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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

The Call of the Sea

page 50

The Call of the Sea

World without “Spend.”

If You would make the world your orange to be seized and squeezed, if you would see the world without “spend,” if you would sample the subtle scents of the mystic East, the lotus-laden airs of isles becalmed in scented seas, the whistling sting of the Ice King's breath through mountain pines, the snarl of age-old cataracts, the shout of the seas, the moan of the mounting storm, and peaceful evening laying a soothing palm across the burning brow of day in some far land of light and colour; if you would have these things, while yet lashed to the chariot wheel of Commerce—though your pocket be as empty as your head is full, they are yours if you will take them. Simply you rub the lamp of imagination and, lo! there comes to you the geni of Vision saying: “What would you, master?” And, if you are wise, you will not answer thus: “I would drink deep of the vintage which is of gold, I would eat long of the flesh pots of Egypt, oh verily! and taste of the delights of scented idleness.” No sir, you would say: “Give to me, oh gem, a nose that knows the language of Imagination, an eye that is a window in the tower of Vision, and a mind, semi-detached, that can take to itself the wings of the albatross and zoom to the ends of the earth.”

Roaming In Romance.

Then all else you need is an hour of old Fugit's “tempus,” a peaceful mind, and a mile or two of wharves. For the wharves are where the world steps off to shake your hand and say “how do,” and its hundred inevitable equivalents. There the air is heavy with the breath of foreign lands and the scenery is strewn with raw material for building castles in Spain, log cabins in Canada, pagodas in China, bridges in Japan, temples in Burma, and any other structure your sub-conscious contractor craves to erect on the building sites of your brain. For—The sea is the open track Whence Romance comes, Tramping through heat and wrack, Beating her Diesel drums, Bearing her merchandise, Singing her wares—Sugar and tea and spice, China and chairs.

The sea is the road she bides, Keeping the track, Salt on her heaving sides, Spray on her back.

Out of the East and the West, Beating her drums, Tramping at Trade's behest; That's how she comes! Who but the knowing can tell

Where Romance bides, Battered by blizzard and swell,

Rust on her streaming sides.

Which but the eye that discerns, And the vision that speaks, Takes what the gold-beater spurns, And the Romancer seeks, Black and high-pooped though she be, Blistered and bare, Those with discernment can see The romance that is there.

A Salted Soliloquy.

It is there; it is here in this tramp from Canada, moored like a giant captive “hippo,” her stern soaring up from her rudder post in a blank black curve, broken only by her name rambling across her wide posterior. A blade of her single propeller juts out of the water like the burst-out busk of a disreputable corset. Her decks sweep unadorned to the castle-like superstructure in her middle. She is untidy; she is one of the salt-soaked “hoi polloi,” but she has a sort of robust vulgarity which seems to say: “I mebbe rough, I mebbe tough but, buddy, I sticks to me pals.” She is a Mae West of the seven seas. God help me, I fall in love with her ample curves and her honest countenance. And the scent she uses! It breathes of pines cloaked in frost, of trappers on snow-shoes, of bears snuffling to their winter beds; it brings visions of lumber camps, of lumber-jacks leaping bucking logs in the swirl of icy rivers.
“A nose that, knows the language of imagination.”

“A nose that, knows the language of imagination.”

page 51 It projects moving pictures on the silver sheet of imagination. A crane hoists a fifty-foot stick of reeking pine off her deck. It swings blindly in mid-air as if seeking to touch some familiar object in this unfamiliar land, to remind it of the ice-bound mountain from which it was wrested.

Sea Sauce.

And here, on the other side of the wharf, dipping her sawn-off bowsprit to the greasy swell, is a bulgy, blunt-nosed, slab-sterned, flat-bottomed relic of the days before the sea dogs slipped their earthly leashes and shipped aboard the celestial bark for the eternal voyage. Her two masts are stumpy, and her soiled sails are wrapped about her booms. A ship such as this, with the addition of a castle poop, may have taken Columbus across the seas to discover the land of the three D's—dollars, deals and doughnuts. But there is something sailorly and salty about her—something sea-sousy and saucy. Apart from the metallic contraption in her bowels which is called an engine, but which looks like a baker's oven with ambitions, she is one of the “white-wings” and she has the novelty of the good old-fashioned girl (almost extinct) that she is. You can see her burying her stem deep in the frothy rollers like Dockside Dora of old, dipping her nose into a schooner of rum-and-porter. There is a scent of tar in her breath and a hint of devil-may-care in her rolling gait. She looks as if all her cargo should be kegs and barrels; by rights there should be a teak brass-bound salt-horse tub abaft the mainmast, and a brass cannon at her stern.

It is easy to picture her slipping into a blue lagoon where the parakeets are screaming and the white gulls swooping and crying around her truck. Such is the prompting of Imagination, but dull Truth tries to compel Common Sense to admit that she chugs and staggers from port to port with her abdomen heavy with cement and galvanised iron. But why admit it?

“Bears snuffling to their winter beds.”

“Bears snuffling to their winter beds.”

It's not what she is, but all that she suggests—

A snow-white bird to skim the ocean crests,

Adventuring among the isles of dreams It's not the ship she is, but what she seems.

You see her bravely heeled, with scuppers churning

The torquoise waves her questing prow is spurning;

You see her skipper gallant, legs out-spread,

Who spins the wheel to take her by the head;

You hear the mournful cry that sailors know,

Blown down from up aloft, a long “la-a-a-nd ho!”

Perhaps the Jolly Roger's at her truck,

The while she sends a parting shot, for luck,

Across the bow of some wide-bellied cruiser,

Which, knowing it is vain, yet still pursues her.

The scenes her barrel sides cause you to dream,

Are pictures from the mystic Might-have-been.

Mental Ju-Jitsu.

Across the way a fat, stump-funnelled tramp flaunts the flag of the rising sun. Her forecastle rail is lined with small brown faces which look like a row of Oriental “aunt salleys” carved from teak.

She smells of the East—that rice-and-joss-stick aroma which pervades the haunts of Orientals. Here your sub-conscious picture-projector gives you a flash of half-moon bridges leaping over lily-clad ponds reflecting the evening sun impaled on the tip of a painted mountain.

The Lady Of The “Look.”

Across the way is the lady of luxury, the lily-white aristocrat of the seas, her broad beam sveltly corsetted by the best corsettieres of the Clydebank, her ample bust compressed in a filigree
The End of “The Jolly Old Tar.” (A Tragedy of The High Seize.

The End of “The Jolly Old Tar.”
(A Tragedy of The High Seize.

page 52 page 53 of painted steel and varnished timber. Her upper works are a fretwork of staunchions and square ports, falling across her shoulders in a mantle of metal lace. Her nose has a haughty tilt; she seems to sniff her disapproval of the aroma of Commerce. Trade? She would never deign to exert her cranes except to hoist anything less than cases of caviare or crates of “pate de fois gras.” For she mixes only with the best people. Argentinian cattle kings flick a faultless napkin at her tables, Pittsburg millionaires pace her promenades, and milords and their ladies do their daily dozen round her immaculate decks. She stalks into every port with little funnelled flunkeys tooting the tidings of her arrival. She is the Luxury Liner, She seems to examine each city through haughtily upraised lorgnette; she is the lady of the “look.” But she is really a dear old duchess at heart, and even cattle kings are much as you and I beneath their “airtex.” Certainly they offer something of the romance of the rolling pampas and, in spite of their Midas handicap, they must sense something of the glamour which is a part of every land one wasn't born in.

Happily Mad.

And so, if you would travel without travelling, Slip down to the wharf, Take an hour or two off; You will travel a lot— If you know what is what.

And when you get home your wife will say: “Have you been very far?” And you will answer, “Thousands of miles.” And she will think you are slightly mad—and so you are; but happily mad. Being happily mad is like being happily married—there is a lot of satisfaction in it.

An Appreciation.

From C. F. Mill ward & Co., Wanganui, to the General Manager of Railways, Wellington:—

We wish to convey to you an appreciation of the business-like way in which your Department is managing the handling of goods traffic.

As Shipping Agents, we have to deal with large quantities of cargo both import and export; frequently there are two or three ships to be attended to at the same time and the bulk of the cargo is taken from and brought to them by New Zealand Railways. A short time ago there was a particularly heavy rush, when expedition and precision were vitally necessary—any confusion would have caused a bad hold-up—but we are glad to say that the Department's officers handled the situation most effectively and there was no hitch of any kind; everything came and went on time.

We appreciate, too, the courtesy shown by the officials, to whom nothing is too much trouble.

(Railway Publicity photo.) The Buller River, South Island, New Zealand.

(Railway Publicity photo.)
The Buller River, South Island, New Zealand.