How Gwen happened is so intertwined with how we happened that I fear I’ll have to put you through the sickeningly lovely early days of me and Rich.
It was Spring, and I was happy. I live in Cawsand, a beautiful little seaside village where the beach doubles as my breakfast bar and the pub as my living room. I’d had to finish work earlier in the term than I’d anticipated, so I got a job there which barely paid my way but kept me in booze and fun.
The year before I’d stayed too long in a relationship with a man of many troubles who had taken them out on me, leaving me with the worst anxiety problem I’ve ever known and little confidence in myself. But I was long through the worst of this, merrily flirting with all and sundry and looking forward to a summer of commitment-free frivolity whilst nurturing the insane cabaret act that Didds and I had moulded from our strangest, darkest chats. I’d had quite enough heartache and I had no intention of snagging myself a boy. But isn’t that always the way.
One of the pub’s regular visitors was a muscly boatbuilder who shared my love of the art of flirtation – a charming giant who leaned over the bar and grinned his sparkling eyes at me, gave as good as he got, made me laugh and boosted my ego and bought me the odd drink here and there. But his friend, his smaller, darker friend Richard, the one who was quiet and gentle and dressed in tattered clothes covered in all manner of dust and muck – he caught my eye. I hung out with them both when I could, relishing the fun of playing in a boys’ club (it’d take too long to explain why I love to do this, but I do).
I told Angie I liked Richard. She said she thought he was gay. I told Didds. She said she thought he had a girlfriend. I started to get excited when I thought they’d be around. I warmed his hands once, after they’d been sailing and he was cold and shivering outside, an electric thrill and pride in myself shooting through me – I could barely speak, but I did – playing the gobby barmaid gets you through all sorts of discomforts, even the most delicious. Then one day, when I was sitting on the beach reading my book in rare sunshine, he came and joined me. I’d caught a glimpse of him earlier when he was on a lunch break moving his boat, and I thought I’d missed him, but he’d come back to find me.
We chatted properly and alone for the first time. Me without a bar to hide behind, him without his friend to lead the conversation. We talked about all sorts of things – where we’d traveled, who we knew, what we liked to do, where we thought we might be going. He was going to sell his boat and get a smaller boat, one that he could play on but that would take less effort. I was thinking of moving to Bristol to get a job with a wage I could actually live on. Mostly we talked about travel. A small connection was made, something hopeful and sunny and sweet, and something changed. He went back to work, and I back to my book, with a little glow about us.
When we finally kissed a week or two later we had talked all night. We carried on talking and kissing almost non stop for weeks. Somewhere in pauses for breath Rich sold his boat and I wrote the last two songs for the cabaret, with Rich making the puppets for our lullaby number. It turned out that we complemented each other – his practicality matching my creativity, his easygoing mind comforting my flighty panics, my organisation framing his impatient indecision. We’d both lived on the peninsula for around four years unaware of each other, we’d been in Tanzania at the same time (him living there, me visiting), we’d both become single the previous autumn. We shared stories of lost loves and emotional hardships and stupid mistakes and lessons learned. We both loved the beautiful outdoors, and tiny details, and adventure. I’ll shut up now, you get the idea. It was terrifying, and bloody amazing.
I jacked in the idea of moving to Bristol. Rich changed his mind about getting a smaller boat. A new dream started to grow, fed by our tales of travel and enjoyment of the sun. The guy he was working for told him about a boat that was for sale, a bigger boat that needed a lot of work but which would take us anywhere if we did it right. We went to look at it and got excited. Gwen, the big black boat of dreams, belonging to a lovely man I’d known for some time who needed to get rid. She had no mast, a bust engine and a load of leaks, but she was big enough for two people and their bicycles, she was floating and she felt nice to be aboard. Rich could pay off a couple of his debts and afford her if he accepted his offer, but other people were interested. We waited to see if they’d bite, secretly excited and fearful but never allowing each other to mention it. We were happy either way. It didn’t matter. But it did matter. But it didn’t.
It looked like Gwen was ours, until someone with a greater claim to her pipped us to the post. A day of mourning was allowed, but never mind, we had an idea now, something we could do – we could sail away together. We looked at another boat but we couldn’t stand up in it, and this and that weren’t right. We compared it to Gwen, particularly her size, alongside who all other boats seemed to fall short. We’d just have to wait until another amazing dirt cheap boat came along. After all, we’d only just met, and who knows what would happen.
But suddenly something fell through, and Gwen was ours. Rich paid for her, and we showed a couple of friends round her, and we ate a take-away dinner on her and christened her and started talking about what will go where and what needed fixing and how we would live. And suddenly, it had all started. And that was terrifying, and bloody amazing, too.