The English Patient

The English Patient

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Outside the nursery, on the landing wall was a picture. It was a black and white etching, so frightening that  I used to run past it, covering my eyes in fear. It portrayed  the true story of a young woman in a rowing boat on a wild, storm tossed sea. She was trying to reach and save the lives of  terrified people who were clinging onto sharp rocks. The etching portrayed waves crashing against the rocks, drenching these people and covering them in cold salt water spray as they clung on by their fingertips, waiting to be plucked to safety into the small boat..

Nanny explained that the young lady in the boat was a real heroine and that she had saved the lives of some those people that night.. She tried so hard to convince me that because the people were saved from the jaws of a watery grave, it was not scary. She never changed my mind. I used to tiptoe up the stairs and along the landing, then I held my breath covered my eyes and pelted to the nursery to play. Safe in the nursery and surrounded by my toys I was able to exhale.

The young woman in the picture was called Grace Darling. She was born and brought up on the wild north  east coast of England in Northumberland. She lived in Longstone Lighthouse with her family, her father being the lighthouse keeper, whose job it was to warn sailors to steer clear of  hazardous rocks.

On the night of September 7th 1838 when Grace was only 22, there was a terrible storm. The SS Forfarshire, a cargo ship, was sailing from Hull to Dundee with a full cargo and passangers.. The ship got into trouble and despite the warning from the lighthouse, it ran aground on rocks off the Farne Islands. Grace had been watching the storm from a window in the lighthouse and she actually saw the ship crash onto the rocks. She also thought she saw sailors clinging to the rocks. She alerted her father William and they both rowed  2 miles out into the storm at great risk to themselves. There were 60 passengers on that ship and 6 crew. One passenger escaped in the ship's lifeboat. Five crew members and four passengers were saved by the quick actions of Grace and William Darling that fatefull night.

Grace became an instant heroine. The story of her  bravery  spread far and wide and was even told to Queen Victoria. Many people especially those who lived near the sea like us, proudly displayed paintings and scetches of that stormy night and Grace's bravery. When you live by the ocean you learn to love it and respect how dangerous it can be. Poor Grace died 3 years later of tuberculosis, and became a true heroine to all English people. She was born in her grandfathers cottage and it still survives today, a place of pilgramage along with her gothic-revival style tomb which stands proudly looking out to sea in a northern towm called Bamburgh.

On cold wet days when I was not allowed outside to play I became Grace Darling. A simple cardboard box became my rowing boat. All my toys hung onto storm tossed rocks and I saved them all one by one. Nanny never convinced me that the picture on the landing wall was not scary. As I grew older and was tall enough to reach it, I used to turn it around to face the wall. Without saying a word nanny always turned it back

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