“Postcards” taster from Iain

Iain has very kindly agreed to publish a taster of the coming book “Postcards” for publisher PigHog. Other articles concerning the book can be found here and here.

Enjoy the taster:


‘To port you’ll notice the famous white cliffs of Dover,’ the staggering steward said, as our vessel put in close enough to Beachy Head to allow 650 cameras to whirr and click as one. The ship lurched. And the tray for the captain clinked without spilling a drop. If the two of them, the Clydeside navigator and his bosun, a woman dressed like an LAPD enforcer, tried to exit the wheelhouse at once, they would wedge in the open doorway. Burgers and beer were portered at hourly intervals. Until we curved around Margate, lost sight of land, and they broke open the whisky.

    650 was the number of the drowned in the great nautical disaster of the Princess Alice, when a pleasure boat coming down the Estuary, piano thumping, was cut in two by a collier, out of Limehouse, with a drunk at the wheel. Our voyage, Newhaven to Tower Bridge, was a deliberate attempt at recapturing that spirit. With the added bonus of a reverse-angle sighting of Marine Court, the concrete liner docked on the Grand Parade at St Leonards. Emptied of its inhabitants (they were all on board), the tall building swayed like a stack of dirty crockery from a wedding party in the Royal Victoria Hotel. There was no wind today and the sea was as oily-still as petroleum-based whale lubricant, or a stanza from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

    The MV Maldoror advertised itself – in chalk at a bus stop – as the last Mississippi paddle-steamer plying the Channel trade. (With the paddle element aborted and a narrow strip of deck arranged with hard white plastic chairs borrowed from a garden centre, off the A21.) As soon as they embarked,  greyheads from retirement colonies along the entire south coast, shaken and stiff from their budget coaches, joined the queue for breakfast that snaked from the salon, up the stairs, and back to the gangplank – where it was absorbed into the shuffling mass of those who were still trying to force their way onboard without tickets. Bacon was scorched and freestanding, eggs bounced. Experienced travellers, taking up the offer of a discount, after last season’s disaster, made straight for a banquette at the bar, where they fell asleep for the duration. Youths in white T-shirts competed to post the most obscene objects into the open mouths of snoring grandmothers. The winner was declared as a Polaroid of the mouth itself, composed from six inches back.

    From the Royal Sovereign Lightship, Hastings is an unreliable rumour and Marine Court a white fault in the haze. The structures we don’t usually see are the ones with which we are now intimate: sluggish wind farms, decayed military tripods. An old flyer, clanking with the decorations pinned to his jacket, relives the Battle of Britain. Eyes expand to fill telescopes. A surging wake is the manifestation of the ship’s funeral, the posthumous nature of the exercise.

    Coming close enough in to count the pebbles in Derek Jarman’s garden, our vessel tilts alarmingly as the crowd rush to commemorate the nuclear power station. Drinks crash from the captain’s tin tray. And are replenished by the flushed steward, who later points out Tilbury docks as we creep along the Isle of Sheppey. This voyage was the best kind of endlessness, salt water infecting the blood. Impossible not to offer a nod towards Conrad, waiting at Gravesend. ‘Since it was impossible for me to face both ways,’ he said, ‘I had elected to face nothing.’

    When they put us ashore, we swam home, slowly, leaning against boarded-up shops, whirling our arms like the missing paddle-wheel, looking for marine truths in the glass and steel of a concrete swamp.

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