Aspiring to be a spectre

Mar 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

In a West Country childhood, there were always magical stories.  There were tales of people who had met Merlin, the great wizard, keeping watch should he need to rouse Arthur and his knights from their earthbound slumbers.  Should they again need to ride forth, everyone knew they lay in wait in Cadbury Hill.

In Somerset, there were there knights in shining armour who would ride back from the dead in the moment of need and, in Devon, a navy waited the hour when it would again put to sea.

The English teacher in the little Dartmoor secondary school belonged to a conservative Christian church, but loved to teach us poems rooted in legend, even if they meant heroes rising from the dead (something strictly forbidden in the conservative Christian worldview).  The rhythms of ‘Drake’s Drum’ still conjure memories of her reading:

DRAKE he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand mile away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi’ sailor lads a-dancin’ heel-an’-toe,
An’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?),
Rovin’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
An’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe,
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
An’ drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago.”

Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?),
Slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
An’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’,
They shall find him, ware an’ wakin’, as they found him long ago.

It was the same English teacher who lent pupils her copy of Frederick Forsyth’s ‘The Shepherd’, a wonderful story about a de Havilland Vampire jet in thick fog over the North Sea at Christmas Eve 1957 when all its instruments failed.  An old Mosquito bomber appears out of the mists and leads the jet to safety before disappearing.  The Mosquito had disappeared without trace on Christmas Eve some fourteen years previously; its ghost continued in active service.

Heroes felt no pain.  They rode into a story for a brief time and went on their way as quickly as they had appeared.  There were no ‘helloes’ and no ‘goodbyes’; no tears and no regrets.

Sometimes to be a ghostly figure, appearing and disappearing when the task is accomplished seems attractive; sometimes it seems it would mean much less pain than real life.

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