January 11th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Bedu’s catch

Were awoken at an early hour by Harry, in a most excited condition, rapping on the window + telling us to get up, get up, because land had been spotted.  Just 5 hrs away from Pontianak, he said.  Harry does get excited very easily, + in other ways too he is like a child.  He is demanding of one’s time + attention, + is inclined to sulk if he feels he is not getting enough of either.  He is a show-off, shinning up the forestays, diving into the water, when anyone is watching; even more so if they have a camera.  He can be generous, but is also inclined to presume on the generosity of others.  In fact, he was rather too presumptuous all round, wandering onto our cabin, + borrowing cards, chess set, whistle – anything that catches his eye.  Worse, he develops an acquisitive eye – we had to retrieve our green bag + photo album in as delicate a way as possible, so as not to hurt his feelings.

Ari and Val

One of his more annoying habits was to treat us a little like performing monkeys.  He obviously felt, with some justification, to have some sort of priority in our dealings with people, since he was the one responsible for bringing us aboard, but that does not give him the right, as he seems to think it does, to order us about for the amusement of his friends, or to make himself feel big.  He could be very bossy indeed, and although this can largely be attributed to language problems – Indonesians don’t hedge around a request as we do, they just say “Jump!” – it still used to rile me.  His last fault (I think it’s the last) is that he does not tell the truth.  Not because he’s a liar – sometimes he has received false information himself – sometimes he puts a hopeful face upon things, sometimes he simply doesn’t know – but this can be annoying, especially before you get to know him, + in view of our Western demand for strict factual accuracy.  We’ve decided these people, by + large, don’t think quantitatively.

I’ve painted harry very black indeed, + really, tho’ he annoyed us intensely at times, he was not as bad as all that.  He tried very hard to help us, he never deliberately misled us, he is intelligent (as shown by his remarkably good English, as well as his chess-playing), + maybe est of all he had a keen sense of humour + fun, able to laugh at himself as well as others.    He had some story, which we never properly understood, of being disowned by his family in Sumatra, where his father is a university professor, + consequently missing out on a good education, + having to work on the boats instead.  Whether this is the unvarnished truth, pure imaginative fabrication, or something in between I could not say.

Finally, the physical side.  Harry could be described as impish (tho’ like all the crew, he had a well-developed body) with dark curly, hair, rather flattened Chinese features, + a gap-toothed grin.  Like many Indonesians, he was without a tooth or 2, the result of eating all that sugar perhaps?

Val + I arose from our beds on this occasion anyway to see what all the fuss was about, + eventually, being without field-glasses + the ability to climb higher, we were able to discern a vague grey misty shape on the horizon.  It didn’t look like the great land-mass of Borneo tho’ – more like a small painted island.  Which indeed it turned out to be.  And after another 5 and a half hours, we were level with it.

Somebody (I suspect the owner) had originated a wildly underestimated time of arrival, which Harry had passed on to us.  This island was no bad thing, since it showed that, much to our surprise, we had hit Pontianak smack bang on the button, but we were still some way out yet, + thoughts of setting foot on land tonight seemed increasingly remote.  Yet Harry, the eternal optimist, continued to regale us with thoughts of land + its attendant delights. Mostly culinary, + insisted that it wouldn’t matter what time we arrived, as Pontianak stayed open until the small hours.  But LBM, bastion of good sense, cautioned us to delay our expectations till the morning.

During the afternoon I wrote letters, + chatted + clowned with the crew.  I taught them KO whist as well, which was rather a new concept – their own favourite game being a version of rummy – but one which they took to quickly.

Borneo itself appeared during the afternoon, + tho’, if one stood + watched, nothing of its outline appeared to alter, by degrees it became clearer – like watching the minute hand of a watch.  And by just before dark we were approaching the guide-lights – 2 flashing lights appearing one above the other which one had to align to guide you along the safe channel thro’ the river mouth, Pontianak itself being still some way further up river.  Our progress was very slow however, seeming to take an age to fight our way from one flashing light (red to port, green to starboard) marking the edge of the channel, to the next.  At first too, our progress was cautious, with a crew-member checking the depth from the deck with a line + sinker.

I suspect we were fighting an outcoming tide, but it was now evident that it would be very late indeed before we docked, + tho’ I had wanted to stay up + see us in, sheer exhaustion put paid to that.  So Val + I, both ravenous, had a cup-a-soup, our last remaining goodie, + went to bed.

I’ve forgotten, tho’, the 2 highlights of the day.  First LBM presented Val with 2 fresh eggs, so we were able to have fried eggs with some rice.  And then he pulled in a huge fish – lines have been trailing behind the boat for mays with no result – which meant huge celebrations + a great stuffing of themselves by everybody on board.  One of the nicest things aboard is the sense of community – good fortune for one is good fortune for all.

Interesting that one’s mood improves with both an exciting incident – the fish! – as well, of course, as the imminent arrival of land.

  1. Kevan Baker

    Western demands for strict accuracy …. Clearly Boris Johnson was not foreseen in your diary entry.

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