What the Traveller Saw

What the Traveller Saw by Eric Newby Read Free Book Online

Book: What the Traveller Saw by Eric Newby Read Free Book Online
Authors: Eric Newby
we’re all out stalking one another on top of the rock because there’s nothing else to photograph we look like a lot of loonies. But that’s only in fine weather. You can’t take pictures at all when it’s really blowing, on account of the spray coming right over the top.’
    It was bleak on the top of Round Island. The tower was only 63 feet high but it was the highest of all the rock lights between the Scillies and the mainland. It was built in 1887 by Sir William Douglass who also built the light tower on the Eddystone, the Bishop and completed the Wolf Rock. The walls of the Bishop were more than 7½ feet thick at the level of the entrance door; but all three of these towers were lapped by water and in a storm they vibrated. Round Island was on a much more firm base, but even so its walls at the level of the lower windows were over 5 feet thick, as if its builder expected some cataclysmic wave to surge over the top of the rock, which in fact sometimes happened.
    The keepers’ quarters were at the base of the tower, not inside it, which made it the most comfortable rock lighthouse off the coasts of southern England. In the others you slept in a bunk with your body following the contour of the tower; here you could sleep in a bed. There were four keepers’ rooms, an office where the radio-telephone was kept, a room for theradio beacon coders, a kitchen and a larder. And there was a separate fog signal house, with two enormous black mouthpieces, giant versions of the sort used at one time on hand-made gramophones, the sort that T. E. Lawrence had at Clouds Hill, an ‘engine room’ with a couple of fantastic old engines in it which provided compressed air for the hoist and the fog signal and three others, two of which were modern, producing power for the radio beacon and electric light.
    There were four keepers but only three were on duty at any one time. In the absence of the Principal Keeper the next senior Assistant Keeper became Keeper in Charge. They all did two months ‘off’ on the rock and one month ‘on’ on the world. Round Island was a ‘happy light’. When asked, singly in the dark watches of the night, they all agreed that they got on well together – all liked the Principal Keeper. They told me hair-raising stories of unhappy lighthouses, of being immured with keepers who were religious maniacs or drug fiends or smelly keepers, but these seemed mercifully rare – all agreed, however, that most of the new entrants were not up to previous standards. They all liked being lighthouse keepers, whether they were married or not, and had no crazy ideas about living in Sunningdale or having a second car for shopping.
    Two of them had quitted the service temporarily. One, for what he regarded as a ghastly period, worked for Sun Life Assurance in Holborn, the other, more congenially, had worked in a pub; both had returned to it.
    All were remarkably free from germs, as proud of the healthiness of their environment, and with presumably more reason, as the London sewermen whose subterranean empire I had visited previously. ‘You can come out here with a nasty sore throat after a turn ashore,’ Ray said. ‘After a day or so on the rock it’s gone.’ None of them was bearded. A mysterious regulation of Trinity House stated that ‘… all keepers after18.11.52 to be either clean-shaven or wear beard and whiskers or moustache’ – what strange mutations were in existence before this date were not clear. The regulations were of an almost obsessive thoroughness and covered everything from chimney sweeping (‘keepers shall sweep the kitchen chimneys at their stations at least twice a year’); the number of teeth a keeper had to have – ‘a keeper must have sufficient teeth’ – the regulation said; to the wearing of uniform – compulsory if the keeper was to be photographed. None of the keepers on Round Island liked wearing their uniforms; but they had to during the annual visit of the Elder Brethren

Similar Books

The Writer

Kim Dallmeier

Seagulls in the Attic

Tessa Hainsworth

Better Than None

Olivia Jake

Talk Talk

T. C. Boyle

Deceit of Angels

Julia Bell

A Cowboy Unmatched

Karen Witemeyer

Deeply Odd

Dean Koontz

The Heretic’s Wife

Brenda Rickman Vantrease