Fri 29 May 2020: This is an excerpt from the shipwreck diary of my g2 grandfather, Captain Goffey RN, which I inherited some years ago, and have just begun to transcribe, (4 min read)
It is now two months since the loss of the Jupiter and her crew – God rest their souls. Her Captain and the ship’s mascot, are, I fear, the only survivors. The island appears to be uninhabited. If I am ‘King’, I hope to be a worthy one. Sir Tom isn’t much bothered by his promotion. Rabbit or roast beef is all the same to him. In the third crate of Hollands, I came across a blank account book, so I have decided to keep a journal of our doings.
Building our cottage and garden have left little time for unnecessary exertion. I have walked down to the bay every day to scan the beach for wreckage. I am grateful that He has seen fit to provide us with the greater part of our alcoholic cargo, my monkey coat and pistols, my maps and charts, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, four bags of plain flour and some vegetable seeds which are already growing promiscuously behind our new home.
Tom was wary of me when we first arrived. I had little to do with him on board ship. He stowed away as a puppy, but I noticed he had a calming effect on my sometimes excitable crew, so he earned his place before the mast and slept under the cook’s hammock. I miss my pretty Poll, however. The last thing I did was to open her cage, so she may have escaped after all. I miss her salty vocabulary greatly.
Today we set out to explore the island. Our path took us over a ridge of hills which reminded me very much of Hampstead Heath, beatae memoriae, where I was born in a dingle 57 years ago and where, up until two months ago, I fully expected to live out my twilight years, playing checkers with a friend, or taking a sundowner or two in a weatherboard cottage with views beyond Barking, to the marshes and the sea.
The circus, my parents’ profession, was good training for my own. Canvas and rope were my bread and butter before I could walk. I’ve never had any fear of heights. Oddly though, I’ve always had an aversion to Pierrots and Clowns and so-called Stand-up Comics and am somewhat renowned for my lack of a funny bone. It has always puzzled me that the worse things are, the funnier people claim to find them.
At sea, I would walk around the ship both for work and pleasure. It eased my sciatica and calmed my cares. Today’s walk, however, brought little relief. The night terrors that have troubled every night of our isolation seem to have bubbled over into my waking brain. I found myself, as I thought, on Parliament Hill, and I was not alone. People were walking right up to me and at the last moment veering off like ships passing in a channel fog. It was more like a dance of death than an afternoon stroll. Tom wasn’t quite comfortable either, whimpering and shuddering for no obvious reason. The warm sunshine and chirruping Cockneys felt like a premonition. I was already dead, and somewhere, the other side of the world, the fast set were picnicking on my unmarked grave.
My timepiece hadn’t survived my escape from the Jupiter, but it felt like I had been walking for about two hours – six miles, more or less – when I found myself at the edge of a large expanse of water. Whether it was the heat or tiredness, or something else, my new world again conjured up images of the one I had so recently lost. Surely this was none other than Brent Reservoir, where I had learned to sail as a boy and planned my escape from circus drudgery and dreary dingle winters? There were many seagulls. Sea swallows, too, with long wings, collapsing and dropping out of the blue like deflating balloons. There was an abandoned raft on the shore. If it is a sea loch, it might be safer to embark here, I mused, rather than risk dashing my escape on the same rocks which sank the Jupiter. But embark for where, you idiot? Came the crushing reply.
‘Tom! Tom!’, I called, panic rising inside me.
Suddenly, bounding from a clump of bright yellow flags, Tom appeared with something green in his mouth a bit larger than a tennis ball, which he dropped at my feet. Oh, my word, it was Polly! I picked her up and discovered, to my immense relief, that she was breathing.
‘Polly, my dearest, you’re alive’, I said.
‘Fuck off, you cunt … Fuck off, you cunt’, she replied.