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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 79: 12 December

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysFour hours' sleep and up to catch the dawn over the Suffolk coast. A golden sun is rising slowly into a clear sky as we approach the low-lying, neat green shoreline, with Harwich's old church and surrounding houses sitting on their low headland and Felixstowe opposite. I didn't expect such a caricature of England. Felixstowe seems tiny compared to the ports I've visited round the world - a container terminal John Betjeman might have approved of. Not hugely out of scale with the undemonstrative coastline and giving way quite quickly to green fields beyond. There is hardly a ripple enough on the surface of the North Sea to ring the mournful bell on the big green buoy that stands at the entrance to the port. We are home on a morning of glassy calm.

The pilot is already on the bridge, supervising our approach. On this journey pilots have been like heralds, embodying the first sight and sounds of new places.

So I know exactly where I am as I hear, 'We're going to swing her in, we'll need two tugs,' spoken in the dry matter-of-fact English professional monotone. I'm back in police stations and Crown courts and customs sheds and airline cockpits and doctors' waiting rooms. 'Dead Slow,' he orders, and jokes to Captain Rodebaek about a friend who's just come back from a holiday in Spain. 'He got a whole year's rain in three days!'

The captain smiles but only out of habit. Maybe there is always this feeling of strain between captains and pilots.

With the tug Brightwell at our stern and Victoria of Liverpool at the bow, we wend our way between the marker buoys into the mouth of the Orwell. A seaman (and I realise that, unlike the Garnet, I know hardly any of the names of this crew) selects a Union Jack from the wooden pigeon holes full of national flags and goes outside to run it up the mast. The pilot talks to one of the tugs:
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 79
  • Date: 12 December
  • Country/sea: England
  • Place: Felixstowe
  • Book page no: 249

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