No. 54: Sinbad the Sailor

If you’re looking for pure escapism this Christmas, Sinbad the Sailor is an excellent choice.

It’s taken from One Thousand and One Nights and is jam-packed with adventure in exotic lands – there are barbaric creatures, rich jewels, great ships and cunning escapes. Everything you can expect from an adventure story.

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We’re introduced to Sinbad the Porter, a poor but pious man who is seduced by the bustle of a great household in Baghdad. The master of this household, an older and handsome man, welcomes the Porter and feeds him.

This man of the household is Sinbad the Sailor, who tells his visitor, court and us the readers stories from his travels.

In his first story, Sinbad finds himself abandoned on a strange, desolate and foreign shore, where he stumbles across an enormous egg belonging to a rukh – an enormous mythical bird of prey. He unties his turban and manages to lasso this to the foot of the bird, in the hope that it flies to civilisation and carries Sinbad with it.

Instead he is dropped by the rukh in a vast pit of vicious snakes, with carcasses all around him.

With plenty of cunning, some physical strength and a good dollop of luck (as is standard with the hero of any epic) Sinbad manages to make his way home to Baghdad.

He’s a devout Muslim, and while he is the master of a great household, with countless slaves and great riches, he is a humble man. Take his line

“We belong to God and to him do we return.”

Despite the horrors he experienced, Sinbad was consumed by wanderlust and set sail from Baghdad for great adventure once more.

In his second tale, he and his crew encounter a great brute of a creature – part man, part beast – who holds the men captive and eats them carelessly for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As their numbers dwindle, and in a turn of events remarkably similarly to Odysseus and the Cyclops (which, I note, is a Little Black Classic), Sinbad and his men heat up two spits in a fire and burn through his eyes, therefore blinding him and enabling their escape.

After returning home, Sinbad again craved to sail the seas and experience the world.

On an exploration he met a tribe who infamously fed wanderers to fatten them up and drug them before eating them, sometimes without cooking them first.

Sinbad can see through the cannibals’ act and so refuses to eat, making him gaunt and very unappetising. They essentially forget about him and he is able to once more escape.

He finds civilisation and sets up business as a saddle maker, gaining the custom and respect of the King, who gives him a beautiful bride.

Sinbad and his wife live happily, until Sinbad learns a local custom; upon the death of one partner, the other will be buried with their betrothed’s corpse, the sentiment being that husband and wife should not be separated in life or in death.

When Sinbad’s wife dies, he is lowered into the tomb with her, accompanied by just a chunk of bread and a flask of water, protesting he is a foreigner and should therefore be exempt from this local custom.

He strolls around the tomb to find countless pairs of corpses. When new corpses and their living companions are lowered in, Sinbad brutally kills the living and eats their provisions.

Eventually he escapes and is collected by a ship of passing tradesmen.

As we the readers, and Sinbad the Porter, listen aghast and horrified at these confessions, Sinbad the Sailor insists he has even better stories to tell tomorrow.

I admit Sinbad’s stories are not in the least bit festive and in many ways are utterly horrifying. The last in particular was truly terrible, and is easily one of the most barbaric things I have ever read (barbaric but brilliant!).

But they are entirely engrossing and action-packed, as myths and stories from ancient lands are intended. Bards were required to spin a long and excellent yarn to keep households entertained and I was similarly completely enthralled, which made for a brilliant diversion.

The past month has been a bit of a weird one.

My social life has been in full swing in the build up to Christmas and I’ve been trying to keep busy. Life has gone a bit skewwhiff for me.

When I feel low, the things that I love often lose their gloss; I’ve been putting off writing, my knitting is collecting dust. Sometimes my nails haven’t even been painted ­– it got that bad.

You don’t need me to tell you that every story – including our own – has ups and downs. But as my Mum says, ‘this too shall pass’. Personal loss, health issues, heartbreak, work troubles, fallouts with friends, family feuds. Like in any story, they might stay with us forever, but the pain does lessen with time. I’m massively generalising and trivialising here but hopefully you get my sentiment – an emotion is most probably at its most concentrated at the time of an experience.

I think we can all agree that the world has seen a lot of tragedy in 2015. Too much tragedy. I’m hoping for a more peaceful year, a fresh start, although we all I know I loathe winter and as a general optimist am not myself in January and February – good luck to my housmates, Poppy and Daisy (if only my name was Lily).

Fortunately, reading never loses its appeal. In fact reading has been my saviour of late. The highlight has been The Penguin Lessons (ironically given to me by my lovely friend Claire – who chose this week’s Little Black Classic – after a group of us knitted scarves for a set of display penguins. I’m serious).

Due to Christmas festivities and some upset I am pretty knackered and very much looking forward to being back in my family home for a festive fortnight.

I couldn’t be more different to Sinbad, who was restless to leave his home and explore the world, encountering all manner of people and creatures and adventures.

I’ve been puzzling over how to celebrate Sinbad for a couple of weeks. Monsters are rare in London (if you discount commuters), exotic lands non-existent and alas my bank balance simply wouldn’t allow a voyage to foreign shores, sadly.

But then I did have Sinbad to transport me away from my humdrum life. So I decided I would celebrate by letting him do his thing while I did mine. I have decided to wave to Sinbad from afar, like a loyal friend holding their mate’s bag while they board the big roller coaster. Plus, I need a quiet night in. I have made the most of living in London these past couple of weeks – I’ve wined, dined, danced and sung to the max. The result is a tighter pair of jeans and scratchy throat. I need to hibernate for a good few days.

So I am writing this from this scene

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My glorious bed. My throne! My friend Lois kitted me out with writing materials for Christmas, including a fountain pen because, in her words, every writer needs a good pen. We agreed a desk would be ideal, somewhere I can sit and think properly, ideally with an awe inspiring view of undulating countryside, though it must be said I’m very fond of my view of Tower Hamlets.

So here I am, mulling over Sinbad the Sailor with a glass of mulled wine, looking forward to a decent night’s sleep; a contrast to Sinbad in that great cavernous tomb where he struggled to get any shuteye. I’m fantasising about returning home, much as Sinbad did after his own adventures, both exhausted and nostalgic. But I’m happy to stay in a similar state of relaxation for the next couple of weeks. I’m leaving the adventures to Sinbad.

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Thank you Claire for choosing Sinbad and taking me on your own adventures – penguins and spectacles (you’ll get the reference)!

And I would like to say a wider thank you to all of my nearest and dearest – for all of your support and kindness in all capacities, and for indulging me when I harp on about books and all manner of nonsense. I’m raising my mulled wine to you.

Next year (eek!) I will be blogging about Goblin Market.

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Wishing you a Merry Christmas and all good things in 2016. And I mean all of you – including YOU!

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