My Uncle Peter was a sea-bird. He emigrated to the fjord city of Bergen in Norway to work for International Paints, and spent his working life travelling the world via its great ports, inspecting and consulting on ship’s hulls. Peter learned to sail off the South Coast where he grew up, and aged 19 lost a friend overboard in the misty swells of the English Channel. But he went back to the water.
When he had dementia in latter years he kept on repeating the name “Saskia”, which we eventually realised was not a mystery ladyfriend so much as his prized six-berth sailing boat. I recall one very magical summer with my Uncle who – sterner than usual – turned my family into a crew (no sea legs between us) to sail the fjords and anchor in the sheltered nook of one where we listened to the slap-slap against the hull, the water lulling us to sleep.
I found his World War Two naval journal when clearing his stuff after he died. The journal – issued by the Royal Navy to be kept by a Midshipman during his wartime tour of duty – begins by detailing exactly how to keep a log. We were starting to think about Beadnell, what we’d like to do here, and the journal’s preface seemed a fitting and straightforward approach to our creative interaction with the natural world. Substitute “Artist” for “Midshipman” and give, take or substitute a few words:
The following remarks indicate the main lines to be followed in keeping a Journal:
(i.) The objects of keeping the Journal are to train the Midshipmen in:
(a) the power of observation.
(b) the power of expression.
(c) the habit of orderliness
(ii.) Midshipmen are to record in their own language their observations about all matters of interest and importance in the work that is carried out, on their stations, in the fleet, or in their ship.
(iii.) They may insert descriptions of places visited and of the people with whom they come into contact, and of harbours, anchorages and fortifications.
(iv.) They may write notes on fuelling facilities, landing places, abnormal weather, prevailing winds and currents…
… (vi.) The letterpress should be illustrated with plans and sketches pasted into the pages of the Journal…
To illustrate the elegantly handwritten entries, Peter’s log includes carefully observed pencil drawings, impressionistic yet accurate, views of the ports at Orkney and Suez. In addition are a number of technical diagrams of ship fuelling methods: the SwiftSure was a fuelling vessel and part of a flotilla off Japan which – coincidentally we discovered – fuelled the King George V, which Lisa’s Uncle Doug served on.
In the spirit of my lovely Uncle’s technical drawings, I include a bird map of our own avian “port” here in Beadnell – of Beadnell Bay and the Long Nanny Estuary – to highlight the diversity of bird-life we’ve encountered during this Spring tour of duty.