On my list of things to do before I die is stay in a light-keeper’s cottage. I don't know exactly why that immense, single eye belonging to a lighthouse draws me. Its blinding light reassuringly roaming throughout the night, lighting a pathway from land over sea. An luminous beam in the oily black guiding lost ships on a roiling sea.
one beacon of light is said to be visible for 20-30 nautical miles,
which means even a pinpoint of winking yellow saved many a sailor's
life or led to certain death if that point of light was instead a
wrecker's lantern. An unimpeded gleam brought ships too close to the
shore, smashing them into the edges of cliffs. Then the wreckers,
amidst the groans and dying wails, could claim their bounty.
my ancestors, it is said, were involved in smuggling; triumphant with
the spoils from crafty deals and possibly led astray ships.
Relatives, I imagine, who were blessed with the-gift-of-the-gab and
an unquenchable thirst for rum. The thrill of getting their hands on
contraband charged through their dilated veins, but one had the
misfortune of this blood forming a visible red wine stain. He wasn't
wounded by a dagger or a pistol shot, but became discoloured through
presumingly spilling the blood of others, and marked men then were
punished accordingly: hung at the magistrate's pleasure.
great-great-aunt, whom discovered this, felt herself to be tainted
and so immediately halted her previous intrepid dig into that murky
past. Those criminal skeletons, if indeed they did exist, should
remain unspoken of, not let out again to roam the Dorset coastline.
And nobody else has ever dare verify if there's any truth behind this
myth; it's just continued to be handed down through the generations.
hanged innocent? Was it a miscarriage of justice? Innocent, but still
proved guilty. Innocent of manslaughter or murder possibly, but
definitely not of smuggling. That branch of my family were, (and
still are), born charmers, entertainers, and salesmen, and I very
much doubt they would have wanted to miss out on the intrigue, the
skulduggery in those heady times of coastal thieving.
actually I kind of like it. For me, now years ahead, this history has
been romanticised; its sinister and shameful hint has softened and
made it positively desirable, like the thought of being kidnapped by
a highwayman or tied to a ship's mast by pirates. If you travel your
ancestors' roads backwards, eventually it becomes mere fantasy, until
the consequences of their actions possess dream-like qualities. It's
hard to put myself in their real world without injecting my own
illusions: rugged landscapes, stormy seas, and untrodden hamlets;
moonless nights, moist air, the clip-clop of hoofs and loaded wagons.
I imagine voices whispering plans and breaking out in peals of
lighthouse then, for me more appropriately, symbolises a watchtower:
a beacon of parenting, abetting men on land and sea. A majestic
tower metering out its own unusual form of justice, like a parent who
sees too late the blind spots, the obstacles, the pitfalls in their
offspring, since they chose instead to cut themselves off from the
mainland or left the tower completely unmanned. They can't right or
understand the wrongs of their children, but that presiding sweeping
beam, that throwaway ray of light is somehow atoning. It unsettles
those on dry land, but for all those adrift on turbulent seas
illuminates a safe passage.