January 21st 1984

posted in: The way back | 1

I slept badly.  I’d forgotten (already, I’d forgotten) how uncomfortable sleeping on a hard  bunk at sea can be.  The ship’s movement was nothing like as violent as the Jiwa Sabar’s had been, but it was still enough to rock one gently.  Great if one is one a soft mattress, but on hard boards it simply makes it impossible to find a comfortable position.  To further worsen my temper, I had an unpleasant + infuriating experience in the toilet.  My stomach was still upset, so I was not exactly having an enjoyable time, crouching over the hole.  And then water (and shit) began splashing back up about every 10 secs or so, presumably every time we hit a big wave.  That was bad enough, but when my efforts were completed, I discovered that mixed with the water (and shit) was thick, black oil, which was splashed over my legs, arse, and (worst) the back of my shirt.  I stomped out of there, disgusted with life in general, my shirt bundled up under my arm.  I didn’t want the crew laughing at me to add to my discomfort.  Val, however, took pity on me, + set off to tackle the washing, including my shirt.  We then hung it all to dry  on a line up in the sunshine on the boat roof.

For the rest of the day, we read, wrote letters, relaxed.  I am reading “Monkey Grip”, the book Cliff gave me, + it’s startlingly good.  It takes the form of a (I suppose) liberated woman’s account of her life + loves, if that doesn’t sound too corny.  What makes it so good is that, fact or fiction, it is so honest.  I suppose I tell the truth, but in comparison the journal is an account of meals + stomach ailments.  So maybe I shall try to devote more time (tho’ the thing already plagues my waking life) to feelings for things + places.  Or make explicit what I hope is implicit.

And so, immediately to break that rule, we had lunch.  A pleasant meal, too, with 2 types of fish, 2 types of vegetable, rice (natch) + some delicious roasted peanuts.  I’ll confess my dinner consisted mostly of the latter.

We were rather taken by surprise by rapidly approaching Bintulu – not only had we left on time, we  were arriving an hour early.  This was however a bit of a blow.  We had rather hoped we would arrive after dark, thus provide us with more of an excuse to ask to spend the night on the boat (poor defenceless foreigners all alone in a strange town) but not to be.  So we busied around, collecting in our dry washing (my shirt was now dry but turned grey by the exhaust fumes from the engine) before deciding to ask the captain anyway – we had nothing to lose, even if we could now only plead poverty as an excuse.  And it worked – we were given permission, even if it wasn’t with any great show of enthusiasm.

This established, I took off to find a shop for some food – we had no wish to partake of their hospitality, unless specifically invited.  We were moored by a wood mill, some couple of miles beyond the main town of Bintulu, but there were houses around – the whole river-front was jammed with rickety wooden structures – so I thought I’d find a shop,  Got quite a shock, actually, since,, coming out of the saw-mill I discovered a very expensive row of houses.  These didn’t last long however, + the houses were increasingly dilapidated + shabby the further I walked, with more + more goats.  I found 2 shops – shacks really – tho’ neither had much in it.  I settled for a tin of baked beans from the first, + 4 home-cooked samosas from the 2nd – they were excellent.  As it happened, we were invited to have a meal on board in any case, but, not being a rice + fish fan, I was delighted to have the samosas too.

In the evening, Val + I played chess – my turn to win – + then she slept.  My mind was racing however, there was no way I could sleep, so I finished a letter to Chris Ivory, and then went up on deck where it was cool, read, + listened to some music.  Eventually, I was tired enough.

More toilet tales (sigh) with Val emerging as even more saintly than usual with tackling my washing. And living on a diet of (aooarently) samosas and peanuts was not likely to do me much good. The photos show me increasingly thkn and wasted at around this point… hardly surprising.

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