37. Fire At Sea

At time of writing, I’ve spent over two years without a home – apart from a storage unit in south London. My dad did it on and off for ten years. He left school at 16 to join the Merchant Navy, and worked as a cook aboard oil tankers, travelling as far as San Francisco, Singapore, Guam and Venezuela. I can’t help thinking about travel through the lens of his life before I was born – he left the oil tankers so he could be present for me, and later my younger sister.

My dad’s greatest fear in that time – and even after he left – was a fire at sea. A fire on an oil tanker sounds like the most terrifying thing imaginable. I don’t really want to write about it, and I had to be very careful about the way I wrote a song about it, because it’s something genuinely horrible, something he had nightmares about. He never saw one, I don’t think, but he did see his fair share of horrible accidents and aftermaths of horrible accidents. So I didn’t want to romanticise or trivialise it, but it did loom large in my consciousness, especially thinking about travel – about being far from home and how much could go wrong without those networks of love and support around. And how exciting it is to be out there – on the open ocean, the open road, seeing a big beautiful world.

I guess something pretty terrible had happened six months before in Tasmania, but I didn’t feel isolated or adrift at the time, so much as scared. The networks in that place kicked in – hospitals and hospitality, mainly. I read something a long time ago about how travel, if you’re at all a decent person, should give you sympathy for people in a country where they don’t know how stuff works, and maybe they don’t speak the language; and hopefully then you’ll treat visitors to the country you live in with the kindness and consideration that you frequently experience when you’re not in the country you live in. So, as frightened and adrift you can feel when you don’t have a home – even if you’re secure and comfortable in all sorts of other ways – there are decent people out there. You’re not literally on fire out at sea.

Musically, this is hugely influenced by seeing a David McAlmont gig in Streatham, South London, shortly before deadline. I had to go back and re-record what was a very vibrato-laden vocal, and really reign it in. I am not David McAlmont (yet).

Next week, we go for a run. Why not preorder Year of The Bird Volume 4 – it’ll be out in December and we can jog off that turkey together.