Monday, 28 January 2008

Musings from Montenegro

I haven't posted for ages. It's not that there isn't anything to report; it is just that most of what has happened since we've arrived here is not reportable. Seriously.

I can't believe we've only been here 6 weeks; it feels like much longer. Life has taken on a veneer of normality but every week has had it's own dramas and we've mentally, if not practically, packed our bags on several occasions. However, a routine has been imposed on us for the first time since the summer due to the affliction of paid work. Yikes, sorry - I know that's not the attitude. Funnily enough, as I was listening to the Today Programme this morning, there was some bloke on there from the DHSS talking about "Motivational Training" for doleys. Maybe I could do with a bit of that, eh.

Anyway, 7.30 every morning, the alarm goes off and Tim dons his thermals in preparation for a day of manual labour. His outer wear is a navy blue jumpsuit/overall affair and a matching padded jerkin. It suits him down to the ground - no thought needed as to what to wear, no washing required and completely practical. He would wear it out on a saturday night if I let him.
He spends his days fixing things on boats and loves it. He comes back to the boat at lunchtime, and I feed him like the dutiful wife I am whilst creating an atmosphere of intense activity aboard (to hide the reality of a morning of internet addiction and yoga). Semi-darkness falls around 2.30pm as the sun dips behind the mountains to the south west - we have around 4 hours of sunlight a day due to being buried at the foot of high mountains and the angle of sun at this time of year - actual darkness occurs around 5pm now so that heralds the end of Tim's working day. This usually coincides with the end of my shouty dog walk, where I take the dogs somewhere up the mountain behind us and continually bray them for their death-defying stunts as they scale the fortifications that creep up the mountainside. When they are not trying to give me a heart attack, they choose to terrorise the local goat population - the one with the bad leg is Jonny's particular favourite. Due to the latest episode, John is now permanently on a lead which is no fun for any of us but he isn't to be trusted where hairy things that run are concerned.
The view from our boat is still staggering despite seeing it all day, every day for six weeks and walking through the narrow streets of the old town always feels very special. It is a place where the imagination is fired every time you set foot on land whether it be from the medieval architecture, the scenery or the people. You can feel the history of the place, despite the best efforts of property developers to sanitise the place (all in good taste but too clean). I like the broken bits and the rotting, heavy timber doorways. As I return from the mountainside via the dimly-lit steep, cobbled backstreets with washing suspended between the houses, it could be any time in the last 500 years and the atmosphere seeps into your very core.
Kotor sits in a basin, at the end of a deep water valley which looks very much like a fjord (but isn't one). The basin is enclosed by towering mountains, the highest of which you cannot see from land as they rise behind smaller, rugged peaks. The landscape is rocky and bare with the occasional covering of evergreens, interspersed with hardy plants where the sheer cliffs give way to the odd crevasse or plateau. When the bay is cloaked in mist and cloud, as it is occasionally, the scene is mystical and dramatic. But more usually, despite it being mid-winter, high pressure dominates the weather systems so most days are cloudless and bright. The peaks, often snow-covered, soar upwards into the piercing blue sky looking like a painted film set from an old western. As the sun sets, the limestone turns pink and the edges soften. It is simply stunning.
We are moored up on the quay in Kotor, just over the road from Stari Grad (old town) which is a compact walled medieval city. The sea forms a moat on one side and a river runs along the other. The remaining city walls scale the mountainside, zig-zagging precipitously to an imposing fort at the top. Behind that, the mountain falls away to a vertical cliff, reaching hundreds of feet below to a rocky valley. This in turn is backed by the higher craggy peaks, which look completely inaccessible from down below.
Living next to a busy main road was a shock to the system after months of tranquility at anchor. The pay-offs are mains electricity (heating and hot water - essential in these temperatures) and ease of access to land-based pursuits. I'm looking forward to being back on anchor again though. We need to wait until it is warm enough that we can live without heating and hot water and that the sun is high enough to give us a decent amount of solar power. We need to get our own heating system for next winter - hopefully a diesel heating system - and a wind turbine. That way we can be totally independent and won't need hook-up. However, we would need to be somewhere sheltered and there isn't much option around here - the quay is the most sheltered place around. I wouldn't want to be out in the bay when the Bora blows (as it is today). The Bora comes screaming down the mountains from the north east, with an intense ferocity that whips up the water and sends the boat bouncing around, grating on the nerves and the stomach. It remains to be seen how common this is in the spring/summer months but it could be the source of a few sleepless nights. However, I hanker for the all-consuming experience and tranquility of being away from the rest of the world, swinging around on our hook, acutely aware of every breath of wind with an eye permanently fixed on the coming weather. And having the ability to haul anchor at a moment's notice and go off for a day or two's adventuring. I miss that. That is what I love about living on our boat - at the moment, it's a bit like a floating caravan. A warm and convenient caravan, however.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Happy birthday to me


It’s my 37th birthday today.
I am now definitely closer to 40 than I am 30 but the thought doesn’t worry me as much as it once would have done. I am finally happy with the direction my life is taking.
I was 30 years old when my life changed forever with the (sort-of) sudden death of my father. It was not just the experience of grief and the gaping hole left in my life that changed me – nor the new-found freedom of having some money (I could have always had money – I chose to spend every penny of my decent salary on “enjoying myself” rather than saving enough to be able to make the change).

The thing that ultimately changed was my outlook on life. I was 30, my dad was 60. So, by my reckoning, I had another three lots of ten years to go – and that was it! And as we all know, every year goes quicker and when I looked back at the last decade, it had passed fast enough. For the first time in 30 years, I realised what life was.

I had always felt a strong element of falseness in my life. Everything I did (when sober) felt like I was acting out a part that I was being forced to play; nothing felt real, everything felt manufactured. I lived in a box, travelled in a box, sat in a box all day then each evening, I worked off my so-called frustrations in a big box that we were allowed to run around in. My only pleasure in life was to be found in the big box of water and even then, I grew angry each time my eyes stung with piss-reactive chlorine and children got in my way as I swam those punishing lengths.

For years, whilst sitting on the bus on my way to work, I would seethe as I watched my fellow passengers numb their tiny brains with word-search puzzles and cheap celebrity-stalking magazines. I would feel a disproportional level of rage towards them – how could they do this every day? Did they actually enjoy it? The hard techno banging its way into my brain, soundless to the outsider due to Sennheiser headphones, served only to remind me what I could be doing if I wasn’t at work.

Stepping off the bus and walking towards the office was a flicker book of images; every word on every sign, poster, scribbles of graffiti had been implanted in my brain the first time I’d seen them and its repetition day after day made my chest tight. Taking a deep breath, I’d slap on the Happy Squires enthusiastic head and cheerfully greet my colleagues whilst casually glancing at the clock to see how late I was. The door would shut as I removed my headphones. Thum! I had entered a soulless vacuum, sucking any life and originality out of me; my head had become encased in metal air and the screws were being turned, tighter and tighter.

So, as you see, I needed to make some changes in my life.

So, taking baby steps, I got rid of the job (then accidentally got another one) then eventually the furniture, house and car. By the time I was 35, I had nothing left in my name other than a mobile phone and a bank account.

Two years on and I’m finally alive. I've got my Timmy, my dogs, my boat and my freedom. I’m living the dream though it feels more real than anything has ever done before. It has taken 36 years to get here but I’m finally on the right track.
I only wish my dad was here to see it.
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Birthday card courtesy of my fantastic friends, Gareth and Elaine. They are not insinuating that Tim may have forgotten to get me a present, that I like a drink or that the dogs like cake.