Huey Pierce Smith (known as Huey ‘Piano Smith) was born in 1934 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was an American Rhythm and blues pianist whose sound became very influential in the development of rock and roll. His piano playing incorporated the style of boogie, jazz and rhythm and blues and he came to epitomise the infectious New Orleans’ Rhythm and Blues sound that swept the country.
Whenever I hear this song, I am instantly reminded of my first sea crossing of ‘The Atlantic Ocean’ during the cold December month of 1963 when I was emigrating to Canada. I was leaving my family for the first time in my life and my dear mother feared that she would never see me again. This was a time when all holidays were taken in one’s own country unless one happened to be a very wealthy person, and visiting foreign countries was only done by explorers, the aristocracy and royalty.
I had originally planned to emigrate to Canada with half a dozen workmates from ‘Harrison Gardeners Dyeworks’ in Hightown, but as each week came closer to the December departure date, all the others backed out one-by-one. I still decided to go on my own. I saw my voyage as a symbolism of a great journey.
The two-week voyage was eventful for several reasons. That winter of 1963 going into 1964 was to be one of the worst winters on record at both sides of the Atlantic. During my ocean crossing, I saw the sea at its stormiest and wildest, at its darkest and most dangerous, and at its calmest. The waters appeared to quieten and settle as the ship docked in Nova Scotia. In all the changing moods of that ocean crossing, I saw reflections of myself at different stages of my life.
The crossing was far from the romantic sea journey I had dreamt of. For the first three days the ship rocked and rolled through savage waves. Everyone on the ship (except for the captain) was constantly sick. After our sea sickness had abated towards the latter part of week one, I entered a talent contest. I was a decent singer when I set sail and had planned to earn my living singing forevermore once I landed on the shores of Canada. Indeed, it would be true to say that I saw myself as the best of singers simply waiting to be discovered. I suppose I should have taken the hint of that ship talent-concert result when I came second to an 8-year-old girl with Shirley Temple looks, if not the voice. I have forever since held the view that adults, children and animals should never compete against each other on the same stage, although I now see that I’d taken advantage of such matchings as a young boy entering talent contests many years earlier.
Towards the end of the first week, a ‘Gay’ man took a fancy to me and even offered me some money to ‘keep him company’. Given the year (1964) and my then prejudice towards ‘Gays’ (it being 1967 in England before homosexuality was decriminalised), I beat a hasty retreat and kept out of his way for the rest of the crossing. I have often mused what he would have been prepared to pay, had I taken up his offer?
My contact with a lovely Chinese lady who was about ten years older than me occupied my attention for the remainder of the crossing and added allure and glamour to the nights ahead. I was in danger of ‘Falling in love’ all over again and I hadn’t yet set sight on the coast of Nova Scotia. Common sense eventually prevailed and the castles in the air I had built in my mind whenever I thought about being in the company of my Chinese companion were allowed to fall into the category of 'ship romance'. We separated when the ship docked in Nova Scotia. I travelled on to Montreal by train and she was destined for Winnipeg. Our contact during that second week of the crossing was simply too good ever to exchange addresses or seek to keep in touch. These were precious moments on the S.S.Sylvania that would forever remain on the S.S.Sylvania.
Although I have never enjoyed good sea legs, ever since that crossing, I have always viewed the ocean waters as being a mighty harmoniser of the lonely heart and a settler of the mind.
When I set off for Canada, I saw myself as a huge breaking wave who was determined to change the landscape for the better once I hit the shore.
For six months in Toronto, I courted the oldest daughter, Jenny, of the then British Trade Commissioner, Mr S. Downton. Jenny’s father was able to get access to many events that were denied to the ordinary man and woman. One evening, Jenny was over the moon as she told me that her dad had managed to get tickets to see the Beatles in some huge stadium and that I was included in the party outing. Having previously committed myself to spend part of that weekend boating on the Toronto Islands with a friend, I politely declined, adding that the Beatles only came from Liverpool (fifty miles from where I lived in West Yorkshire) and that I’d have plenty of opportunities to see them when I returned to England. Little did I know then how famous they were destined to become!
By the time I returned to England some two years later, I had learned enough about some of the world’s waters to both fear and love their passage. Ever since that Atlantic crossing, I have stayed in love with the sea. I love seeing the choppy waters on the Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland whenever I revisit the land of my birth. I love the sea but now prefer to see it at a safe distance. I love being near water and one of my favourite places and activities in England is rowing an attractive woman under the Bridges of Knaresborough on the calm flowing waters of the River Nidd; although my lack of mobility has reduced me over the past four years. The last time that when Sheila and I visited this beautiful place, Sheila assumed the captaincy of the boat while myself and our dog ‘Lady’ took a back seat.
When Sheila and I did our European tour last year (2018) I will never forget the beautiful water journey we had on Lake Como in Italy. Neither shall I ever forget the year before Sheila and I married when we had a wonderful two weeks in Sorrento, Italy during the summer of 2011. The most memorable and romantic part of that holiday that Sheila will give me permission to refer to, involved a two-hour boat ride around ‘The Isle of Capri’. I have used a photograph taken of me during that boat ride as my website photo ever since. (www.fordefables.co.uk).
In my old age, I have come to appreciate more how important the sea is to our world where water covers two-thirds of it. The silent waters in the woodland stream, the twisting torrent of the rivers, the calm and tempestuous changing seas and the awesomeness of the oceans; all help to reinforce the indisputable fact that everything is connected; that all roads meet, and that all rivers flow into the same sea.
The most comforting of all thoughts for me about the sea is the fact that its very presence constantly reminds me that no man is an island or is beyond redemption. That is why I will never lose faith in the goodness of mankind and humanity. I see the composition of mankind being like an ocean. If a few drops of dirt are dropped in the ocean, the ocean doesn’t become 'a dirty' thoroughfare, just as one sin doesn’t sink the ship of the soul on our travels through life. We are all redeemable, however many bad marks we have notched up on our travels.
Fancy coming with me on a ‘Sea Cruise’?
Love and peace. Bill xxx