Friday, 27 July 2012

Atawan: Third Instalment

~

~

A small cloaked figure darted out of the forest and sped across the field surrounding Thomasin's prison tower. As it reached the base, the figure slipped a small pale pink hand into the folds of its cloak, pulled out a sharp dagger, pounced behind the solitary guard and plunged it into his throat. The heavy male figure was too slow and cumbersome to do anything but gurgle, drop to his knees and fall face forward into the grass beneath his feet. The figure quickly removed his bunch of keys, unlocked the door and without a moments hesitation leaped through the doorway. As the small lithe body wended a path to the top room it dealt out deadly blows with its dagger to all that stood in its way.

Thomasin sat crossed legged in the middle of his room. His eyes were closed and his head bowed in deep meditation. A jingling in the lock roused him, as he turned he heard an explosion in the distance and looking out of his tower window he saw yellow blasts lighting up the night sky. He turned slowly to greet the figure and rose to his feet.


The figure paused in the frame of the door, then, stepping in, it flung off its hood to reveal a flushed and bright-eyed Rosalind. Thomasin started and drew back. 'Rosa! What? How? What are you doing here?' he stuttered. Rosalind took his hand and drew him from his chamber. 'Your mother Tamsie, she is come at last!'


Realisation dawned contemplatively on Thomasin's face, as they passed over the dead bodies strewn across the stairs he bent down and looked in their eyes. 'Did you kill them all?' he asked glumly. 'Of course.' Rosalind was slightly offended that he could think she might leave someone to raise the alarm and warn Spencer or that she was incapable of dealing with a posse of men. 'I can't understand why he took labourers and work men to do the jobs of women,' she sneered 'They were all too slow and ill-trained to put up any resistance.' 'Be that as it may, some of them were on our side. No!' he grabbed Rosalind's arm and pulled her sharply to one side, 'We can't go that way Rosa, we must take Spencer now before the change of guard comes. This way,' he pulled a loose brick, kicked another and a door opened in the wall revealing a dank, dark passageway, 'this will take us straight to the stables. Where is Spencer tonight?' he looked appealingly into Rosalind's eyes, trying to understand and comprehend the opposite of everything he had once thought of her. 'He is in the country house, he left town last night.' 'Good, then we shall have more of an advantage.'

The two secret freedom fighters ran through the pitch black passageway, Thomasin leading and Rosalind trusting to his knowledge of the path to not run them into an unseen wall or bend. The tunnel came to an end, they emerged into a night sky filled with blasts and bright explosions. In the distance they could see the Atawanian fleet standing outside the harbour, as they watched Spencer's pathetic flotilla off loaded its guns into the attacking forces. The pair swiftly saddled up and rode off towards Spencer's domain.

~

Half the Atawanian fleet surrounded the twelve isle Province of Ratachann. A quarter of her air power swooped and buzzed across the islands, dropping bombs on all Spencer's look out posts. His army of ill-trained and unseasoned men was no match for the veteran female warriors of Atawan. The men aimed their entire fire power at the High Imperator's vessel, forgetting in their ignorance that Atawan was a democracy not a dictatorship. If the Imperator fell her soldiers would not stop their combat. In Ratachann with a fool as their leader the men knew that if Spencer were to be crushed they would throw down their arms. Such is the folly of men. The full capacity of their artillery rained down on the Imperators boat, it crushed her defences, it burst holes in her hull, it tore her magnificent sails to shreds. The Atawan forces quickly retorted and the small Ratachann fleet was quickly sent to the bottom of the bay and attentions were turned to rescuing the warriors aboard the broken vessel.


Three ships headed into harbour and an elite force of combat warriors ran ashore to clear the path of any as yet unsurrendered Ratachannian henchmen.

~

Thomasin and Rosalind quickly reached his father's country house. They dismounted in the garden and Thomasin led the way to the kitchen door. He rapped three times and ended with a dull kick. A portly cook came to the door and casually threw it open exclaiming 'Blasted snails, they just don't ever give up!' Perceiving the hidden pair in the shadows he smiled warmly, Thomasin held up his left hand and made a signal that Rosalind did not understand, the cook turned back to the kitchen. Calmly he lifted the largest pot from his shelf and deliberately brought it crashing down to the floor, half the staff jumped out of the skins, the other half took hold of the nearest lethal objects. A short scuffle ensued before the cook returned to the door and admitted the hidden couple. Thomasin entered first, holding Rosalind's hand, and leading her in. The kitchen army smiled and nodded to Rosalind, 'Permit us Madam, to ask, what help has come?' 'The High Imperator, her boat is in the bay, half the navy are here and a quarter of the air force. By the sounds of it the foot army has landed and Spencer's fleet has been destroyed. Where is he now?' 'Awaiting his supper, in his private drawing room.' 'Good, he shall be easy to arrest. Does he know anything of this?' 'He sent a messenger to find out what the noise and lights where half an hour ago. The messenger has not returned. Nor ever shall they now!' a delighted pot scrubber replied with a twinkle in her eyes and a delicious smile playing at the corners of her mouth.


Rosalind quickly took command of her eager and loyal army, they stormed the country house room by room, eliminating the birds and recruiting other joyful members of the hidden army. After two rooms had been taken their numbers were high enough for Rosalind to select the most agile and fearsome from their rag-tag ranks, she commanded the others to continue securing the house, grasped Thomasin's hand and sped off to Spencer's chamber before the noise inadvertently roused him.


Bursting into his chamber they overpowered his startled guards within seconds and Rosalind thrust the point of her still bloody dagger at Spencer's throat. His reaction was all that could be expected of a grown male bully having his dreams and plans pulled apart so close to fruition. He cowered and knelt before Rosalind begging for mercy. 'You showed no mercy to anyone!' she intoned fiercely, 'Alas the choice is not mine. 'Twould be better to kill you now but the people of Ratachann deserve to see you hang for your deeds. Bind him!' Four of the company that had stormed the drawing room ran forward and closely bound Spencer's feet and hands. They tied him to a pole and carried him out of the room as though they were going to roast him on a spit.


Just then a mounted messenger galloped up the drive, the young maid from the kitchen gleeful fell upon him and tore him from his horse, he managed to gasp 'The army are here, they are coming!' before his throat was ripped open by her potato peeler.


A bed sheet was pulled from the nearest bed and quickly waved out of the window to show the approaching army that force was not necessary. When the women arrived at the door and saw Spencer bound like a hog roast, blubbering his fat eyes out they laughed heartily. Their General did not share in their amusement, she asked Rosalind where Thomasin was being kept prisoner. 'Why, but I am here, standing in front of you General!' he answered in surprise. The General looked him up and down, 'You have changed much since I saw you last Your Majesty. I am afraid there is no easy way to say this. Your mother's ship was attacked as it came round the peninsular. Spencer's men off loaded all their guns and shells into her sides. Your mother will not make it. She is on shore now and asking for you. We must hurry.'


Without waiting for a reply she turned smartly on her heel and gracefully mounted her horse, Thomasin ran after her and was pulled up behind. The General beat the horses flanks with her heels and the two sped off. A horse was brought for Rosalind and the Atawan warriors took charge of incarcerating Spencer.

~

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Atawan: Chapter the Second

Chapter One
~

Since the High Imperators visit ten years previously, Spencer had been on a rampage. A deep-seated childhood hatred for the pink skinned coupled with a growing god-delusion from his perceived un-routable position as the Imperator's most favoured courtesan had led him to rebel in the most awful of manners. He had for years been undermining Thomasin's education; taking him out of lessons and away for the wise and peaceful guidance of his learned female tutors, he had instead thrown him in amongst the juvenile and unenlightened minds of course land labourers and farm hands. Amongst these rough and ready men Spencer had found and outlet, and an admiring audience, for his senseless rants about the evils of the light skinned. Having successfully thwarted the attempts of Thomasin's tutors to provide Thomasin with the knowledge of his superiority over Spencer, Spencer had turned the child Thomasin into his loyal side-kick: eagerly and happily doing his bidding at the snap of a finger. As Thomas had grown older his father's angry and hate filled actions and told their toll on Thomasin and he had ineffectually rebelled against his father  on countless occasions. Spencer was paranoid that someone would do to him what he had done to the Province and, as Thomasin was the only likely candidate for such and act, a close watch was kept on him: culminating in Thomasin's imprisonment in an old watch tower after one too many attempts to reach his mother.

On the night that the Imperator left Ratachann for the last time Spencer gathered his mob of crude, vulgar workers and stormed the peacefully slumbering abodes of the powerful Ratachannian families. It was a long and bloody night. They met with little resistance, but had much land to cover and many people to slay. By the first cock crow in the morning Spencer and his goons had murdered thirty-eight families as the reposed unawares, in a stupor of post-festivity exhaustion.

Spencer's take over of Ratachann was bewilderingly fast and uncomplicated. The placid, tranquil people, streets and fields of Ratachann had fallen asleep to the sweet sounds and memories of their leader's state visit and their young King's birthday celebrations and had awoken to the confusion panic and screaming pain of wild fires, dead bodies and raucous blood thirsty, half mad, drunken thugs. Spencer's intention was never to eliminate the pink Atawanians. It was merely to subject them to inconceivable pain and debasement. The Provincial Leader had been suppressing his bullying nature for most of his adult life but finding himself in a position of power and in command of an army of idiots ready to do his bidding and lapping up every nonsensical thing that spouted from his vile mouth the worst of his nature broke free and revelled in a side of himself that had, in his opinion, been too long restrained.
~

As Gladys left Rosalind her mind flew back over the preceding decade. She remembered the hot torment of waking to find herself in a pool of blood, her husband with a spear run through him (the point of which pierced her stomach), his eyes bulging, lying across her, as he tried to protect her sleeping body from the marauders. She remembered pulling herself free from the point and stumbling in blind agony towards her children's bedrooms. She blanked the next image. The memory of her children's carcasses strung up and dangling, dripping blood, from the ceiling is more than a mother is capable of reliving.

The tears tumbled thick and silent down her thin pale cheeks. As though it were yesterday she recalled stumbling across a frightened Rosalind, only eight years of age but the mark of peace and goodness already prominent in her eyes and demeanour. In her minds eye she saw Rosalind half carry half drag her dying self to a nearby barn; tearing strips from her dress, applying pressure to her wound and bandaging her firmly; finally, covering her with straw and slipping out of the barn, returning an hour later with food and blankets. With a sigh Gladys turned and cut a path to the beckoning waters of the sea.

The night grew blacker, the air around her became heavy with suspense. She uncovered a hollowed out log from underneath a briar bush and gently launched it into the dark green water. All this time a small black creature with a white tuft of on his chest and a red streak in his tail had been following Gladys as she passed through the forest. He had been silently jumping from tree to tree, occasionally creating the gentlest of stirs amongst the leaves, now, as the log boat floated in the water, he leaped from his view point and scrambled up the Marchioness's cloak till he commanded a perch on her left shoulder. He was "Nameless", he had attached himself to Gladys four years ago as she had been reconnoitring Spencer's look out points. He had proved himself to be an invaluable companion. He had alerted her to approaching dangers, he had scampered off to fetch Rosalind when Gladys had become trapped and a diversion was needed to aid her escape, he had fetched and carried messages between various groups of freedom fighters, Rosalind and the Marchioness, and, more importantly, he had been a friend. A warm living body who was always attentive and always to hand, always there to keep her company and comfort her when the nights and days were long, lonely and unbearable.

Gladys and Nameless slipped into the log, pulled a bark coloured covering over themselves and pushed out to sea. They were at the end of the tides peak and slowly but surely it began to recede, taking the bobbing log and its hidden cargo painfully slowly away from shore.

As they approached the edge of Ratachannian waters one of Spencer's patrol ships caught sight of the log, amidst cheers and drunken laughter they took out their guns and used it as target practise. The idea that it may be more than a log, that it may have a passenger, did not occur to these oafs and ruffians. Despite their lack of intelligent thought they succeeded in doing their jobs somewhat efficiently. Their bullets ripped through the sides of the log and caught the Marchioness in numerous places. The left side of her body bore the brunt of the guards attack. Her leg was grazed, her arm shattered and her side punctured. Nameless buried himself into Gladys' neck, his small palpitating body offering what comfort he could in the face of this new invisible enemy.

Eventually the log drifted towards a fishing village on the shores of Endostan. A passing fisher boat saw the blood stained log and the unusual sight of a black squirrel pacing back and forth along its rim, jumping into the hollow worriedly and scrambling back out again every few minutes to recommence his pacing, all the while with a waterproof envelope tied around his neck. Intrigued, the mellow fishermen pulled alongside and discovered the shocking contents. As soon as they were ashore and Nameless was satisfied that his mistress was comfortable and in safe hands he sped off with unparallelled instinct towards Occurier.
~

The High Imperator impatiently strode her private chamber. A squirrel had come a week ago bearing a note stating that the Marchioness Gladys was escaping from Ratachann and would arrive at the court soon. It was almost midnight and still no more news of Gladys had been received. Her guards were searching the shorelines where the Ratachannian currents may have sent an escaping vessel into harbour, but that days news had not yet reached her ears.

Ratachann had been completely cordoned off for ten years. Her inspectors were the only Atawanians who had been to the Province since her last visit. She herself had been put off by Spencer each time she had proposed a state visit post celebrating Thomasin's 15th birthday. She tapped her foot and glared at her wall map. To think she she had been made a fool of by a man! What had led her to abandon her people in Ratachann for so long? Why had her accursed inspectors sent such glowing reports for all these years? She rummaged in a drawer, the last inspector had visited five years ago and had not bothered to schedule a follow up inspection. "Tanya Leasowe" the Imperator murmured, she turned from her desk and called loudly "Guard! Send for Tanya Leasowe. Is there any sight of word of the Marchioness yet?" "At once Madam." the guard signalled to a lackey and the young man sped off to find Tanay Leasowe, turning once more the to the High Imperator the guard replied "We had news that a noble woman was waylaid in ill health at a resting house just across the Provincial border of Occurier and Endostan. An entourage was sent to recover her, we have had no news since morning."

The guard was dismissed and the Imperator continued her pacing. She paced her thoughts into oblivion, gradually she became aware of an uncertain coughing sound. Roused from her reverie she glanced up and noticed a young man standing nervously in the centre of the room. "Speak." she commanded. "Your Imperialness, Tanya Leasowe has been missing these past five years. She did not return from Ratachann." The Imperator waved her hand and the boy thankfully fled the room. "Missing! So, her report had been a lie? Had she been seconded  into Spencer's plans? Was she a prisoner? Hellfire and damnation would rain down upon his head if that be the case..." She continued to pace till her attention was once more distracted. This time by the guard.

"Madam, we have found Marchioness Gladys. She needs rest but asked to be brought before you immediately." "Send her! At once!"

A bedraggled, pitiful creature, half starved and in considerable pain came to the doorway. She curtsied and stood dripping, uncertain where she should step next. "But Gladys, can this really be you?" cried the Imperator "You are so pale, so thin. I can understand wet in this weather, but ragged in any conditions I cannot. Speak if you can, what has Spencer been doing all this time? My information is bitty and confused. Can it really be as bad as all this?" as she asked the question she raised her hands and waived them expressively, wonderingly, over Gladys' form. "Worse Madam. I am wounded severely. Spencer's army shot me as I escaped," she laughed suddenly, violently and passionately, with such a force that the Imperator felt a nervous shudder involuntarily rack her spine, "Escape! Yes, I got out of that hellhole. I stand before you a widow, childless, homeless and half starved. The Oracle has been turned, but her daught..." a soft smile played at the corners of her mouth and her eyes misted briefly, "Her daughter is one of Us." she almost whispered, "She has set up an underground warren, she feeds and clothes the enemies of Spencer, tends their wounds with her bare hands. She found me in the rubble of my home and gave me life. It is to her too that I now owe my escape, and once more life." Gladys wrung her hands above her head, "How many lives can one person owe? And all to the same person!" a deeper smile spread across her face, "But what a person! What a person to owe ones life to. You would be proud of her Madam, and of your Thomasin..." here she was abruptly cut short "MY Thomasin?" the Imperator intoned angrily, "He is no son of mine to have stood by and let this happen. Your husband and children gone Gladys," she shook her head and turned away, "no, no child of mine could have been so weak, so, so blind!" "Nay Madam, I beg to differ. Spencer has been at this much longer than you might think. He has kept the boy in ignorance, bringing him out only to dance and sing on Provincial occasions. He dismissed the boys tutors completely after your last visit, the boy has lived with a half-formed mind ever since. He knows right from wrong. Do not despair about that. He tries, and does what he can, but he does not know his power. He has no knowledge of war or fighting or its role in peacekeeping, he is peaceful and quiet and wants only to love and be loved. He is this moment locked in a tower, unable to threaten his father or his fathers plans. Spencer has tricked us all, and such a good job of it! Worthy of a woman, wouldn't you say Madam?"

The Imperator threw back her head and laughed. "I am glad to see you have not lost your sense of humour despite having lost so much else. Come Gladys you must rest now, you will sleep in my chamber tonight and tomorrow you will tell all that has passed in Ratachann."

Friday, 6 July 2012

The True Nature of Snoring

Some people snore and some people do not. Why they do so is a mystery to me, why they do not is equally mysterious! Perhaps it is something to do with the position they are lying in, perhaps it is to do with the physical weight of the person and how that weight is distributed, perhaps it something to do with the calibration of their noses. These are all very sensible and "scientific" reasons. Perhaps the true nature of snoring cannot be found in science or sense. I was once told by the lady who lived next door that no person ever used to snore at all! Long ago, back in the days when fairies and pixies would play with us and not hide away when we came near, there was no such thing as snoring. But one day the Queen of Magical Beings got into and almighty row with the King of Non-Magical Beings (that's our King you know), such a ding-dong do-dallying bish-bash of a brawl you never did hear or would ever hear again, so bad was it, in fact, that I cannot repeat its full nature here. The Queen had invited the King and all his people to a party, all the magical beings would be there and all the non-magical beings were invited to come too. The King was in a bad mood, he was a lazy and indolent character and was very hard to please. His breakfast had come late, his toast had been burnt, his eggs were too running and his cornflakes were soggy. No-one had come to dress him till long after lunch, and he'd wanted to take a walk and pick flowers for the Queen, but now it was too late and he had to get ready for the party. He sat and he sulked and he spoiled every ones mood. The Queen told him he shouldn't have come at all, that is was bad manners to be so gloomy when people were trying to be gay. He sat and he sulked some more. All of a sudden he got up and stalked out of the room. He went upstairs to his bedchamber and climbed into bed: still in his party clothes! He could hear the sounds of merriment and laughter far down below, he grumbled sourly and pulled the sheets about his ears. Then he covered his face with his pillow. But he could still hear the party goers. He went to the window and bellowed out "BE QUIET DOWN THERE. I AM TRYING TO SLEEP." the Queen laughed and took out her wand, she waved it first up, and then down, from one side to the other and she twirled it around. Softly she whispered some words, then pointed it straight at the King's nose! Biff! A ball of magic hit him full in the face, it knocked him off the windowsill and straight back into his bed. His eyes closed and he fell fast asleep and soon a strange rumbling, raspy growl emitted from his nose. The Queen smiled, "Now," she said, to her gathering of fun lovers "he is fast asleep and won't bother us anymore!"

So perhaps when you hear someone snoring today, it is because the Queen of Magical Beings is throwing another party!

How the Lollipop Got Its Name

How did the lollipop get its name? Are you sitting quietly? Then I shall begin. Once upon a time in a far away land where candy canes grow on trees and flower petals are made of sugar lived a little old man called Pop. He was called Pop because whenever he spoke he made popping sounds. You know the sort, the kind that your cheek makes when you put one finger in the side of your mouth and pull it out quickly while it catches on the corner of your cheek and your lip. Poor Pop was laughed at wherever he went, he was taunted and teased and it never let up. "Don't click so!" they'd shout "Hold your tongue you old fool!" have you ever met people that could be so cruel? Pop went along in his own merry way, it was harder at times, as it was on this day. He had tried to go shopping, his stocks running low, but he was bullied and mocked no matter which way he did go.

'What has this to do with a lollipop?' you cry 'A lolly is a piece of hard candy attached to a stick, it is held in the hand while the candy is licked.'

'Yes, you are quite right I know this is so, I am telling you how it came to be known!'

Pop's only friend owned a little sweet shop at the end if the high street, and it was to this place he now turned his feet. 'Poor Pop, been at you again have they?' a sympathetic and kindly wee voice cried from above, 'Don't worry I've been working on a new sweet. I've noticed when you have candy in your mouth you don't pop as much, so I put a piece on the end of a stick, perhaps so combined the popping will stop!' before Pop could object, or even acknowledge, a hard piece of candy was rammed in his mouth! He began to object and what do you know? He managed to do so without a single pop! Triumphant, he marched straight out of the shop, right down the street and into the snow. 'Hey you!' he cried, to a small passerby 'How do you like me now?' without a pop to be heard! The villagers all crowded round, 'A marvel, a miracle! What stopped your popping sound?' Out from under his tongue Pop removed his candy stick, waved it around and put it back in.

The word "lolly", you know, is a word for a tongue and as it was under this organ that the candy was place, to stop Pop from popping, it became known as the "Lollipop".

How Pizza Was Invented

One day, many, many years ago, a small boy was being taught to make bread. His Grandpapa was the most famed bread maker in the kingdom, his father would have become more famous than his grandpapa but for his being hit by a passing flour truck and his life being cut short. Grandpapa mourned the loss of his son greatly, he had showed such promise in the world of bread making. Promise! No, he had shown genius! At the age of seven his ciabatta had outstripped Grandpapa's very own recipe and had become the talk of the kingdom for months. Grandpapa was getting old, his son had not had a child till late in life and as such his grandson was only four years of age. The small boy looked up at Grandpapa earnestly. He wanted to make Grandpapa happy, he truly did, but he didn't understand bread. He always got it wrong and then Grandpapa would have that sad far away look in his eyes and little Joey couldn't bear to have Grandpapa look at him without seeing him, as he did when he got that look.

Joey got it wrong again and Grandpapa sat down with his head in his apron and refused to move. The small boy ran out of the kitchen, threw himself into the curve at the base of the olive tree and wept till he could weep no more. When he was able to see out of his blurry eyes again he saw that it was dark and that Grandpapa had gone to bed. Joey pulled himself up and ran back to the kitchen.

He looked all around at the bread making ingredients and implements and he decided to try something new. Maybe if he made his own recipe it would work! Joey was a quick, hard worker and in no time at all he produced a dough. This he put to rise in the warming cupboard and then he curled up in the cinders and fell asleep. At the first rays of dawn Joey woke up, yawned widely, stretched and dusted himself off. Grandpapa was snoring loudly upstairs, he had plenty of time to make bread for breakfast.

The dough had risen marvellously overnight and Joey delightedly cut out fistfuls of the gooey substance. His small hands couldn't cope with kneading large amounts so he split the dough into twelve balls and kneaded these individually. Small children are apt to make circles and pat things flat and this is exactly what Joey ended up doing, as he patted and kneaded he realised that his dough was stretching out in the most wonderful circular shapes. He resolved to see how big a circle he could get each of his dough balls into before the dough became translucent and ripped. He managed to make each ball into fifteen inch wide circles! Delighted with his creation he put one of them into the hottest of the bread ovens. Being so thin it was cooked in less than five minutes. He tore a corner off and gingerly tasted the result. It was soft but crisp, chewy but tender, it lingered in the mouth and yet slid effortlessly down the throat.

'How much better this would be with some of Granpapa's famous tomato sauce!' Joey thought. He rushed to the cold store and found an open jar, thickly spreading the contents over an uncooked dough circle Joey had a brainwave. Back to the cold store and out came some of Granpapa's mozzarella, a stick of salami and some fresh rocket. Carefully slicing the salami into paper thin discs, he generously placed them all over the tomato sauce, then he ripped the mozzarella into chunks and threw them on top. Into the oven! After five minutes he pulled his creation out and liberally coated it with fresh rocket.

Some time later, Grandpapa awoke to incredible smells wafting into his bedroom window. All around the house a wondrous odour permeated, knowing that it could only be coming from the kitchen Grandpapa flung off his bedclothes and raced downstairs. There, to his amazement, was Joey and a table of eleven large round bready objects smothered with tomato sauce, cheese, salami, peppers, onion rings, olives, artichokes, courgette, aubergine, nuts, anything and everything Joey could find in the cupboards he had thrown together on his masterpieces...

And thus, the pizza was born.

What Lives at the Bottom of the Sea

There's a hole at the bottom of the sea. In this hole lives a very special seahorse. This seahorse is the most beautiful seahorse in the seven seas, he is magnificent. He has more spikes than you can count, proudly standing along his spine. He is of a most unusual vermilion shade. His little fins are not so little as other seahorses fins, in fact, they are distinctly large little fins! His snout is many shaded in tinges of blues and purple and his beady eyes are round and startling in their blackness. He is the prince of seahorses. He can always be found in his cavernous (for a seahorse) hole at the bottom of the sea, it is from here that he passes sea-laws and entertains sea-fillies and sea-colts. The work of a sea-prince is never done and now he must bid us good day, he is a very busy sea-prince and cannot long stay to be admired by wondering human imaginations.

A Poem on the Battle of Waterloo

"The nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life!"
Was the comment of Wellington to his wife.
"Napoleon delayed battle all afternoon,
We stood and we watched and hoped it would start soon.
In the evening the Prussians arrived in full force,
Loud and bombastic and all on one horse!
We counter-attacked and dispersed that French army,
We smiled all round and looked ever so smarmy.
Napoleon surrender, to the British of course,
And we packed him off to St. Helena's in a little pair of shorts."

A Story Set in an Isolated Country Experiencing Apartheid

Thomasin looked down at the wretched creatures lining the gutters outside his fathers town house. He sighed and looked over at the dining table. His father was having a party. A foreign dignitary was visiting, from where he did not know, his father kept him in the dark about such things, he was merely summoned to these events to dance, sing and be pleasing to the eye. Thomasin's mother was the leader of the country. She had foreseen bad times for the world and had tried her best to cordon her people off from outside influences. Her people had flourished, they had land and space enough to provide food and shelter for everyone, there should not be hunger or homelessness in the Nation of Atawan, but here, in Thomasin's father's province, people starved to death in the streets.

"Thomasin!" a gay voice cried, and lightly tripping across the room came into sight the girl Thomasin had been betrothed to when he was seven, "Don't stand there looking so glum," she chided "there is plenty of time to feel sorry for the snails after the party. Come! Dance with me!" she grabbed his hand and whirled him onto the dance floor. Thomasin looked earnestly into her bright, hard eyes, he sighed and looked away. There was no love in her eyes. Thomasin wondered what his mother would make of Ratachann and Rosalind when she next come to visit, and when would that be? She had not come for ten years. How could she stay away so long? He knew his letters were read by his father's emissaries and destroyed, he knew his secret messengers had been tracked and killed by his fathers soldiers. His birds had been shot out of the sky and served at dinner, he himself had been caught trying to escape Ratachann and was now a prisoner for trying to inform his mother the High Imperator of his father's conduct. He sighed and looked back at Rosalind. Her high cheeks were flushed with excitement, her straight pink lips were slightly parted, the hard bright eyes shone a fearsome blue, coils of grey-brown hair turned and twisted atop her head into a fascinating sculpture and, as she looked towards the door, her twitching agile form slowed and came to a stop.

A still fell across the room. The door had opened to reveal their guest's entourage. A dozen men dressed in dark yellow tunics, red trousers and bright green sashes stood in the doorway. The announcer came forward "His Esteemed Worth the Trusted Speaker of Nostroodal!" the words reverberated around the room, at the last echo the yellow tuniced men parted, four to one side two to the other and the Trusted Speaker entered to a thunderstorm of beating hands and feet.

This was the first foreigner on Atawan's shores in two decades. Thomasin dimly recalled the announcement that Atawan would no longer communicate with the outside world. It was a few months before his fifth birthday and preparations were under way to send him to his fathers Province, as is the custom in Atawan. The High Imperator chooses men of qualities that she deems necessary or worthy, she will bear a child from that mans seed and, while the child remains with her, she sends its father to oversee a Province in her realm until that child reaches five years of age. At this time the child is sent to its father to learn all that there is to be learnt about their father's Province, about Atawan and about the world at large.

Atawan is made up of two main islands, the North and the South and is split into Seven Provinces; Occurier, the Capital, straddles the two islands and is in the centre of the country - this is where the High Imperator lives. She has no name. This she gives up when she accepts the title 'High Imperator.' She is no longer an individual. She speaks for a whole country and as such must relinquish all indicators of self. Ratachann is the most southerly and most isolated Province. It is made up of twelve small islands and has little to do with the main land. The High Imperator sent Spencer, Thomasin's father, to this spot as she had recognised in him an independent robust streak that would allow him to carry out her vision independently and without the need for constant verification.

Sadly this robust streak had warped over time and, without the kindly, gentle oversight of the High Imperator Spencer had become a cruel and harsh judge. He had long held a resentment toward the people of Atawan who had fairer skin than he, he being of the deepest purple to be found in all of Atawan. He felt that as a child he had been unfairly treated by all pale pink people and now, in a position of power, he took an exacting revenge on all of that skin tone. All but one family. He dared not cross the Oracle, the most powerful woman in his Province. Spencer was merely an overseer, a high judge to provide council when required and a link to the main land and the High Imperator. His position was only safe as long as he remained the High Imperators consort. Thankfully for Spencer his trustworthiness and long service to Atawan and Ratachann had led the High Imperator to believe that this was one Province that she did not need to worry over. Every year he sent false reports to Occurier, the High Imperators inspectors were carefully guided around the Province and also sent back glowing reports of Spencer and Ratachann. The Oracle in Spencer's Province was of the fairest skin known in all of Atawan, her daughter Rosalind had been betrothed to Spencer's son Thomasin on the occasion of her birth when Thomasin was but a boy of seven. Needing to cement his power with this union Spencer could not afford to anger the Oracle by turning his people against her, so, despite his deep seated hatred for her he wooed and corrupted her and encouraged her to believe that he was her man, that she was more desirable than the High Imperator, that one day she would be the High Imperator if she would only help him in his plans.

This visitor from Nostroodal was part of Spencer's plan to undermine all that Atawan and the High Imperator had striven for and achieved since closing her borders to the hateful and warring nations that all others in the world had become. Thomasin surveyed the Trusted Speaker with dismal anticipation. What was his father up to? What could he want with Nostroodal? They were a barren and sickly nation. Had not Atawan had to provide food to the Nostroodians in times gone by because they were too incompetent to farm their own lands? What could he be doing here, in peaceful Atawan? Rosalind let go of Thomasin's hand and ran to his father. The Provincial Leader smiled and bowed as she came to his side. She flipped her head and waved him aside.

Rosalind was the eldest daughter of the Oracle. A boy child of the High Imperator was the only man worthy to marry her and also the only one worthy to speak to her without her express permission. She did not want to speak to Spencer, a mere consort. She wanted to talk of war and far off lands with this strange visitor.

While Rosalind and his father were busy setting their foreigner at his ease, Thomasin stuffed some loaves of bread under his shirt and scampered out of the hall, across to the servants bathroom and threw his bounty to the shivering snails. These gutter snipes and street urchins pounced on the food and beat each other over the head and bit, clawed and fought for the now soggy and dirty scraps of bread.
~

Thomasin peeled off his sweaty costume and threw it on the floor. He hadn't been able to stay close to his father, Rosalind or the Trusted Speaker for more than five minutes. Snatches of barely overheard conversation swirled around his head "We would be happy to supply you with aircraft and bombs, for the price agreed before I came but also for 10% of your food supplies and a seat on your new council." "Nostroodal are pleased with the reports you have been sending, and are willing to back you as the new leader."

So! His father was planning to overthrow his mother and the whole of Atawan. He was going to sell the nation to the Nostroodians.

Downstairs the party continued in full swing. Having fulfilled his duties as entertainer Thomasin had been dismissed for fear that he might get too close to the Nostoodian and some how make things difficult. Rosalind had bored of the Trusted Speaker quickly, he was dull and slow witted but as he was the only person of suitable standing, merely because of his exoticness, she continued to dance with him. She danced with him till his head spun and till he could not remember what had passed between them, he left the dance floor and made his way slowly to his chamber, he had a nagging feeling that he had discussed things with her that he should not.
~

Rosalind's carriage careened through the streets at break neck speed, she had a reputation as a fun loving lively girl. One that could not be tethered and one that would not be broken. She was not like the other women of Ratachann, most of them miserably abused the boys, toying with their hearts and making love to them when really they were only making fun. They treated the snails with vile contempt and often spat on them if they passed them on the street. Rosalind cared nothing for dallying with the weaker sex. She gave the impression of being so above the snails that she did not notice their existence. But she did. Many's the sleepless night she had worrying about their fate and what was to become of Ratachann. Behind her mothers back she had set up an underground warren to shelter the snails and spent as much time as possible feeding, healing and caring for them.

Had she been found out she would have been put to death. Oracle's daughter or no, it was an offence beyond all measure and limitation for a citizen classed as a 'bird' to be seen with a snail.

Had Thomasin known of his betrothed's true feelings and intentions his heart would have soared as free and as happy as the happiest lark in all the skies in all the world. But he knew nothing. Rosalind had worked hard on her reputation, she could not risk its being destroyed by a careless look or word from Thomasin. "If only he were stronger!" Rosalind cursed and whipped her horses to a frenetic gallop "He should have stopped his father when he was a boy. Why couldn't Spencer have had a girl child! He would never have dared do what he has done if his seed had been a woman."

She pulled up sharply on the reins, jumped from her perch and quickly ran to the edge of the forest by which she had come to a stop. Venting a low soft whistle she walked in and made for a quiet glade where a still pond glistened in the moonlight. A shadowy figure detached from a tree and came to her side. "What news Rosa?" a soft feminine voice asked, a former Marchioness till Spencer had beheaded her family and bound her household as slaves as he rampaged through the islands of Ratachann 'cleansing' them of the pink skinned. Rosalind imparted all that she knew and the Marchioness turned away, "Gladys!" Rosalind called softly after her retreating figure, "Can I do anything for Thomasin yet? He is so sad and cannot help but anger his father by feeding the poor, he stuffed four loaves of bread into his shirt and threw them to the crowd outside tonight. I shudder to think what Spencer will do to him for that tomorrow." "Hush child, don't worry so. Thomasin knows what he is doing and it serves us well that he does. He keeps his father distracted and is something for you to tease and so keep suspicion away from you and your true aims. It will all be over soon, our messenger leaves tonight as soon as I return with your news. The High Imperator will soon know all of Spencer's plans." Gladys stroked Rosalind's round careworn face and added softly "I wish she had not been so long in taking Spencer to task. Her trust in him was too great and so the proof needed was much. How many lives and how much misery could have been saved had she only listened when first she was warned." Stooping slightly, Gladys kissed Rosalind's forehead and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Rosalind checked a sigh and returned to her carriage.
~

Chapter Two

A Guided Tour Around Chesterhill

Dear Lucy Squirrel,

Are you a red squirrel or a grey squirrel? I hope you are a red squirrel as you will have a much nicer time at Chesterhill if you are red and not grey. Chesterhill has for more than forty years been a haven for the little red darlings. My grandfather used to keep an air rifle by his side, and one by the front door, in order to shoot any marauding greys!

I shall begin with the house as that is as good a place as any to start. From the outside the house sometimes gives the impression of haughty grandeur and sometimes of desolate, almost despondent, grandeur. An air of the kind that a noble, but stubbornly proud, man may give once fallen on hard times. Instead of accepting the change of position; rebelling against it and confusedly wondering and despising all around for allowing such an ignoble turn of events.

In days of old you may have stepped through her doors and been greeted with cheery laughter, glowing hearths and a pervading warmth. But, then again, perhaps not. Perhaps these times never were. The prevailing feeling of Chesterhill was of coldness and wicked mischief. How a house so beautiful and homely had become so warped and twisted is a thing I do not know, nor would like to hazard a guess at. The wrongs and ill deeds that could have taken place within her walls and grounds over the century and half that she has been alive are best left to imaginations less barbarous than mine.

Now, when you step through her solid oak, iron studded front door you are greeted with decay, longing and hope. A patient expectancy has fallen over this proud and seemingly un-tamable beast, she seems content to wait and see what fate will deal her next. She even has a faint welcoming air about her. Sunlight streams through her windows and lights her rooms and she seems to smile and show herself to advantage, no longer allowing the suns rays to glaringly show her defects and devastation. Instead the golden beams glimmer through the glass and glide across rooms, making the dust jump and sparkle as though a fairy party has just been interrupted, shh!, what's that? Over there!, perhaps if we're quiet they will come out of hiding and go back to their play!

The ghosts of past joyous occasions hover about the fireplaces, no longer gaping cold and bleak, but waiting warmly, hopefully and contentedly for the next blaze to be lit. The ghosts jostle each other and a ripple of laughter emanates all around. Reverberating through the hallways, up the winding staircase, they bounce off the walls until they have reached every nook and cranny of every room.

And so many rooms! On the ground floor to the left of the entrance hall is a doorway that leads down into the servant quarters of old, to the left of this is a small study. The Study has an open writing desk to the right of and across from the doorway, bulging with letters and cards of all shapes and sizes waiting eagerly to be written on and taken to the bottom of the drive and placed in the little red postbox.  A small fireplace with an electric heater in its hearth can be found to the right of the desk, the desk being the focal point of the room and sandwiched between a tall sash and casement window and the aforementioned fireplace. To the left of the doorway is a built in wall bookshelf crammed with nature and wild life books, books on photography, light fiction and highbrow texts.

To the right of the entrance hall is the Morning Room, this large whimsical room has a bay window looking out over the drive way, a large open hearth and a wall of windows along its east wall. It also has a terrifying crack running the length of the west wall and across the ceiling in front of the bay window.

Directly in front of you as you enter the house are two doors in the wall facing you. The one on the right hand side of the wall leads into the living room, and the one on the left leads into the kitchen, downstairs loo, out to the back porch and also to the downstairs flat. To the left of the entrance hall is the above mentioned doorway that leads down to the dank depths of the house and a stately staircase that winds up to the first floor, accompanied by an eight foot rectangular wall mirror.

The first floor consists of the Reading Room, the Guest Bedroom, the Main Bedroom, two bathrooms, an upstairs kitchen, two windowed cupboards - one of which I use as my wood store - and the Drawing Room, which doubles as a Dining Room. The Drawing Room is one of my favourite rooms. She has a low friendly ceiling, a wide spacious floor, a fireplace that has shelves on either side of the flame pit which served as useful resting places for pots, pans and tins as I cooked my meals. Her walls are mostly windows and she commands a view of the front lawn, side lawn, drive way, garages, vegetable patch, upper and lower woodlands, the quarry, the walled flower garden and the whales jaw bone! From these windows I watched red squirrels bouncing across the lawns, deer darting to and fro as they nibbled on the wild foliage, and, birds - large and small - swooping, calling and singing as they went along their way.

Above the Drawing Room is my sloped attic bedroom. A sharp contrast from the room below this little room has only two windows, both being the smallest windows in the house! One is a beautiful old circular window and the other a tiny rectangle that juts out strangely from the roof's slope.

Back down my narrow private stairway, along the damp corridor and we are faced with the Main Bedroom, but!, what's that? There! to the left. Why, it's a hidden forked staircase! Up we jump and we are on the stairway to the Water Tower and the rest of the attics.

The Water Tower commands a three hundred and sixty degree view of green and brown farm lands, deep and pale green forests, dark and light blue seas and the twinkling city lights of St. Andrews and Dundee. The Turret, or Water Tower, measures approximately six foot square, on calm days it is one of the few places to catch a breeze. But on stormy days beware! A goodly wind and you could be blown over it's waist high walls with little effort.

From this perch the whole of the Grounds can now be observed. With St. Andrews in front and Dundee behind we can just see the lodge keepers cottage at the southernmost point of the property. Helping to obscure the lodge are an array of old stables, now referred to as the Garages. There was a fire in these some eight years ago and they still stand bare of roofs, windows and doors. In places you can see the wild growth of brambles, elder flower bushes and weeds reaching out of the spaces where a roof once would have stood or where a door might have kept the invasive foliage at bay. To the east of our Turret can be seen a sprawling mass of ivy, in one place it is so dense and tall it could almost be a house of ivy. This is, in fact, exactly what it is! Beneath this devastator of trees and buildings, lies a crumbled and ruined three storey wash house. This wash house stands in the Paddock, an area of land so overcome by nettles, thistles and ivy that it would be better known as the Wasteland. But even here in this longest neglected part of the estate the nettles do not reach the almighty heights that they do in the once renowned Walled Garden.

The Walled Garden could arguably be the most pitiful and heart wrenching sight that Chesterhill has to offer. It would not be quite so upsetting to the foreign eye but to those of us that used to run barefoot through her lush green grass, smelling her exotic flowers and marvelling in her majestic and voluptuous beauty her current standing beggars the senses. Once orderly flower beds and curved hedgerows can now hardly be distinguished one from t'other. Nettles reaching the giddy heights of ten feet and more, line her boundary walls. Wild seed and hay are all that's left of her green, green grasses. Yet in this mayhem and overgrowth can still be found the most beautiful smelling roses, soft, sweet and gentle they stubbornly flower and bloom all summer and autumn round. Feathery purple triangles, of a hue my eye has never before seen, hide amongst the tall rushes. Sweetpeas nestle at the base of stalky heath plants... Chesterhill's Turret stands against the skyline and a sense of home floods over you. All is not lost, all is not gone to waste.

This is a new beginning. Whatever her past glories were, they are no longer. She is new, bold and proud. Her beauty will reach new heights, her reception new magnitude. She is your ready and willing hostess should you grace us with your squirrely presence.

Affectionately yours,

Chesterhill's Custodian.
~

A Sonnet on Anger

Hate, what is hate?
Is it fear, fury and fire?
Is it a thing we can abate?
Is it a thing of which we tire?

Why does anger make us boil?
Our insides twisting, turning, coiled,
Peace and tranquillity it will foil,
And now, our mood, it is spoiled.

Sometimes without provocation,
Anger comes and will not be abated.
Fearsome, roaring and indignation,
Anger is a thing to be hated!

And then, in the blink of an ocellus,
Anger flees and we feel no loss.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Ramsgate to London

Waving goodbye to Benedict, Stuart and Tom I made my way along and up the B2054; street name Royal Parade, and embarked on another adventure. I had no map. I had no money. I had no water. I did have, my penknife, my tape measure, my compass, my mobile phone (with about £2 worth of credit), my sleeping bag, my tiny holdall, and, finally, a bag containing two sandwiches.

It was a clear, brisk day. The sun shone bright but not hot and there was a goodly wind blowing directly in my face. I knew that I would quickly dehydrate and to abate this I stuck the end of my compass in my mouth. Had I had any articles of clothing with buttons I would have pulled a button off and sucked that as buttons fit far better in the mouth than square-edged compasses.

I swung along the roadside in my accustomed easy manner. My legs take slightly longer strides than my diminutive size would imply, and though I have a heavy tread my legs are limber and light in their mode of transporting my feet forward. I hummed and sang to myself as I went along, blue skies shone down and everything seemed bright, gay and quick.

Relief at being free, at last, and in the open again washed over me as I scrambled up hillocks and crossed roundabouts, smiling, waving and thanking slightly bewildered looking drivers as I did so. To be the master of my own fate. To go where I wanted to go and when I wanted to go. This, I do believe, is all I have ever sought in life. To not be constrained by other peoples inhibitions, doubts and fears. I can conquer, or at least steamroller, my own fears. Squishing them into submission and charging on despite myself. But to sit trapped and unable to move through a third party's inability to just do (or accept) is beyond even my agreeable nature.

I stuck doggedly to the A256. I knew that London lay to the west and north but I didn't particularly feel in the mood for exploring country roads when I had so much ground to cover. And besides, 'A' roads can be quite beautiful. Sadly the battered camera on my phone was not able to do justice to the quantities of wild poppies that grew strewn along the embankments.




I witnessed a number of planes taking off and landing at Kent International Airport in Manston and, as I watched them sallying forth I noticed that the middle of the dual carriage way I was walking along had, what looked like, a pavement. Deciding that to walk along that would be far safer than to continue stumbling across the uneven turf, I dashed across when a lull in the traffic allowed and carried on my merry way. Not long after this the 'pavement' dried up and the metal barrier that had been alongside me split and formed an enclosure around nothing in particular and so I swung first my right and then my left leg over the barrier and continued my path betwixt the two. As I trod close to Monkton Roundabout I began looking out for a suitable delay in the oncoming cars in order that I might cross back over and follow the roundabout in an orderly and lefty manner. Just as I was making ready to swing myself back over the barriers a police car coming in the opposite direction pulled up next to me and appeared to be talking to me. Unable to hear a word they were saying I stopped, reversed and leaned closer to the open window.

The exactness of the exchange I cannot now vouch for but it went along the lines of them wanting to give me a lift and telling me I shouldn't be where I was. I pointed out that I was going to London and that therefore they were going in the wrong direction for me. Presumably they had foreseen this eventuality and as I spoke a police car stopped along my other side. I was directed into this vehicle and taken to a nearby petrol station. We sat in the parking lot while the officer radioed through that he had removed the young lady in question and asked if a separate incident sheet had been opened. It had not. One was requested, and once that was done he asked for my name. I gave it, a date of birth and an address. These were run through his system and, finding no previous records to the name given, my officer told the operator that he would drop me off on a farm track and direct me to stay off of motorways in the future.

Meanwhile I sat in the back of his car and 'radioed' in my own position:

"Rachel, Rachel sending progress report to Gavia, Gavia: have just been arrested! Over."

My officer was a well built man of about 35, slightly bearded with dark black hair, a kindly face and inquiring, gentle eyes. His build and demeanor were of confidence and strength. One of the things I liked most about him was his complete lack of surprise at my intended journey. Benedict, Stuart and Tom had all seemed rather dismissive of my intention, but perhaps this was just because it was my intention given that Tom had claimed that if he had a friends house to stay in along the way, walking to London from Ramsgate might be something that even he would do. As dearly as I love these three chaps their combined attitudes had become wearisome and it was extremely pleasant to be in the company of a man who, whatever he may have thought personally, didn't feel the need to share that opinion with me. The night before I told Gavia's crew of my intention to leave them (which I had been nursing for some 24 hours by this point) we were all sitting in the Mariners Bar and Benedict, having had a few, decided to tell me that they three and been discussing me earlier in the evening and that they had all decided I was a 'brick' he then congratulated me on being so 'agreeable'. Nice as it is to know that people think highly of you it's more meaningful when they show you by way of deeds and actions rather than merely expounding in words. Little things like Tom's cutting down on the number of cigarettes he smoked while in my company after I asked to switch places with Stuart one night over a game of hearts so that the smoke from three cigarettes didn't choke me, showed the measure of his esteem. Benedict on the other hand had merely commented that "Not many ladies would come on board with three smokers at all!" and made no change in his consumption. Words are nothing. I love words. I love their nuances and their hidden depths but they are, after all is said and done, merely a means to convey air into intelligible meaning. They themselves carry no weight and cannot be taken at face value. It is the action of the speaker that bears out the persons truth. And this is all that can concretely be relied upon. I care nothing for what people say to me, only what they do to me and what they show me by their actions.

My dark-eyed officer explained, after I expressed my confusion as to which roads I was and wasn't allowed to walk on, that any road with a speed limit of 70 miles an hour, unless accompanied by a pedestrian path, was off-limits to foot-travellers. This means that one can, if trying to get from 'a' to 'b' by highways, find themselves in the tricky predicament of reaching a spot of the road that they are walking along that they are not allowed to walk on and yet should they rejoin it some few hundred yards further up they are once more at liberty to walk on it. And so the rule of thumb is to stay off these fickle tools of the foot-traveller and stick to farm tracks and country lanes.

Having been put down on a country lane running alongside the A299, I extended my hand to the officer, thanked him for his troubles and apologised once more for causing an inconvenience. He warmly shook the proffered hand, gave me some minor directions and bid me good day.

As I started off my phone buzzed in my pocket, one new message from 'Tom- disposable':

"Where and for what? Have they de-arrested you now? Over"

"Outside St. Nicholas-at-Wade. For walking. Have been released. Over :D"

My country lane soon took me onto the A299 proper. This time there was a pedestrian path and I sauntered on without a second thought. By this point, however, the wanderlust had taken root and I began looking out for alternative paths. One came into view on the opposite side of the road in time. A well worn track cut a bold path through a farmers field and a ramblers signpost showed that I would not have an angry farmer chasing me should I choose to wander along it. I thought to myself "I'm up for a bit of off-road action" and duly scampered across the motorway and plunged into the beckoning maize.

All paths come to an end and this one ended on Reynolds Farm Road. If I turned right I would quickly be returned to the A299, if I turned left I would continue my off-road adventure. Now thoroughly enjoying my walk, it reminding me of rambling along the lanes that lead me to and from Chesterhill, I loathed the idea of returning to a noisy, exhaust fume filled highway. I struck left. If you have not begun to already, please do follow my route on a map.

Initially I was occupied with thoughts of returning to the A299, I almost turned back a few times but that innate trait of mine that prevents me from going back on a thing, pushed me yet further forward. I have long held that all things happen for a reason. That the dance life leads us is to some End and the lessons we learn and the things we experience along the way all serve some purpose in due course. 

The edges of my mouth were beginning to sore from holding my compass in place to facilitate saliva production and keep dehydration at bay. I gingerly removed it and let it fall to the length of the cord that it was attached to and it bounced up and down and swung from side to side  across my torso as I scanned the edges of the road. If you let it, life will always give you what you need. Sure enough there lay not 5 yards from where I stood a one litre bottle of 'Evian' that still contained three fingers worth of water. I plucked it from its resting place, sniffed its contents, tested a capful and, satisfied, slowly ingested the contents over the following ten minutes.

I had no idea where I was, or what lay ahead of me. I knew that I must bear west and north and that is precisely what I did. Eventually I waved down a car and asked if I could reach Canterbury by continuing along the road I was on. I could. As I continued I kept seeing markers for Herne Bay and began to wonder where Herne Bay was and whether it would be better if I went there instead of continuing on to Canterbury. Stubbornness is another innate character trait that I posses. The path to Canterbury continued.

Throughout my journey the roads had dipped and rose and I had at times commanded spectacular views of the English coastline and her enclosed beauties. This country path was no different and once more lovely visions in hues of greens, golds and blues pleased my eyes. The day was made for walking. And I was born to walk. I am happy walking wherever I may be, but when graced with such pulchritude my soul finds a peace that my roistering thoughts can only find in utter exhaustion.


on the road to Centerbury

Crossing Maypole Road and following Hicks Forstal Road I became aware that I was walking through a wood, seeing a path into this, I decided to get closer to the country and even further away from Man and in I went. A merry time the wood had with me! I walked round in a circle and came out of it 100 or so yards further back from where I had gone in! Now back on the road I had been following before entering the wood my compass refused to give me a true bearing, swinging madly and lurching all around, its little hand could not stay still. Perplexed, I took the cord from my neck and was about to place the counter on the floor, hoping something more stable than my shaky hand might help the counter find peace and allow my swirling head to take stock, when I saw a car approaching. My knee-jerk reaction was to stick out my thumb. I had for some cars prior pondered the idea of hitching. But each time one came close something held me back and I did not proffer my thumb in the recognised hitching manner. For some reason, my Guardian Angels only know why, my thumb and hand flew from my body and arrested the attention of the driver. Coming to a halt she lowered her window and looked doubtingly at me. I asked her to point me in the direction of Canterbury and explained what had happened. Canterbury lay in the direction she was driving in and this prompted me to ask for a lift a short way along the road, even if it was only a few hundred yards. Again she looked dubious. I stepped back and retracted my query, stating as I did so "Oh please, not at all. Don't at all feel in anyway..." I was unable to finish my train of thought as she took pity on me in that moment and agreed to take me a short way.

*   *   *

As I stepped out and waved good bye to my delightful chauffeuress my phone buzzed and a new message from Tom flashed on its face. "Progress?"

I returned, "Gavia, Gavia, this is the Lone Walker, have just done a massive circle in East [Blean Wood]... Doh! Am now bearing due West."

Waving once more to my former companion as she rounded the roundabout alongside me, I struck out on the road she had directed me to follow. The A2990, the old London road, that runs parallel to the M2. I found out upon returning home and looking at a map that I had been delivered to Herne Bay, the place that had plagued me. It had seemed to be all around me at all times and, had I beaten a path to it from Boyden Gate, I would have saved myself a lot of wondering and wandering. Had I told my police officer that it was my intention to take London by way of Canterbury he would have put me on a different road. All things happen for a reason and speculation of what might have been is but an exercise in futility.

I was on the A2990. I was London bound the long way. This much I knew. And onward I marched.

I had kept hold of my found, now empty, bottle of water in the hopes that it might be filled at a passing pub or some such. The some such took the form of a KFC. Sipping my precious H2O and nibbling at the sandwiches I had made before I left Gavia, I spied a Tesco superstore in the distance. I had been walking for a good few hours by this point and it was about time I changed my socks and dried my feet. I was not at all in the mood for a repeat performance of my journey to Oxford.

*   *   *

Not long after my rest stop the A2290 merged into the A229, which in turn merged into the M2. I saw the 'M' road looming in the not too distant future and resolved to stick a thumb out once more. Two hundred yards ahead of me was a layby, behind me a neat, dark blue, soft-top convertible was bearing down rapidly. I thought that I may as well get ahead of the game and start thumbing before I got there on the off chance that by the time I reached the layby some kind person would stop. This convertible seemed as good a car to start with and so out went the thumb, a wide smile spread across my face as I looked over my shoulder thinking "It's okay, you don't have to stop. It would be nice if you did, but it's quite alright if you don't." the car sped past and a minute pang of expected disappointment shot through me. But not for long! To my surprise the car suddenly swung into the layby and stopped. I quickened my pace and, arriving at the car, looked quizzically in at the driver. He signaled that I should open the door. I did so and asked him where he was heading. He said he was on his way to Sidcup and asked where I was going. I said I was going to London. He said he'd take me and I hopped in.

My chauffeur was an absolute joy to ride with. A father of two, a Grandfather of three, a self-taught classic car repair and restoration man, owner of a brother who developed deep-deep-sea diving by using helium to keep the human form inflated, a Grandfather who had been the Chief Engineer on King George the Fifth's Racing Yacht, and a dancer of Jive! With so many topics to burn through, the journey to Bexleyheath ended all too soon.

I was delivered to Rochester Way safe and sound and in high spirits at the prospect of arriving home that night.

As soon as I had got out of my champions car I texted in my position, "I'm doing it differently! Got onto the M2 by accident so blagged a cheeky lift. I'm outside Eltham atm. What delights have you all been getting up to?"

I had been directed to continue in a westernly direction and at some point, I was assured, I would see sign posts for some sort of a circular and I could from there decide which direction I wished to take London from. Sure enough road signs came to the fore and I chose to turn right onto Well Hall Road as it promised Greenwich. One of my oldest friend in the world is the head chef of Frizzante at Surrey Docks, I have visited him at his lair a dozen or so times, and as such I knew that from Greenwich I could easily make it home.

The only plan that really worked out to full fruition on this eventful journey was to leave Ramsgate and arrive home in London. Everything in between was flexible and constantly shifting! Instead of taking a left I accidently continued straight on. I realised my mistake when a bus came trundling past going to Woolwich. I happened to be walking close to the bus stop at the time and so waved uncertainly at the driver. He opened his doors and I said "Sorry, to ask a silly question, but, where are you going?" "I'm headed to Woolwich, where are you headed?" "Well, I was going to Greenwich but I'm trying to get to, basically, Tower Bridge." "The best thing for you to do is to get on this bus and get the DLR from Woolwich Arsenal." "But, I don't have any money." a small part of me not only expected but hoped that he would point me in the direction of Greenwich, a part of me of about the same size hoped that he might tell me to get on the bus. The idea of getting the bus to Woolwich wasn't one I particularly relished. It meant walking a lot further or getting on the DLR in the full knowledge that I couldn't pay for my ticket. The bus driver smiled through his square framed glasses and told me to get on. I sat at the back till what I thought might be Woolwich arrived. Sidling back up to the drivers door I asked if this was where I should be getting off. "Yes, that's Woolwich Arsenal just across the road up ahead there. You get on the DLR now." "Thanks very much!" and I flashed a dazzling smile. I got off and waved as he drove away.

I strode purposefully into the station, through the open ticket barriers, down the escalator and onto the waiting DLR train. As I stared out across the night sky and gleefully took in the bright lights of the city my phone buzzed, Tom had replied, "Great result! Just had some supper and about to hit the travel scrabble, pleased that it's gone well anyhow."

I sat passenger watching. My face flushed with excitement and sun burn and a huge stupid grin on my face which I kept trying to repress in order to save it for a rainy day - I've found over the years that if I am too happy at some point I tend, when next sad, to become very sad and as it's no fun to be very sad, saving happiness for those times has become an effective tool.

Bank Station. The performance of the day. I nonchalantly approached the closed ticket barriers and slipped my hand into my back right jean pocket. Nothing there. I slipped my left hand into my left back pocket. Nothing there. A mild quizzical look. I slipped my right hand into my right front pocket. Nothing there. Left hand into left front pocket. Nothing there. The quizzical look deepened. I peeled my sleeping bag from the grove it had cut in my right shoulder, once that had been removed I was at liberty to free the shoulder strap of my holdall and take that from around my person too. I placed both these items before me. I methodically searched through my holdall. I took out my address book and flipped through the pages, I took out my stamp book and peered through the transparent compartments; nothing. Now concerned I unzipped the pockets of my red jacket and checked both the inside and outside pockets. Again, nothing. Something akin to panic struck my face. I frantically searched all my jean pockets once more. Still nothing. I rechecked my holdall and my jacket. I even rummaged around in my stuff-bag but all that was in there was my sleeping bag. I stood, gathered my possessions and forlornly made my way to the official at the gate. In a voice verging on tears I told him that I couldn't find my ticket anywhere. He had been watching the spectacle of my search and was not surprised at my claim. "Where have you come from?" "I got on at West... no! Woolich Arsenal." "Where are you going?" "Here, I'm trying to go home." I said pathetically. He told me to stand back as he swiped his card and let a lady with two suitcases and a number of carrier bags though his gate. He wasn't going to let me through that easily. My heart sank. He was going to radio one of his colleagues and I'd have to go through the performance again... A guilty mind will jump to such conclusions. The lady passed through and made her way over to the escalators. I gazed wretchedly I knew not where, when suddenly I realised the guard was talking to me. He nudged his head and signaled that I should pass through. Relief physically shook my body as I passed through the gate and thanked him profusely.

Once more walking on air I almost glided home. Walking through the city proper at night is a thing, I realised at that moment, that I hadn't done in a very long time. Familiar smells and sights, yet strangely new and different bombarded my senses. Leaving the Bank of England, the Exchequer and Threadneedle Street behind, I was quickly on Brick Lane and soon after that I was lying in bed eating the last half of my sandwiches and sending an End of Journey Report:

Approx 30 miles walked
1 arrest
3 misdirections
2 hitches
1 bus blag
1 DLR blag
Found (and ingested) 1 bottle of water
Consumed 1 & a 1/2 sandwiches
Now safely tucked up in bed
~

Friday, 29 June 2012

"GAVIA"

Most of May was taken up knitting a blanket for my pregnant and soon to be newly wed cousins. Their wedding was at the end of May and I traveled up on the day to witness the matrimonial rituals and partake in a lot of CĂ©ilidh Dancing!

Their lovely wedding took place in Chester and as such I tried to make my goodbyes at around 9pm in order to catch the last train home to London at 9:35pm. I was ordered by both Bride and Groom not to leave, and so of course I couldn't. If there is one day when everything a person says should be law (excluding murder and obvious illegalities) it's their wedding day.

Thankfully, one of my first cousins once removed and one of my second cousins had both offered earlier in the day to have me stay the night so I was not lacking in places to stay. Logistics came to the fore and I accepted the offer of my first cousin once removed (one of the grooms aunts) and went off with her, her partner and her son (another of my second cousins) and two other first cousins once removed at around 11pm.

My impromptu overnight stay elongated itself to a five day holiday! We spent most of the time dozing in the garden, walking along the Mersey, swimming in Leasowe Bay and chatting. Finally I had to bid them adieu and make my way back to London. I did this by detouring to Whitchurch to spend the night with another first cousin once removed (this time the mother of the groom) and her mother who was visiting from South Africa.

During all the catching up and chatting with extended family members it came to my attention that the father of the groom, Benedict, (yes, you guessed it, also a first cousin once removed!) had recently bought himself a little yacht. As a small child my mother used to take my siblings and me to visit this cousin and his family and we had done a fair amount of sailing with him before life took a turn in another direction and visiting far off relatives was no longer on the cards. This new boat was a four berth, 30 footer and was looking for extra crew members. I put my name forward as I knew that my second cousin Stuart (who was born in the same year as I was) would be among the crew and I hadn't seen him properly in ages.

I returned to London, squared things that needed squaring with friends and shops and whatnot and then jumped on a train at Liverpool Street and off again at Melton. I reached the boat the day after Benedict, Stuart and old family friend (and best man at the wedding) Tom had got on board and they had taken advantage of an early tide to take "Gavia" out of Granary Yacht Harbour and a short way along the Deben. I shouldered my sleeping-bag and my small holdall and wandered down to Woodbridge where I was collected at about 2pm.

As soon as I got on board I was given directions on how to use the lavatory. Open the valve on the left hand side of the bowl, grasp the red handled pump and pump out the bowls contents. Unscrew the red cap on the right hand side of the bowl take hold of the white handled pump and add a little water to the bowl, then pump this out with the red handled pump. After which, you refill the bowl with fresh water from the white handled pump and close all the valves. Closing the valves is important as if you don't close the one that allows your waste to be emptied, sea water will pump itself back up the pipes into your latrine, and cause you to sink... death by toilet; not a nice way to go! Once I had received this instruction, Stuart peered over and said "I do it differently!" sitting upright he mimed the actions, pumping fiercely with his right and left hands holding imaginary white and red handled pumps he said expressively "I open all the valves and get my double action on."

Gavia hadn't been sailed or taken to sea for a number of years, her former owner having grown old and unable and she not being sold until his passing. As such, Benedict was concerned that we should have the rigging checked and given the all clear before progressing to the North Sea. The rigger was coming in a few days and so we spent that time running the sails up and down, and learning Gavia's particular oddities and methods of use. I went for a swim in the Deben on the first morning and was taken a little by surprise at the strength of the current, I went in on the port side and called up to ask the boys to put the ladder down on the starboard side. After swimming against the current for what seemed at the time to be a never ending period, I finally reached the bow, grabbed the mooring rope, swung myself round to the starboard side and let the current take me rapidly to the ladder. At some point we also got out the bosun's chair and hoisted me almost to the top of the mast on the main sail halyard to untangle a sheet that had caught and twisted around the jib.

Once we'd been given the all clear and stocked up on supplies on a shore trip to Felixstowe we set off down the Deben under motor power as the winds weren't very good and Benedict wanted to first test the sails in breezier conditions. As we motored out of Woodbridge we spied a red jib flapping wildly. Boating etiquette prevailed and we came alongside, Tom jumped aboard and the jib was arrested and tied back down. Upon jumping back onto Gavia Tom declared "The blighters asleep inside! The radio's on and the windows are open. He's not heard a thing!" Alarm bells rang and we quickly radioed ashore "Thames Coast Guard, this is Gavia. Have just spotted a sail flapping in the wind, went aboard to tie it down and discovered the radio on, windows open and the door locked. We are concerned someone may be knocked out or debilitated in some way inside."

"Gavia, Gavia this is the Thames Coast Guard, can you confirm your location please and if possible the name of the other vessel?"

"Thames Coast Guard this is Gavia, we are on the River Deben just outside Woodbridge. The distressed vessel is 'Dalua' Delta, Alpha, Lima, Uniform, Alpha."

"Thank you Gavia, Gavia. Were you able to see signs of life on board?"

"That is a negative Thames Coast Guard, we just tied the sail down and got off. We did not investigate."

"Gavia, Gavia would it be possible for you to remain on sight till the Coast Guard arrive? We are radioing in your position now, they will be with you shortly."

"Thames Coast Guard, that is an affirmative. We are just picking up a mooring and will wait for the Coast Guard."

"Many thanks Gavia, Gavia. Over"

We duly picked up a mooring and while we waited Tom and Benedict clambered into the dinghy and sped across to Dalua to see what more there was to be seen. Stuart and I watched from Gavia and listened to the radio crackling and hissing. Once more aboard Dalua Tom gently forced the cabin doors open and went inside. He came out, shook his head, shrugged and signaled that they were coming back.

Back on Gavia Benedict picked up the receiver. "Thames Coast Guard this is Gavia. We have just gone aboard Dalua again, she has no-one aboard. The owner has been carrying out maintenance and repair work, the cabin floor has new varnish which explains the open windows and they must have forgotten to turn the radio off."

"Gavia, Gavia this is Thames Coast Gaurd. Many thanks for that. The Patrol should be with you in the next few minutes, they will secure the vessel and recheck. Can you stand by to receive them?"

"Thames Coast Guard, that is still an affirmative. We are moored up and can see the Patrol now. Over."

An RNLI three manned high speed response craft pulled alongside and re-confirmed all that we had passed to the Thames Coast Guard. We were thanked and given permission to continue on our way. As we slipped our mooring the RNLI boarded Dalua. The jib winding mechanism was obviously faulty as it had once more sprung free and the sail was slowly unwinding again. They saw this and as one crew member secured their craft to Dalua, another refastened the sail and the third researched the cabin.

"Gavia, Gavia this is Thames Coast Guard. Are you still there?"

"Thames Coast Guard this is Gavia. We are leaving our mooring now. The response unit are aboard Dalua and have no further need of us."

The radio crackled and the woman's voice came through one last time. "Many, many thanks for your assistance Gavia, Gavia. Very much appreciated. Please continue on your journey and thanks again. Over"

We pulled away from the scene and Tom immediately began joking "Gavia, Gavia this is Thames Coast Guard. Many, many thanks for your assistance! Gosh she was rather on it wouldn't you say? I reckon she found your voice very attractive Ben. Gavia, Gavia just wondering what colour your eyes are?" Stuart quickly joined in "Thames Coast Guard I am a single white male." Tom's eyes sparkled, "Gavia, Gavia just wanted to confirm dinner reservations for two tonight." A loud bellow burst forth from a wide boyish grin on Benedict's face, "You boys are MAD! Ha!", he steered round a river marker, "Ha ha! What utter rubbish! Nonsense!"

"Gavia, Gavia will we be dining on board or ashore tonight?" Tom teased, "Thames Coast Guard this is Gavia, Gavia. I am a passionate but gentle lover." quipped Stuart.

The banter continued till the drizzle dampened even the boys good humour and instead they fell to reading and commenting on the names of the passing moored boats. Tom declared that if he had a vessel of his own he would call it "Choice". The RNLI, having completed their necessary duties, whizzed back alongside, debriefed and thanked us once again.

The mouth of the Deben now loomed large. We charted her exit signs and plunged into the sea and dipped and dived and felt rather sick the whole way rolling round the coast to "Hook of Holland" in Harwich. Thankful for the calm waters of the Stour, Stuart and I quickly stopped feeling queasy and harangued Benedict into letting us unfurl the sails. The winds were calm and sporadic, so we tacked the whole way to Manningtree. Tom, meanwhile, was dead to the world and snored soundly below deck. Attempts to wake him so that he too could enjoy the sailing fell to deaf ears, and so we left him to slumber in peace.

Manningtree may have had more to offer than we discovered but our excursions were hampered by Benedict's worry that where we had come ashore may be closed off while we were away and that we would have no way to get to our dinghy and from thence return to our ship. He also despised the 'A' road that passed through the village. Decrying it as stupid, dangerous and idiotic he rustled us away from explorations and back into the dinghy. He being thoroughly disillusioned as to anything that Manningtree may have to offer we anchored away and sailed back along the Stour to see if a more suitable resting place could be found in neighbouring Orwell.

Stuart and Tom went below and I received, at my request and after some encouragement, a private mini-lesson in cloud identification from Benedict.

Shortly after entering the Orwell we spied a mooring and quickly settled down for the night. Wanting to take advantage of shore electricity given that rules 3 and 4 on the boat were "3: permission must be sought for use of boat electricity." "4: permission will not be granted for use of boat electricity." Tom asked permission to use the dinghy and go ashore. Grudgingly granted after much persuasion, Tom and Stuart headed off under direction from me that they should call when they were setting off to come back aboard so that I could have their dinner finished and ready for their return.

The boys receded into the lowering dusk and I turned my attentions to the stove. Suddenly an almighty fog horn shook the boat and momentarily deafened the senses. A large shipping container was trying to exit the Orwell but a silly little yachting outfit were defying river rules and were stubbornly remaining in the tankers path. The shocked, dazed looks on the yachts crew members quickly turned to fright and haste. Finally turning on their engine they sped out of the tankers way moments before it would have crushed them under its bow, and the tanker continued on its solemn and stately path.

For dinner that night I decided to make a butter bean sauce with mushrooms and red peppers, spread over pan fried potatoes. Thoroughly vegan and thoroughly delicious. Benedict was still in a huff that Tom and Stuart had gone ashore and he would sporadically comment that Tom had to learn to deal with not having modern technologies, that Tom needed to get used to being on a boat and that all this going ashore was nonsense, and that he didn't like the boys using the dinghy while it was getting dark outside. Calmly I tried to point out that given that we were so close to shore it only made sense to take advantage of the available power outlets, that Tom had a partner and family and friends and colleagues that he needed to stay in contact with in case he needed to be called home for some reason or other, and, that both Tom and Stuart had done a lot of boating and that they were both sensible and capable lads and would be fine in the dinghy. I should have ignored him. My quiet interjections served only to antagonise him. Now he turned to the subject of food. "You know we don't need to wait for them. They're going to be ages. I don't think they'll back for hours. If supper's ready before, you and I can eat now." I pointed out that I had chosen a dish that could be made and left to stew and that finishing off would take place once the boys called to say they were heading back. "Bahphff, they're not coming back. They'll find a pub and eat ashore. I know what Tom's like." "I'm sure they will come back, they said they'd be gone for half an hour, however, if you are hungry now I can make you a cheese platter and you can have a starter." This suggestion was met with silence so I tried again, "I can make you a snack now so that we can all eat together later or if you really prefer I can finish off a portion of the potatoes for you and you can have your main meal now." "Yes. Yes I'd rather do that."

I judged an amount of potatoes that would be generous but that would also leave enough for three more people, heated the oil and fried them off. I plated up and served him. By this point I was so annoyed at his behaviour and grumblings that when I passed it to him I said that I was going to sit on deck and read the paper while the light was still good.

I turned, retrieved the paper from where Tom had left it and stretched out on deck. Almost as soon as I had sat down Benedict got up and busied himself around the stove. A few minutes of frying and he sat back down to his meal. When he had finished he, still sitting in the cabin, shouted out "That was absolutely shit. You didn't cook my potatoes properly and you didn't give me any mushrooms. If you're going to make a mushroom dish you can't not give me mushrooms. I had to finish cooking the potatoes because you didn't do them properly. By the time I'd cooked them, the sauce was cold and I had to help myself to mushrooms. If I didn't know you were a good cook, I'd just think 'Oh, that's just the way Rachel cooks.' but I know you are good cook. You're being deliberately disagreeable. If you want to remain on this boat you have to stop being disagreeable to the captain. You can't not cook the captain's meal properly. Do you want to stay on this boat? Because I don't think you do. You're being disagreeable and I won't have disagreeable people on my boat. That meal was shit."

Had we been on shore I would have taken my bags and left there and then. Had I let the situation upset me I don't think I would have been able to recall a time when I had felt so trapped. Thankfully, I had been sailing with Benedict before. I had also known him for most of my life and I knew when I volunteered for the trip what I was letting myself in for.

I folded the paper and replied. "Oh. I'm terribly sorry. If you'd told me that the potatoes weren't cooked to your liking I would have come back in and done them again. I didn't intentionally not give you any mushrooms but I'm glad you were able to find some yourself." I didn't point out that I had never cooked for him before in my life and that he couldn't therefore know that I was a good cook. I also didn't point out that it wasn't in fact a mushroom dish.

"If you're going to be disagreeable you should get off this boat. I had to cook the potatoes myself, they were shit. Do you want to remain on this boat, because if you're going to be disagreeable to the captain you can't stay on board. You didn't give me any mushrooms and I had to get my own."

"As I said, I am sorry that the potatoes weren't cooked to your satisfaction. I tried one and thought it was fine. Had you told me that you'd like them cooked for a bit longer I could certainly have come back in and re-cooked them. It was not intentional that you didn't get any mushrooms and I'm sorry that I didn't give you any. If you would rather I left the boat you can drop me off in Ipswich if we go up that way tomorrow morning."

Silence.

"Or, if you'd rather, I can get Stuart or Tom to take me ashore tonight when they get back."

Silence.

I turned back to my paper and continued peering through the gloom to decipher the articles.

Five minutes of silenced passed before Benedict, in a calm and almost friendly tone, piped up with "You know if you're going to cook that sort of potato you have to make sure the pan is really hot. Don't be worried about things sticking to the bottom of it. It's a very good non-stick pan. What I do when I cook those potatoes is I put loads of oil in the pan and heat it right up and then I do a combination of cooking them with the lid on and off. You can't worry about the noise it makes. It's very noisy...."

The sounds of Benedict "teaching" me, in essence, to suck an egg wafted over the breeze and fell to intentionally deaf ears. I rigidly shut the sounds out and focused intently on the words before me. I'm not sure how long the lesson lasted but I was called back to attention by a mobile phone ringing faintly. Benedict leaped up and grasped his mobile which was lying on the chart table. A brief conversation ensued, he hung up and looked at the phone in his hand in surprise. "Oh!" he said "That was Tom. Their on their way back now."

"Right," I slid back into the galley, "Lets see if I can do a better job of cooking the boys potatoes!"

I looked at my watch. Exactly half an hour had passed since the boys had gone ashore. I laughed to myself and heated the oil.

*   *   *

Stuart pushed his plate forward and leant back. "Rachel, I can't eat anymore. That was so delicious. I've always been a bit skeptic of the whole vegan/vegetarian thing, but if it's going to be like that..." his thoughts tapered off as he sat back and thoughtfully surveyed his left-overs. Tom beamed at me from across the table, "I liked the cheeky potatoes." His bright eyes twinkling once more he added "Very nice mushroom ratio."

Benedict reached across and took Stuart's left overs, remarking as he did so, that it was one of the finest meals that had been cooked on board and, indeed, one of the finest he had eaten anywhere...

*   *   *

The following morning I was still feeling pretty queasy. Stuart and Benedict had got up before 6am and taken us out of the Orwell part way into the channel. They were discussing where to go next. Either to the marshes or straight across to Ramsgate. I dressed and joined them on deck. "Ben, I'm feeling pretty sick. Is there anywhere that you can drop me off around here so I can go home?" "Oh. You want to get off do you?" He sounded small and dejected "There aren't many places round here. If we go into the marshes we could drop you there but we've just deflated the dinghy so we'd need to find a harbour. How bad do you feel because we could start for Ramsgate now and just get over and do it." I thought about it for a second; I have a friend who lives in Ramsgate and works in London, I could get a lift home from him. Ramsgate's not that far from London, I could walk and I have family, friends and neighbours along the way if I needed somewhere to stop off. "Okay." I said "Let's do. Let's go to Ramsgate. I don't mind throwing up."

"Spoken like a real sailor!" Benedict cried in delight. Tom woke at this point and Benedict gave him the helm, pointed him in a direction and he and Stuart went below to catch up on sleep. As we flapped and floundered in an incoming tide I ran forward to the port bow and lay holding onto the railings and emptying my stomach into the channel.

The crossing was a blur of throwing up and freezing. I couldn't wear my jacket or my jumpers because my head was too hot and it felt like it was going to implode or explode, which one I'm not sure, perhaps a combination of the two, but either way distinctly unpleasant. As we eventually drew close to Ramsgate I was sent below despite my protestations after Stuart noticed that my feet had turned black.

During the crossing I was vaguely aware that we had gone in the wrong direction for an hour and that we had had to double back and try again. Also, that the engine 'off' switch had broken and we couldn't turn the engine off. I say that I was vaguely aware in that I knew what was going on but I had no sense of the passage of time. As I gazed out to sea I fought the urge to step off the boat and simply walk to the horizon - which didn't seem too far away, but then, it never does! I had other delusions, which thankfully I recognised as such and didn't act on any of them! I did man the helm for a short period at the beginning of the journey while Stuart slept and Benedict and Tom poured over charts. Once all the boys had come back on deck the helm was taken from me and, having nothing else to do, I went forward and took up my vomiting position again. Switching every-once-in-a-while so as to make sure I would be throwing up on the right side of the wind and not coat the boat with the lining of my stomach and bile. Occasionally one or other or both of the boys came forward to do something to a sheet or a sail and each time I wondered why, given that I was up there anyway, they hadn't called to me and asked me to do it. At some point, presumably around lunch time, I was offered food and water. I did ask for water but none was forth coming. I could hear the lunch preparations and the boys discussing haloumi and salami sandwiches, my water must have slipped their minds in the excitement of eating.

I was sent below twice during the crossing. The first time I only managed to stay under for, maybe, an hour, but probably less, before my need to have fresh air brought me on deck once more. I lay there, dry-heaving and bringing up bile, until the night sky was verging on blackness. Benedict said that we were coming close to Ramsgate and that it might be better if I went below. I protested but then Stuart noticed my bare feet and exclaimed "Rachel your feet are black! If you stay out much longer you'll need amputation. It's no use you getting hypothermia as well as seasickness." Benedict started complaining about subordinates not following the captains orders, so I took the path of least resistance and went below.

Safely into our harbour space by around 1am the boys turned their attention to the engine and figuring a way to turn her off. Benedict was concerned that letting air into her system might make restarting her prove difficult. In the end that is exactly what they did and after shutting valves and doing various things to stop petrol running through, the engine eventually kicked and sighed and went quiet.

Tom was once more on an electricity rampage. He'd spotted a hotel as we came into Ramsgate and was adamant that he had to get a charge on there and then. This suited me fine as I needed to get onto terra firma and stretch my legs but didn't fancy roaming around by myself. We took the important things with us: the items needing to be charged, their cables and, of course!, a bottle of wine. Having persuaded the nightwatchman to plug Tom's phone into a USB on the office computer we went outside so that Tom could smoke. We found a bench and settled down. I produced my penknife, freed the corkscrew and passed it and the bottle of wine that I had in my coat pocket to Tom. As he pulled the cork free he asked "Are you sure you don't fancy getting into drinking?" "Positive, thanks!"

I leaned back and quietly enjoyed sitting on a solid bench that was bolted to a solid floor that was attached to the earth and had thousands of feet of land underneath it. Tom sat next to me swigging from the bottle and quickly picked up the conversation after I'd asked a few questions. I closed my eyes and let him run with it, every now and again injecting a word of surprise or shock, often laughing at the ridiculous situations the boy seems to have found himself in over the years, and occasionally teasing out further details, but mostly just listening to tales of a well lived life. I had earlier in the trip given Tom the perfect cue for a line he'd been waiting to use: "I'm here for a good time. Not a long time!" and that ethos certainly rang true in the tales he told throughout our voyage.

*   *   *

After a few hours sleep we all got up and once more turned our attention to the engine. We pulled her case off from the front and top and Tom, Stuart and Benedict got stuck in. Tom ended up right inside the engine house with his feet sticking up and waving at us on the deck! A bar that was rather superfluously attached to a cord as an 'easy kill' switch had got stuck inside its tube. Once the bar had been removed and we had retrained to turn the engine off, in what actually turned out to be an easier method than the 'easy kill' switch, we were ready to go again and get back on the high seas. Benedict had other plans. For the next few days we roamed around Ramsgate, topped up food supplies, ate, drank, showered and generally made merry. Every time the subject of continuing on our journey was broached Benedict retorted that the weather was too bad, that he didn't want to move on just yet, that I was going to be sick again and that, basically, we weren't going anywhere. Meanwhile he complained bitterly about how expensive it was going to be to stay in Ramsgate for so long.

Finally I got bored of being one of his excuses not to leave. I was also aware that his mistress was going to be coming on board within the next few days to celebrate her birthday and although I am sure she is a lovely woman I have no interest whatever in condoning my cousins behaviour in this respect. Also, my back was hurting and stiff from the bunk that I had been given. As the smallest person on the boat I was given the bunk underneath the chart table. Its height measures 20 inches and there is barely enough room to turn over let alone sleep on your side. I did quite like my little bunk, though getting in and out was a bit awkward, in all the nights I slept in it I only had one awful night and that was the second night aboard. Not really sure why; it was just very painful and uncomfortable. The rest of the time it was merely slightly annoying and only gave mild discomfort. Taking all this into consideration I decided to challenge Benedict, either the boat moved out of harbour that day or I got off the boat. He said the weather was too bad and that we weren't leaving till tomorrow but then only of the weather was good. And so, I took my belongings to the wash house, freshened up, packed everything tightly, went back to the boat and firmly intoned my goodbyes.

Tom checked his iPhone and showed me a route through Canterbury that measured 70 odd miles. I had my compass and I knew that I had to bare west and north. I was happy with the distance I had been shown must be covered and was confidant that I would be fine without a map - given that I didn't have one I couldn't exactly be otherwise! My soon to be ex-crew members were dubious and all said they thought it was a bad 'do'. They walked into town with me and I bid them farewell around 1:10pm after promising to keep them updated on my progress. Tom said that once I'd gotten on the road I would realise how mammoth the journey was and that I'd come back and re-join them on the boat. I laughed and told him that I always go forward. Never back.