Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hebridean Sharker - Tex Geddes

After my Trollope adventure I wanted a complete change of pace and as luck would have it 'Hebridean Sharker' turned up in my letter box. A month or so back I wrote about Gavin Maxwell's 'Harpoon at a Venture' (a book I love to the point that I'm prepared to be evangelical about it), having reminded myself about  just how good that book is I was intrigued to discover that Tex Geddes, Maxwell's harpoonist, had also written a book about his experiences. Even more intriguing Birlinn were in the process of reprinting it so potentially this was going to be an opportunity to learn a little bit more about Maxwell and his Soay years from someone who was there.

As it turns out Geddes once described as a cross between Ivan the Terrible and Popeye deals mostly with the years after he left Maxwell's company - and is doubtless the better for it. Geddes isn't the writer that Maxwell was, but he has great stories to tell and proceeds to tell them in a way that makes me wish he'd written more about his life - which was nothing if not adventurous. The action opens on his wedding day in 1948, The ceremony takes place in London and after missing the sleeper north on which they have reservations they manage to make it onto another train and so on to Mallaig arriving in the teeth of a blizzard and just in time for Tex to abandon his wife to go out on a lifeboat rescue mission. After a brief pause in action to explain lifeboat construction we return to Jeanne back in Mallaig listening to the trawler wave band on the radio as the message "Oban radio calling Mallaig Lifeboat...Calling Mallaig Lifeboat... Can you here me..." goes out. No reply (the boat's radio signal has been blotted out by mountains. Happily Tex is home in time for breakfast.

There's a lot of boys own adventuring here as Tex and his shipmate Johnny pursue Sharks only fractionally smaller than their trusty boat 'Traveller' - which is often in danger of being pulled apart inconveniently far from shore but there's more to the book than that. Geddes doesn't just catch sharks, to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads he and his wife are both working, when it's not sharks it's lobsters or ring netting. They struggle to find a house at all - it's only when Jeanne negotiates to buy Soay that they do manage to find a place of their own to live in, even then it's almost derelict and as they move in the rest of the island is being evacuated.

Tex whose early life made him ideal for the commandos was clearly drawn to a way of life not entirely risk free, but the general problems he and Jeanne face, more especially after they have their son Duncan, must have been common enough amongst ex service-men, and women, grown used to a different world and impatient of re-imposed rules. 

The all action thing isn't often my cup of tea, but this book makes it work, it's worth being reminded what lifeboat men face when they turn out at night, and salutary to realise what our grandparents were prepared to do to earn a living (I'm not thinking specifically of Tex here so much as all of the marginally less colourful people he introduces the reader to). It's a good book, and using the original jacket was a great decision, it does indeed deserve it's place as a Hebridean classic. 


  1. Very eye-catching jacket Hayley! It reminds me of some early Hammond Innes ones I've seen. Does it say who did it? The trouble with reading your blog is I constantly yearn to go to the Hebrides (and I've only been to Scotland once so far) ;)

  2. I'm not sure who did the cover and the books been 'borrowed' - I think it's going to be a struggle to retrieve it... I've never actually been to the Hebrides proper - Islay far to the south is as far as I've got but I do want to see more of the western isles - hence all the reading. Scotland is great though, lots of variety, and we're planning a proper Glasgow trip sometime as all either of us have ever done is pass through for a day or so.