The sun blazed down from a Texas sky the colour of faded Levis as we strolled through the streets of the quaint little town of Gruene, Texas. We sought temporary refuge from the sweltering heat in air-conditioned shops selling tee-shirts, antiques, fishing tackle, candy and ice-cream, olive derivatives (really) and souvenirs. There were several inviting bars and restaurants – we had fish tacos and a couple of ice cold beers in a Mexican tavern nestled in a grove of oak trees where a red squirrel sat nearby and scoffed a few nachos. A couple of local wineries are crying out to be tried before we leave town.
The Gruene River Hotel and Retreat is a splendid establishment in the style of a southern mansion sitting in mature grounds on the banks of the Guadalupe River. From the balcony of the Hemingway Room, our home for three nights, we watched a wild red deer munching industriously on the succulent vegetation aware of but unconcerned by our presence. The Hemingway Room was what it says on the tin – large, airy, high-ceilinged and fitted out with manly furniture and paraphernalia reminiscent of the great writer and hell-raiser. A log fire occupied one corner and animal hide rugs were scattered here and there. It was the best of rooms, it was the worst of rooms; sadly it didn’t provide me with any great measure of literary inspiration. One obvious omission was a table or desk on which to work. I’m sure Ernest didn’t sit on the leather sofa with his Smith-Corona plonked on his lap bashing out The Old Man and the Sea.
Gruene Hall is the oldest dancehall in Texas, built about 1878. It’s a barn-like building with a pitched tin roof and open sides and long benches and tables and a stage where most nights a band plays. They get some big names from time to time and you have to buy tickets but this week was all free. Up front is a scruffy bar with a few battered tables and chairs and a plank floor where we had a few beers and listened to a local trio belting it out whilst couples twirled around the dance floor doing the Texas two-step and variations of it.
More on Gruene and the area in my next post. Take care, y’all.
For most of the day tomorrow I’ll be hurtling westward towards Texas locked inside a metal tube bashing its way through the lower stratosphere pushed by a gazillion horsepower. Thousands of components and miles of tubing and wiring will be doing their bit to keep the missile flying straight and true through the hostile vastness. Inside, though, all will be tranquil, calm, comforting. Meals will be served, wine poured, blankets handed round, movies flickering on little screens.
Just four hours by the clock will have elapsed when ten hours later I’m released into the hands of Homeland Security and then, bags retrieved, the Customs service. Groggy and disoriented I’ll finally reach the welcoming embrace of family. The holiday will begin.
It’s 1992 and we’re on our sailboat, Adriana, anchored in the small port of Luperon on the north coast of Dominican Republic. Choice of provisions was sparse in Luperon so Carol and I decided we’d take the gua-gua to the much larger Puerto Plata in search of more interesting items, perhaps with sell-by dates still in the future:
Early morning, pleasantly cool, the sun still only a splash of lilac on the eastern horizon as we make our way to the bus stop where the gua-gua for Puerto Plata is boarded. We sit on the back seat of the Mitsubishi mini-van watching in growing wonder as a steady flow of passengers file down the bus and take their seats. Carol and I scrunch closer together as we’re joined by four others on the rear bench. As each subsequent row is filled short planks are deployed to span the passageway so extra passengers can be seated and before long the capacity of the bus as contemplated by its manufacturer is impressively exceeded. In fact, fourteen passengers and a driver are aboard the eight-seater as the journey begins.
On the outskirts of Luperon we stop to pick up a policeman and his wife, a youth with a broken arm, a woman towing a small child, and a cock-fight enthusiast with his prize bantam held aloft, presumably to avoid injury.
With a mind-boggling twenty-one souls (not counting the chicken) squashed within, the gua-gua bounces its way over hill and dale, weaving an erratic course around pot-holes and ruts, toward Puerto Plata. Julio Inglasias at 50 watts per channel tries vainly to drown out the happy chattering of this compressed humanity.
Ah, the memories.
This young man has thought deeply about his career:
“I want to be a captain when I grow up because it’s a cool job that’s easy to do. Captains don’t have to go to school such a long time. They only need to learn figures so they can read instruments. I think they also have to be able to read maps so they don’t get lost when they sail.
“Captains have to be brave so they don’t get scared when it’s so foggy that they can’t see and when the propeller falls off they have to know what to do about it. Captains have to have eyes that can see through clouds and they mustn’t be afraid of thunder and lightning which they have closer to them than what we have.
“The captain’s wages is another thing I like. They earn more than they can spend. That’s because most people think it’s dangerous to drive a boat, except captains, because they know how easy it is. There’s not much I don’t like, except that girls like captains. All the girls want to marry a captain, so captains are always having to chase them away to get some peace.
“I hope I don’t get seasick, because if I get seasick I can’t be a captain and I’ll have to start working.”
The lad certainly knows what he wants out of life!
The west coast of Scotland isn’t always like this in August. Sometimes it rains as well.
This is a colour picture taken with my phone. I think it turned out OK. Amazing how that happens, isn’t it? You have your Nikon, a couple of expensive lenses, tripod, lens cleaner, waistcoat of many pockets and somehow your output just looks bland, uninspired, touristic (is that a word?). Then a moment happens and snap. Wow.
To give this scenically wonderful area its due, previous trips have treated us to light breezes and wall-to-wall sunshine. It is rarely this foreboding in summer. It was a bit of a shock, I must admit. Still, one of the few things worse than being on a boat in shitty weather is not being on a boat at all.
Gloom and despondency over at Writer’s Workshop’s forum, the Word Cloud. WW is becoming Jericho Writers and moving behind a paywall – becoming a subscription site. Inside the paywall is a new forum, The Townhouse. Subscription to Jericho Writer’s is £300 a year.
The existing Word Cloud will only continue as a free forum as long as the rather shaky software holds up, and as long as the owners have the will to support it.
But there are lots of other forums about, Google is your friend, so no need to panic.
Some of you, actually quite a lot of you, read my piece of flash fiction, The Captain a few months ago. It’s a stand alone piece with beginning, middle and end, but it also left open the possibility of continuation. So I thought it would be fun to add a chapter and see where that takes us. Then we’ll add another chapter and maybe we’ll end up with a bigger, better story. Maybe not, but worth a try. So, here’s chapter two:
Nathan was swimming. Sometimes he swam on his back, sometimes he swam breaststroke, most of the time he used a sort of sidestroke which seemed to provide the best progress for the effort. He was swimming southwest because that was where the nearest land lay. He knew this because the area was familiar to him, he’d consulted the chart several times a day on the boat, he knew which way was up; he could visualise the route to Cape Augusta, around twenty-five miles from where the Captain had tossed him overboard. This was the closest his route to Colon came to land but he was certain the Captain hadn’t been in benevolent mood when he’d tipped him over the guardrail. Nathan was supposed to die.
Years ago, Nathan had read a true account of how a single-handed sailor had fallen off his boat and had to swim for his life in the Straits of Florida before being picked up by a fishing boat. The guy had swum for maybe thirty-six hours and covered over forty miles. The snag was, he’d been carried by the Gulf Stream whereas Nathan had no such beneficial current to speed his progress. Still, he was a good swimmer and he’d keep going until he hit land or sank. Simple.
Night fell and he continued to swim. He’d fallen into a sort of coma in which he didn’t have to think, just take one stroke after the other, working like a metronome. It was essential he didn’t think because then he would panic. It was at night the big predators came out to hunt and he would surely look a tasty morsel crabbing along on the surface with his peculiar motion, like an injured turtle. A blank mind was the best defence against insanity and Nathan had allowed himself to fall into this state so that when his arm and then his head encountered a solid wall it took a few moments to realise he’d bumped into the side of a boat. A stationary boat. A fishing boat. Salvation.
Nathan stood on the quay at the tiny fishing port of Santa Maria. He wore only a tee shirt and a pair of shorts, he had nothing else, but he had survived. His saviours had given him food and water on board their boat and now, as the sun climbed into the eastern sky, Nathan had to decide on a plan. His Spanish was rudimentary and the fisherman had virtually no English but they’d managed to convey that they had summoned a local resident fluent in both languages and he assumed this to be the elderly lady walking towards him now.
“Good morning, I believe you’ve been swimming” she said, “I’m Teresa Tullo.”
Nathan shook her hand.
“Pleased to meet you, Teresa, I’m Nathan. Yes, I’ve been swimming. I fell off my boat a couple days ago and, luckily for me, these fine people picked me up. I’m hugely grateful, of course, but regret I have nothing to give them to demonstrate this. I have only the clothes I’m standing in.”
“I think we need to get you cleaned up, rested and fed before taking you to the authorities in the town. I imagine they’ll want to take you to the US Embassy in Bogotá. Don’t worry about rewarding the fishermen, they understand, they’re just pleased to have been able to save you.”
“I swear to God I’ll come back and thank them properly, but first I have to get back to the States. I have to find myself.”
Well, you can see where this is going. A revenge story, no doubt. Maybe. Feel free to toss out suggestions.
An Encounter in Culebra – John Schofield
Mid-morning, anchored in a secluded cove off Bahia Honda, Culebra. We were lounging naked in the cockpit, enjoying our tea and toast, when the drone of an outboard motor caught my attention. A small boat with a striped Bimini top was heading towards us.
“We’d best get some clothes on, love, looks like we’re having company” I said.
The boat was nearer now and I could see it was steered by a man in a suit and tie. His passenger, a large lady in a flowery dress, was kneeling on the bow-seat struggling to maintain her balance as she held aloft a tabloid newspaper in both hands.
They puttered closer and now I could see the newspaper was the Watchtower; this couple were water-borne Jehovah’s Witnesses. The way he was handling the boat, I could tell the guy at the helm was going to ding my hull and when he did, I’d yell something he’d probably consider very unchristian. Better deal with it now. I stepped onto the side deck and waved them off. They did an immediate about-turn and roared off into the distance.
The blonde emerged from the cabin, having donned tee shirt and shorts.
“That’s got rid of them” I said.
“Yes, I see that. I think it had less to do with your imperious arm waving than with your failure to take your own advice and put some clothes on.”
This little tale was published in Yachting Monthly Magazine some years ago and by way of payment I was given an original Mike Peyton cartoon (pictured) of the incident. It hangs on my office wall.