Birkenhead-born writer, David Roberts has a passion for shipyards and literature. A mix of metal, blood and tears came to mind as we talked about his life and the literature course he has been teaching in the Algarve. I had seen the course advert at São Brás de Alportel Museum, and I had it in the back of my mind to find out more.
Fortunately, the week before Christmas, I bumped into Maxine Srivastava (a fellow member of the Algarve Archaeology Association), in the British emporium known as Iceland, and so over the cheddar cheese and pork pies, I listened as she enthused about the literature course she is taking with David Roberts. I said, “Do you think he would want to be interviewed?”
“Sure,” said Maxine and so on a chilly Saturday afternoon, I met David and his dog Molly, in a cafe in Santa Catarina and we competed with traffic noise and Portuguese life to discover some of his passions and what the next literature course starting on 9 January 2017 will entail.
David, married with an adult son, lives most of the year in the Algarve on a hill near São Brás de Alportel.
Living in the shadow of a shipyard his early life was influenced by steel, dirt, water and stories of the second world war.
Park High Grammar school for boys provided a limited exposure to literature but reading one or two classics did make a lasting impression.
He said “I left school six months before my sixteenth birthday with a swimming certificate for a breadth, which was really a lunge, as I had one foot down. It was expected that the shipyard would be my working life. I trained as a shipyard mechanical engineer.”
In his 30’s he felt the call back to learning and so he took a degree in English Literature and Economic History at Liverpool University. His final year dissertation was about the economic development of shipbuilding.
After completing a teaching qualification and then a Masters degree in English Literature and Cultural History, he changed direction and for a short time taught in a local school. He then began to teach A” level students at a local Further Education College in Liverpool. For over 25 years he has explored Shakespeare, Hardy, and the likes of Arthur Miller and now brings these classic works to a new audience right here in the Algarve.
He said, “What I really taught was ENG because for a time I also taught Engineering and English Literature. They both begin with ENG.”
David is lively, funny, emotional and a dedicated man to his craft. He not only teaches but has written a number of books. His book HMS Thetis, Secrets and Scandal has in his own words been a “huge success.” In the book he recounts the tragic story of how in June 1939 (just before the start of World War II), the submarine HMS Thetis was lost in water less than its own depth in Liverpool Bay during her acceptance trials from Cammell Laird, killing 99 men. 60 years after the deaths of these men David interviewed surviving family members who share their personal stories of anguish and anger.
The research he did for this book clearly still has an impact.
He said, “Four men survived. Many of the men lost aboard the Thetis were local Cammell Laird men, just like my father, ordinary working class men just doing their jobs. The second world war eclipsed their story and the disaster was perhaps conveniently forgotten only remembered in the folklore of the shipyard and of Birkenhead.”
He continued, “I feel humbled by having been able to go to University. Where I come from, young men trained to be master mariners and worked for one company – Cammell Laird. People cannot go back so easily into education. We should be looking after our youth. These days youth are getting a terrible deal.”
As David spoke, I felt a commonality of process, – that is, a gaining of insight into the darker side of people and their actions through books and literature.
I asked him, did he think Shakespeare has something to say for our times and his response was a resounding “Yes.”
“He knew us, how we function, lust, lie, want power, our madness and how and why we betray. His knowledge of us shines through his text.”
I asked about the process of each session.
He said, “I read sections from the text and ask what this means” in the student’s life. Why did the character act this or that way? What may have been the emotions behind a lie, a choice or murder?”
Of the Tragedy of Hamlet – the Prince of Denmark, he said, “it is in the details that you experience the pain and joy.”
“Can you imagine how a young man would feel if his mother married his father’s murderer? Not just that, she wore the same shoes. Hamlet noticed she wore the same shoes to his father’s funeral and to her wedding. Can you believe that? What must he have felt seeing that?”
Maxine who put me in contact with David, certainly feels this course is worth joining, she said,
“After the first half of the tutorial I was well and truly hooked. The passionate, enthralling reading given by David held everyone spellbound. Simple words held mysteries to be solved. Text of old held new meanings that must be deciphered. We were all enthralled by the presentation and look forward to commencing again.”
The five week course about Hamlet, starts on 9 January 2017 at the village hall at Monte da Palhagueira. It is already nearly full, so it may be that the following session is for you, when David will be sharing his take on Thomas Hardy’s, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
But do check out with David if you want to join the session starting in January. There is a reasonable charge for taking part.
For more details – Contact David Roberts – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tragedy of Hamlet – The Prince of Denmark
Monday 9 January 2017. 16:00 – 1800
Village hall at Monte da Palhagueira