What made us decide to go to the Norfolk Broads on holiday?
We had been sold on an image of lazy days. Of sunning ourselves and stopping at a pub every 1/2 mile or so. Soft sounds of warbling bird song, rustling reeds, whispering their music and water lapping against the hull, as we made our way through the river by-ways, lulling us to doze on the deck under blue sky’s framed by greenery and warmed by the heat of the summer sun. Returning home with a new perspective and completely relaxed.
What we were actually faced with as we descended from our final train after an epic journey into Norfolk was, rain.
And lots of it.
All varieties of rain too. From big droplets landing heavily, to fine drifting spray that drifted where it would as there wasn’t any real wind to carry it.
There was more water in the air than there was in the river.
And this was just the prelude to what was to come during that weeks holiday.
We had been fitted with our life preservers and set free upon the river, scrambling aboard in a rush of bodies for the tiller, dropping ruck-sacks willy-nilly in order to fight for the right to drive our new toy.
Captain Ahab (Nick) took to his role with a vengeance. He had barged through the mass of fighting bodies and commandeered the wheel by forcing his oversized life preserver that encompassed his frame through the brawl and landing a hand on the steering column.
Awareness spread that someone had gained control on the driving seat as he sat revving the engine with its deep throated rumble. We were forced to cluster, grumbling around him in a tight knot of eyes, trying to follow what controls he used and understand how the boat was driven. We were in a group tightly surrounding him, all still clad in our regulation life jackets, like a group of tangerine Meer-cats, eyes following his every move, just waiting for the opportunity to force him from the steering pedestal and replace him at the helm.
Instead, Nick in his previously described only-one-that-would-fit over-sized life jacket, had sat on the seat and literally inhaled the supporting chair inside his preserver so his legs dangled from an invisible support.
It was like having an orange barrel envelope the seat with only a pair of stumpy legs swinging either side. What portions of his arms that could protrude, he was using to force the spongy jacket together across the chest like a concertina to allow him to get a death-grip on the steering wheel. He sat straining to maintain his hold like a loaded spring just waiting to go off.
I think it was gradually sinking in that now, he simply daren’t release his clutch on the wheel. If he had been forced to let go suddenly, the resounding action would have exploded him into a spin that would have drilled him through the hull. At some point he would have to let go and there was a crowd of bodies around him just waiting for the opportunity to take his place.
Willpower forced him to put on a cheery grin, although he was looking slightly desperate and beads of nervous sweat were popping on his brow as he made the engine give a low growl and offered,
“Lets see what this baby can do!”
And he revved the engine to max and forced it into gear. All eyes turned to the fore-deck and the view beyond as he gunned the throttle forward. We all braced ourselves expecting the front of the boat to rear out of the water as we sped away up the river. But what we were actually faced with was a placid paced 5 mph putter along the water-way, and eyes strained towards the river disappearing around a bend in the distance.
We all stood for a few moments staring ahead as it suddenly dawned on the group that the bend was some 70 yards in front and it was coming towards us at the speed of growing grass.
The silence grew.
“Does er, does anyone else want a go?”
“Well, Nick and I have the room at the front.” Came Barnys voice into the contemplative silence.
Typically, Barny, with his normal view of the bigger picture and immediate comfort, had slid away from the fighting and claimed prime bunks for himself and Nick.
There then followed a rush of bodies around the boat trying to claim they’re sleeping positions on board. It ended with Winnie and Nasher at the rear on single bunks, Barny and Nick at the front in an enclosed room again, with single bunks and Caddy and I stood leaning into the narrow doorway of a tiny room on the side of the craft peering at a small double bed crammed into the claustrophobic space.
“I’m not being funny here, and I know your not gay, and you know I’m not gay, but I’m putting a pillow between us tonight.” I said eyeing Caddy.
“That’s Fine! Gayboy! I was going to use 2!!”
“Anyone fancy a go at this driving malarkey?”
Nicks voice called hopefully from the front to anyone prepared to listen.
A quick look through the fore window showed the bend 3 yards closer 25 minutes since we last looked.
“Really. Its great fun! Anyone? Anyone?? I really need to let go of this wheel! Hello?? I need to pee! Fuckit you bastards! I’m peeing here!”
“Pee-away pal! Its a boat! Its meant to get wet!”
His wails fell on deaf ears. We simply abandoned him at the wheel. Sooner or later his white-knuckle grip would give way, and he’d explode from his position. Of course we’d carefully pick him up from where he landed then reload his exhausted body back onto the seat and gaffer tape his hands to the helm..
The idyllic holiday we planned never really arose. The rain dictated what we could and couldn’t do. And it wasn’t much. By the second day we became aware that the surrounding water levels were rising significantly. So-much so that each time we pulled into a wooden docking station, we realized that the actual boardwalk was under a couple of inches of water. What followed were long days closeted on board the boat, whose space gradually became more and more confining. And any distraction became all encompassing.
The first time we pulled into a station to fill up with water and empty the soil tanks, Nick, after docking the boat, managed to release his grip on the wheel with out too much drama and rub life back into his eyeballs. He struggled to un-insert himself from the seat, still clad in his life-jacket which he had worn ever since boarding. In fact taking the instructions about wearing it to new levels and actually sleeping in it.
He walked stiffly into the rain to watch us tie-up in preparation of pumping the tanks clean, then waddled to the edge of the boat to inspect the water level dockside, his movements completely restricted by the over-large orange jacket. The preserver made him look like he only had stumpy little arms and legs so out of proportion was it to his frame. Which he did anyway but this made it look stumpier.
I could see him weighing up the distance from the edge of the boat to the dock then held my breath as he hopped off the boat with the intention of dropping cat-like to the quay-side.
Winny had finally secured the rope and turned as Nick decided to drop onto the decking. He stood dumb-founded as Nick landed like a canon-ball, his flip-flops aquaplaning from under his body and he skidded off along the boardwalk toward Winny some 700 feet away, gradually going over backwards, his declining torso accompanied by the sound of his flesh making a tearing zipping noise along the mooring rope.
This was the only thing near enough to him to prevent his fall, and he had scrabbled at it for purchase as he slid and only managed to lock it under his armpit against his body in his desperate attempt to stay up-right.
All he managed to do was water-ski along like a large Jaffa orange, achieving a ripping, zip-wire noise and accompanied by the smell of cooking bacon.
Unfortunately the result was inevitable and he landed flat on his back in 6 inches of water looking like a stranded turtle as he rolled either-way yelping in the over size life jacket trying to get himself up-right. There was a sizzling hiss and dispersing smoke from his armpit as the water put out the beginnings of a fire.
“Me arm! Aiiii!! Jesus Christ Me armmmmm!!”
We simply stood by and laughed.
Sympathy in such situations is a commodity in short supply where boredom rules the day. And we were very bored. It hadn’t stopped raining and cabin fever was starting to set in. Any diversion was welcomed. So it was with some enjoyment we gathered on the edge of the boat, rolling around against each other, to watch him thrash his way to his feet, and alternate between splashing water on the smouldering armpit and sucking on his fingers in an attempt to relieve the pain.
There was nothing else for it. We hauled him aboard and re-installed him back at the helm.
As the trip went on we were resigned to the fact that it just wasn’t going to stop raining. So being already wet decided to have a swim anyway.
This was decided upon returning from having a liquid lunch.
All the best ideas arise at such times.
We returned to the boat and quickly changed, climbing onto the roof of the cabin preparing to jump into the river. Captain Pugwash (Nick) clambered topside clad in his ever present life jacket and after rolling around a few times managed to find his feet. Then it was a case of goading each other to see who would go in first. This was finally decided when Nick simply rammed me off the boat and into the water. I sank like a stone into inky darkness and hit the bottom. I had a slightly panicky moment when I discovered that my feet had sunk up to the calves in thick mud. Some frantic wrenching brought me free and I popped to the surface and swam round the boat to clamber out of the river and onto the deck.
Nick now pre-occupied watching everyone else in the water didn’t even see me coming as I ran up behind him and launched him into the water and he was swallowed into the depths with a shout and a “Splosh!”
I stood above where he had disappeared laughing. This finally trailed away to some concern when he didn’t surface and all I could think of was my momentary predicament on the bottom in the mud. I was just preparing to jump in after him when he rocketed to the surface and bob up and down several times like a huge orange float, sucking in desperate lungful’s of air. He spluttered out a short staccato of words each time he popped up like it a broken telegraph message,
Until it finally became apparent that the Life jacket was so big – as he finally stopped bouncing up and down and settled in the water – that as he came to a rest he sank into it.
He was forced to clutch at the collar which had done its job and floated. But With Nick too short to fit it he was left with his head under water and his arms waving around above trying to clutch at the collar and drag it far enough down so that his head could reach the surface.
Finally, there was no other alternative, we had to drag him on board again.
The good thing was it did finally convince him he could take off the jacket and actually drive, sleep and drink in the pub without it on.
He has though always maintained his preference for the colour orange. I think its subliminal. I’m not sure he’s aware he likes it so much.
After he recently got run over cycling to work, looking like a small sun, wearing, the brightest, orangest jacket on the planet, he may at last rethink his colour choices.
After all, Illuminous green is IN.
Unfortunately this story has gone on longer than I expected.
I haven’t managed to cover Nashers heroics saving a fellow traveller, or Winny and the anchor, and the less I say about waking up to finding Caddy spooning me the better.
Part 3 to follow..