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  • Writer's picturePaul Coleman

Burnt to a Crisp

On the Atlantic side of South Africa. I am wearing the sun glasses.

Anyone ever get a sunburn so bad that you should be in hospital, and yet had to go to work the next day? I did, on my first afternoon off after sailing from Genoa, Italy, to Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, and spending four hours sunbathing on a most beautiful tropical beach of white sand, lined with Palm trees at the tender age of seventeen. How romantic that experience was, waves gently massaging the beach, waters a paradise of tropical blue and a small bar built of driftwood, where time seems to have stopped.

Not long after getting back to the ship I developed blisters the size of eggs, on my back, shoulders, arms, legs, and feet. For the next two weeks I could barely put my clothes on, but of course I had to, as sunburn was considered a self inflicted wound while working on a ship at sea and taking time off for such matters could affect your career. I was a pantry boy, the lowest rating of the catering staff and I had clean those dishes, scrub those alleyways, regardless of the 'self inflicted' agony, with my boss, the Chief Steward and medical officer, lancing the blisters every morning in fiery pain beyond my ability to truly describe, vowing never again, would I let this happen.

For the most part I kept to my vow, even in the hottest parts of the world and on the most glamorous beaches I always made sure to protect myself from a bad burn. Now I live not so far from Cape Horn, where in October until now the ozone hole opens up to become but a mere veil protecting us from the sun, which even on a cloudy day can burn the skin in no time to crisp. I remember the blisters, put on my wide brimmed sombrero, make sure my body is well shielded and wander the garden like a snowman from Manchester, wondering why on earth I ever wanted to be a slice of dark toast.

Such is life in the learning lane.

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