20-20 VISION: Writing my Memoirs in Lockdown
In answer to the question, ‘how did you manage in the over 70s lockdown and cocooning phase?’ my upbeat response, like many of us caught in similar situations, probably seemed both insensitive and misleading. But the truth is that I loved the stripped down, less frantic pace and the opportunity it brought to focus on completing my memoirs, begun pre-Covid 19, and just completed in time for the Christmas gift market. Living like limpets, firmly stuck to Ireland’s western shores, eyes wide open but doors firmly closed, there were few distractions to intrude upon my mental journeys to the times and places that I revisited in my virtual travels. Indeed, as my wife will ruefully attest, I hardly alighted from the alluring time-mobile to re-enter the ‘real world’ during the year that I sat at my desk, committing the most memorable stories from my life to paper.
Why do we do it? Does it not have a mild whiff of arrogance about it? Don’t people have enough to think about in living their own lives rather than reading about mine? Like many authors, I have always been in search of a subject to write about. Having started my writing career describing subjects that I knew about – in my case the Red Sea – I gradually broadened the focus to include topics of interest that I had to research through travel and related work, before finally returning to academia and the marine biology that had started me out in the first place. Finally, I felt like a spent salmon, having used all my energy in travelling and living, there was not much left to add. A lightbulb moment came when, reflecting on one of the more bizarre episodes of my life, I realised that there was another book to be written – a collection of stories from my life, focusing on the fun, excitement and adventure, rather than a bibliographic blow-by- blow chronology that I had been studiously avoiding.
The event from my past that triggered this blinding light, setting me writing my memoirs, was an incident in the Sudanese Red Sea in the early 1970s when, emerging from a wreck dive with a salvaged glass window in one hand, I accidentally punctured what I thought was my own inflatable boat but which turned out, as my head rose out of the water, to belong to the British navy. I was lucky to escape the full retribution of the eight Liverpudlian sailors who found themselves in imminent danger of sinking in shark infested waters.
It was a story that I had told, like so many others, to an ever indulgent family, with refreshed interest from in-laws and grand-children, and which generally evoked a laugh and a few incredulous questions. There were many such stories peppering a life well lived. What about the time a half hour lecture in China was turned into a gruelling three day event, thanks to some mispronunciation and misunderstanding by the organisers? Or the time I caused a plane to land in America in order to pick up a plate of shrimps? Or the time an octopus almost sucked out my eye? I could go on, and that is exactly what I did when I started to write SPIRORBIS, Stories from my Life.
Why the strange title? Spirorbis is the type genus for a group of tiny calcareous spiralled tubeworms that live on almost every shoreline and shallow marine habitat, sticking to hard surfaces, sea weeds and animal shells. It was a simple matter to scrape them off their substrata, preserve them in formalin, and to later study them under a microscope so that their species could be identified or, in many cases, described as new species. My early academic career drew purpose from these academic peregrations, justifying as they did, diving trips to, among others, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, the Red Sea and many other exotic locations. Spirorbis was like a free pass to explore the globe with the assistance and support of some worthy organisations like Voluntary Service Overseas, Rotary International and several accommodating universities. Hence the title of this collection of tales from my past.
During the past twelve months I have travelled further than in any of my previous 75 years, including memorable visits to both the Arctic and Antarctic circles. Whilst these presented their own physical challenges, exacerbated by to my Parkinson’s disease, my own recent journeys have been, under the omnipotent spell of Covid 19, free from crowded cities, busy airports and congested roads, or life-threatening earthquakes, fires, volcanoes and floods. I leave out hurricanes from this list since my mental journey did take me back through a week caught on a yacht in 1966, in the North Sea whilst Hurricane Faith did its best to annihilate our small yacht. As I recalled the adventure, reliving the gut wrenching fear that threatened to freeze our actions into those of robots running on flat batteries, it was fitting and comforting that Atlantic gales were battering my study window whilst I enjoyed the comfort and warmth of our modern home.
The deadly virus brought its fair share of fear and respect but also an atmosphere of calm and an appreciation for the simple things in life – not least time. And it was, I think, management of time that proved to be the key to my writing this book. Each morning, after a healthy bowl of porridge and fruit, I settled back at my desk and continued my mental revisits to times and places that were brought to life by an archive of letters, postcards, notes and previously compiled stories that I was exploring as I wrote. I found myself reliving some of the many different events that shaped my life.
I also began a new research project, gathering images and making contact with key personalities who are still alive and who live on through these pages. There was and is much to celebrate and enjoy but there are also dark moments that I still find difficult to deal with, like the brutal murder of Harry and the death of an innocent nurse as a result of drunken driving.
All I can hope, in these days of restricted travel and social distancing, is that readers will enjoy the warmth of my companionship on a fireside journey that, with the benefit of 20-20 vision, all began with a tiny tube worm called Spirorbis.
SPIRORBIS is an intriguing collection of stories from the author’s life of travel and adventure. Peter Vine is a sympathetic observer and participant in the widely varying and rich millieux in which he has lived and worked.
SPIRORBIS – Stories from my Life is published by Artisan House and written by Dr Peter Vine, a marine biologist living in Clifden, Connemara. It is available in hardback as well as E-book editions. The Foreword is written by renowned wildlife cameraman, Doug Allan.
Peter Vine, Faul, Clifden, Co Galway, Ireland H71X497. 095 21454; 087 9205290
Or order online here.