©2008 by ©Adrian Leverkuhn
A couple of hundred yards from the Tower of London, smack-dab in the middle of the old city, there is a marina, and actually, as these things go, it's a rather decent one. A bit of a chore to get to -- fighting tides up the Thames and all -- but I'd heard it was worth the effort. Anyway, with winter coming on, I needed to find a place to hide from the cold weather, and, not speaking Dutch or French, London seemed an interesting, hell, even a safe choice.
I'd finished the summer sailing through the Baltic -- alone, as had been my choice of late; I'd spent a few weeks puttering around Denmark, then sailed up the east coast of Sweden and into the Gota Canal, where we (that is, the boat and I) sailed through pine forests and cute little fairy-tale villages for a few weeks before coming out on the southwest coast north of Gothenburg. We found time to drift westward, to Oslo, but as the days grew shorter and the breezes cooler it was becoming apparent that the time to head south was -- here, now. Norway was out of the question. Shoveling snow off the deck just to climb down to an ice covered dock, then marching off through knee-deep snow in order to pay two hundred grand for a beer? No; Oslo was nice, but not that nice.
All that needed be done, really, was to make a simple decision: London, Paris, or Amsterdam. So? Flip a coin? Nope. Draw straws? I didn't like the odds. How about pure self-centered fear of being lost on a subway at three in the morning, and having to rely on language skills last seriously exercised when LBJ was leaving office?
That'll win every time.
So much for intestinal fortitude.
With that decision made, I found myself motoring up the Thames in late September and locking up into a marina that was not yet -- thank you, God -- full; I signed a six month lease and set about cleaning up the boat. This meant getting her ready for the winter, and this promised to be a royal pain in the ass.
You take a lot for granted in your shore-side life. Water, electricity, fuel for heating and cooking -- these are all handy, indeed readily available, whenever you need them. You're either hooked into the grid or these things are delivered right to your door; you rarely question their availability. Not so when you live on a sailboat. Not so at all, even on a good day.
Life is radically different once you cut the industrial umbilical, and just to spice-up your life a bit, once you leave North America you find you can no longer simply plug into the nearest outlet and charge up the batteries. No, for the electrical systems overseas are totally and destructively incompatible with our own. Alterations and modifications need to be made, and these take time, and, well, cold weather is always in the back of your mind -- even while money makes this whooshing sound as it's sucked out of your jeans. But its little things like this that makes cruising such an interesting pain in the ass, and therefore, I've been told, worth the effort. Everyday is full of unexpected surprises. Some are even more surprising than others.
The marina in old London is almost completely surrounded -- and closely so, I have to add -- by large buildings, not to mention the Tower of London, which is, as I've mentioned, literally just a stone's throw away. Apartments, restaurants, businesses of every kind -- all are right there, all right outside your companionway door, and they surround the marina like a mote. Having lived aboard by that time for a little over a year, I was (somewhat) used to this rather conditional definition of privacy. Let me explain.
I spent a couple of months living right under the patio of a Hooter's restaurant while making the boat ready for her Atlantic crossing; said restaurant was, it seemed, about a quarter of a mile from the end of the local airport's runway. A typical Friday evening was interesting, to say the least, in any number of oddly amusing ways -- not least of which was the un-diminishing noise that accompanies large numbers of drunk, horny men pursuing large-breasted waitresses adorned with shiny spandex leggings. Jet's coming in, the whining roar coming in waves about two minutes apart, accentuated by Madonna belting out 'Like A Virgin' over and over and over again, and all week long, too, and all while fourteen hundred stockbrokers and construction workers toss down Budweiser's and chicken wings on the terrace above my boat. And all, meanwhile, trying to talk their waitress -- that cheerful girl with the gazangas just marginally smaller that the pointy end of the Hindenburg -- into a trip to the head for a quick lesson in sword swallowing.
So, if you would, please, play this out in your head: jet approaching, engine noise building to a roar as the aircraft passes just overhead -- and, oh yes, for a real thrill, imagine it passing about forty feet above the top of your boat's mast -- then the noise fading, fading, and ... 'Like a virgin...ooh...for the very first time...ooh...ooh...'; the testosterone level on the terrace is reaching critical mass (think: China Syndrome, industrial reactor accidents, etc.), so (you still with me, amigo?), with beer bottles clinking, chicken wings flying (over the rail and onto the deck), and all just in time for the next jet, you're sitting in your bunk at midnight, too pissed off to even think about spanking the monkey, when a half eaten chicken wing makes it down the hatch overhead and lands right on your face.
So, how would you feel?
Unfortunately, I'd signed a three month lease, and so to this day, whenever I hear 'Like A Virgin,' I instinctively crouch down and run for cover, knowing that the barrage of chicken wings can't be far behind.
London, I came to understand, is not Florida.
It is louder.
And the people talk funny.
And this came as something of a surprise to me. I'd visited before, so thought Londoners (all toughened by the blitz and having had to watch Margaret Thatcher on the television for a decade) were still a rather placid lot. You know, gray-faced men wearing bowlers, carrying umbrellas and briefcases down into The Tube and riding out to anonymous red brick houses in towns with names like Last Farthing and Clinched Buttock, all quiet and orderly and pleasant.
So sorry, Mr Yates. Things fell apart. The center did not hold.
When I turned into the marina, I found there was a Hooters and I instinctively ducked. Fortunately, however, I was assigned a space well away from that august establishment. I could barely hear Madonna from my slip.
I was safe.
As it turned out, I was now in the flight-path of a new, rather upscale French restaurant. Nice Mediterranean terrace, nice menu, nice tables on the nice stone patio overlooking my slip in the nice marina, nice big umbrellas shaded the patio on sunny days while really nice candlelight cast cool shadows on everything at night; an undoubtedly nice string quartet played sumptuously nice music somewhere distantly beyond the shadows. A Nice place, if you get my drift. You could buy a nice new Volvo for the price of a nice dinner up there, or so I'd heard.
So, it was either this or Hooters. Being a modestly adventurous sort, I chose the French place. Perhaps I would get pelted with snails. Wonderful.
That's how life goes when you jump out of your cubicle and into the fire. How do we get so used to choosing between bad and worse. And why do we grow so comfortable with such a lousy point of view.
Well, enough of that.
Let's talk physics for a moment.
Yes, Physics. You remember, of course, that heat rises? Well, odors don't rise, as a rule, they sink like a stone, and garlic simmering in white wine and butter must be heavier than plutonium. Quail turds in a tartly amusing glaze of delicately expressed panty-liners with pommes de raw sewage? Nope. Sinks like a real big stone.
And the point I'm trying to make here is?
This place I was moored under cooked stuff that smelled divine. Really great. Trust me on this. But all these heavenly smells sink like a stone -- and, consequently, into whatever lies below. Which in the instant case was right into my boat. And not to labor a point here, but the odors sank right onto my bunk in the forward cabin. And even more directly to the point, right down onto my shiny bald head and up my twice-broken but still functional nose.
Which wasn't a bad thing that first night, and perhaps not even for that first week. I got used to flaming goose turds ala orange, and even the linguini in a delicate limburger cheese sauce. No, really; I did. Then one night the garlic, the fennel, the basil, all of it, it swarmed and attacked like a mad penguin and in pure panic and desperation I sought out some hippie hideaway off Piccadilly Circus and stocked up on incense . . . patchouli, sandalwood, essence of camel crotch . . . anything, really, to fight the nonstop wave of nouvelle cuisine that was bombarding me almost all evening, every evening -- save Monday. Big sign out front: Closed Monday. Thank God. They were, however, open for lunch weekends. Life's a bitch, and I was drowning in a white wine and garlic scented Hell.
You'd think the food, the stench, would have been enough, but oh no, not on your life. This place had so much more to offer.
On the pleasant, rather too warmish Indian summer nights the south of England was enjoying that year, everyone, it seemed, wanted to sit outside on that fucking patio. And who could blame 'em, really. Not me. It was -- dare I say it -- Nice out. So all these Nice people are working all day, go to their Nice homes in the evening and change into Nice clothes, dump on liberal quantities of Penhaligon and Chanel and, for all I know, a little Eau de Muskrat, and head out for a Nice dinner -- right over my bunk.
Perfume, cologne, eau de whatever? It sinks. Sinks like the bird-turd in a martini.
Sautéed snails testicles and l'eau de muskrat; from five to midnight -- the only reprieve coming from passing thunderstorms and the odd cold front. No way to escape the fumes without shutting down the hatches and port-lights and turning on the a/c, and that was where the incompatible electrical system bugaboo came into play. It was going to take time to get all the pieces of the puzzle sorted out and functional, so come 1700 hours it was either close down and steam in a patchouli-soaked mist or go for a stroll. A nice, seven hour stroll.
London's a good place, especially after a year and a half on a boat, for taking a stroll. Let's just say I enjoyed those little walks a lot and leave it at that.
I'd come in early from one such stroll, and though there was a huge party in progress inside the restaurant, a storm was in the offing and the winds were picking up. When I returned all the boats were rolling and the party was in high gear. A halyard had worked its way loose on a neighbor's boat and its shackle was playing "Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida" on the metal mast next door, so I went over and tidied that up -- and then mine came loose. A hard gust shook the marina, and boats rolled and clanged while I dashed over to my boat. I was up by the mast lashing down lines and tying loose things down when I heard someone on the terrace up above saying something I assumed was cute and sarcastic, and I don't know why but I looked up, expecting at any moment to have a sherry poured down my shirt, or to be pelted with snails testicles.
There was, instead, a well dressed man standing by the railing; he looked rather like James Bond, as a matter of fact. One ankle crossed in front of the other, casually leaning on the rail with martini in hand (though probably stirred), by the look of his (unmoving, even in this wind) salt and pepper hair he appeared to be about fifty and I don't know why but he looked filthy rich. Maybe it was the diamond-encrusted gold Rolex that gave him away. Anyway, he was looking at me.
"Sorry," I said over the wind. "What was that?"
"Quite a blow tonight," the man said.
"I've heard that rumor. Yes."
"We're having a party up here. Come on up."
I looked down at my mangy boat-shoes and salty shorts. "I'm not really dressed for it. Besides, I wasn't invited."
"I'm inviting you. Come on up."
"Pardon me, but who are you?"
"Ted. I own the place. The party's going to go on hours longer, so you may as well join us. Besides, there are some fun people here."
"Right." Pardon my French, but I've heard that one before. "Thanks."
The place was full of all the right people, I'm sure. A cool jazz quartet in a far corner and two open bars, tables of food and the conversation -- oddly enough -- not too loud. An interesting crowd in a tweedy sort of way. Very academic looking sorts of people; older men, obviously pretty well off by the looks of things, younger women, obviously well endowed in a physical sense, single, and on the prowl.
Very few older women.
A couple of the women gave me an appraising -- and dismissive -- glance before turning their attentions back on the assembled men while I wandered around in a fog, and then 'Ted' found me.
"Ted Sunderland," he said, holding out his hand. "I've got to introduce you round the place. What's your story?"
"Lloyd Jones," I said. "Architect, Chicago, on the run."
His left eyebrow shot up quizzically: "Really? Smashing! What or who on earth from?"
"Oh, right! Well, you've come to the right place. What about the boat?"
"My escape vehicle."
"Super! This is getting better by the minute! Terrence! Come here!"
Terrence was on older gent accompanied by a woman who might have been his great granddaughter in other less amusing circumstances. The girl was dressed in black leather and looked as though she wanted to do nothing more than to put Terrence over her knee and spank his skinny little ass. She licked her lips when she saw me; I had the distinct impression she was considering whether to have me served rare or medium-well.
"Terrence, this is Lloyd. Lloyd is a hit man for the mafia and on the run from the FBI." I put my hand out. "Lloyd, this is Terrence. Terrence is a member of the House of Lords."
"Shut up, Ted," Terrence said angrily, for quite obviously he was an MP of some sort.
"Terrence, Lloyd is staying on a yacht down below. I thought you two might have some things in common to talk about." With that, Ted drifted off to another group and Terrence and his Arm Candy went back to their corner. Perhaps they were discussing some sort of anti-terror legislation, or what size dildo she was going to work him over with later. They were so sweet looking together. Really.
Ted was off with another couple, laughing at some quip and grabbing a tidbit from a passing waitress, so -- as I was actually quite hungry -- I made my way over to the buffet and took up a plate. The food really looked quite impressive, and I grabbed a couple of nice looking nibbles and retired to a dark corner. After a couple of bites I was quite sure the chef out back was some sort of culinary genius and, right on cue, she came out a moment later carrying a plate of sashimi to set out on the table.
She set the plate down and looked my way; I waved, she smiled at me then walked back into the kitchen. I, of course, made my way over to the sashimi. I am not modest when it comes to raw fish, by the way.
Ted had looked at the chef as she returned to the kitchen, then wandered over to a dark corner and put his arms around a sweet young thing and kissed her. I mean really kissed her. It was one of those big, lingering, open-mouthed kinds of kisses on finds in movies with leading ladies with names like Dixie or Saber; one hand-on-butt the other on-breast kind of kiss. Ted seemed to be quite the ladies man. And I suppose he still is.
I watched these goings-on for a while, and saw that Ted was like a butterfly, really, moving from group to group, talking with one man, laughing with another girl, making his way back to the far corner where his girl waited and making out for a moment, then making the circuit again and again. I finished on plate of goodies then went back for another, and picked up some red wine as well, then retired back to my corner.
The chef came out again, refreshed some dish and made an inventory of what needed to be looked after, then she looked up at me and walked over.
"Good evening," she said, and she spoke with a heavy French accent. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"Ah, well, I suppose so. The food is excellent, at any rate."
"Oh, thank you. You must be the only one eating. I don't think I've seen you here before."
"No. That fellow over there," I said, pointing at Ted -- who was now chatting with Terrence and the would-be dominatrix, "invited me up a few minutes ago. I'm on my boat, in the marina."
"Ooh," she said. "And what is your name?"
"Lloyd. Lloyd Jones." I put my hand out and she took it.
"Michelle," she said. "I am Ted's wife."
I turned red while Ted looked our way; he walked over a moment later. He kissed his wife lightly on the cheek and slipped his arm casually around her shoulder. "Darling, this is..."
"Yes, we've met," she said cooly. "How are you?"
"Well, splendid! Did he tell you he lives on a boat in the marina?"
"Yes, he did," she said as she stepped out of his grasp. "And now, if you will excuse me, I have things to attend to in the kitchen." She said this to me -- politely, then turned and walked back into, one assumes, the kitchen.
"She can be a, well, something of a bitch sometimes," Ted said while looking at his wife depart. "But, hey, right! You know what I mean, don't you? Running from your wife, didn't you say?"
"I did indeed, because I am."
"Not a chef, I take it?" he said, laughing at this thought.
"Investment banker, and a lawyer."
"Sounds like my type!" Ted said, laughing gaily now.
"Really? Not mine; at least not in a long time."
"Ah, well. I hope you're enjoying yourself this evening. Is the food up to par?"
"I found her in France a couple of years ago. Avignon. She was famous there, really famous. I simply had to have her. In fact, I opened this restaurant, just for her."
"Very considerate of you."
"Quite. Well, stay as long as you like. If I don't see you again, do drop in some time." He turned and fled to the girl in the corner, kissed her fiercely and left the restaurant with her.
I stood and watched in a kind of mild shock while all this happened and was making to leave when the chef, Michelle, came out. She looked around the restaurant, then at me, before she walked over to my corner.
"Did he leave?"
"Hm-m? Oh, Ted, you mean? Yes, I believe so."
It was odd. She was neither angry nor sad, just resigned, really, to a simple fact of life. I couldn't imagine what she felt. Humiliation, perhaps, but how angry I would feel? There was really no way I could imagine suppressing so much anger, at such a blatantly public and brutal act of betrayal.
But I did see a bit of a tear welling up in her eye. No?
"Well, perhaps I'd best be getting along," I said somewhat uneasily.
"So, you live on your boat? In the marina?"
"Yes. Yes I do."
"I have never been on a boat. Is it nice?"
"I, uh, well yes, it can be. What do you mean, you've never been on a boat. Never?"
"No, never. I can not even swim. I grew up far from the sea."
"Perhaps I could come by some day and you could show me? Your boat?"
"Yes, sure. I'll be here, 'til March in fact. Any time."
She held out her hand and I took it: "Well, it was nice to meet you. I must now settle the kitchen."
"Good night," I said. I watched her as she turned, and it was as if I could feel her misery in the air all around the room. It was complete, total, the kind of desolation you feel when you've made a wrong choice and know it; when you've screwed yourself and you know there's no way to make things right. It was sad, and as I watched her walk away I felt I was watching a nasty tide turn and roll in unannounced.