6. Retrospective

It is still the early days of my adventure, but things are beginning to settle down a bit. The next entry contains what could be seen as a blog within a blog, or a journal within a journal where I start to list out events from my younger life, in particular my school days.

To assist a little, I will annotate in bracketed italics, where appropriate, the bits that need interpretation…there is a lot of schoolboy jargon).

Monday 21 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Today I feel much better. I got on with my work last night and did two samples. I was on the verge of wimping out because I felt so terrible, but am glad that I hung on in there.

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I tried writing lyrics for a song last night – corny or what? – but the title is good:

‘Living in sin without you’

The sea has died down a little and I have become a bit more used to it. I hope I am over the worst. I still can’t get hold of this sleeping until 2 or 3 pm each day (although I would find it easy at home)

‘In Patagonia’ is a most enjoyable book. I would love to write the same way as Bruce Chatwin.

I found out last night that there are 21 crew on the Koei Maru 30 – hence my hard hat being number 22.

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I am in inspired mood. I want to write about my schooldays. I should do it now when I can still remember things and people clearly. Why ever not? Just because I’m only 24 it doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce.

Started at Highfield  (my preschool). Red dough. Wendy House. Adrian W.

Highgate Primary (my primary school).

A large hall with cheap paintings and a glass roof in the middle. Prayers and assembly, lunch and play. School plays.

A playground, climbing frame, wasp stamping, kiss chase, water fountains. A bloody nose, a wall over to the junior school, hurling abuse and insults. Playground toilets, a boy with a big head and orange pee, a boy whose trousers were pulled down in the playground.

Teachers – Mrs Burke (Head), Miss Price ‘can you hear a pin drop?’, Miss Cavanah?, Mrs Leigh. Miss Gillian? who was kind and had ‘magic cream’ for grazes.

Friends – Philip Smith, bangers and mash and Newcastle, skinhead. Steve Davies, Judith Warren, Louise, Basite, Judith?, Vivienne, Toby, Ulrick and the sandpit incident that led to a smack from Mrs Burke.

Looked after frequently by Mrs Knight – fish fingers and blancmange. In the hall were gauntlets, riding helmet and goggles.

Sports day, Toby cheating in the sack race.

On to Highgate. Pete, Richard, Julia, Leanna, Karen. Fizzy gang, Sekeden guns, crushing green conkers at Richard’s (making poison). Watching TV, Lost in Space, Ali Bongo, Asterix books, Smash-ups (ramming Lego cars towards each other until they broke), Snow. Move house to Woodberry Crescent.

Highgate School – Ingleholm (the junior school), like a limpet with mum, tears etc. Assembly with huge hymn sheets on the wall. Alec Taylor, science and plays. Miss Jarvis, hated me and vice versa. Mrs Povey, nature, released a toad I found which broke my heart. Miss Wilmott, recorder lessons, crush, ancient history, chocolates when I was late once. Miss Jones, Miss Brown.

Tuesday afternoons was a switch between drama, art and woodwork – ace. Saturday mornings – school ugh! Uniform grey flannels.

Phrases – Bungleholm (corruption of Ingleholm), bish-bungle (said when making a mistake), skills, skillos (said while holding your lapels to announce that you had done something good, or won something), the ‘pen’ and ‘pen football’ (the ‘pen’ was a fenced off area a little bigger than a tennis court, where all the junior boys were herded for breaks. The football was usually about 25-a-side, and usually Arsenal v Spurs)

Classmates – Adam W, Justin B, Matthew P, Paul D, John B.

Houses were Drake, Shakespeare and Raleigh. Athletics day only one medal ever in the 4x100m relay, thanks to Andrew G. Mr Trewellah, gym and swimming. Cricket with Mr Taylor on Tatham field, also rounders.

Indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. ‘Cap, Mac and outdoor shoes’ (when it was raining). Fight with Jerry M. Falling out of the car after a piano lesson. Violin lessons with a horrible teacher. Rainstorm when the basement was flooded.

School skiing holidays – Gurtis, Cauterets, Leysin, Leysin – David D getting knocked out in a pillow fight.

A week off school for filming in the South of France for an AA commercial – brilliant time. (How I would love to get my hands on a copy of the commercial, but I expect it has been destroyed by now.)

Tuesday 22 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

The sea is once again calm and the sun is blazing – I have just seen the Dornier fly past. I saw it circle over to some other jiggers and willed it to come over so I could wave, but in the efficiency of FISHOPS, it has a pre-arranged course which it sticks to. No time to wave at lonely observers. The job is becoming less and less painful – the first week was the worst. I have now got into a routine and am much happier. But oh God I miss home.

I have tried to compose properly my first song, but am having great difficulty being original – I am sure this is a problem for many musicians/songwriters, although it would be arrogant and false to put myself amongst such people.

I fear, although I can’t believe it, that I might be getting a mild cold or an allergy or something.

Five steaks in one day! What can I say, except yummie, and there is still one more meal to go. I find the mix of fish and meat very difficult to cope with, but am getting used to it.

Wednesday 23 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Have seen nor heard anything of the military exercise. Not surprising out here at sea. I wish I could write like Bruce Chatwin. Perhaps one day I will.

When I woke up I forced myself upon a tin of COOP sago (creamed) cold. It was actually not too bad, and will keep hunger away for a while. Today I will ask Nananuma for some butter.

Oh for some M&S chipsticks. A craving is a terrible thing, it eats away at one’s will and cripples your every thought. Who shall I write to today? Gavin and Matt, Pat, Roy and Gordon.

Thursday 24 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Instead I wrote to Gavin and Matt and Martin Stephenson (a musician that I loved, and still love, from my days at Newcastle University. Still gigging), basically to see if he is as good a bloke as I think he is. I feel he won’t be able to resist replying to a letter from the Falklands – that is if he gets it.

Last night a second jigger moored up behind us because by 12:30 am we were full of squid and they weren’t. I took some pictures. Apparently it is fairly common practice. I don’t think I am going to find out anything new this voyage.

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Called Port Stanley on the Radio but had to go via KSJ and wait for John Barton to get to the KSJ office. It was nice to have a long chat in English. I was able to express myself without having to resort to ‘simple’ English or without having to write.

I have finished ‘In Patagonia’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now on to ‘David Copperfield’. I am challenging myself to finish it before the end of this voyage – could be tough. Six days for ‘In Patagonia’.

I must write some more letters. I may run out of envelopes. I hope not.

5. Harsh reality

In these next few entries I begin to discover just how tough things can be. Although I was not alone on the Koei Maru 30, I was lonely. I found the physical constraints of being caged within my cabin and on board a small ship difficult to adapt to. Looking back I am not at all surprised about how I felt, after all the longest trip on a boat I had ever had was an overnight ferry to France. But at the time I was bewildered and uncertain…

Friday 18 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

I am feeling depressed. I could be anywhere in the world. I could be happy now, instead I am stuck in my 8ft by 8ft cabin, reading or sleeping or daydreaming. I have spent only one and a half weeks away from home and am seriously doubting my spirit to cope with this job. Perhaps I ought to do a countdown of days in the back of this diary – it is as good as done!

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I think I shall now have a shower.

I so desperately want to write something profound and interesting, but it is difficult. To try and describe the crew, their faces and characters or to describe my mental state (and physical) – how I feel imprisoned…but it all sounds so bloody pompous. I should stick to straight observations.

I slept for four hours this morning. It is rather queer, but I seem to be sleeping twice a day (24 hour period) so I am getting two days for the price of one. Lucky me.

Fishing last night was very good indeed. There will probably be over 50,000kg – that is a lot of squid. The jigs were stopped before 5am so I was able to take lots of photographs. It was not easy with the jigger lights.

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I have just tried unsuccessfully to call FISHOPS (which the radio operator kept calling SHIPOPS) (FISHOPS was the radio call sign for fisheries operations, my base and link to my world in Port Stanley) but only got a message as far as John on the patrol ship.

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It is another blistering day, or at least the sun is blasting through my porthole, if you’ll pardon the expression.

I have got over my initial sadness of the death of all these squid and now have become clinical about it. All I really want to do is get my job done as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

The crew appear to invest their earnings in a spectacular array of gold teeth the likes of which I have never come across, and most smoke like chimneys.

I have now established the mealtime regime:

Breakfast at 2400 hrs

Lunch at 0600 hrs

Supper at 1200 hrs

Somehow this isn’t right!!! Sleep from 1200 to 1800. Eat at 1900. Work until 2400 etc etc etc.

It is not at all like this (26/4/88)

Saturday 19 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Finished my first book – ‘Dr Slaughter’ by Paul Theroux. Hardly the best book to be reading when 8,000 miles away from London.

I have also finished my work for this shift and am going to try and get myself into some kind of sleep regime and am also going to undergo a positive fitness and occupation regime too – otherwise I am in danger of becoming a vegetable.

My beard is now as long as it has been since my return from Egypt, but it still only looks like heavy growth – it is itchy.

If I go to sleep at 4am or so, I can sleep until 11 or 12 and then eat. I should then be able to catch an early jig and then a late jig each day and get a lot of daylight too!

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It seems to work. I slept, ate and then slept some more and am now (at 1600) ready to sample and stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning.

This morning-afternoon I took some photos of the albatross, if that is what they are, but they are not easy subjects and the setting is incredibly monotonous. I wrote again to Deb and also to R&C last night and to Andy T today.

Sunday 20 March 1988. Koei Maru 30 

I wonder if Arsenal won yesterday. I suppose it is all academic now that they are out of the FA Cup.

I am existing in a state of torpor – too much sleep. If this continues for ten months I am going to go completely bonkers. I already feel that I am beginning to go a little mad. I am having the most weird daydreams, very vivid and strange. I expect I will change a lot over the next few weeks and people at home will notice this.

Last night it was almost impossible to sleep and I have a stiff neck. At about 4am the swell really picked up. It has dropped a little now, but must have been at least 15ft.

Breakfast was disgusting. I am sick of this cold, oily food. God I could do with some nice cheese on toast! Or a bacon roll, or pasta or salami. I miss these things as much as my friends.

Let’s face it guys, I feel terrible. I don’t feel like being sick, but boy have I got a bad headache.

4. Koei Maru 30

Another snippet of time to upload a few more diary entries from my 1988 adventure in the Falklands. It really is quite a moving experience for me to read through and reproduce this journal, especially digging out my photographs and digitising my slides. Much of what happened in this special year has been in my head, but I am surprised by how much I had forgotten. 

This time I get to sea at last, but it is not the easiest of transitions…

Tuesday 15 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

At last I am on board my first jigger, the Koei Maru 30 (a Japanese ship that I will have to become familiar with, since it will be my home for the next few months). I arrived on the boat yesterday with John Barton (who then returned to Port Stanley) and have settled in fairly well.

I slept very badly, but at least I slept. I hope to spend most of my day sleeping so that I can adapt to working nights. We were due to leave Berkeley Sound last night, but instead won’t leave until tonight…transhipping is taking much longer than expected.

I know I shall be lonely here – there are only a couple of people on board who speak English, and they seem reluctant to talk to me. I am already bored – I will have to get into some good books. I also know that once we get out to sea I shall start getting seasick – it is my destiny.

Isn’t it bloody typical, I have to keep a record, just like everyone else, except my log is going to be published as part of my role on a jigger/long-liner. I hate that kind of responsibility…I only hope I am up to it.

Wednesday 16 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

My whole life is being turned upside down. Night is to become my day and day is to become my night. All this to get accustomed to inside a box (my cabin), which behaves like a lift passing rapidly between the ground and first floor of a hotel or department store. Although I haven’t yet been physically sick, and there is still time for that, I have been tired and queasy.

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Squid jigging began very early this morning (at 1am) and I took a sample at 2am which I finished at 4am. I slept until 3pm or so this afternoon, but am still tired.

The task in hand is most unpleasant and the better and faster I get at it, the happier I will be. I cannot truthfully say I am enjoying any of this, or not yet at least. When I listen to my tapes, I just get homesick and depressed.

The food has been ok but is all very samey and I am getting sick of it. Oh for a bottle of cool milk.

Nobody told me that squid make squeaks. It makes the job much harder – I don’t like it – it isn’t fair catching so many like this, just the same way purse-seining is ruthless. The poor bastards don’t have a chance. All to end up as someone’s lunch. Let’s go veggie!

(I ought to point out at this juncture that the previous paragraph was something quite out of character for me. I was a confirmed carnivore, and spurned vegetables at every opportunity and was an incredibly fussy eater. Being exposed to a Japanese cuisine was something of a challenge for me)

The crew are beginning to acknowledge me but their English is so limited, like my Japanese.

Thursday 17 March. Koei Maru 30

No change of address yet, sorry. This morning is now tonight and I am just about to shower and go to bed, it is 7.30am. Many people will be able to identify with this problem, nurses, doctors, night-shift workers of any kind. It is an unkind way of living – artificial daylight – it makes me feel so seedy, or like I am spending my life in a Safeway supermarket – at the fish counter!

I am over the worst of my queasy feelings and am able to attack the beer in my fridge. I don’t know whether I mentioned it or not, but I was given a case of beer and a bottle of Japanese whiskey on arrival by the fishing master. He is the most gentlemanly of the whole crew, and the senior officer. The captain looks and behaves like a wild man. These men are not the well-groomed, tidy, automaton-like, businessmen I always associate with Japan. far from it…they are rough, tough, informal, friendly fishermen, as fishermen the world over tend to be. There is little that is typically Japanese about this lot, except the shoe ceremony, which I shall describe at some other date.

I will complete today’s entry in about 8-9 hours or so, which for me will be tomorrow. Incidentally, my dreams last night (night/day) were all about flying or acrobatics. (the effect of the rise and fall of the boat?). I could fly. It was great!

Breakfast was divine. Yucky eggs, cucumber and lettuce, but also yummy steaks mmmmm, it was good. I did my sampling early to get the first one out of the way and also to avoid the crew (I didn’t want to be in their way). As it turned out I did get in their way.

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