From First Trip.

A Novel.


  San Fernando repair jetty for a day, the time charter already lost. The skipper paid off with a broken foot - though some reckoned he was sacked - and the mate had not been given his job. A new master had been flown there to await them.

   Knoxy the 'Grub Gargoyle,' as Macgrath was soon to call him, had also been flown the short hop from Venezuela to Trinidad; but came back as A.B. not Bosun, Bombay retained that role.

   The new skipper had a grey countenance affected a cummerbund and campaign ribbons and had ulcers according to the second cook.

   Knoxy, perhaps in an attempt to temper the obvious resentment at his porcine presence in the mess room, insisted that he knew the orders and the ship would be loading next day for the U.K.  And that was a cheering thought to take ashore.

   After the battering of the hurricane, which the local press confirmed had been the worst in living memory, it was a relief to leave the rust streaked, salt smeared bulk of the tanker slumped against the greasy brown slab of the long jetty and stroll away from the stench of an oil port into the warm green smell of the island town.

   'Hardly a gem of the Caribbean for architecture,' Macgrath remarked with his habitual grin as they approached the dust splashed buildings and advert festooned bars of the straggling street.

    They had only progressed a matter of yards when a large American car, the Detroit idea of status of a decade before and now covered in outlandish yellow and blues in what appeared to be emulsion paint, jerked to a complaining halt in front of them.

   'How about getting yourselves some hot women men?' A slim negro addressed them with a golden grin from his wound down window. 'I got some samples right here!' He pointed to the rear seat where a couple of heavily made up coloured girls gazed dopily back at them.

   'Piss off pimp!' Lemon Eye expressed the resentment of the group at being so accosted in cold blood and this so early in the exploration.

   The flashy black, spat in disgust and drove off in a shower of grit and dust.

   'The cheek of that ponce. Did you see him? All teeth, ribs and prick, like a gipsy's lurcher.' Bankbook coughed in outrage and delight.

   Before the buildings proper, they came to a ramshackle stall displaying green coconuts and sitting alongside it was a mama of gigantic proportions. Huge breasts slobbed over a beer barrel gut and all shrouded in a dress of bright, light green as the coconuts. A pair of knees like black pumpkins and legs fit to buttress an ebony cathedral protruded powerfully from the verdant tent. She had a turban of an amazing orange hue binding her surprisingly small and shapely head supported by a muscular but elegant neck.

   'You boys look thirsty and all worked up. How about a nice drink of coconut juice to settle you in for the night's drinking? Won't cost you more than a couple of cents.'

   The men paused. Macgrath nodded and the big negress whisked the tops off a couple of the heavy green gourds with a deft series of blows with a juice blackened machette and tossed the prepared nuts to the sailors. Macgrath handed her a dollar and signalled he wanted no change from the battered tin box she produced from her skirts. She threw back her box and laughed heartily so her breasts bounced on that belly and teeth and eyes flashed with merriment as the sailors took swigs of the cool, sweet juice. Suddenly she flashed out a hand on to Lemon Eye's thigh and began kneading it knowingly.

   'You are a big boy! Why don't you stay here safe with your big mama instead of getting drunk with those dirty, no good girls in the bars and maybe catching yourself a lot of trouble?'

    Lemon Eye nearly choked on his gulp of juice as the others all laughed.

   'No thanks ma. I don't think I could stoke that boiler!' He spluttered hooking a huge thumb towards the great green billow of her belly.

   'You would be surprised at the fire under my boiler man!' She stood as they left wriggling her backside and slapping slender, fine boned hands against her howitzer thighs.

   The tinny sound of a juke box could be heard coming from the garish cluster of bars ahead.

   'This looks a cheap place to get a head of steam up,' Bankbook remarked pointing to the first dingy establishment, which was open on three sides with an inviting gleam of bottles in the shadowy bar at the back. Several negroes sat at the rickety tables laughing, smoking and drinking rum. Just then a pair of very beautiful black girls undulated by arm in arm with a couple of gangling American sailors from the ore ships with the aluminium painted hulls and superstructure, which made them as prominent as a 'silver dollar in a nigger's arse,' to quote Ivor.

"me no savee British sailor,

Yankee sailor pay me more."


   Bankbook  sang after the passing couples as the half dozen deck hands sat down at a table and ordered rum and coke.

   'Go easy on the rum and heavy on the coke,' Macgrath advised the boy quietly with a serious look, under the banter that Lemon Eye was the centre of, for refusing the challenge of the pot bellied mama.

   'And go easy on your sub as well. We might be here longer than expected. Might have to fly down parts for her.' Selwyn, bat eared as usual and already starting to show the effects of the potent light rum in the shine of his eyes.

   'Well the booze is cheap enough anyway.' Bankbook coughed contentedly as he refilled his glass.

   Darkness fell quickly on the dusty street. The glare of the neon and the blare of the music from nearby bars pulsed through the air making the silhouettes of the friends in the scruffy verandah room more intimate in the purpling bronze of the dusk.

   Another beautiful black vision went willowing by on the proprietary American arm.

"Yankee sailor call me sugar,

British sailor call me dirty whore."


  Crooned Bankbook and as they laughed, already drunkenly, a long black arm snaked out of the darkness; seized the table centre piece - a newly opened bottle of rum - and disappeared into the gloom.

   Lemon Eye jumped up upsetting the table and the rest of the drinks that were not hastily snatched away. Macgrath made for the bar to buy some more. He always seemed to have money and be prepared to spend it freely without the boasting and display of Jazza, observed the boy. But Lemon Eye was thirsting for revenge, not a refill and set off with a roar after the big negro caught sight of loping away in the next bar's light carrying their rum. The rest of the sailors hesitated in the doorway awed by the height, width of shoulder and lithe gait of the disappearing thief. Not so Lemon Eye, drunk enough already not to observe discretion, he continued after the giant negro head down with threats and curses. The man stopped and glanced back with a roll of the whites of his eyes; then threw a quick looping punch into the head of the oncoming sailor. A blow that sent him staggering back to collapse in a heap, his bellowing silenced by the one perfectly timed thump!

    The big negro flashed a quick grin; made a triumphant gesture with the rum bottle; turned and loped off as the hands swarmed to the stricken Lemon Eye.

   Macgrath quickly into the vanguard assisted the fallen one to his feet and back to the table where a piece of ice in a bar cloth was applied to a rapidly swelling eye and a fresh glass of rum coke and ice to his still dazed mouth to console him.

   Under the shepherding of Macgrath they took another table nearer the bar and out of reach of arms from the surrounding darkness.

   Most of the other men, dock yard workers and stevedores had gone; only one young negro remained at the table. They sat eyeing him with suspicion.

   'Say, I saw what happened there. I hope you guys will take a drink with me?'

   They relaxed reassured by the American accent.

   He explained that he was a crew member of the "Alcoa Clipper", an ore boat, and how he would much prefer to drink with the British than the crew of his own ship.


   Macgrath had disappeared; so the young American took charge of the expedition on into the town as the sailors warmed to his directness and generosity.

     'He can't be a pimp or out to roll us, look at the drinks he's buying, mun,' Selwyn confided to the boy as they swayed arm in arm into one of the succession of bars. 'But he knows his way around all right. I think he'll fix us up okay. In that right Arthur? You know where the best tarts are?'

   'A-okay. I know the best pieces of arse on this island man. You'll do just great on my say so.'

   'Piece of arse? Women we want boy, not queers.' Selwyn needed the point clarified.

   'Don't call me boy!' The young negro bridled for the first time in their acquaintance. 'Women, not dressed up fags.'

   'Oh ..... sorry boyo. Fags? we got plenty of cigarettes mun.'

   'Take no notice of his ignorance son. I'll explain to him, he's from the sticks you ken!'  Bankbook soothed the American as he escorted him to the bar so the youngster could set up the drinks again.


   The night wore on and out and the group dispersed to follow their individual inclinations.

   'I don't dance cause when I dance I sweat, and when I sweat I smell, and when I smell the girls won't dance with me no how!' Explained a rum sodden Arthur to the boy as they watched Selwyn gyrating madly in a club where the hostess were supposedly 'Chinese'.

   The boy sucked on an ice cube as if it was the teat of revelation in a vain attempt to keep the room from turning round. He clutched the negro's sinewy arm.

   'How come you got a Welsh name?'

  'Welsh?..... Oh, from Wales you mean, like you guys. Is it Welsh? My mother named me after Arthur Godfrey I think. He's not Welsh and that's for sure! Say it must be a pretty big town Wales. I've heard it mentioned quite a bit,  come to think of it, man.'

   The boy closed his eyes on another ice cube crunch having decided he couldn't talk any more.


"Yankee sailor have one jump and finish,

British sailor screw for ever more."

   Bankbook sang as they were shoved out of the last bar.

   Lemon Eye bundled him off to get back aboard, his yellow orb peering in real surprise at the silver flush of the false dawn over the harbour, the other closed against the painful light.

   They weaved back to the green coconut stall and there behind the shuttered counter in the shadow of a wall, the great green mound of the big black mama could be seen rising and falling like a palm tree in a balmy breeze as her gentle snores rumbled off the concrete.

   Lemon Eye searched hi pockets grunting with disgust to find he had only a few cents left.

   'You haven't bought a round all night.' He clutched after the tottering Bankbook and went through the ritual of picking him up and turning him upside down to shake him like an infested scarecrow. Several heavier coins fell from the pockets of the scrawny Scot. Lemon Eye set him back on his unsteady feet and pointing towards the harbour again before clawing in the dawning dust for the money and banging on the shuttered stall with a horny hand.

   As the sun heaved up over the horizon Bankbook had made it back aboard and was singing to the jumping catfish in the bay.

'Me no savvy British sailor

Yankee sailor pay one dollar more.'

     He piped out over the water then staggered back to catch his heels on a coil of mooring rope and sleep there arms akimbo like a sacrifice to the rising sun.

   The same sun that revealed to the one good Lemon Eye the fact that his mama was totally bald under her turban.


   The boy awoke to the familiar sound of Selwyn's sighing snores. He turned over in his bunk, away from the rusty light and fell in a belly flop off a low truckle bed as his knees failed to find the supporting steel and warm vibration of the bulkhead. He blinked in pain as his stomach made contact with the sinewy coconut matting on the floor, then he sat up exploring gingerly the raw area of his pelvis and remembering the grating sensation of pubic hair like wire wool against his groin.

   The girls had gone. There was no sign of them other than the stench of cheap perfume and female excretions from the tatty bed under hi nose. The rest of the sordid, sparsely furnished and none too clean little room stank of disinfectant.

    Selwyn lay face down on a mattress a matter of feet away. He was completely naked having kicked off a dirty counterpane, his little white bum rising and falling gently with his snores, a contrast to the tan of the rest of his body. well, not so much a tan but a fine network of freckles knitted together for company. The same gleaming buttocks the boy remembered convulsing frantically in the moonlight the night before.

   'Oh! Feed my pussy man! Feed it! Feed it! It's hot and hungry for you. Feed it good man.'

   Where was the skinny little girl and her fatter friend? Young as she was, she had the experience to turn him on despite all the rum and coke now coming up in the back of his throat. He looked around the corrugated, tin walls of the shack and found the plywood door. The puke rising quicker in his throat and the throb of a morning erection subsiding as he stumbled to it; yanked it open with a creak of protest from the warp in it, and spat the ball of acid from the back of his mouth into the dusty road. He gagged a bit, but didn't vomit any more and spotting a stand pipe and tap in a patch of damp dirt nearby, he turned it on; let it run until it came clearer and colder and ducked his mouth, head and shoulders under it. Suddenly becoming aware of his nakedness as the water splashed into his thighs, he looked around in embarrassment.

   Nothing stirred in the squalid array of shacks around him shimmering the dew away in the early morning sun. He shook some of the drops off and returned to the room to find something to dry on.

    Selwyn was up, searching frantically under the bed and rummaging in a packing case and cardboard chest of drawers. 'Iesu Gris Joe! They've pinched our gear! I can't find my clothes anywhere'.

   The boy joined in the search. Nothing could be found but half a bottle of Dettol; some dirty knickers - which Selwyn sniffed with gusto despite the situation - a half dozen film magazines and in the sparse clothes on their respective beds, their underpants.

   'Dirty, shagged out  whores!' Selwyn cursed the vanished sluts and kicked the flimsy furniture to pieces with his bare feet. 'Come on. Lets get out of it. Here!' He tore a stained overlay in half and draped it over the boy like a toga and arranged the other half around his skinny frame.

   Once out on the dirt track, which was the only visible road, they stood blinking in the sunlight, undecided which way would take them back aboard. Selwyn indicated that he favoured the path that led downhill slightly and they set off warily through the stone littered dust already warming underfoot. Skirting a tethered goat chewing the scrub at the end of the tin shacked street they could see the blue of the sea through a gap in the low trees ahead. Selwyn grinned at the sight. He stopped and selected a large flinty stone from the path. Turning back into a trot he threw the piece of rock with all his strength at the amazed animal The missile fell well short bouncing to a halt near the goat.

   'Dirty bastards who stole my belt!' Selwyn screamed back at the sleeping hovels as the goat sniffed the stone.

   'That animal isn't wearing it is he? Come on! You'll get us filled in'. The boy quickened his pace away from the scene.

   'Got a silver buckle that belt, Cost me a right few quid in B.A. And that goat looks like the fucking mate anyway!' Selwyn asserted as they continued the march, hands clutching the sour smelling bedcloth to their chests in a Roman salute.

   'Something's moving across the road there'. The boy pointed anxiously ahead as they approached a clump of trees.

  'It,s only a shadow. Not seeing snakes again are you?' Selwyn sneered.

   The shadow turned out to be an army of ants milling around the remains of a dead lizard. Blacking the track in a myriad glints of sinister red and shining black. The undergrowth either side was alive with the frenzied tribe of insects.

   The boy walked back deliberately measuring the width of the ant stream; gathered up the skirt of the makeshift toga; burst into a sprint and leapt over and clear of the ant horde.

   Selwyn followed the action: his only recourse; but not as  successfully. His little bandy legs lacked the spring. He landed on the fringe of the furious ants and his toga flew off in mid air and fell directly into them.

   The boy snatched the bed cloth away from the swarm and flapped the insects out of it  as Selwyn hopped and smacked at the uncrushed and partly mangled ants biting into his calves and ankles.

   'Go on laugh! It was your idea to go with those cows remember. You got me into this bloody mess! No! I don't want that poxy blanket. I'll walk back like this. Sod it!'

   'Okay. But have you seen the nicotine stains on the back of your shorts?' The boy pointed out the offending date mark with glee and Selwyn snatched the covering and arranged it as a loin cloth.

   It was a longer walk back to the oil port than it had looked and when they got onto metaled road, travelling  was no easier as by now the surface was hot under their tender feet.

   The steel decks of the tanker were blistering as they skipped aft and into the showers.

   'Give your underpants a scrub the same time', advised the boy.

   'Anybody can have a blowback after rum. Least I don't spew in peoples drawers', replied  Selwyn removing the last determined ant from his scrotum.


   The breakfast was happy, if fly plagued.

   'The Donkeyman got filled in a beauty!' Old Jack chuckled with delight. 'Went aboard that yank with some poofter steward and they worked out on him good and proper. Serve him right! The dirty old bell to bell bastard.!'

   'Shifting ship right after breakfast lads. Land's End for orders. Lets hope it's a port in the U.K.' Bombay informed them as they munched into the good shore baked bread.

  The vessel shunted quickly from the repair jetty across the harbour and slid into the loading berth. The huge flexes of oil pipes were quickly clamped on and began pulsing away under the thrust of the pumps.

   There was still no mail. The boy ran cautious fingertips over his pelvis where a rope had drawn raw the place where hair had rubbed the night before.

   'That  didn't take long eh. The pilot knew his job. Full ahead, full astern and we were there dropping the ropes on the bloody bollards. Back home the poxy pilots have half a mile of line out hauling you alongside. Afraid to use the engine they are,. Those gutless twerps'. Bombay informed the mate.


  They sailed late in the evening, out into a cooling then a stiffening breeze and short sea that quickly curled and riffed aboard the loaded tanker. The boy shuddered with a sudden chill remembering the bewildering blows and bludgeoning of the hurricane as he helped stow the after ropes which had to be coiled tediously in the lazaret. He looked anew at the darkening, sinewy sea surrounding the feeble bluster of light on the ship as the waves rolled under the stern with a muscular ripple: twitches still of the incredible power and fury he had witnessed.

   Macgrath receiving the led rope below stopped on a tug, sensing the feeling

"Bleddiaddiadd glaj a thonnau

Yn llamu am y lloer


Cnu preddiau'r cymlau."

  The words came echoing upfrom the Irishman accompanied by a cymbal clank of steering gear and orchestra of wind and sea.

   'I didn't know you spoke Welsh?' Selwyn coiling the heavy hawser with him had stopped in surprise.

  'Sometimes I have the gift of tongues; but it depends whos listening'. His eyes glowed upward, intent on the boy.

  'What's it mean?' The youngster dug his toes into the reassuring steel of the deck.

   'Blue wolves are the waves leaping for the moon and chasing the fleecy flocks of the clouds. And it's bittersad I am to see the lads so ignorant of the Holy Wells of your people'.  Macgrath replied in his usual cheerful tone and    tugged again on the rope from the boy.





      Now, as you have discerned, this is well into the book, chapter nine, in fact, so the characters have already been established: the 'boy' is the Deck Boy, Joe. Selwyn , a Junior Ordinary Seaman, is his cabin mate as only one rating up from him. It is Joe's 'first trip' to sea but the other characters here are experienced sailors, including Macgrath, a mysterious Irishman, who joined the ship in Venezuela.

 Joe feels superior to Selwyn as he is from rural west Wales whereas Joe is from Swansea, a large town, now a city. The boy admires Bombay Bevan , an excellent seaman, who replaces Knoxie an incompetent Bosun; but learns more about life and literature from Macgrath, who is an intellectual. Ergo the boy is torn between 'hand and head' i.e. physical skills and mental prowess as I was  - the book is mainly an autobiography.

 Of course, parts of this text are considered 'racist' now; but remember it takes place in 1951 when the British still had delusions of 'Empire' and 'political correctness' was forty years away. This is how it was, man!

Back to Top