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Poems of New Zealand Shipping
It’s strange how most of mankind, at least in moderate climates such as Europe, are attracted to running water. Have you ever noticed how people lean on a bridge wall and stare at the water flowing beneath them. It’s the same thing with cascades or waterfalls. They stand immobile, as if mesmerized, gazing at the tumbling, sparkling and translucent liquid.
I am no exception. A kind of euphoria overwhelms me when I’m close at hand to a river, stream or even a burn. Not all produce the same intensity of wellbeing in my mind. It all depends upon which part of the river I find myself.
I know the Thames as it flows under Putney bridge and through central London. Especially so from an alehouse situated on the southern end of Blackfriars bridge.
I know the Thames at Boulter’s Lock having stayed at this hotel several times. Breakfast outside at this spot. Peace and quiet.
Here there is a radical change. Swifter flowing, cleaner. The water seems alive with gurgles and splashes.
I know the Thames further upstream at Hurley. An evening stroll along grassy banks. Ducks and geese paddling lazily or sitting happily, unconcerned, on their chosen spot on land, sometimes with their brood of chicks. Before wending my way back a soothing couple of pints of best bitter drunk in the genteel settings of an ancient alehouse cum hotel cum restaurant. How relaxing as twilight sets in and sweet talks be had between our couple. Listening to the chug-chug of an inboard motor of a river boat heading home for the night. The scene for the book Wind in the Willows, or even Swallows and Amazons. If you haven’t read them do so. Immediately.
Here is the river bank at Hurley with a flock of Canadian geese
To end this chapter about the Thames I must tell you about a day spent at the Henley Regatta. To find a parking spot was almost impossible. One was found a long, long way from the river. Walking wasn’t a problem in those days. The town was teeming with visitors, the pubs were bursting at the seams. Young lovelies and whiskery old men mingled in an atmosphere of fun and gaiety. Gin and tonics and numerous pints were downed with consummate ease. I was surprised to see the garb of the old guys. They had brought out of mothballs their rowing blazers and trews of another age. Lapels colourfully lined. Large, very old, beer stains all over the place. Once white trousers, now yellowish with age, were held up with their college or university tie. You want to see gentlemen as they were ? Go to the regatta, it will never change. Whilst watching the racing, coxless fours it was, a terrific thunderstorm broke out. Rail pelted down soaking everyone. Not caring a jot the young lovelies laughingly ran for cover. Tripping up in their high heels, new silk dresses clinging to their thighs and breasts. Hair do’s undone, locks stuck to their pretty faces. ‘I’ll have a double gin and tonic this time please’. Thank goodness events such as this will never die out, thus keeping Britain’s envied traditions alive for generations to come. Writing these lines makes me feel proud to be a Brit. Don’t you ?
Having been born in the West End of Newcastle upon Tyne, not far from the Big Lamp, I consider myself as a Geordie. So it’s only natural that I’ve seen the river Tyne, in all seasons, from Haltwhistle to the estuary into the North Sea. I think that you, dear reader, would be bored with all the anecdotes that I’ve in memory about all the places that I’ve visited on the Tyne. What follows is a brief account of some of the more interesting.
Once upon a time, when I was a mere lad, my father took me on a Sunday afternoon boat trip on the Tyne. We left from the quayside, just under the Tyne bridge. This is where there used to be a Sunday morning market. Cheap stuff sold from the back of a van but just listening to the sales patter of these guys was a treat in itself. Anyway, we went down river for about an hour then turned back. Not much of interest was seen. Except a very large quantity of floating french letters. Saturday nights must have been quite something in the days before television.! At the age of sixteen I was admitted to the South Shields Marine & Technical College for a years training before going to sea. I caught the electric train eaarly each morning from Newcastle Central Station. A lot of the other passengers worked on the shipyards at Jarrow and Hebburn. When we arrived at the terminus not many were left on the train. I took a blue trolley up to The Law and then walked to school. One of the vessels that I saw under construction at the Walker shipyard was the Canadian Pacific liner ‘The Empress of England’. Does anyone remember her?
Every Friday during the year, come rain or shine, come hell or high water, we would spend the day at the College’s boatyard on the Tyne. Sailing and splicing. Knots and flags.
Rowing and raising the derrick. Capsizing a dinghy near to the North Shields fish quay; spluttering to the surface midst a sea of floating herring heads. A small cargo vessel hooting,
The stem looming large above us as we swam madly out of her course. The biting wind coming off the North Sea making eyes water and young calloused hands raw and chafed. The pleasure and happiness at the end of a strenuous day.
Up until now I’ve talked about only two of the many, many streams and rivers I’ve known or visited. The last one is about the ‘Cook’ut’, or ‘Coke’it’. Never heard of this 40 long mile river? The above is the Geordie pronunciation of The Coquet. How I love this river. All of it. From the trickling source high in the Cheviot hills to its final destination at Amble on the North Sea Coast. When in my early teens I’d forego my Sunday afternoon’s homework. I’d cycle to Linshiels in the Cheviots from Gosforth and back again. Up the Great North Road to Morpeth, then passing through Rothbury and Alwinton to this lonesome spot. After a few days summer sunshine the shallow, but wide river, was heated, ripppling over boulders. It then ran under a bridge before cascading down rocks into a narrow but deep gorge. Diving naked into this warm water from rocks on the steep bankside was pure heaven. Alone with nature, only a few sheep as onlookers. The depth is about three fathoms and it gets colder as you reach the gravelly bottom. Dried by wind and sun lying on one’s back before the long ride home.
The pool at Linshiels looking down stream from the Cascade
I was once a member of a local Church Youth Club for a short period of time. I made friends with a boy of my own age called Frank Tizzard. A handsome dark haired boy with a look in his eyes that seemed to say, ‘I know it all’ Not pretentious, just how he was. His sister, also about my age, was a raven haired, beautiful girl. She had an aura of mysery about her. Her name was Tamar. Get the connection ?
Some Friday evenings Frank and I would take the United bus to Rothbury for the weekend. Our haversacks held the minimum. A frying pan, two boxes of Swan Vesta matches, a pack of butter, some bread and our Green River sheath knives. Honed sharp. Frank carried his fishing rod and box of flies. For two full days we’d tramp the banks of the Coquet. Frank was a wonderful fly fisherman; the only food we ate was trout that he caught. Fried in butter over a camp fire with bread used to scrape the frying pan. We scorned pyjamas and slept in our clothes in bivouacs. Branches were lopped from saplings. It was pure bliss lying during the starry nights looking at Venus and the Plough between the branches. I hope Frank remembers these halcyon days as I do now, fifty six years onward. As an aside I’ll write the word moat. The only moat that I know is that at the Bishops’ Palace at Wells. The swans that glide over the still water tug a cord with their beaks to ring a bell at feeding time. The other Moat that I know as a surname is that of the hardware store ‘Henry Moat’s’ of Corporation Street in Newcastle upon Tyne. I worked there for a short while as I did at another hardware store, ‘Nock and Kirbys’, Sydney, Australia. My first job when I arrived in New South Wales. One day I had terrible stomach pains. An Aussie in the same department suggested that I went across the road to a pub and swallowed a large port and brandy. I did just this and was cured in minutes. My doctor refuses to make me out a prescription for this remedy.
On television I watched, helpless, the last hours of a seven day manhunt for another man called Moat. The same river banks at Rothbury that Frank and I had walked in our youth. How much suffering there was in his confused mind. How I wished I could have told him of my former days in the same place. The flame of life that led us on. Letting him know how wonderful being alive is. Beseeching him to surrender and answer for his past misdeeds. We all know the outcome., alas.
To end this short story I’ll come to the jouneys end of the river Coquet. Whenever I visited the North sea village of Warkworth I’d hire a rowing boat on the river. I’d pull upstream as hard as I could, feathering, trying not to catch a crab. Little did I know that a few years later I would row as middle oar for the whaler crew of the training ship Otaio. I own a second hand half hunter that I bought recently. On the fob chain hangs a 24 carat gold medal won by my father in 1924. He won a rowing competition at the age of nineteen. We beat the HMS Sheffield in a whaler race in Valetta, Malta, when I was the same age.
THE WHALER CREW
Harry Simpson June 2009