Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ascending the ramp . . . (episode 37)

Blue containership with containers 7

Author’s note. I would like to thank Peter Kaye for giving me permission to use some of the ideas in his ‘Freighter Trip’ blog: This was a riveting read to one who has never travelled on such a ship!

The Loading Dock
Port of Felixstowe

July 13 1997

Hello Mum

I have finally rattled up the jointed-metal ramp leading up to the deck of ‘Sugar Cane Sue’ with my suitcase on wheels and panting a little under the additional weight of my rucksack. This ramp was exceedingly narrow and my beastly belongings kept on catching on the joints between metal sections. I think some of the crew were relishing the spectacle of my, rather laboured, ascent – but I was determined not to ask for assistance. My days of depending on men (like Austen) are over! It didn’t help that, on one side of me, I could see the ship’s superstructure being washed down with high-pressure hoses and, on the other, a massive – ten-storey-high – gantry was loading bright blue, and brilliant orange, containers on to the deck. The noise was incredible!

A rather grinning face (I thought) greeted me at the top of the ramp and welcomed me on board. I handed over my ticket – which had Deck E stamped all over it – to the proffered hand and asked for directions. ‘Up there madam,’ said the bosun, pointing up to a height amounting to about five floors of a tower block. ‘You can get to it on the catwalks.’ I gazed, mum, at this network of external staircases criss-crossing the exterior paintwork – and wondered how on earth I was going to do it with a (large) bag on wheels and a pack on my back. And I must admit to a pang of gratitude when the man gestured to a deck hand and asked him to assist me. Even without the bags it was a considerable hike! But I must admit it was pleasant to have such a young lad chirping in front of me and wishing me a pleasant voyage and a hearty meal in the not-so-distant future.

The ‘owner’s cabin’ is interesting. It accommodates two passengers, and has two beds, but – so far – no-one else has materialized. I was particularly interested in a faint green Phosphorus sign (situated on the ceiling) which reads ‘lifeline.’ I opened the panel mum and, behind it, is a long – knotted – rope. It seems that, in an emergency, one is supposed to run it through the porthole and climb the five storeys back down to the deck! I gazed out through this porthole (a tight fit in anyone’s money) and there were the longshoremen catching hold of the ship’s hawsers and throwing them over the stanchions securing the ship to its berth.

Well mum. There has just been a blast from the ship’s incredible horn. And a little tinny voice, heard over the intercom, seems to be announcing the presence of food in the mess. I think we are off!

Your loving daughter (in law)



Capture net . . . (episode 36)


401B Concrete Shacks

July 7 1997


I have been asked – here at the drug rehabilitation project – to keep a reflective diary. I am assured that no-one will be creeping into my room to examine my efforts, but I don’t know if I believe that! (I think I may have to have the ‘official’ version – laid in a conspicuous place – and this one). They still haven’t given me back my mobile phone . . .

Aunt Evangeline visited yesterday. I could hear her dulcet tones cutting through the air at the front-of-house ‘sentry post.’ I am used to her diminutive stature but was completely unprepared for the immaculate vision which materialized before my eyeballs. I mean, I am used to seeing Auntie’s French Pleat (in honey blonde) but this time the colour was a more delicate and, if I may say it, age-appropriate silver. There was also no sign of the plum nail extensions, magenta beads, and slightly-too-short skirt! My jaw flopped open. Auntie was decked out in dark grey, knee-length, skirt and an ivory silk blouse. A restrained-looking gem ruby glittered at her neckline. And whereas her fingers are normally bejewelled in a selection of rather garish-looking rings, she was only wearing a Carnelian signet on the third finger of her right hand. I know she has spent decades ‘under cover’ – and maintains a ‘front’ – but this is the first time I have seen her accoutred in a costume befitting one who has occupied the position of ‘C.’

Auntie gazed round at the project sitting room – equipped with a number of well-sat-upon sofas and a bulky television set – and suggested we repair to the garden for a more private conference. I didn’t even know the project had a garden (gardens are not spaces I have much interest in) but Auntie must have sighted it from the controls of her ‘Little Bird’ helicopter the other evening. We did have to ask a project worker if we could exit the premises for a stroll around outside and, after a slight (over-suspicious in my view) moment of hesitation, he did agree.

“Well. Favourite nephew,” Auntie said, gazing all about her, “And how are you?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but Auntie appeared to be racing off over the brambles and stinging nettles towards a tree which was set in what should, surely, have been a mown lawn. I may have pursed my lips slightly at this point, because I do find it hard to understand this mania for horticulture. There are far too many nasty – biting – insects outdoors in my opinion, and I am more prone than most to getting bitten by them. However, by the time I had this thought, Auntie was nose-to-nose with the tree and getting a magnifying glass out of her handbag!

“Look nephew,” she said. “A Snake Bark Maple!” They are really quite rare you know. Look at the stripy-green bark and the hanging tiers of foliage!”

“Come back here Auntie,” I called, from my position firmly upon the path (what remained of it). “Whatever will people think!” And, luckily, Auntie managed to unglue her eyes from the Snake Bark Maple and return to my side. “I was just about to say,” I said, “that I fear my contributions to Role Play and Group work may have brought about unwelcome consequences. Miss Fothergill appears to think that I am not yet ready for release.”

Auntie looked pensive. “Can you not just keep schtum Ralph? I know it’s difficult but, under semi-prison circumstances like these, people like Miss Fothergill have all the power. And – if they can’t relate to your particular manifestation of the self – they may abuse that power.”

“I know Auntie,” I said. “But she is talking about psychosurgery for the non-compliant Benzodiazepine addict. And I don’t know if she can actually make that happen. There was some mention of a radio-active implant into the ‘nerve cells carrying disordered behaviour’ – and part of my brain could be permanently ablated! I need to hang on to my own self Auntie. I don’t know when I shall need it! My capacity to achieve something creditable – or even to express my own, inimitable, self – could be completely taken away from me here. It’s not as if I don’t have insight. I know that Dad – with his competitive ways – destroyed any hope of my developing self-esteem. And that this happened at a very young age. But I have found out now what I am good at. I know that I want to represent others. Whether or not this could be as a union shop steward – I can’t see me straying far from the politics of the vulnerable – or something else, I don’t know. Please help Auntie. I feel in danger here.”

There was somewhat of a pause while Aunt Evangeline absorbed this information. And then she said, “Would your friend Kev be willing to help? For I should need someone to operate the helicopter’s metal-weighted ‘capture net’ should we transport transport anyone abroad for a spell in the Gobi desert – and a long trek back! I should think this could be accomplished in a week or two. I should have to have the electronic winch serviced of course. I presume that Miss Fothergill is not actually resident on the premises?”

I assured Auntie that Miss Fothergill did indeed leave the premises promptly every evening at 5pm. And there the matter rested.

I think I’m going to have to flush this version of my ‘reflective diary’ down the toilet forthwith! It is not an item that I can afford to have hanging about in my room with a whole ‘army’ of snoops in the vicinity!