An Erection and a Pay Cheque

(What I Did On My Summer Holiday Pt2)

 

Dominica Morning

Our merry band made its way home safely. The summer sail to Grenada and back, viewed through a lens of distance and time, was life changing. I now realise that I’m not entirely useless around a boat. I know that no matter how much you love your partner, separate cabins is the only way to go on a 40ft lump of fibre glass floating around on the oggin but above all I learned that sobbing on the bow of said lump is perfectly normal. Stressful times need a release valve. I’m not going to sugar coat the experience. There were tough times. There were occasions I sat in my cabin listening to the flights passing overhead and wondering if I could make it to the airport and catch the first flight home to Antigua. Thankfully with the help of the people we met, the places we visited and the friends we made I was able to give myself a kick up the arse and remember my good fortune to even be able to live here in The Caribbean let alone leave land for 3 months and sail towards the unknown horizon. I certainly haven’t become complacent; most days I still need to pinch myself, but life on a boat turned the volume up to 11. I got to see, taste and smell even more awesome landscapes, flavours and scents. Here awesome is used in the truest sense of the word not the “Oh my gaaaad this waaaaaffle is arrrrrrrsam” sense. How can anyone not be overawed when walking through a rain forest with monkeys screaming over their head through the rain forest canopy? Who but the truly dead inside would not marvel at the ability of Grenadian bus drivers to cram 25 people into a bus designed to carry 16? Only the most jaded, cynical or zombie brained humans would not be overwhelmed at the cornucopian backdrop when walking through a country where no one should, in theory, starve; where every road and path is lined with fruit ready to pick straight from the trees and bushes.

The sailing itself was sailing. We sailed to places, we didn’t die, we anchored, moored or berthed, and we set sail again. In between we lived. We breathed in whatever each island had to throw at us. I danced from my soul at carnival in Grenada. I swear I probably ovulated fully for the last time in my life during J’ouvert – the first morning of carnival where everyone descends on the road to a soundtrack of thumping base, dragging boots and screaming exclamations of freedom. A place where all the men seem to look like Usain Bolt and ask your permission to dance, if you say no, that’s accepted and they move on. Other men should learn from that. The places we anchored, hiked and explored reads like a list from a National Geographic publication.

I won’t bore the shit out of you by describing the squalls, anchor drags or shitty passages because quite honestly, they bore the crap out of me and I was there. The memory I take from the past summer needs to be positive because if its not, I probably won’t set sail on a boat again. The jury is reconsidering its verdict on that but I’m sure it will be a majority verdict in favour of a trip somewhere.

What I wouldn’t recommend to anyone is having their menopause on a boat. I know I should have said ‘her menopause’ but John has been on as much of a learning curve as I have. It is a stage in life and marriage we are experiencing very much together. There have been times where I have thought that I’ve been going insane and when John has asked me to describe how it feels? The best answer I had at the time was, “I don’t feel like me inside my head anymore and I can’t do anything about it.” Whether because menopause is one of the final taboos or whether it’s just something women are expected to get on with, I felt ill equipped to rationalise and understand fully what was and is going on. To deal with the daily rollercoaster of changes ravaging my body and mind is bad enough but to contain that in a 40ft vessel is less than ideal. All the online advice to eat well and exercise is not always possible. Getting ashore is one obstacle, what’s available once you get there is another. Ramen noodles, corned beef and sparse rations of tinned vegetables were the best I could muster at times.  I suspect tiny agitations become amplified in these surroundings, exemplified best when I threatened John with divorce in St Lucia. This wasn’t just a threat. I had a well thought out cunning plan and I fully intended to execute that plan. At least I wasn’t planning to execute him. Having read tales of sailing couples ‘going missing’ at sea, I sense a back story.

I have always been proud of my mind, my common sense and my ability to think my way out of any situation. There are days I possess none of those things. Anxiety attacks, palpitations, hot flushes, forgetfulness, stinking rancid periods (when they happen and hell, that’s a roulette wheel, roll up roll up, place your bets, when she floods, nobody knows) but most of all what I find terrifying are the times when I simply have no energy to eat, move or engage with other people. This isn’t depression. The moods pass as fleetingly as they begin. Compound this with the memory of my Grandmother going completely interstellar mental during her menopause – I mean the woman lost the plot. She tried carving up the house with a bread knife a few days before we were due to go on a family holiday. I say she lost the plot, she never had much of a storyline anyway; her themes were a pedestrian tale of tyrannical family rule and sociopathic whims. So as you can imagine, every time I feel like my stable reality is slipping away I worry that The Grandmother is possessing me from the beyond. I know it will pass and I’ll come through the other side complete with wizened womb and obsolete ovaries and I cannot wait for that stage. It’s this bit in the middle that I am not enjoying and I hope that the more I talk to other women going through the same it will stop being a taboo subject. I used to boggle at young girls who hadn’t been told about puberty and periods and how I thought we’d got past that in a western culture. Now I boggle at how we women don’t talk openly about the other great change in our reproductive lives.

I hope when I emerge through this tunnel of confusion that my creativity returns and my acid tongue finds some alkali because I actually found myself at a social gathering last week telling men in my company that women no longer need them because we have electric tooth brushes. I know, right? I mean I know I’ve been guilty of telling people that John and I ran a sex dungeon just to shut them the fuck up about how we made our retirement pot but seriously, electric tooth brushes was a retort too far even for me. I suppose he and his male companion were asking for it. I’d sat quietly for about an hour listening to them discussing how relationships with older women should be conducted. I chirped in, after a couple of sipping rums mind you, that they needed to get over themselves because since the invention of the electric toothbrush men really need to bring something more to the party. I was told we still need men to provide for us. Sigh and eye roll. I said that as long as the toothbrushes are rechargeable, preferably solar powered out here, then they would have to bring something more to the party than an erection and a pay cheque. Yeh I know, I don’t think I’ll be invited back for a while.

Roll on leaving this perimenopausal state of insanity, not just for my sake but also for the sake of our elderly neighbourhood Lotharios.

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An Erection and a Pay Cheque

(What I Did On My Summer Holiday Pt2)

 

Dominica Morning

Our merry band made its way home safely. The summer sail to Grenada and back, viewed through a lens of distance and time, was life changing. I now realise that I’m not entirely useless around a boat. I know that no matter how much you love your partner, separate cabins is the only way to go on a 40ft lump of fibre glass floating around on the oggin but above all I learned that sobbing on the bow of said lump is perfectly normal. Stressful times need a release valve. I’m not going to sugar coat the experience. There were tough times. There were occasions I sat in my cabin listening to the flights passing overhead and wondering if I could make it to the airport and catch the first flight home to Antigua. Thankfully with the help of the people we met, the places we visited and the friends we made I was able to give myself a kick up the arse and remember my good fortune to even be able to live here in The Caribbean let alone leave land for 3 months and sail towards the unknown horizon. I certainly haven’t become complacent; most days I still need to pinch myself, but life on a boat turned the volume up to 11. I got to see, taste and smell even more awesome landscapes, flavours and scents. Here awesome is used in the truest sense of the word not the “Oh my gaaaad this waaaaaffle is arrrrrrrsam” sense. How can anyone not be overawed when walking through a rain forest with monkeys screaming over their head through the rain forest canopy? Who but the truly dead inside would not marvel at the ability of Grenadian bus drivers to cram 25 people into a bus designed to carry 16? Only the most jaded, cynical or zombie brained humans would not be overwhelmed at the cornucopian backdrop when walking through a country where no one should, in theory, starve; where every road and path is lined with fruit ready to pick straight from the trees and bushes.

The sailing itself was sailing. We sailed to places, we didn’t die, we anchored, moored or berthed, and we set sail again. In between we lived. We breathed in whatever each island had to throw at us. I danced from my soul at carnival in Grenada. I swear I probably ovulated fully for the last time in my life during J’ouvert – the first morning of carnival where everyone descends on the road to a soundtrack of thumping base, dragging boots and screaming exclamations of freedom. A place where all the men seem to look like Usain Bolt and ask your permission to dance, if you say no, that’s accepted and they move on. Other men should learn from that. The places we anchored, hiked and explored reads like a list from a National Geographic publication.

I won’t bore the shit out of you by describing the squalls, anchor drags or shitty passages because quite honestly, they bore the crap out of me and I was there. The memory I take from the past summer needs to be positive because if its not, I probably won’t set sail on a boat again. The jury is reconsidering its verdict on that but I’m sure it will be a majority verdict in favour of a trip somewhere.

What I wouldn’t recommend to anyone is having their menopause on a boat. I know I should have said ‘her menopause’ but John has been on as much of a learning curve as I have. It is a stage in life and marriage we are experiencing very much together. There have been times where I have thought that I’ve been going insane and when John has asked me to describe how it feels? The best answer I had at the time was, “I don’t feel like me inside my head anymore and I can’t do anything about it.” Whether because menopause is one of the final taboos or whether it’s just something women are expected to get on with, I felt ill equipped to rationalise and understand fully what was and is going on. To deal with the daily rollercoaster of changes ravaging my body and mind is bad enough but to contain that in a 40ft vessel is less than ideal. All the online advice to eat well and exercise is not always possible. Getting ashore is one obstacle, what’s available once you get there is another. Ramen noodles, corned beef and sparse rations of tinned vegetables were the best I could muster at times.  I suspect tiny agitations become amplified in these surroundings, exemplified best when I threatened John with divorce in St Lucia. This wasn’t just a threat. I had a well thought out cunning plan and I fully intended to execute that plan. At least I wasn’t planning to execute him. Having read tales of sailing couples ‘going missing’ at sea, I sense a back story.

I have always been proud of my mind, my common sense and my ability to think my way out of any situation. There are days I possess none of those things. Anxiety attacks, palpitations, hot flushes, forgetfulness, stinking rancid periods (when they happen and hell, that’s a roulette wheel, roll up roll up, place your bets, when she floods, nobody knows) but most of all what I find terrifying are the times when I simply have no energy to eat, move or engage with other people. This isn’t depression. The moods pass as fleetingly as they begin. Compound this with the memory of my Grandmother going completely interstellar mental during her menopause – I mean the woman lost the plot. She tried carving up the house with a bread knife a few days before we were due to go on a family holiday. I say she lost the plot, she never had much of a storyline anyway; her themes were a pedestrian tale of tyrannical family rule and sociopathic whims. So as you can imagine, every time I feel like my stable reality is slipping away I worry that The Grandmother is possessing me from the beyond. I know it will pass and I’ll come through the other side complete with wizened womb and obsolete ovaries and I cannot wait for that stage. It’s this bit in the middle that I am not enjoying and I hope that the more I talk to other women going through the same it will stop being a taboo subject. I used to boggle at young girls who hadn’t been told about puberty and periods and how I thought we’d got past that in a western culture. Now I boggle at how we women don’t talk openly about the other great change in our reproductive lives.

I hope when I emerge through this tunnel of confusion that my creativity returns and my acid tongue finds some alkali because I actually found myself at a social gathering last week telling men in my company that women no longer need them because we have electric tooth brushes. I know, right? I mean I know I’ve been guilty of telling people that John and I ran a sex dungeon just to shut them the fuck up about how we made our retirement pot but seriously, electric tooth brushes was a retort too far even for me. I suppose he and his male companion were asking for it. I’d sat quietly for about an hour listening to them discussing how relationships with older women should be conducted. I chirped in, after a couple of sipping rums mind you, that they needed to get over themselves because since the invention of the electric toothbrush men really need to bring something more to the party. I was told we still need men to provide for us. Sigh and eye roll. I said that as long as the toothbrushes are rechargeable, preferably solar powered out here, then they would have to bring something more to the party than an erection and a pay cheque. Yeh I know, I don’t think I’ll be invited back for a while.

Roll on leaving this perimenopausal state of insanity, not just for my sake but also for the sake of our elderly neighbourhood Lotharios.

Dr Who and Peanut Butter

Sunrise

It may seem that I whinge and whine a lot about things in general. I’d hate for anyone reading my random ranting to feel that I am permanently angry/passionate about something or other. I don’t spend my life screaming at the television or slamming my laptop lid in rage just because of a Jollywood comment on Facebook; yes there really is a Facebook page called Jollywood. It’s written by and for the residents of Jolly Harbour here in our little bubble within a bubble on Antigua – you’ve got to be careful with bubbles within bubbles, too many damn bubbles and you suffocate.

I assume the term ‘Jollywood’ has been created with a certain amount of irony because there is nothing remarkable about our little community and those of us who live here certainly have no cause to believe we’re anything special in this world. There is no sparkle, glamour or glitz – despite the best efforts of some people who think they’re living in the 1970s and regularly turn up to the casual beach bar in ensembles reminiscent of The Working Man’s Clubs of yesteryear. Think Abigail’s Party and you won’t be far off the mark. The first time someone requests Demis Roussos at any one of the seemingly endless Karaoke nights within our villa’s earshot and I’m going to piss myself so Tena pads at the ready.

 It’s been nine months since we upped sticks, packed our lives into eight suitcases and two dog boxes – along with forty boxes of sea freight which took forever to arrive and when they did, we realised that we don’t need most of the crap we packed. I think nine months is enough time to have a tiny period of reflection.How do I feel sitting out here on this little rock now it’s more than just a holiday? It feels liberating. It’s hard to explain but I’ll try.

 1. Dog walking.

 I spent years walking, trudging and splodging around over and at times under the Great British countryside with the dogs through four seasons in one day. Here? I get to swim in milky turquoise water most mornings. Water which has the temperature of bath water – except for a few months earlier in the year when I walked into the water screamed, “Shit that’s Baltic and ran back out again” to have John stare at me like I’d finally fallen off the cliff into a chasm of pure insanity. It wasn’t Baltic and I may have been labouring the point a little by coming home, putting on socks and insisting on a hot chocolate. The air temperature had dipped below twenty-five degrees centigrade. Yeh I know, get over it Trish. I love and look forward to walking Holly and Fred now and each morning brings new joys. Will the rays be jumping this morning? Will I see dolphin and their young feeding just offshore? Will I find a jewel like conch shell in the sand? Those are the mornings I stand and breath and feel the warm trade winds on my skin and if it rains? It’s warm rain and the walk home is fragranced by all the beautiful blooms lining our street, blooms which throw off their perfumes after each rainfall. That is a simple joy.

 2. Dr Who, Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes.

 On the days we get the rain, and believe me this island lives and dies by rain. We have no permanent fresh water supply so Antigua relies on collecting rainfall and water production by reverse osmosis plants. I’ve been told that the plants rely on good sea conditions as heavy seas drag in all sorts of debris which blocks up filters and intake pipes so there can be no fresh water production. So when we do get rain it’s a real celebration, it means filled water tanks, crops stand a chance of growing and livestock get fresh scrub to eat. In short the island bursts into life. There’s not much to do when it rains. John’s discovered the joy of metal sculpture and I crack on with my latest tapestry, all this to the background of whatever our limited cable TV can throw at us. We get BBC America, woo-hoo. Not very exciting I know but it is to me because most days there is a constant stream of Dr Who, Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes. I can indulge my nerdy self in pure unadulterated geek porn. The simple peace on those sort of days is hard to describe. I suppose it’s like being swaddled in a cocoon of contentment whilst eating peanut butter on hot toast, where nothing else exists beyond the sound of rain and Jean-Luc Picard commanding, “Make it so Number One”. Even the barrage of adverts trying to sell me crap I don’t need with money I don’t have can be ignored.

3. Simplicity 

Let’s get the elephant out of the room before I start on about simplicity. Yes I know it took that thing called money and privilege to be able to live here. Understood, accepted now fuck off before you lecture me.

So I live here, got here through means I’ve mentioned in other posts. Life is actually pretty simple. For example, I’m wearing an old well-worn cotton floaty dress thing and swimming costume that has seen better days. Most days I wear a pretty much the same sort of ensemble, unless we’re off sailing and the floaty dress thing is ditched in favour of something with less fabric. I’ve drawer loads of clothes unworn and composting gently in cupboards unopened for weeks. John’s the same. Shopping isn’t a past time here not only because there are NO vast shopping hellholes but also because it’s just not important. Anything you do wear will be bleached by the UV and designer labels will be rotted down to sawdust by the sea air in the same time as a cheap cotton top. Life has simplicity when you don’t care about clothes, shopping and stuff, crappy pointless stuff, stuff that doesn’t really do anything – like a spiralizer, why the living fuck did someone invent a spiralizer? I got a free one once and to this day I don’t know what it really does. It mangled up a couple of carrots so I thought it might be a new sort of sex toy but given the blade in it I figured even the most ardent fetishist might wince at that. I can happily live without carrot mangling vibrators thank you very much.

4. People 

Humans are an amazing species. People are capable of love, generosity, invention and laughter. I wish I could bottle the essence of some of the humans I’ve met here. I’ve sat and shared hours with adventurers, philosophers, farmers and fishermen as well as travellers passing through Antigua and so many other varieties of person with realities so very different from my own. Humans never cease to amaze me. Sure there are some right royal pains in the arse but they’re fleeting and crossing their paths is a blinding flash of slight annoyance. There’s a woman, Claudine, she sits under a tamarind tree day after day selling trinkets and clothing to tourists, she is a huge gossip and if it’s happened in Antigua she’ll know about it, this woman has a smile for everyone, even the most racist of tourists who pass her by who at best ignore her and at worst look at her like she’s crawled from beneath their thousand dollar sandals. Her strength to get up and work that beach day after day to bring home food to her family – who all work to do the same – is incredible. I sure as hell couldn’t paint on that smile every single day, mainly because I was born with a face that can’t hide disgust or ambivalence. Some call it ‘resting bitch face’ I call it ‘fuck off now before I go Sparta on you’ face. When I’m quiet, be afraid, be very very afraid. When my lips are moving my brain isn’t working, when my lips aren’t moving my brain has already pictured you in a shallow grave.  Yeh, I’m still working on that long lasting inner peace thing but I’m getting there. Anyway, Claudine is one of thousands of people in Antigua who do the same job day after day and still manage to smile. We have another friend, Kevin, he goes out every morning with his fishing net to catch sprat or he goes diving for octopus, lobster or conch for his breakfast and we have sat for hours just talking about nothing and everything. Of course I can’t forget Vincia, she is an inspiration to hard working mothers everywhere. Her three boys are incredible young men and no matter how busy her day has been she has a smile on her face. Not only is she generous of heart, for example if her tree has only two ripe pomegranate, then I know we will be given the other. It is a true joy to know such amazing people here.

 I know I’m writing off my usual style but I don’t want anyone who reads this blog to think I spend each day looking for the terrible in life. I don’t and I guess now that the tourist high season is over we should have no more Airbnb guests so we’ll have more chance to reconnect with our friends here, and to sail of course, more sailing is definitely needed because I am determined to get out there more often now that my guts don’t form an escape committee every time we leave the slip.

For Fuck’s Sake, Put That Thing Away.

we-be-pirates(Picture by Karen van Rensburg)

We’ve got a boat, a yacht, a saily thing, and a bloody huge massive responsibility. Her name is Mahalo which means thank you in Hawaiian, which is fitting because all I’ve been saying to people all week is thank you. To say I’m bricking myself is an understatement. I know the pointy end from the flat end just about and I know the flappy bits are sails. As far as all the other terminology goes, it could be Martian. I nearly punched John when he said we were going to spend the day checking for seacocks, I thought he was taking the piss. I envisioned him standing stark bollock naked in a cabin and asking me to come look for a seacock, but no, apparently that’s a real thing. Somewhat like ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’ where all ‘hoopy froods’ know where their towel is, all good sailors know where their seacocks are and most importantly there needs to be a bung too. I might be laying my ignorance on with a trowel here but I really cannot stress enough how sodding scary it is to know that each time we go sailing out into the blue, the only thing keeping us alive is the protective embrace of Mahalo and until yesterday my only experience of anything boatish had been three ferry trips (where I threw up my intestines), a narrow boat holiday, a few days out with friends on their motorboats (I threw up the remainder of my intestines and quite possibly some lung too), floating on an airbed and I once owned a rowing machine. How Holly and Fred are going to adapt to the life of salty sea dogs I have no idea. I envisage all three of us up at the pointy end vomiting and howling in self-pity. John on the other hand is as happy as a wank addict in a sex shop and I’m just going to have to trust Pirate Captain John for my education on all things yachting.

 It may seem that I have sex on the brain because of all this talk of seacocks and sex shops* but it is in fact quite the opposite. It’s high season here on Antigua; we get cruise ships docking in St John’s daily, sometimes up to four of them. Each ship is a floating multinational city full of eager travellers all busting to find a beach, strip off and feel the sugar sand between their socks and sandals, known to me as The SAS Brigade. The SAS I can deal with, they walk up and down the beach covered from head to toe in Marks and Spencer’s finest cruising clothes collection, sunhat, black out shades and enough sunscreen to prevent even one ounce of vitamin D getting through to their skin. No, those gentle skin cancer conscious folks are not the issue; it’s the other sort, the ‘I’m going to drop my shorts and push my dangly old cock in your face’ types to whom I object. There’s nothing like the sight of a big hairy pair of bollocks or a Granny fanny being thrust in your face on a beach to put you right off sex for a while. I’m all for freeing the nipple; tits, boobies, gazongas, jubly bags of fun, whatever you want to call them are not a sexual organ but a flaccid cock (or not so flaccid on one occasion) is quite a violation especially on a public, non-nudist beach. There’s nothing stopping cruise travellers or anyone else for that matter, undressing and changing into swimming clothes discreetly. Hell’s teeth, John is a very body confident man but even he draws the line at waving his tackle around in public, we can exclude the naked Wii-fit hoola-hooping incident one Sunday morning in our living room, at least that was in the privacy of our own home and I did have net curtains at the time. So that’s a little plea from me, and I am so non-prudish, please please if you’re going to strip off on a non-nudist beach don’t be foisting your flaps, scrotum or foreskin at poor unsuspecting beach bums. I nearly dropped the book I was reading and there’s no telling what sort of  incident that could have caused**.

 Back to Mahalo and away from genitals. She’s a lovely yacht. She’s a 1986 Wauquiez Centurion; 40 foot of beautifully nurtured vessel. I may be ignorant of all things floating but even an uneducated eye can see she has stunning lines. I’m not ashamed to admit I slept on board last night even though she was tied up to our dock. Every creak and groan in the unusually high winds could not stop her from lulling me into one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. I don’t know if yachts absorb energy? Maybe that’s too hippy-dippy even for me, but the sense of love and care Mahalo has experienced radiates out of every inch of her gleaming teak interior. Thank you Delwyn and Tom for allowing us to buy her from you, and we will do our very best for her. Of course we have to thank Karen and Michael for dealing with the brokering too. We were hand held from start to finish by Lighthouse Yachting here in Antigua, right down to getting a lovely big hug from Karen when I broke down in tears of joy and awe when we received the keys to Mahalo. I cry lots but I think it might be a shock to some people when this big strapping six-foot woman blubs like a baby, which I do at every opportunity. Of course if you remind me of this I will punch your lights out.

We’ve met a lot of people who told us the same thing; that living on Antigua without a boat is only half a life. To experience life and the island to it’s fullest you need to get on the water and live life in three hundred and sixty degrees. Whilst that side of it is very true, Mahalo also opens up the world to meet other people, not just cruisers but to visit other islands and experience their culture, food, society and language. We have been blessed with so many wonderful gifts since moving to Antigua, by which I mean the gifts of friendship, kindness and knowledge. Somedays we meet new people, some days we meet no people and we lock ourselves in our little bubble which extends no further than villa to beach and back again and that’s what is so lovely, we have that choice and I will no longer spend time apologising for the privilege we have that affords those choices; I spent a long time feeling very guilty about moving here and living the life we do, I think that feeling of privilege guilt makes sense? I could give everything away, go live in a cave, paint myself purple and pray to the universe for an end to poverty, hunger and world peace, but fuck it, I’m not going to do that. It’s going to take a lot more than a cave dwelling purple hippy asking the universe for help to sort out the mess of global politics right now.  John, the dogs and me are going to enjoy our fruits so there! Not once in my childhood did I think I’d live outside of our village, let alone the UK and the idea of owning a yacht? Fuck off, only posh twats do that! Well I’m not a posh twat I’m just one lucky, awestruck woman.

*A good title for an album that, if any of you lovely readers are musically minded, I look forward to seeing an album released with that name some day, maybe, ahhhh hush your tutting and sighing, you never know.

** Brian Moore’s second autobiography ‘Beware of the Dog’. He writes how he played rugby; fierce, brutal, raw.