A Story for Our Time; physics teachers and board rubbers.

Claude lived on a boat, he once invited me round for tea…and we had to sit with our feet up on the seats because the bottom of the boat was a foot deep in water.

We didn’t mean to go to sea, and oh how I wish I was on dry land. There is no going out. No space. There is inside and there is outside. Inside, or outside. On the deck, or below deck. Upstairs or downstairs. Which reminds me of the Goon Show. I heard the Goon Show a lot as a child, I don’t know that it made me laugh so much but it certainly kept me entertained for hours. In one episode Henry said to Min ‘the people upstairs are making too much noise’, and Min replied “Yes Henry, we really must get this tent re-wallpapered.”

It feels a bit like that on this boat. I can hear everything the other people are saying and I am having to share a space with them. I have never been that good at sharing spaces. I lived in a ‘shared house’ for a while in Oxford and one of the visitors (not sure if one can call someone a visitor when they let themselves in day and night, they are more like an intruder really) anyhow, this intruder, Claude, used to make tea and bring it up to my room, and use it as an excuse to systematically sweep the entire carpet from one end of the room to the other with a very small dustpan and brush, a bit like the way someone might mow a lawn in lines, but without leaving the lines. Next he would sit in the very corner of the room and carefully pick through the debris in the dustpan and assemble a small pile of little brown things. Then he would assess each tiny brown thing, reject a few of the stickier ones (I have no idea what his criteria was for this process) eat a few of the less brown ones (hopefully they were toast crumbs) and the rest he would carefully roll into a ‘joint’.

This whole spectacle never ceased to amaze me, but what never ceased to amaze Claude was that nobody would share his joint! Every now and then while he sat in the corner of the room smoking his creation small explosions would erupt out the sides of it as strangely flammable particles ignited. One of these went off one day with such ferocity that it actually burnt off a sizable portion of his moustaches.

Claude lived on a boat, it was a canal boat and he once invited me round for tea. I think I went out of idle curiosity, or perhaps utter boredom. A female friend came with me and we had to sit with our feet up on the seats because the bottom of the boat was a foot deep in water. Claude made us a cup of tea and asked for our advice on how he could attract a woman. I can remember staring into the tea, while my friend recommended that he wash occasionally, and brush his hair. At this point the tea was quite fascinating, strange fractal patterns were spiralling through the surface of my tea, I pointed it out to Claude and he said that perhaps it would be safer to simply watch the tea than to drink it.


If only we had chosen a holiday on a canal boat, in a nice safe canal, or perhaps on a lovely river with banks, and trees and a tow path, with ducks and pond weed. My dad had a canal boat when I was a child; maybe that is where I got my sea legs? We used to go and stay there with him at weekends, I loved this, it was like being a character from the ‘Wind in the Willows’. I was Ratty, I loved Ratty. We would drift down the canal running around the edge of the boat on the ledge that was just wide enough for one foot. Sometimes my dad would let us drift along behind the canal boat in a blow-up dinghy.

I can remember the sound of the water as it lapped against the sides of the boat while I lay in bed going to sleep. I thought I would grow up and live on a boat.

I thought I would grow up and live in a castle too. I think when I was really small I thought I would grow up and be a princess, or a pirate, or an archaeologist, or a gymnast. I thought that growing up and becoming was just something that happened to you.

I didn’t know much about drive as a child, growing up and becoming something comes from drive. I realise that now. I remember more than anything wanting to be good at something, but no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t seem to be good at anything. But on the other side of the coin I felt invincible, I knew that I could do anything I wanted. I was the fastest runner, and could jump the highest. My dad was the tallest too. And my mum was the cleverest, this is actually still true! I remember the day my mum didn’t know the answer to a question I asked her, I was utterly gobsmacked, I’m pretty sure I was in my teens, and I simply couldn’t believe it. All my life my mum had known all the answers. Generally I still call her when I want to know something.

Of course it is possible that mums have magical powers. I am going to need them if I have to stay on this boat for much longer. I would like the power of invisibility, and temporary deafness. When everyone is asleep it is quiet, apart from the song of the sea. I love the song of the sea. I love the night-time, night is my time. In the night when the world is quiet I can imagine, I am sure there is more room when most of the people are asleep. I can write stories and songs and poems when the world sleeps. I love the space in silence. Inside the silence anything is possible, stories form and grow like a vine, they cover the space. If you look straight at them they suddenly vanish, because they are shy, like when you try to look directly at a star. You have to kind of sneak up on them by looking at them out of the corner of your eye, don’t look at them head on, they don’t like that.

Sometimes stories have to be tamed, or reined in. Before you know it they are galloping away at speed across the hillside (or the ocean in this case) heading for who knows where. There is a starting point, from which the story can become. It can become an angel or a devil, a primrose or an oak tree, a molehill or a mountain.

There is a part of me, and she is relishing my predicament. She loves to be lost at sea, she is an incurable romantic, a creator, and she just loves that out here she can create. She loves not to see anybody, she loves to be alone. But she is not alone, she is accompanied by the terror of not knowing. Being lost is not fun because it has no end, and really no beginning. Being lost is full of uncertainty, emotions leak out at an alarming rate.

I suppose a Buddhist would tell me that dry land is an illusion. But it is a nice illusion, rock is solid. Water is not. Oh but did you know that there is more space between atoms than atoms in space? blah blah blah. That means that technically everything is squishy really, even rock! Nothing is solid. The whole of life is an illusion projected by your brain. If that is true then I am a Dutchman. And if it is true then what makes the brain real enough to perceive it eh? There are no physicists out here to explain it all to me, and if there were they would just get frustrated by my inability to understand their complicated formulas anyway (or possibly my stubborn refusal to agree with them). I am pretty sure that my lack of understanding of physics came from the board rubber that my horrible physics teacher threw at me in secondary school, it narrowly missed my head and left some sort of vacuum for physics in its wake. Can a vacuum have a wake?  The other dreadful thing my horrible physics teacher did was to drop a bottle of mercury into my hand which I was dutifully holding high above the counter, as she had asked me to do. From this I discovered that mercury is very heavy, heavy enough to bruise knuckles as they land on a wooden counter, I also learned that physics teachers are mean.

There are no physics teachers out here, and perhaps one would be Ok, if they also had navigational skills, or at the very least the appropriate tools, on reflection though they would only be welcome if they knew how to keep quiet and never called me mum.

Who knows how long we will be out here, if indeed there even is an in and an out.



Narrow boat Photo by James Homans on Unsplash
Castle Photo by Richard Clark on Unsplash



One thought on “A Story for Our Time; physics teachers and board rubbers.

  1. Dear Dora, Dreams are strange, mystical, holy in themselves I do believe. There are recurring dreams I have for which I have no explanations but to which I often give various interpretations. The sea….. water…. how that relationship has changed! When I was a boy I learned to swim – I’m not “strong swimmer” and I never earned my swimming badge in Scouts. But I can swim. In my adulthood I almost drowned- or at least I thought I was going to as the hydrologics kept pulling me under in a kayak flip while my foot was caught in the rocks. Now I still like to canoe or go out in a motor boat on flat, easy current water. Or maybe it’s just in my older age I’ve no more desire for that type of risk taking I digress. Mums are magical…. and you are magical to your children as well, not to mention how magical (and mysterious) you are to your friends and I’m sure to your audience as well. Mums do have the answers, I think that’s one of their main jobs especially when we are little ones. The day we learn our mums don’t is the beginning of creating a new relationship- more of the “shit, mum is just like me”. And reading the story I understood why you said you’d ask your mum about the postage to sent the cd to me here in the States. So….. in a sense we (me and your other readers) at out at sea with you during these crazy days albeit in our own boats. When we will return to shore time will tell, but we will. And when we do, we’ll hug each other and share our stories on the beach around the fire. Namaste



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