A neurotic and a socialphobe go on holiday. Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? Well, that’s my life. Last week we went on a boating holiday to the Norfolk Broads. Seven days in Merlin, a boat six paces long and three wide.
My fear of boredom has led me to pack 2 novels, a puzzle book and a trashy magazine. In the first book I’m reading, the neurotic young protagonist has a mantra that he repeats every night before he goes to sleep:
Who are you? I am Jean-Baptiste Baratte
Where are you from? From Belleme in Normandy.
What are you? An engineer, trained at the Ecole des Ponts.
These simple questions seem to define our holiday. But as we chug along in our old boat I find that every time I ask the first question, the answer keeps changing.
Who are you? I am not a parent.
We are both at that age where we’re no longer young and not yet middle aged. Things haven’t happened the way they do for other people. If I was my dad, I’d have a 4 year old child by now.
As we sit eating our pub meal at some godforsaken hamlet, we muse about our barren lives.
Esther: I can’t stop thinking that everyone who passes us on the river says to themselves “why haven’t they got kids?”
We watch a group of children running around the beer garden.
Esther: They look innocent, but I can see some bullying already.
A little longhaired boy has had his little longhaired doll confiscated by a bigger girl. She runs past shrieking like a banshee. When she sees that I am watching, she gives me a knowing grin and shrieks even louder.
It’s as if she is acting the role of child…
Who are you? I am a big kid.
While waiting for the boatman on our first day, I balance a pinecone on the mooring post.
“Stop it!” hisses Esther, “He’ll know you’ve been messing around!”
Just then, the old chap comes round the corner. He drones on about the rules & regs and then leans forward to unhitch us.
Esther looks round at me with wide eyes and a twitching mouth.
The pinecone topples to the floor and I have to force down a guffaw.
He looks round, catches my Cheshire grin and says,
“You thought I’d knock that off didn’t you!” with the gleaming eyes of a teacher deciding whether to bollock you.
Busted! And like a little boy I go on grinning as he asks Esther if she’s sailed boats before.
“Yeah, lots of times,” she lies, glancing conspiratorially in my direction.
“Ok then, take us out!” he says.
Her taut face tells me all I need to know. Miraculously, she squeezes us out into the river and chugs along nicely.
“Very good,” says the man, “we’ve had some terrible sailors before. One guy went pale as a sheet and froze, driving it headlong into the bank…”
He gets her to turn around and head back to the jetty.
“Now do a stern mooring”
Her face says ‘eh?’ and her mouth says “Erm…Is stern the back or the front?”
“Oh”, she says, recovering composure, “I’ve always moored at the front before”.
Like the novice before her, her knuckles show up white against the quaint wooden wheel.
Who are you? Mentally unstable?
Dispensing with the usual boardgames, Esther & I decide to play Mental Illness Oneupmanship. It’ll end in tears.
Her (coming back into the cabin): Where are my sunglasses? I’ve had to wear yours.
Me: On your head.
Her: (Lowers her voice) What? You mean I’ve just been outside with two pairs of sunglasses on? Oh no! (In a sudden loud voice) Don’t be silly, I don’t need yours as well!
A little later:
Her: Argh! (as boat zigzags wildy across the river)
Me: What’s the matter?!
Her: H-h-heron! (points with a shaky finger at a big bird on the bank).
Esther’s catchphrase of the holiday: ‘Is that a police boat behind us?’
Me: You’re the only female captain I’ve seen all week. I think you’re a feminist icon for all the teenage girls we see with their families.
Her: No, they just think ‘I’m glad I don’t look like an old woman in a crappy old boat’.
Top 5 Boat names:
- Special Lady II (when one special lady just isn’t enough).
- Sailbad the Sinner (Best pun on the Broads)
- Swan Raider (Esther ‘I just don’t understand it’)
- Strip Too (Really?)
- Alibi IV 2 (The Krays’ old boat)
Who are you? I am a man
Like the world over, the men at the Norfolk bar we have moored at for the night are deep in conversation about birds.
Man 1: I hear you’ve had some problems down your end.
Man 2: Eh?
Man 1: Them pink-footed geese have been at it again?
Man 2: Nah, you’ve got it wrong, it’s the greylags that do it…
We take Goldie for a walk to Somerleyton Hall. After a 30 minute trek, we find out they have a strict no dog policy. As we walk away, I have a benny.
Me (stomping my feet): I want to be part of the landed gentry!
Esther walks on.
Me (loudly): When I’m rich, I’m going to buy this fucking–
Esther interjects: Oh no, don’t start!
Me (reassuring): Don’t worry I’m not testosteroned up, I’m only joking…
A few seconds later
Me (loudly): I’ll find out where you live and I’ll—
Esther: Err, NO!
A few seconds later.
Me: When I’m an international bestseller I’ll buy this place and use it as…as…as a potty!!
Esther: Please be quiet! What’s wrong with you?
Me (calming down and quoting Michael Palin): Oh no, my problem! I must have fruit!
Who are you? I am a dreamer
Reality is never enough no. 1:
Every person on every boat we pass insists on waving. It’s most disarming. Then a big guy with grizzled beard and tied back hair goes past, staring at us and not waving.
Psycho, Esther says.
He’s not waving because he’s got hooks for hands, I say.
Esther visibly shudders and tells me off.
Reality is never enough no. 2:
I stare out of the window at the other boats going past.
Me: What if you saw a face in the window of a boat that was so strange you just had to discount it had ever existed?
Esther: Please don’t, I don’t want to.
Reality is never enough no. 3:
Me: OMG is that building a weird shrine? Look at all those big pictures of people’s heads.
Esther: It’s a hairdressers (*facepalm*)
Who are you? A boatman
It hasn’t taken us long to fall into a routine. Each time we reach a jetty, Esther will bark orders like:
Front rope first!
Stop me from hitting that boat!
Quick, we’re floating away!
Usually we’ll clunk the side of some pleasureboat, so Esther will lock herself in the cabin and push me out to apologize…Luckily for me, boatmen are calm folk so after an obligatory chat about the river I was allowed to return and coax Esther onto dry land.
So, to recap, a neurotic and a social phobe went on holiday…and all they got was this lousy blog.
‘If I have one complaint,’ I say as we hand the boat back at the end of the week, ‘I’d say it’s not tall enough.’
‘That’s coz I built it in 1974,’ he says, standing up to full height, all 4 feet 10 of it.