One of my first memories is being seated on dad’s bike cross-bar seeing the ore boats moving on the tide at Workington, an iron and steel town of Cumberland, NW England; ‘Liberty ‘ships, ‘Forts’, ‘Parks’ and ‘Oceans’, including those in Clan Line and Brocklebank liveries, and vintage Greek and Panamanian tramps.
A few years on, my best mate’s father rather conveniently managed ‘WH Smith’, the biggest newsagents in town, and would lock us boys in the shop in the evening while he went to the pub next door. So I not only read subscription copies of ‘Sea Breezes’ before their rightful owners but also ‘The Motor Ship’, ‘Lloyds List’ and ‘Journal of Commerce’ before they reached the town’s shipping agents and the Workington Iron and Steel Co, a forerunner of ‘British Steel’.
I recall a prediction from my Junior school teacher who knew me to be ship mad: “Straughton – you’re on the way to becoming chief engineer on a raft!” Thanks Mr McDonald! And I was rejected by the Merchant Navy (vision had to be 20/20 then - too much reading ‘Sea Breezes’ under the bed covers!) . However I did become the first ‘commodore’ of the school’s new sailing club fleet – ie one boat.
I didn’t exactly sparkle at Aberdeen University because the port was far too interesting being in transition from general cargo and fishing to Oil, Oil, Oil! But I did begin writing for ‘Sea Breezes’, putting into use those hours of expropriating shipping magazines and witnessing shipping movements instead of studying. I would eventually shun local government employment for ‘British Waterways’ becoming head of that Board’s leisure operations in the North of England when there was still considerable interface with canal freight activity. Connecting the sea to ‘inland’ with the incredible facility to take boats the whole way across the country – these things excite me still.
Government then was still spending much taxpayer’s money to eradicate canals. With some of my colleagues we fought this pathetically narrow, barren, dismal attitude to UK history and economic potential and we helped win a reprieve for some waterways long enough for their unrivalled value for public good to be recognised. I was to move back to my native Cumbria to a senior Tourist Board post and now manage a historic outdoor centre in the Lake District.
My ‘Sea Breezes’ writing is a family affair. Wife Lesley is a maritime aesthete; ‘a proper ship should have a sharp and a blunt end, two masts and at least one funnel preferably in the middle’; daughter Jane-Eve is a gifted linguist who translates Norwegian texts and Russian ship names; other daughter Ellie is a Phd Historian so comes in useful as ‘Scan Monkey’, transforming both my own and our reader’s shipping prints to digital form for sending on to the Sea Breezes office..
I must end by sending my grateful belated thanks to WH Smith, Newsagents, for their albeit unconscious forbearance.