Sixth Form Sailing Tips

My school wasn’t famous, or private, or judging from its results, special in any way, certainly not academically. A lot of the time it seemed to labour under the delusion it was still the private boarding school it had been in the 1920s, insisting you needed Latin O Level to have any hope of going to Oxford or Cambridge.

What it made up with was better. It had a sailing club. That wasn’t very grand either, just two Mirror dinghies and two Enterprises on a gravel pit outside Westbury railway station. I guessed at the time they’d dug out the gravel for the railway.

It was only the kids who were different who did sailing. The kids who didn’t like football or rugby or cricket. Which was me. It was also the coolest couple in school, Peter Knee and Sandy Stanley. They were a big enough reason to go sailing on their own. They were magnetic. He was quite small, dark curly hair, very softly spoken with the hint of a lisp and the heir to the local department store. She was – well, she was just so utterly utter I could rarely even speak to her. Blond straight hair. Alpaca jumper. Jeans. Lived outside the town, somewhere in the wilderness around Dilton Marsh.

So far so teenage crush. But those two actually taught me something, by accident.

If you sail you need to cut rope, now and then. Rope isn’t what it used to be and it wasn’t back then either. Unlike the movies, rope is made of plastic and when you cut it, even with the sharpest Indiana Jones machete, it frays in seconds and makes a nice big fluffy unseamanlike pompom. Which is great if you’re a cheerleader but I never made the team.

Not all of them, anyway. We can leave Toni Basil’s frustration dating a closet football hero for another day

It was in the Sixth Form Common Room, near the record player, where if you didn’t have a lesson or at lunch or break you were allowed to just hang out not at a classroom. And it had a record player. You could bring in if not games, then at least your own music. I mean, how utterly cool was that? Lunch and pre-lessons to a soundtrack of Camel’s Snow Goose, Kate Bush’s Kick Inside, Lou Reed’s Transformer, the Floyd, obviously, and absolutely no punk rock of any kind whatsoever. It wasn’t really our sort of soundtrack in leafy Wiltshire. Lou Reed’s and David Bowie’s ghetto hymns were about the limit, really. Gene Genie loved chimney stacks – well, so did our parents. They forced rhubarb in theirs. We never really knew what Gene Genie did with them, but if we thought of it at all we’d have guessed probably the same.

The Thing I Learned

Apart from that I have a thing about girls in alpaca sweaters and tight jeans, obviously, was rather more useful. If you want to cut modern rope and line for sailing you need an electric cutter. The other thing you learn about that is you don’t do it very often, and certainly not often enough to fork out the £100-plus you need for a decent cutter. It’s insane. But you still don’t want pompoms.

You can try cutting the rope by holding it over a flame. A lighter gets too hot to hold and you end-up breathing in horrible black plastic smoke, apart from which if you’ve ever dropped molten plastic on your hand you’ll quickly realise you don’t ever want to do that again.

You’ll ideally need a candle, but a lighter would do. Most of all, you need silver paper. Cooking foil. Cut your line then twist cooking foil round the cut end, tight. Put it in the flame. Keep it there until horrible black plastic smoke comes out of the end of the twist, preferably without breathing it in. Then have a cup of tea, or at least two Lou Reed tracks. Perfect Day, maybe.

It’s ok now. It’s cooled down so you can unwrap it. And you’ll find, once you twist the silver foil off, you just saved £100-plus.

If that’s not neat I don’t know what is.

There you go. Knee’s isn’t what it was, nor is the rest of Trowbridge. The past is another country and besides, the wench is if not dead, then at least no wench any more. But Peter and Sandy’s tip still works. It’s just a perfect day. I’m glad I spent part of it with them, even if just in memory.

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