Around this time each year, I would look for presents for Dad. His birthday was 18th December, so with the slowness of the Christmas post, I would send birthday and Christmas presents together. I would ensure each was wrapped individually and would write on the label, “A Merry Birthday and a Happy Christmas to you.”
I would spend time on choosing the presents each year. Dad was a keen reader of military history and I would seek out newly published books on the conflicts that interested him, chiefly the campaigns of the Second World War.
Dad died on 10th March this year and buying Mum’s present there was a sense of sadness at no longer buying books that would find a place in the shelves above his desk, that there would be no conversations about the subjects of the books.
In recent years, a bookshop in Ledbury in Herefordshire became an excellent source of military history books, there were always many titles from which to choose.
Ledbury, I discovered on one book-buying trip, was also the home of John Masefield, the poet who wrote Sea Fever, a poem Dad would recall when I was a child.
Dad loved the sea. He loved the harbour at Lyme Regis. He loved the small boats that headed out into the waters of the English Channel.
Sea Fever always inspired my childish imaginings. I would visualise a ship moving through the darkness beneath a clear starry sky.
“And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over,” wrote Masefield at the end of the poem.
May Dad rest easy and dream sweetly and may he stand on the Cobb at Lyme looking out at the boats. And, when these times are past, may I sit on a bench against the grey stone wall and eat fish and chips and talk with him about the books I might have bought.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.