This is just down the road from me, a blockship, sunk in the Nazi War, to prevent U-Boats sneaking, a second time, into the Fleet Anchorage and blowing the guts from our capital ships. Often, driving past, it's misty, which adds to the melancholy of this old sailor. I always think, Christ, she's been sunk there for nearly seventy-five years and still no sign of her disappearing; maybe she steamed all around the world before being commandeered, like so much else, for destruction; men and boys, officers, engineers, stokers and able seamen, berthed tightly within her hull, smashing outward bound through the Atlantic or drifting round the British coastline. Who knows, somebody will, somewhere.
They have a magnificent integrity, these old ships, looming in the mist, rivets still proudly protruding over their plates, rusty but relatively intact. Always gives me a Billy Connolly moment, passing here. I've mentioned before how, on Desert Island Discs, the hideous harpy, Sue Lawley, reminded a simpering Connolly that he might've ended up a welder on Clydeside. Instead of riposting An' what would be wrong wi' that, the great overblown luvvie ponced that that would indeed have been dreadful. I suppose he meant that his then friends, the Duke of York and his greedy scrubber, Fergie, wouldn't have been quite so keen to have him round for dinner.
I don't know if those sunken ships are from the Clyde but I like to think so, stands a good chance; what is for sure, however, is that given a threat such as the Nazis I would swap a thousand showbizslag comedians and radio bints for one Govan welder. I would also make the same trade for a Portsmouth shipbuilder or any of the bonnie lads of Tyneside.
It's hard to tell, hard to know what's what anymore. I wouldn't believe a word that defence seckatry Philip Hammond said, not about anything. Like Christine la Vache of the IMF,
La Vache, Ah-aaa, le saviour de la universe
Voulez vous ne coucher pas avec moi, ce soir?
Hammond is only there because of the venality of his immediate predecessor; in Christine's case it was Dominic StraussKahn, the former head of the IMF's philandering that got him sacked and her rescued from the obscurity then facing all of the dwarf, Sarkozy's, stooges; with Hammond it was the bumboy doings of Liam, sorry, Doctor Liam Fox and his reluctant, bad-tempered and wholly ignoble resignation which gave Hammond the defence brief;
Yes, Liam was caught fucking his boy at the taxpayers' expense.
And that's why I am defence seckatry. Yes, I know, you couldn't make it up. Stand to attention, there.
one day he was minister for traffic lights, Phil, and the next he's in charge of messfuls of Field Marshal Rupert Golightly Jockstraps, throwing Tommy out of work in order to give more money to the bankers. What, therefore, he knows about shipyard closures, or anything else, for that matter, is a mystery.
What is sure, however, is that recent occupants of MediaMinster have taken a devilish delight in the, whatwouldyacallit, the demaritiming of the British Isles, contrary though that is to the commonest common sense, the clue being in the word Isles.
I know someone, here, who has been burning, for ages, in her Aga, her brother's fishing boat; a perfectly good boat, it had to be decommissioned to satisfy European fishing regulations. Not only did it have to be decommissioned it had to be broken up into pieces so small that it could never - even in the most paranoid bureaucrat's imagination - be reassembled.
From Cornwall to Shetland, this destruction has been a commonplace since the days of Grocer Heath. Now, it doesn't really matter that Cadburys chocolate is owned by whoever it is, Yanks, Chinks, some wretched global conglomerate. George Cadbury was a great, a visionary capitalist but he's long dead and his most popular product is actually bad for you. It wouldn't matter if Bourneville was demolished tomorrow, it is a tiny flash in History's pan. The same is true of Triumph motorcycles, of Austin, Morris and Rover cars; worlds, business worlds, they rise and fall, that's the way it is. Shipping, though, shipbuilding, this is the stuff, the alchemical fabric of millennia.
Governed these decades, as we have been, by spivs and nonces, we have been told by each faction in turn that They Are Not In The Business Of Managing Decline. Before he re-invented himself, Tory thug, Portillo, boasted, of some jumped-up appointment given him by Whisky Maggie, that he wasn't in the business of doing deals with working people, he, like so many other MediaMinster tarts, was going to put the Great back in Britain, silly cunt. What Portillo and his fellows have done is exactly what they chanted that they wouldn't do - they have managed the decline of formerly great industries, formerly great institutions and formerly great values and substituted a one-size-fits-all Idiots' Charter of Greed and Stupidity. Whilst gleefully, spitefully managing Decline they have wrought Ruin.
In 1966, a troubled kid, I ran away to sea in this old tub, the SS Ramore Head, from Belfast; it was old then, well, twenty years old, nineteen-forties construction, and at the cheap end of that unsophisticated style of construction; it was no pinnacle of the shipwrights' art.
But she did batter her way through the North Atlantic's midwinter gales and I remember standing on her plunging and soaring stern a thousand miles from anywhere, thinking, terrified and awestruck as I was - Fuck me, this is good. Or words to that effect. I was unknowingly hymning my people's love affair with the mighty ocean. Now that I am a man I have never put away this childish thing. I live on a quiet shore but I love it when it gets noisy and I take ship sometimes a dozen times a year
Y'know, once upon a time, the land was too much afforested, it was untravelable; we made our way around our coastal settlements - pilgrimages, trade, curiosity - by boat; the Severn, the Irish Sea, the Channel and the North Sea being our motorways. We really are ancient mariners.
Coming back, in '66 from the States, up the southwest of Ireland, I saw tiny, flimsy little fishing boats, tossed like corks in massive, skyscraper seas, their crews dancing around the decks, hauling and casting nets. I have never, since, begrudged the price of fish and chips.
Making ships and going to sea for trade or conquest or harvest, that is Britishness, that IS the historical alchemy, the transmutation of tribes of base mongrels into world leaders.
That MediaMinster sees casino-banking and zombie-economics as more worthy, more relevant than men who make ships and men who go down to the sea in ships is unsurprising, they are, after all, Cameron and Clegg, Milliband and Balls unpardonably stupid individuals, good, as we say, for fuck all.
And it's no use some gobby, poxed-up parasite in a suit, somebody like the nasty old tosser playboy, Andrew Neil, wearily lecturing me about Korean ships and Jap ships and German ships; these fuckers only build ships for money. For thousands of years we have built boats and ships because that's who we are or sadly, now, that's who we used to be.