Hold a-fast o’ me now, Jim, and listen close! I’ll tell ye a tale, of land-lubbers and walk-r*nners, of sweatin’ and drinkin’ and Admirals and Clowns.
‘twas upon a Wednesday eve in October, during the first watch. The sky was bright with stars, a touch of north-westerly in the air, the sea just a-breathin’ gentle-like. Nigh on twenty of these coves, Hashers they calls ‘em, a-gathered afore a dockside inn – it was The Ship’s Cat, at the sign of a pussy in a sou’wester – for one of their queer meetings, or Hashes as they have it. They were crusty old hands, mostly, just a few with skin still smooth enough fer a dress and a wig. There was even an old bos’n from the Peloponnesus, Fair Cop by handle, a-making his yearly pilgrimage to the locale.
Their hare was a one called Chafing Bollocks, a snaggle-toothed one-legged drunkard, rimed with sweat and reeking of booze. “Foller me,” said he, “an there’ll be booty, and good beer!” His breath was his bond for that gear. Fools they were to follow him! But they went gamely about it, aye Jim lad, a-r*nnin’ and a-skippin’ along a trail of sorts that lies above the mouth of the mighty river Tyne. Soon they were upon the headland where a grand mon’ment to the Admiral Lord Collingwood stands, an hundred feet and more if it’s an ell, with Nelson’s right hand (nay, he had need of one!) all marbled and mighty athwart the top. Upon the very guns of the Royal Sovereign they mounted, making out as though they were 20-pound willies, and disported themselves for pictures upon the steps. A wench they call Treasure Chest – arr, an X marks her spot! – used her wiles to make the unruly mob toe the line.
Just out of that port they found themselves all at sea! The trail was faint as a landsman’s heart and they beat about the beach until they settled on a rendy-voo at the edge of the North Pier. The pier was a-locked and barred agin them, no access to jackanapes such as they, though the weather promised fair. All to the good, says I; for had that drunken cripple of a hare sent them a-chasing wild geese down that half-mile of cold stone, they’d as like to have tossed him into the briny, beer or no.
Long they floundered upon the beaches of Whitley Bay! And yet their feet barely touched sand, for the hare in his groggy confusion had laid all his flour upon the portages that lead up and down. Many cursed him for a son of a gun. Counterfit showed the nous of the old hand with a shortcut across the prom.
At last they unbeached themselves and sailed on into the town. “There’s drink,” wheezed the hare, “and wenches, and even doughnuts and that as well.” But none of this did the sorry seadogs see: on he drove them, that peg-legged rummy, right through the centre of the town into the very Metro station. Even there they made no landfall, though their throats were as lined with salt. Fair Cop was ready to cast himself adrift, and would have too, had TreesAre thrown in with him. But they stuck at it, and ran through, then changed tack south into a footway all a-grown over with trees and suchlike green stuff.
This course bore them into Northumberland Park. Here they were truly benighted; ‘twas dark as the inside of the gloryhole! They fumbled their way to the northmost gate and there became all of a certitude that they knew their course, aye, most were out on the street before you could say Shanghai. ‘twas Cinderella who found the right tack and took all the wind from their sails. Back through the park they went!
By now the Hash were ripe for mutiny. Atwixt tired legs and thirsty throats there was a length of hemp a-fixin’ for the hare. “Shipmates!” he wheedled. “Bear with me, stay yer course but another turn o’ the glass, and there’ll be booty and drink and pig fat.” “A ROPE,” they cried, “AND ON THE YARD ARM WITH HIM!” But order prevailed, they lent ear to his promises, and r*n on into the backside of North Shields.
Soon they were upon the shoulder of the rise where stands the old lighthouse, a fine square old sight to a seaman. Abaft of it lies a little parkland and here they were directed to pay their mean tribute at a statue of Stan Laurel, a much funnier man than the beer-breathed scoundrel who laid the trail. Here he made them his final promise: “Mates, the beer lies but a few fathoms below…”
And so it was, Jim lad! Down the steps they slid like eels from the Sargasso, and slithered into the Salty Sea Dog that adorns the quay. There was grog aplenty, and jades for the takin’, and a posse of local grips for pressin’.
The Ship’s Cat stood hard by – there the voyage ended. They circled, pressed booze on the godforsaken hare, and sang shanties. Virgins were revealed, Jim lad! Dabtoes, two of ‘em, a Sophie and an Ian. A hand who’d learnt the ropes was given a name in honour of his granddaddy’s whalin’ career – Moby Dick they dubbed him, and bathed him in beer. Fair Cop presented a shirt from the Greek Islands to one of the green hands.
‘twas then they discovered a stealthy junk had been in hot chase all along: Five Quai Headjob was late to the Cat and dogged the steps of the crew til he finally ran them aground. A lantern for that man!
And that’s the tale of how a crew of lily-livered landlubbers sailed right round an Admiral and got into a Salty Sea Dog by the back stairs!