We didn’t mean to go to sea, we had no choice, it was out of our control. One minute we were at home plodding along, planning and doing, and the next we were set adrift without so much as a paddle to hold onto. How did this happen, well may you ask? I have been asking that since day one, to no avail, this seems to be one of those situations where the sooner we accept it and just get on with it the better for everyone.
I don’t know whether I am good at accepting situations or not. My life has hardly gone according to plan. Although I am not sure that I ever made a plan. Perhaps that is where I went wrong. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to make a plan for my life? I thrive on instructions, if I had been sent instructions to make a life plan in my early twenties, and how to do it, I expect I would have done it.
A lot of my life has been more of a reaction than a plan. Currently I am of course in reaction to being adrift in a small boat on a big briny ocean, I have to admit now that I haven’t made a plan to deal with this!
I remember being twelve years old, sitting on my bottom bunk bed (I have a lot of bunk bed memories, I loved my bunk beds, to me they were the height of decadence, I used to hang upside-down from them trying to decide which one to sleep in), oh yes sitting on my bottom bunk and thinking ‘There is no way I am going to finish school, go to university and get a job!’ There was no room in this plan for me, for what I wanted to do, to breathe, to play, to explore. It all seemed to be about what other people wanted, their life plans pasted onto my life. I looked ahead at those tender years and all I could see was a sentence to big stink-hood.
The main problem looking back, and this probably is applicable to many thousands of people, was the inability to predict outcomes of possible actions. People were not kind to me at school; I didn’t fit in, not only with the children but also the teachers. The main problem was one of snobbery; class is a bad thing. Ultimately it benefits nobody, it does not serve togetherness or community or peace. Them and Us.
This led me to ‘choosing’ a series of spontaneous years of entirely experimental existence. I chose my own alternative curriculum, where outcomes were rarely thought about. I was living in a shared house aka a squat, it had four floors of madness, and one day a curly haired juggler came round, heard my playing the penny whistle and invited me to come to Ireland with him. Six months later I was living in a flat in Galway, still with no particular plan. I busked daily on the streets of Galway, and brought all the waifs and strays home with me, as long as they could hold a tune, and made music.
A couple of months later I found myself living in a funny old camper van on a spit of land by the sea opposite Galway bay, next to a golf course. There was no plan. I was living day to day. A lot of the time I was ill mostly with tonsillitis and I spent a great deal of time hitching lifts to Galway to go to the doctor. The rest of the time I was playing music, going for walks, collecting wood, chopping wood, or lighting the fire which clearly I was not too clever at for a while. In the end I was so good at lighting the fire that I could manage it from the tiniest scraps of paper and a few damp twigs, something that I am still rather pleased with today. Firelighters is a swearword. Do people light fires at sea? They must do, to cook, I am sure I read somewhere that they used to have one big pot of stew that was permanently on the boil and that things were just added to it, (rats?) which meant that if you were on a long sea voyage you were effectively eating food that had been cooking for months. It must have tasted like old socks, or worse perhaps new socks, but think, no waste, no washing up stubborn pots. It sounds ideal.
I didn’t make plans, I was however rather susceptible to suggestions. After a time of living on the spit near Galway my friends decided to move away as, it was rumoured, the brew-crew were on their way from England to invade our peaceful existence with wild parties and packs of mangy dogs.
I was rather intrigued by the brew crew, but serendipity brought some slightly more sober people into my life first, and we left very quickly before I could change my mind, and headed into the mountains of Mayo. The mountains were wonderful, and I could have stayed forever, but I was swept along by the plan of my friends until we found ourselves in Donegal living beside a beach with phosphorescent bugs in the sand at sunset.
Right now I would love to see a beach, phosphorescent bugs or no. I have always loved beaches, if I had made a plan it would be to live beside a beach.
If I lived beside a beach it would be far, far away, it would be wild and windswept and I would trudge along it head down into the wind scouring the ground for strange rocks that the ocean brought me, shells with their wonderful magical spirals, and drift wood smoothed by the ocean. Daily I would wander alone, as in a dream hearing the song of the sea, the poetry of the wind and the cry of the sea birds. Walking alone far from other people is where my songs and stories come from, the irony of wishing to be always alone is that I would have nobody to hear the stories and songs that I make, and who are they for anyway?
This is a strange thing, I have written many stories and not shared them up to this point, I am not talking about this kind of story that I am telling you now, I also write fantasy tales, perhaps they are folk tales, (or fairy tales) in as far as my songs are folk songs.
The other irony of my life is that though I long to live in that far away place I have never achieved it, and I have had four beautiful daughters, who would probably feel a bit put out if we lived on some remote rocky outcrop in the North Sea.
Would I really love it? Judging by my current life adrift at sea, perhaps I would not.
My life has been told to me in stories, there is a narrator who lives in my head and she speaks to me almost constantly, she used to continuously tell me Tales of Woe, but I discovered that my narrator doesn’t really care what story she is telling as long as she is telling something. So I chose some time ago to redirect her energy into telling me tales that I would like to hear. Sometimes I wonder if I should name her, but perhaps she is me?
She would love to live in a tumbledown shack on the remote Island growing vegetables and writing stories, singing to the sea by day and to the piano by night. As long as the roof doesn’t leak, as long as the wind blowing in through all the gaps in the tumbledown shack doesn’t give her a sleepless night or a sore neck. As long as she can see the stars at night through the skylight in her roof.
Imagine the blackness at night and the infinite brightness of the stars, far from anywhere, far from streetlights.
Out here on the ocean that is what we see at night, there are so many stars; I cannot comprehend how all of this is possible? It is one of the great beauties of the ocean.
They say one can navigate by the stars; perhaps I should have concentrated at school a bit more, stared dreamily out of the windows a bit less. Although I am not sure if they taught nautical navigation at my school, they may have done, my one clear memory of my secondary school consists of various different views from strange old windows that opened kind of diagonally inwards. I often wondered if they were designed like that so that you couldn’t climb out of them, although in my imagination I climbed out of them daily.
I believe that my imagination was given to me for times like these, just like the game I play when I imagine what is outside my room, I can be where I am but feel as if I am anywhere in the whole wide world. And right now as the sea swell pushes my little boat up and down far out on the ocean, I have no idea where that is.
Mountains in Mayo, Killary. Photo by Olivier Guillard on Unsplash
Creek among hills. Photo by Harigovind Kaninghat on Unsplash