“Never get out of the boat.” Absolutely goddamn right! Unless you were goin’ all the way… “
As some of you may be aware, I will very shortly be departing for a holiday (that’s vacation in American, EL James) on the Norfolk Broads with Lady Barton St Mary, Master Johnny, Gerald (my old fag from school), Sarah (who won’t use her title for political reasons), The Sexton, Pen and Master George.
This involves hiring (chartering?) a large cruiser that looks like an upturned coach and spending the week meandering about on the water and crashing into other boats, combined with a concerted effort to binge drink and overeat.
Not only that, we have also hired (chartered?) a small sailing dinghy. Sarah has promised to give us lessons, which means by the end of the holiday, The Sexton and I will be able to say we can travel in ever decreasing circles whilst not getting dizzy and, in addition, find several novel and amusing ways to fall in. Gerald, on the other hand, will don his captain’s peaked cap and assure us he can skipper a sailing dinghy, but won’t get dizzy due to the novel and amusing ways we find to push him in.
Meanwhile, the three ladies will be together, drinking gin and tonics and assessing their chances of possessing ultimate control of the vessel.
Master Johnny and Master George will no doubt continue their ultimate quest to find the
best lolling position on a bed whilst texting, eating crisps, drinking cider and farting all at the same time. Until half way through their holiday, when both of them have played enough Microsoft Sailboat Simulator that they can steal the dinghy in the middle of the night and make their way to Great Yarmouth with ease.
All good fun, you may think, me included. But in the past month, two simple actions have had a terrible effect on me.
The first action: Having obtained a Kobo Reader, I decided to try it out for the first time by reading one of the classics pre-loaded onto the machine. I chose ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad; the story of Marlow, sent up the Congo River to find Kurtz, a station manager who appears to have fallen ill, but is revered by the natives, who are cruelly treated by the rest of The Company.
The second action: I decided to watch a film on our online film account. Out of thousands of films (that’s movies in American, EL James), I chose ‘Apocalypse Now’, a film I’ve seen at least half a dozen times before, which is loosely based on Conrad’s novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
No problem, you may think. Except that night, when I went to bed, I had the first experience of a terrifying, vivid, recurring dream. Please allow me to share this dream. It may be the best therapy for me:
(Fade in: sound of the regular beating of ride -on lawnmower blades…)
‘Every minute I stay in Randall Towers, I get weaker, and every minute Norfolk squats in the reeds, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around, the walls moved in a little tighter …
I am aboard a cruise ship, slowly chug chugging its way along a wide expanse of water. A white, milky stream of fog rises off the surface, creating an eerie, enveloping vapour, impenetrable, disorientating. Up in the cabin in front of me I can see the wide silhouette of the Quartermaster Chief – Sexton, the wheelman, who appears to be leaning forward, trying to discern anything approaching in front of us.
In the middle of the deck stand Lady BSM and Pen, long bargepoles in their hands. Master Johnny and Master George appear from behind the mounted machine guns, dressed in camouflage trousers, their heads bedecked with bandanas, dancing to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction‘ as it thunders out from the huge ghetto blaster at their feet, the crescendo echoing back off the thick miasma.
As the music fades, I make my way up to the wheelhouse to speak to The Sexton.
“I don’t know where I’m taking this boat, but I’m bloody fed up with driving now,” he says.
“We’re about 10 clicks north of The Thurne Bridge,” I tell him.
He looks at me with narrowed eyes.
“That’s Horsey Mere,” he whispers.
“That’s classified,” I reply.
He looks thoughtfully at the white wall of murk in front of us.
“I haven’t had my lunch yet,” he says menacingly, frowning.
The air is suddenly filled with a dreaded whooshing noise and out of the blankness appears a blanket of flying objects, orange and sharpened at one end with green flight feathers. We were under attack!
The lethal sharpened carrots of the Norfolkers zip across the bow of the ship as the boys mount their guns and unleash hell into the unknown: DAGGADAGGADAGGADAGGA!!!
Carrots of all sizes zip past my head as I cower in the wheelhouse, as The Sexton, caution abandoned, opens up the throttle and accelerates into who knew what, unconcerned with crashing into banks or other vessels. I’m vaguely aware of Lady BSM’s voice, desperately shouting something about exceeding the speed limit and 4 miles an hour.
The cacophony lasts for several minutes before I call ceasefire. Then, just silence, except for the ringing in my ears. The onslaught had ended as fast as it had begun. I look forward to see the fog lifting and turn, smiling at The Sexton.
He stands staring down at the carrot embedded in the middle of his chest. Taking hold of it with both hands, he pulls it from his body with a shuddering movement.
Holding the carrot out in front of him, he looks me in the eyes.
“Is that it? A bloody carrot for lunch?” he says pitifully, before falling in a crumpled heap on the deck.
As Pen and Lady BSM rush forward to tend to him, I look ahead once more. In front of us are dozens and dozens of canoes, full of local Norfolk villagers, standing up, their torsos and faces painted white, their eyes pulled open wide with sticking tape that’s attached to their eyelids and forehead in some crude attempt to mimic cosmetic surgery, wearing brown shorts from George at Asda.
The canoes gently drift to one side to allow us passage. I notice that several of the villagers are wearing crude wigs with black hair that sticks out in all directions. Others wear bottle openers or corkscrews around their necks, tied with thin blue nylon string. All these details showed how much they wanted to imitate and please their idol.
I realise this is the end of the line.
The reeds by the jetty ahead of us suddenly part and out steps a woman, wide eyed, her hair frizzy and wild, with large black circles painted around her eyes. We all watch mesmerised as she waves her arms in arcs about her body and bends and flexes her legs, which shift her long, torn skirts about her. We flinch as this woman throws back her head and gives out an air piercing screech.
“THIS. IS. LIKE. CAMPING. I. HATE. BLOODY.CAMPING!!!!”
Another rustle of reeds and she disappears. I look at the rest of the crew, who are surrounding the carrot spattered Sexton.
“Well, we’ve found Sarah. Gerald can’t be far away.”
We move slowly forward and tie up the boat to the jetty. More white faced Norfolkers have appeared and silently watch. There’s frantic movement behind them. It’s Steeley, the Tinker’s Friend.
“ You’ve come to see the great man!” he cries, “follow me, I’ll take you to him; don’t talk to him, just listen, man, just listen!”
We make our way up the bank towards a cave that’s been excavated out of the earth. We’re surrounded and followed by Steeley and the Norfolkers. Flanking this opening is a chilling sight; the heads of individuals that had displeased Gerald over time, impaled on old bamboo sticks: traffic wardens, planning officers, architects, builders, tax inspectors.
“The heads, you’re looking at the heads,” says Steeley. He winces. “Sometimes he goes too far.”
To the left and right of the cave the villagers had made little settlements, with tall structures formed from old Rebellion beer kegs, gin bottles and cardboard toilet roll cylinders – shrines to their new god.
We step inside. The only lighting comes from an ipad, its glow reflecting off the face of Gerald. He stares intently at the screen before saying:
“Who are you?”
“I’m a blog writer.”
“You’re an errand boy,” he replies, “sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”
I feel a sudden rush of air as Pen bustles into the cave and past me. Before I can open my mouth, she grabs Gerald by the ear and marches him out of the cave.
“This dream is very silly, I’m going to stop it,” she says.
As she breezes out of the cave, dragging Gerald with her, the Norfolkers take a step back.
“You don’t talk to Heraldo, man, he talks to ..” starts Steeley.
“Shut up and get on the boat,” says Pen, looking at him disapprovingly.
“I’ve never known such bad behaviour.”
Steeley looks at the floor, downcast, before meekly following her. Lady Barton St Mary appears with Sarah, her arm around the distraught woman’s shoulders.
“You can borrow some of my moisturiser and hair conditioner,” she says, smiling sympathetically at her.
“I hate bloody camping” says Sarah, forlornly.
I join them as they make their way back to the boat. As we approach, we can see Master Johnny and George, dangling their legs over the side, eating a maxi bag of Doritos each and drinking large cans of Red Bull. The Sexton waves with a fish slice from the galley window, a big band aid plaster on his chest, cooking bacon. Gerald looks up, smiling serenely.
“I love the smell of bacon in the morning,” he states, “smells like…hickory.”
And then I wake up, relieved. The whole ordeal is finally over and I can relax. Except it isn’t. We haven’t been on holiday to The Broads yet. It’s something we still have to experience.
The horror … the horror…
Epilogue: If you haven’t read Heart of Darkness or seen Apocalypse Now, most of this blog will just sail over your head. (Sail! See what I did there?)
I suggest you go and acquaint yourself with both. You won’t be disappointed.