Magazine article The Spectator

Hello, Sailor

Magazine article The Spectator

Hello, Sailor

Article excerpt

Low life

Hello, sailor

Jeremy Clarke

I hate avoiding people I like just because I owe them money. I worry about it. Take my Buddhist friend Chris and his wife Edwina, for example. For the last month I've owed them L750 rent. I'd rented their house while they were teaching English in Thailand. Though I didn't stay in the house for even one night (I parked my car in the driveway twice - that's all), the fact remained I still owed them the dough.

Chris and Edwina came back to England for a month, before heading off again in their new motor sailer for the South of France for another six months. I finally bit the bullet and went to see them on their boat the evening before they set sail from Dartmouth. I still couldn't pay up, but I had to face them sooner or later. There was a special offer on 12 packs of Fosters lager in the Dartmouth Co-op. As a peace offering I bought as many as I could carry from the check-out to the boat pontoon, about 75 yards away. I also took a dozen fresh duck eggs, three Captain Hornblower novels and an Every Day With Jesus daily meditation calendar in case they were shipwrecked.

Chris and Edwina were sitting in their wheelhouse. (I could see them through the window.) Also present to see them off were their next-door neighbour Geoff; Geoff's son Cain; and Cain's girlfriend, Clare. They were drinking red wine from huge glasses. Everyone was smiling. The interior of the cabin was panelled with oak and lit by a gas light. Laden to the chin with beer packs, I descended the wooden stairs into this cosy, convivial, bare-legged little drinks party, convinced that my unannounced arrival was going to spoil it.

Chris has a stammer. As I came down the stairs, he was trying to get a word out. I forget which one. A monosyllabic word probably. It's the monosyllabic words that trip him up more than anything. He gets stuck on the first letter and the effort to get the rest out nearly kills him. If it makes you laugh he really doesn't mind. Edwina was standing behind him, caressing his car and kissing the top of his head. When Chris saw me, he abandoned whichever word it was he was trying to enunciate, shouted out my name with joy and relief, leapt to his feet, pushed his way through his other guests to where I was standing and flung his arms around my neck. He was shouting my name over and over again. Edwina was right behind him, also shouting my name. …

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