Getting Ready for Leaving (4)


How big were the ships? asks my son.

They were quite small. There were hundreds of people squashed into them. It was very crowded and in those days it took nine months to sail from England to Australia. So for nine months the convicts sat in the little ship all squashed together with not much to eat and chains on their legs and – I make an effort to ramp up the drama – they didn’t even have a toilet.

Where did they go to the toilet?

They would just often have to go where they were sitting. People were sick and had diarrhoea and died and it must have been very smelly and horrible. Imagine being squashed in a smelly dark hole on a ship going up and down for all that time. And knowing you will never see England again. Never go home. Going to a country no-one has been to before that you don’t know anything about. Imagine that.

He imagines it.

So were they very hungry?

They were very, very hungry and when they arrived in Australia they made a town – which was called a colony, that’s Sydney, and they tried to make food grow but many of the animals had died on the way over and a lot of the people were sick and so hungry they couldn’t work. So they just got hungrier and hungrier.

What about goats?


Goats are good animals to have.

Yes. Yes they are. Clever boy.  Anyway, remember they had to take all their food for the journey and then food to survive while they waited for food to grow when they got there. They thought it would be just like England and they could make farms just like they were used to in England. But Australia is very different. (I have a think here: How different? In what way different?) The soil is different and (what else?) it is very, very hot there.


(This is good. I am getting somewhere.)

Yes. It was very hard for everyone. It took two years -TWO YEARS- for another ship to come. There was a famine. They were skeletons. Even their clothes rotted off their backs. Every day they looked out from the cliffs hoping to see another ship coming and none came. Imagine that.

He imagines a little longer.

What did they do when another ship came?

I think they were very happy. They were so hungry. They needed more food. All that time there was no way of telling anyone in England that they were hungry and things were very hard. There was no mail. Australia was still a new country. No-one went there.

(I am going in circles.)

Why did it take two years for the other ship to come?

Yes. England was at war then. But the colony didn’t know that. So England didn’t send another ship with prisoners because they were busy. All the ships were busy. War is very expensive – it takes up a lot of time and money and vehicles.

Was that in Afghanistan?

No. That’s the war we are currently fighting. That is also very expensive. No this was… well, England and France are friends now, but they used to fight a lot.

What about?

(I don’t know.)

I don’t really know.

Who won?

I think England won a bit and lost a bit.

(This is ridiculous. Perhaps I suffer from historical alexia.)

I tell you who will know: Jim (Jim is our neighbour.) He is a Professor of History at University. And that is his period.

Period! He laughs and points to his groin. Period! Penis! At last he has got some real entertainment out of this conversation.

Period just means a length of time. A menstrual cycle is a period of time – that’s why it is called a period.

Period! He rolls about in the armchair. Ha! Jim!

I think you’re being silly now.

You said period.

Period’s have got nothing to do with penises.

Oh! My penis! My period! Oh no!

Anyway, but when the boats arrived. After two years and everyone was so hungry – do you know what happened?


The boats were just full of more prisoners. More sick people and not much food. So now they had even more people and less food.

(I wait a bit.) So how about that? Hey?

Stop that silly laughing. It’s not funny.

Stop it.

What do you want for breakfast?


7 thoughts on “Getting Ready for Leaving (4)

  1. well, you told me a few things I didn’t know! (Will I remember them?)
    Is it periods have nothing to do with penises, or is it most penises will have nothing to do with periods?
    Now, I’m being silly.

    • It is many things. It is that as soon as I try to impart grave and serious truths to my kids – they guffaw. And they are not alone. This is tricky to endure.

  2. nice to know that M is not Americanised tho’ where a period is not a guffawing matter, but the punctuation…imagine me yers ago at WC being told my periods were not well placed…

  3. I think England used to include Normandy, which caused a bit of bother. Or perhaps Normandy included England? And Eleanor of Acquitaine muddled everything by marrying both French and English kings and having grandchildren in royal families all over Europe. She was a goody. Alison Weir’s book about her is great.

  4. Love your writing! Also just read Frank Schaeffer’s wonderful Crazy for God. Writing of the time in the early ’60s when he, the son of American Calvinist missionaries living in a Swiss village, spent several years as a pre-teen boarder at Great Walstead in Sussex:

    “After two or three years at GW, I was more English than the English. The main lesson of history was that England was in the right. We stood against the Germans. We stopped them from taking over the world, just as we stopped Napoleon at Waterloo. We liberated the Indians and Africans from barbarity, gave them the rule of law, built them railways, and explained that you could not burn your widows along with their dead husbands. We invented the steam engine, and the Spitfire was the best plane ever. We were honest, not like those dreadful “Frogs” across the Channel. Civilization ended at the cliffs of Dover. Wales, Ireland, and Scotland rebelled now and then and had to be subdued to their rightful place. Sherlock Holmes and Watson were the typical Englishmen, resourceful and driven by a desire to do right. We had the Magna Carta and enjoyed the rights of Englishmen while the rest of the world were slaves. The purpose of the Americans was to be there when we needed them. “We can take it,” we told the Nazis after they bombed London. “Solid British workmanship” was best; our suits, cut on Savile Row, were what any real gentleman wore. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote opera without “all that Italian nonsense.” Elizabeth stood against the marauding Frog and Spaniard and made England safe for a religion as jolly and “free from cant” as cricket, when played by the rules, played honestly, so honestly that the only time I heard a boy dispute the call of the referee was when he told the umpire that he was indeed out. He did the right thing, he did what Winston would have done, or at least Dr. Watson. Honor, truth, and openhanded transparency, these were the “attributes of Englishmen.” Jesus was a decent chap and more or less English.”

    • Thanks for popping by, Larry. And thank you for that exhausting quote which is, in fact, spookily germane to the story I am working on which I am working through on these pages. (Very funny, too.)

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