A long time ago I was in a musty weekday sailing club bar, on one of those English days when life is passing helplessly along outside the window, the other side of where the buzzing fly was. I looked out over the little lake outside and caught the end of what the woman next to me was saying.
On the water, she said, out there on the water, it’s like having another chance.
We didn’t fall sobbing on each other. Or wrestle each other to the floor tearing at each other’s clothes. We were English, after all. But we knew exactly how the other was feeling. Sort of but not quite the same as those silly plaques you find in twee marina shops, that say things like A Day Spent On The Water Does Not Count As Part Of Your Allotted Span. Which if there is a God and he’s English (and obviously he would be, if there was. Unless He was Jimmy Stewart, which was always distinctly possible) is almost certainly true, but not the point. What the woman meant was just as an impressive friend can’t recall canoes at school without relishing the recollection of teenage solvent abuse (yes, you. Bless you x) something about sailing always makes me think about school and the way we learned to sail there. It wasn’t grand. We had two Enterprises and two Mirror dinghies I hated because they were ugly, and a gravel pit next to the railway station and Mrs Shearn, who was cool and Mr Collins, the good PE teacher, who’d been a paratrooper in the War,m the real war, so he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, unlike the runty little wannabe PE teacher he had to work with. We did sailing because we were rubbish at games. Because we were the cool kids. Because we could read, and drove to Stratford to see Shakespeare on our own time and wore silk scarves and desert boots and generally weren’t right. Except we were, in our haze of patchouli and Samson rollies in liquorice paper gusting up whenever the dinghies went round the back of the island out of sight of the teachers. Who knew exactly what was going on. Who were utterly cool, those two.
But some years on, I tried to get my Folkboat into the water today. It’s been out for two years so a seam has opened up and needs re-caulking. We’re going to have to try again tomorrow and there is a lot on tomorrow, with a new summer school starting, although thankfully not too far away. I don’t know the schedule yet, so I don’t know when I can get to the boat if I can’t get it to its new mooring tomorrow. Launch time is 11:30, High Water is 13:15 and there is two hours either side to get her into her berth. Then she’ll get another chance. Again.