Bing Selfish: The Autobiography

A Selfish Life

an extract from Bing's autobiography, My Selfish Life


Photo: Simon de Farnhell
I was appointed assistant to the cook's assistant, that is, in other words, chief potato peeler of the SS Crank, one of the slowest and crappiest clippers ever to sail the high seas.

There I was, adrift on the big water peeling potatoes, peeling potatoes, peeling lots of potatoes. In fact, all I did as we idled down the Indian subcontinent and then headed out towards the Horn of Africa was peel potatoes. I didn't have much time for anything else - there was a large crew and they all loved their chips. Longfur, to be fair to him, would occasionally smuggle me the odd glass of whisky or a delicate sweetmeat, but on the whole our paths rarely met. By the sound of it he was having a fair old time. Boozing it up with the captain, playing cards, exchanging anecdotes with all and sundry and mucking about with all the intricate machinery aboard using the vague excuse that he was a "film technician" and thus knew everything there was to know about marine engineering.

We sailed down the side of India and put out into that vast expanse they call the Indian Ocean. I was pretty down, just potatoes and loneliness, it came as a pleasant surprise one evening when one of the kitchen hands slipped me a huge spliff of Indian grass. "Stop looking so pathetic," he said, "have a blow on this, chill out". Before I had even consumed the spliff I realised how I had failed to keep spiritual. All that stuff I had learnt in Japan had gone out the window the moment I got into a real jam.

I hadn't thought about anything spiritual in months. Once again, I felt lost, like a tiny blob of humanity floating on the ocean. And then it came to me that I WAS a tiny blob of humanity floating on the ocean! Stronger even than the effects of the Marijuana was that moment of realisation of my unique and utter helplessness. It was an insight that fortunately could not last long, but would bring with it a profound illumination for which there are not words.

It was at sunset, and the sky was exploding in a mad cacophony of colour and carnival, yellows, greens, purples, mauves, pinks and endless hues and shades fought each other across the horizon. Our tininess was complete. For once I saw and understood our true position in the cosmic ball game.

But mostly it was just potatoes and, though it is true to say that potatoes do indeed have their own tao and zen (they are living and vital organs of the universe like everything else), they are not, however, lively or suitable companions on long ocean journeys. By the time we reached Aden, I could take no more spuds...


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