22 MAY 1993, Page 27

North Cape, on an Anniversary

The sea curved like a cutlass, Through pines a presentiment Of blue.Invisible till 2' He instructed, and stuck to it Regardless, back to the view.

Later, visibility restored, He held court: Carlyle and Tennyson, Thackeray. 'Much good merriment,' Rounders on the beach, swimming, Diversions for the easily bored. The ship reflected in their eyes, Pink-rimmed and bloodshot as they row To safety, it is not smoke that dries On their cheeks but tears: a score Of survivors unable to look back.

Screws rotate in air and, nose first, Helpless against the Arctic thirst, She plunges, churned waters suddenly slack.

Dickens at Bonchurch, 1849

The prettiest place I ever saw in my life, at home or abroad' - Charles Dickens in a letter to his wife, Kate.

Not just writing. Daily he frolicked Among bamboos and willow, Showered under a contraption rigged To his own design. The lace Of the sea fretted round his feet.

And always Copperfield proceeding apace.

Alan Ross