susys running away to sea

"The rigors (sic) of an expeditionary lifestyle"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not Desperate Enough Housewife

This morning, I'd arranged a longstanding appointment with a dating agency. This is so ridiculous, can't a) believe I did it b) stop laughing about it!!

The Lady Pimp in question is well - er - well over 80, crunched over, sharp as a pin, been doing this for so long, it was like putting on a record. I met her at a hotel in a nearby town. Showed into an interview room - obviously she and her equally ancient companion had had breakfast there, as the old coffee cups and cold toast were still on a side table. Hmm. The elderly gent was to take her place in the foyer to meet and greet subsequent interviewees. He got up, reaching for his crutch (hahahahaha! - no, a metal one!!!!) and hobbled out. Great image...

(In my words) - she told me not to expect very much in view of my advanced years, oh and that'll be £300+vat, sign here please. I said I wanted a young man, good in bed, could I think about her offer of Norfolk Estate Man (late 60s) with the broken leg?

An eastern county maid up to Lunnon has strayed ...

This is from December 2006 - meeting new best friends

Yesterday I went from Hicksville to the Big Smoke by steam locomotive, thence using the urban subterranean mode of transport favoured by so many of the native populace, despite occuring in carriages of deeply restricted space, to the fruit and vegetable market, Covent Garden. Imagine my surprise - where had all those colourful costermongers and their stalls gone? Oh, tempus, o mores! (Mores of that later, I believe)

So, instead of purchasing a banana and a couple of apples, as had been my previous intention, for a scuptural installation I had been months in the planning, at a modest cost of 2d, I was instead obliged to conduct myself around several local establishments offering a variety of lascivious goods for sale. 'Bend forward!' instructed the lady in the lingerie boutique, coming up behind my semi-naked person - and this merely for the fitting of a lacily confected soutien-gorge (forgive my embarrassment at having to mention a lady's unmentionables here). Covering my coyness, I rapidly withdrew, and returned, breathless and panting, to what was appearing to be my natural and more comfortable habitat - the streets of the neighbourhood. At least here, for the most part, I was unassailed, with a few exceptions, by any of the passing throng, thrusting their way past me as I stood to regain my composure on one of the street corners, one hand pressed to my capacious bosom. For one moment, I thought I recognised the owner of the said hand, it being large and manly .... but no, it was in fact that of a total, and somewhat burly, stranger. Ah me!

The emporium known familiarly as Marks and Sparks was where I made my final foray. By this time, I found myself somewhat short of the readies, despite several fine young gentlemen offering me their purses and their persons, so I was obliged to dig deep deep deep into the depths of my bag, which rummaging produced a small piece of plarstic, similar in shape and size to a 'credit' card. These, dear me, new-fangled notions which facilitate shopping is proving quite a boon in my current penniless state. How kind of the Messrs Barclay to pay for my purchases ....!

And now, we move on to my intended reason for braving the excitements of our great capital city. I was to meet several people unknown to me, apart from a slight and precarious acquaintanceship via the medium of - strange concept - what I can only describe as magic!! Apparently, when I sit in the comfort of my cosy home, writing on a luminous window, other people are enabled, I know not how - to see that which I write. And I, too, see what they write in response to my slight meanderings... Very odd. Nevertheless, it appears this form of communication is becoming quite popular, and persons with similar interests band together to exchange information, among a variety of other things, of mutual interest to each other. I cannot quite bring myself to believe that these people actually exist beyond my vivid imagination, but it appears it is so....

So, at the agreed meeting place, I spotted a lady standing on her own. Rushing forward, I grasped her warmly in my arms, relief at finding myself alone no more, and kissed her enthusiastically on both cheeks. At which demonstration of affection, I was astounded when she withdrew herself coldly from my clutching embrace, declaring herself uninterested in my charms. Whatever could she have meant? I was disconsolate, until a sweet voice sounded my name close to my shell-like ear. It was her, my rescuer! - surely a goddess among women! Come to save me from inadvertantly importuning further strangers. She was surrounded by an aura of sunshine on this cloudy day, and accompanied by a lively green amphibian... But who was I to query her choice of companion...?

I was escorted to a nearby tavern, where I proceeded in my usual friendly fashion, to put my new best friends at their ease. This comprised my talking extensively, so they were able to relax under the onslaught of my wit, veracity and verbosity. And, as is my wont, I found I had to imbibe various quantities of a rouged liquid, to ease my throat - it becoming rather hoarse from exercising my vocal cords so much. Further people, both male and female, joined our table, and I discovered that their names were not, in fact, their own!! This discombobulated me initially, being unable to work out the reason for this apparent double-barrelled nomenclature. But so be it! I, too, was queried over my choice of name. 'Tis mine own, given me by my parents, upon my birth!' I averred, feeling of a sudden rather dull. And here, I must make a short aside - several of the ladies now present were quite excitable, unlike their, to me, demure appearances within the confines of my shiny window at home. I fear I have not yet grasped the entire concept hidden beneath the window's surface....

And so to luncheon, which lasted for several hours, people coming and going, much shrieking as in laughter, much unnecessary hugging and kissing - the germs! the distastefully close contact between persons of the (whisper) opposite s*x... I had to pretend to join in these excursions with an appearance of gladness upon my countenance - for otherwise, I would have deemed myself impolite. It is this wish to retain a modicum of politesse and self-worth that has frequently been the cause of unwarranted and certainly uncalled-for attentions by certain gentlemen upon my person in the past ... My parents were such that instant obedience was a requirement. To this day, I find it impossible to say 'no'...

After downing several glasses of spirituous liquor, I then found myself in the company of the ladies down several flights of stairs, standing before some cubicle doors opposite a range of basins and a mirror. Here, amidst many girlie screams and chatter, we were able to change our clothing and attend to our maquillage, in preparation for the party we were to attend later that same evening.

Enough of this rubbish!!

I've been to a MARVELLOUS party ..

The Streets of London

Red bags in hand, I slip out through the high wooden door, and hear it click behind me - no going back. Cold slicks through my thin dress, sends goose pimples up my arms. Night London at 6 on Sunday morning- a street cleaner scoops up rubbish, a solitary woman clacks by without a look. Otherwise, the streets are wonderfully quiet and empty, black tarmac glistening in the shop lights, where last night they were noisily jammed. I like walking through dark cities - who are these stray slouching figures hanging around in ones and twos? Another parallel world on the streets. I am invincible and vulnerable.

Separate Tables

The metal trellis gates at the tube station are locked; I find an open cafe - no, too early for breakfast, but the coffee is hot and milky. A black man and a white man sit at one of the tables. 'Eat some food, man,' urges the black man to his companion. An open can of beer is next to his elbow. 'You can't just drink and not eat. Not good for you.' The white man listlessly pinches a crumb from the paper-wrapped baguette, a token. Two other men suggest the barman serve them some beer. One is garrulous. He's asked if he comes from Wembley. 'Interesting Wembley accent,' I grin. He's very Irish... It's all rather jolly and friendly and warm, with the espresso machine whooshing from time to time. 'Do you know where you're going?' says the Irishman, as I take my cup to the counter, and walk to the door. I turn back. 'I think I do,' I say. He wants to talk to someone, anyone, but I'm on my way. We say goodbye, goodbye. Another door shuts me out.

Homeward Bound

A long wait for the first train. I doze on a hard seat in the station. Then again on the train, as it leaves high cliffs of dirty brick houses behind. When I wake up, the sky is blue, the sun is shining pale winter yellow, the land is flattened.

I'm home in time for The Archers.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Memo to self

1 Forget this sailing lark.
2 Find a new hobby as far from water as possible
3 Suggest mountaineering

Addendum to memo to self:

Avoid Mount Ararat ....

Vigo and beyond

As we approached the north west coast of Spain, and the approaches to Vigo, the wind and waves finally began to subside below storm level. And approaching Vigo docks and a marina, as if by magic, I felt instantly better, if baby-floppy.

K steered the boat alongside the slip, UA and Ace rigged the fenders adn the lines, and as we slowed, slowed and finally stopped and moored at 12.30 at night, I made cheese and pickl sandwiches. Honestly, the very least I could do, having made such an inglorious spectaacle of myself. The inside world of the boat was dank, the once pristine upholstery now salt-stained and permanently damp. The floor sections were up, revealing the hours of hard pumping. I was told much of the electronics had been down for some time when a battery faltered. Precise details I didn't care to ask about. I was only glad to be moored and only too willing to help clear up the disarray and to feed the rew properly after their days of snatching at sleep and sandwiches.

And that ws the end of that. The boat was currently going no further. The owner was flying out and US, Ace and I were flying home for New Year's Eve after all. We had an Italian meal in Spain, served by a German-speaking waitress, and a beer in a bar near the docks. Spain starts at 10 each night.

At the airport, we said goodbye to K, and later at Heathrow, goodby to each other. On the tube, a drunk got out a bottle of wine and a tin of beans, drinking from each alternately, sufficiently concerned with his health to have chosen Tesco's healthy option beans... He then lit a ciggie, talked to his unappreciative neighbours, then pissed in a corner. I should have spotted the omens. I was home.

Hot bunking and the loo

I moved to Uncle Arthur's bunk in the forecabin and huddled under his sleeping bag. By now, I was leaving it all to the three men. I shivered and sweated, covering my eyes against all light, as they pumped and bucketed and steered past Cape Finisterre. If I moved, I thought I would collapse. The boat was singing through the ever-rising wind.

Now tell me - when you can't move for fear of disintegrating - when you're eating eating nothing and just about sipping water against dehydration, when all digestive systems have ground to a halt and you're wedged in as much as possible to avoid being hurled around the cabin with each lurch and thump, do you urgently, and I mean really urgently, have to empty your bladder?

So, clutching on to any handhold, I eventually had to fumble, sway and tumble my way in this pounding, soaking world and climb on to - really - a throne, built up on the curve on the hull, with no handholds but the basin's edge on which to cling. Once there, I could at least brace my legs against the door...

My fellow crew members were also a lot taller than me - the loo roll was hung high out of reach...

One excellent thing - the loo was operated by electric switches - at least I was spared the pumpout.

The next couple of days are a wretched blur - I remember the leecloth pinging away from it's screws pop, pop, pop, pop, so that a change of tack left me sliding across to Ace's port berth, to thump against the boat's ribs. I remember being offered boiled rice and refusing to be able to consider food. I remember trying to sleep as the flat foresections of the bows slammed down on t a concrete sea time and again. I remember hearing Ace describe seeing the wind speed indicator torn off by the wind, having exceeded 50 knots. I remember seeing a filthy smelly wrtch in a pink vest top and trousers falling off from weight loss, mirrored in the light from the heads, hair gummed up with sweat. I remember K saying we were making for Spain as there were 'issues' with the boat he could only deal with on land. And I completed my tour of the bunks by transferring to K's after berth, where the violence and noise of the slammig was less intense, swapping it for the noise and smell of the engine.

I had become that object most despised - a passenger. No, worse - cargo.

I love sailing ....

I washed up, and that was it, really. Not sick, but nauseous, and with a splitting migraine that would last for the next three days. No use taking notion sickness pills - I get interesting hallucinations and feel worse than ever. I just hoped it would pass. It never did.

As the rest of the day passed, the wind rose and waves broke over the boat, sending water through all the nooks and crannies water will find, down into the shallow bilges and sloshing from side to side as she rolled on the deep Atlantic breakers. I was half aware of K using a hand pump under the cabin floor, and seeing buckets of water bing filled then emptied into the deck scuppers.

As I lay there, holding up a section of flooring, the water rolled towards my side of the boat, and I felt it swamp the outer edge of the bunk cushions beneath my bottom. I huddled inboard against the restraining leecloth, pulling my now wetted sleeping bag off the upholstery. I should resist sudden impulsive decisions, unknown skippers, strange boats - it might have worked perfectly earlier in the year - four months sailing round Newfoundland and the eastern Canadian Maritimes. I now found I preferred coastal sailing - just a bit too late....

Christmas Day in Biscay

So, for Christmas lunch a day or so later, over the edge of the continental shelf, halfway across Biscap, I played housewife. Every cranny in the boat was crammed with jars, tins, packets - food! For lunch, we had: a starter of melon and prosciutto ham, followed by roast turkey, stuffing, lightly burnt raw vegetables and lumpy gravy.

Let me explain a little more. You might be wondering what happened to the vegetables. Well, with a boat oven, the heat is at the back. So baking tins in an oven need to be rotated to ensure even browning of the food.

The procedure is this:

a) don full set of foulies + welly boots (mine are red with flowers, but any colour will do)
b) arm self with several thick cloths to protect hands
c) approach oven crabwise from side
d) wrestle oven door to open
e) fail
f) approach oven from front, having checked will and insurance policy
g) wrestle oven door open - success!
h) failure! Field tins full of hot heavy food as they hurtle towards you
i) slam oven door shut rather rapidly and wipe forehead with cloths. Burn forehead with hot cloths
j) push front of oven up with one hand, open door with another hand, tins safely at back of oven. k) with third hand, winkle a tin off oven shelf, drop it, turn tin round, pick up contents surreptitiously from galley floor, blow off dirt, put back into now-turned tin, put tin back in oven
l) slam oven door as tins threaten to leap out of oven again, sliding wildly on greasy floor
m) pretend to your fellow crew members everything is just fine ...
n) despite all efforts, vegetables refuse to cook, and end up black on one side, raw on the other
o) on serving, crew now so desperate to eat, anything tastes wonderful
p) cook has lost appetite, feels queasy, retires to bunk

Happy Christmas!

Leaving Falmouth

We left two hours after first meeting the boat, having done last minute tasks, including listening to street carols in Falmouth's cobbled high street. Next stop was to be Madeira.

With a light wind from the north-east, overcast, slight seas, we motored out under raised main with two reefs. I was unfamiliar with the gaff rig, and in my spaced-out state, the multiplicity of identically coloured ropes looked daunting. All were an authentic hairy shade of pale gray... Bronze winches and pin rails and ratlines up the main mast - all looked, and were the part - but suddenly, to me, too much. I like easy sailing with a modern rig - it's not as picturesque, certainly, but easier to handle, less to handle. My muddled brain was introduced by the skipper to endless safety procedures and equipment, and a tour of the instrument repeaters in the cockpit. I was then on watch with K. I was fading fast.

Off watch four hours later, I fell over the leecloth of my bunk, asleep before my head touched the pillow...

My lack of clear glasses was obviously going to make it impossible to check our position by night. K and I agreed I should take over the cooking to compensate.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fairytale little ship

My first sight of the pretty gaff rigged ketch was as she came round the corner by the docks, her main already flaked along the boom, her mizzen being hauled down, and inflatable fenders lashed down her topsides to protect the white painted mahogany. A beautiful sight - a traditional style boat, built less than ten years ago. A picture-book boat.

As they drew up to the long pontoon, I took the massive hairy bow rope and made it fast, the stern being secured by one of my future companions. The skipper was at the helm. Introductions were made - skipper K - ex-US army; Uncle Arthur - Geordie; Ace - dinghy instructor from Solihull.

As we said hello, I felt my glasses dangling from between my fingers snap in two - another omen?

Hastily, I pulled my prescription sunglasses from my bag and hoped for the best...

Down below, the boat's like a little country cottage - wooden beams, wooden floors, wooden everywhere, crimson upholstery, and framing the shiny pierced brass stove, even an early Adam-styple fire surround, complete with fluted columns and a hip-killer square edged corner to the outer edge of the mantelpiece; a U-shaped galley and a nav station with banks of display screens to satisfy a commercial aircraft. A nautical hymn ancient and modern.

"You can't miss it"

said the main on the Tamar bridge, giving directions to an all night garage. But I could. And did.

"You can't miss it," said thebleary-eyed gatehouse keeper at the end of the long and winding road through the industrial estate. But I did.

The police station was shuttered and silent - no nighttime crime here? I asked a night walker.

"I can miss it," my tired brain told him, asking for a repeat of the directions to the top of the hill in front of me. As I pulled in next to a petrol pump and lights, he waved as he walked on by.

I bought petrol. I bought a map. With difficlty, I bought a map which deigned to acknowledge the existence of Cornwall as an afterthought to the detailed map of Devon. But it would do.

Once more I crossed the Tamar and took to the distorted contorted roads, stopping to check and recheck the map anxiously, frequently.

But this time, I found Falmouth, pulled into a car park and fell asleep upright, complete with seat belt. With sleep stops and piskey diversions, it's takenme 14 hours to get to Falmouth. I'd been up most of the previous night, too. I was exhausted. Two hours later, I found the right marina, and waited for my ship to come in.l

Piskied off

At Bodmin, the road took an abrupt lurch to the right and up a hill. As the alternative was the town centre, I screeched round the corner and away.

Had the local piskies turned the signpost? Had they my best interests in their little faerie hearts, or wre they just out to make mischief: For they sent me, unwittingly, into the night in a wide, wide loop away from their bony work, back to the soft red soil of Devon.

I should have seen the signs - well, of course, I did see the signs - to Plymouth, no less - but I ignored the evidence of my tiring eyes. Ignored what they were trying to tell me. It was only when I saw Exeter and the M5 (N) a couple of hours later, that I realised I'd made a major mistake. It was a punch in the heart, as I leant against the steering wheel, staring at the truth lit up on a giant sheet of roadside metal.

So, once again, I took the road to Plymouth, this time cheered on by a little yellow light winking cheekily at me from the dashboard. It was 2 in the morning. The world and it's petrol stations were fast aslep. I had 29 miles to go to Plymouth. Fingers crossed and 50 mph driving, and I should make it ....

On the road again ...

The omens, if you know where to look, were not good. Fog had descended amost all over the country, closing airports, delaying trains, and forcing all travellers on to the now-crowded roads. So it was slowly and painfully the traffic crawled along the motorways. That was the first sign - I should have stopped before I'd even begun. Or turned back at the first fog-induced accident and associated diversion s through dark-shrouded villages.

The fog and the traffic had thinned, though, by the time I was able to speed past Plymouht, but by now it was night and rain had started to fall. Over the Tamar bridge, and I could just see the lights of Saltash way below me. And then I was in Cornwall.

The plan was to meet up with a sailing boat, putting into Falmouth on her way to Antigua. I'd rung the skipper the night before - a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment, Christmas-skipping decision to cross the Atlantic under sail - probably the last and longest sea trip I'd ever take, or want to take. The dog had een hurriedly taken in by kind friends, anti-burglar lights left on, curtains half-drawn. I'd be away for a month.

As the car, used to the flat plains of East Anglia, ground and groaned its way up and down and round the contorted landscape of Cornwall, I recognised towns from long ago family holidays. Dozy, cosy, sometimes comical, Devon names had given way to the bleaker granite Cornish names. This is a place that, in its centuries of isolation, is part, yet not part, of the mainland...

The night was now totally black - no moon, no streetlights, few car headlights to show the way. And as ever, master navigator that I am, no map. The last one had disintegrated on the back seat beneath the scrabbling claws of my dog, and had never been replaced. But I knew where Falmouth was, and expected to see it signposted. By Bodmin, still no mention, but I knew it was about an hour's drive from Plymouth...