Monday 25 June 2012

When I first got the idea for the book that was to become THE SECRET SHE KEPT I realised I knew next to nothing about sailing.  Yes, my sister and her husband used to have a boat, and yes, I have friends who sail, but it wasn't nearly enough.  I needed to experience it for myself.  But how?
Trawling the net for information, I came across the Jubilee Sailing Trust.  They have two tall ships, the Lord Nelson and Tenacious, specially equipped so that the wheelchair bound and the blind can enjoy being part of the crew of a sailing ship and anyone willing to be a 'buddy' - i.e a carer - can book onto one of their voyages.  Feeling adventurous, I decided to go for it, and in May, 2008, I sailed out of Portsmouth as a crew member of the Lord Nelson.
I was able to draw on some of the things that happened to me as fiction in THE SECRET SHE KEPT - out in hardback and as an e-book early next month.
It would take far too long to relate the whole of the experience here, so for the moment I'll just give you a taste by reproducing the blog I wrote on behalf of my Watch on Day 3.  Names have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent!  (Not that they need protecting - they were all absolutely lovely!)
So - here goes!
Me at the helm!
 3.40 am, and I'm awoken by someone shaking me, gently but firmly.  i can't see who it is, all I know is they are wearing a woolly hat pulled well down and carrying a torch.  A cat burglar?  Hardly, since we're in the Alderney Race, heading for Jersey.  So it must be the Press Gang waking me for my watch.
I pile into layers of clothes, including my husband's motor-cycling long johns, and stagger up to the bridge.  Fortified by hot coffee, the members of aft starboard team begin work.  In spite of the cold, it's great fun.  As we're very close now to Jersey we have to keep a good look-out for fishing buoys.  Peter takes the helm, with audible guidance (Peter is totally blind), and then I get my first turn, which I really enjoy.  It's daylight now, and Jersey is on the horizon.
Relieved of our watch, we have a very welcome breakfast, and then it's all hands on deck to stow the sails and get the 'Nellie' into harbour.  It's a lovely day, blue skies and sunshine.  And time for my next great adventure - climbing the mast.
Most brave souls had already been up the mast before we left Poole; not me.  I chickened out, but I can't lie low forever.  This is something I've got to do - or at least, try to do! 
Kitted out in my harness - about the only thing holding my shaking body together - I go to the fore mast.  The lovely bosun's mate (I think I'm in love!) has assured me that if I freeze he'll bring me down in a fireman's lift.  That's quite a tempting offer, but when he tells me he'd have to knock me out in order to do it, I decide maybe it would be better to come down under my own steam.  After all, what point is there in being carried by a hunky fireman if I don't know anything about it?  I'm attached to a line (to give me confidence - some hope!) and our incredibly patient bosun encourages me to step over the rail.  Then, step by slow step, I set off skyward.  I can't quite make it onto the fighting top; going over the ledge is a step too far.  But I am so glad I've made it this far - a memorable (if terrifying) experience.   My pride is short lived, though, for the totally blind Peter is going up nimbly, two of the other girls, who had also confessed to being terrified, have made it to the fighting top, and another is on the cross tree.   Not to mention 5 wheelchair users have made the ascent on the main mast and are enjoying spectacular views of Jersey Castle.  My only excuse - unlike me, they don't have their bus passes yet!
Just to prove I did it!
Lunch on deck in the sunshine - French onion soup and salad.  All the food is incredibly good.  Then most of the crew go ashore to explore St Helier.  Some visits are paid to the duty free shop, though nobody is readily admitting what they have purchased.
Late afternoon, and once again almost everyone goes ashore.  One restaurant in particular must be seeing its takings soar!  By 8.30 pm I'm flagging.  I leave more resilient souls tucking into delicious-looking puds and make my way back to the ship.
To bed.  To sleep.  Do I need it!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Nothing like celebrating the Queen's 60 years on the throne to make you feel your age ... if you can not only remember the Golden and Silver Jubilees, but also the Coronation!
I have two abiding memories of the Coronation.  The first is of sitting on a hard chair in a packed Miners' Welfare Hall near our home to watch the ceremony on a black-and-white television.  The television was the great attraction - we didn't have one of our own, nor would until several years later.  But it was a bit of a disappointment to a child used to going to the Palace cinema every Saturday afternoon to watch two films (which had been shown in the morning at The Paladium, Midsomer Norton, our neighbouring town, and couriered over) - even the biggest set available to the organisers was pretty unimpressive companed to the big screen.  I also remember being rather bored and feeling guilty about that, because, after all, I was watching history being made.  To me, it all seemed endless!
My other memory is of the relentless rain.  There was to have been a big 'tea' for the children in the square outside our historic Victoria Hall, and a fancy dress parade.  I was got up as Sir Walter Raleigh, and very proud of my jaunty hat and knee breeches, and my younger sister was going as Queen Elizabeth.  Anxiously we watched the skies - not a crack in those lowering grey clouds, and still the rain came down in sheets.  We had to wear our school macs to walk down the hill to the town centre, all the glory of our costumes hidden beneath navy blue gaberdine, the parade was cancelled, and the tea party had to move indoors,  All together, I felt the day had been very much a damp squib.
 A pretty indistinct pic of me at about the time I was Sir Walter Raleigh!   It's my first attempt at using my new scanner!
By contrast, my memories of the Silver Jubilee are very happy ones.  For the actual day of celebration we (Terry, myself and our two daughters) were in Cornwall, staying at Henscath House in Mullion Cove.  It was a regular haunt of ours, and we had become friendly with the owner, Pearl Cameron, her significant other, Stan Hardy, an art dealer from London who later opened a gallery in Bath, and his business partner, the lovely and aristocratic Dobbie Adeane.  I could go on forever about the wonderful holidays we spent there - everything was run like a country house party, Pearl and Co always ate with the guests, who then helped with the clearing up before Stan would get out the brandy and the tequila and we (well, the adults, anyway) would sit drinking, chatting, and playing games until the wee small hours.  I can claim the honour of having washed up with Jonathan Pryce, who was staying there once when we were; it was long before he was famous, and all we knew was that he was an actor.  But I digress.  In the morning we went as a party into Mullion to watch the procession, armed with union flags supplied by Pearl, and cheered as the town band and so on marched past.  In the afternoon Pearl and Dobbie raided the dressing-up chest for fancy dress for all of us - Terry, I remember, was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in a Mexican hat and poncho, my elder daughter, Terri, wore an oriental dress and Dobbie made her up and did her hair accordingly, I had a red, white and blue striped vest of my own, which was deemed to be suitable.  The weather was wonderful - blue skies and sunshine all day, and we were able to have a barbeque on the terrace and champagne to toast the Queen.
Back home, the celebrations continued.  We and our neighbours had a street party for all the houses backing onto our cul-de-sac.  Again there was fancy dress and bunting, and our garage was turned into a bar, besides housing the stereo equipment for the music.  A wonderful party that went on all afternoon and evening.  Happy, happy memories of the happiest house I have ever lived in - most of us in those two roads were of an age, as were our children, and the comradeship was amazing.  Lovely parties, always someone to chat to, and, when someone's car wouldn't start on a frosty morning, half-a-dozen men would emerge from various houses, the kitchens of which overlooked the close, to push!  There was certainly no frost when we held that wonderful Silver Jubilee party, though.  Just sunshine, laughter and a lot of noise.
Strangely enough I have very few memories of the Golden Jubilee - probably because by then we had moved, and no longer have close neighbours to party with, and our children had grown up and flown the nest.
What will I take with me from this Jubilee?  Well, apart from tremendous admiration for the Queen, of course, one of my abiding memories will be of those brave girls belting out Land of Hope and Glory on their barge with the rain streaming from their hair.  A bit like the Coronation really - except that no-one made them put on gaberdine macs!