Friday, 23 December 2011

The Last Post

2011 has been quite a big year for me, in a few ways. So I thought as the end of it is nearing (and there’s no way I’ll remember to do it next week), I’d do one final blog before starting my seagoing rambles in January. Below, split into numbered sections - not in order of priority - is a round up of my year. Probably not of interest to anybody but myself, and maybe my parents whom I don’t tell much in real life, so if you decide to read on, good luck and thank you.

One - Job.

This time last year I was living at home, working in a boring hotel and waiting for the next canal boating season to start. A summer working on a hotel boat was something to look forward to but finite in its reach - I’d applied to join the merchant navy and was waiting to hear whether I had a chance at a career, and if I didn’t, I had no clue what I was going to do. This time this year, I’ve completed a good first phase of a cadetship and am being sponsored by a great company. I’m qualified in first aid and firefighting amongst other things, and in January I get to travel to Singapore to join a ship which will visit lots of other parts of Asia and Africa. For the first time in a number of years I’m motivated, interested in my job and having a great time.

Two - Books.

I have spent a lot of the year reading and writing, and there have been four books (none of which new) which had a particularly big effect on me:

The Autobiography Of A Super-Tramp, WH Davies - an old edition of this was an extremely well-thought-out gift from someone who meant a lot to me at the time. I loved the true tale of the hobo writer who beat and worked and tramped his way across countries and oceans, lost a leg and didn’t seem to whine much about it, and eventually became a success. A precursor to Kerouac and the like.

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, Italo Calvino - see here for details.

Blindness, Jose Saramago - being blind is my biggest fear, and I’m already halfway there without my contacts in. Therefore it goes without saying, although it appears I’m saying it anyway, that this book in which all but one of the nameless characters loses their sight absolutely terrifies me. Saramago writes simply and clearly and this only enhances the horror.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger - in terms of the way I see life, I reckon I’m approximately quarter past Generation X. This is jointly due to time of birth, age/interests of friends and a brief but memorable late-teenage Douglas Coupland obsession. As a consequence of this I’m not particularly emotionally available when I read (and in life, but I’m working on that); I revel in detachment, observation, irony and sarcasm instead of personal involvement. But The Time-Traveler’s Wife had me in tears, floods of actual tears, several times. During work breaks, which wasn’t too convenient. Beautifully heartbreaking, funny, tragic, gorgeous story, which the film didn’t go a long way to justifying. I was left broken.

Three - Harry. 

Boy meets girl. Boy undoes girl’s bra in the library. Girl gives in to the incessant pestering. Boy and girl work out all of their arguments and problems in the first few weeks. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl hopes that four months of separation will be OK due to technological advancements such as email. Girl misses boy a bit just now.


Those are the major changes. Other memorable bits include a week I spent early in the year that I can't really talk about, coming face-to-face with bison in a zoo (they're frickin' mental looking. I want one as a pet to scare off Jehovah's witnesses), an entire summer making cakes and contending with awful guests with my new friend Debbie, camping and climbing a mountain with the rest of the Maersk cadets, steaming the skin off my fingers, trying to explain quantum physics to a seventeen-year-old, meeting loads of Twitter folk in a tiny bookshop in London, and drunken bonfires on the beach with new friends. My 2011 has been fun, exhausting and extraordinary. I hope my 2012 will be equally so plus more, and I hope the same for you.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Phase One Complete

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it? I must admit I've been distracted the past couple of months, both by work/studying and personal things... but today marks a significant point in my new career so what better time to take up the blog again? I probably won't do much over the Christmas period but I've been given my ship's details for January so then I'll be blogging again in earnest, hopefully complete with pictures and all sorts from the exotic places I'm visiting - but more on that anon.

So it turns out I'm actually pretty good at this college stuff. Today is the day I move out of Warsash student accommodation (I hope never to return - not exactly my ideal living situation, and I've already paid a deposit on a flat with two friends for next year when we get back from sea). Over the past few weeks we've had short courses - I'm now qualified in basic first aid, basic firefighting and a few other things, and I have an Enclosed Space Entry course to do on Monday which I assume entails crawling around in tiny spaces. We've also had exam results - 97% in maths (joint highest over two classes!), 82% in navigation (the important one) and 85% in ship and port operations. All in all a pretty good term... but I'm very aware that it's the bits of sea-based training which will show me whether I want to do this or not. It's taken me a while to find this career, so I really really hope I like the practical stuff as much as the learning stuff.

We have a lot of support in this industry. We've had numerous talks from people such as Nautilus (the seafarer's union - at £12 for a year's subs as a student, it's a no-brainer), we're repeatedly told where we can go for help if we need it, and to top it all off I've just received a letter from my new mentor as part of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners' mentoring scheme. This is where they pair a cadet or new recruit with a captain (either working or retired) in order that they can share their experiences and offer personal advice if and when required. I really do feel very looked after, which I reckon is important in such a scary job - just last week we were told that we're in the second most dangerous profession in the world (the first being deep sea fishing). They're really drumming into us the importance of safety onboard - it really hits home when they start talking about a cadet who studied here a couple of years ago who died on his first sea trip due to not being given adequate training on his ship.

But brushing all the scary stuff aside (easy peasy, right?), my first sea phase should be amazing. I join the Maersk Kendal, a container ship, in Tanjung Pelepas on 19th/20th January, and from there we travel round South Africa then back up towards China. If you want to have a little peek at our schedule and have five minutes to spare you can look it up here.

I have a month off before I leave, in which time I have to fit in a megaload of things! Harry and I are going on our first little adventure together, involving a road trip up and down Britain to visit various relatives and fit in a short course that I missed due to a lung/ear infection the other week - it's up in Fleetwood near Blackpool but luckily enough it's directly between two other places we need to visit.

It's been a properly up and down year - next blog will be an end-of-2011 thing, before the ship adventure starts. Enough of my rambling for now, probably. Have a good Christmas everyone!