Born of Flint

Creative writing by Matthew Meade, from the 'If Objects Could Speak' Ports, Past and Present workshop, run by Suzanne Iuppa, July 2021. Based on a photograph of the writer's grandfather, Captain W.E. Meade.


Born of Flint, but not made of stone. Steely aspect, but not to those who know. With gimlet eyes, serious, he looks so serious, as is only proper for a man responsible for his crew, his passengers and his ship.

But we know differently; his rough-skinned outer shell could be shattered when he opened his mouth. Travelling the world, and seeing beauty and madness everywhere he went, you could not take life so seriously.

When he found the helmsman spitting tobacco juice secretly into a flattened cup in his breast pocket – NO TOBACCO ALLOWED ON DUTY – said the sign, the serious captain had laughed out loud. And then reprimanded the boy.

Imagine the heavy cloth, clean but for the tangy saltiness. This uniform, with oilskins and sou’wester in bad weather, were all that were allowed on the open bridge while crossing the Irish Sea. There was some protection – a wardrobe-sized area with only two walls and a top, designed to run into when a wave was going to break over the bridge - but he avoided using that nowadays. Ever since he had ducked in the shelter and a solid green mass of tonnes of the Irish Sea had joined him there, smashing the timber into toothpicks. The helmsman, out in the open still, and desperately hanging on to the wheel as the water sloshed around and out of the scuppers, looked at the ruins and called out, “Captain, captain! Are you alright?”

Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, the mound of wood rose to the sound of complete and thorough swearing.

“$%^£%^&$*!!%” shouted Captain William Edward Meade, born 1892 in Holywell, Flintshire: not so holy now, having picked up a few choice phrases from around the world.

“Are you hurt, Captain?” asked the stout-hearted helmsman

“Broke me bloody pipe”, replied the Serious Man.

The helmsman looked away to hide his smile, and secretly spat into his cup.