Tyneside to Amsterdam


Sail Away


I straddle the fat white tire-tracks of our wake as we put to sea. Desultory fireworks fizzle in the low winter sky like a damp valediction and Tyneside’s orange lights diminish as the ship is swallowed by the black sea. Over to my left a thin man peers back to land with a thin silver tin of beer, reeking of reflection or regret. A waft of fetid cooking fat puffs out from the ship’s kitchen. As the last two lighthouses pass like sentry-posts a couple ask me to take their photograph, with the dim sight of Blighty as their backdrop. There is a large height difference between them, making composition difficult. I am unhappy with the result but a message in German says the memory card is full. The tall young man seems satisfied with my effort. Below me, on deck 7, a clutch of cider-buzzing lads pose for snapshots too, their sultry attitudes and suedehead haircuts as perfectly choreographed as any boy-band. I can see those future longing faces looking back to this moment immediately in my mind. Is it ever worth being so reminded? A lone boy with obvious disability skulks on the edge of their party, not getting too close, just skirting around their menacing thrill. You’ve seen a hundred like him before and been him too often to consider.


Down in my cabin the boat begins to gently roll. It feels like being high up in a tree on a summer’s day. The river mouth encapsulates humankind’s relentless success. Habitation in every crevice and over every crest like moss around a forest floor. What pests we might be in virgin worlds, how determined we are in industry and colonisation. It can’t help but make you proud to be of this supreme bacteria. Poor dried-up Mars is in our sights. I am borne over the sea in my giant neon-choked survival capsule. I am in between havens: we are all in this together.