Friday, 25 March 2016

Majestic #1

Chapter 1

RMS Majestic arrived in the Solent on the 10th April 1922, exactly ten years to the day since Titanic made the same cumbersome journey into the welcoming arms of Southampton water.  And as his uncle Will had also done exactly ten years before, Kit Burgess left 'The Grapes' public house at precisely ten minutes to twelve and jogged quickly down Oxford Street to the docks, cutting it fine in his desperation for one final drink before two weeks of temperance.

There was excitement in the air, and the palpable pride of a city that had made its name on the back of what was essentially an environmental fluke.  A twice-daily high tide allowed for a greater flow of shipping traffic, this single factor beating anything that Liverpool could offer.  Southampton, as a result, was a place of honour and satisfaction.  Titanic, Kit's Uncle Will and his fellow lost crew-members (a good five hundred of them) were rarely mentioned; in part due to one of many maritime superstitions, but also grounded in an irrepressible spirit of hope that now seemed to centre around this new ship, the largest in the world.

At the docks the air was a heavy mix of metal and soot, with a faint overlay of salt.  Kit strode up the gangplank, suddenly anxious to report for duty, knowing that he could miss his chance for employment even at this stage, as many often did.  His distraction was such that he missed the chance for his usual quick prayer, typically made with one foot on land and one on sea.  The Chief Steward checked his kit bag and some pleasantries were exchanged; they were old mates, serving many voyages together on Oceanic. Kit took a quick glance at his passenger list, to see if he recognised any names.  Regular voyagers were known to ask for their favourite stewards. but this time they were new to him.  Being a lover of conversation, his main hope was for distraction and intrigue; along with generosity, which went without saying.

The ship was immense, as he knew it would be, although the scale was hard to judge from the inside. The narrow passageways below deck ran fore and aft like a floating rabbit warren, and he followed the Chief Steward through the corridors, knowing that he would get his bearings soon.  His quarters were the fondly-named 'glory hole'; a dormitory which ran alongside steerage and directly above the boiler rooms.  It was hot and airless but homely enough, and of course he was amongst friends; twenty other 'Southampton boys', comrades and colleagues and the very pick of stewards, famed and selected not only for their dedication and professionalism but their jovial nature and constant good humour.  His companions Viv and Tom were also his fellow band-members; on this ship they would have their very first chance to play as 'Scamps', an eight-piece outfit which was Kit's absolute pride and joy.  Viv, the drummer, had a habit of upturning any items in his vicinity and tapping out tunes, which would make the glory hole a place of joyful music and song, or a place of utter irritation, depending on how you looked at it.  Kit smiled as he thought of the reactions of his bed-fellows when they would practice their songs late into the night.  With any luck they'd all get on and he'd have them all singing along by the time they reached New York.

There was an hour before muster, and Kit chose to spend it up on deck. He looked out over Southampton water to his home in Northam, waving from time to time at the growing crowds, locals waiting to see the ship set sail, or passengers outside the terminal, waiting to board.  This time was precious; the calm before the inevitable storm of moving luggage, attending to fractious and nervous passengers and fetching impossibly necessary items.  He lit a cigarette and leaned on the rail, feeling the ebb of the last beer working its way through his system along with the freedom of the last fortnight.

Immediately below him in the crowd was a small group; a family, he guessed.  Husband and wife with two young children, and sitting slightly apart, a taller woman (the wife's sister?), resting her feet on a trunk.  There was something about her that was out of place, and Kit felt unsettled for a moment, unable to put his finger on what made her stand out.  He felt the kind of recognition he sensed when he served a famous passenger; a familiarity that you couldn't put your finger on at first. Although he couldn't make out her face there was something in the way she dressed and held herself that spoke of individuality and a refusal to conform. But most of all the feeling instilled in him was a mix of excitement and overwhelming sense of possibility.

At that moment the muster alarm sounded; Kit turned away, and moved back inside the ship.

Monday, 7 March 2016

On writing

Words hewn from the rocks of Purbeck
Thoughts mined
Panned from the silt, or
puzzled out
Joined end to end and piece by piece
Appearing in epiphany
Making sudden and absolute sense
Like the crossword returned to
And viewed through a different lens.

Or sometimes, gouged from a deeper place
Percolating like coffee
Stronger and sharper by the hour
Dormant for months
And woken in a flurry
Settling quickly on the white of the page
Or carved from ice, lost when I melt.