This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Saturday, 26 December 2015

Saturday Rave: Christmas at Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scare could stand;
The wind was a nor-wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

A Boxing Day Walk is a bit of a tradition round here (Boxing Day is the day after Christmas, when tradesmen are given presents): everyone needs some exercise after the sweetness and stress of Christmas.

Alternatively, you can get much of the experience of some exercise without leaving your sofa.

Robert Louis Stevenson's poem Christmas at Sea is the story of a long day's struggle to save a ship from grounding as she is pushed towards the shore by the wind, tide and current. It gets sentimental towards the end - there is even, I'm sorry to say, a mention of some homely elves (NB: homely in Britain means domestic, not ugly as it does in some other places) - but, hey, it's a Victorian Christmas poem, so what do you expect?

Anyway, the cold and the storm and the struggle are just what we're needing, over-fed as we are to the point of exhaustion as we are:

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallants,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.*
'It's the one way or the other, Mr Jackson,' he replied.

And what happens in the end? You can find out here.

Word To Use Today: top gallant. This word for a high sail comes from the Old French galer, to make merry, from gale, enjoyment or pleasure (but is probably nothing to do with the wind sort of gale). It's related to words like the wealth bit of commonwealth.

This picture from the wonderful Wikipedia shows the topgallant sails in pink, which is helpful if slightly bizarre.



I know almost nothing about sailing, but it seems a bit odd to me to be loosing your topgallants if you're trying to escape a lee shore in a squally wind. Still, I expect there's some good reason for it.

As far as I know there's no such thing as a bottomgallant.

*I wonder if Gene Roddenberry knew this poem?


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