Escape To The Past

By Henry Austin

I naively believed that by now I would have been released from the current lockdown and would have been enjoying my normal way of life, pre-pandemic. But alas, circumstances beyond my control have determined that I shall remain in mental bondage for the present and beyond.

The current lockdown is the greatest test of endurance I have ever experienced. In the previous one I had a strategy that worked very well. In fact, to use a phrase within the vocabulary of the virus, it had about a hundred per cent efficacy. Although the longer it went on its efficacy was diminished somewhat. But now something different is required.

The general conversations and remarks among those I encounter on my daily travels is that they are running out of ideas for dealing with this emergency, which I find to be a million miles from fact, because the human mind is a reservoir of ideas. I know in my lifetime I have had thousands of different experiences which are now locked up in the archives of my mind. I am sure it is the same for everybody.

Accessing these archives is a simple task, and it is free of charge. It allows me to reconnect with the happiness I experienced as a boy. Looking back through my mind’s eye I can see myself kneeling at my bedside saying my morning and evening prayers, running errands for my mother to the butchers and the corner shop, and watching the robin redbreast eating the crumbs provided for him from the breakfast table.

While these are just a few memories from a happy childhood there are more exciting times waiting to be resurrected. It was a time filled with the joys of youth, before the harshness of the modern world came to rest on my shoulders. It was a time when simplicity abounded. The problem is it did not last long enough. So it goes without saying that an escape to the past is more than just a few happy moments. Escape may seem a disproportionate description.

But there are many who see it that way and actually believe they are living in an open prison. But I find that visiting the past has serious therapeutic value with regard to the current situation. Besides, no one is at risk of contamination, because it all happens within the vastness of the human mind.

Unlike a world of make believe where one has to be creative, the ingredients required for escaping from the worst excesses of the virus are waiting to be accessed and brought to life. My strategy of revisiting the past has given me great solace at this difficult time. There is no limit to where one can go.

When boredom with the current situation begins to dominate, I return to the past. There are so many experiences I can call on. Each day I select an event from my memory bank. An added bonus is that masks are not required.

Today I am returning to an event in my mid-teens. I am aboard a ship returning from Casablanca, and bound for Dublin. We are loaded to the gunnels with a cargo of what looks like sand but is in fact the ingredients for the manufacture of fertiliser. We are three days out when we find ourselves negotiating a heavy storm.

An storm of this calibre in the Irish Sea would be relatively easily managed. But here in the notorious Bay of Biscay, it is the difference between a lion and a domestic cat. I am signed on a ship with a centre castle, which means that the accommodation where I live is in the after end of the ship. The significance of this is that to reach the bridge I have to pass over four fully loaded hatches.

On a summer night with a full moon lighting up the sky it would be a pleasant experience, but on this night it would be more like running the gauntlet. I am on the eight to midnight watch. Having done the first wheel at eight o’clock, I am due back on the bridge at ten. There is no way from the accommodation to the bridge without braving the storm. A series of catwalks across the hatches has to to be accessed before one can reach the safety of the bridge. In the interim period from my last wheel the wind has increased to near hurricane proportions, plus the fact that the night is pitch black.

I am standing in the doorway of the accommodation watching the sea flooding the decks and the catwalks before it runs back out. The rolling and the pitching of the ship plus the sea flooding the deck has a certain regularity to it. My journey across the catwalk is no more than forty yards, but in these conditions it seems like I have a marathon ahead of me. I watch and wait for my chance. Suddenly it is time to go.

I take a deep breath and dart onto the catwalk. Halfway across I stumble and lose my footing, at the same time a sea floods the catwalk. On its way back out it’s taking me with it. A place in Davy Jones locker was staring me in the face. Fortunately, my foot got caught on a loose rope from one of the stanchions. While all this happened in what was probably seconds, it seemed like an eternity. I quickly recovered my composure and hurriedly made my way to the bridge and safety.

I never thought it was possible to say a decade of the Rosary in seconds but on that night I did. Ever since this event I have a sneaky feeling that miracles do happen. So, for me, drawing on events from my memory bank to deal with the present is a more than useful experience. In fact it is becoming a way of life.

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