Ex - the story of Clive's boat - part 1
M’s brother Clive was obsessed by the concept of owning a boat. He imagined that the scream of the sea around his vessel would be like the raging flow of blood, hurtling inexorably towards a gaping ventricle; it would buck and yawl whilst Neptune gouged at its shimmering ribcage as it plowed through his coruscating locks. He knew he must build the boat with his own hands, moulding and caressing every inch until it was as sleek as red wine and invisible to the touch. He would kiss its bow with ardor and set it free upon a limitless horizon which he would navigate without blinking.
Clive’s wife, Dorritt had hoped on the night of it’s conception that it was the whiskey bottle’s idea to construct a ‘sea fairing vessel’ in the lounge of their already cramped, semi detached home in Dollis Hill and not her insensible spouse’s, but in the morning, work commenced. Clive was an utter cunt. If Dorritt had any remaining doubt about his redoubtable all round cuntishness then what became known as “the boat project” or grounds 1-9 of her divorce petition erased it.
“Where will this end” his wife had asked him, when after the third week, construction of a cabin had necessitated the evacuation of the dining table and chairs. “We will set sail for a land trodden only by the minotaur” replied Clive. “Stanmore?” asked his wife. “Far beyond Stanmore to the shale fortresses, a place where acid creatures wrestle each other in the boughs of trees made of glass.” Replied Clive. There was a pause when his wife pondered the exotic possibilities. “Neasden?” She asked.
Sharing her home with 100 plus whiskey bottles at various stages of consumption and a shit panted apoplectic drunk who used them as a mattress was pretty much what Dorritt had signed up for when she married Clive. She was aware that he had a tapestry of shortcomings and that he had suffered at the hands of a dystopian tyrant as a child but when he laughed he became the little boy that had never been vanquished. And yet; she wandered through desperate awakeness at night as breath perculated up through Clive’s lungs with a tenacious whistle and imagined the friction of her hands around his throat; by day, her friends and family had become distant aliens and laughter became as rarified as alpine air. Had it been the project “Clive” that she had fallen in love with rather than the man? How could she endure the eternal poverty of rapture?
When he was building the boat he was not drinking - it became his mistress - inching her out of her home, offering him the momentum to defy addiction, assuming the wifely role that she had never quite fulfilled. It was satiating him whilst consuming her.
“The TV has to go” said Clive, atop a ladder, saw in hand, wood shavings so thick on the ground around her feet that they had formed a dray. “And the settee and the sideboard, it all has to go.”
“And what about me” asked Dorritt. “Where do I go?”
Clive paused from splicing and carving at a muscular section of tree to compare his craftsmanship with his marriage. What was inside that he was so desperate to reveal? With every dowel and every mitre joint, he was deconstructing the woman who had withstood the torrent of inhumanity he had rained upon her on a daily basis. With every rebate joint and stopped house joint he was stripping away another layer of the insufferable love that held his head over another vomitous toilet bowl and smoothed back his rats tail fringe. He pulled an open mortise joint and a bridle joint from his leather apron pocket and inserted one into the other. They fitted perfectly, Dorritt and Clive, assembled, crafted, he was needed, she needed him, it wasn’t Dorritt he wanted to sail away from but everything else and he could only do it on his own. This would be proof that his father was wrong, that he was not beyond merit, that he was, not the personification of reproach.
“I have to make this journey” said Clive. “And what part will I play? asked Dorritt. Her face was a passive mask, behind it were a thousand screams. “Where am I as you sail past the tattered cliffs of Queensbury on your way to the straights of Cannons Park and beyond?”
He knew that what he would say next would determine the course their marriage would take. That it needed to be a statement of loving intent if he was to convince her that he was still her knight in argent. “Can you smash a hole in our bedroom floor with the monkey wrench so I can stick the mast through?” Asked Clive. “And mind the cat.”
By the time M arrived it was too late. By then, number 22 Venison Chase had become a husk, clinging to Clive’s mighty vessel for support, rather than simply housing it. M had decided to visit when Dorritt had finally resorted to contacting her despicable brother in law with a singular text message - “I’ve left your fucking brother to his 90 ft tall mistress”.
M stood in what had once been Clive’s front room and searched for a level of sarcasm that was high enough for this situation before deciding that it did not exist. The boat had not been built from any specific plans, more a combination of watching “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas, looking at an airfix model of the Cutty Sark, a photograph of the Battleship U.S.S Missouri, torn out of Hounds and Homes magazine, a painting of the H.M.S Victory by a 7 year old schoolchild, a beer mat upon which ‘Terrence the destroyer’ had drawn the Battleship Potemkin and the face of Elvis in felt tip pen and 36 viewings of the complete boxed set of “Voyage to the bottom of the sea”. This, coupled with a four week entry level carpentry course and a copy of the “rubber dingy’s can be fun” annual from 1963 had been the blueprint for the creation of what was most likely the largest sea faring wooden potato ever assembled by a human being.
“Its my boat” said Clive. I made it.”
“A boat” said M, standing back as far as he could to try to gain some limited degree of perspective.
“What” tried M and then “how”. “It must be 8 and a half miles from here to the Thames, assuming you don’t just intend to bob around on the Brent Reservoir and even moving this giant wooden turd to the end of the garden would be impossible given that it currently resides inside a semi detached fucking house.”
“We have a plan” replied Clive, smiling.
“We” said M, “tell me you haven’t involved our mutant, benzedrine soaked, mentoid sister in yet another episode of the car crash of your existence?”
“Its a really good plan” said Clive.
Sonja and Batty Shermans had been trying to sell 20 Venison Chase even before the boat project was gestated, living as they did, in a property adjoining a man who regarded a night pitched face down in their rose bushes wearing clothing whose fibres were held together by DNA and excrement to be ‘a nice little soiree’. Efforts to interest buyers were hampered by the skip full of whiskey bottles in their neighbours drive and the philharmonic cacophony of crapulous abuse issuing from next door at random times of the night and day. They sought resolution through the Courts, the Council, even the local scout leader was approached in a last desperate throw of the dice but Dorritt would always intervene, committing to tame the savage, everyone was charmed by Dorritt. When the screaming ended and the sawing commenced, their objections were moribund - they were defeated, they removed the ‘for sale’ board, quadruple glazed their windows, wore surgically implanted wax earplugs and learned sign language.
On an ultramarine Saturday morning, nearer to August than any other month, Sonja was peering out of her kitchen window when her eyes fell upon something which caused her no little perturbation. She turned momentarily - Batty was sitting at the kitchen table, enthralled in the freshly ironed Times and Sonja gained his attention by lovingly throwing a half full coffee mug at his head.
“Outside” she signed. “Big. Really big”.
“A bus” signed Batty.
“Not a bus, bigger, swings - like a”.... Sonja grabbed for the signing dictionary “like a giant apple on a rope”.
“A giant orange on a rope?” Signed Batty imaginatively.
Sonja glanced nervously back at the window “Not a giant orange you moron - how many giant oranges have you seen? They use this when they build, its made of steel, it swings and smashes” she searched forlornly for the sign but there was nothing like it....
Batty put down his paper, signed, parked his reading glasses and joined Sonja at the window.
“A wrecking ball” he said.
“Yes” said Sonja “At last, a............
Bathsheba, sister to Clive and M, had never driven a crane before nor yielded a wrecking ball but she did both with gusto and not a little flair. Sonja and Batty’s home quickly resembled the ruined heart of Stanlingrad in 1942 which allowed Bathsheba to concentrate on gently demolishing number 20 Venison Close without damaging the glorious craft which lay within.
“Now what” said M, standing in the steaming rubble of Dorritt and Clive’s former abode, staring at his embracing siblings.”
“Now we tow it to the Thames.” replied Clive.
“It will fit down all the main roads - I’ve measured them.” Said Bathsheba.
“It will fit down all of the main roads if there are no cars parked on them.” Replied M. “But there are going to be parked cars. What then?”
“We destroy them.” Said Bathsheba, walking back down the road where she had, much earlier that week, under the cover of darkness and North London unenlightenment, parked and concealed under a tarpaulin 33.4 tons of Sherman tank and a boat trailer.
M had formed the view, after some deliberation, that association with a murderous Sherman tank, towing a giant wooden amphibian potato might not, in the eyes of an albeit forward thinking police force, represent conduct which was likely to enhance his already wafer thin career prospects. He agreed to rendezvous with Clive and Bathsheba at Shad Thames, where the “Pool of London” meant that the river was at its deepest.
M had been listening in to the police radio as the tank weaved its path of destruction through the streets of London, writing off innumerable vehicles and threatening an over eager traffic warden in West Finchley with extreme prejudice. A task force of 5 police interceptor helicopters, three hundred officers in riot gear and a battalion of the Royal Scottish Dragoon Guards had been poised to intercept but had been stood down in a dispute over overtime pay. The union representative for the Metropolitan Police Officers Federation, described the eventual financial settlement some twelve weeks later as “a momentous development in the landscape of the future calculation of productivity incentive payments” although he “regretted the resultant 500 fold increase in crime during this period of ‘creative police inactivity.’”
Once it was launched, M was concerned that “La papa de la redención” (the potato of redemption) might be something of a death trap, however he had sworn to himself as a child that if he could not protect his younger siblings then he would, at least, perish with them and it was with this glowing endorsement that he stepped on to the bow of the boat.
“Where now?” Asked M, expecting perhaps a bobble over to Canvey Island which would get him back in time for the dinner, he had planned for 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 11.30pm that evening. He had noticed that the area of deck where they stood was at once convex and concave - it was not a vessel which was exactly streamlined.
“Chia daakwokweyeh” replied Clive, as if M would obviously know where this was, without need for further explanation.
“North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean” said Bathsheba with unusual clarity. “The only island on the planet which has never been explored or influenced by western civilization.”
“Populated by the Sentinelese - who have greeted all previous visitors with extreme and relentless violence and whose society is believed to be replete with adultery and sudden death.” Explained Clive.
“So I won’t need my passport then” said M.
Clive showed M to the cockpit of the La papa de la redención and proudly took him through the various empty square and round holes in the instrumentation panel where the complex equipment required to navigate and control the boat would have sat if he had purchased it.
“Correct me if I am wrong, but the Indian Ocean is about nine thousand miles away” said M.
“Ten thousand miles “ replied Clive.
“And how do you hope to get there?” Asked M.
“We have a steering wheel and a big sail and a tractor engine and a rudder” replied Clive.
“And maps” added Bathsheba. “We bought some nice maps”.
“And we have this ” said Clive, taking off his right shoe and showing M small compass concealed within the heel.
“Just in case you do actually get this thing out of the Thames and into the open sea, do you actually have the quantity of food and fresh water you need for a journey of this...”
M could see his brother was beginning to lose the sheen of confidence which had illuminated his face since M had first seen him earlier that day. Clive’s hands were beginning to shake again as the ache for the bottle returned to his gut.
“You never share our vision M, you never see the world through our eyes” said Clive.
“Why must we always be defeated?” Asked Bathsheba.
M knew nothing of the sea or of hope but he knew about destination.
“Fuck it then” he said.