Follow the leader

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After the excitement of the Day of Action, it was back to normal: the regular class at the hotel.  A respectable showing of five regulars – Ali, Hamed, Aisha, Sherwan, and Abdulaziz, plus Diana, a Russian lady who had been once before.  Jaime did make an appearance, but only outside the window, strolling along with his headphones on, oblivious to the world.

I played some copying games as a warm-up, leading onto guess who the leader is.  A family of games, which I had completely forgotten about; I have been teaching Drama for most of my life, but some of the exercises come and go.  Something to do with my aging memory, I suppose.  We then took a quick look at the idea of dislocation, playing about with space, so that, for example, two people having an argument are both turned towards the audience.  It is a relatively sophisticated technique, but they seemed to grasp it quickly.

Hamed and Sherwan demonstrating the technique

We then took another look at the opening section of The Story of Destiny, rehearsing it in greater detail, and making improvements as a result.  I have been somewhat despairing of ever moving the piece on… or any piece, for that matter, but there did seem to be a genuine desire to make some progress.  Two sessions a week are not going to work, I feel, but they do seem to want longer rehearsals, so that we can make greater progress, and there is something in that.

Letter to Cornwall part 3

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Jack rowing in

11/6/82  We are now sitting in the quiet anchorage called Wreck Bay in the Galapagos Islands.  Our captain has gone ashore this morning to clear the boat in and get the paperwork done, so that we are signed into Ecuador and can go ashore.  We are eagerly awaiting his return as he promised he would bring back some fresh bread for dinner.  And then we’ll go ashore to look around.  Chris is dying for a beer, and I am hoping with all my heart that I can buy some fresh milk.  It’s amazing what you take for granted normally (at home the milkman brings fresh milk every day and you can go to the baker’s, not too far away, to buy bread when you want it) and suddenly you realise how much you miss being able to pop into town, or just down the road to the shops when you need something.

It has taken us 3 weeks to make a 12-14 day journey, so I hope we’ll do better than that on the next leg of our trip.  We did eventually catch a fish, but it was so small and puny we had to throw it back.  We also caught a bird!   We had several large birds following the boat for a while, and then suddenly one dived and tried to eat our bait.  So we had to reel the bird in, flapping and beating its wings through the sea, and then take the hook out of its beak.  It stood on the deck for a moment gathering its dignity and Alma rubbed it dry with a towel before it flew off, first landing in the sea and then flying off for good.

While nearing the islands we have seen lots and lots of wildlife.  We have had many hitch-hiking birds – at one time we had 5 booby birds sitting on the bowsprit and they were so tame that we could go up and touch them.  We have also seen two or three whales swimming only about 30 yards off the boat, surfacing and diving, curious to see what we are – often they mistake boats for other whales.  There are quite a few seals in and around the islands and there is one that sits on the bows of the tiny fishing boats moored here in the harbour.  Of course, the Galapagos are most famous for the turtles here and we are hoping to get ashore to see some, but unfortunately the authorities here are very strict about boats cruising around the islands, and won’t let you go to visit the wildlife unless you pay an exorbitant amount of money for a guided tour.

We have been busy cleaning up the boat for a day and so we’ll soon be free to go sight-seeing.  Chris and I have done most of the household chores, but Jack and Alma have a lot more work to do.  At the moment the biggest thing to repair is the main sail – we have a large rip several feet across to be patched.  And also the front sail has to be replaced by another larger one we have on board, which means going up to the top of the mast to change the fitting.  And on top of that we have a mountain of washing to be done on the back deck.  It’s so difficult to do things other than what is absolutely necessary when out at sea that you tend to leave things piling up for when you get into port.

We’re looking forward to getting our feet on solid ground again this afternoon; I think, though, that we’ll find it difficult to stand up straight now that we’re so used to rocking + rolling about.  The next letter will probably be in about a month to five weeks time, so see you then.

Day of action

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Robin with our small group (minus Aisha and Hamed.)

This week’s Drama session had to be cancelled because too many of my participants had WhatsApped to let me know they were absent, but Hamed invited me to join them on Saturday, when they were attending (participating in? observing?) the Day of Action against the Cost of Living crisis, organised by the TUC.  This had been arranged particularly by Robin, the teacher of the Senior English class, under the banner (literally) of EFA (which I believe stands for English For Action).  And so I took myself to London on Saturday morning, meeting up at Wembley Central.

Much as expected, it took quite a while for our small band to assemble, but at least with mobile phones we were not just waiting around hopefully.  But any group can struggle to co-ordinate, and this one has a particular issue with punctuality.  Anyway, in time we had a small group, with just Hamed and Aisha from the Drama group, plus various contacts, friends and colleagues of Robin.  Eventually, we took a long tube ride from Wembley to Oxford Circus, and then met the demonstration assembling in Portland Place.

It was the usual collection of groups, banners, shouts – we found ourselves at the very back of the march.  But this one seemed even more eclectic than usual.  In theory, the focus was on Cost of Living and a response to that, but in fact it was a general shout of opposition to the government, with Refugees, the NHS, and other touch-paper issues raised and chanted.  But it remained a stirring and inspiring group.  For quite a while, when the beast finally lumbered into life and started moving forward, we were more observers than participants, walking alongside and rather faster than the march, enabling us to see a wide range of the groups there, and, eventually, to insinuate ourselves into the march proper.  And we were gathering more people; Robin has been involved in activism for a very long time, and so has lots of friends and contacts.

It also gave us all a chance to walk through London, and so engage in a spot of sight-seeing.  I pointed out Eros to Aisha, and then Nelson on his column.  “Nelson Mandela!” cried Aisha, excitedly, though I was forced to point out that this was a different Nelson.  And Hamed was somewhat subdued.  Being at such an event was all too powerful a reminder of similar events in Iran, which had led to his enforced exile, away from his country, away from his wife.

Eventually, we arrived at Parliament Square, but if anything that was something of a damp squib.  There were speeches, but so far as I could see they were only being delivered on a video screen, and there was little focus.  There did seem to be one lone voice of protest against this, a large guy with a St George’s flag, who engaged little with the left-wing ocean in which he had placed himself.  I was carrying a banner protesting the flights to Ruanda, selected as best describing my own beliefs, from the many discarded along the way (as well as the boxes and boxes of brand-new ones.)  This did provoke one call – “Send ‘em to Ruanda!” – as I walked past, and then “Up the Hammers!”, referring to the West Ham shirt I was wearing.

One lone protester against the protest

There was a picnic meal planned, but it looked to me as though this would still take some time to organise, so at this point I decided to say my goodbyes and make my way home – I still had quite a journey.  I was pleased to have gone, to have met Aisha and Hamed in a different context, to have witnessed the response to our Johnson-led government.

Letter to Cornwall part 2

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Val taking a noon sight

31/5/82  Hello again!  It’s now a week later and we haven’t sighted land yet – the wind hasn’t been in our favour, so we’re not moving along very fast.  Ah well, it gives me plenty of time for sewing, mending + reading, not to mention a bit of cooking.  Talking of cooking, I made some biscuits this morning (a la Jonas) and seeing as I’ve never attempted them all by myself before they came out rather well – and it’s easy to blame the motion of the boat for any imperfections.  I let them get rather too brown (silly me), but I thought “never mind, Chris likes them dark”, and then he goes and tells me that he’s changed his mind and likes the light ones now!  I had to stop him from grabbing a handful when they came out of the oven.

Well, so much for my culinary enterprises.  Do you know we’ve been at sea for 11 days now, travelled about 900 miles, trailed a fishing line almost every daylight hour and we haven’t landed a fish yet.  I’m almost ashamed to tell anyone.  We’re having to go easy on the meat we have as we’re not sure what we’ll be able to buy on the way to the small islands; so each time we more or less sche4duled a fish dinner, we have the same meal, minus the fish, and have to leave it up to our imaginations.  Chris saw a six-foot shark swimming alongside the boat a few mornings ago, and some fish bit the whole bait off the fishing line, but apart from that the only marine life we’ve seen are a few flying fish and squid that get washed up on deck.

On the bright side, the weather has perked up considerably.  We’ve had several days of beautiful sunshine (so my tan is looking pretty good)and we’ve been able to relax out on deck with just enough breeze and shade from the sun-canopy to keep us cool.  Unfortunately, with the nice weather, the wind has dropped quite a lot, so that we’re not moving very fast.

I have been learning to navigate, and think I’m doing quite well; I have my own sextant and I take readings at the same time as Jack the captain.  Then we compare readings and so far my sights have been fairly close to his, when we plot the bearings on the chart.

We hope to arrive in the Galapagos soon – that sounds hopeful, doesn’t it – and that will be the true test of our navigating.  Sometimes when you look around at the ocean – miles and miles of it – you wonder how on earth anyone can find a tiny island in the middle of it.

Well, quite! So all the more credit to Val, who was using a relatively cheap, plastic sextant, and with it doing equally as well as Jack with his expensive, precision engineered German one.

Letter to Cornwall

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Letter posted from the Galapagos (belonging to Ecuador)

Something a little different – a new voice. It is the first section of a letter home from Val, posted in the Galapagos, and so covering a period already written about in the diary. But with a different perspective, and style. We wrote home pretty much every week to our respective mothers, though obviously this was disrupted by being in the middle of the ocean.

“May 24th, 1982.

Dear mum and Mar,

Here we are on Chris’s birthday, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean (we don’t know exactly where, because we haven’t had any sun for 4 days now and so haven’t been able to take any sextant readings) and we’ve been away from home for a year now. I can’t really work out whether the time has gone slowly or quickly – I think there have been periods of both.

It really looks as if we’re going to make it to some of the Pacific I*slands now – we’re about half way to the Galapagos Islands, so there is little point in turnong back if we have any problems as we’re closer to our destination than to Panama. (Panam, by the way, is one of the places I’m not very interested in seeing again.)

W e have now been at sea for about 4 days and it takes that long to get your sea legs. At first Alma (the woman’s name on the boat) and I were a little sea-sick, but we have overcome that. However, small everyday things, such as preparing simple meals, eating, going to the bathroom and even walking require huge efforts – mainly in patience. But once you stop cursing every time you fall over, or a pan slides across the cooker, you begin to feel a little easier. This morning I ventured to make Chris a birthday cake – what a laugh! The cake mixture slopped over into the back of the oven and what was left in the tins was a most peculiar shape. We couldn’t get it out of the pans whole so we left one half in and pasted the other half to it with icing. Alma managed to find some candles so now it doesn’t look too bad. Chris has already had his birthday present (a Sony Walkman II which is a mini tape recorder which you can carry around with you and listen to it through headphones) but I’ve got him a T-shirt, as all of his clothes are worn out, and a pocket backgammon set as a surprise.

We are both fairly tired as we haven’t got used to the night watches yet; we are very lucky because the boat has a self-steering device so that you don’t have to sit at the wheel all of the time. However, that means that at night all you have to do is look out for ships to make sure they don’t run you over, so there isn’t very much to keep you awake. We’ve found that the best way is to listen to the tape-recorder. We haven’t seen a ship now for two days and the further out we get the less likely we are to see any.

We are lucky that the couple we are with like to read. as they have a large library of books on board – we certainly will need it as the days at sea are very long. We are rather disappointed that we haven’t caught any fish yet; you almost rely on it for fresh food when sailing in the Pacific. Tomorrow we try some different bait and maybe we’ll have better luck. We think that the fish may not be around because we’ve been having bad weather since we left Panama. We can’t believe that we can be so near the equator and not see sun for 4 days. With all the rain and sea-spray we have discovered leaks we never thought existed and so we have been trying to dry all the carpets out where the floor got wet. We don’t dare wash any clothes as we already have enough wet stuff.

This letter doesn’t sound too bright, but in fact we are enjoying ourselves, although I reserve full judgment until I’ve experienced a little more sea life. And I think our motto at the moment seems to be, “It’s not the going but the the getting there!”

So, nothing particularly new, but a different viewpoint. Rather more cheerful, in some ways, but remember this was after only four days. Funny to see the need to explain a Sony Walkman, which has already passed into obsolescence. But it did prove a life-saver. And pleasant to read of Val and Alma working so closely together.

Leaving Galapagos

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A local pelican

As promised, the first update to our activity during the Missing section. One reader, my friend Pam, had wondered whether, in view of the clear antipathy between ourselves and our hosts, we had decided to leave the Alma and seek alternative travel. This was never an option. The Galapagos may be different now, but back then there was very little to it – not much more than a small village. There may have been, even then, more developed parts of the islands, but of course we never saw them, and it did seem that we were pretty much at the administrative hub. So, nowhere to stay; no alternative means of continuing our journey (there were no other yachts when we were there); and no administrative mechanism for allowing us to stay. Quite the reverse, in fact, as tourism of any kind seemed to be actively discouraged, and/or ridiculously expensive (I imagine that there were expensive scientific tours from Ecuador.)

So we left with Jack and Alma. We had seen virtually nothing of one of the most remote and evocative places on earth – as I have said, Val maintained the impression that she had barely made it to the shoreline. But actually, even if there had been the possibility of leaving, we would have stayed with the Alma. The deal was that they were taking us to Tahiti, with international links, a lively yachting scene, a more attractive life (we assumed) once we were there.

A pause…

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Val in the cockpit, surrounded by sail.

And that, I fear, brings us to a pause in the proceedings. A relatively long one, at that, but enforced, for there is no diary for the next few weeks. Some of you, who have heard the story before, will know why, but in the interests of avoiding plot spoilers, I will say no more for the present… all will be revealed in time.

And in the meantime, I will do my best to fill the space with what information I can. There are a couple of letters sent home, so I will raid those, but I will need to ration these. And, fear not, in relatively short time we will be back to daily postings.

But a note on the picture. As I have observed, Val got ooff the boat very little during our time in the Galapagos, largely because she was engaged in the activity pictured: mending the sail. Very hard going, too, since sailcloth is notoriously tough (which hadn’t prevented it tearing.) Alma did some too, to be fair, but Val did the most.

June 12th 1982

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Dry land

I had to be off to the market early, so I was up at the crack of dawn + made tea.  I took Val in a cup, + she promptly hit me in the mouth.  She claimed it was an accident, but I’m not so sure.  Anyway, she rowed me in – it’s not possible for anyone to row in + tie the dinghy off, because there’s a heavy swell + no rubber buffers – + I trotted off.  (“This little piggie…”)  On the way, I met a remarkably amiable shopkeeper, who changed $20 for me, at a favourable rate.  The market was great – it’s a permanent concrete arrangement, but seems to take place in a haphazard manner.  People arrive on the morning bus, lug their wares over to a stall, + set up shop.  Things had been underway for about 10 minutes when I arrived, so I had to make a snap decision about priorities – there wasn’t very much of anything at all – except maybe limes.  I hesitated at a stall with some grapefruit + green bananas, but saw that the big rush was for meat, so that had to be no. 1.  There were 2 lines – sort of, pushy, jostly sort of lines they were – one male, one female.  It’s a shame I wasn’t a woman, since their line moved at twice the speed.  But it was great entertainment to watch the butcher – like watching any craftsman at work, I suppose – who was not only good at his job, but also had flair.  He had 5 big sides of beef hanging up, + as people arrived at the front of the counter they would shout a number – usually 4 – signifying how many pounds of meat they wanted.  So far as I could tell, that was the end of the purchasing discrimination.  His north wind sharp knife would whip down, + there was the exact weight of meat in the scale.  Marvellous.  Reaching the end of the side, he would have to wield a heavy axe to break the bones, a tree trunk in the corner serving as a chopping block.  And always, his axe fell with deadly accuracy.  When my turn came, I asked for 10 lbs (tho’ asked is not exactly the right word – I shouted out my request before someone else could snatch my turn), + he let me have 6, divided half + half between ribs + the lean meat.  When I had to pay, they were lacking in small change, so he lopped me off another small piece of meat.  Fairly well pleased with my purchases, I set out to see what else I could buy.  To my delight, the grapefruit were still there, + I was able to buy green bananas.  In fact, I bought something of everything they had on offer (except lettuce – too much of a rush for that): yucca, oranges + limes, plus what I’ve already mentioned.

And so, heavily laden, I returned (ordering a heavy load of bread en route) + Val rowed out to meet me.  Our water tanker was supposed to arrive at about this time, so we repeated yesterday’s exercise at mooring.  It must have been the practice, but this time the operation went perfectly.  However, no water tanker appeared, either at its appointed time or, for that matter, at any time during the day.  After we waited a couple of hours, Val + I went in to town to do some shopping.  It was really nice to be back to wandering around again, on our own, looking in shops, chatting with people (our Spanish seems better than ever.)  And the people here (the village is called San Cristobal) are so amazingly friendly, especially the shopkeeper/money changer + all his family.  Returned with one heavy load of shopping, then back again in the afternoon for another batch – a great load of bread, eggs, cans of hot dogs… the sort of stuff every yachtie needs.  And then back again once more – to our friendly shopkeeper, who else? – for a couple of jugs of water, the boat being completely dry in that respect.

A nice friendly evening, once we’d given up on the water + returned to our anchorage, with dinner + a beer, + then an attempt by Val + I to row in for 1 more in town.  We had to give up + return, when the “beach” we’d been aiming for turned out to be fronted with jagged black rocks – we barely escaped with our boat + bones intact.  So, backgammon instead.  Running score 76-50, to me.

And so, the end of Vol II (not that I have any confidence that Vol I will ever be seen again.)  That one finished with us in San Diego, this one in the Galapagos.  And the rest…?  Hmmm.

A long diary entry – you can see that I have been missing the stimulation of life on shore, as suddenly there was much to write about.  And clearly the market was a remarkable place.  But typically, when I returned my purchases were scrutinised very closely, and Alma was clearly of the opinion that, as a male, I was hopeless at shopping, and had clearly been ripped off.  (Have to say, not sure where this memory came from, as it clearly isn’t in the diary.  I do have other sources, of course – Val’s and my memories, letters home, the writing I did immediately after we returned.)

But having commended our memories, this is another clear example of them letting us down.  Val was convinced that she had stepped foot on no more of the Galapagos than the end of the jetty, but this indicates otherwise.  Not that that was much more than indicated in the photo; there was very little indeed to San Cristobal.

But a pleasant evening, so it seems, with beer(!) and a relatively convivial dinner.

And then, the end of another diary – Volume 2 – with thoughts of what was to come…

Destiny

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Jaime

 

There have been so many various false starts, new beginnings, different approaches, that I have stopped worrying too much about it, and am dealing with each lesson as it comes.  There have been a number of occasions when I have almost resolved that no-one would turn up today… and then, a little late, but still, two or three are there.  And there are some signs that we are forging a small group of regular attendees.

The Tuesday session has always been a little problematic, springing out of, and then adapting from, the session I attended of the Senior English class, and the lesson that came from that.  There have only ever been a handful of participants, if that, but those that come seem to appreciate them, so I am happy to continue, at least for the time being.  Two of my regulars had WhatsApped to say they could not come, but there was Aisha, Jaime and Ali, the latter bringing along a friend of his, Adam.  Adam was very much the same as many others I have met, who have turned up almost by chance, been initially puzzled by what I was asking them to do, but then seemed to enjoy the experience.  And if they are to be used as an example, I doubt that I shall see him again.

We had another visitor too, Mohammed Abin, a more senior gentleman from Iran, but a Baluchi like Aisha, so she was able to translate.  He was traditionally dressed, and an unlikely attendee, but joined in well, and was clearly not shy.  However, towards the end of the session, he asked if it was all right for him to leave.  Of course, I said, but checked, via Aisha, that he had enjoyed the session.  Some translation, again via Aisha.  “Not really,” he replied, and Aisha tried to explain that he was not used to such work.  I explained that this was fine, and when he left it was with good will and many smiles.

I have focused the work on another folk tale, one that I used in Lebanon, a Syrian tale originally called The Story of Luck and Fate, but which I have now christened The Story of Destiny, being a little neater.  It can be performed with a small cast, but has possibilities for expansion, should numbers demand.  And, since it is the story of a man going on a long journey, has application for the performers.

I was pleased that on the Thursday, we had a few more people.  No Adam, as expected, and no Mohammed Abin, for obvious reasons.  But it was good to see Luis, from El Salvador, who had come once before.  Then, he had talked of his desire for his wife to come and join him, so it was wonderful to see that she was there too.  My apologies – I forget her name – but she was a terrific addition to the class, having good English and a lively, attractive and engaged manner.

We made a good bit of progress with the script; if this group, more or less, can keep coming, we might be able to reach some sort of conclusion… but we shall see.

June 11th 1982

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San Cristobal, the main town

Hard day’s work.  I rowed Jack in (after, of course, the most perfect, beautiful, tranquil night’s sleep) so that he could get busy on booking us in, then returned, + set to attacking some rust emanating from a winch in the bow.  Bleeding hard work.  I had to fetch Jack a couple of hours later – this took some time, as he had forgotten to get us some bread, so that left me rowing out in the middle of nowhere until he returned.  I was somewhat annoyed at Ms. Jonas for not having finished off my scrubbing while I was away – she tells me she hadn’t heard me ask her to.  Ho hum.  Jack’s news was a) we could stay 3 days only (this was expected) b) we would have to pay $66 for the privilege c) we could buy as much diesel as we wanted, very cheap + d) we would get as much water as we wanted tomorrow.  Both c) and d) were very unexpected, from all the accounts we’d received.

Anyway, lunch was sandwiches, with the magnificent local bread, after which, once I’d finished my scrubbing, we made our way over to the Naval Pier to load up our fuel.  Quite an operation this.  I rowed Alma in, where she got out + secured a line, + then I took the free end back to the boat, which was coming in to meet me, having already dropped a stern anchor.  Sounds simple, but isn’t so.  It’s very difficult to make a rendezvous with a moving boat, particularly when there’s a strong current + you’re trailing a heavy line, so twice we missed it.  Which meant I had to row in a circle, + Val had to haul up the anchor again.  However, success the 3rd time – by the skin of our teeth – + after a bit of shouting + manoeuvring, during which Val got her fingers stuck in a winch, + I had to row some more, we were secure.  Our fuel arrived in 4 battered oil drums, + Alma + I spent the next 2 hours hand-pumping the stuff across in a hose to the boat.  Only when the whole operation was over, + we had cast off + returned to the anchorage, + were preparing to relax with our dinner, did we discover that Jack had fed the fuel into our fresh water tanks.  Hm.  J + A were up most of the night doing what they could to rectify this.

After all the time and effort to get here, it all seems something of an anticlimax: chores to do, rowing to get on with, very little of the attractions of dry land.  And the whole business with the fuel was to have lasting consequences.  To some extent, the mistake was understandable, since the two inlets, for water and fuel, are right next to eac h other on the deck.  But it is such an important distinction that one thought it would demand additional care.  When Alma discovered the error, she thought that Jack must have been distracted – by Val!  When it transpired she thought this meant some hanky-panky was taking place, with them on board, and Alma and me on shore, I was simply astounded.  I could only imagine that Jack had previously displayed some evidence of this side of his personality in the past, but the idea that Val might have been interested… Well!