Avast ye pirates, here we go again
Shiver me timbers, it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day again!
The founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day now have a book out, a pirate self-help called "The Pirate Life: Unleashing Your Inner Buccaneer." It includes how to "shoot up the corporate ladder with your newfound pirate panache" and advice on "how pirate-hood provides a solid platform for power and political gain."
International Talk Like a Pirate Day, like the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie series, makes pirates silly. But contemporary pirates are something else entirely. Books about contemporary piracy on the seas have titles such as "Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas" (by John S. Burnett) and "Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism" (edited by Peter Lehr). Terror, violence -- real pirates are pretty scary.
Fictional pirates are sometimes scary, but safely tucked away within novels, they're more enjoyable. Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Treasure Island" gets down to pirate business right away. On its first page:
I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow -- a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Johnny Depp as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Credit: Peter Mountain / Walt Disney Pictures
I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste and still looking about him at the cliffs and up at our signboard.
"This is a handy cove," says he at length; "and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?"
My father told him no, very little company, the more was the pity.
"Well, then," said he, "this is the berth for me. Here you, matey," he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; "bring up alongside and help up my chest. I'll stay here a bit," he continued. "I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you're at—there"; and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. "You can tell me when I've worked through that," says he, looking as fierce as a commander.
And indeed bad as his clothes were and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast, but seemed like a mate or skipper accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the Royal George, that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.