My Life As A Film
It is shot in black and white, with subtitles
and set aboard a German U-boat in World War Two,
called U-214, nicknamed “The Berlin Bear”.
The Captain downs shots of schnapps in every scene except
when the boat is pursuing or being pursued.
His exterior of brutality is a pretence and
he secretly hates the First Mate, who is a card-carrying Nazi.
He has sunk a hundred thousand tons
and never yet taken home a torpedo.
The camera pans longingly over
the pin-ups by each bunk, Geli, Anna, Eva,
Hanna, in swimsuits or stockings, they purse their lips and wink.
Rations hang incongruously from the pipe-work overhead:
black bread, hams, sausages, swaying with the current.
Sonar pings. The crew sit in lip-biting silence for hours, like a
detention class. Beads of sweat glisten in the night-light
on every man’s brow. Depth charges grumble:
the hull rocks. The taste of cold salt dripping down
reminds Heinz, the radio operator, of the enveloping sea.
They come upon a convoy, poorly-escorted.
In the moonless dark, they mount a surface attack
and put two C3 cargo ships and a tanker down:
enough to add oak leaves and diamonds to the skipper’s iron cross
and to burn most of the survivors before they drown.
In ’44, they meet up with some Japanese just east of
the Cape. They take on board copper, molybdenum
and teak from the Dutch East Indies. “Why bother?” some-one asks,
and whacks the First Mate on the head as soon
as he starts on about The Fatherland.
The sunny day in the sub-tropics is shot in Technicolor.
Every crewman has a wash and shave. Scorning sharks, they bathe
naked in the sea. On deck, they fantasise about what they will do
when they get back to Saint Nazaire. They shout and joke and boast
and conjure up fresh food, free of the smell of mould.
A Catalina seaplane that no-one can see plainly
comes out of nowhere and scores a direct hit.
A submerged camera watches the descent while titles roll.
We need a really snappy title before we take this to market.
William Thirsk-Gaskill was born in 1967 in Leeds, and now lives in
Wakefield. His work appears in the Grist anthology entitled A
Complicated Way of Being Ignored. The reading tour to promote this volume
finished at the 2012 Ted Hughes Festival in Mytholmroyd. Most of William’s
current work is broadcast on a local radio programme called Themes for
Dreamers, which he co-presents with Gaia Holmes.