Sunday, July 1, 2007

'You Jammy Lot!'

Saturday 23 June 2007

It didn’t happen.
It simply didn’t happen.

At 11 sharp on Thursday morning we sailed out of Papeete harbour, under a glorious sky. Past the harbour wall, past the airport, and out into the open sea. In the distance, the ocean was creased by the occasional herd of white horses – well foals, really, Fritzl and Seppl sort of thing: they were truthfully not big enough to be called horses -- and a frothle of foam could be spied tossing itself over the reefs alongside the lagoon of Moorea, ‘cross the way'.
How odd a thought it was, cruising amid all this blue and white and gold scenery, that rough and rude high seas were waiting for us just two hours away.
One hour later, and we could just about count the houses (on not too many hands) on the approaching Moorean shores, one hour and a half, and the reefs and sticklebacked mountains of the island’s volcanic ridges slid by to starboard. But the sky was incessantly blue, and the white whiffs on the edges of sea seemed, if anything, to be getting fewer and smaller, while the horizon showed no signs of darkness or of threat. Two hours. No storm. Quite the opposite in fact. And not even a sign of a storm.
I, who had bossily lectured everyone on stowing everything in their cabin and preparing for the worst, began to feel just a little silly.
As we lounged around with our aperitifs that evening, the Captain poked his head past the bar – ‘you jammy lot’ … we’d been reprieved. The storms had unexpectedly taken a different course. For the moment, at least, it was a case of cruise along as normal.

And so, Thursday, Friday and Saturday passed ... three of the most deliciously warm, sunbathe-y and utterly agreeable days of the whole trip.
I’ve pretty well skinned the library by now, and have been reduced to reading run-of-the-mill detective novels and, ultimately, the classics (I have Captains Courageous and Hard Times lined up, and, as an ultimate reserve, the complete works of Jane Austen). But I hit one unexpected jewel.
The Fairy Gunmother (La fée Carabine, and yes, I get the joke) by Daniel Pennac is a French sort-of-thriller noir, gory and grotesque but irresistibly and almost surreally funny. The English translation by Ian Monk is unusually fine, but I would love to read this in French (with, I suspect, a dictionnaire d’argot close to hand). I couldn’t put it down. It’s actually part of a series of four, so I shall be looking for the other three when I get back to Europe. Remember that name: Pennac.
I took time off from literature to have a haircut. Valeryi, the welder, who desecrated the cadets hair on Crossing the Line day is the local barber, and he put my scanty hair-do beautifully in order. So much so, that Philip followed on and exchanged his rather longer locks for a number one like mine!
Then, yesterday, Lyndall proffered the opinion that it was a shame that our ship had no figurehead. So we thought, perhaps, we might offer our services. Whilst the workers were at their morning smoko, we whipped down to main deck, up to the foc'sle, and did a little photo-auditioning. I’m afraid it was no contest

The winner, Miss Tikeibank Bowsprit 2007

The wooden spoon

Sunday 24 June

Five days to go and, I think, our reprieve may soon be coming to an end.
The sky is smoky-cloudy. There are jigsaw-puzzle pieces of blue here and there, and the sun stares through the peepholes in the grey from time to time, but the no-longer-motionless air has cooled noticeably and there is a slate-coloured line along the horizon. We’re still pretty smooth as we go …
And the Captain’s head goes side to side instead of up and down.

Has the jam run out?
Has my witchcraft of the winds lost its sting?
Do I go up on Monkey Island and give the elements a warning bit of Handel’s ‘Hear me ye winds and waves’?
Or do I just curl up in my cabin, with Rudyard Kipling, and wait for the elements do their thing…


Well, it didn’t happen. Once again it didn’t happen. An hour after penning those last lines I was up on top, not intoning out a warning message to the four winds and the tritons, but sunbathing once again, on a nice comfy long swell, in the company of Kipling (enjoyable) and Dickens (oh so windy). Both of them having been disposed of, I’m now going to launch on to something where the characters don’t speak in unreadable phoneticky ‘common’ accents.

Anyway, Kipling and Dickens weren’t the event of the day. They were quite outshone by the appearance of a large whale not too far off the starboard side. He was a nice whale, and provided us with all the ritual leaps and splashes and ultimately the essential bit of spouting before gambolling off northwards.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget the evening bike ride. With the friction gauge now set securely on maximum, I powered through 5km in just 19 mins 47 secs, breaking not only into a very drippy bout of perspiration but also the 4-minute-kilometre rate I’d set as my target. Then, as I sat there waiting for my pulse reading to settle down to a final reading, I thought ‘OK, target achieved … but what sort of a target was it?’ Is it a target attainable by 80 year-old grannies? Or is it actually better than might have been expected from a slightly shapeless (see above), 12-stone (?), 61 year-old who hasn’t exercised for 35 years. So, I took a plunge. I have asked second mate Igor, the ship’s slim, bulging, shy, twenty-somethingish fitness champion to do me a trial run. To see what a top notch 5km (max friction) time would be. I think he understood what I was asking, his English is pretty good. Anyway, he – who has watched me daily punch those sweaty pedals, while he twirled his 70k weights around -- grinned wolfishy. So watch this space.

PS Captain, Purser, Lyndall et al simply hooted at my Igor idea. Apparently he doesn’t do legs. Top half only. ‘All shirt and no trousers’ was how Steve maliciously put it. How strange. I may have to offer a prize.

Wednesday 27

On Monday 25, there was no sun. Nor sea. Nor ship. For, for us, Monday 25 did not have a being. In crossing the International date line, the Tikeibank and all who sail in her quite simply ‘lost’ Monday 25. We went to bed on Sunday and awoke on Tuesday.

Tuesday was a grey day with 3.5 with metre swells on the sea, and a morning of the staunchest rain we have had yet. It was not a day to stick one’s sunbed or even one’s head outside. So I curled up, in various corners of the ship and, between meals, demolished two fair old-style English murder mysteries (guessed ‘em both, but I usually do, unless the author cheats). The swells had gentled by the late afternoon, so – having expected to be exempted from my cycling on weather grounds -- I dragged myself to the gym. Every kilometre en selle was a calvary, I longed to give up before kilometre one was even reached, but to my surprise at halfway I wasn’t doing too dreadfully. So I gritted my false teeth and ploughed through the muscular shriekings to ... yesterday’s record broken by one second! 19 mins 46 secs.
To celebrate, I decided to have a ‘clean’ night. Instead of going straight from my post-gym shower to the bar for aperitif and a bludged cigarette, I stayed on my bunk with a ‘Discworld’ novel by one Terry Pratchett, who must be famous as he sports an appended OBE, presumably for writing. He’s written a lot of these books and they are obe-viously a popular cult, but to come in as a first-timer to a late in the series volume, when you don’t know the style and the geography and the in-jokes and such .. well, its hard work. And I’m not that keen or hard work in my reading.
But after dinner, instead of repining to the lounge and the bar as per habit, I returned – with a jug of iced water -- to my cabin and to Discworld, and I worked hard. Soon I started to realise who and what people and places and things were, soon I started to recognise the clevernesses and the intricacies of the plotting, and before the end I was thoroughly hooked. I shall have to read some more of these, though preferably starting with number one rather than number seventeen!
At 9pm I sank into a Discworld-dreamfilled sleep, interrupted around 3am by a particularly characterful lurch from the ‘ground’ under my bed, but otherwise a splendid 9-hours of semi-oblivion.


This storm isn’t going to happen! I mean, it’s happening and happened, but our master mariners are seemingly going to get us through with nothing worse that a few 5 or 6 metre swells, and the odd torrent.
In fact, this morning, up on the bridge, deck-cadet Dion was occupied in steering us on a veritable slalom course through the various showery areas of this part of Pacific. Unfortunately, just as I arrived, one particularly anodine looking bit off white fluff revealed its true, tricky colours and dumped a couple of minutes of tropical torrent on us.
We’ve taken a 90 mile detour in our efforts to avoid what had previously seemed to be an unavoidable bit of filthy weather, but it has certainly worked. We are up to time, the outside workers have been able to do their outside work, and we have even been able to parsimoniously proceed under less (and less expensive) power than would otherwise have been the case. I guess that’s what seamanship is all about.

Actually, today would be, but for coldish wind – and the odd dissimulating cloud -- a thoroughly agreeable day. Claudie dared, for a while, a chair in a rare semi-windless corner of the deck, but I opted to stay indoors and wasted the morning reading William Golding’s The Paper Men. How bored I am with the interminable list of ‘quality’ novels in which the people spend half their time drunk or drugged. This was just one more such, with anything that might have been a worthwhile tale, or indeed a worthwhile character, drowned in yawnsome, skippable gallons of self-indulgent alcohol. For that you get a Nobel Prize? You can fool some of the people all of the time. I already automatically shun anything which banners itself a ‘New York Times Best Seller’, now I am getting ready to wipe Bookers and Nobels and such things from my reading list. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve won a handful of the jolly things myself, in my time, and for books like the Whitbread-winning English Passengers, I’d be ready to consider all literary prizes and their winners a Bad Thing.

I hasten to add that I have nothing against alcohol. He and I are, as you will have gathered, extremely well acquainted. But, as we all know, whereas booze – having been intaken -- may be ever so enjoyable from the point of view of him who has intaken, its effects are – to those who have not intaken -- achingly boring to see, hear and, above all, to read of.

Two other events of the day.
With getting on for forty healthy males on this ship, only one person could be found to take up my challenge of 5km of exercise bike. It was, of course, not a male at all, but the best bloke of the lot: Lyndall. And the resultant proof was that my 19mins 46 weren’t so very lousy after all. Maybe I should keep on with this? Except that Wendy’s email from Gerolstein, toda, tells of cold and heavy rains down Christchurch way… sigh, back to real life.

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