Sunday 20 October 2019

Britannia's Glory extract - Singing, dancing and recreation

Singing, dancing and recreation

Setting off in any craft
Takes coordinated graft:
The sails must first be hoisted, and then hung.
Prior to progress' being made,
The anchor must be weighed,
And when ropes were hauled, a shanty would be sung.

There was thus a rhythmic guide,
As huge effort was applied,
And the songs would always fit the task in hand.
The "Shantyman" would call,
A reply would come from all.
The lyrics spoke of booze, girls - and dry land.

On their schooner or their brig,
Sailors oft performed a jig.
The hornpipe took more energy than grace.
A partner's needed not...
You can do it on the spot,
So it suits the lack of women, and of space.

Tars always wore hard shoes,
To dance away the blues,
And to life on board their movements would equate.
A shading hand there'd be,
As though looking out to sea,
Plus the rubber legs that feigned a seaman's gait.

A boatswain's not heard, is he?
When life on board gets busy,
So he'll use a pipe - its sound can't be ignored.
The most basic of his calls,
Was in regulating hauls,
But it's used these days for welcoming aboard.

Playing card games such as euchre,
One might win a bit of lucre:
To make a lot of tricks would do the job.
Some to board games are more suited,
Though the rules seem convoluted;
Uckers uses tactic like the "blob".

When in work there was a lull,
Life on whalers could be dull,
And for occupation, many had a craving.
The patient man would hone,
His skills in carving bone,
And produce the most elaborate engraving.

Scrimshaw is the word,
By which this work's referred,
The first piece dates from 1817.
By candlelight from dusk,
Men would scratch a tooth or tusk,
Or use the stuff we've met before - baleen.

There were short and long drag shanties for rope pulling, and 'capstan' or 'windlass' shanties for raising and lowering the anchor. When sailors were relaxing in their quarters (the fore bitts or the forecastle), they would sing ballads or humorous songs for entertainment.
   The crews of warships were not permitted to perform tasks to work songs (shanties) 
   In rough weather, visiting senior officers were hoisted aboard by 'side boys' using a 'bosun's chair'. The pipe is now used ceremoniously to welcome aboard flag officers and VIPs.
   Pronounced 'you-ker', this game for four players was responsible for introducing the joker into packs of cards.
   Uckers is a board game for two or four players and is similar to, but more complicated than, ludo.
   Hull museums have the best collection of scrimshaw in Britain. Originally done using the by-products of whales and other marine mammals, the first recorded decorative piece of sperm whale was recorded in 1817, though the practice dates back to the mid-18th century. Soot, tobacco juice or candle black were used to highlight the etched design.
   (Cross reference to verses on whaling and baleen given.)
HMS Warspite cadets dancing the hornpipe, 1928
Scrimshaw depicting HMS Royal George, c.1759

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