I write as a survivor of the wreck of The Giddying,
our greatest ship which was run aground by indiligence
and reclaimed by nature.
Even as I write the diggers are cutting the soil again
at the low tides to find the bodies of those lost;
where the finger-pointers come and claim their predictions
proved and their hatred of The Captain justified at last.
They are joined by the beachcombers who hold aloft sticks
and twigs which they claim to have belonged to the once-great ship
now floundered in the silt of self-belief.
But I remember the fun times passed,
of the days she swam the channel and
raised her jack on foreign shores with
all the pride of a conquering nation.
The days when the padded jackets of the archers
were still safe before time and progress moved
on and the whizzing bullets made nonsense of the armour
and protection we thought they provided.
I smile at the moments when our rages against complacency
drew groups of Dutchmen in raiding parties who skipped
across the tide in darkness and raised our ire by
touching our flags and pennants. So too the ambassador
from the other ship who stretched out a hand of peace
to our Captain as I had moved towards his first officer
with the cutlass of my indignation sharp and ready to
plunge into him.
Those were the happy days when the Captain was still
loved. Times when ambassadors and foreign merchants still
believed his promises and when I would have followed
him to the edges of any sea he chose to sail upon.
But then the times and feelings began to
move. They moved on whilst I was busy filling out
the endless charts that the First Mate said were needed
by the ship’s course and navigation. Then one day I
looked up from the charts and turned my ears away from
the noisy crunch of the ship’s biscuits and I saw
something new had hit the sides of the ship and this
new thing was a whisper of reality. It frightened us
all because our eyes were covered with the scales and
salt of one hundred years of our ship travelling in the
same direction; where habit meant that the Captain
had forgotten how to sail or read the charts and
navigation had been left to the First Mate
who could not read maps and had no use for a compass.
Believing the charts to lie and mistrusting of the crew
the First Mate crossed out the sections that they felt
made no sense and drew new lines on the sea chart and
said that from now on only straight lines would do. If we
encountered a sand bank then we must shout as loud as
possible and make the ship go faster so that we
could breech the obstruction (and with God on our side)
let the force of our ship’s bulk smash us through.
This was the policy and it would be applied to all
objects that dared not recognise our greatness be it
rocks, hurricanes, whales or pirate ships.
Dissenters to this plan were cast as mutineers or
inadequates. The Captain and the First Mate, who
were ruling on a licence that gave them absolute
authority knew that this meant they were not required
to explain the direction in which our ship would
sail in case a mutinous crew would in some way
overthrow them both and cast them back into a
in which neither could remember to swim (having
been aboard the vessel for so long). This
ship had been their home now for such a length of
time that their memories of other ships, other
Captains and different cargoes had withered from
loneliness. They held that their knowledge was
unimpeachable and defied the understanding of
crew members and to suggest otherwise was to
lie with the many and varied enemies we had.
As it became clear to the rest of us that the length
of time at sea was unhealthy the crew gathered together
in huddles and hissed under their breath to one
another. One by one they would come to visit me
in my confessional booth in case they really were sinners
who needed absolution. But you cannot absolve
another man’s sin if he is free from blame and
merely the sinned-against.
Our ship sailed on and bit by bit its parts began to
rot due to the actions of the water. The rudder broke
and the Captain responded by ordering us to tear up
strips of ribbon from the cook’s apron and fasten them
to our every available action to try to stop the
lurching of our course in the strengthening tide
As we ran short of new shore rations the Captain and
First Mate grew bewildered and a rich corruption sank
into them until in their confusion they began to think
that they were no longer Captain and First Mate but
two princes of a vast and plentiful land with a
court of adoring peons amongst whom a number had
daggers concealed beneath their cloaks.
The crew, brow-beaten and bored with nothing to eat but
a lack of sunlight and the spray of salt
wept at the actions of the princes
as they emblazoned their chariots
and let the rest of the crew live as beggars to
struggle on with rotten hand carts.
They tied them down with further lengths of tape
at every supposed transgression
and tore out every second page from
the ship’s lawbook so that nobody could ever
say they knew they could be safe from prosecution
or use the laws against their authority.
And so we sailed on without a map and with
two new princes, untrained and unready for
their royal role until the ship’s timbers
took advantage of neglect and began to ease apart
and the ship began to list, nose-down, and started
to drift backwards inching lower with the current.
The Captain and First Mate, realising we would not
make land as we were, made us paddle faster with oars made
from cardboard wrappers and the thigh bone of an
innocent preacher who had died and been thrown back into
the sea. This makeshift tool was not enough to move the vessel
by sheer muscle-power alone but our princely masters
ignored us and instead said we should drop the
main sail lower as it was distracting and instead
should paddle faster and faster with the bone-hafted
We were sure by now we were doomed. The look on everyone’s
faces and the words they wrote in their diaries and
letters home to friends made it clear. The sea shanties
we sang in the afternoons were no longer the happy ones
of old but were now about how we would like to be
buried when the time came.
Still the Captain shouted for us to try harder
and told us that we were not paddling fast enough.
When asked in which direction we should paddle
he told us that we should know and that it was
irrelevant as long as we paddled strongly, bravely
and with gusto. To do anything else, to try
to set the sail slightly differently to stop it being
ripped in the wind or stolen by pirates,
or to point our compass in the direction of dry land
was met with cries of mutiny, stripped shirts and a
The pressure of the dribbles of truth
joined with the force of the tide of reality
and the other pirates on the same sea
grew stronger until finally the timbers we thought
might actually save us from their ravages
were shown to have been made from cheap and flimsy
balsa-wood so that the sunlight flooded in through
the rent hull and bounced off of all the remaining
surfaces where, no matter how many fingers we rammed
into the leaks, the water level rose until
everyone, innocent or guilty, were neck-deep in it.
As the daylight flooded in all of us crew could see
that we were no longer aboard the sea-worthy
vessel that we once loved but instead had been
tricked and were trapped inside a hellish prison
hulk, forced to perform fruitless repetitive
tasks over and again for the amusement
of feckless gods with basalt bricks for walls
run through with barred minds that now crumble
with the sea-rust.
Once it was clear to me that the ship had succumbed
things moved fast.
My mind was a blank but I do remember a hand reaching
down to me through the bubbling sea-water and hoisting
me out. My rescuer took me to his encampment
where he comforted me and gave me clean clothes,
warm food and taught me how to speak his language.
This stranger treated me kindly and showed me new
customs and asked me to repeat tales of my
experiences to his family as a warning against
un-necessary cruelty and misguided self-importance
whilst they sat together and ate peaches and all
manner of good food as I recounted my days aboard