Lowndes, now living in Cornwall,
wrote this song about a retired Norwegian sailor, who Bill would see each day sitting
on a bench staring out to sea. Bill
eventually got to know him and heard his story. The old man would look down at
his hands and say "Look at 'em
- every thumb a marline-spike and every finger a fid", which gave Bill his
starting point for the song. (A fid is a
large tapering pin used to open the strands of a rope before splicing.)
OLD FID (Bill Lowndes)
I'll sing you a song of the rolling sky,
Of lands far beyond the Main,
To the ebb-tide bell or the salt pork meal,
That I'll never know me again.
I mind the times as we were becalmed,
With never a breath for the sheet
The red sun was so hot, That the water would rot
And the decking would blister your feet.
So don't ask me where I've damn well been,
Don't ask me what I did,
For every thumb was marline-spike,
And every finger's a fid.
And then there's the time as we rounded the horn,
With cargoes of silk for Cadiz,
The swell roll was so high, It were lashing the sky,
Lord the whole bloody world's in a fizz!
Whether spices from Java or copra from Yap
Or a bosun too free with the cat
It's haul up the anchor and roll out that spanker
And "Dammit move faster than that!"
I've loved proud women from Spain's dusty plains,
And I've seen where the Arab girl sleep,
And the black girls as well, though they're fiercer than hell,
Have all kissed me when silver was cheap
Lord, how the man's changed from the young cabin boy
To the old man that sits on this bench!
For I'm too old to fight or to stay out all night
In the company of some pretty wench.
Just an old clipper man who's long past his best years,
And I know that I'll never be free
From the smell of the tar that once braided my hair,
salty old tang of the sea.