Yesterday I was writing about the hardships of emigration in the great days of sail, for my new website (why I have decided to write the Encyclopedia of Piracy For Ten Year Olds, I do not know, but as Kipling would say, that’s another story).
Then I started reading Colm Toibin’s book of travel writing, The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe.
Now I’ve come over all Irish.
It’s been nagging at me for weeks – it’s Jan Morris’s fault, actually – she started it with her description of the Easter uprising in Farewell the Trumpets.
I’m reminded of Seamus Heaney’s Digging –
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Or maybe it was there before, on mornings when I walk to the office past the fishing boats and hear the gulls (there’s one calling now – they sound like Irish gulls to me) and walk under the hook. It’s a new sculpture at the end of Lighter Wharf, a monolithic granite representation of wharfie’s hook that reminds me of my grandfather every time I see it.
He grew up under the hook. So did my mum. I was born there. Port Melbourne. Under the hook, that’s what you called it. Port. That’s its name to us. A working port. A wharf, a few pubs, a footy team, SP bookies in the back lane (my uncles) and as few police as possible. Micks to the left, Proddies to the right.
No container ships. Cranes, if you were on a modern pier, hooks and winches and blocks and tackles. Nets and ropes. That’s how it was.
Now it’s all apartments and advertising types at lunch.
They don’t know they’re under the hook.