In a cloud of spray, the lorry bearing the logo of Maritime Transport rolled steadily down the M5 motorway in Somerset. The trailer was buffeted by the strong winds and surface water left by the heavy rain parted like a wake and was dispersed to the left and right. If conditions were like this on an inland motorway, they must have been considerably more unpleasant at sea.
Such days as these were the ones that put me off the sea. The slightest ripple on the surface of the water can leave me struggling with nausea. To be in the channel as a full storm struck would have left me feeling unwell for days afterward. A storm on the Irish Sea once forced me to seek help from the doctor in Langport who told me my seasickness had burned my throat and prescribed a bottle of Gaviscon.
Despite the painful reality of experience, the Maritime Transport lorry still evoked imaginings of the sea: sights, sounds and smells.
Perhaps John Masefield was responsible. A poet hardly read now, he was a writer who attracted both satire and respect from Siegfried Sassoon. Masefield was poet laureate for almost forty years, and his poems were among those we read at primary school in High Ham. For me, Masefield’s poem Sea Fever still has the power it had fifty years ago:
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Masefield embraced the very aspects of maritime life which gave me an aversion to the sea. The wind and the spray of the M5 motorway and a passing blue lorry are sufficient for my maritime dreams.