First, here’s some less boaty stuff to bore you rigid. Just before I finally left my job for life back on the boat my boss quit her job for a better job, and then her boss asked me if I wanted my boss’ job as a temping position from the end of December to the end of February.
Good grief. I mulled. And, because it’s me, I mulled frantically and without sleep. Take the red pill – returning to the boat for a life of poverty, boat creation, stress evasion and chilly nights in with the man I love, or the blue – the opportunity to pay off my overdraft and remain in the warm of Plymouth for the winter to return to Gwen for painting in early Spring. I cursed the woman for making me such a flattering and potentially lucrative offer. I said yes. Then I said oh god no, can I have more time please? Then, after three days of merry hell I popped back to the boat and heard what Rich had to say.
Until this point the Chard had been all “I support you either way”, that old unhelpful chestnut. I made a break from character and asked everyone I could for advice. Friends in the village reckoned sod the money, Harry insisted I grab the money, Mum said it would be fine either way so do what made me happiest. My dad couldn’t see why anyone would leave a job and was quite confused as to why Rich had already put himself out of work to play with Gwen, but did help me talk it through, and, after my possibly-leaving possibly-not-leaving do at work, took me for a pint. We were met by Rich, who after Dad and I had blethered away our more conventional dialogue of films and music interrupted with “Are we going to get to the matter in hand?”. He then proceeded to tell me that he absolutely believed I should come back and work on Gwen and was going to spend the weekend persuading me so. My father, with a rarely seen impressed expression startling his face, turned to me and said “well, there’s your answer”.
And it would seem he was right. After a weekend of discussing the matter to death with Rich I followed my heart, not my pocket, back to my original plan.
Though I was busy removing my crap from Plymouth for half the following week I did get to return for some preparations including the extraction of our tree from the forest. Rich and I put on all the clothes we could find to face the bracing early morning and jumped on our bikes to cycle up the huge hill to Chris’ workshop. By the time we got there the winter sun was blazing and our layers and layers of clothing were filled with chilling sweat. Two men from the farm next door were outside a noisy bird barn (it’s nearly Christmas) battling to remove an end brace from their huge trailer, not using anything as mundane as spanners but bouncing the whole thing off the floor with a digger. After some readjustment and twatting of the thing with a hammer, the thing was freed, and tractor, trailer and digger accompanied us (in Chris’ Landrover) up to the woods.
On the way to the tree we got to ride standing on the back of the Landy down the new forest path with its uniquely beautiful view of the village below stretching round beside us. Then, after some safety advice from Chris including putting a tree between yourself and potentially snappable tensioned wire, he and Rich hooked a wire rope to the tree which came up round a turning block to the tractor. After confusingly-named Richard from the farm had given it a bit of a yank with the tractor Rich and Chris cut a load of brush out the way with a chainsaw and over the next hour or so reset the wire and block again and again, even scrambling up on bits of vehicle to raise the block and ease its trajectory up the bank. Eventually the mast was free and the tractor dragged it the long lovely length of the forest path with us grinning and bouncing behind it.
At the far end it was then the task of all present to figure out how the hell to get our mast up on to the trailer. The digger, raising and lowering bits of the tree on to blocks, performed forwards and backwards displaying its full range of lifting, bracing and jiggling about. I loved all this. I have a thing about articulated hydraulic arms in all their magical forms, not that I could tell you why. I got to leap to sit on the tree on the trailer to keep the weight down on one end while the other was adjusted, and soon after marshalled our strange convoy of digger, tractor, tree and Landrover out of the forest on to the road.
The ride through the tiny winding roads of Millbrook was always going to be fraught with complication, but this did not stop Richard the tractor driver from ploughing on full speed. At one point I leapt out of the Landrover in time to see the back of our enormous tree paint a stripe of mud on someone’s house. It proceeded to scrape a (mercifully robust) farm wall and obliterate a large section of hedgerow on its journey back to Chris’, where the next task was to lift it from trailer to horizontal bandsaw. It was here, as the tree balanced in mid air, that the strap in which it was cradled from the digger’s arm snapped, smashing the tree into a pile of wood from which Rich was smart enough to leap and run away. Finally the tree was put to rest and another celebratory lunchtime breakfast finished off the morning’s work.
Packing up Plymouth took another day or two but before the weekend I and all my shit had returned to permanent residency aboard Gwen, during which time Rich sawed the tree and made incredible progress with the new galley area we had designed. I spent a day sorting my crap out, throwing even more of it away (who needs clothes, who needs old cameras, who needs fridge magnets etc.) and cramming it in to tupperware boxes to stack around the saloon until storage space which is largely still under construction is freed up. I am delighted with the boxes, which are a very recent purchase, and have gone full geek separating pencils from pens, hair products from suncreams, electrical goods from stationery. But a source of even more delight has been permission that we were given to make a small hole in the side of the shed.
Rich went off a couple of days ago with a lift to a scrapyard and returned with several lengths of flue and some connecting pipe. He spent most of the day cutting, wrestling and pop riveting them together to form a giant silver elephant trunk. In this time I learned to use a pop rivet gun, which sounds exciting but is actually a stiff little pain in the arse. He then cut our precious hole in the side of the shed and between us and a ladder we manoeuvred the trunk between that and our chimney. After several amendments (including cutting the thing down a whole pipe length in size) and trips running round to see how it looked from the other side, we had a fully functioning fire blazing in the galley, and our world got a whole lot warmer and happier. From nights in all our clothes shivering beneath a blanket to watch a movie we were gifted the ability to move freely, wear what we liked and plan, cook, even work on the boat through the evening. The change is instantly noticeable when you pop through the curtain to the still-lidless aft cabin for a wee and shudder as your breath billows in front of you.
We have quickly fallen back in to our old roles – I cook, Rich washes up and empties the loo, we both moan and move our rubbish when the other needs some space. Each day on the boat has seen me more productive, until today when I didn’t rise until ten and spent the rest of the morning moaning into a coffee, running and making a small attempt at battling the huge job of filling, sanding, countersinking, reprimering (Rich’s pen marks showed through the last lot) and painting the headlining for the whole boat – my main task for the week. I made some progress in the afternoon. I just don’t have the energy levels Rich manages, but I am doing absolutely everything I can and he seems happy with that. He managed an even less productive day, but that’s just not his style so instead of sinking into exhaustion while slaving over a roast vegetable masterpiece (and an incredible (if I do say so myself) avocado/onion/cheese/mustard dip) like his beleaguered partner he has spent tonight building the plate and mug storage areas, swearing and getting sawdust everywhere as per usual. We are both so happy in what we’re doing, so busy, so filled with ideas and busy chatting them through that sometimes it is all too much and our brains refuse to carry on. That’s when we should go to bed. That’s now.
It’s a long old blog post, life has been moving at an extraordinary pace and yet, actually, very little has happened. But that anything is happening at all is enough of a motivator to have me up again tomorrow morning, bleary eyed, relishing the warmth of the last few pieces of coal in the fire, clutching sandpaper and a roller and getting back to work. I made the right decision.