An ancient pirate ship

Just now the dog escaped and ran outside and onto the street a busy one and I had only had  a shower and was still in my dressing gown.

Regardless, I followed the dog around the corner onto Beaconsfield Road until I was parallel with him, and he, preoccupied with sniffing at a clutch of grass, no doubt resplendent with the dog pee of an earlier visitor, I managed to nab him.

I then carried him home and brought in the newspaper, which was the reason for my going outside in the first place and the means by which the dog had slipped out beside me.

The dog escaped earlier in the week while I was looking after grandsons but at least then I was dressed.

It has happened many times before and every time the dog escapes I fear this might be the last time.

Once the dog ran out and sprinted across Riversdale Road. Fortunately there were no cars at the time; otherwise he’d be dead. Mostly he streaks around the corner and we catch up half way up the side street.

It causes me anxiety and resentment. The pleasures of dog owning made worse by the fact that last night as a Good Friday treat, after we had spent a wonderfully indolent day doing not much, writing and getting on with my latest 1000 piece jig saw puzzle, my husband made okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake and as is typical for him and given there were only two of us to eat, he made too much.

I cleared the table, but left my husband’s half eaten serve behind as I stacked the dishes and in that failed moment the dog leapt up and swiped half the remaining remainder and was out the cat door with his stolen goods.

I knew as soon I heard the cat door flap rattle back into place that he was in a hurry and in an instant the news dawned that he had eaten forbidden food.

I told him off, much as one tells off a disobedient child, but I knew it was useless. Given his past two bouts of pancreatitis, I’d hope the dog understood he’s not supposed to eat food other than the non-fat kibble of his restricted diet, which we dole out once in the morning and once at night, but  he doesn’t.

‘You’ll get sick,’ I told him. ‘You’ll cost us thousands more in vet fees and worst of all you’ll suffer.’

But my words were useless.

So this morning his escape has left me feeling frustrated. And when I tell my daughter, his chief custodian, what the dog’s been up to, she’ll chastise me for not walking him enough.

All of which is true and I will once again become the guilty parent.

Speaking of parents, it’s unusual for me the share the outpouring of public grief that comes when a celebrity dies, but John Clarke’s death has left me keening.

John Clarke, a New Zealand born comedian, lived in Australia and was brilliant at taking the mickey out of our politicians. He could see the ridiculous state of our parliamentarians and played it for what it was worth.

He also wrote serious prose and among his pieces, he tells the story of Susie, a friend from his primary school days, who had contacted him by letter. He rang back his thanks and asked her whether there was a particular memory she held of their days together.

He did not want to offer details or prompts he told her, because he wanted to check her memory against his own.

Susie who spent only a year with him at school could not remember anything at first until he told her that it had happened not at school but at a birthday party.

Then she remembered and here I refuse to paraphrase but must give you a taste of John Clarke’s beautiful mind and writing:

‘Oh my God,’ [Susie] said to her own considerable surprise. ‘It was at David’s birthday party.’ She then described a memory she didn’t know she had, and which was almost a complete facsimile of my own.

‘We were seven or eight years old and there were a few of us looking at an old shipwreck on Waiterere Beach. Susie and I and a couple of others were on the seaward side of the vessel when a very large wave came in and swept us out to sea. David’s older brother ran into the sea yelling ‘Who can swim? Who can swim?’ Susie and I both yelled out above the roar of the sea that we could swim and he rescued the other kids first, running into the waves again and again, fishing kids out and getting them to shore.

‘In my mind Susie and I were just off the coast of Peru by the time he got to us but we probably weren’t. I felt no panic or fear and I remember being comforted to see Susie’s head bobbing in the sea. She had big hair and she was to the north of me and we were both bobbing in the enormous sea.

‘By the time we came in there were some very concerned adults on the beach and we were put into dry clothes and we ran back along the beach to the house. For some reason the song ‘Hi-Lily Hi-Lo’ ran all the way back to the house, in my head, in time with my feet on the wet sand. I’ve never heard that song without the feeling that I’m running along that sand in the late afternoon in a big man’s jumper. And I’ve never thought of Susie without the idea that she and I are together, bobbing along, and that we’ll be fine.’ (Meanjin, Commonplace 2017)

This story is all the more poignant because less than a week ago on a hiking trip with his wife and friends in the Grampians National park, as they were climbing Mount Abrupt, John Clarke fell down and died of a heart attack.

His friend and companion comedian, Bruce Dawe, once he had the gained enough composure to speak to the public, told us that Clarke himself would laugh at the idea of his untimely end, on a mountain named abrupt, but Clarke was only 68 years old and he was prolific in his work and was such a decent person it still feels an outrage to me that he has gone.

Thinking about John Clarke in the shower this morning and thinking about my own childhood, I thought once more of the Happy Mariners, the book I remember most clearly from my childhood.

The sensations of the story, its opening four children, two boys and two girls, the older girl with the name Elizabeth, seated around their parents dining room table when the doorbell rings and it’s an old pirate asking to speak to miss Elizabeth.

He has a gift for her, a ship in a bottle and after their meal, the children take the ship in its bottle to the bottom of their garden where there’s a small stream and they put the ship onto the water where it bobs up and down.

The children take turns throwing stones at the bottle in an effort to break the glass and the smaller boy Martin’s stone hits the target and they are in darkness at the top of a cliff looking down on this ancient ship at anchor.

Somehow they manage to scramble down the cliff face and onto the ship, which they think is abandoned. They decide to take her out and as they do they discover the pirate who visited asleep below and he helps them sail their ship on search of treasure.

If only I could do justice to this story and bring it alive for you the way John Clarke brought the story of Susie and the wave alive but memories are like this. We need to go into them and try as I might I can never recover the mind of my little girl self who joined those happy mariners in their journey across the seas, but the feeling stays.

6 thoughts on “An ancient pirate ship”

  1. We used to live in fear of the bird escaping. Not so much now. A couple of times in the early days he flew into a closed window but Carrie added strings which, to the bird, look like bars and we’ve had no problems since. He doesn’t even fly around the flat much although he can find his way from the bathroom or the kitchen to the living room if I ignore his calls to come fetch him for too long. Presumably he escaped from his original owner’s care when they inadvertently left a window ajar which is how we ended up with him, battered, famished and in danger of being pecked to death by a magpie. The idea that someone simply had enough of him and deliberately shooed him out a window is too much to bear; you don’t do that. After ten years he’s like our kid and I’ve actually appreciated being the dad; it’s something I missed out on with my own daughter. That a carnaptious ball of fluff would fill that need never ceases to amaze me. Of course, like you, we talk to him like a child, knowing full well he has no idea what we’re on about and could care less and even if he did care there’s not much he can do about it; he’s hard-wired to behave the way he does.

    John Clarke’s a new name to me but I feel your loss. Last year there were so many and there’ll be plenty more this year and the next and the next until it’s our turn. I know we should be thankful to have lived in a world at the same time as these people and it’s hard to imagine a world without them but the world staggered on without Beethoven and Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It’ll get along without John Clarke and you and I when we go although I must admit it would be nice to snuff it on Mount Abrupt although not worth flying 9500 miles to do so. I’m just waiting on Billy Connolly dropping dead or Terry Jones.

    I was never one for pirate stories as a child or pirate films but I must’ve watched enough. I was as surprised as hell when the Jack Sparrow films came out and were so popular. The only recent pirate film I could remember was 1995’s ‘Cutthroat Island’ and I believe it still holds the record as being the biggest box office flop ever. I read ‘Treasure Island’ when I was eight. Didn’t much like it. Read ‘Kidnapped’ the same year and didn’t much like that either. I much preferred my classic novels in comic strip format c/o ‘Look and Learn’ and later ‘World of Wonder’.

    1. Treasure Island was the first movie I ever saw as a kid, Jim, and it stayed with me but was disappointing when I watched it again more recently. It’s sad the way our memories never quite live up to our expectations, and more so that these wonderful people disappear. I agree the world will go on without them and without us. Sobering, but true. As for our pets – digs and birds – it’s a good thing they offer us so much, otherwise the world would be just that much lonelier, at least for us. Thanks, Jim

  2. I too grieve John Clarke. Just watched a tribute to him on the ABC. I will miss his cheek and mischief and his contribution to comedy and satire will be hard to equal.
    I also fear for your little dog, Elisabeth. I’m afraid his story may not end well.

    1. The dog is fine, Karen. Thank goodness, Maybe he didn’t take in as much that okonomiyaki as he’d have liked. And my daughter’s home again and can get him in hand. Still very sad about John Clarke. No happy ending there. Thanks, Karen.

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