This is us, semi-recovered from the worst autumn of our lives and proving that worse things don’t always happen at sea.
After a great summer – lots of business, all very successful if knackering, everything good with Monty B – we went back to the UK for our annual visit home and something must have happened to the time continuum, I trod on a sacred snail or we were responsible for some other chaotic disturbance to the cycle of life as it suddenly went very shit.
We returned from the UK at the end of September, buoyed up with our plans for an end of season 3-week cruise around the Croatian islands. We even got to the point of having our crew aboard (Den and Steve) and ready to roll. Then our departure was (fortuitously as it turned out) delayed due to my call on the weather (24 hours of a strong blow coming through).
During the blow, whilst still sat in Porto Montenegro, I got a call to tell me that my 37 year old brother (Rob) was critically ill in hospital in Thailand. Within a few days, I was sat by his hospital bed in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
In a nutshell, he was critically ill, was brain-damaged and had organ failure. He had no health insurance and was lying in an ICU bed that was costing around £1000 a day. He had already been there for two weeks.
We (me and my mum) spent the next two weeks trying not to lose our minds, attempting to find a way of getting him home to the UK. It was a surreal and Groundhog Day-like experience, yet this time it truly was like living the worst day of your life, over and over again; attempting to start the day feeling positive but by the end of it, knowing that you’d got nowhere. Forcing yourself to go through the hospital doors every day, along the familiar corridors with the dread growing with every breath. Checking the chalkboard outside ICU – yes, still alive.
Seeing this person you love so much, knew so well and want to protect, staring at the ceiling, at the walls, is he staring at me? Does he know I’m there? Half of the time hoping that he does, the rest of the time praying that he knows nothing. You just feel that fathomless, hollow pain over and over again.
Whilst all of this was going on, Tim received an email from the UK to tell him that his dad was going to die! What?? Martin had been having chemotherapy, which wrecked the last six weeks of an otherwise healthy and productive life. He managed a heart-wrenching but invaluable phone conversation with his dad, thank god, then jumped on a plane to the UK but sadly Martin died as Tim was on the train from Gatwick. It was unbelievably sudden and shocking.
This is Tim sending off a lantern into the night sky in memory of his dad.
In the meantime, our beloved Monty B played host to the local rat AND mouse population, who decided that an empty boat (brimming with food) with a small portlight left open for ventilation was the equivalent of a 5-star resort, so they took up residence and were very determined not to leave. In the scale of things, this appeared minor at the time. More of later.
Tim and I met up in the UK for his dad’s funeral, which as funerals go was particularly well done and a highly dignified and appropriate send off. I cannot add any more to this as he wasn’t my dad but it was very sad to see the effect of Martin’s demise on the significant people that he had left behind, particularly Sally and Tim’s siblings.
After the funeral, we returned to Monte to find that the rodent problem had not miraculously gone away, despite the valiant efforts of Jen from Maplin Bird who had been diligently, humanely and successfully trapping mice on an almost daily basis.
Before leaving for England, Tim had moved all our (remaining) food stores into the car to keep the rats away. So imagine our horror on discovering utter carnage upon opening the car door. It seemed that an enterprising ratty had hitched a ride in one of the food bags from the boat and had spend the last week frantically destroying everything in sight in a bid to become a) the world’s fattest (albeit vegetarian) rodent, b) discover what works and what doesn’t work in terms of Asian food stuffs and a rat’s digestive system, c) learn which bits of a car’s basic systems you can destroy with rat teeth.
It was so bad it was funny. No, it really was. In a kind of hysterical “am I laughing or am I crying” kind of way. Maybe I’d just gone past caring.
Within 3 days of returning to Montenegro, I got the call that Rob had died. So we were off again, this time back to Thailand and another funeral.
This brought us to the end of November. No cruising for us and still rodents on board with no idea how they were surviving with only poisoned bait, diesel and anti-freeze for sustenance. They even chewed through the water pipes in a desperate bid to quench their thirst (well, I guess you would if you’d been living on the above).
So, there you go. We’ve lost a father and a brother but gained lots of new furry friends. Not the swap I’d have chosen but hey ho, life can be strange.
We have learnt yet more about ourselves and those around us and have been, as always, amazed at the level of support we have got from our friends, both old and new. From dog-sitting, rat catching, email support, warm beds to sleep in, the list goes on. Thank you - you know who you are!
Saying goodbye with three lanterns: for Martin Layton, Robert Squires and Ben Sharkey, our friend from Nottingham who was killed in a cycling accident whilst we were in Thailand.
These are the 12-step waterfalls where we scattered Rob's ashes and he went on the final ride of his life.
POSTSCRIPT: I am delighted to announce (and this time, I really believe it), we are now officially rodent-free, the boat has been emptied, scrubbed, bleached to within an inch of its life and is cleaner than she has ever been. Hoorah! (though I’ve managed to give myself some horrible stomach infection, probably from inadvertently eating rat poo).