Saturday, 5 May 2007

First the Dudgeon, then the Spurn...

First the Dudgeon, then the Spurn,
Flambro' Head comes next in turn,
Whitby Light shines clear and bright,
Sunderland Light lies in the night,
And if all gans well, we'll be in Shields tonight.

Today I received a consignment of photocopied notes that my grandfather had apparently made towards the memoirs that he never wrote up before his death. All I know of him are the odds and ends, the ships and exotic places named in his old log books, and the occasional song and rhyme passed down through our family. So this bunch of papers, with that wonderful wrought-iron handwriting that nobody uses nowadays, is the closest I've ever come to the old seaman himself:

"South Shields: a back street just off King Street and at the corner of Chaplin Row and near the G.P.O: Merkel's the Pawn Shop. Window filled with instruments of all descriptions, mainly nautical but other things as well, treasures brought home from afar, or so it seemed to me. This shop always had a fascination for me and became my first stop in a journey around Shields. At this time I would be around 13/14 years of age. Always alone out of preference. No-one to please or displease. It was at this shop that I would in a few years time, having acquired a B.O.T. certificate , buy my very first sextant. This would be in the year 1924. Mr. Merkel took me into a back room in which the mahogany sextant cases were piled high right up to the ceiling, rank upon rank. Each one represented a 2nd mate or a chief mate or a master down on his luck. One thing that a mate or a master never parted with was his sextant. In much the same way the cabler with his awl, the gunner with his linstock, the seaman with his sheath knife, and so the navigator with his sextant: all of them tightly bound up with the tool of his trade. There was a saying in those days which ran: "a sailor without a knife is like a whore without a fanny." And so in 1924 in one pawn shop alone, hundreds of sextants, a bitter indication of the state of the Merchant Service.

Lots more to get through, including a description of a visit to South Shields by Gustave Hamel and his monoplane :-)

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