ADVENTURE ON THE SOUTH SEAS
The first instalment of the unexpurgated 1939 diary of Sir Charles Mappin
Dominic Lawson writes.• a few weeks ago I received by post an extraordinary document sent by Margot, Dowager Marchioness of Reading and subscriber to The Spectator.
The pages were all that remained of a diary kept by Margot Reading's half-brother, Sir Charles Mappin, 4th Baronet. Sir Charles had inherited a fortune from the steel firm of his parents, Torn Mappin and Violet Mappin, who were in fact, first cousins.
Sir Charles was, according to the Daily Express of his day, 'a leader of the Bright Young Things'. A lover of practical jokes, he threatened to convene the first and only 'Old Berkeley Square Cat Hunt' and announced a plan to round up the stray cats of Mayfair with the aid of greyhounds. The police and RSPCA were among a number of bodies who fell for that prank.
Just before the second world war, Mappin went sailing the South Seas in a vessel which carried no radio. The war had been declared for six months before he heard of it. He came home at once, and volunteered for the RAF as a rear-gunner, having refused a commission and a ground job. Some time around 8-9 November 1941, on his second mission, Charles Mappin was killed in action, at the age of 32.
Readers will, perhaps, find shocking some of Charles Mappin's language, especially in respect of his cavortings with the likes of Chou Chou and oth- ers of his Polynesian concubines. But Margot Reading, the 'Darling' to whom the diary is addressed, insisted that her brother's account should not be bowdlerised. So here it is, in all its 55-year-old bawdiness.
Punaauia, Tahiti Darling, When I last wrote you I can't remember, so If I repeat myself put it down to the July festivities to celebrate the Fall of the Bastille.
I returned from Raiatea, partially recov- ered from coral poisoning, with Chou Chou, about 5 July, and stayed at the Blue Lagoon, a hotel restaurant in Papeete, for three days. I then went to stay with Bryan Tighe in Jasper Moore's house in Punaauia. (You will probably connect Bryan with the National; he rode Drim three years running.) Rupert, Bryan, Chou Chou, Teura (Bryan's girlfriend.) Very whoopsy, and very ill-making. Bryan gave a party after we had been there a week, about 60 people, mostly Tahitians. A party not without incident. The police called the following day accus- ing Bryan of having children under 14 there, brawls, and of continuing after mid- Portrait of a Polynesian beauty, commissioned by Sir Charles Mappin night without permission from the Chief of the District, but the Chief is a friend, so all was OK. I had a delicious goose on the sil- very sand with a lady by the name of Mire. The next morning the hangovers were quite unbelievable, the native orchestra still lying about in a wreckage of smashed gui- tars and wilting gardenias. Guests were swinging, singing and swaying their way back to Papeete all the following day. We tried to cure it with gin, but it was fatal to me, and I spent the next three days in bed. Violent sickness, couldn't hold a drink, and Chou Chou most inconsiderate, so I sent her into town for two days until I recovered (I discovered she had five fucks during the two days, but she explained it away by say- ing everyone celebrated in July).
And then came the famous Quatorze Juillet, and Tahiti is reputed to do it as well as any place. All shops are shut, the square in front of Government House is turned into a fair with roundabouts, coconut-shies, dance halls, bars and all the whoop- sy nonsense you can imagine. This continued for 14 days, open day and night, and not a sober person on the whole island. Each night the districts sent their dance teams to dance before the Governor in native cos- tume, and to sing their local himenes. All very impressive and romantic and a wonderful excuse for one more rumble-bumble, and one more bottle before returning to the country to sleep it off before starting again the following morning. I man- aged to make the 14 days, then chaos. By this time Bryan and I were staying with Rupert, who had taken a house, also in Punaauia, in prepa- ration for the return of wife and infant toreador-aviateur.
Fortunately I had asked an Australian, Roger Barry, to lunch with me the follow.. ing day at the Blue Lagoon and he arrived at 1 o'clock to find me quite crazy, imagin- ing the most extraordinary things and living a life of my own entire imagination. He stayed with me for three days and three nights without leaving me for one minute. My ravings I won't try and explain as, except for Ann, they only concerned peo- ple on the island. I was cured by intra- venous injection of somnafeine, and, although I pray to God it never happens again, it has done two good things: it has shown me I have a very good friend in Roger Barry, and it has frightened me on to the wagon until Christmas.
After three more days at the Blue Lagoon, I returned to Punaauia feeling very weak and missing my alcohol very much, and then my luck broke again. Bryan had chartered the schooner Ruahatu (100 tons, 70 feet) to cruise through the Iles sous le Vent, Australs, Gambiers, Paumo- tus, and he asked me to go as his guest. Not only a six weeks' health cruise on the wagon, but also my ambition ever since I have been here. Also going are Simone (Bryan's present girlfriend), Lew Phillips (ex-amateur lightweight champion of America and ex-All Black footballer, so I am full of apologies) and Madou his girl- friend.
Our departure from Papeete was fraught with difficulty. We were due to leave on Saturday. But not a bit of it. By lunchtime on Saturday the Captain was so drunk he would never have got us outside the reef, so he was fired. A new captain had then to be found and it was arranged we should leave Sunday at 9 o'clock. But the Captain had got very angry at being fired and had persuaded the cook not to go, so a new cook had to be found. Highly difficult on Sunday as all the Chinamen appeared to be out in the country, so Bryan said we will leave it for today and definitely leave tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock.
On Monday the Captain bribed the crew with a demijohn of red wine not to work. On Tuesday the Port Captain told us at the last minute that special permission was necessary to go to Mangareva, and on Wednesday the Captain played his trump card. He got on board and tore up all the charts. By this time we were becoming the stock joke of Tahiti, people were arranging dinner-parties for us weeks ahead. Chou Chou and I did the same thing each night: dinner Belville, sleep Rivnac's. And each day I would buy a syringe and a bottle of argyrol (anti-clap) and each morning leave it on the boat. I already had two packed, so I left with seven syringes and seven bottles of argyrol. Thursday at 10.30 we left Papeete. Rupert couldn't come as the mis- tress and heir of Papillon were due to arrive on 12 September.
The Ruahatu is a two-masted schooner with diesel engine, six bunks in line, three cabins and plenty of deck space. Crew con- sists of captain, mate, Chinese supercargo and ten men. We are carrying 100,000 francs' worth of merchandise for barter: knives, nails, hooks, pareus, tinned goods, chocolate, printed cotton etc., and expect to return with coffee, copra and mother-of- pearl. We also carry a 22-foot launch for big game fishing and two sets of tackle.
The first day we sailed with engine and jib. There was a slight swell and Madou was ill most of the time. We lay on the deck all day, Simone playing the guitar, and slept on deck at night. The nights are lovely — millions of stars and so funny to see the moon upside down.
18 August 97 miles. Left Huahine for Bora Bora.
Awakened at 5 a.m. by a flying-fish land- ing on my balls. For one second I thought I had got them again. Got to Bora Bora at 6 o'clock. We slept on board, and it was fun lying on the deck watching the Southern Cross, and listening to an old Tahitian and his wife having a terrific bagarre on shore. What the argument was about exactly I didn't gather. All you could hear was a lot of gibber-gibber, then wham — wham wham, as they socked each other, and all the young bloods of the village stood around roaring with laughter. After a few minutes some produced some native beer, shrieks of laughter, guitars strumming, everybody happy, and all forgiven and for- gotten. It could only happen here, or Windsor.
19 August 50 miles After breakfast, Bryan and I went fishing without success. I got two paheiri on the big rod, about 12 pounds each, and five bonito averaging about six pounds on the bamboo. We returned to find Lew and the Captain stinking, Madou furious in a major sulk and Marie, a Bora Bora girl, in the Captain's bunk. So into the Captain's bunk I crept. Having (1) thrown wide her char- lies (2) got my hand on it (3) locked the door, I thought there was a possible chance of inserting the monster. But, oh no, she was very sorry, she had promised herself to the Captain. So trusting the Captain would have passed out before the hour of sexual intercourse, we had dinner.
A strange dinner, I might even say a very strange dinner. A Chinaman, whose expres- sion never changed the whole time, Lew and the Captain by now dancing drunk, Madou sulking, Bryan laughing tight, and myself trying to get a lift on Sauce `You're not thinking of putting me back in there, are you?' Anglaise: all taking place in a cabin six feet by six feet. After dinner we went on deck. Simone and Marie donned moris (grass skirts) and danced to the orchestra of the night before. Much whisky, red wine and Sauce Anglaise consumed.
The Captain then retired to bed with Marie, walking as if the boat was in the middle of a South Sea hurricane instead of actually being anchored in the lagoon. Ten minutes later screams are heard coming from Madou, who had disappeared below with Lew. A figure like a phantom of the night leaps into the whale-boat, closely fol- lowed by Simone, and heads for the shore. We discover from Lew that (you won't believe this) Madou had been bawling him out for drinking, and every two seconds whilst this very serious and lengthy sermon was going on Lew would call to the Captain in the next cabin, 'How's it going, Cap- tain?', and every time the Captain said `OK', Madou poked him in the puss. After about ten minutes Madou saw things weren't going so good, so she adopted fresh tactics: she kicked Lew smartly in the balls. Lew adopted fresh tactics too: he socked her. So Lew, Captain, Bryan and myself got down to more red wine, whisky and Sauce Anglaise. Bryan went up on deck and we were all startled by a sudden splash. Thinking of Marie and the Captain, he thought he would pay Simone a visit on shore, but had unfortunately forgotten she had taken the boat. We pulled him aboard, and decided that bed was best.
The last thing Bryan said before he went to sleep was, 'I wonder if this sort of thing happens on Lady Yule's yacht?' Lew told us in the morning he was awakened by the Captain saying, 'Please darling, let's have a quick one,' and Marie replying, 'A quick one indeed, when the last one took you five hours.'
20 August Bora Bora, 147 miles All bagarres settled by lunch, everyone happy again. Bryan and I went fishing. Only paheiri and bonito. Slept after lunch. We have decided Marie must be an excel- lent fuck because the Captain told Bryan at 3 o'clock he couldn't sail that night, because there was too much wind. We decided that with a slight exaggeration the wind might be described as a gentle zephyr.
At 4 o'clock he informed us the mechan- ic had disappeared (obviously under his orders). So Bryan said right, Lew and he would go and find him, which they did after an hour and a half searching, stinking, in a native village. In the meantime the Captain had told me it was too late to take the ship through the pass anyway. Bryan and Lew got back about seven and when Bryan heard this he told the Captain if the ship wasn't through the pass within an hour, he'd take the flicking thing through him- self. The ship was through in 40 minutes.
To be continued . . .