CALLED BY THE SEA: The runaway wee Robinson

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CALLED BY THE SEA: The runaway wee Robinson

When I was a wee boy, maybe about seven, I ran away from home.

Actually that's not quite correct: I didn't run away, I ran to.

I ran away to sea.

It was inevitable really.

My dad had been in the British Merchant Navy in the Second World War (a chief radio operator, he could tap our Morse Code with a knife at the breakfast table) and the sea had always been in his blood.

Above the fireplace in our home was a huge print of an oil painting of the roiling ocean, we had the polished brass engine plate of the Rangitiki (rescued from the wreckers when it was torn apart in the north of Spain), charts of the Rangitiki's voyage from the UK to New Zealand through the Panama Canal which we'd been on (and the return journey) and other such things.*

dad_1On Sunday mornings after the childrens' request session (Maxi the Taxi, Diana and the Golden Apples, Max Bygraves' I'm a Blue Toothbrush, The Laughing Policeman and so on) ended and Lloyd Thorne's Brass Band Parade started I'd climb into dad's bed and snuggle down against him. And in his half-awake state he would tell me a story.

It was always the same story.

It was of a wee boy called Robinson who ran away to sea.

Most often Robinson didn't get too far, down to the docks where the ropes hung in the rigging, but around then Dad or I would be drifting off. Mum in the next bed would get up and there would be tea and toast and . . .

Robinson would alwys be down at the wharf ready for his adventure which never happened.

That's how mine turned out too.

IMGP5314One day I took a large hankie and put my few traveling possessions in it (I can't remember what, maybe plastic toy soldiers which came with Weetbix?) and knotted it together just as Dick Whittington did in my picture book.

Then I set off with another wee boy – whose name and image I can't recall – and we headed off to the wharf.

I guess we took the bus from down on Mt Eden Road – probably only 3d or 4d (thu'pence of fourpence, less that 5 cents) – and went to the harbourside.

I don't remember much in detail but we certainly got on board a fishing boat because I recall the smell of the salty ropes and engine oil.

A couple of fisherman gave us cups of tea in a mugs and talked with us.

bakeryThe next part is missing from the memory but they must have put us in a taxi (expensive) or had someone take us, because we were dropped off in Mt Eden Village.

I'm assuming they managed to glean from us we lived in the area and that someone would be looking for us.

What my dad remembers of the incident was walking through the Village and looking in the Home Cookery and seeing the two of us in there eating cakes the owners had given us.

I can't remember what happened after that – there would have been no smacks or a telling off, my mum and dad would have just been so happy to see me again – but I never go past the Mt Eden bakery (which is still a bakery today, the same wooden slat interior) without thinking about all of that.

It would be years and years before the story of Robinson came into a clearer focus.

.

trow1* When my dad died in 1986 I had Tom Waits' Shiver Me Timbers played at the funeral.

It was on a poor cassette and no one aside from me heard it I think.

But it meant a lot to me.

I get teary when I hear it even now.

It's a farewell song and maybe it might get played at my funeral before my ashes join my mum and dad's in the vastness of the sea.

Shiver Me Timbers, Tom Waits from the album Heart of Saturday Night, 1974

I'm leavin' my family
And leavin' my friends
My body's at home
But my heart's in the wind
Where the clouds are like headlines
On a new front page sky
My tears are salt water
And the moon's full and high

IMGP5148And I know Martin Eden's
Gonna be proud of me
And many before me
Who've been called by the sea
To be up in the crow's nest
And singin' my say
Shiver me Timbers
I'm a-sailin' away

trow2The fog's liftin'
And the sand's shiftin'
And I'm driftin' on out
And Ol' Captain Ahab
Ain't got nothin' on me
So come on and swallow me, don't follow me
I travel alone
Blue water's my daughter
And I'm gonna skippin' like a stone

And please call my missus
Tell her not to cry
My goodbye is written
By the moon in the sky
And nobody knows me
I can't fathom my stayin'
And shiver me timbers
I'm a-sailin' away

And the fog's liftin'
And the sand's shiftin'
And I'm driftin' on out
Ol' Captain Ahab
He ain't got nothin' on me
So come on and swallow me, don't follow me
I travel alone
Blue water's my daughter
And I'm skippin' like a stone

And I'm leavin' my family
And I'm leavin' my friends
My body's at home
But my heart's in the wind
Where the clouds are like headlines
On a new front page sky
And shiver me timbers
I'm a-sailin' away

.

These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

Enjoy these random oddities at Personal Elsewhere.

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Con Fowler - Jun 25, 2023

He has another beautiful song for a funeral. " Take it With Me", from Mule Variations. I played it at my wife's funeral. I still choke up everytime I hear it, but in a good way, because I remember her. The power of music.

Mike P - Jun 27, 2023

Nice story and a great track by Tom Waits. I too am ex Merchant navy. Joined when I was twenty years old as a Junior Engineer. Up until that time, I had never been out of England. Then my fist trip deep sea, I joined in San Francisco. After loading, we sailed and first port was Papeete in Tahiti. A young Yorkshire lad alive and well and getting to see the world. I eventually wound up as Chief Engineer and then finally washed ashore in New Zealand. A great way of life that returned so may things for me.

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