Here is a long winded anecdote, no doubt embellished in the re-telling, which you can stash away in your own postprandial story-store. And feel free, if you tell it yourself, to further embellish it. I thought about recording an audio version, but can’t bring myself to wreak havoc with the accents as presented here.
And nothing like knowing a stretch of water so well that you haven’t needed to consult a chart in 40 years.
We exchanged stories about Squeaky, and it transpired that I knew one that he had never heard. It dated from the war years; Squeaky had been sailing northwards from Barra in a thick white mist, and there was among his passengers a certain admiral, spending his leave in the Hebrides. Peering from the boat-deck into the enveloping white screen, the admiral thought the ship on a course to lead her into a minefield, and as the minutes passed and the Lochmor churned on unheedingly he grew more and more apprehensive. At length his alarm became so acute that he decided to beard the captain on the bridge. The two had never met, and Squeaky was quite unaware that he was carrying a high-ranking naval officer. Gazing glassily ahead with his remarkably protuberant blue eyes, and dreaming perhaps of happy deals in coupon-free Harris tweed at the northern extremity of his run, he was suddenly outraged to observe standing at his elbow a stocky little man in a raincoat and a Homburg hat. Squeaky was an habitually irascible man, and he exploded.
‘Ket off my plutty pridge, you pugger!’ he shouted in a voice like that of an angry wren.
The admiral remembered that he was in civilian clothes, apologized, and introduced himself. Squeaky, though by nature no respecter of persons, was impressed.
‘An Atmiral, is it? And what could I be toing for you, Atmiral?’
‘Well – Captain Robertson – I wondered whether you would be kind enough to give me our position.’
‘Position? Ach, well, we’re chust here or hereabouts.’
‘No, no, Captain, I meant our position on the chart.’
‘Is it a chart?’ shrilled Squeaky. ‘I haven’t seen a chart for forty years!’
The admiral was insistent. ‘Ach, well, Atmiral, if you’re so keen to be seeing a chart, come down to my capin and have a wee tram, and we’ll see what we can find you.’
The two went below to the captain’s cabin, and after the ‘wee dram’ Squeaky began to rout about in his chart drawer. There were charts of the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, charts of Polar seas and the Caribbean, of the English Channel and the Skagerrak; at last, seemingly at the very bottom of the drawer, he discovered a chart of the Minch. He spread this on the table, adjusted his spectacles, and at length planted a stubby forefinger a few miles north of Eriskay.
‘Well, Atmiral, it’s hereabouts we are, and this is our course northwards.’
The admiral stared ominously at a sprinkling of black dots right in the ship’s path. ‘What,’ he asked bleakly, ‘are these?’
Squeaky peered. ‘Those plack dots? Well, if they’re rocks we’re puggered for sure, but if they’re what I think they are, which is fly-shit, we’re right as rain!’
Source: Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water (London: Penguin, 1974), pp. 159-60
Photo credit: Virginii at pixabay