Sunday, 28 June 2020

Torn

A friend has written and published a book about Dinghy Cruising in the Bristol Channel.

I'm currently torn as to whether or not I should feel flattered that she's used a number of my photographs to illustrate it, or offended that I get neither mention in the book nor accreditation for the pictures.

I bought my own copy anyway, and look forward to reading it. I hope you sense that most of this post is tongue-in-cheek. Kinda.

End of the day, I think I'm happy to take one for the team.She remains a friend, and she's writing about my bit of sea.

But I'm not giving her a link.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Everywhere

Something I recorded last Friday evening, which given the repetition of that day of the week throughout the song, actually just happens to be a coincidence. It is the first thing I've written in years, although I actually started writing it over a decade ago, stuck at the time in a hotel in Stevenage, of all places, working away from home. But although the words came easy, I couldn't find the right chords or tune, or at least a tune that would take the song somewhere.

It's been stuck in my head ever since. A bit of an ear-worm in some ways. It turns out that it didn't need to go somewhere. What it needed was a looper. Which, by happy coincidence is my latest toy.

This is far from the perfect performance, I guess I could claim I'm proficient with the basics but far from accomplished with the loop station at my feet. And I imagine it's far from what I suspect should be the final arrangement, so I guess you could claim this is, as yet, still unfinished. But I think I've brought it to a place that I'm happy to leave it for now, and so I shall stop making excuses; I've actually quite enjoyed the process.



friday night in this town
and her heart's as cold as stone
there's a million different people
all trying to get home
in the early hours of nowhere
where the year is growing old
with a million different people
I am doing what I'm told


try to walk on water
get blood out of a stone
for a million different people
this town is not a home
and we try to reach tomorrow
but the sun has just been sold
and a million different people
are all out here in the cold


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my consolation
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your rocking chair
can I be your only care
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why?


friday night in this town
where the year is growing thin
there's a million different people
all trying to get in
in the early hours of nowhere
in the silent hotel room
I've a hundred sorry reasons
for  wishing they were you


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my only reason
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your sole companion
can I be your favourite dress
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why


friday night in this town
what do I have to say
there's a million different people
who will all stand in my way
and friday night is cold now
and her heart's as hard as stone
I've a million different reasons
for wanting to come home


you are my rising star
you are the reason why
you are my only comfort
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your favourite blanket
can I be your only care
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why


you are my rising star
you are my reason why
you are the only wonder
in this crazy ride of life
can I be your christmas present
can I be your choice of heaven
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why

can I be your true religion
can I be your sacred vision
you are my everywhere
can I be your reason why?

Calstar: the latest


Had an excited phone call from Dad a couple of hours ago. Seems the powers that be have announced that from Saturday 4th July the pubs can reopen and, more to the point, people can go camping again. Amongst other stuff. As long as they observe what the incumbents of No. 10 have cunningly branded "1m-plus" social distancing.

Which I assume is a sop to appease those zealots in their party who desperately want to abolish both the existing 2m rule and social distancing altogether in the interests of the economy and let the proles just take their chances out there, and the care-bears on the other side of the fence who still believe it's far, far too early and that everybody bar none should still be in the strictest of lockdowns and not allowed outside without a signed, dated and stamped government issued ticket.

Sorry, as I've previously pretended, I try not to get to political here. For myself, I'm very divided. I badly miss gigs, both the buzz, the companionship and the little bit of pocket money they generate for me, and I badly miss karate, and I badly miss harbour-hopping along the South Coast with Dad and Calstar. And I badly I miss racing. And I badly miss the fact that my daughter and her fella do not currently have a job but instead has a whole heap of worries as to whether or not their pub will ever be viable again. They are planning to reopen on the 4th.

I also miss beer out of the tap instead of the can or bottle.

On the other hand, I have friends and family I love and care for, and friends with friends and family they love and care for who are most certainly in the vulnerable category, and that I seriously do not want to catch this thing.

Anyway.

From 4th July we can stay over on the boat again. So Dad is very, very excited. He spent an hour explaining to me that he'd bought a mini George Thornbury grill so that he could cook on the boat in case we couldn't find any restaurants to feed ourselves down there. I tried explaining to him that we already had a gas stove and that his mini-grill would need shore power to work, but his reply to that was that so did his iPad.

It doesn't, and can of course charge off a battery. But if you use it as much as Dad does his, then you need a lot of batteries. I am struck by how different our aims and objectives are when it comes to sailing. But I don't mind. It'll just be great to be back afloat with him again. I can't wait.

I stole the photo at the top from our new marina's website. It's an aerial photograph of Sutton Harbour, Calstar's new base; she's berthed in the bottom right corner. You can of course also see her old home at Queen Anne's Battery on frame left, just outside of the harbour lock gates.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Albacore: going solo

Despite buying the Albacore back at the end of last year, we only had the chance to take her out very few times before gear failure, my health, a refit and then the nation's health (and a global pandemic) got in the way.


As Ben (aka. child #2 and the only other sailing member of my immediate family) has spread his wings and moved down to Bristol to be with his work and his lovely lady Hannah (they're actually buying a house together, kind of exciting) I have nobody to sail the Albacore with for as long as the current government restrictions remain in place.

Besides, as the boat half belongs to my (previously) regular crew Amanda, it would feel rude to sail it with somebody else.

Anyway, I digress. At the end of January, the Albacore was taken off for a refit by my mate Paul of CS Boats. It's probably fair to suggest that what Paul doesn't know about fitting and rigging an Albacore probably hasn't been thought of yet. He gave me a very fair estimate on converting the shrouds, which had old fashioned high-field levers to set the tension, to a fully adjustable system, suggested a very good alternative to the then existing mast ram (used for rude adjustments of the mast rake and controlling the pre-bend) and a plan for bringing all the pertinent controls back to the helm.


Caveat emptor. And by that, I don't mean in reference to Paul, but in reference to the chap that sold us the boat in the first place. Although in fairness, he was no more aware of the various failings subsequently uncovered once the boat was back in the workshop than I'd been from my original, cursory examination before we parted with the cash.

Besides which, I had a fair idea of what I was getting into.

By the time Paul had made all the intended, planned adjustments for the refit, and corrected all the unexpected "surprises" that revealed themselves in the process, the final cost had quadrupled. I should stress that none of this was dropped on me out of the blue by Paul; he did an exemplary job of keeping me informed as the work progressed and did exactly as I asked. The best recommendation I can give anybody is that I wouldn't hesitate to use their services again, and in Paul's case I almost certainly will the next time I inevitably break something.


In any case, the Albacore was finally returned to the Club in May, as soon as the non-essential travel restrictions were lifted. She now has a fully modernised rig; completely adjustable shrouds and adjustable forestay led back to the helm, fully adjustable mast rake and pre-bend, again led back to the helm along with the controls for the new kicker. The cockpit has been repainted, various stray holes filled and fared, various loose bits re-glued and a nasty gash in the trailing edge of the centreboard filled, fared and painted. And the toe-straps have been replaced with a fully adjustable, customised system that shouldn't fail and drop me overboard again.

Or at least won't once I put a couple of stoppers in place that appear to have been overlooked. A minor thing however.


Overall, I'm really pleased with the result, desperate to have my crew back and desperate to race her. Meanwhile frustrated as anything that the prevailing pandemic prevents me from doing so (with the absolute caveat that I know this is a silly, minor inconvenience in the greater scheme of things and I still have the Laser to keep me entertained)

However, last Sunday the conditions seemed pretty benign, with the forecast promising heavy showers across the afternoon, but gusts of no more than 14 knots.

So I rigged her and took her out on my own.


Everything works. And single-handing an Albacore is actually quite a bit more comfortable than single-handing an Enterprise, and the rig is a lot more controllable. I only had one very close shave, where a gust caught me mid-gybe, and both the the mainsheet and jibsheets snagged in their respective cleats, but I narrowly avoided the capsize. I'm going to blame that one on the crew; absence is no excuse.

There's a lot of new string in the boat, and an awful lot of new stuff to learn and things to tweak before I suspect we'll see any decent results once the racing restarts. But it's a learning curve I'm really looking forward to grappling with.

Buying a new boat should be an exciting thing, but in many ways circumstances have conspired against us over the last six months to put heavy dampers on this one. For the last few months, the whole thing has been kind of anticlimactic, something of a money-pit with no real return.


But I find myself once again enthused and awfully keen to get back out there and race her properly.

There is the suggestion, the merest whisper of a rumour, that could be mid July. But in these perilous times who can tell. All I know is that once Amanda and I do get the all clear to race together again, we've got a gorgeous boat waiting for us to race with.

Meanwhile, next Sunday morning I fully plan to be back out with my Laser again.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Tony Benn

I generally try not to stray into politics here. For the record, I'd consider myself an accidental socialist, torn between railing at the injustices of society and despair at the ignorance and disinterest of the masses. But that's my cross to bear. And following the bruising taken at the General Election at the end of last year, I'm mostly bearing it by ignoring it and, whenever opportunity permits, going sailing.

I'm also aware of how much room for misinterpretation of intent and meaning can be found between the lines of written correspondence, so if you want to discuss politics, let me buy you a beer and let's do it in person where there is so much less room for unintended offence.

That said, a good friend and fellow sailor (John Christie, veteran coastal cruiser and long-time custodian and helm of the lovely Drascombe Lugger "Muckle Flugga") shared this link to the transcript of a speech given by the late MP Tony Benn in 2007. I found it to be a fascinating read so I thought I'd share.

tribunemag.co.uk/2020/06/tony-benn-on-the-legacy-of-slavery

I've long admired Tony Benn, although I only really knew of him in his more senior years, which might've coloured my experience and judgement; but a bit like Corbyn, even where I found myself unable to completely agree with him I found I've always admired the sentiment and principle behind his position.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Laser: selfie cleats


Lasers have a cleat on the port and starboard gunwales respectively, intended for cleating the mainsheet. The received wisdom is you don't use them. Ever. To be fair, in anything above a whisper of wind I'm too busy playing the mainsheet to keep the boat flat to be able to use them anyway.

In any case, their position is actually such that unless you're sailing in waves, they simply serve to reassure you that you're far enough forward when you're hiking out on the beat; because the cleat is under you and digging uncomfortably into the back of your thigh. 

It makes for some really interestingly shaped bruises on a really windy day.

On Sunday I discovered another use for them. You can cleat off the mainsheet whist you're hiking and take a selfie.


I really need a haircut. Which isn't the only reason I rarely take selfies, but it is sufficient a reason of itself. This one was too much fun to resist though. Especially as the wind was inconsistent, and threatening to drop me back into the water with a lull at any moment. Besides, I really like how my boat looks reflected in my sunglasses.

Sunday was, on balance, a good day's sailing. Wind was light in the morning, but built up towards lunchtime, before falling back off again into the afternoon. Sunshine was frequent enough for it not to feel cold. We are, of course, allowed back out on the water to sail again, but racing is still not on. 

However, we're allowed informal group sessions, which I guess include training and practice starts, as long as we observe the national restrictions regarding social distancing. This mean you can gather outside with up to six other people not from your household, as long as you all maintain the mandatory two meters distance from each other.

On land, that six souls rule is apparently because it's deemed the most people you can have in a single cohesive group and communicate with each other whilst also maintaining the two meter separation rule. On the water, the number feels completely arbitrary. The only communication between single-handed boats is either implicit, non-verbal and mutually understood, or yelled at each other.


In practice it meant that our single lap sessions had to be split into fleets of no more than six boats per start. Which is fine if you're in a fleet with five other boats, but if you turn up late and find yourself in a fleet of two or three, the whole thing starts to feel a bit hollow.

Which left me wondering if there was any point, as for the first, third and subsequent sessions, because I'd turned up a little late, I was in just such a group. The experience was a little deflating, to be honest.

However, for the second race, the third fleet was non existent, so I started with the second. This coincided with a lull in the wind, turning the whole lap into something of a drift. My Laser does well in a drift, and I passed all of the second fleet then caught up and passed all but one of the half-dozen solos in the first before the lap finished.

My only "win" of the day, but it was fun.

After they all packed in and went ashore, I stayed out for another hour to enjoy the best of the wind before it finally dropped right off and the rain started to come in. It was during this hour or so that I worked out that the mainsheet cleats were really just a handy third hand for anybody wanting to take a selfie.

Or a pretty picture of their own boat.







Saturday, 6 June 2020

Greenhill

Another one of mine, as I'm in a self-indulgent mood.

If "Goodnight Salvador Dali" posted earlier today was the creation of a band sitting down together at a rehearsal, this one, "Greenhill" was entirely my own, written solo in a bedroom with an acoustic guitar. Likewise, if Dali came at the peak of the band's creativity, Greenhill was written in the early days of the band's inception, and would've been there with us at our first gig in Gloucester, all hazy years ago.

It became my daughter's favourite, and remains so, at least out of the songs her dad has written. I can still picture her, three or four years old, dancing to it in front of the band, even though the crowd that would've surrounded her have long blurred.

I only recently discovered the reason it was her favourite was the inclusion of a particular line towards the end, blatantly nicked from a nursery rhyme. So I understand now why it appealed to the three year old. I only discovered this because I recorded a version earlier this year or late last just for the fun of it, and left what I thought was an inconsequential backing vocal line out.

She was unimpressed, and made a point of telling me why.

I recorded this version Thursday evening just gone. I was playing with my looper, a new piece of kit that I am not practiced with and will almost certainly never use live, but bought for my own amusement. For the uninitiated, it's basically a sequencer that once set up you can control with your foot, which records and plays back phrases in a loop.

There are some very talented people that do some very clever things with kit like this. I am not one of those, but I'm having quite a bit of fun playing with it anyway.

This then is Tasha's Song, or as I once named it, Greenhill.




Goodnight Salvador Dali

I spent most of my teenage years at a boarding school. It wasn't that my parents hated me, but rather that Dad worked out in Kuwait, and once I hit secondary school age, there were no schools out there suitable. So I left home for a few years, returning only for the school holidays.

At some point in the middle of that, it was a summer term I think, about the same time I was really starting to discover the cathartic pleasure to be found in writing, an American girl joined the school. Some sort of exchange I think, she and her friend were only with us for the one term.

Shannon Zoe Johnson. She was, by the by, blonde and very, very pretty. She was also an exceptionally gifted poet. I fell in love. Perhaps a little bit with her, albeit only from afar, but mainly with her words.

Perhaps it was the fact that they spilled so free and so easily onto the page, but they triggered something of an epiphany, a sudden realisation that I could do the same.

So I did. I filled school text books up with verse, most of it adolescent junk. I may one day go back and read some of it to amuse myself at my own expense, but not today, and not for some while. For now, it can all stay in that bottom drawer where that of it which remains has lain now for years.

That summer, sitting in my parent's garage with my guitar, the realisation hit me that if I could string a few chords together and lay the words over the top, well, that would be a song. And whilst you never met a rich poet, there were plenty of rich rockstars.

So I spent a year writing songs with my guitar and recording them onto an old tape recorder. Like most of my teenage poetry, most of it was junk, but all of it terribly earnest.

Then the following summer, 1990, I finished school. And in the spring that followed, I met another guitarist called Lee, and started a band. We couldn't find a bassist, so persuaded my brother Jay that he could do it. We couldn't find a drummer, but the guitarist had a cousin called Jim who had a keyboard, and that keyboard could play drum tracks. Fortunately, it turns out the keyboard player also had a friend called Dave who could play drums.

And a sister. I eventually married Jim's sister, but that's a different story.

I wasn't supposed to be the singer. Only a stand-in until they could find somebody who could do the job properly. But they weren't too gifted at looking, and I wrote the songs, so it followed that I was the only one that knew the words and I wanted the job myself. All is fair in love and war, apparently.

And that is how the band started.

We regrettably fell out with the guitarist, drummers came and went, the keyboard player went and came back and went again and came back again. Somewhere along the way (actually, the beginning of the year 2004) I stopped writing my own songs, and the band switched to playing covers.

Almost thirty years later though and we're still going. Different guitarist now, different drummer, different set, but same bassist, and Jim has begged to be allowed to join us again, just for the one night, for our next gig, whenever and wherever that may be when the current crisis has finally passed.

This song is called "Goodnight Salvador Dali". Why, I don't really know. I wrote it when the band was possibly at the peak of it's creativity. It would've been at a rehearsal, the guitarist or bassist would've come up with a riff, and I'd have worked the lyrics and melody out on top.

For its time in the set it was one of those songs I'd put my guitar down for; so for years and years I never even knew what the chords were. Ben Jones, our guitarist of the time, made it all look very clever and complicated. Then a little while ago realised that if you stripped out all of his flourishes and capo'd up to the 4th, and reduced everything to the underlying chords themselves, they were actually very easy.






Calstar: the longest cruise


And by that I mean we'd originally planned to cast off 1st April to move Calstar from her old berth in QAB to her new home in Sutton Harbour, but were delayed until 1st June.


But it's finally done. Ignore the time on the screenshot at the top. It took about half of that, including the few minutes sat outside waiting for the lock, but I forgot to stop the log once we'd landed in Sutton. What can I say? I'm a little bit out of practice.


But we are getting back into it. The same log (which again, being out of practice I typically don't remember to start until I've been out on the water for some time) paints a pretty picture of the last few weeks . . .


I found it most amusing to note that my average heart rate when moving Calstar was 92bpm, including the time wandering about the pontoon setting lines and generally securing the boat in her new berth once we'd arrived and I'd forgotten to stop the clock. I hadn't realised Dad's helmsmanship made me that nervous!

By contrast, crewing for a friend on another boat in conditions a lot colder and rougher than we had in Plymouth on Monday my heart rate averaged 82bpm. Still much higher than my average resting of 59bpm, but hardly stressed at all. I guess I'm generally sanguine in attitude when things aren't my direct responsibility.

I don't know how accurate these things are. That said, a max of 175bpm reminds me of what a fantastic time I had with the Laser at South Cerney last Sunday. A bit of a flukey, shifty wind, but when the gusts came through the little boat screamed along. Fastest reach was 10.1 knots. Back over there again tomorrow for another play, and a bit more wind forecast for this week.

I can't wait.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Laser: recovering


Spent a couple of hours blasting around the lake on my Laser again yesterday. Got the best of the wind in the early afternoon and gave the little boat a proper workout. Tried to make a point of sailing a course to make sure I got as much time going upwind as down, but frequently succumbed to just reaching back and forth across the lake for a good part of the time because it was just so much fun. It did at least give me a lot of gybing practice.

On our fastest reach, we hit 11.8 knots.

Wasn't up for much more than collapsing in front of Netflix by the time I got home but today I feel like I could happily go straight back out and do it all again, so I'm obviously on the path to recovery.

Except there's no wind, and Nik's not working, so I should probably spend the bank holiday at home with her. The back garden and lawn-mower beckon.

The stats suggest that I worked a lot harder yesterday than I did the week before, but that overlooks the fact that the week before I was so out of practice that I forgot to start the watch recording until I was about half way through.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Wonderwall

Turns out the end of February was, in one respect, the wrong time for a gigging musician to buy a new guitar and an amp. On the other hand, with the lockdown that followed, I may not have had the opportunity to play live with the new kit, but the office, an old 17th centaury mill with very thick walls, has been all but empty, so I've been able to take the guitar into work, plug it in to the amp and make a lot of noise after hours without upsetting anybody.

Or at least none of the neighbours have found me to complain yet.

I think I've previously mentioned, but an electric guitar is not my natural, native environment. Okay, I know a guitar isn't an environment, but the sound it creates is kind like a place the player inhabits, so it seems to work as a kind of metaphor. An acoustic is simple, direct and straight forward; a thing of fretboard, body and strings, an almost percussive instrument of natural tone, resonance and harmonics.

An electric is an artificial hybrid of guitar and amp and effects. A devious, complicated medley that can so easily go very, very wrong and at best simply create an audial mush, or at worst an actually painful cacophony.

It's also amazingly flexible, and whilst it doesn't forgive mistakes or inaccuracies in the same way an acoustic will, the breadth of tone, the resonance of the amp and effects, and the lightness of action (the height between string and fret) opens up the guitar's fretboard in a way that has, to be honest, been something of a revelation, and an awful lot of fun to explore.

That said, this song isn't a revelatory exploration in harmonic dissidence. It's a chilled take on an old Oasis song that has been a part of my set for almost twenty-five years, and the amp is turned down low. "Wonderwall" had the kind of popularity, and corresponding airtime, back in its day when it came out in late '95 that it's almost a cliché to cover it. But I fell in love with the first chord, and then all the chords that followed.

Unusual for me, as I'm usually hooked by lyrics and melody. It's quintessentially a song for the acoustic guitar. So old, familiar ground for me to explore with my new, unfamiliar electric.


Monday, 18 May 2020

Laser: incipient recovery

photo: mark wiltshire
I am hardly in peak fighting condition at the moment. I'm generally quite ill disciplined, and without structure or need fail quickly to the line of least resistance. Which over the last couple of months has been go to work, come home, perch in front of my computer and open a beer, break only to go find food. Sleep, wake, shower, repeat. Weekends vary a little in that I don't go to work, but also break to occasionally mow the lawn.

I allow myself to get away with this knowing that the structures I've built around my life to offset this regrettable tendency to sloth will eventually reassert themselves and I shall recover. Sailing, gigs, karate.

Despite being out of condition I think I remain fairly supple for a man of my age. For example, I may not be able to put my foot behind my head these days, but I'd generally have no problem standing on one leg and rubbing my nose with my knee. Although I'd probably get a few funny looks, depending on where exactly I chose to do that.

But not too bad, given that come next April I shall find myself closer to 70 than I am to 30. Although age is just a number. Aches and pains and a slightly diminished recovery time aside, I still feel like a kid. And, according to Nikki, behave like one.

However, today I hurt. I'm stiff and bruised and sore. Yesterday evening after I got home I sat on the edge of my bed and discovered to my amusement I couldn't actually lift my leg enough to reach my foot to put my slippers on. I've never not been able to reach my foot.

As previously mentioned, the lake at South Cerney is once more open.

And I spent Sunday afternoon out in the sun and the wind playing with my Laser. The photo above was taken from the shore by a friend. The little dog in the left corner, by the way, is called Barney, and owns another friend. The weather was gorgeous. Out away from the shore in clear air, the beats meant hiking out in full and continuously playing the main to keep the boat flat, and the reaches, when the gusts hit, were all spray and adrenaline, the little boat planing easily from one side of the broad lake to the other, humming like a TIE fighter out of a Star Wars movie.

So today I hurt. I'm stiff and I'm bruised and I'm sore.

And the feeling is glorious.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Laser: return of the native


I found her in the long grass. I knew she'd be there, right where I left her, but it's been such a long time, I was worried it would be quite a search.

Although the lake at Frampton remains closed whilst the Committee consider the latest Government "advice" that was issued to the media last Sunday (a cack-handed way to govern a country, but here is not the place for that), the club at South Cerney were quicker off the mark, and by Wednesday had reopened their lake for "social" sailing, with the obvious proviso that we maintain appropriate social distance from each other, don't share equipment and change in the carpark, as the clubhouse and changing rooms have to remain closed.


I can work with that.

Fortunately, I'm a member at both Frampton and South Cerney.

Unfortunately, the boat I keep at South Cerney is a double-handed Albacore, whereas my single-handed Laser lives at Frampton. You can't maintain appropriate social distance in a double-hander unless your crew is from the same household, and neither Nikki nor Sam would want to sail in a dinghy with me.

But I have a car and a trailer. So after digging the Laser out of the undergrowth at Frampton, I hooked her up behind my Volvo early yesterday afternoon and dragged her half an hour down the road to her new home at South Cerney.


As a concession, South Cerney's committee has said that anybody that has a double-handed berth at the club but can't use their boat because of the restrictions, can berth a single-handed boat at the Club for free until the restriction is lifted.

It's been a very good week.

Normally, getting any ten minute job done at a sailing club takes sixty minutes because people invariably drift over to talk to you. It's part of the charm. I had thought this time around that getting the Laser ready for the road yesterday might be relatively quick, given the still continuing quazi-lockdown.

I was wrong. As I got out my car at Frampton I was greeted by a "Haven't seen you in a while!" from, of all people, my mate Bean, the band's drummer, dressed up in running gear and looking very red in the face. A half hour chat with him before he jogged on was followed by a couple of other friends turning up in succession to check on their boats. I should've expected it; up until Wednesday we've not even been allowed to visit the club to do that.


In the end, I got to South Cerney for about 1730, to discover I'd forgotten the gate code. Fortunately, another friend was already there, set up by the lakeside in his campervan with his British Moth rigged alongside and ready to sail.


He'd been there all afternoon, and had already been out twice, but once he realised that I was rigging to go out myself, took no persuading at all to come and keep me company. It's not that company was in any way necessary, but the Laser is a faster boat than a British Moth, and it gave me some entertainment to sail rings around him for a while, so it was very welcome.

We're not allowed to start racing yet but, well, you know.


It was a gorgeous evening. Not warm, but bright, with a light, forgiving wind. Enough almost to plane on the reach in the occasional gust, or occasionally hike out hard on the beat, but still generously sympathetic for a couple of very out of practice helms.


The lovely thing about this time of year is that it doesn't get truly dark until around 2100, so we got a good couple of hours out on the water. I had worried the boat would've felt alien at first, as it had been so long. Before the lockdown I'd been sailing the Albacore through the late winter and early spring, so hadn't rigged or sailed the Laser since winning the New Years Day race at Frampton at the beginning of January.


It was a foolish concern.

Rigging her was a little slow, in part because I was being careful to make sure I didn't miss anything or otherwise screw it up, and in part because I was simply out of practice. But the second I pushed her off from the gravel shore and stepped aboard it was like pulling on an old, familiar pair of boots. 


I love the Albacore. But double-handers are more about the teamwork and racing than simply sailing. I love the Westerly, but the yacht is more about the journey, the adventure and exploration, than simply sailing. And Dad; I love going away sailing with Dad, and the Westerly is very much about that.

A single-handed boat is different. Without wishing to wax lyrical or overly embellish things, a single-handed boat feels like an extension of yourself. There's nothing between you, the wind or the water, no distractions, no compromises. Just sailing.

It's delicious, and I love it. 

And although I think I could fall in love with any single-hander, in fact, I know this because I have a nautically fickle heart and fall for every new boat I find, the Laser, or this particular Laser at least, suits me very, very well.


It's so good to be back.

Next job will be to get a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush and scrub her greened decks back to white again. That is, if I can find any time to do so between sailing her.

Meanwhile, the day after, I find despite the light and forgiving conditions of the evening before, I ache all over.

But it's a good ache.

Monday, 11 May 2020

The other Mrs Robinson

My brother who, as I've doubtless mentioned before, is also our bassist, posted a video of the band's version of Mrs Robinson up on to Facebook over the weekend, taken when we last played at The Old Restoration over in Cheltenham back at the end of January; it feels like a whole lifetime ago right now.

It's the band, so please be cautious with your volume should you choose to press play. Also be aware that the app Jamie has used to post the clip has added all sorts of visual "special" effects to the video that may not be to everybody's taste. Then again, we were never a pretty band to look at, so in my opinion the more that can be done to mask that, probably the better for all concerned!

I've had a mixed bag of luck embedding video from Facebook, so hopefully this will work . . .

 

Friday, 1 May 2020

whether the weather be fine

The thick, heavy rain has just turned into hail.

I love weather.

Mrs Robinson

A Simon and Garfunkel cover, usually the second song of our second set. Has been for a long time now; funny how things find a natural place. Or you get stuck in a rut. Not sure which applies. Don't know that it matters. I would, right now, happily go back to either.

The first song is Mr Brightside, a version of which I previously posted up here. It's one of the few songs our guitarist Matt uses a capo for (a device you clamp across the fingerboard of a guitar to change the key). Because he's fussy, and because an electric guitar is a quite a sensitive thing, it means he has to re-tune when he puts the capo on, easy because Mr Brightside is the first song of the second set, and then again when he takes the capo back off.

Which plays havoc with the continuity. Especially as Mr Brightside guarantees people will be up and dancing. So traditionally, Mr Brightside ends to frantic stage-whispers from Matt to me of "Stall them, tuning, stall them!" and me subsequently taking the Mickey out of him with the audience for getting all fussy and OCD about something like tuning.

Me, I practice liberated music. Free of all constraints, like time and tuning and such like.

I stole that line from Fred Wedlock. I've no doubt he in turn stole it from somebody else. It never gets old. Or perhaps it does. But again, I don't know that it matters. I would, right now, happily go back, cheesy old jokes and all.

Outside it's just started hammering down with thick, heavy rain, Not much wind. But given the choice, I'd still go sailing.

This then is Mrs Robinson, recorded after work on a Monday evening, before I faced the lonely commute home. Decidedly more laid back than when we play it with the band, when it then has a decidedly more "Lemonheads" drive to it.

Interestingly, I read recently that the Lemonheads (they covered this song in 1992) actually didn't like the song or Paul Simon, and never actually played it live. Reading that took them considerably down in my estimation. Not that you can believe everything you read on Wikipedia.

But what really matters is not what the Lemonheads thought of it, but that it was one of my Mum's favourite songs in the set.






Monday, 27 April 2020

Dakota

Another weekend of cutting the grass, walking the dogs, drinking beer and not a lot else. Actually, I'm not sure that's fair, and sounds far more self-pitying than I actually feel. But they are all beginning to blend into one now; startling to think April is almost over. To add insult to injury, we've had absolute glorious sailing weather for weeks now.

Calstar remains safe in Queen Anne's Battery. Sutton Harbour have said they'll defer the start of our annual contract until we're able to actually move her in and run twelve months from there. QAB have given us a quarterly pro-rata contract based on what would've been our annual fee with them, including, which was a nice touch, what would've been the concession for early payment had we renewed with them in December because they recognised we'd always paid in time to enjoy it during the years we were with them.

They've also agreed that if we don't use a whole quarter, they'll only charge us for the actual months we do use.

So we still have unplanned and unforeseen expenses to deal with, but we're not paying twice, which was my biggest worry. And actually, given our habit of eating out and trying to drink dry every port we stop in when we're out sailing, it's not costing us that much more to keep Calstar on her temporary berth at QAB than it would to actually sail her away somewhere for a week with Dad and Nik.

Needless to say I'm really, really missing being able to do that though. Possibly more than I'm missing the gigs. Possibly.

We're seriously thinking about sailing her back around to Portishead next year, to have her back a little closer to home. Even without the fuss of lockdowns and whatnot, Dad and I both feel like we haven't been sailing her enough over the last couple of years. As gorgeous a sailing area as the south coast is, I'm not sure it quite makes up for the distance and the travel to get there and back.

I recorded the following clip Saturday afternoon, during a brief respite between cutting the grass and opening a beer. Or walking the dogs and cutting the grass; I forget now. It's another one from the band's set, a song by a Welsh band called the Stereophonics, "Dakota"

There was a gorgeous 40' Jeanneau Sun Odyssey called Dakota that used to be berthed on the opposite side of the pontoon from us when we were at Penarth in Cardiff Bay. I thought it was a lovely name for a boat. It's also the name of a wolf I met once in a wild-life park in the Cotswolds. I also remember sitting in Calstar's cockpit in the warm sun having sailed her over from Portishead back in the early days, with the noise of what turned out to be the Stereophonics playing live in Cardiff Stadium. It would've sounded much better in the stadium itself than it did from where I sat in the sun, a vaguely irritating background noise and a disruption to my well-earned afternoon's peace, distorted and muffled by distance as it was.

It's a good song, which I'd have probably overlooked had the band not asked me to learn it as I don't really follow the Stereophonics myself these days. One of the pleasures of playing in a covers band is that this stuff gets put in front of my nose to enjoy, where it might otherwise have passed me by.

The lyrics, taken a little out of context and disregarding what was probably their original intent, also seem quite apt for our present times.


before lockdown (a poem)


A storm passed through last night.
The rearguard of black clouds
Still skip across the sky.
I see city gulls soar in the lift
Of the wind over rooftop, they cry,
But from here I can't hear them.

Its was the third storm of this early spring;
A warm winter, snow unseen
A frost that barely touched us
And now the snowdrops are in flower.
The daffodils have followed, and
The first catkins shake on their trees in the wind.

Summer will follow. I've spent time again
Looking through old photograph albums
For pictures of another dead friend.
In a pretty churchyard in Stonehouse
We buried him at winter's end,
And that was when first I noticed
The first flowers of spring.

The storm passed through last night.
City gulls still wheel in the lift of the wind
That scours the grimed rooftops of our old town,
But the black cloud has fled and the clean wind
Carries the dawn as the sun pushes through;
White feathers gleam on their uplit wings.

I climb reluctantly out of bed.
On the floor beside me my old dog rolls
A languid stretch, she knows I cannot pass
Without rubbing her belly in good morning.
My chest aches, the afterguard of a cough
That has chased me through the night.

But this too shall pass, now an early sun
Brightens the cloud-chased sky in clean light.
The new year beckons,
A distant shore we've yet to find,
And across the sun-broke horizon
The city gulls still wheel and cry.

- BG, January 2020

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Comment: numbers

"Statistics are in chaos. Death “rates” lag behind deaths. Deaths are confused with “hospital deaths”. Headlines highlight “most cases per nation” or “most deaths per nation”, not deaths per million. Yet we are at the mercy of these statistics" - Simon Jenkins of the Guardian

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Vincent

It's funny, the paths we follow. Or are led down. Or that lead us. I'm never really sure. A friend put this song in my head as I read his email Friday morning. Then it stayed in there all day, and although it was far from unwelcome, I had to do something to shift it.

I had other plans for Friday evening. They mainly involved getting slowly drunk and watching trash on Netflix. For me, a Friday night where I have the liberty to do this is still enough of a novelty that it's something of a treat. Albeit a treat that is quickly threatening to wear thin.

Instead I struggled over working out the picked patterns of some otherwise easy chords, and the timing of some beautiful lyrics. The way I usually manage to play and sing at the same time is a kind of automation. I don't keep good time (according to our bassist) but my hand does strike a pattern and my voice follows automatically, leaving me to focus on the words, delivery and overall performance.

This song, or the original at least, is different. The poetry of the lyrics very much lead the timing and delivery of the melody. And so the guitar follows the voice, and the tune follows the lyric. It makes for an achingly beautiful delivery; I suspect it's actually the soul of the song. At least for me. [Edit 06/04: I've just fixed this paragraph to say what I actually meant to say, and not the opposite, as I'd originally written]

Observing this was a tiny revelation, so different as it is to how I normally work. I tried to cover it faithfully, but in my own version, I don't think I quite catch it. So I do my usual, and find a (I hope, acceptable) compromise, and carry on regardless.

Many, many years ago, long before the convenience of the Internet and song lyrics on tap, I learnt Don McLean's American Pie. It's got more verses to it than Sir Patrick Spens; on which note, having never heard of this song before I looked up the lyrics on Google and covered Fred Wedlock's "The Folker" the other day, I'm now currently listening to Fairport Convention's version on YouTube as I write. And I'm astounded to discover there actually is no 42nd verse.

And a little disappointed. In Fairport Convention for not finding a 42nd verse. Not Fred. If he says there should be a 42nd for him to forget, I believe him.

Anyway. The fact that I know by heart all the verses to American Pie has been a staple party trick of my campfire set since my late teens. And it's a song with almost as much grabbing power as Mr Brightside. A different kind of grab to be fair, more sing along than dance along, but it grabs the crowd just the same.

The funny thing is though, it was never my favourite Don McLean song. The one I should've learnt, all those many years ago, was Vincent.

So, some twenty-nine years later, thanks to a friend, last night I fixed that.




Thursday, 2 April 2020

Mr Brightside

The nice thing about playing in a covers band is every so often something makes its way into the set that's a revelation to me. That breaks me out of my bubble.

I think I'm too self involved to really devour much of anybody else's music. My tastes were probably set into jelly back in the late 80's or early 90's, and so whilst being peripherally aware of stuff coming out over the last twenty years or so, with a couple of exceptions (Snow Patrol & Coldplay spring to mind) I don't really listen to music on the TV or radio, so much of it simply passed me by.

A little while ago, for my own amusement, I did a summary of how the band's set broke down across the decades. I was a little surprised at the results:

2010 2
2000 22
1990 9
1980 2
1970 3
1960 3

I probably shouldn't have been. It seems we're a millennial band. Most of the band's repertoire has made it's way into the set by way of recommendation, request or suggestion. The good ones stuck.

Possibly one of our most popular covers is a song from 2004 by a band called The Killers, called Mr Brightside. I don't know how it got into the set. I think it was a request for a wedding back in 2008. In any case, it turned out to be both stupidly fun to play, and hugely popular. I wish I understood why.

I mean, I love the song, but you can guarantee that the second we open up with that first riff, people will absolutely stampede to the dance-floor.

Glancing back through our set lists, and I keep a record of the oddest of things, the earliest instance I can find of this was as the fifth song of a set list for a wedding on 31st July 2008. But the song obviously stuck. In April 2009 it was the opening song of our second set, and it's pretty much been so for almost every gig since.

If I only understood the alchemy then even now, in this (still early!) twilight of my career, I could probably still write a song that would finally make me rich and famous.

Not that I particularly hunger over those dreams any more. I find myself quite happy with how things have turned out after all.

Anyway, the following then is a slightly different vibe to the usual on one of the band's most popular covers, recorded last Thursday after work, and possibly the perfect illustration of why I really need the band to play with . . . .


the tunnel

I found this story on the Guardian's website unutterably sad.

Elliot Dallen: Terminal cancer means I won't see the other side of lockdown

Unutterably sad, and beautifully expressed. Elliot Dallen has a clear gift for words, my heart really goes out to him and his family.

I'm very fortunate. I miss karate, I miss the gigs and my band, I really miss sailing. The empty office has a sepulchre atmosphere and I'm drinking too much of an evening, because after I've walked the dogs there's not all that much else to do.

Actually, who am I kidding? I always drink too much of an evening.

But my troubles are trivial and, ultimately, transient. Well recovered now from the chest infection that floored me earlier in the year, I'm well, my family are well and my friends are well. And, despite the fact that my fitness levels must be crashing through ill discipline and inactivity (and it's actually more than within my gift to fix this), this enforced pacificity means that both my shoulders and elbows are, for the first time in almost twelve months, almost continuously pain free.

Without in any way belittling the undeniably serious nature of the current situation, I've often found myself riling at the sensationalist, almost apocalyptic coverage both the mainstream and tabloid media is giving this virus, and the hysterical amplification it then gets through social media.

As an aside, I've made a point of temporarily blocking anybody that's posted or shared anything concerning this that I felt was unduly sanctimonious, hysterical or blatantly misinterpreting or misrepresenting the facts. And I've blocked more friends, family and acquaintances in the last few weeks than I ever did during the December general election. My social media feeds have fallen very quiet of late.

But these are difficult times. For some of us, the difficulty is imposed mostly for the benefit of others. And we should bear this willingly and cheerfully, even if the costs are disproportionately spread. I'll probably come out of this relatively unscathed. Others have lost or will lose their businesses and livelihoods and need to rebuild from scratch.

But there is a whole raft of our society, the "over seventies", the old, the vulnerable and the ill, that we've now shuttered away into isolation for twelve weeks or more, cloistered for their protection, for their own good.

Most will lack Elliot Dallen's clear eloquence and will simply have to endure.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

The Folker

For a reluctant introvert who is happiest in his own company and resolutely unfond crowds, I've always had an odd attraction to standing up in front of them and performing. I blame my parents. I guess. Dad does say there's something of a family history of this. On my mother's side, at least. Through their interests I was certainly raised in the company of performers, of folk clubs, community choirs, amateur dramatic societies and the like.

By age 7 I'd already been put into tights and pushed onto stage as part of the kids' chorus of a Christmas pantomime.

Growing up in Kuwait, in the late 70's, along with Company yacht club it has to be said, the local expatriate amateur dramatics society, the Kuwait Little Theatre or "KLT" as it was affectionately known, was the hub of my parents social life and therefore mine.

The previous year I'd simply accompanied them to the rehearsals and shows whilst they got involved in the whole tramping around on stage in tights bit themselves. For the first few nights of the production they sent me out front to sit and watch. It was pretty much a gated, privileged community back in those days, and folks could afford to let their kids pretty much run wild and unsupervised. By the second sitting, I'd memorised all the lines, and was sat out in amongst the audience reciting them milliseconds ahead of the actors actually delivering them, to the frustration of all concerned except myself. I was enrapt.

I got into a bit of trouble over that, it really wasn't the done thing to steal a pantomime dame's punchlines, and so wasn't allowed out audience side of the stage again. And the following year I was, as mentioned, put out on the stage myself.

I'm pretty sure my debut, tights, tunic, stage paint and all, was as one of a crowd of minions of the Gnome King in the pantomime Cinderella. There was a song involved, cunningly entitled "The Gnome Song". I seem to recall we didn't actually sing it, but danced on stage as the Gnome King performed it for us.

I've never been much for dancing, but needs must. It was, after all, pantomime. We've all got to start somewhere.

I am moving to a point here, some kind of segue into the actual purpose of this post.

The Gnome Song was by an irreverent English West Country comedian and folk singer called Fred Wedlock. Or, at least if it wasn't written by him, it was certainly performed by him. I discovered later that Fred, just like most of his comedic contemporaries of the time, was, well, "artistically light-fingered" when it came to lifting material from other sources making it his own.

Anyway. Mum couldn't sing and Dad couldn't play, but a musical instrument is, essentially, a mathematical and mechanical puzzle, and Mum was a smart lady with both gift and taste for such a challenge. So we had a full piano sized electric keyboard in the house, a "Bontempi" if I recall, and a guitar or two.

Mum never really took to the keyboard, although I was given free reign with it and by the age of 6 or 7 had deciphered where to find middle C, worked out the basics of a scale on both paper and keys and was picking out the melody to the Beatles "Yesterday" for my own amusement. Not because I knew who the Beatles were, or particularly liked them, but rather because it was in the song-book Mum kept on the music stand of the piano.

Meanwhile Mum was deciphering the chords and transcribing the lyrics so she could accompany Dad on the guitar singing various folk songs, both of the serious, "finger in yer ear" kind like Barbara Allen and The Water is Wide, and the less serious, tongue in cheek parodies penned or so skilfully adopted by the likes of Fred Wedlock, which included sophisticated titles like the afore mentioned Gnome Song, or The Bantam Cock, or The Frog and the Vicar, or An English Country Garden or The Widow and the Cat. Or British Rail:

"In the carriage there is a chain / And if you pull it it stops the train / There's a twenty-five pound fine if your unwise / So ladies if you're being molested / Wait until you've been divested / It ain't worth five fivers otherwise"

Sorry, I was tripping down memory lane for a second there. I'll stop. Self-indulgence ill becomes me. In any case, that gives you an illustration of the quality of wit involved in this stuff.

Anyway, skip forward some five or six years. I'm now into my early teens. I've had half a decade's worth of piano lessons but, like my Mum before me, have discovered that the guitar is so much easier and so much more versatile. Not to mention cooler. And you can (or could back then) carry it on board an aeroplane as hand luggage, and for most of my early teen years I was doing a lot of air travel, back and forth between my boarding school in the UK and my parents who were still working in Kuwait.

And I wanted to perform. I've always been drawn to that spot in centre stage. It's not about me, it really isn't. And that's not false modesty. Sure, I'll happily talk, or preferably write about myself until the cows come home, I'm very familiar with my own opinions and my ego; next to sailing I'm possibly my own favourite subject.

But really, honestly, that spot on stage is about anything but the actor, the band or the musician. It's about the song, the verse or the play, about the escape; immersing yourself in something that's entirely external to you, and drawing in, feeding off and living within the reaction and participation of the audience.

I'm very much of the opinion that art is intrinsically worthless in and of itself. You may have a different opinion and I can respect that. I think certain members of my band have a different opinion, although I suspect that's just a limitation of their particular perspective. They're artists. But whatever slim pretence I may have towards that, it's quite secondary to my role as a performer.

And in my view, a singer is nothing without the song, the song is nothing without the gig, the gig is nothing without the crowd. The validation of an audience is everything. Though don't get me wrong: a crowd can be a crowd of one or a multitude. I've performed to both. I've had gigs good and bad before both. The quality of a crowd is not a simple, numerical metric.

To return to my original thread however. The trouble was, I'd figured I could just about string together a few picked chords, sing a steady note and had a definite gift for remembering lyrics and a tune. But I wasn't centre stage material, I was more pantomime chorus or third guy on the right in the crowd of extras. I don't walk into a crowded room and immediately draw attention. If I talk, more often than not I'll get talked over, unless I force the issue.

Which is perhaps why I prefer to write.

But I'd found this raft of comedy folk songs, hand written or occasionally typed chords and lyrics deciphered by Mum all those years ago when she used to accompany Dad at those monthly KLT folk nights. And Dad had all these tapes of this bloke Fred Wedlock singing these songs in a comfortable, familiar, West Country Bristolian accent, and to my delight I discovered they were bloody hilarious.

The realisation hit me that even if I couldn't sing and I couldn't play guitar, I could at least learn these chords and these lyrics and hammer out these old Fred Wedlock tunes and if the quality of the performance, of the singing or the playing couldn't justify or hold the audience, then the comedy of the material still would.

In pursuit of the limelight I've never really been bothered about whether people laugh with me or laugh at me. Because if they have to laugh at me, I've always been able to still laugh along with them.

This has to be the longest winded introduction to a song I've ever given. I'd never get away with this on stage. If you're still with me, congratulations; in this new age of quarantine and self isolation, you must really be running out of things to read!

There was one Fred Wedlock song I always loved, but Mum and Dad never covered it themselves, which meant that, unlike the rest of Fred's repertoire, I had no easy access to the chords and lyrics having already been transcribed for me. So, in a pre-Internet age, when you couldn't just look these things up on Google, I continued to love and admire the song from afar, but never actually put in the hard graft to learn it.

I've always meant to, it's just one of those things I've never gotten around to.

The song is a parody of folk clubs and the pub-gigging rock 'n' roll lifestyle and desperately trying to "make it big", put to the melody of one of my absolute favourite Simon and Garfunkel tunes, "The Boxer".

Actually, I love pretty much anything Simon and Garfunkel ever recorded, so could easily call any of them my favourite. But Fred only nicked the tune to The Boxer, so it's special.

One of the advantages of my current situation at work is that when the rest of the staff go home at 5pm (ie. by "the rest" I mean my mate Matt) and I can relax my vigilant watch over our company networks, I have the entirety of this old mill to myself, with nary another soul within earshot.

That's a rare treat for me. I also keep a couple of guitars in the office, always have.

So last Thursday, after work, I stayed on a little late at the mill and finally worked out the chords and lyrics to my favourite Fred Wedlock song, "The Folker".

It's not the sort of song the band would ever let me play at a gig, but as a suddenly socially distanced, involuntary solo performer with a camera phone and the length and breadth of social media spread out before my digital feet, there was nothing but my dignity and self-respect to stop me.

They never really stood a chance.

A quick word of caution. Whilst not exactly justifying an "Explicit Content!" warning that so many of these up and coming youngsters in the charts seem to actively aspire to these days, the content of the song that follows is a little coarse in places. And I don't (just) mean the production values . . . .

So, without further ado, I give you "The Folker"


Monday, 30 March 2020

proof of life


Monday 30th March 2020. The UK is about to enter it's second week in lock down. According to our illustrious leader, we can only leave home for one of the four following reasons:
  • Essential shopping
  • Getting medical help
  • One form of exercise per day
  • Travelling to and from work if you cannot work from home
With regards to the fourth point, that's currently me. It's hardly essential work, but my being in the office to keep the servers and networks up and connected to the Internet means that our other twelve staff can all work from home. There is one other member of technical staff in the building with me to assist. With 4000 square feet of office space between the two of us it's very easy to maintain our distance. We occasionally wave to each other when we pass from opposite ends of the building. 


All this means that our company survives, our staff continue to remain employed and contributing to the economy and our customers continue to benefit from our service, which in turn helps them continue to do business themselves. I realise how lucky we are, so far at least, and how difficult a lot of folk less fortunate than us, many friends and family included, are finding things at the moment.

I also feel like a bit of a pariah, which might explain a little as to why I felt I had to justify my current circumstances and the fact I'm still working 9 til 5 each day. There are a lot of "key workers" delivering "essential services" to the country at the moment. My wife, who works in food retail (includes alcohol!) is one of them. Our company primarily services the insurance industry, so I'm not sure we could argue we're an essential service as such, although for as long as insurance remains a competitive market I guess we are an essential part of that service for our clients and their ability to deliver to their customers.

But in any case, we can, with very minimal risk, continue to operate a pretty much uninterrupted service. So I think it's very important, for many reasons, that we do just that.


Ironically, Nikki's currently taking a week's leave, although she's on call and has to go in to help out when they get their (currently much more regular than usual) deliveries. I was supposed to be on leave too; had the year proceeded as planned, we'd currently be somewhere west of Fowey with Dad and Calstar. However, under the circumstances, I figured it was best I cancelled my leave for now.

Calstar is a weight on my mind at the moment.


She's currently berthed in Queen Anne's Battery in Plymouth, which has been her home for the last couple of years. This year we decided to move her to the more sheltered cover of neighbouring Sutton Harbour. So just before Christmas we arranged and paid for an annual berthing contract for 2020 in Sutton that would go into effect when the 2019 contract with QAB expired.

At the end of March.

At the beginning of last week, when the advice was still vestigial and advisory, maintain social distance, self isolate for 14 days if anybody in the household shows symptoms, etc, I observed the media hysteria, social, tabloid and otherwise, generated by the entirely predictable reaction of the crowd to a particularly sunny spring Sunday, and realised things were likely going to become a lot more draconian.


Monday lunchtime I called Dad and suggested we headed down to Plymouth the following morning to move Calstar to her new marina, rather than waiting for the weekend as we'd originally planned. At 2030 Monday evening they announced the lockdown with immediate effect and our plans were scuppered. I really should've acted the moment I thought of it.

So Calstar currently remains in Queen Anne's Battery. Our annual contract with them expires on 31st March, when our new annual contract with Sutton Harbour comes into effect. However, we've no way of moving Calstar from the one marina to the other before then; nor is there anybody else that could do it for us.


I can only hope that the lovely folks at QAB are reasonable in allowing us to arrange some kind of temporary extension to our current contract, given the extraordinary circumstances we all find ourselves labouring under.

All that said, in light of all the other turmoil and travail abroad in the world at the moment, however much a weight on my mind, these troubles really are quite trivial in comparison.


It was the strangest weekend. Got home, the gig was long cancelled, so nothing to do Friday night except settle down with a beer and chill for the evening. I'm not very practised at that (the chilling with nothing to do of an evening, that is; of beer I've had practice aplenty!) but thought I could probably get the hang of it with a little dogged persistence. Saturday morning, woke up, nothing planned except to walk the dogs and chill for another evening.

Saturday night was funny. Still no gig of course, so another evening home with another beer and the Internet. I look up from my beer and entertainment to glance at my watch, notice it's 0020, and think I really ought to consider going to bed. Figure another thirty minutes or so, finish my last glass (of by then no longer quite so so chilled) beer.


Next thing, I glance again at my watch and am horrified to see that it's now 0220. I can't for the life of me work out where the last hour has gone, but shame-faced and possibly a little tipsy from the night's, um, "chilling", I wake Nikki up from where she's nodded off on the sofa and we head off to bed.

Sunday, walk the dogs, cut the grass. Nothing else to do. Is this how normal people live? Sunday night, go to bed at a more reasonable hour, but having not done much all day read in bed into the early hours (EM Powell, historical fiction, a page turning style akin to Bernard Cornwall) then take an age to finally nod off. And oversleep a little the following morning.


It isn't until I'm pulling into the office car park after a very quiet drive into work, thinking it's around about 0900, not too late, that I glance at the clock on my car dashboard, the only time device in existence old enough to not get automatically updated by satellite, Internet or it's own artificial sentience.

It reads 0800. The clocks have leapt forward this weekend, and living in a bubble of my own isolation, I'd never realised.


Anyway. I'm fit and well. In fact, I'm pretty certain I already had this dreaded virus at the end of February before it became fashionable or was even supposed to be available in this country, go figure? Although that's another story, and there's no way to prove it, so I'm working on the clear assumption that I've not and taking all the appropriate precautions, washing hands like I hate my skin, staying a full cadaver's body-length distant from anybody not in my immediate household, coughing into my elbow when I must, etc.

The photos accompanying, completely out of context, are of our last time afloat. Dad and I had a weekend tramping around the Solent with my brother-in-law Jim, his wife's brother-in-law and my friend Paul and their friend Leigh aboard a Hallberg Rassy 34 called "Blue Spirit" that Paul had chartered from the Metropolitan Police Sailing Club of which he's a member.


I've not been sailing since, and it looks like I'll not have the chance to go sailing again for quite some time to come. So I thought I'd post the photos to accompany and lift what was otherwise a fairly bleak and self-indulgent, even self-pitying post, to combat the risk of a growing sense of captiaterraphobia that I fear may only get worse as the land-locked weeks wear on.