We’re in Liverpool, on the waterfront at the Pier Head, with the Liver Buildings at our backs and the place is heaving. Tomorrow, the annual Round the World Clipper Race sets off from here, the sun is shining and the crowds are huge. We can’t stay for the actual start of the race as we have to be elsewhere tomorrow, but even a day early there’s so much excitement and spectacle in the air.
It’s a sailing race around the world in 8 legs, with trained amateur crew members. The organisers provide a fleet of identical yachts, the Clipper 70, and qualified skippers to lead each team. Crew can either sign up for the whole race, or one or more legs. The race was conceived in 1995 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, a man who knows more than most about round the world sailing. He was the first to make a single handed circumnavigation of the globe, way back in 1969 and, as if that weren’t enough, became the oldest person ever to do that same feat in 2007 when he was aged 67.
More than 700 crew members, many with minimal sailing experience will take part, sailing an individual leg of the route or doing the whole trip.
We spoke to a crew member from the Liverpool 2018 boat, sponsored by the City of Liverpool, a keen amateur sailor doing three legs of the race as far as Australia. He’s done his training, mostly around the Isle of Wight and along the South coast and is still ‘buzzing.’. What an experience. We just missed the chance of having a chat with the boat’s skipper, a man named Lance Shepherd, but spoke to a few other crew members. On the first leg at least, there’s only one female crew member, named Carrie, but we missed out again.
Marigold wants to know how much it costs. I’m not worried she’s pining to join a crew having seen the spartan nature of the interior at first hand. A helpful crew man is happy to tell her, all berths being booked long since and we’re both pretty certain Carrie will be far better suited to a life on the ocean wave than Marigold.
The (compulsory) initial training costs £6000 and to sail just the first of eight legs, from Liverpool to Punta del Este, Uruguay, South America, adds another £6000. Sign on for the complete Voyage and it will be £55,000. Gulp! On the other hand, as Sir Robin Knox-Johnson writes on the posters scattered around the Pier Head, “This is the only race open to non-professional sailors and gives them the chance to conquer the Everest of the Seas, a circumnavigation of the globe.”
We wander away from the crowds to have a bite to eat. Our ‘server’ (happy to help it says on his name badge) is Harry. He takes our order and another young man brings our drinks. His badge says ‘Tom.’
‘Please let there be a Dick,’ Marigold mutters, pitching her voice deliberately low to avoid the expression being misinterpreted.
Marigold decides we must have an answer. ‘Any Dicks working here?’ She asks Harry next time he passes.
‘Plenty of ‘em, love,’ he replies. Well, this is Liverpool.
‘I mean, the name badge,’ says Marigold, pointing to the name Harry.
‘Oh, right. No, sorry, but we did have a Rick until a couple of weeks ago. If anyone should have had a badge saying Dick it was him, but he insisted on Rick.’
So much for taking a Tom, Dick and Harry photo.
In one of my classes at school there was a Tom, a Dick and a Harry, but as we were only ever referred to by our surnames, by both masters and boys, I can only ever remember one occasion on which the singular nature of these names being highlighted: the passage in Henry IV, Part One, ‘I am sworn brother to a leash of Drawers, and can call them by their names, as Tom, Dicke, and Francis,’ was deemed close enough for the presence of a Tom, Dick and Harry in our midst to be noted.
It appears the origin of the phrase is unknown. The earliest known citation is from a 17th-century English theologian who used the words in 1657, telling a governing body at Oxford University that "our critical situation and our common interests were discussed out of journals and newspapers by every Tom, Dick and Harry.”
It’s an ascending tricolon where the names are said in increasing length of syllables. Tom, Dick and Harry, Tall, dark and handsome, Rag, Tag and Bobtail and, as we’re in Liverpool I think of George Melly entitling his memoirs of life in the Royal Navy, ‘Rum, Bum and Concertina.’
As a means of remembering the order of an artery, and a nerve, and the three tendons of the lower leg (I won’t go further as no one will be interested) medical students use Tom, Dick and Harry as an aide memoire. Having looked this up I was interested to note the use of Tom, Dick and And Very Nervous Harry. This corresponds to Tibialis, Digitorum, Artery, Vein, tibial Nerve and Hallucis. Now I know that, I’ll probably never forget it. Or maybe not.
In 1948, the Cole Porter musical ‘Kiss me, Kate’ contained a song, Tom, Dick and Harry. Here’s the chorus.
I'm a maid who would marry
And will take with no qualm
Any Tom, Dick or Harry
Any Harry, Dick or Tom
I'm a maid mad to marry
And will take double quick
Any Tom, Dick or Harry
Any Tom, Harry or Dick.
And they say they don’t write songs like they used to!
Marigold Says, don’t forget The Great Escape. The film told the true story of three escape tunnels from a POW camp. Squadron Leader Roger Bushell told the members of the Escape Committee: ‘Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun ... In North Compound we are concentrating our efforts on completing and escaping through one master tunnel. No private-enterprise tunnels allowed. Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick, and Harry. One will succeed!’
I looked this quotation up (obviously) and in doing so discovered the tunnels were over thirty feet deep, only two feet square and over 600 men worked on them in complete secrecy.
Lunch over, we went through the Mersey Tunnel to visit old friends in West Kirby. We’d seen the silhouettes of the vast wind powered turbines way out to sea in Liverpool Bay and they’re clearly visible from here as well.
We think about walking to Hilbre Island, which we’ve done many times in the past, but the tide is on the way in so we walk halfway to the Little Eye and back again and I manage to take a photo of the island and the distant wind turbines as the sun sets.
One of our all time favourite places, Tarifa in Southern Spain, has a huge number of wind farms on the hillside leading to the town, 799 turbines at the last count. Tarifa and Africa are close neighbours. The Straits of Gibraltar are a well-used migration route for birds travelling between Europe and Africa and back again with thousands of migratory soaring birds passing through the area each year. It’s a bird watchers paradise, but sadly many birds don’t complete their journey. We’ve often watched huge flocks of eagles, vultures and the like darkening the sky overhead and many of them fly into the blades of the turbines. Wind farms out to sea are less approachable, to us if not for birds, but we’ve stood beneath them and they’re massive.
Massive they may be, but these latest additions off shore from Liverpool have changed our perceptions somewhat as the world’s biggest and most powerful wind turbines have now begun generating electricity.
The 32 new turbines in Liverpool Bay are taller than the Gherkin skyscraper, with blades longer than nine London buses. Size matters, evidently, as just one of these turbines produces more electricity than the whole of the world’s first offshore wind farm, installed more than 25 years ago and each of the new arrivals has more than twice the power capacity of those in the neighbouring wind farm completed only ten years ago.
Is this the future? Will our relentless need for electric power be satisfied by offshore wind power: bigger, better and, most importantly, cheaper. From what I’ve read so far, probably not, but half of Britain’s electricity is generated by wind, solar and nuclear power already and the UK has a set target of using wind power to provide 10 per cent of the entire country’s energy needs by 2020 so that’s that.
In my layman’s view, these monstrosities are a blight on both sea and country views, but alternative methods of power generation are perhaps at least as unpalatable. Glad I don’t have to make these decisions.
Lightening the mood, we recently paid a visit to a donkey sanctuary and also called in at Tewksbury on our way up North. This ancient town grew up at the meeting of the rivers Severn and Avon and the surrounding rivers flood regularly. Stupid idea, really, establishing a town here, but Tewksbury is a fighter and has made the near impossibility of enlargement into a virtue. It has hardly altered since the Middle Ages and remains one of the best preserved medieval towns in England. Lots of half-timbered Tudor buildings with overhanging upper levels and ornately carved doorways. They really put on a show here.
We walked past a charity shop just off the High Street as it was opening. A man in a very smart suit said, ‘come in and browse. The Lord Mayor will be here very soon.’ Marigold was very excited. How did they know she was coming here today – we didn’t know ourselves until ten minutes ago – but it turned out the Lord Mayor was only coming to officially open the shop. Nothing to do with us at all. Marigold was so upset she had to have a toasted tea cake in the café opposite to recover.
The café was in a medieval building and the ‘facilities’ were upstairs. I managed to bang my head twice on low beams. I do this a lot, being slow to learn, and Marigold invariably finds it amusing or occasionally hilarious, dependent on the damage incurred to head and dignity. These beams were very low, so low in fact that Marigold somehow managed to bang her head as well. I didn’t laugh. Much.
Our next big trip is only a week away, but there’s a 6,000 mile flight to get out of the way first. Not a great fan of long haul flights, but when we get there there’s a proper road trip waiting to be done over the next month or so. So USA road trip takes us into October, then we’ll be off again, wandering around Europe until Spring. Can’t wait.