Monday, 2 May 2016

New Adventures in a Small Boat

It’s launch day for Blue Nun, time to see if all the hours spent scrubbing every bit of her, hoisting sails (during which I managed to turn the boatyard air blue as I fight with one end of a flapping Genoa (sail) whilst Tom bellows instructions from the other) and the long, hard, expensive fight to install a sea loo have paid off. Launching is always fraught but wondering if Blue Nun is about to leak like a sieve adds an extra frisson of danger and I have flashbacks to the our previous little boat, the stumpy-legged, evil-tempered Pig Boat which must have been a submarine in a previous life so keen was she to disappear underwater.

The sky's a beautiful blue and there’s a stiff, bitter breeze but at least it’s not raining. Alistair and Martin, who are in charge of operations, calmly scoop up Blue Nun in Rudders boatyard’s tractor contraption, trundle her down the hill and place her gently in the water beside a pontoon where Tom and I step aboard. If the new seacocks leak it’ll be the shortest maiden voyage ever… we wrap up, put on our life jackets and check again… the seacocks still look good. Phew! The engine - after a heartstopping moment - starts running. We run through safety checks and procedures and then it’s time to cast off!

As the boatyard recedes we see Alistair waving us off, a curiously emotional moment which underlines the fact that even a short passage in a little boat has the feel of an epic voyage. Six years of being without a boat suddenly fade into nothing as everything comes back to me. Blue Nun’s certainly lighter, friskier in motion than our first boat - the one we sailed the most, pretty Veryan, a vintage wooden boat - and there’s enough of a chop beneath the Cleddau bridge to get a feel for her, but - amazingly and wonderfully - I don’t feel sick! And believe me, I can do seasick very easily!

We follow the marker buoys to Blue Nun’s new home in Neyland Marina’s Upper Basin where she slides obediently into her berth… which, take my word for it, is a huge relief. We’ve made it, the sun is shining and new series of adventures in a small boat beckon.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Breaking in the Sun

‘You and Tom need a break,’ says Rose and sends us a link to the resort where she and Si stayed last year. Tom, who’s been telling me we need a holiday for months, books it immediately; twelve days in sunny Tenerife - what could be nicer?

A week before we’re due to fly I go down with the worst cold I’ve had in years. By the time Tom gets off the plane, he’s feeling absolutely wretched too. A few days later he picks up a stomach bug, which drags him down even further, and I get conjunctivis and have to wear my glasses for three days. 

It’s not just the physical ailments either; after running on empty for so long, I’m finding it really hard to switch off and just relax. It’s not as if it’s difficult; we have a huge, if slightly dated, apartment with an enormous terrace, sun-loungers and glorious views across the Atlantic, a maid arrives every day to freshen the place up, the weather is fantastic and, heck, we’ve even gone half board and the restaurant is jolly good. (As an aside, what a sign of the times when I heard a little boy declare at breakfast, having perused the buffet choices of a wide range of cereals, bacon and eggs etc, fruit, yogurts, breads from all over the world, ‘Oh, there isn’t really anything I like here.’ Really?)

Eventually I stop thinking about what I should be doing, forget about trying to write and go with the flow and, of course, that’s when the holiday magic begins. On a walk to the harbour, we notice sinister-looking black and red crabs which scuttle across the black rocks when they sense us looking at them (anyone else remember the annual ‘The Eyeballs in the Sky’ episode of The Perishers?’) .

Then, as night falls, we hear what sounds like the Mass Kazoo Band of Tenerife piping in the hill above us. A little research reveals they’re Cory Shearwaters returning to their burrows. A female wall lizard darts away from my foot when I stop to look at her and bougainvilleas bloom in brilliant colours contrasting with the blue sky. We round off our stay with a two-hour boat trip on a lovely old wooden boat, Katrin, and see dolphins and what the crew cheerfully call ‘bad seas’ as we surf back into the harbour on huge Atlantic rollers.

Yes, we agree, it’s been a good holiday. We’re definitely in a better place than when we started …and then we get to the airport where our plane’s delayed. Arriving at Cardiff airport, there’s another long delay while someone is found to unload the luggage (one little plane in the middle of the night - not three airbuses!) and eventually, worn out, we crawl in at four in the morning. Apart from the journey, it was a really good break!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Things We Do For Love

The day before we take Ma home, we decide to poke around a cavernous bric a brac shop close to where we live. Above a sea of sad sofas and heavy dark wood furniture, something catches my eye and I feel a little sharp thrill and edge nearer but suddenly a hand shoots out and beats me to it. ‘I like this!’ says Ma, hanging on to it. ‘So do I,’ I gulp. I’m truly not a covetous person, but, gosh, how I would like the jewel blue vase with its mysterious swirly depths that Ma is holding. I tell myself to grow up and stop being a tad disappointed about something so trivial as we return to the car. Then suddenly Ma turns to me and places it in my hands. ‘You have it,’ she says. There’s a bit of a tussle but Ma wins again, so now this beautiful piece of glass lights up our room not just for its gorgeous looks but also a reminder of everything Ma’s given up for me.

We drive Ma back home to Surrey then continue on to West Sussex where FiL is trying to make sense of his changed world. When my dad died, I think we all felt relief that his suffering had ended as well as great sadness but my mother-in-law’s final weeks were so difficult, all of us are struggling to come to terms with what’s happened. It’s something we get to discuss later the same day when we call on dear friends in Hampshire. Jan and Roger have moved on from sailing to new adventures in their motorhome, Molly, so have boxes full of useful boaty stuff which they generously give to us. During the course of the evening they also open two bottles of ‘special occasion’ champagne, feed us, listen to us offloading our troubles and give us a bed for the night. Surprisingly I don’t have a banging head in the morning, but as we head back to West Wales, my heart feels lighter thanks to the kindness of good friends.

Two days later, we’re back down the M4 again this time to move Rose and Si from their first floor rented flat in Bristol to their very own home, a three-storey townhouse between Bristol and Bath. Si’s mum and stepdad are there too, but we still climb an awful lot of stairs between us! Si’s dad and stepmum have been hard at work too installing new plumbing and an electrician's also been busy but somehow we manage to clear enough space to get the new home owners moved in. Si’s mum produces a tin revealing the wonderful cake she’s made - and after all those stairs, there’s no better way to celebrate! To Rose and Si, wishing you every happiness and much love in your new home.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Good Times

‘Ooh, lovely!’ I say as Bee bestows two big wet slobbery kisses on me. She’s quite frugal with her kisses so I can’t help but melt with love even though Bee has a stinking cold, a very runny nose and it’s only a few days until I run my half marathon! Ma’s here too and is thrilled to see her great-granddaughter but we still take the precaution afterwards of stocking up on First Defence and snorting it like crazy.

We’ve had something of a respite after so much sadness; Ma’s been here this week and we’ve had some wonderful weather to enjoy getting out and about. I’ve also been able to show her my second article for The English Home this month which arrived in time for her visit.

And so the day of the Llanelli Half marathon dawns - a dawn we see as we’re out the house by 7 am. Despite the forecast for mild weather, I’m so used to running this race in half a gale and driving rain, that I overdress and by mile 8 with the sun in my face I’m beginning to swelter. I think about stopping to strip off but that will add at least a minute to my time whilst I faff about. I push on but a horrible swirling sensation in my stomach suggests I might be calling dinosaurs at any moment! At the next water station I take a few sips then pour the rest of the bottle over myself and hope that I’ll get round. By mile 13 there’s so little in the tank I have to drag myself to the finish line but, gosh, the sight of Ma and Tom looking so proud and pleased doesn’t half cheer me up! I’m so exhausted that I can’t work out how to stop my watch so at first I don’t register what time I’ve done.  I'm  not optimistic as I fear the heat has taken it’s toll. Later that evening when the official results I’m amazed to see that not only I have I run pretty much the same time as last year, 2:03:39, but I’m the runner up in my category and my overall position is well up too. All those miles of running in the cold, in the rain, up hills and through various health glitches have paid off and it looks as if I’m eligible for a prize … a free entry to next year’s race!

All smiles - despite being photobombed by a hand pouring water into my head

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Remedial Work

Looking out across Cardigan Bay from Gwbert

It's probably not surprising that the last four months have left us feeling a bit frayed round the edges. There’s a lot to process and a need to rest and repair so these are some of the remedies that have helped this week.

Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. I can’t believe it took me so long to get round to reading this! I absolutely love Kate Atkinson’s writing but was a little bit put off by Life After Life which is my least favourite of her novels (and that’s a very qualified ‘least favourite’ - it’s head and shoulders above the pack). Atkinson is so good at demonstrating the best and worst of human behaviour through her characters and A God In Ruins is simply dazzling in its brilliance. It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

Long runs.  I’m not sure how I’ll fare in the Llanelli Half which takes place in a couple of weeks - my Women’s Troubles have taken their toll (‘Stick with it,’ advises my GP of the remedy that’s supposed to sort everything out and since things are slowly getting better - I hope! - that’s what I’ll do). I do know that the contemplative nature of long runs in this beautiful part of the world certainly restore my mental balance. 

A Luxury Loo. ‘Did you know,’ Tom observes, ‘that this loo has now cost £500?’ £500!  Neither of us was very taken with the grim-looking chemical loo in situ on Blue Nun but replacing the entire bathroom in our house didn’t cost much more than that, thanks to some very canny shopping.  How has a loo for our bargain boat cost so much?  The bulk of the money’s gone on a pair of very sturdy brass seacocks which ensure that only the water that’s supposed to be there enters or leaves the boat which is always a Good Thing. Alas, if we’re on a long passage, I’ll probably won’t even see the loo as I’ll be clutching my good friend, the black bucket, however it’s cheering to know we’re gradually accumulating everything we need for comfortable sailing this summer. I wonder if it would be too much to hope for some sunshine? 

Writing.  I’m happy to say that my next contribution to The English Home magazine appears soon but, sheesh, ever since my catastrophic posterior vitreous detachment last summer (still feeling some of the effects from that), not to mention recent events, it’s been a bit hard to get in the mood for writing fiction. I dig out my poor, neglected novella, decide that 14,000 words are fine, 6000 need a lot of editing and another 10,000 need to be written. Oh well, the only remedy for that is to get on with it.

Family. Is there anything more beautiful than the soft nape of a baby’s neck? I spent a few days with Lily, Russ and Bee this week and there’s nothing that melts my stoney heart more than giving Bee her tea. Her little innocent face, the trusting way she opens her mouth to a spoonful of food and the delicate, careful manoeuvre as she wraps her fingers round a raspberry have gone a long way to lifting my low spirits. And jumping along with her in her ‘Jumperoo’ and crawling on the floor getting her to chase me also ensured that other cure for knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care a good night’s sleep… for me.

Ladies who lunch - with Lily and Bee

Monday, 15 February 2016

One Day at a Time

Boats do not look their best in Winter - not even after a slap-up lunch of sawdust sausages and greasy chips at Milford Haven - especially a boat that’s out of the water, drenched by weeks of rain and standing under trees. Poor Blue Nun has acquired a slimy green coat and Ken, my father-in-law, who is staying with us for the week looks at her doubtfully. ‘Nice,’ he says, rallying. Tom and I talk merrily of how we’ll all go for a sail in the Spring, conscious that even ‘tomorrow’ is too big a concept for the man who has just lost his wife of sixty years. One day at a time is quite enough to cope with and this week we’re doing just that, offering small distractions every day, not to deny grief, but hopefully to provide a small glimpse of future possibilities.

‘Oh, lovely - a table by the window!’ we cry, piling into seats, glad to get out of the cold Tenby rain. What could be nicer than a grandstand view of the magnificent beach? And, look, the sun’s just peeping out! Refreshments arrive and I’m about to take my first bite of a carrot cake when I become sharply aware of the conversation between the elderly ladies on the next table.

   ‘It’s very good, you can hardly see the difference between the two. How does it feel?’
   ‘Well, quite comfortable, actually. Better than the eye patch. I was nervous at the fitting, especially with all those rows of eyes looking at me. (Jolly laughter all round the table). But in the end it was a bit like choosing a new handbag or shoes to go with a dress. They said it was a perfect match!’
   There is a chorus of approval but, feeling slightly green, I’m relieved when one of the women working at the cafe is hailed by the dear ladies behind us heralding a change of topic.
   ‘Your hair!’ they say, ‘it’s so different now. Did you have a perm?’
   ‘I lost it all with the chemo,’ comes the reply, ‘and it grew back curly.’
The sorry saga continues and it’s not that I’m unsympathetic, far from it, it’s just that we’ve seen so much of hospitals lately. ‘You haven’t finished your cake,’ says Tom. We leave the cafe and walk into a watery sun and a rainbow arching over the town. It’s too much, at first, for FiL who chose ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ to close Rita’s funeral service but eventually he takes it as a good sign.

A good news day beckons; Rose and Si have finally completed on the purchase of their first home. Hurray! I’ve resisted furtive ‘drive pasts’ for fear of jinxing the sale so today’s our chance to have a proper inspection. Rose and Si will be living three hours away, between Bristol and Bath, but what should be a straightforwards journey turns into gridlock just outside Swansea. There’s no traffic info so I check my phone to discover we’re in the fallout from a fatal accident. More misery. Five hours later, my spirits are considerably lifted when we see Rose and Si in their new home which is bright, light and spacious with a beautiful garden. We round the day off with a brilliant meal in a splendid gastropub, The Lock Keeper, which is right on their doorstep. For a few hours all seems right with the world, but on the way home, I hear FiL weeping. Even one day at a time can be tough.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


On Monday we said our final goodbyes to Tom’s mum, Rita, who died at the end of January after what had been a very distressing four months.  I wrote this poem to banish some of the most painful images and to remember my mother-in-law instead in snapshot moments when she had seemed so full of life.  I showed the poem to Tom who asked for it to be printed on the Order of Service for Rita’s funeral, but was asked by Ken, my father-in-law, to read it instead.  Rita, it was my great privilege to do this one last thing for you. 


Be carefree.  A child again.
A Devon maid, plucked from London,
dabbling bare feet in the dappled Dart.

Be glad at heart.  A bride beside
a steadfast groom.  A marriage spanning
sixty years, paper to diamond.

Be supple and strong.  A champion,
a huntress in white, your name
glowing gold in the Sussex sun.

All pain is gone.  There is nothing
to fear. Be a breath in the wind.
Be the warmth in the air. 
Be at peace now.

© Christine Stovell

The photograph above is a lovely moment captured by photographer Alexa Loy at Rose and Si’s wedding.