27 JANUARY 1939, Page 12



IN the broad Square flanked by the tall buildings of the Customs House and the Board of Trade and Union offices, stand groups of men and boys. It is nine o'clock in the morning, a watery sun shines, the sky is clear, and the air is brisk. Men and boys stand at all points of the com- pass, and while they talk of ships and Captains and men, pigeons strut about the Square, pass in between many kinds of legs, some cased in dungaree trousers, some in stiff blue serge, some in bell bottoms that billow gently to the light breeze blowing across the Square. They stand in groups of twos and threes, round half-dozens, and here and there completely isolated, a single individual, whose eye rests, not upon the many of his calling, but rather upon a stout black- board that hangs just outside the old oak door of the Trade Union offices.

Sometimes one of the group here or there will fling a casual glance at this board. It is quite clean. Nothing has happened, but soon something will. The Master of Ceremonies has not appeared yet, but when he arrives the groups and the single individuals will stand still no longer. Everything depends entirely upon Mr. Golightly, who hasn't put in an appearance yet, though some of the men and boys have been standing there since eight o'clock sharp. Still he is bound to come, and then things will go with a swing.

Mr. Golightly is an important person, and he knows it, has been important for years, and hopes with God's will to go on being important for some years yet. At the moment Mr. Golightly is sitting in a little room, awaiting the pleasure of the stout gentleman in the nearby office, at present very busy at his desk, sorting papers, reading letters, answering the telephone. Mr. Golightly sits back in his chair, rests his head on the back of his hand and stares at the map on the wall. He has seen that map thousands and thousands of times. It is in fact a chart, a chart of Liverpool Bay, and sometimes he wonders what Liverpool looked like when it was called Liverpool Bay. He is a stout little man, wearing a bosun's reefer jacket, a shiny peak cap, rough serge trousers, and he smokes a pipe, what the men call his " free pipe " for every incoming sailor has a packet of " hard stuff " for the Master of Ceremonies, and the Master of Men. He puffs away at his pipe, holding it almost fiercely between his teeth. The hand holding the stem is tattooed with a winging bird, and just behind his ear lies a blue star, so small that one has to stand quite close in order to see it. Mr. Go- lightly will tell you, and in a very important tone of voice, that he had this tattoo put there on medical advice, when he was sailing on the West Coast of Africa.

Suddenly there is a call for him. " There, Golightly? " Immediately the ex-bosun is on his feet and hurrying into the office. " All set, sir? " he says, and stands waiting for the orders. The man at the desk looks up at him, speaks almost in a whisper, for a reason only he himself knows, and then Mr. Golightly vanishes.

He has gone into a little room, " his den," and from the shelf by the window he picks up a length of chalk, and his duster. Armed with these tools of his important profession he goes outside into the Square. And suddenly all chatter- ing ceases. Past voyages are forgotten, old shipmates are long since under way, yesterday's thoughts are pushed out to make way for tomorrow's. And tomorrow's depend entirely upon Mr. Golightly himself. These men and boys without ships hope for everything of the best from the little ex-bosun. One may stand and stare, but not when Mr. Golightly walks in a very solemn and dignified way to his blackboard, and there laboriously writes, in his large child- like hand, the names of ships, and after the names of ships the names of those who are wanted.

Every eye in the Square is now focused on this magic blackboard. Mr. Golightly writes: S.S. HOLLEIN. IN DOCK AT TEN A.M. FOUR A.B.'s, TWO FIREMEN, ONE GREASER, TWO TRIMMERS, i DECK BOY, ORDINARY SEAMAN. This is a solemn ritual with Mr. Golightly, and he writes upon his board slowly, solemnly and in the above order. Having done so he draws aside, and the moment he does so there is a concerted rush towards it. The Master of Men has quietly returned to the office. The square was full of men and full of Hope, and now they crowd round, for all their hope lies in the written words upon the board. One isolated individual has already hurried out of the Square. He will be first aboard, remembering that a wise sailor looking for a ship goes mateless on his quest. More and more men drift into the Square, but the early birds are already drifting out.

Mr. Golightly has returned to his chair and his pipe. Now he knows that each time he goes to that board he becomes more important. Had he not written, that Square would still have held its grouped and chatting men, pigeons would have continued to strut in and out about their legs, swooped upwards to the roof, downwards to the stray crumbs thrown from some sailor's pocket. He, Mr. Golightly, has moved that world to action. Men may come, every day and every hour, but they can only stand and wait for him, The Master of Men, The Writer of Names, The Man of Destiny, and he, Mr. Golightly, knows it, as he knows men. He knows'the warm handshake, the angry look, the covetous one, he is familiar with all, for he decides all, every day and every year, until too old for employment, he will just place his duster and chalk on the shelf, say good-bye to the superintendent, and go off home for good.

Mr. Golightly receives another call, and once again he goes out to the Square, and once again he writes in his childish hand the names of ships. He holds the future of men in his hands. By a movement of his chalk he may send a man half across the world, and he knows it.

He looks round the square. It is again full of men. They all look at him, and he looks back at them. Some smiles, some calls of his name, and then he proceeds to his work. Once more all eyes are on his board, and they follow his slow-moving hand, and all Mr. Golightly does is to rub out what he wrote there but half an hour ago. The little man seems to take a long time rubbing out the chalk, he appears to like a well-cleaned blackboard. At last it is clean, its virgin surface waits once more, and the men and boys wait too. Occasionally a pigeon will fly over Mr. Golightly's head, sometimes far too near to it, and the square resounds to his " drat you," and his voice sounds just as it did when he roared up the black alleyway of some tramp ship, " Seven bells there! Show your legs." Now they wait, wait for the hand to write, for they are ready to show only too-willing bodies, and Mr. Golightly knows that too. He knows he has control of them, names their ships, their jobs, he is King of the Square.

But suddenly he has gone inside to the office. There is a hurried whispering in the groups of men. What has happened ? Why the obvious, they seem to say, he will be out in a second writing the names of ships again. And in three minutes exactly he has returned to the board. He flings a glance at the crowded Square, lifts his head back, almost as though in disdain, then turning his back upon them all begins slowly to write : " NO MORE SIGNINGS TODAY."

With an almost funereal pace the hand makes the lettering. The men, as soon as he has gone back into the office, once more rush to the board, stand silent before it, plumb its meaning, turn away, walk slowly from the Square. The oak door closes, and even as the last man turns the corner out of the Square, a flock of pigeons swoop down upon the space so suddenly delivered up to them, and strut about in the pale sunlight in and out and under the famous blackboard. And after a few minutes a single man comes into the Square, halts suddenly, looks at the wording on the board, then quickly turns his back, leaving the Square and the sunlight to the strutting pigeons.