Sunday, July 1, 2007
The Last of the Waves
Friday 29 June
Well, it’s all but over. Tomorrow morning at 6am we take on the Auckland pilot, and a couple of hours later we should be tied up on Quay Street. After customs and immigration, it will be a taxi ride to the airport and the first available plane to Christchurch, Sefton and Gerolstein, to Wendy, the kitties and the horses. Not to mention the cold and the rain of a Canterbury winter. Happily, on Sunday there’s a Rangiora race meeting, so I can throw myself straight into the atmosphere ... It should be OK. But, right at the moment, I feel a bit ambivalent, somewhat ‘stateless’. Almost scared at the idea of saying ‘goodbye’ to my cocoon of a cabin and going back to the place that has – rather by default – been ‘home’ to me for the last few years. I went back into the real world to try to ‘find myself’, or what’s left of myself, and to find out what I was might like to do with myself henceforth. I didn’t really find a clear answer. If anything, I’m more confused now than before. But it doesn’t matter, for I have my immediate future pretty well mapped out. Some time in Australia, sone time in New Zealand, and then … why, I’m going to do this whole thing (with variations) all over again. I’ve even booked myself back on this bateau ‘same time, next year’!
My last days aboard have been a mixture of highs and lows.
Wednesday night was party night. But, this time, it was the sort of party that I used to enjoy the best on Blue Star. Not upstairs, but downstairs. The occasion was the birthday of Evgenyi, the bosun, and we all got together in the crew mess and lounge after dinner. Much to my surprise, no sooner had I sat down than Sveta plonked a large plate in front of me. ‘But I’ve just eaten’ I expostulated. Silly me. The cold cuts and other edibles piled along the table (lemon slices – a soi disant hangover preventer -- strongly featured) are the traditional ‘padding’ that comes between the bouts of vodka.
This time there was no sliding out. And, anyway, I didn’t want to. Quite the opposite! In case of disaster, bed was just five flights of stairs away. And, if said disaster should occur, Grev had promised to roll me into the lift. Well, it did occur … but not to me. I tossed my vodka down with the best of Russian style, ate nothing, swilled Coca Cola in between tossings, and was still thoroughly standing and entirely sober at 2am.
Andrushka, the second engineer, proved to be an admirable guitarist-singer with a grand repertoire of national and international melodies, and with the vocal help of my pal Sergei and the intermittent aid of others – though, alas, not me, the keys and the selections being out of my reach -- the entertainment flowed on into the small hours… non-stop music in the mess, chat and cigarettes in the corridor, a decrescendo on the vodka (which, as a novice, I was amazed to find I really liked!) … it was a truly happy and convivial evening.
When I didn’t show up for breakfast and lunch the following day, the sound of conclusions being jumped to rang through the ship. Oh, sure, I was hurting, but not in the head. I woke with a helluva pain in my arm. Legacy of the effort by a stainless-steel-armed Eastbourne ex-fisherman to clasp my refusing hand round a huge whisky somewhere about 2am. But an early morning sally to the email machine had brought me a much greater pain. The lovely Hilary Dowie – with whom, so very few weeks ago, I had passed such a marvellous week in the Mayenne, and whom I was looking so much forward to welcoming to Gerolstein in November – had died in hospital in Angers on Tuesday afternoon, as the result of a horse riding accident.
In the face of such a dreadful tragedy, it’s just impossible to keep up the trivial daily round. I shut myself away in my cabin, where Lyndall brought me arnica for my arm and sympathy for my grief. Oh, Lord, what a lot of grief life throws at you once you get to a certain age.
Perhaps fortunately, I did have to emerge in the evening. It was ‘Farewell’ night. To me, and to Philip who also gets off in Auckland. A little premature, but certain officers cant drink and stay up late on pre-arrival night. So I snapped out of my blues, put on the red shoes, opened the Mouton Cadet, and let rip. It was another – if very different – nice evening. A buffet supper (welcome, after a day unable to eat), more Mouton Cadet, chatter with the Friends with a capital F to whom one has grown so close in a month of communal living and travelling, the whole highlighted by Philip’s recitation of a nicely-incisive V C Clinton-Baddeley-style comic poem about us all -- perfectly flighted so as to be amusing without offending …
Oddly enough, my ‘characteristic’ was my eternally unbuttoned shirts. I’d never thought . well, apart from my now well-established tan .. my middle-aged chest (such as it is) is not exactly errrr notable!
As ever, the evening ended with the ‘A Team’ still glued to the bar: Lyndall (with her glass of water), Grev, Mikie and Kurt. It’s getting to be tradition that I’m the first one to falter off…..
Today I packed.
In between albatross sightings. Lyndall took over 100 albatross shots, as the funny brutes wheeled around our wake for hours on end. But she’s a vet. I hope that kind of a ‘shooting’ of said bird doesn’t bring the fate of the Ancient Mariner upon the SS Tikeibank.
Suffered a grave panic when I realised that nowhere did I have, written down, Wendy’s phone number apropos of the coming airport run. I have everything else you can imagine on this machine, but not that. Well, I’ve never had to call it. But I thought … well, I thought I knew it by heart. I didn’t. Nor could I remember my own Gerolstein number. Is it the vodka, or is it age? But, lesson well learned. During my weeks in NZ, I shall feed heaps of address book data into ‘Entourage’ (silly name). I will not be caught this way again. I spent all morning dredging through old emails, searching for one where I might have said ‘call Wendy on her mobile …’. Nothing.
But, happy ending, by mid-afternoon Wendy (who often doesn’t look at her computer from day to week) had come back with the needed number..
Hell, after such a hiccup-free voyage, it would be awful to foul up on the leg Christchurch-Sefton!
So its my last Tikeibank night. For now. Hopefully, if the bookings pan out, I’ll be back on here in January.
Until when …
Au revoir to the oceans of the world and hello Gerolstein!