Part of the ongoing series of eight interviews that The Postmodern Mariner held with the eight Sea of Tea Pirates…
The fifth conversation is with the pirate of the northern zone, Henry Morgan, and it goes something like this:
PM: You are Welsh, are you not?
HM: Indeed so. Born in the village of Llanrumney, which is now a suburb of Cardiff, a city that has grown enormously since I knew it. Melons are also things that grow enormously, some kinds. And coincidentally, there’s a St Mellons in Cardiff; it’s another suburb. But who was Mellons and why was she a saint?
PM: You assume that ‘Mellons’ was a she?
HM: Indolent instinct was responsible for that. You’re right: the saint in question may well have been male.
PM: Have you ever read John Steinbeck’s first novel?
HM: I have. Cup of Gold is the title and it’s all about me. But I don’t recognise myself in it. The Wales in that book is no less exotic to me than the real modern Wales. Poetic language aplenty, though, which I enjoy very much; and the scenes set in Jamaica and Hispaniola and Panama are evocative, even if rather fanciful. Steinbeck is usually defined as a writer who dealt exclusively with tough ‘realistic’ subjects, but in his early days he was an authentic romantic. In his last days too, apparently. I don’t know that for sure: I’ve never read his late King Arthur novel. But one may presume. One assumes that one may presume…
PM: There you go, off assuming again!
HM: Mellons, King Arthur, Pieces o’ eight: these are all good things to have assumptions about.
PM: What do you assume about pieces of eight?
HM: That there are no pieces of seven, or pieces of nine. That pieces zero to seven and nine to infinity simply don’t exist.
PM: I have pieces of √-1, pocketfuls of them, almost enough to buy a new galleon and sail it to an equally new world where there are no awkward pauses, no robbers, no taxes.
HM: Yes but… Give them to me, all of them! Think of your loss as a sort of survival tax.
PM: Bah! I asked for that, didn’t I?
HM: You are staring down the barrel of a flintlock pistol that has been loaded with grape. The grape has fermented and will wine, I mean whine, when it emerges, and that’ll be the end of you. Smashed! So I actually consider you to be a wise man rather than a foolish one for emptying both your pockets like this. These truly are curious coins, by the way. They have only one side. When they spin they flicker in and out of existence. If a man tried to make a decision with one of these coins, he would never know if he was cheating himself or not.
PM: Are you indecisive?
HM: Not especially. No, I wouldn’t say that. Perhaps.
PM: But do you ever toss coins?
HM: Only if they are crossing the equator for the first time. I dress up like Neptune, the god, not the planet, and put all my coins in a blanket, or a handkerchief if the takings are low, and the crew help me to throw them as high as possible. The crew also have to dress up like Neptune, but the planet, not the god. If a majority of the coins land on heads we continue in the same direction; if the result is mostly tails we turn the ship around and sail back; and if most of them land on their edge on the wooden boards of the deck, we sail up and down a segment of the equator itself, plucking the longitude lines like harp strings, with a rudder carved to resemble a thumb.