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Interview for the Seumas Gallacher Blog

Interview for the Seumas Gallacher Blog

1 – Tell us about your connection with Wales:

I was born in Tralee on the west coast of Ireland and came to the UK when I joined the Royal Navy at 18. It was while I was on a course in Portsmouth that I met a beautiful Welsh girl, Jennifer Marshall, who was on holiday from Newport, South Wales. After a short romance we got married and when my service contract ended we went to live in Newport to be near her family. We’ve been there ever since.

2 – Tell us about yourself as a writer and as a person:

When I won my first writing competition I was so excited I ran all the way home. I was about eight years old. The Fun Fair was coming to Tralee – our little town on the West coast of Ireland – and apart from Duffy’s Circus which came in September, this was the highlight of our year. Our English teacher asked us to write an essay about it, and I won the only prize – a book of ten tickets for the fair.

So writing was in my blood from a very young age. I loved essays and English literature

My grand-uncle Moss Scanlon had a small Harness Maker’s shop in Lower William Street, Listowel – a rural town in Kerry that was just a bus ride from Tralee – where I spent some wonderful summer holidays. The shop had a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters who’d wander in for a chat and a bit of jovial banter. One famous storyteller who often popped in was John B Keane, and I asked him once where he got his ideas from. He told me that everyone has a story to tell, so be patient and just listen to them.

And I was there when John B’s very first story was read out live on Radio Eireann. I can still remember the buzz of excitement and the sheer pride of the people of Listowel. And the seeds of storytelling were sown in my soul.

Another source of encouragement was Bryan MacMahon, one of Listowel’s finest writers and a schoolmaster to boot, who was a very easy person to talk to.

Anyway, I left school at fourteen and went to work in hotels in Killarney, and I quickly got caught up in the excitement and colourful buzz of the tourist industry – remember, this was in the 60s when the Beatles were creating a heady revolution and engulfing the youth with hopes and dreams of a wonderful future – so I felt no great urgency to write. I dreamed of being a writer, of course. I wanted to be a writer – but somehow life just got in the way.

When I joined the Royal Navy at eighteen I was sent to the Far East. I spent the first three years between Singapore and Hong Kong, and again I was having so much fun I didn’t get to write anything, although there were loads of stories bursting to get out.

It was only when I got married and the children came along that I made any serious attempt to put pen to paper, and the result was Dark September, an alternative history novel set in Newport during WW2.

I loved writing it – I always write in longhand – but I hated having to type it. After working a ten hour day, I’d be clattering away into the early hours on an old Olivetti typewriter and getting on everyone’s nerves. Then I’d scream in frustration when I’d discover that hours of hard work were ruined by some horrendous typo error, and I’d have to start all over again.

Amazingly, I found an agent almost immediately but she insisted on some major changes so I spent a year re-writing it.

Unfortunately my agent died suddenly and the agency closed. It took ages to find another agent, but he too demanded even more changes. It became too much for Jennifer and the kids, so my manuscript hibernated in the attic for a few years.

Then Jennifer bought me a computer for Christmas – with Spellcheck!

This time finding an agent has proved impossibility – they only want to represent people who’re famous for just being famous – but now I’m delighted to say the book has been accepted by Tirgearr Publishing and I’m delighted with the result and all the hard work they’ve put into it to make it a great success.

In the meantime – while my book was languishing in limbo – I discovered that writing short stories is amazingly therapeutic. I get a great buzz from taking an idea and developing it, often watching it evolve into something completely different from how it started out. And I realized too that great ideas are all around us. Little gems are waiting to be harvested everywhere we look. I found myself listening to what people are saying, and the way they say it.

For instance, the Irish are famous all over the world for their colourful and exaggerated expressions, always using a dozen words when one would have done. So I build on that and set all my short stories in Ireland. The names are changed, of course, because I don’t earn enough to survive a lawsuit. I’ve written hundreds of stories, most of which are still stuffed in drawers somewhere, but I did manage to get more than twenty of them published over the years, in anthologies, e-zines and magazines as well as web sites.

DREAMIN’ DREAMS, published as an eBook with Smashwords.com and in paperback by CreateSpace – contains twenty of my published stories, of which I’m very proud. They’re all based on real people who passed through my life at some time or other, or events that actually happened to me. Enhanced, of course, and sometimes exaggerated out of all proportion.

The title comes from something my father said years ago, when I got poor grades at school. ‘What do you expect?’ he said to my mother. ‘He never does any studying. He just sits there, dreamin’ dreams.’

The image on the cover is the statue in The Green, Tralee’s town park, and it represents the characters from the song The Rose of Tralee.

3 – Why did you decide to write in your chosen genre?

My favourite reading material has always been fast paced thrillers, murder mysteries, war stories. I write what I think I would like to read.

4 – Tell us about the concept behind your first book

The idea for Dark September came to me when I was in the Royal Navy and we were on exercise in the Brecon Beacons. I wondered what it would be like to be running for your life through such inhospitable terrain from someone who wants to do you a serious injury.

Later on I saw some disturbing footage of Nazi guards disposing of people with special needs and I felt tremendous sympathy for their families. How would I react if I was in that position and Germany invaded the UK? Where would |I take my child? Being Irish I felt it would be natural to gravitate to Ireland, which was neutral during WW2.

Of course once I started writing the story it took on a life of its own. Characters reacted in ways I never intended. People who were created as decent characters turned into monsters half way through a chapter, even a sentence. It was exciting and disturbing all at the same time, and I enjoyed every moment of writing it.

My favourite character is Danny O’Shea – vulnerable, naïve, basically honest but thrown into a situation that he has to face into or go under. I see a lot of myself in him. Not sure who could play him in a film – someone who was sensitive – Aidan Turner, perhaps. The theme tune would be Running up the Hill by Kate Bush, all thudding drums and loud pulsing music.

One concern I did have about the story was making Cerys and Bethan Frost direct descendants of the famous John Frost, a treasured character in Welsh history. They started out as beautiful, kind and loving girls but they got corrupted by both love and promised riches. But so far I haven’t had any negative feedback on that aspect, although some people thought the sudden sex and brutal violence should have been flagged up in the blurb.

5 – Which Welsh person would you like to invite to dinner and what would you serve?

John Frost. I would love to know what makes a man stand out from the crowd and put himself in harm’s way while pursuing a principal. What did he think about the justice system at the time, and people who were steeped in religion but oozing hypocrisy from every pore? And I would serve Welsh lamb, carrots and new potatoes with Welsh Ale from a keg.

 

6 – What’s the best thing about Wales?

Its similarity to Ireland. Parts of West Wales are so like the places where I ran as a lad in Kerry. Listening to Owen Money every Saturday makes me laugh. The warmth he displays fascinates me – I could be listening to Kerry Radio. And of course my wife …

 

7 – What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished self-publishing another thriller called Gallows Field. This one is set in Tralee during WW2. A crowded pub. The music is loud. The singing is louder. Joe McCarthy is shot dead. And no one sees a thing. Available through Smashwords and Amazon.

8 – How did you find the experience of self-publishing?

To be honest I always hoped my work would be snapped up by a main stream publisher who would take responsibility for the sales and advertising. But the reality is totally different. Most publishers now demand that the author does as much self-promotion as possible while imposing restrictions on pricing. I love the writing aspect of it all, but I’m not comfortable pushing for sales and reviews. There are companies who will promote your work for you but it cost more than you’ll ever make in sales. But if you want people to read your stuff you have to put it out there so the world will notice it.

9 – What’s your advice to new writers?

If you are a budding writer, or just thinking about trying your hand at writing, remember to have fun with it. Be aware that very few writers make it to the top of the tree – those that do will tell you that it involves a copious amount of self-publications and a shed full of luck. And of course a good story too.

Yes, take your craft seriously – it’s a God given talent and it’s your duty to share it with the world – but enjoy it too. Just don’t get so immersed in it that you lose track of the people you really care about, the ones you’re proud to show it to first. (And listen to them, as well, even if what they’re saying isn’t what you want to hear!)

And keep working at it, even if it’s just 100 words every day, because every time you write something, you’re fine-tuning your skills.

10 – What are you currently reading?

Val McDermid Wire in the Blood. In paperback.

11 – What’s your favourite book?

So many it would be hard to whittle it down to just one. The Wind in the Willows had the most magical effect on me – I lived in that story and still get the feeling whenever I sit on a riverbank. I also remember running home from school to listen to Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe being read on the radio. In my teens I was hooked on Mickey Spillane and Zane Grey, but now I have to say Val McDermid is my all-time favourite. Followed closely by Ann Cleeves and Andy McNab.

 

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What’s in a name

Lyracrumpawn! I love that name. I love the way it rolls off the tongue, smooth and rounded like a spoonful of Strawberry Pavlova.

I think I must have been about five years old the first time I heard my father mention it, and the wonderful, resonant tone of it attached itself to my brain like a limpet.

And it stayed there for many days, rolling around in my mind like one of those endless music tapes, waiting for an opportunity to display itself, and then when the chance did come I let it just trip out as if I knew exactly what I was talking about.

Nobody else did, of course – they thought I was a bit of an eejit having some sort of a fit.

Anyway, I quickly tried to redeem myself by repeating the story that I’d heard my father tell about Lyracrumpawn, a humorous tale that went way over the head of a child but nevertheless drew a spurt of laughter from everyone else.

Apparently the local priest had been invited to represent Ireland during a rare conference with the Pope in Rome, and all the parishioners were anxious that he didn’t go there empty handed. So they had a special collection at Mass every day for a month. They collected a fair amount of money, and when the priest was eventually introduced to His Holiness the Pope, he presented him with the envelope.

‘From the people of Lyracrumpawn, for the love of God,’ said the priest.

The Pope hesitated for the briefest of seconds.

‘For the love of God,’ he queried, ‘where’s Lyracrumpawn?’

OK, on paper not so hysterical, but imagine it being told in a full-bodied Kerry accent, the singsong tone emphasising each nuance to perfection.

But in answer to the Pope’s question, where is Lyracrumpawn? Well, it’s actually a small district in the rolling North Kerry countryside, generously dotted with an assortment of wonderful old villages that were once the centre of a thriving community with their churches and their pubs and their rows of diverse little shops.

Of course that was back in a more sedate age, long before the arrival of the motorcar and bulk buying, the fridge/freezer and the Environmental Health Officer. It was a time when the surrounding farmers and their families ventured into town on a daily basis to conduct business and exchange a bit of banter with the neighbours while gleaming important snippets of local gossip along the way.

Sadly, as the ever-increasing pace of modern Irish life demands a wider, straighter, faster highway, these sweet, sedate little villages are hardly ever seen nowadays, having been reduced to a blur through the window of a speeding car. They only exist to most people on roadside signs or as a dot on a map, and if you actually find yourself in one of them then you’re lost! You should have stayed on the big road with the white line down the middle …

But I digress! Tis names I was talking about, the wonderful, colourful local names that have many a visitor to Ireland struggling to pronounce but which invokes in every Kerryman a beautiful image of a rolling, rugged countryside cascading away gently towards the edge of the wild Atlantic ocean.

In fact some of the Kerry villages have such poetry in their names that they’ve been incorporated into many a music hall song. One of the most famous includes Abbeyfeale, Knocknagashel and Duagh in its title. I can’t swear to it but I think Listowel’s very own John B Keane might have mentioned it in one of his plays.

I’m well aware, of course, that every country on earth has its own collection of beautiful place names – here in Wales we have our fair share; Ynysddu and Pontllanfraith, Ynysybwl and Merthyr Tydfil. Wonderful sounds to all Welsh people who hail from the Valleys, of course, but it’s the names that linger in my own memory that taste the sweetest and invoke cherished moments of my childhood adventures during trips to the country.

My mother’s family lived on a farm called Patch, near the village of Duagh. You had to put Listowel in the address or nobody would find it.  So there’s a whole string of places all around there that often pepper her conversation when she’s reminiscing about the good old days.

Rightly or wrongly, the English get the blame for the corruption of a lot of names in rural Ireland. The names as they’re pronounced now bear no resemblance to the original Gaelic version. For instance Tralee is a corruption of Tra Lee. The direct translation should be Lee Strand, Lee being the river on which the town was originally built, and Strand being the stretch of coast where it entered the sea.

No one is sure if it was because the English were just lazy and couldn’t be bothered to learn the proper pronunciation, or if it was simply an administration decision to phonetically transfer the names onto the English version of their maps.

Historian will insist, however, that it was actually a weapon of suppression, deliberately instigated to antagonise and subdue the population by stripping them of their identity, but that’s material for another debate another time – and with people a lot more knowledgeable on the subject than me, I might add.

Anyway, getting back to names, how beautiful is the name Anascaul? Don’t ask me what it means; I just love the sound of it. We were out there a few weeks ago visiting my nephew in his most amazing house perched halfway up a mountain just outside the town of Anascaul.

Breathtaking is too simple a word for the scene you look down on. Or up, even, when you look out of the back window. The Dingle Peninsula sweeps away from you in a colourful concoction of mountains and troughs, pointing sedately towards America somewhere out there across the ocean.

And Ballybunion! Everyone has heard of Ballybunion and its famous golf course, where ex-president Bill Clinton is reputed to have lost his ball. Well, actually, it was the one that was used to adorn his statue, which stands outside the Garda station in the middle of town, erected to celebrate his visit some years ago.

A big bronze statue showing Bill about to take a putt at a … well, there’s no ball there now. Someone probably decided it looked better in an ornamental case in their front room, to be used as a conversation opener with the line; ‘Did you know I’ve got Bill Clinton’s ball …’

And the original sign over the hairdressers across the road has been restored, too. I mean, why would anyone think the name Monica’s was going to cause offence to a visiting American President? But still the sensitive town officials had it painted over anyway, just in case.

Now it’s famous in its own right …

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Middle Lane Hogs

Has anyone EVER been prosecuted for hogging the middle lane of a motorway? Between Newport J26 and Cardiff J32 on the M4 I counted 14 cars strung out like a necklace in the middle lane and nothing on the inside lane. As I undertook each one I glared at the driver. Most of them were staring into the distance like zombies, totally unaware of the situation. One actually glanced up from her phone and had the cheek to toot at me and give me the finger. Bless her.  With the technology available these days isn’t there any way they can be given a zap of something to wake them up and force them to use the proper lane?

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Might OF?

Had a letter from an utility supplier today that read ‘you might of noticed our new …’
I highlighted the OF and sent it back with a cover note saying ‘if you OF time to re-read this – maybe when you OF a coffee break … I’d like your opinion on the standards of your clerical staff.’
Not that I’m picky or anything, but come on …

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Traffic Light Sloth

What takes people so long to pull away from traffic lights? The lights onto Malpas Road are red for over four minutes, and green for  seven seconds. The same people use this road every day – they know the routine. So when the lights go from red to amber you’d think they’d be ready to move. But no! The lights go green – and no one moves. One second, two seconds – the driver in front shuffles through the gears and looks around, then creeps forward. Three seconds, four seconds – and the second driver is now scratching through the gears and shuffling forward. Five seconds, six seconds – and the third driver looks up from their phone, shifts gears and creeps forward. Seven seconds – and the lights are red again. Gaaaddddd!!!

If the army can move a column of tanks in one clear movement, why can’t more than three cars get through a green light in seven seconds …?

 

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MEET BRENDAN GERAD O’BRIEN

OK, OK, I admit it I have a soft spot for Irish writers, the land of my birth, though I have long since lost the accent.  While we may speak the same language as the English, Welsh, Scots, Americans and the Australians, I maintain we have poetry and words flowing through our veins. Have you guessed that this week’s guest is also from Ireland? What a surprise!  Welcome, Brendan Gerad O’Brien. He now lives in Wales, but you can never take the power of words away from the Irish – not that I’m biased of course. Over to Brendan.

Brend

When I won my first writing competition I was so excited I ran all the way home. I was about eight years old. The Fun Fair was coming to Tralee – our little town on the West coast of Ireland – and apart from Duffy’s Circus which came in September, this was the highlight of our year. Our English teacher asked us to write an essay about it and I won the only prize – a book of ten tickets for the fair.

So writing was in my blood from a very young age. My uncle Moss Scanlon had a small Harness Maker’s shop in Listowel – a bus ride from Tralee – where I spent some wonderful summer holidays. The shop was a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters who’d wander in for a chat and a bit of jovial banter. One famous storyteller who often popped in was John B Keane, and I asked him once where he got his ideas from. He told me that everyone has a story to tell so just listen to them. I was there when John B’s first story was read out on Radio Eireann. I can still remember the buzz of excitement.

But it was only when I got married and the children came along that I made any serious attempt to write a book.

The result was Dark September, Dark September Cover.old one jpg

A brutal alternative history thriller set in Newport during WW2. Germany invade Britain. Storm-troopers attack the South Wales coast to capture the coal mines. Newport is blitzed. Danny O’Shea’s wife is killed. O’Shea heads for neutral Ireland with his son and they witness Welsh Nationalists ambushing a German convoy carrying a mysterious cargo.

But the Nationalists fall out and the cargo disappears. Then O’Shea goes to the aid of a dying woman – and both the Germans and the Nationalists believe she told him where it’s hidden. Now pursued by both the Germans and the insurgents, his only concern is to get his son to safety.

I always found writing short stories is amazingly therapeutic. I get a great buzz from taking an idea and developing it, often watching it evolve into something completely different from how it started out. Great ideas are all around us. Little gems are waiting to be harvested everywhere we look. I found myself listening to what people are saying, and the way they say it.

For instance, the Irish are famous for their colourful and exaggerated language, always using a dozen words when one would have done. So I set my short stories in Ireland. The names are changed, of course, because I don’t earn enough to survive a lawsuit.

dreamin deams promo 2.5 x 4

Dreamin’ Dreams contains twenty of my published short stories. They’re all based on real people who passed through my life at some time or other, or events that actually happened to me. Enhanced, of course, and sometimes exaggerated out of all proportion.

The title comes from something my father said years ago when I got poor grades at school. ‘What do you expect?’ he said to my mother. ‘He never does any studying. He just sits there, dreamin’ dreams.’

This was followed by Gallows Field,gallows field amazon front cover.2019jpg set in Tralee, Ireland during WW2.  Eamon Foley, a Local Security volunteer is in a crowded pub when his brother-in-law Joe McCarthy is shot dead. Foley thinks he sees a face from his past when he was working in Dublin and witnessed a brutal murder. Important items went missing then and the killer believed Foley took them. Foley thinks shooting Joe was a warning that they’ve caught up with him and are looking for their stuff.

But Garda Sergeant Liam Edge believes Joe was a victim of a jealous husband because of his involvement with numerous women. Then Foley’s sister Mary is found dead in the town park. And his son is taken by a nun in a car. When Foley illegally obtains evidence saying who is responsible, Sgt Edge dismisses it, insisting they follow proper police procedure.  With dreadful results.

My latest book is A Pale Moon Was Rising, A PALE MOON WAS RISING (1)again featuring Eamon Foley during 1944. A German submarine is spotted in Tralee Bay on the West coast of Ireland. Next morning the body of a young man with fatal head injuries is found in the river. He’s wearing a distinctive silver ring. Garda Eamon Foley traces the ring to Paudy Daly, who’s been missing for over nine months.But Paudy’s father, the notorious Mixer Daly, is furious when he sees the body. Because it is not his son.Garda Foley discovers that the body is that of a Polish seaman. So where did he get Paudy’s ring?Then Garda Foley learns that the last time Paudy was seen alive, he was on his way to rob a pig-breeder’s house.Writing magazine

Thanks for choosing me for your blog, and have a great week,

Sláinte

Brendan

bgobrien.net

I had no idea that Brendan was such a prolific writer, as the books featured here are only a part of his vast repertoire. Check him out on his Amazon author  page

https://www.amazon.com/Brendan-Gerad-OBrien/e/B006ICG2HE 

and thank you for being my guest this week.

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We love people

Rush hour in our local petrol station. The queues were back to the door. The young lad in the hi-viz vest had just finished paying when he accidently stepped back into a young woman in the line behind him.

‘Oh, sorry love,’ he said with a beaming smile.

But the woman turned into the Antichrist. She rose up to her full 5ft height and started howling like a demented banshee.

‘Don’t you call me love,’ she screeched. ‘How dare you call me love? You don’t know me. I’m not your love. You have no right to call me love. I didn’t go to university for three years to be called love.’

There was a shocked silence. The poor lad was mortified. He just stood there all red in the face with his mouth wide open as she waded into him.

Then an older man in a similar hi-viz vest sauntered over and looked the woman up and down.

‘So what do Cinderella and your other sister call you?’ he asked as he took a bite out of a meat pie the size of a small dog.

It was my turn to be served at the other counter so I missed the finale …

 

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friends forever

I was fifteen when I got my first job as a trainee waiter in a posh German owned hotel on the west coast of Ireland. One day the owner’s grandson turned up. The owner insisted that family members who wanted to join the business had to learn the ropes by spending time in every department. Marcus was the same age as us so we took him under our wing, and we quickly became great friends. He was tall and gangling and only spoke basic school-book English. But he was so eager to learn that he buzzed around like a lunatic wasp, sometime falling over himself in his hurry.

Anyway, one evening a crowd of English businessmen converged on the dining room and it was all hands on deck. Wine flowed and the banter was loud, and we were so busy taking orders and serving the food we didn’t have time to look out for each other. But Marcus seemed to be holding his own amongst the melee.

Suddenly he rushed up to me in the kitchen. He was all red in the face and anxiety dripped off him. Apparently one of the guests kept clicking his fingers at him and he had no idea what it meant.

‘Well,’ I said without really thinking it through properly. ‘It means that he is very important and you must show him extra respect.’

Marcus swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple bouncing like a yo-yo around the inside of his collar. ‘How do I do this?’

‘Very simple. You go over to him, give a respectful bow and pat your back pocket. Then say: as I am your dog tonight, bite this.’

Unfortunately before I could tell Marcus that I was only joking he took off like a racing snake. And I watched in horror as he gave the bow, patted his back pocket and gave the sweetest smile. And I cringed as the enormous guest slowly rose to his feet, wiping his mouth with his napkin.

And he gave such a loud laugh that the glasses shook on the table in front of him. He gave Marcus what looked like a man-hug, clapped him on the back and sat down again. And Marcus had one of the greatest nights of his career as the guests joked and fussed over him.

And, you know, he never thanked me for that advice.

 

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Mistaken Assumptions

One of the hazards of working in a major supermarket is dealing with shoplifters. In a place the size of ours it was a daily occurrence, sometimes two, and three, even four times during a busy period.
There were the usual suspects, of course – career thieves who believed we owed them a living and that there was nothing wrong with robbing a supermarket. The only crime they recognized was getting caught.
One particular guy – he called himself Rambo – was a nasty piece of work. Built like a brick shed with tattoos on his tattoos, he didn’t have a neck, just a bullet head sticking out of his enormous shoulders. No one challenged Rambo unless they had a posse of security guards to back them up.
Anyway, one bright summer morning, I had to go in early for some reason and as I rolled into the deserted car park the sun was shining and the birds were chirping away in the surrounding trees. As I got out of the car there was a shout like a fire-cracker going off.
‘Oi!’
I spun around, and my heart nearly stopped. There was Rambo lurching towards me, little puffs of dust spurting up from where his knuckles pounded the ground. In one nanosecond a million questions flashed through my mind. Is this how it ends, torn to pieces in a supermarket car park? Will Jennifer ever know what really happened? Is this how the kids will remember me, stuck back together with superglue? Is my life insurance still good? Who’ll get my Andy McNab collection of hardback books?
Then he was beside me, blocking out the daylight.
‘Listen,’ he snorted.
‘What?’ I know I said the word. I just couldn’t understand how it came out of a mouth that was drier that a Bedouin’s sock in the Gobi desert.
‘The birds. Can’t you hear them?’
I tried, but all I could hear was my heart thumping in my ears.
‘Aren’t they beautiful?’ Rambo continued, pointing around at the trees. He took a deep breath through his nose, sucking in so much air that a wayward shopping trolley came rolling towards him.
‘I love this time of day,’ he said. ‘So beautiful and calm. I love the peace and quiet.’
Suddenly his eyes glistened.
‘What is this life, if full of care,’ he sighed, ‘we have no time to stand and stare.’
I swear there was a sob in his voice. Then he was gone, lumbering off across the car park with the shopping trolley following in his wake.
I never looked at him the same way again. Though I still wouldn’t challenge him unless he’d been tazered five times and wrapped in duct tape…

 

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Newport RNA visit to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth on 8th July 2017

 

A beautiful sunny day greeted the Newport RNA shipmates as they disembarked on the hallowed ground of the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth under the attentive eye of Shipmate Spider Kelly – organiser supreme and guide extraordinary.

And again we were challenged by the captain himself – no, not that one! The REAL one – Captain Jack Sparrow, who demanded to see our ID.dartmouth 1

But he was immediately advised to desist by Shipmates Kelly and Routly.dartmouth 2

They were about arrest him when he produced a warrant giving him free passage for the day! So we ambled off down the road to the Parade Ground where a Cadet rounded us up for a tour of the college.

And no matter how many times you visit this amazing place you’re still impressed by it. You can almost taste the history that seeps from every brick of an establishment that dates back to 1905. Designed by Sir George Aston Webb, one of the more distinguished architects of his day, he also designed Admiralty Arch and the East Front of Buckingham Palace. The foundation stone was laid by King Edward VII in March 1902 and the first cadets entered the College three years later.

First up was the Captain’s garden where the teenage Princess Elizabeth was accompanied by the dashing Lt Prince Philip of Greece during her visit to the college.  And the guide drew our attention to a bricked up window, reminding us of the class prejudices of the time when cadets weren’t permitted to see into the Captain’s apartments.

Next we visited the chapel and saw the small round window up in the wall through which, once every year, the sun casts a beam of light that touches on the statue of Jesus – at the exact moment Lord Nelson died at the battle of Trafalgar! Glass doors replaced the old oak ones in 2000 to celebrate the millennium and are engraved with the prayer ‘They that go down to the sea in ships …’

meuseam

The Museum was a place you could spend a whole day in. There was an impressive collection of artefacts that illustrated the college’s longstanding Royal connections. Generations of the Royal family have trained at Dartmouth, including King George VI, The Queen’s father, whose dress uniform is still on display. Also on display was the sea chest of a young cadet, assumed to be fifteen years old, in which were his whole worldly possessions, including a half written letter to his parents. There was a desk with a typewriter and parchments, a writing bureau with original pens and ink. We could also listen to the Britannia Voices oral history project, which captures first-hand accounts of College life from the 1930s to 1980s.

 

Photos taken after a German gunboats came up the river Dart and bombed the College in September 1942 showed the damage to the dining hall. Fortunately the college was practically empty at the time and the only fatality during the dreadful episode when a young WREN who was walking through it.

As it was an open day over 3,000 visitors came to see the College and stalls, and to enjoy the many demonstrations throughout the day. Highlights included a Field Gun run, the chance to look inside a Royal Navy helicopter and of course the beer tent, which came second only to the hot dog tent.

For the final event, a performances by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Plymouth, the Newport RNA Shipmates were invited to stand with Captain Jol Woodard RN on the balcony. The band gave us a wonderful display of music, marching and humorous sketches for which they got enthusiastic applause.

As we were about to disperse Captain Woodward chatted with us and posed for a group photo before wishing us well and inviting us back again in the near future.

It was a wonderful day, and we enjoyed being one of the attractions for the public. People asked us about Newport RNA and said how much they admired the way we turned out in smart blazers and military bearing. It reminded so many people of relatives who served in the forces and they were anxious to tell us their stories.

Then it was back on the bus and a quick buzz up the road to our friends at the White Ensign Club, Exeter where we were welcomed with the usual warmth.rum bosun

And a rousing serving of rum by the excellent Rum Bosuns.  Then a beautiful buffet was laid on followed by live music that had some people shuffling around the dance floor as if they knew what they were doing. And the beer flowed and the food disappeared with great gusto.

Then back on the bus for the last leg home, arriving in Newport at 11.30 knackered but satisfied.

The credit for this great day out must go to Shipmate Spider Kelly, but also to the rest of the group who were fantastic company and an honour to spend time with.