seconds had passed, and the distance that needed crossing had doubled. I was fucked. I looked to my left, water was approaching, I looked behind me, and it was the same...however, on my right hand side, there was a fishing trawler, still lying on her side. I immediately ran to the side that was closest to the ground and managed to haul myself and my bike into the boat. Not even a minute had passed, and the boat was afloat. "Ring the coast guard" I screamed at my friend. "I've got no credit" he replied. "It's fucking free you mong" I screamed back. "What's the number?" - "It's One...One...Two...you fucking spazz" - At this time there was a group of spectators watching and laughing at our little exchange of kind words. I was soon rescued by the RNLI; who informed me that the wash here, was one of the quickest in the country. I learnt to respect the sea.
#In the car with shay
My brother had not long passed his driving test, and wanted Mc Donalds from the 'drive-thru', but didn't want to drive up; so, in his infinite wisdom, decided to charge his friend; who didn't have a licence with the task of driving up there. On the way back, his friend was keen to show off his none existent driving skills; and decided to take a detour down a rather bendy country lane, alas, he lost control of car going around a sharp bend, and we smashed up a kerb, and into a ditch. I didn't have my belt on; and my head went through the passenger side window. Again, I was saved by that thick skull of mine- as I just collected my Big Mac, which was rather messy, and told my brothers mate to fuck him self; and walked 3 miles back to my house. I learnt that my brothers mate was a moron.
#Dick head in white vauxhall astra
I finished work in Chester, where I was working for a Bank's call centre. The commute home involved the M53- I was approaching point on the road where cars join; so I moved into the fast lane, to allow for it. I was doing about 70mph, when I noticed a white Vauxhall Astra come thundering onto the road; in a split second, he's crossed the slow lane, and continued into my path. Only my quick braking, and taking immediate evasive action meant that I got home in one piece that evening. Had there been a wagon on the inside lane, who knows what would have happened. I learnt that the roads are not a safe place, and you should never get complacent.
I needed a new starter motor for my A reg Ford Fiesta. I wasn't going to by a new one; so I went down to the local scrap yard to explain to the toothless simpleton working there what I wanted. I was standing near the end of a row of stacked cars, waiting for my part. For a reason that I can't explain; I felt compelled to move from where I was standing. Not long after moving away, a Volvo Estate, and an old Ford Sierra, as if in slow motion tumbled over and crashed right where I'd been standing just moments earlier. Why I felt the need to move, I'll never know- and I don't buy all that super natural Derek Acorah bull shit. I learnt not to stand close to stacked scrap cars.
#Coming down a hill at 40mph on my bicycle
I had been to Wrexham for the first time on my Bike, and was making my way back home; I say making my way back, but really, I was lost. The gears on my bike were playing up, so I let my mate have a mess about with my rear dérailleur. It seemed like he'd fixed it. I set off down a very steep hill, I didn't know just how steep and long it was at the time, but in hindsight, and now knowing the climbs of North Wales like the back of my hand, it was 'The Steps' - I was free wheeling at 35mph, so I decided to give it some pedal power, shortly after, I heard a massive clunk- my rear wheel had locked, and I was skidding into the other side of the road; I got myself on the right side of the road, when my mechanically minded friend came hauling past me, into a hedge. He hadn't fixed my bike at all. He'd adjusted the rear mechanism, wrongly- and my rear mech was sucked into my rear wheel, writing the wheel off; and leaving me with a near £200.00 bill to fix my bike. Afterwards, thinking about the 'ifs' and 'buts' - I was pretty lucky to come out of it in one piece. I learnt not to let amateurs near my bike.
We meet here for our dress-rehearsal to say "I wanted it this way"
Wait for the year to drown.
Spring forward, fall back down.
I'm trying not to wonder where you are.
All this time lingers, undefined.
Someone choose who's left and who's leaving.
Memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me:
a blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest,
the best parts of Lonely, duct-tape and soldered wires,
new words for old desires,
and every birthday card I threw away.
I wait in 4/4 time,
Count yellow highway lines that you're relying on to lead you home.
It's 21.16, and I'm sitting confined in my room at Nautical college. The pistachio/baby sick walls that initially depressed me, when I first arrived are now imprinted on my retinas when I close my eyes. My room is empty now, all my worldly possessions have been loaded into the car. I'll miss the confinement; I've become used to it though. I'm obviously sitting here, reflecting on the happenings of the past few months, whilst listening to some whingy music; I'm reliving my teens- talking shit and listening to music that stirs my soul; and boy does the track I posted there do that! I've changed, in a good way since September; I'd like to think. From being very 'anti-people'-I've tried to embrace my class mates here; and I'm glad that I did. I've made some solid friendships while I've been here, and I am thoroughly looking forward to coming back in September to press on with my studies here.
Academically this college phase has been good- challenging, but good- 0% in my first maths exam; leading up to my end of phase bumper exam, with a cool 91%- It feels great that this improvement has come about and I'm now looking forward to next year, when things get harder. Bring it on. I am ready!
Personally, there's been some dark places visited; places I don't want to go; I can't even speak about them on the public domain- but they have made me appreciate what I've got, and how lucky I am to be here and even more excited about where I'm going.
What's next? I don't know really. I head home tomorrow; and I'll spend some quality time with my nearest and dearest. I know that by Monday morning, I'll be wanting away again. My social circle on the Wirral, other than my cycling club, is rather non existent; one, maybe two people I can call up for a beer. I suppose that's not a bad thing really. I don't know anything about my first sea phase. My company have not found me a birth on a ship; so I'm literally in the doldrums, unable to plan anything. I've been toying with the idea of going to Krakow, or another Eastern European city, for a few days. Knowing my luck I'll book it, and they'll send for me.
I'm going to the bar now, to say my goodbyes to my friends; to wish them all the best for their sea phases.
I guess you'll next hear from me when I've got news of my first ship; or when I've had enough of waiting, and decided to fuck off to Kiev or something.
In all, 2012 was a good year for me. I went from being a 27 year old, retaking his GCSE's; to a 28 year old Deck Officer cadet in the Merchant Navy. Joining the Merchant Navy to train as an Officer has been a goal of mine- for a number of years, and very proud of myself I am. In fact- I initially was happy to be a rating, so to be here now, training as an officer, I have transcended my ambitions. Lookin' back is a bad habit, but, with one year ending, and another beginning; a little reflection wouldn't be the acme of foolishness.
High points of the year for me, was firstly beginning my new life as a cadet. A big transition for me. Moving away again. . . . living in halls again . . . . in a really really small room with a single bed- I like to starfish when I sleep; this is not possible in Fleetwood Nautical College's campus beds; especially not for a fuller figured chap like myself. I suppose I should get accustomed to this? The course has been thoroughly enjoyable, and it's baffling to think that, there's only 3 weeks left of my first phase! It's been a relief that the group of people I am training with are all good seeds; and I mean that. I usually hate everyone! Everything! What's happening here? If I'd have done this cadetship at the age of 18, I would have probably been sacked by now. This is the right time. This is the right place. It's all going great, and I'm getting ever closer to fulfilling my ambitions. Sure there's been times where I've been angry about things, and there's about 4 unpublished rants about incidents that have riled me. I decided not to share them with the world, in an attempt to let negativity wash over me. I had a pretty traumatic time in my second month of training. 12 weeks of, well, a living hell. Pure character building stuff- maybe I'll talk about it in years to come. Chapter closed.
I just finished reading a motivational book. Yes, I know, it makes me sound like a weak minded fool, who needs guidance from some greater mind. Reading it has just made me feel better about the way I've conducted myself over the past few years. It was looking bleak for me at 24; but I set long term goals, and I set short term ones, and I've slowly been getting over each hurdle accordingly. The book is by the great American athlete Michael Johnson. It's called "Slaying the dragon" - the ethos? What do you want to do? How are you going to do that? - Methodical. I like it! That box was already ticked Michael my friend, but it's good to know that I'm on the right track. Some parts of it have given me a fresh approach to getting over these trials and tribulations. Why a motivational book by Michael Johnson though? Well- I was watching the Olympics this year, and he was on there as a pundit, as he usually is. I have a massive amount of respect for him. He knows his sport. He is clear, concise, intelligent, humble, and there isn't an ounce of national self righteousness about him; a trait that can often be found in Americans. I remember him giving his summary about Usain Bolts qualifying run. He went into so much detail; and analysed it beyond repair. The presenter then asked Kelly Holmes what she thought, and she just muttered timidly "I agree with what Michael said" - I laughed to myself, and then looked up Michael on Google, noticed he had a motivational book, and thought to myself, "I'll have me some of that..this Sun Tzu puddle is drying out"
I've been watching a considerable amount of David Attenborough documentaries over the past few days; prompted by the "60 years in the wild" thing on the BBC. I think if I could live any one life lived by any Human, I'd live his. A truly remarkable man. I mean Hugh Heffner comes a close second! I hope he continues to make programmes despite his old age. A highlight for me was this Cargo Cult documentary, made in the 60's! Being a long time follower of the John Frum movement (not an actual follower, just someone interested) I was aware this documentary existed, and for years longed to see it. A highlight of Christmas was watching it for the first time. I paid tribute to John Frum in my power pop band, writing a song on the subject- it can be heard here- John Frum - The HardSocks - ignore my scrappy vocals!! On the subject of music. I'm thinking of getting myself a decent UKELE to take to sea with me. I left my guitar in Fleetwood, when I came home for Christmas and I miss it. I'd miss not being able to play something when I join my first ship.
I guess I'll be back in a few days with some resolutions.