Standing on the wet, low-water sand of Widemouth bay, on the North coast of Cornwall in thick fog last week, there had been the distant thunder of Atlantic waves ending their journey in foam… and the indistinct voices of surfers chatting to one another as they sat on their boards somewhere out at sea. Even during a walk on Exmoor, pheasants – thousands of the buggers – called to one another across the valley to hold territory… and in the distance farm gates slammed; off-road vehicles grunted over hills; and groups of four hunt-horses – one with a rider, towing three without – scraped their shoes along thin strips of road. (I suppose a lot of people these days are too busy to ride their horse home themselves – and if they arrive and leave by helicopter straight from the moor, they can avoid ‘paying the cap’.) But here in the Hebrides there is nothing. Not a peep. It’s so quiet that at first it seems as though we’re at fault.
Not that we don’t enjoy the hubub of what has become normal life on the mainland – both for its own sake and for the moderating effect it has on a question we ask ourselves every three months or so (every three days in January) – namely: What the hell are we doing living on an island?
I enjoyed a trip to London whilst away (please look out for the resulting interview in the Independent newspaper this Tuesday (20th), with Matilda Battersby). Of course a numpty from the backwaters is always going to stick out like a sore thumb in London, and my first mistake was to have forgotten my sunglasses for the tube journey – it’ll be a long time before the sun shines down there, but London folk plan ahead. Then I got stuck in a revolving door to the newspaper office which was clearly marked ‘Pass Holders’ – it stopped revolving, made a sort of clonk as though it had ‘got one’; and then went backwards, forcing me back out onto the street – where, during the ten seconds of my incarceration, a long queue had formed; real people, with passes, waiting for the door to deal with their intruder. They looked at me humiliatingly with blank faces which said: Not from round here, are you? I asked a pass-holder if there was a door for visitors – he was too cool to answer me, but kindly flopped his hand in the direction of another door, clearly marked ‘Visitors’ as he pushed past. My third mistake was to ask the receptionist how she was? She didn’t speak either but sat blinking at me, patiently waiting for more information. I say she didn’t speak – she let her actions speak for her; ‘efficient’ was how she was… very efficient, thank you.
We had a great live interview with Emma Britton on BBC Somerset; and I did an interview with Talk Radio Europe – presenter Hannah Murray told the world (well Europe then) that she had tears in her eyes as I described our fire… she was great, actually. She even let it pass without comment when I seemed to say that I had visited Spain (where the station is based) by yacht, and would never do so again. But I meant that I would be reluctant to do the trip again, because we had a storm at sea which nearly killed us. That interview was live too, and – as I discovered – once you’ve said a thing, you can’t un-say it. Perhaps someone will forgive me, and buy a book. ‘Big Issue!… Big Issue!… Phoenix from the Ashes!’
Thanks for all the ‘likes’; emails and social-media messages – some people have written to say they know some of the characters in the book; some have written to say they’ve always dreamed of doing something adventurous; but most have written to simply say that they’ve thoroughly enjoyed Phoenix from the Ashes – and that it has been well-written. Thank you very much.
Thanks too for the brilliant reviews that are beginning to appear on Amazon and elsewhere – please keep them coming because only if people who have never heard of the book know what you thought when you read it will they decide to try it for themselves.
At this rate I might get invited to another interview somewhere. I wonder if London will have me back? Only, I admit that I was a very embarrassing guest.
The story of how Justin and Linda came to be live on a boat, following a house fire, is told in his book: Phoenix from the ashes; published by Bloomsbury