Blustery springtime month of March.
Supertanker Number 1. Commercial Vessel Torrey Canyon. Titanic proud with bulk unmatched. Liberian in its livery.
The Captain, bonus-parched and scared of crew, shortcuts through to Northern Wales.
Metallic belly-hull of Torrey Canyon grinds eleven days on Pollard Rocks in 7 Sisters Reef betwixt Lands End and lonesome Scilly Isles.
Torrey Canyon, plump with slopping cargoed oil, is a full gorged tick throbbing megatons of goop. Megatons. Of crude.
A viscous slick anoints the oozing gash. 20 miles of stink and dreck outreaching. From the upwelled unctuous rocks and over to the offshore trench: a thickness slow and black as recent dread. Furthermore … an extensive, tanged corridor glugs 70 miles northeast&west along the Cornish coast.
(Old men now convince themselves they walked upon the lolling pelt. Lifeboat to lifeboat and back to shore. So glutinous, the gunk, they claim, in cold salt Channel water. ‘No mere thin smeared meniscus, this’).
Too, shoreline Normandy prepares to get some sludge, while Paris lambasts Downing Street, which lisps in diplomatic snoot, ‘It’s the Liberian lowlife, Jacques; nothing’s down to us’. The French say, ‘What? You have no men with force?’ Then Harold Wilson cracks the shits. He summons Royal Naval Buccaneers hangared up in Lossiemouth. (Garrison town smashed by bluff Norwegian Seas assailing northern Scots.) Wilson’s roused to shout, ‘Just fix this fucking UP.’
The Chief of Buccaneers thinks out loud, ‘Let’s bomb the craft and set the oil alight … with napalm mercy-dashed by hot-lined Yanks from ‘Nam.’ (It’s 1967, recollect.) The Yanks respond, ‘This one’s gratis, all on us, so long as you just let us stay and play.’ The Chief of Buccs quips, ‘Acchhh, I love a peacetime bust!’
And together this is what they do. 70,000 pounds of shrieker bombs break up and sink the Torrey Canyon while the sloppy leas of obstinate crude get doused with ‘palm-and-petrol muck. 52,000 gallons disgorged from gyring B52s. (They see good portent in the numbers.) Yanks drop a firebomb in this soup and bank their plane in howling climb. The towering column of particulated flame lights up the dozy town of Tintagel. 100 miles away. And 500,000 sea-birds cook quick to crisps in ferocious noise while galumphing through the grime.
Up in the plane, they squint and spy the ascendant whoosh of discontinued souls. Notice next the gleaming ozone breach – – first time seen – – the Arctic Circle leaking at a scabby dent.