WEE POT STOVE
I placed the enamelled bucket of home brew on the deck of my cabin. The yellow fluid, barely fermenting now, had the full black bodies of prunes floating in it. Saturday night — my guests stamped into my cabin covered with snow from the blizzard that howled outside — it had been howling for a week. None of us gave it much thought — this was wintertime in Leith Harbour, South Georgia, and the Factory Ships and Transports had departed months ago for home leaving us behind to repair the Whale Chasing Ships for the following season. We did not expect mail, newspapers, or any contact with the outside, other than the official radio transmitter, for many more months to come. The squalor of the Whaling Station was buried under many feet of snow and to some extent it hid its ugliness.
Meanwhile, as host, I filled the mugs of the guests and they drank deeply of the prune juice — no vintage wine ever tasted better — if one can judge from their eagerness to refill. The first bucket thawed them out, the second started the singing — songs of all kinds, Scottish, English, Norwegian, Swedish — old songs, bawdy songs, ditties, all sung unaccompanied — but with relish. Usually Bucket No. 3 produced philosophical nostaglia. This intellectual condition, coupled with an acute awareness of our isolation, had the catalytic effect of producing strong anti-social tendencies in most of the guests — this was the most critical time of the evening for any host — he had to evict or be evicted!
Next morning would see all of us, slightly bruised but relieved of inner tensions, crawling over the ice-caked gangways on to ice-covered decks and into dimly-lit freezing engine rooms to repair engines.
The first job was to light the Wee Pot Stove and get a little warmth, and so, huddled around the little stove we would discuss the night before, the essence of the brew — the quality of the singing and what a good fight it had been. ‘Paddy the Liar’ — who never let the truth spoil a good story — was indeed a treasure under such conditions, but I have also listened to men who travelled the outback of Australia paint good word pictures. Thus it was — until the return of the Factory Ships, the next season over, and home to Scotland — the stove was indeed the whalers’ campfire. HR
WEE POT STOVE
Lyrics and Music: Harry Robertson
How the Winter blizzards blow, when the Whaling Fleet’s at rest,
Tucked in Leith Harbour’s sheltered bay, safely anchored ten abreast,
The whalers at the station, as from ship to ship they rove,
Carry little bags of coal with them, and a little iron stove.
In the wee dark engine room, where the chill seeps in your soul,
How we huddled roon’ that Wee Pot Stove, that burned oily rags and coal.
Fireman Paddy worked wi’ me, on the engines stiff and cauld,
A stranger to the truth was he, there’s not a lie he hasn’t told,
He boasted of his goldmines, and of hearts that he had won,
And his bawdy sense of humour shone, just like a ray of sun.
We laboured seven days a week, with cauld hands and frozen feet,
Bitter days and lonely nights, making grog and having fights,
Salt fish and whale meat sausage, fresh penguin eggs a treat,
And we trudged along to work each day, through icy winds and sleet.
Then one day we saw the sun, and the Factory Ship’s return,
Meet your old friends, sing a song, hope the season won’t be long.
Then homeward bound when it’s over, and we’ll leave this icy cove,
But I always will remembe