A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The lines above describe the wedding guest after experiencing the mariner’s extraordinary tale in Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. They could also apply to me - perhaps not as dramatically - upon my return to New York City after a brief sojourn in England, during which I was fortunate to attend the 2004 version of the Captain Cook Society’s UK weekend meeting, Friday, 29 to Sunday, 31, October.
My trip across the Atlantic, via air and very different from James Cook’s sea voyages back home to his motherland during his early years in the Royal British Navy, was motivated by several reasons. First, having attended the 2002 meeting in Marton after a Cook conference at the University of Teeside, I knew I’d be in the company of an interesting group of people who share my enthusiasm and respect for Captain Cook. (Back home when I mention that I’m writing a musical play about the historic figure, people initially think it will deal with Captain Hook.) Second, I desperately required a respite from the incessant media barrage connected with the forthcoming U.S. presidential election, where one candidate was in denial and the other was fending off scurrilous attacks while searching for his clear-cut message. Foremost, I needed a breath of fresh air (North Yorkshire?) and some intellectual stimulation to get my libretto out of the doldrums of my mind and back on a productive course.
After a few days in London, where I was able to “catch” two West End musicals and do a bit of research at the British Library, I headed north to the Marton Hotel and Country Club, the site of many of the CCS UK weekend happenings. The former Victorian House dating back to the 1900s is a rather quaint and appealing place in the eyes of this jaded urbanite. I could picture H. G. Wells or J. M. Barrie sitting in the bar area (residents’ lounge) musing over a character’s next move.
Friday afternoon, before the unofficial activities began, I took the opportunity to explore the “neighborhood.” My first surprise was a small monument to Cook in a little memorial park off Stokesley Road, Marton. Quickly following that, I spotted St. Cuthbert’s Church, where James Cook was baptized on 3 November 1728. I then wandered into Stewart Park, fog shrouded and beautifully dressed in Nature’s autumnal colors, before arriving at The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. I decided to save that jewel for Saturday and contented myself with taking a few photos of the nearby granite vase erected “to mark the site of the cottage in which Captain James Cook, the World Circumnavigator was born Oct. 27, 1728.”
Upon my return to the hotel, the festivities had begun, as was demonstrated by Secretary Alwyn Peel’s greeting members and handing out badges. Additionally, small groups of CCS members were gathered to exchange hellos, tell jokes and exhibit stamps.
At dinner that evening I felt quite at home with old and new acquaintances in the midst of spirited exchanges about matters of Captain Cook, as well as British and American politics. Similar to the conversations, the food was also plentiful and enjoyable. Later we adjourned to the hotel’s Endeavour Room, where members shared many of their Cook-related items and interests - stamps, maps, magazine articles, experiences, and projects. A brief nightcap in the residents’ lounge topped off what proved to be a unique and intriguing day.
After a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, the annual meeting entered its official mode at the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum with greetings and gifts from Phil Philo and Ian Stubbs, the curator and assistant curator respectively. I was impressed by the camaraderie, enthusiasm and humor with which society business was dispensed before members’ presentations. Particularly memorable is President Cliff Thornton’s welcome greeting to all and his noting that three of the members present had traveled from places beyond the United Kingdom - one from Canada (Don Anderson), another from the U.S.A. (me), and a rather hairy representative from an Artic region of the globe.
Interesting and informative presentations followed: Don Ander-son’s “The Life of William Bayly” and Cliff Thornton’s “A Mysterious Boom.” During the lunch break I was able to view the permanent displays in the museum as well as the exhibit about the relationship between Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the accounts of Cook’s voyages and his association with William Wales, an astronomer on the Resolution.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
The afternoon session was rewarded with Ian Stubb’s PowerPoint “Phipps of Mulgrave,” Cliff Thornton’s impromptu “The Wills of Cook’s Men” and Rosalin Barker’s deceptively scholarly “Tea for the Cabin, Milk for the boys and Butter for the ship.” A book launching followed for Captain Cook - Explorations and Reassessments, a product of the Teeside Conference I attended two years previously and the editing of Glyndwr Williams. After a few free white wines, I threw thoughts of the present pound-dollar exchange rate to the winds and purchased a copy.
Before dinner that evening, I attended the CCS auction, which was quite entertaining because of the patience, wittiness and aplomb brought to it by facilitators Harry Ward and Harry Wright. Some excitement also accompanied the event for me since I had my sights on a particular book (Captain James Cook “Servant and Friend” of Captain John Walker) and had never previously participated in an auction. In my mind I set a monetary and emotional limit to as far as I would go - not “farther than any man” - and waited anxiously for what turned out to be the third from last item “put on the block.” Much to my chagrin and delight, I was the sole bidder. Subsequently, the publication became handy in constructing a Whitby sailor scene for my play.
Dinner, initiated with a toast to the Captain, was once again accompanied by high-spirited and interesting conversations, followed by a brief trip to the ever-popular residents’ lounge.
Sunday, when many CCS members were off to visit Great Ayton, Staithes and Whitby, I headed south. After pleasant visits with friends on my way back to London, I made plans for my remaining time in England: spend a few more hours with the treasures of the British Library, see a Broadway-bound British musical, and visit the William Hodges exhibit at the National Maritime Museum - the latter becoming the most rewarding of the three.
On the evening of November 3rd, I arrived back at JFK Airport and took a cab to my Manhattan apartment. I was comfortable sleep-ing in my own bed that night. However, the next morning when I awoke, I read the news-paper headlines con-firming the tally of red and blue states, re-viewed the notes I had accumulated to help my writing, and thought about the friendships forged and deepened with people I wouldn’t see for a while. Ultimately, I realized I too was “A sadder and a wise man.”
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 40, volume 28, number 1 (2005).
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