I was at the London Boat Show yesterday. I wore a striped blue and white t-shirt and deck shoes. I fit in perfectly. I don’t own a boat, but I have been on one. A fact I made sure not to let other people forget.
Here is my sailing story (because I imagine not all of you managed to catch me at the Boat Show). I am wearing a life jacket.
The preposterously blond sailing instructor yanks me around by the back of my life jacket. ‘Too big,’ he says dismissively. ‘What?’ I am affronted. ‘That chap over there is much bigger than I am,’ I say loudly. ‘No, no,’ the instructor says laughingly. ‘Your life jacket. It’s too big. Get a different one.’ ‘Oh,’ I say, smiling apologetically at the now furious looking ‘larger’ gentleman.
I am wearing a life jacket because I am in a sailing race. My entire sailing knowledge has been derived from ‘Swallows and Amazons’, but I do not feel the need to tell my friend this.
We are taken to our boat, which is little. ‘What do you want to do?’ she asks me. ‘Everything!’ I say optimistically. ‘Oh, OK, great,’ she replies. ‘I really know very little about sailing.’ ‘Do not worry!’ I shout at her, and clamber into the boat. ‘Um, you might want to move to the other side so we don’t capsize when I get in,’ she says politely. I move, grab the rope that controls the sail, and take hold of the rudder.
‘So an experienced sailor took me out yesterday,’ she tells me. ‘The thing to avoid is jiving.’ ‘I’m sorry?’ I ask, incredulously. ‘Did you just say jiving?’ ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘It’s important that we turn a different way so we don’t capsize.’ ‘I have no idea what you are talking about,’ I say peremptorily, and pull in the sail. Unfortunately I let go of the rudder, so we swing frighteningly in a circle. ‘No problem!’ I tell my friend, who now looks terrified. ‘Sailors do things like that all the time.’ My friend looks entirely unconvinced.
We pick up some wind, and begin to sail. ‘Do you know where we’re meant to be heading?’ I ask my friend. She waves vaguely towards the horizon. I swing the boat around wildly into the oncoming path of another sailor. ‘Move please!’ I shout at him. It is the portly gentleman I previously insulted. He does not seem as keen to move as I would like. I am unfazed, because I have quickly learnt that to turn our boat all I need to do is let go of the rudder entirely and allow the wind to work its magic. I really seem to have taken to this sailing lark remarkably well. ‘OK,’ I say to my friend. ‘Let’s get serious. We should probably win this thing. Where’s the first place we need to get to?’ My friend points mutely at what could be a buoy, but from this distance could also easily be a discarded Sainsbury’s plastic bag. ‘OK!’ I shout enthusiastically. Unfortunately the boat remains at a standstill. ‘You need to head starboard!’ my friend shouts at me.‘I don’t know what that means!’ I shout back. ‘Towards the rocks or away from the rocks?’ My friend looks at me despairingly. ‘Why would I ever tell you to sail towards the rocks?’ she asks. It’s a good point, but as the captain I can’t stand for this kind of mutiny. I firmly swing the boat towards the rocks. My friend jumps across the boat to stop me, and we capsize.
‘Well,’ I say cheerfully as we bob about in the water. ‘That sailing instructor was right. The other life jacket would have been too big.’