Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

With my wife's consent, I have just become the lover of a handsome 57year-old lady. She has a fine round bottom and a comfortable beam. I sought expert advice before embarking on the affair. Ian Burgoyne, marine surveyor, tapped her all over with a little hammer and probed her most intimate parts with a spike. He pronounced her in good condition for her age. Her knees were sound and her hog was free of wet rot, which was evidently a good thing. Mr Burgoyne's only concern was five slightly cracked frames on the port side. Not knowing exactly what these were, I studied his recommended treatment:

'The plank sea could be fitted with a seam batten and the frames doubled using oak timbers that are secured to the original frames as well as the hull timbers.' Ah. If only the human frame could be so readily rejuvenated. I wrote the cheque.

Deglet Nour was built in 1948 by Geo.

Wilson & Sons of Sunbury-onThames. She is a 30ft three-berth cruiser.

The only bit of her that is not oak, iroko, mahogany or brass is a vile plastic commode called a Porta Potti, concealed in the heads. We try not to use it. The three-cylinder diesel engine is called Perkins, but why the boat itself is named Deglet Nour is a bit of a mystery. A clue is to be found on the label of a box of Eat Me dates: 'The favourite delicious Deglet Nour dates, ' it says. Perhaps the first owner was an importer of dried fruits, like Mr Eugenides in The Waste Land, the Smyrna merchant 'with a pocket full of currants c. i. f. London'.

(The letters, as I remember from my brief spell as a merchant banker, stand for cost, insurance and freight. ) Mr Eugenides or a later owner neglected the vessel shamefully.

She was a hulk when she was found on the Thames by an ex-naval engineer who lovingly restored her. He plainly couldn't abandon his old sea-going ways: the oil lamps are set on gimbals, there are fiddles around the edge of the saloon table so plates won't fly off in Biscay storms, and there is even a binnacle, though a compass is of no more use on a winding river than a sextant on a submerged submarine.

Will I be up to keeping her shipshape?

Vintage boats need as much care and attention as ageing Hollywood actresses. I shall have to spend winter days sanding, painting, varnishing and slapping bitumen on madam's derrière. I quail at the thought.

On the other hand, there is a pretty persuasive logic to the venture. The boat is moored at Wargrave, just upriver from Henley. My expat family, pampas-bound in Argentina, always loved this lush stretch of the river as being quintessentially English.

My brothers and I rowed here. My widowed mother lived in Henley for a decade, starring in am-dram productions at the enchanting Kenton Theatre, which is about to celebrate its bicentenary. The local MP is a very decent chap. What is more, three months ago Father Ernesto, the town's amiable Peruvian curate, helped us bury my parents' ashes at Remenham, a mile downstream. It was on that brilliantly sunny June morning, with the grand-daughters' graveside harmonies still ringing in our ears and the river as crowded as a Canaletto with crews practising for the regatta, that inspiration struck. We certainly couldn't afford to buy a weekend cottage in Boris's idyllic constituency, but why not a boat? …

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