Blistering Barnacles. I nearly got away with it. A clean escape from the fog of guilt and grief and doubt that is the writer’s daily bread, this one at any rate. I could breathe at last, before me the estuary spread out at my feet  – a clear corridor through twin banks of cloud over Kent and Essex. Above cirrus rippling like a stone dropped into a pond. My unchained mind following the ripples out across the salt marsh and creek and tiny craft and slow gliding ships and power station chimneys. To the west, along the line of the railway I could see the top of the Canary Wharf Tower, to the East, the sea of Conrad and Graham Greene and Richard Jefferies and WG Sebald.

The signs in the C2C carriage were wrong: this was the Quiet Zone, at least if you don’t count curlews and trains, or the odd siren from Canvey Island across the creek.

Conrad reckoned all sea captains to be sedentary at heart – they simply carry their creature comforts and comforting illusions around the world with them. I now felt I too had simply shifted my ignorance from the scum  mark at the tide’s furthest reach (wasn’t an anchor once found in Camden?) to the gaping jaws of suburban wilderness.

I no more could enter the mind of the short-eared owl – or the crows that were mobbing it blind side of the bird hide on Two Tree Island – than I could tell you what my neighbours in Kentish Town ate for breakfast.

What’s more I was wrong about the Haddocks, the famous sea-faring family of Leigh-on-Sea. Sir Richard Haddock (c.1629-1715) was flag Captain to the Earl of Sandwich on the ill-fated Royal James at the Battle of Sole Bay on the 28th May 1672. Sebald, sat on Gun Hill in Southwold in August 1992, described how the Earl’s bloated 24 stone corpse was washed up on a beach near Harwich a few days after the battle. Captain Haddock, who was having his toe amputated when the ship was set alight, survived.1

But he wasn’t the inspiration for the famously irascible mariner who was named, at the suggestion of Hergé’s wife (and I suspect the full approval of Sebald vide his description of a fish dinner at the Albion Hotel, Lowestoft), after the “sad English fish”.2

In The Shooting Star, the tenth Tintin adventure, Captain Haddock was President of the Society of Sober Sailors. It must have been a lonely job. A bit like writing. But on the plus side, you do get to be President.

Went to Islington yesterday to see my baby in Holloway Jail but found her next door in the John Barnes Library. I was hoping to borrow the Kursaal Flyers’ greatest hits but it wasn’t there. However, serendipitously, I did find a Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers CD released last year. Two very good recordings of gigs supporting the Grateful Dead back in the night (to coin a phrase). I’ve read thousands of words about Gram but nothing to contradict the myth that the Gram/Burrito combo were hopeless live. Gram Parsons Archive Vol I does just that.

1 J. D. Davies, ‘Haddock, Sir Richard (c.1629–1715)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 29 Oct 2010]

2 Wikipedia contributors. “Captain Haddock.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Oct. 2010.


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