During my rock-climbing days, spending regular weekends hanging from a rock face in the Llanberris Pass and our evenings taste testing the ales in a pub in Capel Curig, I remember one of my chums teasing our barmaid who was the spitting image of Dylan Thomas’s Gossamer Beynon (“O beautiful beautiful Gossamer B”), by telling her in a pseudo Welsh accent “I really love Wales” and when she agreed with a big smile he went on “Yes, honestly, I’ve watched Moby Dick at least ten times”. It gave us all a laugh, probably helped by the local bitter.
Even longer ago, when Nelson was a boy, I was on a cargo boat chugging through the Indian Ocean, miles from anywhere when we came to a shuddering halt when we collided with an enormous Hump-backed whale that had like us been cruising along minding its own business. The collision was hard enough to result in a lot of broken crockery and a cabin boy with a broken arm. The damage to the whale was more serious, probably fatal. We stopped to examine our damage and were treated to a remarkable display as we watched the injured whale which was by then spouting blood and making heart rending bleating noises, as its partner appeared alongside it and appeared to be trying to keep it afloat.
We watched the display for ten minutes or so before it was full ahead both and we continued on our way. The incident did not a lot more than give the crew a talking point on a long and boring journey. I was young enough to be upset by the fate of such a stunning beast.
A couple of years later I was aboard a large passenger liner and made a regular stopover in Capetown and on a run ashore, met up with some of the crew of a Norwegian Whale Factory Ship and over a glass of Tikki Hock ( a local plonk, if I remember correctly a Tikki was South African slang for threepence the cost of this brew), I related my own whaling tale. In the way of shipmates who would otherwise pass in the night I accepted their hospitality and returned with them to their ship for a tot or two. . . . . . .
Talk about the little ship of horrors, it was more like Dante’s Inferno as I was treated to a guided tour of the factory ship in full flow. A flow complete with blood, snot and horror that no-one had prepared this delicate seventeen year old for. The floating abattoir was as busy and noisy as any factory as workmen dealt with the huge carcase of a sperm whale with nothing wasted. Men were slicing huge lumps of flesh and blubber with long fletching knives and tossing lumps of it into huge steaming vats. They were slipping and sliding on bloody slime as they carried out their gruesome tasks. The sight and smell and noise of this steaming hell I will not carry on describing but I am sure that you get the picture.
I didn’t quite run away screaming, I just ran for the guardrail where I leant over for a ‘kit inspection’ of everything that I had eaten and drunk that day. I made my excuses and left. Memory locked away in a filing cabinet in a folder marked not required on voyage through life.
Until that was when I read reports in the media that commercial whaling looks set to start up once more after the world had appeared to come to its senses 24 years ago and said goodbye to the bloody slaughter. I thought that we had become more civilised and had outlawed the hunting of great whales for good and allowed these marvellous and complex creatures to roam our ocean depths in peace.
It now appears that the Japanese, Norwegians and Icelanders are about to convince the world’s politicians that they should be allowed to return to their barbarous ways in the slaughter of the innocents. I’m not sure that I want to still be around if they get their way. Perhaps I will hang around long enough to add my voice in opposition to try to stop this greedy and unnecessary trade.
My God! I’m beginning to sound like a tree hugger but I assure you that I am not. I just love whales and Wales. At least thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall whom incidentally I read yesterday is now a millionaire, they will no longer have to throw the wrong species back. Oh no that’s only fish not the beautiful, nearly inedible mammal, and yes I have tasted it, it was known as snook to us during the war. I can confirm that it tastes far worse than horse. Nuff said!
Call me Ishmael. “There she blows!–there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!”