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Friday, 27 April 2018

The Golden Hinde

Our daughter has the job I would have died for as a boy – tour guide on the Golden Hinde. It involves dressing up as a pirate and living the dream.

Now it is easy to be sniffy about replicas, but the original Golden Hinde also ended up as a ‘tourist ship’ berthed in Deptford, where it rotted away and was broken up forty-five years after Elizabeth’s death. The wood that had not rotted was made into a chair and presented to the Bodleian Library in 1668
The Golden Hinde replica

As replicas go, this Golden Hinde is hard to beat. It is full-sized, hand-crafted in the traditional fashion and, more to the point, has also circumnavigated the world – twice! In fact – kilometre wise - five times, around the world if you measure the distances between her several voyages from 1974: Plymouth to San Franscisco. Then Yokohama where she was used for filming Shogun, then back to England via Hong Kong, Singapore, the Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean via the Red Sea. In 1984 – 85 she circumnavigated the British Isles, before crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean, 1986 the Pacific via Panama, then a host of American cities on both east and west coasts – before touring the British Isles again.

Why am I going into such detail?

Because it is presently in dry dock being repaired and made shipshape again, but is very unlikely to be allowed beyond the Thames because of ‘Health and Safety’ Legislation.


What hits you is how small the ship is - 102 feet long and 20ft wide. With eighty men on board it would have made for some interesting tension and interesting smells.

Drake's cabin on the other hand was reasonably comfortable.  Musicians surrounded him and played him to sleep on the couch at the back. I'm fascinated by these musicians. Presumably they could wield a sword, but I like to imagine them providing a tasteful sound track to the blood and the mayhem when Drake attacked.

Below is the famous 'knot' by which the speed of the ship was measured. It was simply let out into the sea and  then slowly pulled up

There was no health and safety legislation in December 1577 when the original set out.  Boys as young as five clambered up the rigging, (the largest of the three masts 92 ft high) and punishments were harsh.

 Because food was so precious, it was strictly rationed.  Anyone found stealing had to put their hand to the mast and stand there without moving it  for ten minutes - an impossible task on such a small ship in heavy rolling seas. To make it possible the hand was nailed into the mast. By the time it was over what was left of their hand was a ragged,  mess which inevitably brought with it infection and then amputation. 

In March 1579 the Golden Hinde ambushed the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion. Drake had the advantage because no English ship had entered the Pacific before this point, and the Spanish were completely unprepared.

As I was unprepared for the cramped space of the gun gallery. I was almost on all fours to avoid bumping my head on the ceiling and protruding beams. Must have been bloody dwarfs, the lot of them.

What you see here are three of the 14 Minions - small 'cannons' using 4 Ib shot. When you read the process below, it's hard to believe they could fire and reload in five minutes.

What you see below is the worm (the one that looks like a large corkscrew) That was used to pull out any debris in the barrel of the minion. Next to it is the swab coated in lamb's wool, which finishes the cleaning process.

Behind that is the scoop to put the gunpowder in. Powder monkeys - those five year old boys again would scurrying back and forth rolling barrels of gunpowder. Health and Safety? I think not. Then the shot would be rammed in using the ram-rod and after that wadding to stop it falling out.
The powder monkeys when not rolling barrels would be bringing 'wadding - hay, straw and dung from the nearby manger - didn't I tell you? They kept a sheep, a pig and one or two chickens at the far end of the same deck.

Finally the gun is ready. The master gunner would have a hip flask of fine gunpowder which he'd tip into the small hole where you see what looks like a fishing rod. This is the Linstock which has a piece of wool dipped in powder and urine to ensure a slow burning fuse. And voila, every one covers their ears as the minion fires and the process starts all over again.

The Spanish called their ship the  ‘Cacafuego’ or ‘Shitfire.’ It didn’t help them against Drake but it did offend the sensibilities of Englishmen.

 Elizabethans, well known for their prudishness,  bowdlerised it to ‘Spitfire.’ Centuries later, when R. J Mitchell designed the fighter plane that won the Battle of Britain, he had little idea that his plane would be named ‘The Spitfire.’ He wasn’t impressed. “Just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose,” he said of the Ministry.

It could have been worse if they’d stuck to the original Spanish.

Mind you, the aeronautical equivalent of the Cacafuego  wouldn’t have got off the ground.  The ship was laden with treasure. 360,000 peso (£500million in today’s money) 26 tons of silver, half a ton of gold, porcelain and jewels. It took six days to convey the booty from one ship to another, and filled the entire hold of the Golden Hind.
Steps from the gun gallery to the hold below. 

How many hands were nailed to this post?

Every inch of this hold was crammed full of treasure 

Half of the proceeds went to the Queen directly with which she paid of the entire government debt. Investors got 4,700 % on their money, and the crew* too became rich.

Tour guides aren''t paid so lavishly but then again they're unlikely to have their hands nailed to the mast or risk death and mutilation. 
57 out of the original 80

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Never think deeply when swimming

It’s a tedious business swimming thirty lengths. The mind switches off in sulk. Sometimes it wanders… I have no idea why I began silently chanting an old children's rhyme.
Eeny meeny miny mo
 Catch an Indian by the toe

Don’t ask me why, me neither, but I stopped. Was this permissible? I tried again.
Eeny meeny, miny mo
Catch a Chinaman by the toe.
Frenchie, perhaps. Too Brexity.

Tried again with ‘Welshman’ and stopped in sudden fear that Plaid Cymru Leader, Leanne Wood and Arfon Jones the ineffective police commissioner of North Wales might leap upon me. Like they leapt upon Ron Liddle. The Times Columnist had waded into the row over the renaming of the Severn Bridge in his usual provocative style:

 “The Welsh, or some of them, are moaning that a motorway bridge linking their rain-sodden valley with the First World is to be renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge. In honour of the venal, grasping, deranged (if Tom Bower’s new biography is accurate) heir to the throne.
“That Plaid Cymru woman who is always on Question Time has been leading the protests. They would prefer it to be called something indecipherable with now real vowels, such as Ysgythysggymlngwchgwch Bryggy.
“Let them have their way. So long as it allows people to get out of the place pronto, should we worry about what it’s called?”

The North Welsh police reluctantly concluded that Liddle had broken no law —a nicety for the North Wales police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones. Liddle’s column was not just ‘offensive and irresponsible’ but ‘morally repugnant and an absolute disgrace’ and should not be allowed. The Welsh Language Commissioner agrees, arguing that ‘offensive comments about Wales, the Welsh Language and its speakers are ‘totally unacceptable,’ and that something must be done to ‘stop these comments . . . Legislation is needed to . . . prevent language hate.’

It’s the curse of our time, words and thoughts cordoned off by cultural nods, nudges and winks. In Oscar Wilde’s day there was only one crime that ‘dared not speak its name’ Now they’re  proliferating by the minute. Opaque curtains limiting thought.

I changed to backstroke and returned to the rhyme.

So, not a Welshman. ‘A Liddle’ then.  ‘Catch a Liddle by the toe.’ But did I want to incur the great man’s wrath? Did I want to be the subject of his next column?

And then I had it, or thought I had. ‘Catch a fascist by the toe.’ Who could object to that? But then...didn’t that make them kind of vulnerable, endearing even in their helplessness?

Language is a slippery business. If we were to chant ‘Catch a baby by the toe,’ you again have something endearing, something quite cute. And this highlights the double-edged sword of the euphemism. We never abort babies. Such is an accepted fact, a shibboleth. We abort ‘foetuses’ and thus the ‘procedure’ becomes socially acceptable. And yet how come the chant ‘Catch a foetus by the toe’ sounds infinitely chilling?

On my 25th length, I finally had it sorted. ‘Catch a Kardashian by the toe’. No offence there, so long as their bottoms looked good.

Never think deeply when swimming


Friday, 6 April 2018

Your breasts are a little flat, but beyond that you're dynamite


Some things are just too good not to share – especially for writers – especially for those writing about women. These examples from the Times make me feel much better.

1)    Her breasts stuck out straight and true; her little flanks looked delicious.
2)    I even became somewhat suspicious and critical of her serene, womanly beauty. Or rather, of the regard in which she seems to hold her eyes, her nose, her throat, her breasts, her hips, her legs. (Mercifully he stops there.)
3)    Her breasts were large enough to inspire thoughts of lust, but had the comforting appeal of a beloved nanny or nurse. (She should have stopped there). Her hips and bum told a different story – wild nights in dance halls; swing in callipygian glory. (No, me neither)
4)    Standing there trying to get the waist of her skirt suit to link at her side, the tops of her breasts, swollen with untaken milk pushing above her bra, she does have a plumpness, a fullness that calls to him.
5)    Despite her round face, the only thing sitting higher than her breasts were her cheekbones.
6)    Tall and lissom, Dr Brooks moved with the assertive gait of an athlete.
At this point I stopped, there being only six examples on offer, and thought with some longing of an earlier, more down to earth age. I talk of the interwar Poet Laureate Peter Cheyney:
‘I think you’re a mysterious woman. Your breasts are a little flat, but beyond that you’re dynamite. And that’s what I think.’ The Dark Street.
Does anyone else have any favourites?

For those curious about the authors above, the answers can be found after three ‘cleansing’ paintings. Yes, Newport was beautiful once, before the darkness set in. The magic was always there.

1)     Jack Kerouac ‘On the Road’
2)     Philip Roth, ‘The Professor of Desire’
3)     YourFavouriteBlackAuntie, on Twitter
4)     John Updike ‘Rabbit Run’
5)     Vanessa Salkova on Twitter
6)     Dan Brown ‘Inferno’