Sunday 21 January 2018

Review: Seaspray and Whiskey by Norman Freeman

Ian Allan Publishing, €12.20, Hardback

Sunday Miscellany contributor and hurling historian Norman Freeman went to sea in the 1960s as a radio officer.

One of the many useful bits of information in this book is that every professional sparks has his own style or 'fist' with Morse code. But making a decent fist of the voyage described by the Thurles-born Freeman would have tested the pugilism of Muhammad Ali and the patience of Job.

The drink is not an uncommon problem with merchant seamen. On the 'Allenwell', a rat-infested tub sailing to New York, New Orleans and Houston, Texas, the problem was compounded by a cargo of Vat 69. Almost a thousand bottles went missing, some used as currency in yankee brothels, but most downed by a variety of constantly pickled old tars.

Not the soberest of a very motley crew was the captain, "a big weathered pumpkin" with bandy legs and hairy wrists. The captain's bad temper is perhaps explained by an accident off the coast of Scotland during a storm when he got tangled up in the wheel and (let me put it more politely than he does) lost a part of his equipment.

Then there was the chief engineer, who never went into the engine room. And the chief steward, always stewed. And the chief mate who lived up fully to his nickname: Misery.

Some of their story is gruesomely funny, in particular a Christmas dinner when the seasonal spirit burst into flames, but it can just as easily be read as an alcoholic nightmare. Freeman himself, a Christian Brothers boy but not given to drinking or whoring, obviously understands the horrors. It's all great gas, but ghastly.

Irish Independent

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