Source: Two gate lodges
It is worthwhile clicking twice to enlarge sections of the notice attached to the rocket rescue cart. You can appreciate the amount of forethought that went into the serious business of saving lives at sea. There is even a whip for the horse. Speed was essential. The apparatus shed stood in the yard beside the old Coast Guard station, where the RNLI lifeboat house now stands. The pole itself has decamped to the bandstand to become, appropriately, a memorial to all those lost at sea along this coast.
Colonel Congreve pioneered the use of rockets in the British army. Some useful lessons were learnt in the wars in India. Congreve saw the rich possibilities for using rockets to dismember people at a distance, as at Waterloo in 1815. The science has progressed to multiple rocket launchers, to guided missiles, to intercontinental ballistic missiles and rockets to the Moon.
In 1807 Captain George Manby of the Royal Artillery at Great Yarmouth developed a system of firing a mortar carrying a line to a stricken ship, using a weapon of war to save lives. A Cornish Man, Trengrouse , adapted the process by using rockets. The rocket rescue became the more common method. It must have been like divine intervention to those in peril at sea, a veritable deus ex machina. Survivors were winched ashore by breeches or sling buoy. I saw a demonstration on a fine Sunday afternoon a long time ago. There was a band playing at the bandstand. I doubt if they played “He flies through the air with the greatest of ease.” The daring young man was Des McDonagh, a rather dashing character, game for a challenge. The breeches buoy dragged through the water, a minor inconvenience when set against the enormous benefit of a life saved. I tried to imagine how it would have been in a storm, in darkness, when the waves surge over The Grey Mare Rock. Even Des might have been daunted.
You may have noticed the stump of a similar pole at The Captains, with two eyelets set into the rock to anchor the line. This would have been all bloody fine, if the rocket team could have got anywhere near the pole to receive the survivors. An easterly gale would have made this problematic. It is to the enormous credit of the rocket volunteers, that the system persisted for almost two centuries until the advent of helicopters, the ultimate deus ex machina. But these people are not gods. The recent tragedy at Blacksod reminds us that they are exceptional people who go out in all conditions, to risk their lives, without hesitation, in the service of others. It’s a far cry from a sunny Sunday afternoon and a demonstration of a quaint and antiquated rescue apparatus, but it is nonetheless a part of the same long tradition of selfless service to those in need.
Click twice on image.
Source: The Second Troy, Montevideo.
I rose on May Day to see the sunrise behind Rockabill. I miscalculated by an hour, like a bargain hunter arriving too soon for the irresistible bargains of “Our Greatest Ever Sale!!!” Fortunately nobody lives in the vicinity, to be alarmed by “a quiet sort of chap…keeps himself to himself” like any run-of-the mill serial killer. I don’t advertise my presence by smoking…”You’re never alone with a Strand” as the Frank Sinatra lookalike used to say in the ad. Maybe it was actually Old Blue Eyes. I couldn’t say. He probably died of lung cancer, like the poor old Marlboro Man, the epitome of masculinity. In fact there was a succession of Marlboro Men. They went down like flies. I don’t wear earphones to fill my head with music, like any normal person. I didn’t even have a paper cup of coffee. Fortunately I had a camera as my excuse for standing in a field in darkness. You must have an alibi. I waited for the show to begin.
It’s a much more mundane looking scene in broad daylight. Like so much of showbiz, a lot depends on the lighting. Your average vampire, conspirator, axe-murderer, ghoul or zombie, is cleverly illuminated from below, changing the “ordinary sort of chap…kept himself etc. etc.” into a hideous monster. Those bushes are just bushes by day but for the hour or so before dawn they are the strings and woodwind sections of a wonderful orchestra. They are the choir stalls, filled with linnets, sparrows, thrushes and blackbirds. A lark might clear its throat and try a few scales. The broad tympanum of the beach might echo to an early curlew, or oyster-catcher. I made not a sound. There was a faint glow to the east. A silver wire began to form on the edge of the low cloud bank. A tinge of pink leached into the mist. The lighthouse tip glowed red for an instant and faded back into the darkness. You’re never alone with a strand, a lighthouse or a field full of birds at dawn.
Long, long ago we used to listen on BBC Home Service, to Birdsong of Britain, a contest between different counties and shires. Shire always sound more romantic. Technicians with headphones and tape recorders, ornithologists with awesome knowledge of birdsong and commentators whispering reverently into microphones, brought the dawn chorus to listeners all over the world. We listened to a recorded version in the evening. There may have been tampering with the tapes in the interim. There may have been crowd violence as Oxfordshire strove with Shropshire, but to us it was an interlude of rural tranquility, brought to us by the outside broadcasting department of the BBC. It is illegal nowadays to listen to the sounds of nature, the wind and the sea, a distant bell or the lowing of cattle, the cries of children in the school playground or conversation with friends. You must have earphones, an i-pad, i-pod, i-phone, whatever, to validate your existence, as you walk, jog or even sit anywhere alone or in company. Do you remember the Walkman, a device invented to cull unwary pedestrians? The i-phone does an even better job at sensory deprivation. Quiet contemplation is the preserve of wierdoes. Loiterers up to no good. Lock them all up, I say, before they become a danger to society. They will have computers and televisions enough to straighten them out in prison. (That was a godwit, a plover, a herring gull…The maritime counties always had an advantage. There was the occasional nightingale from the southern counties, a show-stopper to send the commentators into rhapsodies.)
Anyway, the sun came up. The colour faded. The birds folded their music and went about the mundane business of the day. Rabbits emerged and cocked their ears for danger. The day became ordinary. I momentarily regretted the lack of gadgetry on my camera. With a big zoooom, I might have caught a meadow pipit or a willow warbler. There are goldcrest in those bushes, little yellow chevrons darting about in a perpetual quest. It was of course the mating, nesting, territory claiming, uninhibited singing season. There was a heron on a lonely vigil on the strand. Quiet sort of cove…keeps himself to himself. Up to no good. Be wary of fellows like that.
I had time to kill, metaphorically, in a department store. Look about you. There are always husbands loitering in department stores. They hold bags. Some become zombies. Some become potential murderers. It’s the quiet ones you have to watch. I went down to the electronics section to get a cable to rejuvenate my steam-powered computer. The old cable has corroded, possibly from the sea air. There were televisions with frighteningly high definition, lining the walls. There were computers and gadgets of every description which I hope I will never possess. There were packets of stylish earphones for every shape of ear. There was music, the sort of amorphous background sound that you don’t recognise or remember, carefully devised to lull you into a compliant state of mind.. A tall young man looked down on me both physically and metaphorically. “No we don’t stock that kind of thing. Try Maplins.” Maplins sounded like one of those post-war holiday camps where music blared from tannoy systems all day long, the height of human felicity..Rosemary Clooney, Joseph Locke, Guy Mitchell..Poor little robin, walkin’, walkin,’ walkin’ to Missouri, a sad and moving lay; Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy…They don’t write stuff of that quality nowadays. All surly young men scowling at the audience. Bah, Humbug! “Do you know where Maplins is?” I nodded and turned away, feeling rejected. I contemplated loitering near the coffee machine counter, perhaps passing myself off as Rosemary’s nephew, George. Not a runner. I could have used a cup of coffee but I didn’t want to subject myself to the racket of the cafeteria… the hissing and clattering of the espresso machine, all that hammering of spent grounds. You could imagine that the gadget had been salvaged from a nuclear submarine. All that steam. Clear the forward tubes! Stand by for a cup of coffee.
I steadied myself and opted to lurk near the bargain basement. I was too late for all the bargains but it was quieter down there. A few forlorn gleaners were disarranging the displays. Still good value in tea towels. The music changed and I heard her, pure and clear, a gentle but compelling accompaniment, a sad story, as is the case with much Country and Western music..Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. I’m beggin’ of you not to take my man. In the quiet of the bargain basement, I could hear the words. Her voice went from pathetic plea to rising panic tinged with despair. She was no match for Jolene with her green eyes and flaming auburn hair. I listened, motionless and still, like Wordsworth listening to the highland lass reaping in her field. A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard/ in springtime from the cuckoo bird/ breaking the silence of the seas/ among the farthest Hebrides. My heart went out to Dolly Parton. A song should move the listener. I could lie and say that I saw a woman stopping in her search, her eyes glistening with tears and pressing an as yet unbought tea towel to her face, but that would be corny. The music faded. I wondered how things turned out..old unhappy far off things/and battles long ago. (Quiet sort of chap,Wordsworth.)
It was time to go. Dolly once came second to a drag queen in a Dolly Parton lookalike competition. I’ll bet she got a great laugh out of that. A drag queen? Some imposter who dominates the world of speed trials in high-powered, improbable looking cars, no less! A woman who gallops across country with foxhounds, pursuing a trail left by a rider dragging an aniseed scented kipper? Mistress of Foxhounds, no less! Whatever turns you on. Far be it from me to decree how people spend their time. I wouldn’t want to be trying to hold a blonde wig in place, going from nought to a hundred miles and hour in three seconds, or when setting my hunter at a stiff Irish fence on a brisk October morning. There is a story about such a lady, one of the breed that Brendan Behan described as a Horse-Protestant, who got her groom to give her a leg-up onto her sidesaddle. “Patrick” she said, in high good humour, “Did you see my agility?” Patrick, in some confusion, removed his cap. He scratched his head. “Yerra, I did, Ma’am, but sure I won’t tell a soule” Definitely time to go.
Dolly, let me say that one who can sing as pure and true as the blackbird before dawn on a luminous May morning, has nothing to fear from Jolene or anyone else. Come with me to Holmpatrick as the darkness is lifting, to listen to the birds in the summer bushes and watch the sun come up over the islands. It is guaranteed to raise your spirits. You will be safe. I’m relatively harmless…quiet sort of chap. Forget Jolene and the drag racer and the woman chasing a kipper across the fields. They’re not worth bothering about.
It said in National Geographic, so it must be true, even compulsory, that the next stage of human evolution is in our own hands. ‘We have the technology.’ Out with the old and in with the bionics. I’m not so sure. I still prefer humans to machines. Steve Austin would hold all the Olympic records because his technicians were better than yours or mine. By running in slow-motion he passed out planes, trains and automobiles. How did that work? There was a Steve Austin Action Man with a hole in the back of his head so that you could look through his bionic eye. As an Action Man he really didn’t do much. That was left to the imagination.
He was actually a doll. A doll! Keep that to yourself. Steve lived in our house for many years until his arms lost their tension and his eye became dim. We didn’t rebuild him because his fans had grown up. We hadn’t got the technology or the super glue.
What do you do when your kids come home from school and announce that they are going to take part in the Macunity Games, the new childrens’ event that was popping up all over the country? You take them out to get new runners. They opted of course, for Steve Austin runners, blue and red with go-fast stripes. The race was in the bag. There was a parade, marshalled by Paddy McNally, from The Monument all the way to the Rugby Club. There was a banner on poles. It’s still in use. Mick Carron was on the public address. Boys under eight, sixty yards dash. Boys under eight to the starting line, please. It’s wonderful what a whistle and a high-vis jacket can achieve with a crowd of small boys. They ran in groups of ten. Our lads ran like Steve Austin, in slow-motion, looking down at their new blue and red runners with the go-fast stripes, waiting for that miracle to happen– when the other competitors begin to slow down and go backwards, when the music begins to build to a crescendo, when Steve surges forward through the miracle of bionics, past trains, automobiles etc. driven by bad guys, to claim the glittering prize. There was no miracle. I thought of taking the runners back to the shop and demanding a refund under the Trades Description or Sale of Goods Acts. Nowadays a concerned parent would sue for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and claim for at least six million dollars for emotional suffering. However, the lads were still pleased with their runners and they got Tayto crisps and lemonade, so all was not lost.
So recently, on a beautiful summer day, we went to the Community Centre park to watch our grandson take part in his first Macunity Games. The public address system played Chariots of Fire. Who would not want to run to the music of Chariots of Fire? The sun shone all day, one of those special days that makes you grateful to be there, to witness a community at play and at ease together in a great public space. The organisation was, as always, impressive. The children were a delight. They run in metres nowadays, of course. Boys under eight, sixty metres dash. Boys under eight go to the starting line, please.
I leaned on the barrier and looked around. This was Nicky Ellis’s field. He grew cabbages, sprouts and spuds, leeks and cauliflowers, carrots, turnips and parsnips, in the light, sandy soil. As we trudged every day to and from school, we watched him with horse and plough, weaving the pattern of the seasons. The field flooded in wintertime. I saw rowing boats there. The windmill was a ruin with two bedraggled sails. John Boland, Michael Lynch, Jim Quigley and Johnny Murray envisaged what it could become. I thought of a few old friends who had started these games when our children dreamed of Olympic fame and Tayto crisps: Tom Derham, Vincent Woodlock, Jack Murphy, Maurice Mullins, Kevin Carmichael, David Moloney and of course Leonard McGloughlin who launched the aquatic version of the same games. There were hundreds too numerous to mention by name, who gave their time and energy and still do, to encourage children to realise their potential and give us all a day out in the sunshine. There were no video games in evidence anywhere. Yes, I still prefer humans.
Did we win? We have a few Macunity Games medals in dusty drawers. Who won them? I don’t remember. I wouldn’t want to start an argument or a law suit. Steve is no longer with us. He just went to pieces from the stress about forty years ago. Evil Knievel is still around somewhere, speaking of go-fast stripes. Did we win on that fine summer day? Yes we did. There were lollipops and ice cream. Everyone in Nicky Ellis’s field, was a winner.