Tuesday, September 4, 2007

the opposite of landfall

Outside my rather disappointingly square porthole ( aren't they supposed to be round?) the land on the eastern edge of Scotland is slipping away into the night. Can there be anything more romantic than sailing into the darkness to arrive at an island destination by dawn? Romantic as all get out unless, say, one happens to wake up sometime on the North Sea/Atlantic with an urgent need to void one's stomach of all contents. Let's hope that this scenario remains firmly in the realm of fiction. 

As the boat prepared to sail, it reabsorbed its leashes and tethers ; huge wrist-thick ropes that snaked oilily across the deck, winched in past capstans by scarily vast turning piston-things ( yup, your reliable, accurate narrator is back - stick with me, you'll learn nothing at all) obeying grey levers and barked commands, but mindless in their rope-y animation like a nest of hemp anacondas. All this nautical activity watched by the smokers who, since The Ban, are forced by their need for nicotine onto the rain-lashed decks, there to suck furtively on their faggins as they shiver. 

I wonder if they're still out there fagging? The land has just gone, the orange lights of civilization winking away to be swallowed up by the dark. Now the sea will strut her stuff. Over my solitary dinner, eavesdropping on other conversations, I learned that the metal rings under the dining table are to hold your chairs down in the event of what is coyly referred to as 'turbulence'.

Please, please not tonight. 

As we pulled out of Aberdeen, complete strangers stopped on the shore and waved. People flapped white towels at us from the upper floors of high-rises. Cooks and waitresses came out of shoreside restaurants to watch and wave dishcloths as the Shetland-bound ship sailed off. All of us on the outside deck were included in that farewell. Shades of the Railway Children, the geriatric, aquatic version. Goodbye lighthouse. Wooo, it's daaaark outside. I sit in my tiny cabin, tapping away in the comforting glow from my laptop, soundtrack tonight is Donald Fagen's 'Nightfly'. Smoky, soft jazzy tunes which are the aural equivalent of  tobacco. There's something delightfully comforting about listening to music over earbuds while you're whisked off into the night. My all-time favourite place for such 21st C pastimes is on trains, the faster, the better. Especially since they have the outstanding virtue of not going up and down but along. Wearing earbuds and listening to music is like surrounding yourself with home, like stepping into a musical cloak of invisibility. Coupled with the knowledge that as you listen , you're getting to your destination makes me want to crow with delight at mankind's ingenuity.

Mind you, standing on deck, all I could smell was burning hydrocarbons. This may be a greener mode of travel, rather than flying, but it's a close-run thing. This vessel is little more than a mondo stink-pot, as its engines rumble and its funnels belch their grubby exhalations into the sky. Now we've left the coast, there is a fair bit more movement going on, and the wet world outside sounds louder than before. The synchronized dj in me cues up Cat Stevens' House of Freezing Steel from 'Catch Bull at Four'. Nope. I don't know why I do this stuff either. I did spend rather too much working time before I left, downloading music to my laptop. This was, technically, time when I ought to have been keeping the wolf from the door rather than inviting it in to boogie, but now, out at sea, I'm grateful to the wolf-entrancing part of myself for having the foresight to amass an extra 350 odd tunes to tide me through whatever comes.

And who knows what that will be... for this, my dears, is an adventure, and once embarked on an adventure, you have to follow it and see where it will lead. I'm sure when Cat Stevens was recording this album, he could never  have predicted that in the new Millenium he'd convert to Islam. He was on an adventure too. 

As are we all.

G'night. I'm off to a rocking cradle, first I've been in since I was tiny.

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