Incontri ad Eèa, curated by Federica Forti, Alessandro Buganza ed Ezster Csillag, Frontone, Ponza.
Benning Arnold and his boat Riduna
Jenny and I
loved our grandfather the one we knew, the one who was alive, who lived
on a boat, as far as we were concerned, in the harbour of Alderney, one
of the Channel Islands.
We used to
see him when we went to Alderney in a tiny biplane, just big enough for
our family for the summer holidays. He took us onto his boat and let us
suck the sweet condensed milk that he put in his tea straight out of a
hole in the tin. He had the bluest eyes either of us had ever seen, blue
like the sea on a sunny day. Maybe we thought his eyes were so blue
because he lived in the sea, or very near to it.
when we were very young. When our mother came to tell us he was dead we
beat our pillows with our fists and howled. After a few minute I looked
up and saw tears on my mother's cheeks. “You're crying” I said “Well he
was my father” she said.
Arnold's father was an old man when he married a second time after his
first wife died. His second wife was from Guernsey in the Channel
Islands and she used to return to Alderney, another Channel Island,
every year to paint watercolours of the flowers, rocks and sea. She had
two boys, Benning and Claude, who she took with her when they were old
One year in
March she was travelling with her sons as usual on the boat to
Guernsey. From there she would take another boat to Alderney. The
crossing took all night and the passengers ( all of them or some of
them?) slept in cabins. She put her two sons to bed, then went to bed
herself. It was a foggy night. Two ferries made the trip together,
racing to see which could reach Guernsey harbour first. There was only
room for one ferry in the harbour in Guernsey, so the ferry that arrived
second had to wait outside the harbour for the first one to unload
passengers and merchandise and leave the harbour before they could
enter, and loss of time meant loss of profit, so the two boats always
raced, even on nights like this, with a thick fog that muffled the sound
of the lighthouse on the Casquettes, those terrible rocks that had
claimed so many ships and lives.
should have slowed down, but the profit motive was/is stronger than
anything, stronger than any thought for the safety of the passengers,
even of the ship. By the time they heard the foghorn they were too near
the Casquettes to stop. Maybe they even hit the rocks before they heard
sounded. Passengers rushed towards the boats. Benning's mother struggled
to dress her two boys, leave the cabin and climb the stairs to the
deck. By the time she reached the deck, all the boats had been lowered
and the ship was about to tilt up and slide into the sea. Too late to
save herself or both her sons, she stuffed a football under Benning's
pullover, hoping to save at least one of them. The ship slipped down
like a diver plunging into the sea, smoothly, noiselessly, taking its
remaining passengers down with it. Only Benning remained afoat, with his
It was March and the sea was very cold. Many of the
passengers who came to the surface and stayed afoot, died from the cold.
But Benning stayed afloat and managed to scramble onto an upturned
lifeboat, together with other passengers. Eventually the lifeboat was
turned over by a storm surge and they climbed inside. He spent more than
forty hours shivering and drenched in this lifeboat until they arrived
on the coast of France.
The day I
saw the photos of my grandfather before and after the shipwreck I felt
grief welling up in me, threatening to burst out in a stream of tears.
His bright, sparkling eyes before the wreck had changed into the
beautiful, sad, blue eys that I remembered so well. My mother remembered
him as moody and withdrawn. I remembered him as gentle and kind. Benning
always wanted a sea going boat but his father forebade it absolutely
and he was allowed a small river boat to sail the inland waterways. But
when his father died he inherited a vast fortune and went out and bought
a sea going yacht. He took it to Alderney, where he would sail whenever
had had the opportunity. If a storm brewed up he sailed out to sea. He
was shipwrecked three times and each time he replaced the boat. The
first was called Riduna, the second Riduna 2, the third Riduna 3.
married Elsie and they had five children. She put a stop to further
children by putting a piece of linoleum between the two beds, or so she
said for linoleum is very cold under bare feet, especially in the
winter. He became house master of one of the houses at Bradfield
College, a boy's Public School in Berkshire, where he taught
mathematics. He lost most of his fortune through unwise investments but
he always had a sea going yacht and after he retired he bought a litte
house, Red Tiles, on a desolate stretch of land in Alderney, behind the
concrete wall built by the Germans during the second world war. The
other side of the wall was Longy Bay with its island, Ratz Island that
we used to call Rat island.
used to take us to Alderney in the summer holidays to stay in Red Tiles
and visit my grandfather, when he was alive. It wasn't easy for her,
with five small children, staying in a house a mile away from the town,
walking with the children, one in a pram, all the way to St Annes to buy
food, in the sun, in the rain, wind blowing, children wailing, running
off or dragging their feet.
not a pretty island. It's a barren, treeless rock, covered in grass,
bracken, gorse and a few flowers. It is also covered in second world war
German concrete bunkers and fortresses.
mother insisted on going there every year, sitting in a hole in the
concete sea wall behind Longy Bay to keep out of the wind while we
played in the sand and the rock pools. I never understood what the
attraction was until I saw the video of the dive to the wreck of the
Stella. Then I understood. Just as our grandfather was drawn to the sea
surrounding the island, we were drawn to the island itself.