WORDS OF THE WEEK

Every week we open this section with a picture to admire, to treasure. From today we will also offer words - spoken, declaimed, written as poetry or prose - which will in some way reflect an event or mood of the week. Today, an extract from the Whitbread Award-winning novel by Beryl Bainbridge

The narrator of Beryl Bainbridge's Every Man for Himself (published by Duckworth) is Morgan, the young nephew of the shipping line's owner, who sails on the Titanic's maiden voyage in April 1912. In this extract from the first chapter, he accompanies his friend Charlie Melchett on a trip around the new liner.

Melchett was keen on visiting E deck, mostly on account of a broad alleyway, known to the crew by the name of Scotland Road after some street in Liverpool, which ran the length of the vessel.

He had visited the northern city as a child, he eagerly told me, on the occasion of a horse running in his grandfather's colours in the Grand National steeplechase. I did tell him, knowledgeable as I was in regards to plumbing in the steerage accommodation, that it was unlikely he would find the thoroughfare thronged with race-horses, but he was adamant.

We duly descended by elevator and roamed up and down a tiled corridor intersected by iron staircases leading to working departments of indescribable dullness. Melchett, trying hard to remain animated, wilted.

"What is the point," he complained, "of giving names to places that bear no resemblance to the past?"

"The point is," I stressed, "that they draw attention to the the origin of the reference. Think of Waterloo station." After which exchange we fortunately encountered a young seaman who was persuaded to conduct us over the lower decks. Reluctant at first, then swayed by the promise of a generous tip, he led us below.

Though stunted in growth, his eyes shone with intelligence. He said his name was Riley and his home town Liverpool, where he lived with his "Mam" and five siblings. Considerably bucked at the coincidence, Melchett boasted he knew the town quite well. "My grandfather,'he said,"owned a horse that finished second in the Grand National of 1901 ... I can't for the life of me remember its name."

"Me Dad," replied Riley, "had a donkey called Dickey-Sam that pulled a rag and bone cart." Melchett said that was interesting, and turned pink again. Apart from a certain casualness of manner Riley proved to be the best of guides, for though the English he spoke could have benefited from an interpreter his knowledge of the ship was profound and his appreciation infectious. On F deck, starboard side, beneath which the main engines were housed, he delivered a lecture on their capacity and capabilities. The vessel, I understood him to inform us, was powered by two four-cylinder, triple expansion, reciprocating steam engines. Each could deliver 15,000 horsepower at 75 revolutions, producing a speed of 21 knots. Aft of these, a low-pressure turbine recycled steam from the main engines to drive the three propellers. He was wrong in this last assumption, in that it was only the central propeller that was thus driven, but I held my tongue.

"There's also four 400 kilowatt steam-powered generators," he said, "with dynamos capable of providing enough electricity to work the machinery controlling the winches, cranes, passenger and service lifts, heaters, cookers, water-tight doors, the internal telephone exchange and the Marconi wireless set to a range of 350 miles. It can go further at night," he concluded. "Though I'm buggered if I know why." Melchett, shamelessly taking advantage of his enthusiasm, pressed to be allowed a glimpse of such wonders. A glimpse was all we got; barely a minute after we reached G deck and Riley had dragged back the iron door of Number 1 engine room we were approached by an assistant engineer and ordered about our business. Brief as the moment had been, we had nonetheless clearly seen the awesome monster rearing on splayed legs from the glittering avenue below, its gigantic head vibrating inside its steel helmet, its thunderous intestines of lubricated pistons and crank-shafts pounding and pumping in perpetual motion.

Riley was sent packing. I'm ashamed to say neither Melchett nor I put in a word for him, nor was there time to palm him his tip. Escorted by the engineer, we were returned by twists and turns and much tapping up of metal stairs to E deck, where, after sternly reminding us that unauthorised explorations of engine and boiler rooms were against company safety rules, he left us.

I could have told him who I was and put him in his place but was loath to puncture his sense of self-importance, having had my own pricked on numerous occasions, and with more cause, by my Uncle Morgan.

Melchett and I remained silent while we continued our inspection of the ship, and when it was done and we had sunk into the leather armchairs in the foyer of A deck we still had no words.

It wasn't the lavish furnishings of the public rooms, the doors inlaid with mother of pearl, the panelled corridors of oak and maple, the shimmer of gilt and brass and cut glass that made us catch our breath, anymore than the twenty-one-light candelabra hung from the massive dome above the sweep of that imperial staircase.

We had spent our lives in splendid houses and grand hotels and for us there was nothing new under the sun, nothing that is, in the way of opulence; it was the sublime thermodynamics of the Titanic's marine engineering that took us by the throat. Dazzled, I was thinking that if the fate of man was connected to the order of the universe, and if one could equate the scientific workings of the engines with just such a reciprocal universe, why then, nothing could go wrong with my world.

I don't know what Melchett was thinking, beyond he was pale and his left knee was bouncing up and down as though in imitation of those connecting rods oscillating below the water line.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Engineer

£35000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Data Engineer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence