#National Lighthouse Day
All poems by Dean Wilson from his collection “Take Me Up To The Lighthouse”
In Red and White
You could helter-skelter down their columns on a rug or tray,
pretend they’re giant sticks of rock in red and white –
slice thought their middles and you’d surely find
the names of places where they stand:
Strumble, Needles, Bardsey, Portland Bill.
In the wind you’d hear the thin bewildered sighs
of long-forgotten keepers drifting round
the eerie robot systems that transmit the beams;
men amazed that no-one has to trim or light the lamps.
Excerpt from The Errand Boy: North – when Dunkeld first meets Nostrum, is he a friend or foe….
The quiet serenity of the pub was abruptly shattered as the door flew open and half a dozen trawler men rolled in, good natured but loud and thirsty.
“Valerie, your favourite Vikings are back, give us your wenches and your mead so we can raise a pyre to Valhalla.” The leader had a voice of confidence and camaraderie, his blonde greyish hair and beard was punctuated with eyes that looked as if they were formed from the blue waters of Capri.
“Captain Daniel Nostrum, there are no wenches in my pub, you’ll have ale and a meat pie and you will be grateful and you won’t be lighting up in here either or I’ll be sending you to Ragnarok with your backside in a sling.” Nostrum’s crew burst out laughing as they saw their captain was bettered at his own game.
“Valerie, it is true, you are no wench, you are a siren of the sea created to lure poor fishermen in and drag them to the depths of Poseidon with your sweet song.” Nostrum leaned over the bar and offered her a kiss into which Valerie stuffed a freshly cut slice of lemon. He looked shocked and hurt and then chewed and swallowed the lemon before pounding the top of the bar and bursting into laughter. It had the feeling of a scene played out many times over the years, the men gather around excited and eager as the beers began to flow.
Dunkeld observed the ritual from his vantage point. His captive had adopted a disguise of a fisherman but these were genuine, they looked like they had been at sea for weeks; especially the way they were chugging down beer.
Nostrum slid onto the bench opposite Dunkeld, in his massive hands were two whiskies as a way of introduction, he handed one to Dunkeld.
“For Jonesy, slainte,” he said and they both knocked back the single malt. It was neat as Dunkeld new it would be, sweet, caramel tasting, Glenmorangie he guessed. He knew his palate was too tainted to pick out the finer points of the nose but he knew enough to appreciate a dram and would have preferred a drop of water with it but he was not going to tell Nostrum that.
“Did you know him?” Dunkeld asked as he lowered his glass to the table.
“I did, a fine man, good drinker, great storyteller, crap darts player, did you?” Nostrum focused his blue eyes squarely on Dunkeld. This time it was not as friendly as Valerie’s but more insistent with a hint of a threat.”
“No, sorry to say I didn’t, I’m here on behalf of the regiment. I’ll place a flag on his coffin on behalf of the family we shared, even the ones he didn’t know.”
“I thought he’d left that behind years ago?” Nostrum said, casually.
Dunkeld straightened and felt himself visibly bristle: “you don’t leave this family, wherever your life takes you, if you are from us you, are one of us.”
Nostrum smiled and backed down. “Sorry, I like to push and see what develops. No offense intended. He was a good man, his death was,” he paused, “unexpected and tragic for such a capable person. He came out to sea with us once and he looked like he was born to it.” Dunkeld read Nostrum’s face and could see he did not believe in accidents either.
His thoughts were interrupted as Valerie returned to fill the glasses. She looked at Dunkeld and said: “Scottish hospitality” as she poured the whisky. “Where are you from? Your accent is strange, a wee bit off but I can tell a Scot when I hear one.”
Dunkeld smiled and raised his glass, for years he tried to strangle and subdue his accent so he could blend in at Sandhurst and in the desert.
“The family is from Dunkeld originally, it’s where the name comes from but I grew up in Glasgow before being kidnapped by a fine but fickle English woman and when she ran off I joined the army.” It was a truth, sort of, and with that he downed the glass.
“That’s bloody English women for you, no idea when they have a good thing. I’ll leave the bottle, enjoy.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she turned back to the bar and Dunkeld was sure that in her day she would have played hell with the local men.
“You watch her, she breathes fire and eats landlubbers for breakfast.” Nostrum said loud enough for his crew to hear. They erupted into a loud cheer and tried fruitlessly to get a rise from Valerie who was too well schooled in the art of men and drinking to be impressed.
“She’s great, we come in here once a month, create a lot of noise, drink a lot of beer, spend a lot of money and then stagger down the street to sleep it off, she’s not barred us yet so we figure she likes us.”
“Why here?” asked Dunkeld, not entirely sure why he was interested.
Nostrum looked up and around the pub, pondering the question. “We’ve been coming here ever since I became captain, 10 years ago. My father used to come here as a young trawler man and his father before him. This place is over 100 years old. It’s always been a safe harbour between the water and home and” he paused, “they don’t eat bloody shark although haggis is not so good either.” He burst out laughing and poured them both another drink.
“I see you were in the navy, special forces.” Dunkeld said pointing to Nostrum’s tattoo that was partially revealed as he offered another toast to his late friend.
“Not many people would be able to recognise this tattoo.” He said rolling up his sleeve to display it in full, a Viking face behind an upright arrow, framed by a longboat, oars up. “FSK, Forsvarets Spesialkommando.”
“Formed in the 80s to protect Norway’s interests and cloaked in a lot of secrecy and denial. Your unit was formed by men whose parents had been famous in WWII for lightning raids on German boats and fortifications, FSK techniques were developed alongside specialist units such as the SBS and then SAS. I like a bit of military history.”
“SAS, the Saturday and Sundays only squad, I did my national service and graduated up to FSK but the sea kept calling me like it has done to all my family. I couldn’t wait to get back on the water and here I am, sat with you toasting a fallen comrade with my new friend and telling you far too much.” He refilled the glasses again and they both took a large slow drink this time. “Have you met Douglas yet?” Nostrum asked. For a brief second Dunkeld considered lying but realised that would be a mistake.
“I have, we shared the ferry over, doesn’t say much but he gathered I was over for the funeral.”
“Jones was his nephew.” Nostrum leaned in and added this bit of information conspiratorially. Dunkeld was shocked, he had not realised there was a family connection and there was nothing in the paperwork to suggest it.
“I didn’t know that at all” was all he could manage to say.
“Douglas likes to keep things close to his chest. Jonesy’s mother was Douglas’ sister, so different surname but Douglas was a happy man when his nephew came to work on the island. After his wife passed away he changed a bit, like a good part of him had gone. I’m not convinced he believes it was an accident. If he gets his hands on who is responsible then there will be all hell to pay.” Dunkeld’s shock turned to worry about the prisoner – would Douglas deliver him as promised or take him out to some cliff top and drop him off the edge?
Dunkeld brought his attention back to Nostrum: “What makes you think it wasn’t an accident?”
“That lighthouse, that spit of a bit of rock has been drawing people in for decades, do you know the story of the three lighthouse keepers that went missing at the end of the war? Lights at all hours, birds nesting spooked, no one stays there too long.”
“Do you think it’s haunted?” asked Dunkeld.
Nostrum looked at him and held his poker face as long as he could bare it before bursting out into laughter. “Haunted, Christ no but it’s bloody cursed for sure.” A noise burst from one end of the bar as two of the drunken crew started stripping to their waist.
“Captain Nostrum, please sort this out before I fling you all out. I will not have nudity in my bar on a Friday night” bellowed Valerie from behind the bar.
Nostrum nodded goodbye to Dunkeld and rose to sort his men out leaving a confused Dunkeld to mull over the revelation. From the bar voices rose, speaking English one minute and Norwegian the next. Men crowded the two semi-naked brawlers and the regulars just took it in their stride, watching with amusement, moving there pints from time to time to avoid collateral damage.
Dunkeld looked at all the customers, to him there was no sign of anyone who did not look like they did not belong and even though Dunkeld had only been there a few hours he knew this type of place. If your face fitted it embraced you and if it did not you were encouraged to drink up and be on your way.
A glass shattered, there was a roar of encouragement at the bar as the two men grabbed each other to wrestle for honour and then the body of men moved itself as one solid mass out of the saloon doors and into the car park. The doors swung shut and the sound of testosterone blowing off steam could be heard getting louder as bets were placed.
Bios And Links
is a retired postman from Hull. He moved to Withernsea a few years ago and is a volunteer in the lighthouse.