Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Mad March Days


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.

We're back with John Masefield again this week, following on from my Box of Delights last week. I learned his poem 'Cargoes' at school and the rhythm of the verse rolls along just like the waves. The description of the three vessels has stayed with me, and was the first thing which came into my mind when Alan suggested boats as a possible theme for this week's Sepia  Saturday.

The Thames Steamboat Company's paddle steamer 'Mermaid', National Maritime Museum c1900
The picture is not of a 'Dirty British steamer' nor is it 'butting through the Channel, but as we are well into the 'Mad March days', I think I can get away with it. Our prompt picture actually features a steamer on the river at Mosman in Australia, about a hundred years ago. Also in the picture are buildings, trees, boats and a pier, all of which would have made admirable theme choices.


I was quite taken with the picture of 'Mermaid' but even more by this one. Now there's a poem waiting to be written!

Sail and Steam. Changing Tides. The Museum of Hartlepool
Researching John Masefield (1878-1967) for both last week and this week's post, I was fascinated by his story. After an unhappy start in life he was sent to train to for a life at sea, to break his addiction to reading, which is aunt, who was his guardian, thought little of. Poor John; fortunately her ploy didn't work or we would have been deprived of the rich heritage of his many stories and poems which stemmed from his love of words. Listening to stories of sea-lore on board ship only served to develop his craft. Unfortunately he suffered badly from seasickness and eventually he deserted ship. He lived as a vagrant for several months and then took odd jobs in New York, including as an assistant to a barkeeper. By the time he was 24 his first collection, 'Salt Water Ballads' was published, containing that other poem well-known to schoolchildren, 'Sea Fever'.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

Evidently, although he was a poor sailor, his love of the sea and ships was undiminished. There's no room to write the details of his life here, but he went on to become British Poet Laureate and garnered doctorates from Yale and Harvard universities, in America, and from Oxford University, among many others, in England. He continued to be a colourful and interesting character, numbering bee-keeping, goatherding and poultry-keeping amongst his pursuits. He continued his duties as Laureate into old age, publishing his last book at the age of 88. He died in 1967 and his ashes rest in Poet's Corner, in Westminster Abbey.

I can't let you steam away without sharing this remarkable three-minute movie clip of a 1900 paddle steamer, 'Brighton Queen', pulling into a jetty. There is an interesting parade of disembarking passengers, some of whom wave to the camera, and one gentleman even doffs his cap. It could even be the young John Masefield, gathering more material for the book he was about to publish.

PADDLE STEAMER



If you've found your sea-legs by now, roll over to Sepia Saturday to find what other contributors have made of the prompt. If you have a love of old photos, or are just overtaken by waves of nostalgia you could even join in the fun of our Facebook group.

23 comments:

  1. Interesting post. What a fascinating life John Masefield must of had!

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  2. It's funny that the third verse is the better known in 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.

    I suppose it because the first two verses contain words that we don't know and have trouble pronouncing. Even though I learnt it at school I only really remember the words to verse three

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  3. I'm guessing the Brighton Queen must have been a sister ship to the Bournemouth Queen, about which I wrote a couple of years ago. Presumably there was a pier-end still photographer to capture their visages for posterity too. What a great film clip, particularly of the disembarking passengers - I get the same feel as I did with the Mitchell & Kenyon film at Blackpool. The subjects were very much intrigued with the fact that they were being filmed.

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  4. THe video reminded me of the Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer that I've often seen at Swanage. www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk/

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  5. I missed your 'Box of Delights' post (just caught up). Yes, Masefield had an eventful life, didn't he? Box of Delights has been essential viewing for us on the run-up to Christmas, for many years. I bought the book for SW last year.

    Love the photographs in this post, and the film clip. I'll be investigating the British Pathé site more closely in the days and weeks ahead.

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  6. Marilyn, this is interesting. I haven't seen a stern-wheeler with the wheel in the middle of the boat before; they usually are at the end. The video and the story of John are both fascinating. To think that being addicted to books was considered a bad thing!

    Great post,

    Kathy M.

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  7. I have to confess I know nothing about John Masefield - I shall have to remedy that. The Pathe film clip was fascinating especially the speed at which some passengers went down the gangplank.

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  8. That John Masefield poem has made the rounds - a regular Masefield Revival! That poem made the rounds in American literature books too, and I'm sure I must have read it countless times in junior high and high school. I enjoyed watching the clip of the paddle steamer. It was moving along at such speed that I thought at first it was filmed in a hurry-up mode, but then I noticed the people were moving about normally. Must have made for a breezy ride.

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  9. That is a great little film of the ship coming in. People really did like having their photos taken back then.

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  10. I hadn't heard of Masefield before. I enjoyed reading his poems, even though I usually don't understand or enjoy poetry.

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  11. Poor John, needing to be cured of reading too much! Good thing the cure didn't work.

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  12. I will always treasure my books! I did steam on over to your video, it was excellent. Great poem, and what a wonderful accounting of John Masefield.

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  13. I loved this poem at school and have remembered it word for word for 60 years. Thanks for bringing back the memories with your ship photos.

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  14. I'm also glad John's aunt's ploy didn't work. Addiction is bad but if it's one for reading, especially if those who have it are today's youth, I wouldn't mind. Love the Sea Fever poem; guess I saw it somewhere one of my son's poetry books.

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  15. Thank you, for reminding me of two of my favourite poems from school and ones I remember to this day. The language is so evocative. In the school choir we sang an arrangement of "Cargoes" and we particularly enjoyed spitting out with great enunciation the final verse of "Dirty British coalstack". Great fun!

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  16. You would never guess from the longing in Sea Fever that he suffered from seasickness, then it didn't stop Nelson either. The clip of the Brighton Queen is fascinating, I don't know which is my favourite part the lick of speed or the passenger coming off.

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  17. Ha! Sent To Sea To Be Cured Of Reading......& Ends Up Poet Laureate! That Went Well, Didn't It :)

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  18. I envy those who have spent part of their lives at sea traveling the world. I've known three men who did just that. I'd like to think the sea brings a bit of a poet out in everyone. You can't be out to sea far from land and not feel the power of all of it. You really do feel insignificant when faced with a flat horizon with nothing else in sight.

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  19. On one recent trip to London we took one of new fast boats from Westminster down to the Thames barrier. So much of the heritage of the old port of London is now gone. The great sailing ships, steam liners, and small boats of Masefield's time are preserved only by his poetry in our imagination.

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  20. Another fascinating post - and an enlightening one. I had just written on someones' blog "we never had river steamers and paddle boats in this country ...." I stand corrected.

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  21. Good post! A pleasant excursion touching on the arts, industry and society.

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  22. This is a great post with the film of the old ship coming in. The paddle boats were so busy in our area with two rivers on each side of the state of Iowa in our early history. I have been to a museum in Kansas City, where they had dug up the boat and all of it's cargo from many feet of mud.

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  23. That video was a nice send off.
    As for Masefield, if it hadn't been for his life experience,
    who knows what his writing would have been like?
    He owes a debt of gratitude to his aunt,
    despite herself...
    :D~
    HUGZ

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