Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Chartin his wye hame

by Isobel Rutland

He was on the phone, speakin to een o his pals, fan I decided to hae a look at fit he was deein. The paper took up maist o the dining table, weighed doon wi books on either end so it wis laid oot flat. There was ither fat rolls wi elastic bands roon them, as weel as some new eens aye in their cardboard tubes, ahin a chair. I hid been telt nae to touch onythin, but aa that pencils wi sharp nibs an a fancy double ruler, an a straight edged stick, an coloured pens same as the teacher used, wis too much for ma to leave be.
I listened, makin sure he was aye claikin wi the ither skipper. He soonded scunnert fin he mentioned they hid been tied up langer than they thoucht for a paint an a re-fit, but I wis chuft to hae ma dad hame. It wis the same on a Sunday nicht fan the holiday programme was on TV promising sunshine in Majorca, an the win was fusslin makin the rafters rattle and he wid phone roon the ither skippers to see fit they were deein. And I wid hae a sare belly cos I’d school the next day an I didna want him to go. I wid wish and hope, and even pray sometimes, that he wid phone roon the crew and tell them he hid put it aff and they hid anither nicht in their ain beds. Then I wid cuddle next him on the cooch. Naebidy wanted their dad gan oot in that kind of wither.
An fan the wither improved he took the boat’s van, the same een he let me and ma breether play in - driving its wide steering wheel, climbing a ower the plastic seats wi their funny smell, sticking muckle tapes in the clunky cassette player - and dee the hour’s drive to Peterheid, then sail the boat under the brig, past the ice factory, oot the hairbor to the Ling Bank or the Swatch Way. The bit o paper in front of ma made up o a criss-cross o straight lines in green an purple and reid, aa at odd angles, telt him far to go.  Bit I couldna understand it, nae pavements, nae signs, nae cat’s ein, only caul, hard black sea aye movin aboot.
My dad wisna een for books or writing, I canna mine him iver colourin in, but his charts were een on the neatest things I’d ever seen. They were dotted wi wee triangles he’d drawn in faint pencil using the fancy slide ruler that slipped ower the paper as he plotted. I kent they were his readings. Markins far he’d shot awa an hault an found chippers an pingers, an different sized green – Robbie coddlin, babies, big smaa, sprags. Some good hauls, ithers jist a pucklie to keep yi gan. There were dark crosses to mark fasteners. Things like big rocks, anchors, bits of wreckage, concrete sinkers left ower fae the war, wire hausers sharp enough to cut rope drappit when the oil first started – places far he’d maybe lost a net or got into a thrap. Or maybe anither boat got into a thrap and he’d hid to tow them in. There were words like the Bressay and the Skate Hole. Place names that were different from the words used in the shipping forecast with its Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, when ma mam telt ma to wisht so she could hear if the wither hid missed far he was dodgin, waitin for a gale to blaw through.
The parallel ruler, the compass that didna hae a roon face like a watch but hid twa legs and wis a brass pinted thingy that loons at playtime wid try an stab yi wi, it was aa too much. I fingert them first, listenin to mak sure he wis aye yappin.
I took the ruler and moved it aboot, a ower the thick paper. Fan the charts did their job he would steam back into Peterheid trying to be at the heid o a smaa market, een that wisna ower fuul. And my mam would bake scones and an iced sponge for him coming hame. And there would be a toot-toot as the van drew awa, an in he would come dumping his baggie wi its soor guff o fool drawers at the back door. And he would rip aff his toorie and grin and sometimes gie ma a beardie. Me screamin and wrigglin as he rubbed his stubbly chin up and doon ma smooth cheek – but lovin it aa the same. Then he’d get into the bath and wash aff the diesel-y smell, relaxin. And mam would mak our supper wi the fry he’d geen her; maybe a creamy fish pie, or wid hae battered haddock wi real chips that made the fat bubble and spit. But then sometimes he’d ging to his bed early cos he hid ti get up in the smaa hours to go back to Peterheid to land; hard, heavy work withoot the help o lumpers like they hid in Aberdein.
I picked up a reid pen. The tangelt net o lines in front of ma helped him find fish an, as wee as I wis, I kent that the mair fish he found the quicker he came hame.
Still, it wis a shame our hoose wisna on the chart. I wanted to draw it. Wi its glass front door and the wide livin room windae and ma pink bedroom curtains, so he would mine far wi bade.
He hadna said onythin aboot nae drawin on the back o the chart.
I shifted the books, moving aside the boorach o pens, hoping he widna hear the flap o paper as I turned it ower. The blank sheet fult the table, lookin naikit. Bit far should I pit the hoosie? In a corner? In the middle? I took the double ruler, movin it aboot until it settled at the tapmaist edge. I set doon the nib o ma pen, pressin hard, fleggit fan the ink fanned oot thick an dark ower the page. The ruler skitted a bittie as I drew the post o a door an fan I stood back the hoose looked gye squint.
Oot in the hall, ma dad wis sayin his cherrios and there was a click as he pit doon the receiver. I’d to hing in finishin ma bedroom curtains, so he wid ken the hoose wis oors.
He sighed as he rose fae the phone stool, as I flipped the paper the richt wye up an stepped awa fae the fancy ruler an clutter o pens. Twa dark lines o ma hoosie hid seeped through to the ither side.  I drappit onto the cooch an stuck ma heid in ma library book so he widna see ma lookin guilty. Nae that it bathered ma if I got a row. Now fan the wither deit doon an he packed his baggie, drivin awa wi the crew in the boat’s van, fan he got to Peterheid an loupit aboord, ma hoosie wid be wi him. He wid ayewis find his wye hame.