Suffolk September 13th – 16th

Each day at the moment seems to introduce another obstacle to overcome, another little surprise to adjust ourselves to.

I’d been looking forward to going. The Summer has just carried on extending itself outside of its normal bounds. Although the leaves are starting to turn, the weather has still been fine. Long warm days and cool, clear nights. And we cling onto each day, not wanting and not able to think about the next day, the next week or the next month.

At moments it creates a type of magical thinking – this being in the moment. We don’t know what’s coming. We can’t plan for the future. So we set ourselves free in the present, inhabiting the moment, trying to live it as fully as we can in the same way that sometimes when I swim I’m so absorbed in those seconds, the palms splayed as wide as they’ll go, my arms extended at full stretch, reaching, reaching into the seemingly infinite dark blue, not wanting to let it pass.

And the cricket has continued too, the final Ashes test being unusually late. It has always been important to our family both bro and I crazy about it and Dad too – because he loves sport and because he’s always been such an enthusiast. I think about all those cricket matches we had – 11 years in a row – and friends of me, my brother and sister all sleeping over or camping in the garden. Mum making the tea and dad doing the barbeque afterwards: normally left too late so we ate in the dark but all of us drunk by then so it didn’t matter. Him always so interested in and welcoming to our friends.

What happened this last weekend? The sun shone. The cricket was played out over Test Match Special, as it has always done – the soundtrack to each Summer at home – but things have started to change.

How I will always remember Saturday mornings with mum and dad. For as long as together they would listen to the radio and chat away to each other. Always so engaged with each other. When we were little my sister and I would get into bed with them and listen to whatever pop Radio 2 used to broadcast back then. I remember one of Dad’s favourites was ‘I don’t like Mondays’ by The Boomtown Rats. They were always into music. And they still are. Still now, each Saturday – after Dad hasn’t been able to sleep much because of his ‘head feeling full of stuff’ as he put it to me the day before yesterday – they lie there together both propped up on the headboard of the bed listening to ‘Sounds of the Sixties’. They sing along and guess the tunes.

The Saturday before last I woke up to the sound of lots of chatting and splashing. Dad was having a bath while Mum chatted to him, ready to give him a hand when he needed to get out of the bath. It had been years since I’d had the good luck to listen in on them. Their secret happiness. It made me so happy. I felt like a child again. But with every sweet moment like this is that awful question lingering in my mind:

‘Is this the last time that..?’

On Friday they were at the hospital when I pulled up the drive. They had gone to see the oncologist to make a decision about whether to pursue having treatment or not. What a conversation to have. My cousin, P, had been through this with her late husband and she had recommended ‘quality over quantity’ (of time). The treatment makes people so sick and feel so awful and all that waiting around in a hospital when he could be at home only to extend his life by another 3 months. Together they had said no. They would watch the cliff edge get closer and make the most of what little time they had left. I couldn’t be there on my own. I went for a swim at Thorpeness in the blazing sun.

When I got in, I was strangely buoyant, insanely upbeat, I think because of being back with them, not distant, alone, worrying and happy to be with him living for the moment before it’s too late. I think it’s also my way to try and keep them going. This is how it’s been and this how it will continue to be as long as we can.

Mum looked tired and tearful. She admitted ‘she’d been in self denial’ before but the meeting had suddenly put the situation into stark perspective. Dad seemed tired – he’s always tired now – but also stoical.

However we must crack on. What else is there to do? As I keep saying to myself:

‘He’s still here.’

‘We’ve still got him.’

I make the drinks: Whiskey or wine for dad. Spritzer for mum. Beer for me. And we sit and chat as we’ve always done. I get Dad onto the past because he’s better at talking about it. It seems like an auto response sometimes. He doesn’t even hesitate if say I’m going swimming at the beach I’ll tell him.

‘Fancy that’, he says, his sense of irony still in tact.

We watch the cricket highlights. It’s a welcome distraction and something we can talk about at length if he’s up to it. So often he isn’t now. On Friday and Saturday I noticed how tired he gets. He sleeps lots in the morning, afternoons and evenings.

I open the books I’ve bought him online. One has been recommended by someone in the village. It’s called ‘The Salt Path’ about someone diagnosed with a terminal illness who then decides to walk the South West Coast Path with his wife. Mum jokes how she doesn’t think they’ll be doing anything like that. He’s read a bit of it. The other is William Dalrymple’s history of the East India Company. It’s a huge, in depth hardback and he is polite and appreciative about it but I realise immediately he won’t read it.

We have dinner. Me at the head of the small table in the kitchen next to the Aga. Dad on my left and Mum on my right. The same way we’ve done for years when I’ve been home for weekends and holidays and when I lived at home doing my A levels at Suffolk College. We drink more and talk about the village or my classes or what’s happening at the cottage in Somerset, used now to the fact that Dad will never visit the cottage again, just like he’ll never drive again or even go walking like I do along the coast. If he’s thinking the same he doesn’t show it.

I drink too much. Partly to seize the moment with him – we’ve always loved drinking together – but partly to numb the pain.

On Saturday the weather is glorious again. The deck chairs are still outside the conservatory but for how much longer, I wonder. I sunbathe while he sleeps. Both lawns are looking uncared for. I’m supposed to be mowing them but he’s too tired to show me how to work the mower.

The sibs come over on saturday and we keep the conversation going with dad offering the odd comment. Life carries on but he’s changing day by day.

On Sunday I go out with my old Suffolk buds and we go water skiing and kneel boarding. When I get back dad seems so much older, shuffling along stooped over being helped by mum.

 

Gradually and without me noticing the shock and horror and sadness of what is happening has turned into an acceptance of the inevitable. It’s the inevitable that we will have to face for many of our loved ones and eventually for ourselves. The choking and overwhelming tears and tightness in the chest has become less

 

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Bristol September 9th

Still reeling from Dad’s prognosis at the end of last week. When Mum first told us and said how little time he had left but there was a chance of treatment I think it gave us all a little hope to cling on to. However flimsy that hope was, it was something. We spent all day Friday trying to get through to a team of 3 specialists at Addenbrookes who we were told had their own conclusions that they would share with us. After several calls to doctors’ PAs in Ipswich who didn’t know, Bro took matters into his own hands and called Addenbrookes direct. They were quick to answer and even quicker with their advice:

‘It can’t be treated. We recommend good care in the community for the time he has left.’

If Mum and Dad’s chat to me in the sitting room the night before hadn’t been too hard a punch to handle – or so I thought – then this was a knockout blow. There was nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do. Nothing else to hope for. I took the call on Thorpeness Beach. How fitting. That beach could be the line I trace my life along. And how different she seemed today from ‘all our yesterdays’ when the sun shone and shone. Here I was on the grey beach in front of the grey sea and sky. Alone. Not a soul here. Everyone and everything packed up and gone. No one to see me cry openly, unreservedly as I grimaced into the wind.

Strange the way we react to these things. I thought about how evolution might have made us into an incredibly creative and intelligent being but we still hadn’t developed a way of coping with something that is a constant. Bereavement. Grief. Or perhaps that’s just it. We should feel confusion and pain and sadness to really appreciate life and love when it’s gone. It’s the ultimate compliment for the person you’ll lose.

I go through varying stages of emotion. It’s always there – a dull reminder in the back of my mind not unlike how the tumour must feel to him. A slight headache. And sometimes a wuzziness or fizzing in the front of his head, so he says. A reminder. Sometimes it’s bearable, manageable my emotion . At others it’s overwhelming. A wave of shock and sadness that rises in the chest and chokes me. A waterboard of grief. How does it feel for him I wonder? I dare not ask. I want to stay strong for him and I know what will hurt him most is seeing us sad. When he told me the news on Thursday it was typical of him to give probably the biggest understatement of his life:

‘It’s a bugger.’

What else do you say when you’ve been told you have a few months left to live?

What’s so weird is that he seems fine apart from that he’s weak. He can talk perfectly normally and we reminisce and laugh and chat like we always used to although he gets tired quicker. Yesterday we talked about The Henham Steam Fair. He said how much he wanted to go but that it had probably been already. I looked it up and it’s in 2 weeks’ time. I didn’t say anything. Let’s see where we are then.

I phoned mum after lunch today to check she was OK because I know she must be suffering as much as he. They were both the same as ever. Bright and breezy. And I must be the same. Dad had been wrapping up his SSAFA cases, getting all the information ready to hand over to someone else and he said he was feeling fine apart from a bit of wuzziness. He said he’d get the battery charged up on the lawnmower ready for me to do the lawn this weekend. Being with them this last weekend was tiring emotionally and, like a coward, I couldn’t wait to get away, to not think about it for just a little amount of time but this weekend I’ll be stronger. And I’ll get used to managing it. Manage my thoughts, which I had got so good at until this. Try to think of it as only thought. Try to think only in the moment, only of the moment. Carpe diem. The rest can wait. This time should really be a celebration. Live it. Immerse ourselves in it for all it’s worth. When dad and I said goodbye I said ‘Lots of love’ and he replied ‘Lots of love, love, love.’

 

 

Dad September 6th – 9th 2019

Dad is ill. And there’s no going back. He’s always been one of the most ebullient, fun and active people I know. The person I’ve always looked up to and tried to emulate but soon all of that life and fun and love will no longer exist apart from in our memories.

At the start of the Summer holidays he seemed distant, forgetful and prone to mental blanks. After I went to Greece I’d hoped he’d be better and sometimes he was but then at others he would sit in silence with a faraway look in his eye which I hadn’t seen before.

In the last week of the holidays – the last week of August – we started to notice other little quirks of behaviour which were outside the norm: while Mum and I talked about my brother, he confused him for my brother in law. Was it his hearing? Was it dementia? And in the afternoon he would sit in his deckchair in the sun outside the conservatory looking at the ground and then look up at me – that intense gaze he’s always had, unflinching but also somehow now unknowing. There was something about those moments that I couldn’t bear and I’d leave the house and run away to the sea.

Incredibly we had arranged a family photo shoot for Wednesday August 28th, the first time we’d ever done something like this. It was a present from us children to him and mum for their Golden Wedding back in April. There we all were – mum and dad, the children, husbands and wives and grandchildren – now sitting in a row with champagne in the conservatory saying cheers to the camera. Then wandering round the garden swinging little G, her face alive or bouncing little B, still too young to comprehend the pathos of the situation. All of us in scenes of family joy, with genuine attachment, but with our minds somewhere else wondering what was going on.

And now here were mum and dad standing close together, holding each other in the vegetable garden, his vegetable garden with the runner beans that were too late because he’d forgotten to plant them until later in the season, and him suddenly looking old and frail and me trying to look away with that feeling like something is caught in my throat and the now familiar heat in the eyes.

It was so lucky that we timed it then to have those photos but I suppose there’s no getting away from that being a reminder of the start of the end.

That same day – weird to think of it now – we had a meeting with mum about their lasting power of attorney but it was also a moment where the 4 of us agreed that it was clear something was wrong and that Dad needed to be checked out.

The following day – Thursday – mum got active and they started a whole round of tests at the GP. One day that week – I can’t remember which – he had been mowing and had fallen over. Was it the Thursday? I think it might have been. Then it happened again the following day when he was unlocking the church.

Friday was the last day of the Summer holidays (or the last day at home before going back to Bristol). It was always a sad day anyway – a reminder of the days of being a schoolboy and having to go away to a boarding school I hated. I was woken up by mum, her climbing the little staircase to the room next to the attic where I’ve slept since I was 7 years old.

She told me calmly that dad had fallen over while trying to get out of bed and he couldn’t get himself up off the floor and she didn’t have the strength to help him up. My father, always strong and unphazed, was lying prostrate next to the bed. ‘Oh J***, this is ridiculous.’ He was genuinely surprised by his inability to get up.

The GP decided that he had to be admitted to hospital and they called an ambulance to take him.  My last day of the Summer I watched him walk himself into the back of the ambulance, well dressed and handsome as he always has been, and sit down on the little seat they have behind the driver. I said goodbye and drove back to Bristol in silence.

Not knowing a diagnosis when you know something is wrong is dreadful. Your brain tells you not to think the worst when all along your brain is thinking the worst. And it really couldn’t have been much worse:

Glioblastoma. A particularly aggressive form of brain cancer that affects or infects only 1 or 2 in every 100,000 people. In normal parlance a brain tumour. But what a thing. By the end of my first week back at school they had spotted it, diagnosed it and it had grown to 6cm long in 2 months. ‘It is the size of an egg’ Mum told me over the phone. The image makes me feel sick.

To think that throughout this lovely Summer, where I’ve felt so good about life and had such fun, that thing was quietly but rapidly growing, waiting to be discovered and then turn our world upside down. It would have started at the beginning of July when Dad’s sister was here and we first noticed he wasn’t his usual self.

I drove straight from school on Thursday evening 5 days after he’d first been admitted and still without a prognosis although we knew it was a brain tumour. Walking through the door I tried to sound chirpy: ‘Hi!’ expecting it to be mum on her own. This would be how it would be some day soon.

‘Hallo!’

Dad was home. That was a surprise. Mum caught me before I walked down the corridor to hug him.

‘They’ve said he can come home but it doesn’t look good. He’ll explain.’

I sat on the sofa in the same place and the same room where we have gathered for almost 40 years: birthdays, Christmas,  parties for their friends or ours or just a place to be together to chat or watch TV.

They sat in armchairs one on each side of me and spelled it out between them, clearly worried how I would react.

‘It’s very aggressive.’

‘Treatment is difficult and could be risky.’

Pause

‘They say 3-6 months, possibly a year if they can operate.’

There is no noticeable effect on me. The room doesn’t start spinning. The clocks keep ticking. We keep talking as we normally would.

But everything has changed.

This is what countless generations of people who have come before have had to endure. The loss of someone close. It’s so simple, so obvious. It’s everything that I’ve read about or seen on stage or screen but nothing can prepare you for it. Already I see my life up to this point as an innocent, unknowing time. Who was the poet who talked about how we throw away our youth like toffee wrappers? What do we know about life? Nothing. How woefully unprepared we are for this entire misadventure. They don’t tell you these things in school but one day life will let you down and you won’t know how good something is until it’s gone.

Kos, Patmos and Kalymnos August 9th – 15th 2019

Patmos August 9th

Staying in a wonderful hotel, Oklaca Beach Rooms on Oklaca beach on the West side of Skala. It has a perfect view towards the sunset.

How inaccurate first impressions often are. I walked out of Skala town and the road became a bit dustier, the buildings half built. It felt more wind blown; a bit rougher. Surely, these are often the more interesting places?

I was dying for the loo when I arrived and sweating like a mofo. All was quiet. It was in the heat of the day. Everything locked apart from the kitchen. Went and tried a door and disturbed someone. ‘Hello!’

‘Sorry, I’m just going to the loo.’

When I came out the inside was chaos – toys everywhere, a push chair on its side. Oh dear, I’ve chosen badly I thought.

How wrong I was! Enrico and Monica were Neapolitans and ran the hotel for 3 months in the Summer. Oklaca Beach Rooms overlooking Oklaca Beach where the sun went down slow and fat setting the sea slight as it went. A burning line floated on the horizon for several minutes before that too disappeared. I sipped a Negroni and ate bruschetta, my mind slow.

They had brought their own team of chefs from Naples and I’m afraid to say it beats any of the Greek cooking I’ve had here: linguine with anchovy oil and tomato followed by fresh swordfish fillet with roasted vegetables. Superb. And they so friendly and hospitable willing to chat for ages the following day. He works for Education First getting lecturers from overseas for students in Italy. ‘Education is so important’ he was keen to emphasise. Taken note – and inspiration.

August 13th Harry’s Paradise Garden, Emporios, Kalymnos.

I could have stayed at Oklaca but sadly no decent beaches nearby. Hired a car the following day and in time honoured fashion managed to prang it turning a tight corner hitting a black mercedes 10 minutes after I’d hired it. Again, no shouting or rage just a tremor of shock. Obviously the thought stayed with me – the anticipation of how much it would cost. ‘Just accept it’s going to cost 300 euros’ (it turned out to be 410!)

Anyway Lambi Beach was my next port of call. What a place. It reminded me of when James Bond gets shot by Moneypenny at the start of Skyfall:

M ‘Take the bloody shot’

…..

‘Agent down’.

And the next time we see bond he’s literally washed up drinking in a taverna on a beach.

That was like Lambi Beach. It’s a long pebbly beach with headlands at each end and Dolphin Rooms where I was staying just a few rooms and a bar at the front decorated – I love that about the islands – with nets, buoys, pictures of fish, etc. Everything here is dictated by the sea.

There were the rooms then 50 metres along the beach a taverna with tables on the beach, the legs sunk into the pebbles. Besides this little else. What a way to live. To be awake and asleep always hearing or feeling the waves, eating what the sea has provided. Got drunk again that night and partook of the holy trinity, so excited I was by where I was. Funny how I’ve been drinking and smoking heavily out here but not too done in by it. Sleeping lots too. Gorgeous French and Albanian girls, smiling and unaffected, made it.

If I have had one regret there hasn’t been much ‘adventure’. There’s been a lot of chilling (or baking more like) on the beach. That’s good. I’m just about to finish Zorba, I’ve written, I’ve listened to lots of good music. My electric Summer mix is a cracker – tom and Miki were getting high to it in Ibiza 2 nights ago and sending me fucked messages at 4 in the morning.

Yet I need action, stimulation, exploration. This will be the holiday I’ll remember for being so present (is that the right word?) and unflappable. A massive plus and, as the narrator in Zorba says, we often don’t know how happy we are until afterwards.

Grikos was where I stayed two nights ago. The 11th. More beach life and a bit swank – some massive boats in the harbour – one with its own helicopter, colour coded to the yacht and to all the tiny figures who buzzed around this floating palace. The helicopter took off early evening, buzzed around Patmos and then returned 20 minutes later. Just having a look.

I’ve never been in awe of money or those who have it. It just doesn’t bother me and I’ve met or know quite a few people who have s lot of it. Obviously, it makes no difference to how interesting or wise or entertaining those people are.

Getting ready for going out and watching the bay from my balcony I noticed that the palace had flashing white lights blinking at random along the water line of the boat. It reminded me of the lights you see on glass staircases you get in great, tacky nightclubs around the world. City Limits was the first that came to mind – Cambridge’s crappy club near the station. Palm trees and mirrored stairs. Oh, we had fun in there, though. It just goes to show that you can have 10s or probably 100s of millions but still no taste.

That hotel I stayed in was run by a grumpy old Greek named Stavros. He acted as if I had done him some injury in the past. No hello, never a smile. When I came back after dinner he was chatting to a young German couple and gave me my key without a word or even turning his head to look at me. The first thing he said to me the next day was ‘When are you leaving?’

Did I remind him of an old adversary? Was he going senile? Was he like this to everyone? I think not. Maybe he had an insecurity about blonde, blue eyed boys when he was married to German Anna. They must have both been old enough to remember the war. Or.. he was just a miserable git! Toyed with the idea of writing a review / character assassination but what does it achieve? No happiness for me.

August 14th Emporios

My last night tonight and I have got gradually more remote as I’ve travelled, starting off in buzzing Kos Town and ending up here on the North West coast of Kalymnos. I am surrounded by mountains either inland or out at sea where I can sea Telendos Islet which was once the capital before a volcano destroyed the town and separated the mountain island from the rest of Kalymnos. At night the only lights come from the moon, the stars and the mast lights of the yachts anchored off the beach.

I visited Telendos 2 nights ago. It was about 6.30 pm when I went over, still hot enough to want to be out of the sun. Chugged over on a smelly old bark from Myrties harbour and arrived to a thin line of tavernas. Very quiet here. And walked along the coast North, the mountain a large haunch to my left. At Paradise beach there were 2 teenage girls and a small yacht. Nobody else. Diving in was no different to the many other swims that I’ve had here but when I surfaced I felt winded. I was swimming in a gently undulating sea of black and gold. The black because Telendos blocked the sun and put the water in shadow while the hills of Kalymnos were a bright gold which reflected on the water. Breathless I took big plunges into blue – clear blue – and then back into the black and gold with a vast blazing rock looming over me. Like Zorba I felt I was seeing the earth for the first time. Like early man.

I have had not dissimilar experiences here in Emporios. I feel cut off from the rest of the world. You could lose yourself here. In a remote village at the end of a long road on a small island in the Aegean Sea.

I was bored to begin with. What is there to do here? Then the perspective changes. Time starts to drift. The mind settles. I swim and swim and swim. A Greek turns up yesterday leading a group of French and swims to the island opposite the beach. It must be almost a kilometre away. I choose the peninsula of land to the right of the beach. It’s probably a bit closer but still requires a strong swimmer.

I start not even meaning to go but it just happens. Deep plunges breast stroking arms stretched out to their full extent watching my fingers splay out like I’m getting pleasure from the blanket of water around me. Like a cat stretching. The water gets deeper – 20, 30, 40 feet – and then just the rays of sunlight disappearing into the deep blue and just my breathing. No thought. Just the rock in front of me. No fear. Or not allowing the thought.

Finished Zorba today. It’s really sad but also encouraging in the way it implies making the most of life. What a lucky find. Have now started The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler which I’m already totally gripped by. It’s the evocation of a place at a certain time which is so wonderful. I am there with Latimer.

Thursday 15th

Breakfast In Harry’s Paradise Garden. Fruit and yoghurt with honey, tomato omelette and toast and local jam. Manna from heaven. It’s because of how the food goes with the place isn’t it? Love the way they make seats for 2 people made out of pallets then painted white or blue. Here they are scattered amongst the whitewashed olive trees and large terracotta pots. Bougainvillea blazes with colour everywhere and various other flowers I don’t know.

Feeling a bit fizzy today. I have been drinking a fair bit every night and finished off 20 Camel Lights. Unheard of for me! It goes to show how calm I’ve been the whole 9 days. It really has felt like a dream – people and places come and go. I’m there and them I’m not. And the memory lingers like a kiss.

Kos August 8th 2019

I am completely, unreservedly happy. Full to the brim. Like a child. When the days roll into one another and day becomes night and night becomes day and you don’t even notice. A life that is free. A life of liberty.

My second day in Kos. Arrived the night before last. Reading ‘Zorba the Greek’. It was one of the only books on sale in the local supermarket. I dumped William Stoner (‘Stoner’ – read chapter 1 on the plane) for Zorba. You couldn’t get 2 more different characters but I wanted to be involved with something that was wonderfully flamboyantly Greek. As I told the girl in the supermarket ‘It’s serendipity’. Zorba had found me.

Stoner is wonderful too but he’ll have to wait til I’m back in the UK. Anyway, at the end of chapter 1 Zorba tells the narrator ‘you must realise I’m a man’

The narrator responds ‘A man? What do you mean?’

‘Well, free!’

What is it to be free? Are any of us truly free? It’s something I used to aspire to and think about and even write about as a young man. Today, without fear or self doubt or that planning nagging I do to myself I seemed to walk like a man in a story: bold and self assured. The assuredness that comes with self knowledge. There was an old friends of my parents, David, sadly no longer with us who I always liked so much. He was always so interested in me even though he was much older but he also seemed so happy in himself. Calm and consistent in his demeanour. I felt he knew himself. It’s what I aspire to.

I wasn’t even phased by the fact I had lost my goggles for the second time in a week. Not even a wince or a raised voice. Weird.

I looked up the different islands I want to visit and bent my body into the wind and the light and yearned for nothing more than that and the next port of call. Yes, I want a wife and a family but at times like this it seems like a completely alien concept. And I feel a little bit of Zorba.

Went to the Asklepion today, a huge complex which was a healing temple built about the 4th century BC. It’s hard to imagine what it was like although the vast sets of steps which lead you from the ground level to the 3rd or upper level remain in tact and the position is incredible, surrounded by pine trees and facing East over the Gulf of Gökova towards Bodrum.

People being treated were housed in dormitories and then in their sleep were expected to be visited by the gods. The next day they had their drama translated and were given the appropriate treatment.

There was a frigidarium, thermae and a room with hot air too. It sounded like the sort of place I would have liked. There was something a little bit too austere about the design, though. It gave me a bit of a chill, not the wholesome aura I was expecting (even if I am visiting almost two and a half thousand years later). It reminded me of a concentration camp or maybe that was influenced by the harsh tones of the German tour guide standing next to me as I looked up those steps.

This is where they think Hippocrates was taught and inspired to become the ‘father of medicine’. It’s disputed whether he actually wrote the Hippocratic Oath.

The plane tree where he taught his theories of medicine to his students still stands in the heart of Kos Town beside an old bridge that seems to divide the port from the main harbour where rows of excursion boats line up facing rows of restaurants each with a person standing to try to persuade you to come in. I feel like asking them if they think that tactic actually works.

I have stayed in a lovely place Hotel Afendoulis. Peaceful, sleepy run by Alexis and his son, Demetrius. The rooms are basic but, like all Greeks, they are keen to offer their hospitality and welcome. It is important to show your appreciation to this hospitality – even it is coming at a price. They certainly expect warmth to be returned.

I have breakfast every morning under jasmine and bougainvillea of tomato omelette, toast with their homemade jams – quince, pumpkin, tomato, fig, grape and lemon, a of them grown in their own house outside of town, yoghurt and honey.

Kos Town has been pleasant and I’ve used it for my cultural ‘bit’ but it’s time to search out the Greece I love: wild coastlines, clear sea and fishing villages. This morning I sail for Patmos.

Bristol August 6th 2019

I wish I could put into words the new found confidence I have but it’s best I don’t. Every day when I feel normal and content and unflustered and not thinking all the time ‘What next?’ ‘What do I need to do next?’ or ‘What should I be doing with my life?’ it feels wonderful. Silence in my mind. No that’s not right but less noise. David might see it’s just recognising that thoughts are inside-out, the thought appears and creates a feeling, not outside-in where we think we are being affected by the world around us.

Having said that, not working and having a ball – catching up with my nearest and dearest, sailing to The Scillies and now spending 9 days in The Dodecanese – is likely to create a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing. No kidding. However this wasn’t true at all of the start of the Summer holidays: 3 days of rinsing it on my own and my cousin from Australia made me paranoid and guilty about doing nothing.

This is something else that has changed: unlike other friends who are still regular smokers, stoners and coke takers I’ve realised once and for all that I’m much better off without it. Yes, it happens but far less and when it does there’s way less of everything apart from alcohol. And there is no pining after it. I know the solidity, self assurance and focus on my life and well being at what seems like an important juncture are the new lift.

When I was driving from Suffolk to Bristol the day before my birthday there was this real sense of calm. Gone was the slightly manic side to my nature – the silly, crazy me. Much of the time I just wasn’t thinking anything and when a worry came up it didn’t FEEL like a worry. It didn’t give me that cold rush of anxiety that I had become used to. Somehow we develop don’t we? And it’s a mystery as to how or why.

I saw Lamprini yesterday, my Athenian date and possible future girlfriend. We went to Topsham and got the ferry over to The Turf Hotel and had lunch. She told me about the anxiety she gets from being a senior lecturer at a top university. She told me about that drive to keep adapting and improving one’s life because none of us want to feel that feeling of being stuck in a rut. I know that feeling – when I was at my last job and to some extent in my new – going through the motions, neither loving it or hating it. Somehow inert. Needing to adapt.

When I think of September I’m excited because writing is formally going to become part of my life. Something that I properly DO. At the same time I want to be inventive, creative and consistent in my teaching without it taking over my life. This has always been the tricky balancing act. With 2 days teaching don’t spend any longer than one day planning or marking. It shouldn’t interfere with my writing. My other big idea at the moment is buying a flat in Clifton to let out for Air BnB but that will have to wait.

Anger is an emotion that I think we all feel difficult to contain sometimes. I had another one of those periods of a few hours where everything seems to turn to shit but it’s that perception of it ‘turning to shit’ which probably makes it so. I stopped off in Bristol to pick up Cariprisodol and Zopiclone (ok, I’m no angel, I know).

I seem to have been getting lots of matches on dating apps recently. Can they sense my new found confidence? Now now – don’t be cocky. The temptation into new experiences that wouldn’t have been possible before. Kaitlin. 18 years old. Looking for a daddy for a purely sexual relationship and then what she wanted to dress up as and what she liked to do. Is this wrong? It felt naively all part of the wave of good luck that I’m riding at the moment.

Didn’t have that long to sort out a few things before leaving for Gatwick. At the local Post Office they couldn’t find my order for 800 euros. Oh. I look up post office number but get a helpline which says ‘He-lloooo. We hope you are well. This call will cost you 6 pounds.’ Hmm. Phone the Post Office. ‘For enquiries about travel money go to postoffice.co.uk.’ Feeling the heat rise in my chest. Phone my bank. They’re having problems checking my id. Even after talking about my holiday for a minute the voice recognition cannot id me. Oh, technology. Next they put me through to someone else who starts asking me about what payments I made 2 days ago. My mind goes blank. The strangest thing is happening as I speak to the man at First Direct – my phone is on speakerphone but if I try to turn off speakerphone it won’t let me – it turns off for 2 seconds and then comes back. It’s amazing how quick this slide into chaos is but also how what my reaction is: I’m getting cross but also imagining crazy things: can a phone be infected with a virus? Can someone control a phone remotely? Could Kaitlin be a catfish for a middle aged man intent on fucking with my head or worse stealing the money from my account. Kafkaesque paranoia sets in.

I’m being controlled.

Oh, the power of the imagination (not always a positive thing). No, there is a simpler reason. I forgot to confirm my travel money order with the Post Office and then I don’t know what was going on with my phone but that’s what messed with the voice recognition software. Amazing how it becomes a crisis when these small problems start to stack up added with a time constraint – having a plane to catch – and it develops into a perfect storm. In my mind that is. No amount of telling myself that it’s only thought (David) or trying to pivot to approach the situation as the best version of myself (Dominic) could hold back the vast surges of panic and anger.

Of course I find a bureau de change 5 minutes away on The Triangle and the exchange rate isn’t much different anyway. Suddenly it’s fine. Of course it is. As I walk away from the bureau I check my Tinder feed because I can’t quite believe what Kaitlin says she wants, what potential situation – something I had only ever imagined as a fantasy – we might end up in. As the page loads her photo disappears.

Of course it does.

And I’m left wondering about what might have been with Kaitlin the pretend schoolgirl. Quite possibly for the best.

Are they not the 2 strongest emotions? Anger and desire. And I feel both so intensely. But surely that is what it is to live. It’s always been my philosophy. To live as full a life as possible and to feel as much as possible too. Today was no exception.

Leader to The Scilly Isles July 28th to August 2nd

July 28th

45 today. Left Falmouth from Pendennis Marina aboard (another) Brixham trawler, ‘Leader’. Excellent company – 12 paying travellers/ 6 crew. Lovely day. Still warm. Some cloud. Got underway at around 2.30pm around Lizard Point and snuck into Mullion Cove behind the island only a few feet from the jetty with the Mullion Cove Hotel peering down on us from the hill up to the left.

Everyone unwound after a couple of hours. Crew quick to get us putting the bowsprit in place, sweating and tailing, pulling up the sails. The camaraderie started to grow. Several people in their sixties, a few middle aged bods like me, then a confident and keen 19 year old crew man and a 13 year old girl here with her mum. All affable and quick to laugh.

Enya brought cake and sang happy birthday. Nice surprise. How did they know? Must have been asked for DoB on applying.

Paul was director at BOV for 5 years til 1991. And is a director / scriptwriter. Urbane and a little out of place amongst the talk of boats or wildlife, yet interesting, bright, fun, eccentric and instantly likeable. Also taking lots of photos which is always good.

Simon a management consultant who lives in Munich, 41 – closest in age and personality to me.

David, a roofer from Doncaster. Droll. Good banter. As the skipper tried to tie on the sail to the mizzenmast at 11pm this evening with our torches on his behind:

‘It’s been a while since I’ve seen the sun shine out of somebody’s arse.’

Simon. The mate. Funny. Plenty of banter but also kind. Well built with a face that looks like..?

Saw dolphins twice on the way over and on the way into Mullion Cove huge white domed jellyfish with blue tentacles like 1960s table lamps giving off a slightly psychedelic green or purple glow as they float a few feet beneath the surface 2/3 feet in length – the domes 1/2 feet across. Alien. Ghostlike.

July 29th

Fairly soon after leaving Mullion Cove the bad weather hit. First rain and a driving North Westerly. As forecast. Before you even notice it land is a grey smear then just a memory. The world is millions of lines – varying tones of grey/black stretching to the sky.

And you realise this is all there’ll be now for the whole day: the movement of the boat, the spray and the swirls as she slips through the dark water. Resigned to the limitations of this new world you’re in, the mind starts to wander.

Pretty soon the wind was up to force 7 and the rain was driving from the stern making hard tapping sounds on the hood of my waterproof. We hunker down trying to get used to the motion. Pretty soon people are looking pale and have the stare. People are sick and then apologise. Others kneel and vomit over the side.

We start to rise and fall through bigger troughs of sea. I love the motion. Leaning forward and back with her, onwards we go. Under sail with 3 sails up and doing 5 or 6 knots. After a couple of hours amazingly the black clouds parted and blue sky was the dominant. Out of nowhere a pair of white shapes shot towards the bay like torpedoes. Dolphins. A trio flying / slicing through the water in unison. Following the bow. Are they just having fun? You can see why people would think so but someone said they can find fish at the bow.

Amazing how quickly things can change at sea. It was rough enough already but the swell had been following the boat. Dave and I were in the bow. The dolphins had swum across the bow out of sight. He said ‘That’s them saying goodbye.’

About 10 minutes later the swell was suddenly coming from the South and hitting the front of the boat. She started pitching at a 45 degree angle water rising across the deck, waves splashing over the side.

The next thing I remember the deckhand’s face was in mine. ‘Make sure you’re tied on’. I’m on my knees trying to get the red line from my life jacket clipped on to the safety line. I look up to see Dave arching over onto his face. It’s difficult staying on my feet. Your instinctive reaction is to get on your hands and knees – like trying not to fall off a 45 degree roof in a storm. Everyone who had been sitting in the stern – most of them poorly were rushed downstairs. ‘Anyone who wants to stay on deck tie on!’

Pitching and heaving in 8-10 metre swell – this was exciting sailing. The deck corkscrewing while being periodically drenched in water. Holding onto the side for dear life while trying to take down the jib, the feeling of being at the mercy of the elements alone, alone on the lumpen hills of the dark grey sea. I am good at this. Enya the cook, 20 , big, jolly was suddenly on deck on her knees stoney faced clearing the deck, making fast and waiting for orders. There’s something dramatic and heroic about this most ancient of battles between man and sea.

Walls of surf would roll towards the stern and pass underneath us.

Passed around to the North of the islands because we couldn’t go between St Agnes and St Mary’s. Around the top of St Martin’s and then in to St Mary’s from the West so that we could be sheltered from the West by Tresco and Bryher. Moored in St Mary’s Pool 2 miles out from Hughtown. Most of us tired or ill after a hard day’s sail.

July 30th

As predicted a force 9 gale blowing from the South. We moved a bit in the night and, God, does she creak in the night when we move. Discovered that she was built in Galmpton, Devon in 1892 but to be worked out of Lowestoft. A nice Suffolk connection. She would have had 5 crew doing everything by hand – one of them a boy – and no engine. Must have been tough.

Unable to move today because of the wind. Frustrating for us all being in sight of land and this amplified by the ferries that come past fairly regularly with day trippers waving. Fortunately we all get on well. Had a run in with grumpy Tim on the first night who sleeps in the bunk beneath me but now it’s resolved. We sit on deck, dry our waterproofs from the day before, chat, read and chat some more.

July 31st

A lovely day and a sea taxi takes us at 10.30 to Tesco. The Scillies look different from the mainland – bright white beaches, white not pale yellow. The ground is sandy and low like Caribbean islands with the odd hillock, collection of rocks or wooded area.

Incredible flowers – blues and oranges and in the Botanic Garden beautiful terraced gardens and a collection of figureheads from the various wrecks that litter the rocks around the islands.