|Terence McNally's postcard of Windsor Castle in Cape Town|
It is amazing to think that when I was four and the family came to leave Kenya it was still normal for the company my father worked for to use ocean liners rather than air liners to move its staff around the world. Within just a few years this would change and the era of the ocean Liner would draw to a close.
By this time I had sailed across the Atlantic from Trinidad to the UK and then sailed through the Suez to Kenya and now I was about to travel the rest of the way around Africa and onwards back to the UK. We were using the Castle Line, and the two ships I remember were the Union Castle and the Windsor Castle. The ships Livery was pink hence my nickname for them being the ‘Pinky Ship’.
The event my poem describes is the Crossing the Line Ceremony. It takes place when a ship crosses the equator. Sailors who have already crossed the Equator are nicknamed Shellbacks, those who have not are nicknamed Pollywogs. (A Pollywog is another name for a Tadpole.)
The ceremony uses the guise of King Neptune’s court to convert Pollywogs to Shellbacks by submitting them to a number of embarrassing ordeals.
Dependant on which line of longitude you cross when you become a shellback you can be given different grades of shellback such as the Royal Diamond Shellback for crossing the equator on the Prime Meridian or Golden Shellback for crossing the Equator at the 180th meridian.
I just remember people dressing in drag, (as well as other fancy dress) and then being covered in shaving foam and being dunked into the swimming pool. I hope you enjoy the poem;
Early Memories – Kenya V
Traveling ‘home’ upon the ‘pinky’ ship,
around the cape, then North.
As we crossed the equator
King Neptune’s court called forth
the pollywogs in fancy dress
were tried around the pool
then covered in shaving foam
they were made to look the fool.
John Carré Buchanan
21 January 2012