Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Cerbère, like its cousin Portbou back over the border in Spain, is a small town set in a crook between mountains and dominated by a huge railway station. The main road flies on columns over the north side of the harbour. And from this grubby, dark corner of the port I watched the lights come on in the dowdy town. I had tidied the boat and made a quick trip to the beach to use the showers but finding them dry was still as salty as ever. All the same I roused out my shore going togs and tidied my hair before locking the boat, stepping ashore and negotiating the hard, flat land that tipped and tilted beneath my unaccustomed feet.
I swayed along the seafront observing the world from inside an alien bubble. Noisy machines swept passed at phenomenal speed, one addressing me with an impertinent blare, before hurrying on winking an orange eye. Brightly lit restaurant terraces displaying fresh, clean diners slid by like river tour boats. I saw tanned women with jewels, hairdos and gin and tonics listening distractedly to rotund men with shinning pates pronouncing dishes on the menus as if choosing the names of children. And all around the crackle of voices and laughter, woven with aromas of cooling tarmac, exhaust smoke, frying and mixed perfumes, the whole underpinned by the grinding hum of civilisation. I sat down heavily on a cane chair outside a bar and gripped the edges of the table while I waited to be served.
I ordered a Pernod and gradually sat back, suddenly infused with the most intense satisfaction. I pictured OB’s bow shouldering aside all those miles of water, the rat, the running aground and the pounding in motorboat wake. The boat had behaved phenomenally well. We’d been lucky, missing the really strong winds but we’d seen a bit of a blow all the same and she’d risen to the occasion in the same way that she seems to rise to everything that’s thrown at her, with courage and enthusiasm. Suddenly I had to check a wave of mawkishness.
Bringing my drink the waiter looked confused by my ear-to-ear grin and damp eyes, but he was unaware of his role as solitary witness to my maximum celebration.