My song today is ‘Stormy Weather’ which was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Ethel Waters first sang it at ‘The Cotton Club’ night club in Harlem in 1933 and recorded it that year. The song has since been performed by such diverse artists as Frank Sinatra: Judy Garland: Etta James: Ella Fitzgerald: Dinah Washington: Clodagh Rodgers: Lena Horne and Billie Holiday, plus others.
There have been several ‘stormy’ periods in my life, some literal and others metaphorically speaking. The worse literal storm that I faced was in December 1963, as I crossed the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Canada. I still recall being horribly as sick as a dog for three days (along with all the other ship passengers) as I kept my head down in my cabin in between one puke and the next.
The next occasion was during an Irish holiday some 15 years ago. We had decided to visit one of the islands and we boarded the small craft to take us across the four miles stretch of water. We were about one mile out when the heavens burst open, and minutes later thunder and lightning roared across the skies and the rain poured down. I have never been a good sailor, and again I was as sick as a dog, along with half a dozen of the 12 passengers in the small craft. The boat rocked so much in the waves that I swear that I thought it was on the verge of capsizing and sinking us all.
The boat skipper gave all his passengers on the brink of throwing up a look of disgust as he sarcastically said, “It’s only a cloud spit. That’s all it is, a cloud spit!”, and merely carried on steering us towards the small island of our destination with a huge smirk on his face. Throughout the journey, he puffed away merrily on an old pipe that looked as ancient as his boat, and the pipe stem had been broken in the past. The old skipper had simply wrapped several old plasters over the broken part where the stem entered the bowl of the pipe. He was obviously a man of ‘waste not, want not’ and thought that there was no point in buying another pipe when he might get another ten years out of his trusted old comforter his grandfather had bequeathed him forty years earlier.
The boat eventually completed its usual ten-minute crossing thirty minutes after we had set off. Hampered by the stormy conditions, the craft did a marina's square dance across the water as it moved two feet forward, one to the side and one foot back. As we crossed the choppy waters and I threatened to puke up yet again, I genuinely feared going over the side and finishing up in 'Davey Jones's Locker'. As I heaved heavily, the boat swayed dangerously, threatening to end all our holidays to come.
When we arrived at the island, the weather had calmed to being the usual ‘cloud spit’ of pouring rain, a gale force of 6, and blustery wind beating against our faces as we walked. There was one public house and about six old habitable dwellings on the island, and the boat skipper informed us that the journey back to the mainland would be in three hours’ time. For the next three hours, I laid my wretched body on a pub bench in the hallway, with a bag at hand, trying not to puke again. The following three hours appeared to be the longest I had ever experienced, and though the boat journey back was not in storm conditions, someone should have told the waves to settle down, as I was as sick as a dog another twice.
Two of my weakest characteristics would be looking down from a great height and throwing up as I sailed in choppy waters. Both would make my stomach churn. In later years, whenever I saw a man smoking a short-stemmed pipe that looked old enough to have been dug up from an old farmer’s field during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, I think of the old Irish boat skipper who had no intention of allowing a little force-ten ‘cloud spit’ to provide a reason as to why his daily earnings should be cancelled because of deciding to postpone his daily crossing for a dozen mad tourists who were prepared to pay £8 each to be throw up half a dozen times during the crossing.
Love and peace Bill xxx