Steve Lamacq played The Beatles’ song An Octopus’s Garden. Anyone familiar with Steve Lamacq’s BBC Radio Six programme will know that such a record would not be typical fare on Radio Six; on Radio Two, Perhaps, but not on Six.
It is fifty years since the song was in the charts, I would have been eight years old when it was released; Steve Lamacq, with whom I share a birthday, would have been four. Oddly, for a song that was a piece of jollity, there was always a sense of menace about it. Whether Steve Lamacq ever shared the feeling of unease, I don’t know, but for me the voice of Ringo Starr evokes thoughts of shipwreck and drowning!
It is hard to fathom how the idea of being under the sea became fearful. Our village was at least fifteen miles away from the coast as the crow flies, and even that piece of coastline in Bridgwater Bay was more mudflats than deep water, yet the sea seemed always to be something threatening, something darkly ominous. It was not until I watched Pirates of the Caribbean as an adult that the name of Davy Jones ceased to be one that stirred a sense of danger and darkness.
Perhaps it was growing up in a time when memories of the Second World War were still fresh, the massive loss of British ships caused by the U-boat campaign left thousands of British seamen at the bottom of the sea. Stories of heroic actions, like that of the armed merchantman the Jervis Bay which protected a convoy against the German pocket battleship the Admiral Scheer, might have inspired lines in school poetry books, but were a reminder that the sea was a grave.
Perhaps it was holidays spent in small seaside towns where small boats were tied up in small harbours that prompted thoughts of how such tiny vessels coped among the waves of the sea that loomed threateningly beyond the solid stone walls.
Perhaps it was just that childhood fear that arises when realising for the first time that life ended in death and thinking that the sea was one of the places where life might end far more early than expected.
If an abiding thought about the sea remains, it is not that of Ringo Starr’s song, but is the title of Nicholas Monserrat’s book The Cruel Sea. The sea is not something to wish to be beneath.