The Book

1936 - Mallory is the captain of a tramp ship. Up to his eyes in hock he takes his ship 'Aspatria' anywhere he can to make a quick buck. Crewed by reprobates like Macpherson the homicidal Gorbals bosun, Auntie Joan the transvestite third engineer and "Fingers" Nestorowicz the digit-deprived Polish cook in carpet slippers, the ship oil slicks its way around the salubrious coasts of the world, getting into one hilarious scrape after another. Join our gallant captain and his sea mongrels for a ripping yarn of adventure and romance on the high seas.

Now available on AMAZON KINDLE Books

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Barged Out of the Way

The new book is coming along and should be available to download on Kindle sometime in late March.

Unfortunately, I am currently being sidetracked and reading an excellent Kindle book called 'A Floating Home' by J.B.Atkins and Cyril Ionides. It is unusual in that it was written in 1916 and describes a family who were struggling to afford both housing and private schooling for their children. They hit upon the idea of buying a working Thames sailing barge and converting it to a home. Although not unusual these days, during the Great War, it would have been a head-turning event.

The author talks about 'Water-sense'. He said 'In many people the sight of water responds to some fundamental need of the mind - when they are away from water they are vaguely uncomfortable, perhaps feeling that the road of freedom and escape is cut off'.

I think most of us who have lived, worked or played on the water can empathise with this. Certainly here in the UK, where you are never far from water, whether it is a lake, canal, river or the coast. I get very ratty if I don't see an expanse of water every few days or so and have always put it down to the fact that the average human is about 60% water and there is some psychological need.

For those of you not acquainted with these beautiful boats, they were designed to carry cargo around the shallow and broken east coast of England. They are shallow draft, can be handled by two crew, often husband and wife and luckily, there are still a few of them around.

If you are interested in learning more about these barges, this is a good link:
Sailing Barges

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The South of France

The sequel 'The Surge of The Sea' opens with Aspatria discharging cargo in the port of Marseille.

Marseille has changed in the last 80 years and many of the commercial ship repair facilities and yards have switched to becoming repair stops for luxury yachts.

I was there recently and it was very cold I can tell you. Despite beautiful blue skies, temperatures hovered around freezing point and there was ice on the deck. The 'Mistral' wind whistled across the open spaces of the port and left white horses on the sea outside the breakwater. The wind chill made it seem even colder than it was.

Just as well Mallory was there later in the season !!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Surge of The Sea - New Book and Sequel

Work on the sequel to 'The Pull of The Tide' has fared rather better than expected and the Kindle edition will be available earlier. It was originally scheduled for April 2013.

'The Surge of The Sea' is set in the Mediterranean nearly a year after the first novel. The book opens in Marseille, France and "Slammer" Jenkins is celebrating his 18th birthday. The crew decide to give him a rather unusual present and it's not long before their collective nose for trouble has got them involved in an international scandal of potentially gigantic proportions.

The second book still revolves around the dysfunctional crew of the tramp ship Aspatria and their long-suffering captain, but the plot is slightly darker and more sinister as they grow closer to the start of the Second World War.

Although 'The Surge of The Sea' could be read as your first Mallory book, it is recommended that 'The Pull of The Tide' is read first as the stories are very intertwined.

The second novel also has more adult content and reader discretion is advised.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Good Fortune Favours the Brave

This is a short story from the Mallory series of books which is set between the end of 'The Pull of The Tide' and the sequel, 'The Surge of The Sea'...

Hong Kong - New Years Eve 1936

Mallory hated New Years with a vengeance. He sat on a stool at the bar in the Makati Club in Wanchai. Girls and Jazz music were all around him in equal quantities, but he cared not. He nursed a Whisky and Soda and leafed through an old copy of the ‘China Mail’ with total disinterest. He read that an explorer named Ruth Harkness had captured a giant panda cub in Sichuan province and had taken the creature back to the United States. Named Su-Lin, it was the first panda to be kept outside of China. ‘Why?’ he thought, miserably.

New Year was a lot of fuss about nothing. It was just a date; years were just dates. Mallory liked his time to be even and seamless. December 31st, January 1st, they were just a day apart; another day in the calendar. One was 1936, one was 1937, so what, just numbers.

The crew were ignoring him. Mallory was down in his cups and they were out for a good night. It was their first night ashore in a while and not to be wasted. It was their last night ashore in 1936 and never to be repeated.

Bates the Chief Officer was horrified at the prices. The girls kept badgering him to buy them a drink. Like any good Yorkshire lad, he had tried to barter as the price of drinks in the Makati were truly horrendous. While he ruminated on how unfair this all was, what with him being a poor sailor man and all, he managed to sink quite a few beers. In the end and in a one man protest against this daylight robbery, he had danced along the top of the bar with his flies undone and his empty trouser pockets turned out, in his very best impression of a human elephant.

“Geordie” Paterson had met a nice Chinese girl in a very alluring cheongsam, but she wanted to charge him one Hong Kong Dollar just to tell him a joke. He wouldn’t have minded, but he suspected he had already heard the joke before. In retaliation, he bet her the same amount that he could make her breasts wobble through the cheongsam without even touching them. She was intrigued, but a dollar was a dollar and she hesitated. In the end, curiosity got the better of her and she relented.

“Geordie” put both his hands on her chest, feeling her warm flesh through the sky blue silk. Moving his hands in circles of opposite directions, he gave her petite breasts a good jiggle. 

She was horrified – ‘I thought you said you didn’t need to touch me?’ she shouted at him in her high pitched tinny voice.

“Geordie” thought it was the best dollar he had spent in a long time.

Chang was a pirate. He was proud to be a pirate. His family had roamed the South China seas for generations and he felt his venerable ancestors were always behind him as he robbed and burned his way through the lucrative merchant ships passing the Chinese coast. He knew exactly who to pay to ensure that the authorities left him alone. As long as everybody got their share, there was nothing to stop him. He was successful unlike that idiot brother of his, who prostituted himself with the Gwai-Lo in England for next to nothing. He had pride in his work. His brother; well, he was a big disappointment to his ancestors. Chang the pirate and his horde were readying themselves for a busy night. A well paid informer told them that a Dutch cargo liner had sailed from Hong Kong bound for Japan and she was loaded with, amongst other things, gold bullion. With night falling and the wheel lashed on their pirate junk to keep her on an intercepting course, Chang and his crew were cleaning and loading their guns in preparation. His right hand man, Han, was sharpening his large curved sword. Han's party trick was beheading. The quickest way to get any captain to part with the keys to the ships safe was to decapitate a kneeling member of his crew in front of him. Westerners had no stomach for real fighting. Soon the Dutch ship would be in striking range and they would look for her steaming lights on the horizon.

The third officer had dozed off on Aspatria. They were a few days out of Honkers and it had been a wild night ashore. The third officer had been particularly outrageous and he deserved a few hours sleep for effort, even if he was supposed to be on watch. It was no matter as “Geordie” Paterson, mariner supreme and Sunderlands best export was at the wheel. You didn’t need a certificated officer when “Geordie” was around. He stood bold and upright, with both hands fixed firmly on the wheel, staring straight out through the bridge windows as his father and grandfather had done before him. Well they might have done, had he known who they were.

This continuation of the great British seafaring tradition lasted for about seven minutes, when suddenly he felt a strange movement in his lower abdomen. It was an odd sensation, but one that he had experienced before. It seemed that the fish curry served up for lunch by their Polish cook, “Fingers” Nestorowicz, might have had something else in it apart from fish. The cook wasn’t known for his personal hygiene. However, “Geordie” was nothing if not professional and engaged the autopilot as he had seen countless deck officers do over the years during their shared watches. Checking the compass to ensure that the autopilot was keeping Aspatria straight and true, he almost ran to the ‘heads’ as he felt his bowels give a hop, skip and a jump.

Chang was just about to climb the ladder to the open deck to look for the approaching ‘Dutchies’ lights, when suddenly he was thrown to the deck, hitting his head on the base of a cast iron stove and smashing open his skull. Han was skewered through by a yard-long splinter of teak, dying instantly. His gleaming sword lay impotent at his twitching feet.  Forging ahead with Sleeping Beauty for a third officer and “Geordie” ensconced securely on his seat of ease, Aspatria had ploughed neatly through the bow of the smaller wooden pirate vessel. There was no more than a slight vibration in her deck plates as the steel ship tore her open like a hot knife cutting through butter. With the bow gone, Chang and his cronies went to the bottom in less than 45 seconds. Lost with all hands.

“Geordie” relieved and feeling somewhat lighter, returned to the wheel, disengaged the autopilot and gripped the wheel manfully. Aspatria would be safe once more in his strong guiding arms until the third mate came round and made him a nice steaming cup of Java. He was good at this. He might be master of his own vessel one day.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

No Christmas Trees, Holly or Mistletoe

You can smell real fur in the church.

Inuit celebrate Christmas in a slightly different way to Europeans. Nothing much grows in the Arctic so you have to adapt your customs and celebrations to suit.

Its cold but dry - minus 30 Degrees Centigrade. Howling dogs, steaming breath, strings of fairy lights across the multi-coloured corrugated tin shacks.

The community gathers in the village meeting place. Outside there are sledges and their dogs, tied up, having brought their masters into town. Dogs that can pull their sled 100 miles a day, for a whole week if necessary. Inside, there is the staccato chatter of Inuktitut, the local language. Here the people are connected to the land and more importantly, the sea. It's their provider - without the sea, they would starve. Its creatures provide them with sustenance and the Inuit are grateful. They practised conservation long before the Europeans invented the word. Take what you need and leave what you don't to conserve stocks, as they also have a right to live . Kill mercifully to survive but be respectful of the sacrifice, as the animal gave its life so that the Inuit may live.

The Inuit gather, women in amautis with round faced babies. The hunters arrive, laden with the fruits of their labours. Some fresh from the ice laden water and some still frozen from their underground stores. Makeshift tables are erected and the community pool their food for a seasonal feast. Seal, Walrus, Narwhal fin, Char, Caribou. The seafood is raw and chewy but the Inuit have good teeth.

A couple of teenage girls start to sing katajjaq, Inuit throat singing. The hypnotic rhythmic song flickers from one girl to the other as they compete with other. The pace quickens as the two girls stand facing each other, holding on to the others arms for support. They rock gently together as they sing, the competition intensifying. Just as you start to drift, entranced by the almost tribal sounds, they stop abruptly and laugh together. One has run out of breath, the other is the victor.

An accordion is produced, strangely out of place here. Brought to these shores by a long dead sailor, the instrument is squeezed back into life. An old man with a lined brown face, sad eyes and a beard consisting of no more than 10 black hairs sings a slow mournful song. He sings from his memories, the days when he would travel for days just to hunt, paddling his kayak and pitting his wits against his prey on an equal footing. He sings of huge whales, roaming proud and free. He sings of lost friends, drowned by the animal they pursued. Crushed by the downward slam of an angry fluke.

The accordion picks up a faster beat, the mood lightens and small drums start up on the other side of the room. Hunters get to their feet and shuffle and hop their way around the room in a jig, their movement limited by their heavy sealskin boots.

The room is warm, faces are smiling and bellies are full. Most importantly, the village is united and they rejoice in the strength of community, giving thanks for another year of survival.

Merry Christmas.............


Monday, 17 December 2012

Ex-Ray on "Geordie" Paterson - Post#15

Following on from Post#12 (X Ray Specs), this is the first ex-ray expose on the characters in the Mallory series of books.

"Geordie" Paterson is the first character we meet in the 'Pull of The Tide', the first book. Known as the 'Walking Catastrophe', Paterson is a deckhand on 'Aspatria' and it has been said that he could make trouble marooned on a desert island.

Hailing from Sunderland, Ordinary Seaman Paterson is described as wearing a gap-toothed smile and a flat cap the size of a dinner plate. Dubbed "Geordie" by his shipmates, he always maintains that the nickname is a deliberate insult as he isn't from Newcastle. Few of the crew know the difference.

Uncouth and ignorant, Paterson shares a cabin with a Capuchin monkey called Neville. "Geordie" rescued the monkey from South America when he saw 'Neville' imprisoned in a wooden cage by Amazonian natives. Afraid that they would eat the primate, he bought him in exchange for a Sunderland football scarf and rattle. It was said by a wag in the crew that his cabin got a lot tidier when 'Neville' moved in.

"Geordie" appears regularly in both 'The Pull of The Tide' and the new sequel 'The Surge of The Sea'.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Black Maria - Post#14

Built on the Thames as the ROBIN in 1890, this ship is the oldest complete steamship in existence today.

She was designed for the Home Trade, meaning she was confined to operating on the coasts of Britain and Continental Europe between the limits of Brest in the West and the River Elbe in the East.

In 1900 she was sold to Spanish owners and renamed MARIA. She remained under the Spanish flag until 1974 - that's 74 years coasting around the various ports of Spain and France.

In 1936 MARIA was commandeered by the then Spanish Government and she was in Santander in August 1937 when that port was taken by General Franco's forces. Whether she was employed by them, or how, is not known. We do know, however, that by 1938 she was back trading again for her former owners, Perez & Cia. It is therefore possible that she may have been used for secret Spanish civil war work and it is also a possibility that she may have passed Mallory and his vessel Aspatria in Cadiz.

The Maria Story in Film

The ship has now been renovated and is once again known as ROBIN. The vessel is currently open as a museum in the London Docks close to where she was built 122 years earlier.

Masefield's 'Cargoes'
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus, Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores, With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield, 1917