Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I had the attitude that every opportunity should be taken in life to see and experience something different.”
I always find it fascinating when reading and learning about someone else’s life experience. We all have our unique stories, and some of this experience simply deserves to be put into writing! My latest read was a memoir – an account of one author’s extraordinary journey of their life at sea. Aside from being one of the most interesting accounts I’ve read to date, it brings a few laughs and life lessons to take away too.
Tales Of An Accidental Life by Denis Scott is the entertaining true story of the author’s travels, adventures and disasters around the world as a young seafarer training to be a British Merchant Navy Deck Officer at college and at sea. At a time when life at sea was at the cusp of change with new technology and social developments, it describes battling with a horse on top of a New Zealand mountain, rescuing a cow in an Arabian dock, being propositioned in Japan and drunk in Mexico.
The author begins his memoir by taking us back to his seventeen year old self, a time where he was training up to become a seamanship and navigation officer. To keep the reader invested in this journey, Denis Scott has injected a little personality into his words, using humour and a friendly writing tone to get certain points across and to keep us entertained. We get an in-depth overview of what life was like, how he gets into this line of work, and the people he really has to thank for the opportunity.
Denis gives us an intensely thorough account of his experience at sea, each page as detailed and intriguing as the last. The start of the book allows us to take in how his career at sea developed and really puts the reader in the shoes of the author. We learn of new friends, leaders, ships on which he worked, his roles and responsibilities, and how he spent his spare time when not attending his duties. The role seemed a tough, yet rewarding one, and it definitely seemed worth it when reading about these experiences!
I particularly enjoyed hearing about Denis’ journey on board the ship when rounding Africa – the rough seas and freak waves described are enough to frighten anyone, not just those with a phobia of the water! I couldn’t begin to imagine how I’d feel on board the ship at this time… Another situation which stood out to me straight away was how the ships controlled depression and mental health issues in seamen. Not necessarily something you’d think about at first, but when you do give it some thought, isolation from loved ones for months on end and being away from the usual hustle and bustle of normal life could really take its toll on some.
“I felt a sense of disappointment walking off the ship onto a grassy area and thinking I’d come half way round the world to look at an area more boring than my parent’s back garden at home.”
Each chapter of the memoir signifies each stop of the ship’s journey in various parts of the globe. For those who love to travel and see the world, this memoir gives a great explanation of what life was like in these places in the 70’s, and helps the reader to compare how times have changed in the present day. I enjoyed reading about this and the particular jobs Denis had to complete in each of these places. Of course, we hear a lot about his spare time too as this was equally as important as his job itself.
I loved the anecdotes throughout the book – my favourite being Denis’ experience of horse riding. Horses definitely aren’t my thing and learning to ride one is something I’ll probably never do. However, learning of the author’s poor experience made me think of something that would happen to me. I had to have a laugh at his horse’s lack of movement and how stubborn it was, no matter how much he tried to make it move. Even when switching horses, he had the opposite problem, where the new horse couldn’t be controlled – safe to say he didn’t try this again until 12 years later.
When returning home after his first trip, he had little time to relax before his next journey at sea. He kept the lessons he learnt on his first trip close to him and set off on his second. Due to the hectic working place and conditions combined with the heat of sun, drinking continued to be a big part of socialisation, and I suppose we still have this mentality today. Despite this, his work on this tanker seemed to be the most suited to Denis and in a way, it was rather enjoyable to be working with giant valves, pipelines and shifting hammers.
We learn more about the author’s training later on in the book, this time involving six months at the Maritime School of Plymouth College studying a range of academic and vocational courses. All of these, of course, were essential for the role. The author goes through, in detail, how he managed to get through his training with the people he met along the way, even though he found some parts of it incredibly boring. It was clear certain tutors made an impact on his learning, over the years, even though some weren’t particularly pleasant. This took me back to my own time in college and the select tutors who I couldn’t get along with for one reason or another – we all had them, I’m sure!
“In the short space of just over three months, I had literally been around the world.”
The middle of the book shows just how much life experience Denis has gained and it puts a number of things into perspective. The skills he develops, the places he visits over the years and the people he meets along the way have all shaped him to become the person he is today. When reading about these experiences, I couldn’t help but think of my own path in life and the things I have also experienced over the years. Although my experiences don’t come close to traveling the world, being in dangerous situations or even rescuing cows (I’ll mention this a little later), it encourages you to take the positives out of any situation, instead of the negatives.
After six months in Plymouth, Denis’ next port of call was Middlesbrough in northeast England, where he then travelled to Rotterdam. The author’s description of all the places he visited or stopped off at on his journey either makes you want to put them on your bucket list, or steer clear of visiting them completely. At this point in particular, we get a clear picture of what things looked like, how it felt to be there, and just how much this place had an impact on his journey. Actually, the more I think, the same applies to a range of different places the author described throughout the book.
As the ship visited new places, Denis encounted a little danger – not just for himself, but for a fellow crew mate, too. Having drinks spiked and dealing with a depressed worker can’t have been easy, both of these disrupting his work pattern. However, Denis kept on going and showed incredible strength and determination to fulfilling his duties and keeping things moving on board their ship. I think every reader can take away some of the author’s experience here and apply it to their own lives, no matter where they’re at.
If the book up to this point wasn’t already filled with unique experiences, rescuing a cow definitely makes the cut. Dealing with a panic-stricken cow wasn’t high up on his list of priorities for the day, but, being a kind and considerate citizen, Denis proceeded to help the cow and prevent it from being in pain and in a state of shock. At least this strange event managed to get a round of applause! Not something you’d witness every day on an Arabian dock.
“Needless to say, this night’s adventures were something I never informed my parents (particularly my mother) about.”
As his journey on a variety of ships comes to an end, we can’t help but reminisce over the pages we’ve read and to take a step back, admiring that Denis has, in fact, had a pretty busy and action-packed life at sea. The end of the book sees an arrest, the breakdown of ship machinery and being criticised for excessive drinking in his appraisal. It seemed as though the bad luck returned for a while. Even though his career was cut short, this experience was sure to serve him well in his next chapter – the police force!
After reading Tales Of An Accidental life, I was astounded by the sheer lack of life experience I hold compared to this man! Denis has very kindly shared his own experience of his life at sea as well as some of the positives and negatives from his journey. The number of places he’s travelled to combined with the people he met and the things he did were impressive to read. Denis put a humourous spin on certain events on his path, some of which will definitely stick in my head for some time.
Thanks so much to Denis Scott for the opportunity to read and review this impressive memoir! You can purchase your own copy of Tales Of An Accidental Life on Amazon UK or US, available on Kindle and paperback. It’s also free on Kindle Unlimited! You can also follow Denis over on Twitter and Facebook for more updates.
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