The journey was to be over 3000 nautical miles. With torpid seas as we rounded the north eastern coast of Borneo, the days and nights blurred. My watches were sometimes in the day, sometimes at night. We had an additional crew member on watch where there were supposed to be pirates, for even though we had speed, at night it was dangerous to go fast. There were hazards in and under the water: logs that had drifted from the rivers, shipping containers, like icebergs, floating mainly below the surface, and as we passed through the Lombok Straits, a fleet of hundreds of tiny fishing boats sailing home in the half-light of dawn.
I remember the vivid sunsets, unbelievably varied and beautiful at sea. Also we had glimpses of whales and dolphins who played in the bow wave. Then there were the brief stops to dive at Sipadan and to refuel, eat and shop in Bali. After anchoring to dive in the Abrolhos Islands, I thought I saw a large fin and refused to get in the water. And finally I remember our arrival in an autumnal Fremantle.
That was the trip south. The return trip some months later was a different voyage altogether. The weather had changed.
Mum is busy cooking and I’m hungry. She hands me some peanuts. The grease speckles the brown paper bag and I know I can’t reach inside yet. I run to the living room to find Dad. A fold in the hallway rug trips me and I’m falling. My mouth hits the pipe of the radiator. Then there is pain and blood. Lots of blood. I start to scream. Somehow I’m now lying with my head cradled in Mum’s lap in the back of the car. I’m vaguely aware Dad is driving fast, as crimson seeps into the lilac of Mum’s angora jumper mixed with snot and tears.
I take a big breath and pull the shirt on. Its coarseness makes me shudder and I quickly grab my tie and cardigan; both bottle green. I still feel the newness of my shirt an hour later. It distracts me from the monotone of the history teacher. I don’t know which I dislike more.
The red glow of the gas fire does little to heat the damp room, but we’re all warm and loud with alcohol. Someone has turned the music on loud. It’s Ian Drury. Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. I sing along. Val says, “I’m starving.” Ash goes off to get the sliced bread and margarine from the kitchen. He then bends in front of the fire and slams some pieces of bread against the protective wire. Within minutes the room fills with the smell of burning toast.
Laughter drifts across the stream. The weekend and the heatwave has brought droves of people to the Yorkshire countryside. We’re lying on a patch of grass in the midst of the heather looking up at the hazy blue sky. Steve’s Mini Cooper S throws a lengthening shadow behind us. He has a cigarette between his lips and we’ve both got cans of warm beer. Even though our chatter is frivolous, I think foremost in both our minds is, should we or shouldn’t we?
I think even if I was never to be published my notebooks would be a witness to my writing. More tangible than the digital word and more private in that they were never meant to be read by anyone other than me.
There were hardback books, soft books, large books, small books, exercise books and note pads. In the beginning I diarised and doodled, sometime I’d stick in a ticket or something meaningful – to me at least. Other times I’d try to draw something that I had failed to describe in words or had been unable to record in a photograph. Fragments of the story of my life.
Even after our first computer it still felt good to fill a page with words, especially the private words only I wanted to bear witness to. Over the years it wasn’t just one computer in the household, but laptops and other devices appeared. My digital efforts increased as the pen lay dormant. But I was always drawn to a beautiful notebook, I’d run my fingers over the blank page and feel the weight of quality paper.
Now I flit between both worlds. My writings are more capacious and based in fiction. The words often need rearranging, the pages change as the editing takes over and I find I need the speed of a computer. Those immediate thoughts or sparks of ideas I have to write down when I’m out and about, fill the small notebooks, leather-bound or fabric covered, chosen carefully for their beauty and size, that take turns to sit in my handbag. Sometimes these jottings are transferred to join the longer stories and manuscripts that build up on my computer, or they join the growing pile of memories and stories that line a drawer, a cupboard and a shelf of a bookcase.
This is a repost from a year ago, not long after the devastating earthquake.
In my travels doors have always held a fascination – open ones, closed ones, carved ones, painted ones, locked ones and hidden ones.
I hope with all my heart that all these doors in Nepal remain standing.