Friday 13 August 2010

The first row

Just before my last bout of chemo, feeling better than I had for months, I decided to take the boat out. My brother Daniel was over from London, the weather had been settled and carpe diem was my motto.

The following is an extract from my cancer diary.

“I’ve been planning this jaunt for a few days, counting on Daniel’s presence for launching OB and rowing me back to shore if I get too tired. I reckon that on a flat, windless sea it’s a safe bet. The only problem is that Daniel has arrived from England having fallen off his bicycle. His knee is grazed and his wrist sprained. He won’t be able to row and will have to go easy on land. For my part I’m still 15 kilos under weight and I’ve got this dodgy knee. Together we make one-and-a-bit healthy people.”
“Pulling the boat over the sand is like dragging a dead cow while someone turns a red-hot corkscrew in my knee. Daniel grunts pushing the boat with one hand. We get OB to the water’s edge and I send D off to buy a couple of cold beers while I finish readying the boat.”
“We push out into the pink waves and jump aboard in thigh-deep water. I take up the oars and start rowing. It is the most natural thing in the world. My body is made for this. I can’t help leaning back into the strokes and the boat surges forward, light and lively. A complete contrast with how it behaves on land.”
“Amazed at how natural the action feels I want to pull and pull but I prudently rest after only 100 metres or so. The sun is sinking behind the houses and the clouds are yellow. OB rocks, alive to every nuance of the sea, transmitting every movement to me.”

“I decide to change the oars and try out the new ones. They feel very big and are heavier to pull. I can’t really gauge if we are going any faster than with the smaller oars though D says we’re streaking along. I row down the coast a while then stop and rig an oar on the aft thole pin so that D can row as well. With an oar each OB really does seem to go faster though we can’t hold a straight line. We turn round, zigzag back and tie up to a buoy. The colours on the water are a mix of anthracite, pearl and flame.”

“We break out a picnic supper of tinned sardines, mussels, dried sausage, cheese, baguette and cold beer and eat using the central thwart as a table. The sunset fizzles and darkness and dew fall. The half moon is hazy and it’s broken reflections stretch across the water.”

Thanks Daniel!

Sunday 8 August 2010

Pulling for Ben

The amount of support I’ve had during this illness has been overwhelming. Not only all the cheering comments from you lot out there (thank you so much, it really has made a difference) but also, now I’m out of hospital, the encouragement of local people as well. All those neighbours that, at times, might have been irritated or perplexed by OB’s presence in the garden have touchingly demonstrated their affection.

But one of the most emotional moments came when the rowing team, rather than do their usual training session, rowed up from the harbour and landed on the beach in front of my house.

There have been several moments during my 22 years in Catalonia when I’ve found myself lucky enough to be welcomed into the heart of Catalan culture and this was clearly one of them. Most of the team are fishermen or from fishing families and they have known each other since they were children. I mentioned to one that as a foreigner I felt fortunate in being admitted into what, it has to be said, is a tightly closed circle. He responded that I wasn’t a foreigner; I was a man of the sea, just like them.

I still haven’t wiped the satisfied smile off my face.