Sea shanties have appealed to me since, I suppose, the first time I heard one. My admiration of sea shanties probably arose from the fact that they tell stories to lively and pleasing tunes. That would have been five or six decades ago. Since then, I’ve listened to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them. One of the groups benefiting from the recent surge in enjoyment of sea shanties is The Longest Johns. They recorded The Wellerman, a shanty growing in popularity, on the album Between Wind and Water.

The recent trend toward public adoration of the musical genre is both welcome and laughable. Welcome in the sense that I am pleased to learn that so many people now appreciate the music. Laughable in the sense that so many people who recently have learned to appreciate them think they have discovered something freshly made and magical; or, that they have uncovered and resurrected a musical treasure hidden for centuries. I should not mock anyone for their newly-acquired taste in music, regardless of how it came to be. The recent trend in sea shanty appreciation has led me to listen to dozens of shanties recorded by several groups. I wonder whether I would find the individual members of those groups interesting?


Last night, I felt incredibly lonely. It was not the kind of loneliness that necessarily would have been softened by reaching out to friends who lately have assured me that I could contact them 24/7 if I needed to talk. While I do not doubt they would have taken my after-hours calls, I would have felt awkward taking advantage of their promises; strictly because they are aware of my circumstances and they might have felt obligated.

The kind of lonely I felt was the kind that longs for connections without obligations in either direction; the kind that seeks out connections based not on known circumstance, but remembered engagement. I had no reasonable expectation that my attempts would be successful. In fact, one of my attempts was to contact Brian (the English fellow my wife and I visited so many years ago), by email. I did not expect him to respond right away, in that when I sent the message, it would have been in the wee hours in Acton Trussel.

Even though my loneliness is and was a unique breed, looking back years instead of weeks, I came close to calling a couple of people nearby and asking them whether they would be able and willing to come talk to me, face to face or, at least speak to me by phone. But I would have felt extremely awkward doing that. It would have been especially awkward if I asked someone, based on earlier assurances, only to learn that their other obligations had to take precedence. I certainly would have understood, but it would have been awkward, nonetheless. There’s a difference between friends for whom one would sacrifice virtually everything and friends for whom one’s compassion is strong but not infallible. And there’s still another band of friends for whom the glue holding them together has not yet set.

Despite not knowing the responses I might get, or not get, I did hear back. I got a text message returned from one person, explaining that she was on the road but that she would like to talk today. This morning, I got phone calls from two guys I had attempted to contact last night. And when I awoke this morning, a long email awaited me from Brian; he said he was pleased to have heard from me and asked if I would mind him sharing it with some of his colleagues, who I also knew back in the day.

I think I’ve written before about my closest friend from before elementary school through my sophomore year in high school, a guy I thought would sacrifice his safety to protect me, who I caught stealing money from my wallet. That experience shook me to the core. It has stayed with me ever since; I think it is the reason I am so cautious about opening myself up to thinking I can absolutely depend on someone who calls me friend. But that’s an entirely different subject. I think.


I do not know what I think about last night’s loneliness. I know only that it was palpable. I could feel the tightness in my chest and the anxiety in my head. My neck and shoulders were tense and I began the evening with a headache. When wine did not resolve those physical manifestations, I turned to what I thought would be an ounce or so of sipping tequila. More than an ounce or so disappeared before I fell asleep while watching Bosch.

I am not sure just how many episodes played before I woke up a 2:30 and went to bed.  I was up before six and was out the door before seven to pick up my grocery order. Around 8 or 8:30, my sister-in-law came by and we chatted and played Words with Friends until well after noon.


I believe I am on the periphery of something important, emotionally or mentally, but I do not know what it could be. Something I can’t quite pin down suggests to me I will explore opportunities to expand my thinking and better understand the world in which I live. I generally do not accept such “woo-woo” sensations or suggestions, but this time, maybe.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Periphery

  1. Bev, that was great! I listened to the end and championed the cause from start to finish! I think one of the best times I’ve ever had listening to sea shanties was during a trip to Halifax, when I spent an evening or two at some waterside pubs, listening to local musicians and joining the crowds of locals raising hell to the music! That’s when I fell in love with Halifax and decided I really wanted to return to Nova Scotia. I’ve never been back, but one of these days, not long in coming I hope, I will be there again.

  2. Bev says:

    Here are some of my friends singing a song I wrote (just the lyrics) called The Biomass Forest Thieves, based on a Stan Rogers song. They call their group The Taproom Growlers. They were performing quite a bit until Covid came along. Sea shanty groups have been popular here for years, but then we are on the ocean here, so no surprise.

  3. JoAnn, thank you so very much for that. And thanks for the movie recommendation. And Fisherman’s Friends is on my watch list; I’ll move it up on your recommendation. 🙂

  4. jmangi1 says:

    And you can add me to your list of folks to check in with when life seems tough..

  5. jmangi1 says:

    if you’re into sea shanties, you’re probably already aware of the movie Fishermans Friends on Netflix. delightful film based on a true story.

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