Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Melancholy memories.

HMCS Vancouver and USS John C StennisImage via Wikipedia

On Monday the 5th of August, early Autumn, early afternoon, even though the sun was shining brightly I was almost in a melancholy mood, so I thought I would take a stroll along Ayr promenade to see if it would lift my mood.
When I reached the beach I parked the car in a park about half way between the River Ayr, and the River Doon, and decided to walk towards The Doon first.
Although it was sunny the gentle breeze blowing in off the sea had a slight chill in it so I put on my heavy leather jacket over my shirt, and began to stride out with the sea on my right hand side, but hidden by the high grassy sand dunes.
It takes about half an hours brisk walking to reach the bridge that now spans the Doon at its mouth, a new feature built at the start of the new the millennium for pedestrians and cyclist only, adding to the extensive cycle lanes springing up around the country, another stab at giving the cyclist more freedom from cars, and giving easy access to the pedestrians to the other bank, saving them a long detour by road.
It was only when the sea came into view again that I realized how high the tide was, and then I remembered that it had been a full moon the night before,causing the tide to rise so high.
I chose not to cross today, and turned back, heading towards the River Ayr side of the beach, in the direction of the harbour where I had sailed from many a time into the unknown.
By the time I returned to where where the car was parked the sweat was beginning to build up inside my warm jacket, so I decided to leave it in the car, put on my sunglasses, and continue on my way.
Of course sod's law as soon as I was far enough away from the car the sun was dulled by a light cloud cover, diminishing the brightness, but not taking away any heat.

The sea on my left this time I strolled along, glancing across the sea to the Arran shore, the land all around the Firth of Clyde standing out clear in the pleasant Autumn afternoon, my mind wandering more as I stopped and stared at the sea that had given me so much pleasure, so much adventure and so much pain throughout my years as a fisherman.

Its strange, but sometimes when I look out over the sea I can visualize the sea bed, and all the wrecks, wartime debris, submerged rocks, mud banks and all the other hazards we had to chart in order to keep our nets from snagging, or tearing on something and ruining our fishing trip.
I knew every part of the coastline around most of Britain, all round the Islands, and had charts of the sea bed in every nook and cranny of it even out into parts of the Atlantic Ocean, where we had to venture at times.

Today I was dreaming, staring through the breeze, my eyes watering slightly, as I spied Naval Vessels on the distant horizon carrying out exercises. I had heard on the Scottish news that a fleet of Frigates, Destroyers, and an Aircraft Carrier were to be training in the Firth, a handy place for them to be as it had all the features they needed to simulate wartime action.
Variable depths especially if they had submarines working with them, and fishing boats for pretend targets, among others.

Yes fishing boats for pretend targets, it all came rushing back into my mind of the calm days that made the job so much easier when you did not need to lash everything down and you could leave boxes of fish piled high on the deck while attending to other duties, the cook could leave pots on the stove without tying them down, a steady deck beneath our feet, just a few of the things taken for granted by shore workers.

AH! Back to the Navy, ploughing up and down, pointing their large guns at the fishing boats and pretending to blow them out of the water as they passed at a distance, a small ripple of wash reaching us once the Frigate was almost out of sight.
Until they came close, charging passed unexpected at a rate of knots, churning up the sea and creating a large wash, causing us to tumble about as if we were in a gale of wind. Unattended boxes spilling over the deck, the cook in the galley cursing as his pots slid across the cooker spilling their contents over the hot rings, as they hit the metal rail around it, used to tie the utensils to in stormy weather, water falling onto the gas flames extinguishing them and leaving the stench of gas in the air until the sea settled again, and he could relight them.
All that work to be redone just because the Navy was ruining one of the few calm days we had, forcing us to take storm procedures for the rest of the day.
Its a good job we were not issued with guns or they would have been used against them, especially if the cook had got his hands on them, pretending to give them a broadside everytime they passed after that.
At least we knew we were safe enough if anything went wrong because they had a helicopter that took off every now and then searching for the submarine that was lurking somewhere, hopefully well enough away from us.
The wash from the ships was bad enough, but fishing boats had been towed under by submarines before, and we did not want to become another stastistic, even if the ships were near at hand, we still would stand no chance.

At least they didn't fire shells near us, not like the American Coastguards vessels that came to train in the North Channel of the Irish Sea when we were fishing there.
Why they had to come as far as Scotland to train I do not know but come they did, two vessels, one towing a target for the other to shoot at.
They had been in the area all day but far enough away until our working day took us ever closer.

We found ourselves near to the firing vessel as we hauled our net aboard, and could hear the "SWOOSH" as the shell flew over the boat, so once the net was aboard we watched and listened as the next lot went over "SWOOSH" "SWOOSH"........."SWOOSH" "SWOOSH" four shells high over the boat heading towards the target, but on landing were no where near it, the splashes far astern of the target vessel a witness to that.
Humm I thought its a good job we are nearer the firing vessel rather than the target vessel as we might have been blown out of the water this time, maybe that is the reason they were sent so far from home to practise.
All these memories going through my head just because I stopped and spied the Naval exercises going on. AH! Memories where would we be without them.

I strolled on nearing the harbour that was now surrounded by a new housing scheme of flats, some that were built where the fish market used to stand,others on the ground that was used by the yacht club,and where the Seamans Mission stood, all the old bars and harbour stores replaced by houses, some even alongside the slip of the old shipyard, no longer in use, only the stripped down hull of an old fishing boat,"THE WATCHFUL" standing on concrete stocks, a reminder of what used to be there.
The sad thing was, I could remember that boat in its prime, one of the top herring boats of its day, now a memorial to the glory days of Ayr's fishing history, a history that I was part of.
I thought of all the changes that had taken place here since I was a boy, of the trains that used to cross the bridge up river (that was no longer there)to fill up with the herrings straight from the large fleet that landed there right up until the seventies, although the trains had long gone by then, petering out in the fifties, but the tracks, and big cranes remained as their legacy into the sixties although never used.
A pontoon for yachts, now stretched mid channel the lenght of the river, but it was never used, because the person who thought of the idea never knew about the damage that could be done to the flimsy yacht hulls, had they lain there during gales or during a large spate caused by heavy rain that would bring massive trees hurtling down with it.
Money wasted, a good harbour ruined by the changing face of Ayr, although to be honest Troon, the harbour used by the fishing fleet now and where the new fish market replaced the old, was the safer, and a more logical haven to use, and why it hadn't been done years ago is any ones guess, but it was Ayr harbour where my memories lay.

I came out in the sun to try and lift my mood, and all I had succeeded in doing was delve into my past again, the memories were happy ones but tinged with sadness as I looked back on the scene that had replaced the setting I remembered.

Strolling back to the car, I realized I had recalled years of my life in the couple of hours it had taken to walk the length of the beach.
The waves were lapping gently on the shore, but no longer beckoning me, my adventurous days were in the past, but could be recalled, brought back to life in the stories I could tell, unlike the buildings that were demolished and replaced by the scene I had just walked through.

As I returned to the car, the sun had come out again, brightening the sky, I needed my sunglasses after all as I drove home, and my mood lifted, this time not at the thought of my past life, but the new life and friends I had found through recalling my past, my friends all over the world, from Canada, America, to The Philippines, and beyond. I was going home to the computer that took me closer to them, it was then I realized that not only had the places of my past changed, I too had changed, I too had been caught up in the modern world few can escape.

Maybe if you can find a secluded beach somewhere, build a shack out of drift wood, and find a love that would share it with you,spear some fish and cook them over an open fire, you might escape, but these places are only in dreams I fear.

Well you never know though, they say if you wish for something hard enough, your wish will be granted.

We can only but try.

Top picture ( the entrance to the old slipway with the docks on the other side just in view. The block is off one of the cranes that was used in the shipyard, one of the articles used to mark its exsistence.)

Middle picture (Arran shore on a day like the day I was describing.)

Bottom picture ( Naval exercises.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

tricia said...

I very much enjoyed this post. I used to love to walk on the beach. True it is not easy to escape the modern world although there are times I would love to, but as you pointed out there is much good about the world we live in today that is good. Wouldn't it be wonderful if wishing could make it happen-- if only. Good work Donald. Thanks for a nice mini vacation.


  1. This is probably one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read in my entire blogging life.
    There is nothing permanent in this world but change, and it’s ok if the change is for the better. Some people are afraid of change. Maybe because they are afraid to get out of their comfort zones, not realizing that they are, themselves, part of the changes they observe. As they say, if you want to hit the duck, you have to focus your target. But the duck is moving, so you have to move your gun. We can always adapt and adjust to our environment. It’s also a sign of maturity, I think.
    It’s really nice to stop and think about the past, to cherish the memories, and perhaps relive the good times. Flashbacks will always appear in front of our eyes, reminding us of what used to be. Some things or people have gone while some still remain, but all of them will be part of a memory that we could carry for the rest of our lives.
    I would love to have the escape you described here, too. Not necessarily to escape from reality, but just to relax a bit from time to time, and rest assured that there will be a haven waiting for me when I want to get some time off the “outside world”.
    You perfectly described the settings in your post again. You’re a genius in giving your readers a picture of the story you wanted to share with us. I could picture you while you strolled, and I think perhaps it’s the perfect scenario for your blog as a whole, as it shows how you arrive with your insights of nostalgia.

  2. It's good for the soul to randomly roll through the memories on occasion. Nicely told, Donald (and I especially love that first photo).

  3. Strolling along the coast is a great place to clear the mind, to remember and to gain strength. Interesting post, Donald.

  4. Once again you have transferred me from land to the open sea with your outstanding words. Your memories paint a vivid picture for all of us to see.

  5. You've helped me decide what I'd be doing tomorrow, we have a samall cottage on Lake Erie in Eden New York, (it's my daughters) I forgot how much I loved to see the sand and deep blue water and hear the waves along with all the smells. I'll be there tomorrow to just enjoy what water can do for the soul. This was just lovely.

    Dorothy from grammology