There were photos


But they’re just not here. Oh yes, here’s one now.

On Monday. Monday it was. Doesn’t life make you laugh sometimes.

Here I sit at the table. Laptop at my fingers. Pretty tablecloth by whateverhernameis drinking earl grey on one side from a massive cath kidston mug and on the other I’ve got a glass of sav. Glass. Not wine glass. Sav nevertheless.

Travis singing in my ears. I get the strangest feeling you belong.

So with jubilant music in my ears making me smile I smile and think of lovely friends. And the neat ways things all join up in life and then somehow if you feel like it you can get a bit of meaning. Maybe meaning just shows up every now and then and reminds you of its existence. I’ve not often written before with loud music blaring in my ears. But tonight that seems to be what I’m doing so I’ll go on ahead and narrate the story that’s been in my head this week.

Sunday night because I knew of our Monday plans I phoned Dad and went, hey Dad, they’re predicting forty knot gales tomorrow. Dad said, oh nope we’ll only not go if it’s blowing sixty. Well, I say, you might just have to go out without me then. Up to you. He stops and thinks and says, well, we can’t really go out without you. And I go, no, you can’t really can you. Can you. That night I go to bed with the wind whistling whistling all night straight over the house through the harbour and all around us. The weather is definitely saying, I am up. I am weather.

Early next morning the palms outside are swaying in a very minor fashion. I study them carefully and I’m not scared. I look out at the sky and there’s some blue. And then some very very grey. I phone Hamish and see what he thinks. He says the kids won’t come – it’ll just be the three of us, Megs won’t come either. I tell him I think Astrid has to go so can he bring the harness and we’ll make a call when we meet. Absolutely, he says. Everyone knows Astrid was the one holding mum’s hand when she died. So Astrid is quite significant for today. Today Monday. Almost two years since Mum died.

The day we’re going out to scatter mum’s ashes on the harbour.

Strangely the night before when I was talking to dad saying no way am I going out in a gale I said let’s walk out to north head and scatter the ashes from the path. And that’s exactly the place we sailed out to. I’m glad glad glad we didn’t go further because I was utterly terrified, just as mum would have been out sailing in that weather. When we got to the marina it was calm of course but the sky was dark grey and bright blue and hot and windy and freezing and mad all at the same time. All the bits on the boats were rattling crazily in the wind. Freakishly. The wind squalling. The wind scuttling devilishly across the water.

So somewhere in all of this Astrid’s going and now so are Megs and Madeleine and we meet and we arrive at the marina at the same time and walk down the concrete jetty and get on the boat and start getting organised.

And the first thing that happened was Dad said, shit. And we looked at him and there was a line of blood coming straight down from the top of his head. And big drops of blood on the cockpit. Stupid mini weird curved metal thing on the boom In A Really Dumb Place. Really. Um. I say. Ok. Are we sure we want to go out? Maybe wear a life jacket? Then Hamish is starting to look defeated by the Haliard. No amount of pulling, pushing or unwinding seems to be budging the damn thing. Stuck. Stuck. And more stuck. Seemingly impossible but of course it’s possible to untangle. No such word as impossible in my family.

Megs and I laugh to each other as we clip our kids harnesses on and to the boat. We’re not sure whether we should be laughing or crying. And off we go. Off into the chop. Off into the gale, the wind, the waves and the weather. Off to take Mum’s ashes out. Off to scatter her on the harbour.

The night before I’d said, shouldn’t we wait for better weather, do it nicely? Nope. Nope. Nope. Gotta do it now. Dad gets that steely determination. Ain’t nothing gonna stop that man in steely determination mode. Thank god I’m Aquarius rising or I’d never get it.

And out we sail, Hamish says, put some rag up. And up goes a bit of main. Dad drops the tiller and we all go, Dad. Dad! And Dad takes the tiller the rest of the trip and he’s fine. So we all sit out on deck holding the kids, smiling and having fun going shit really we’re doing how many knots? Never done that before. Oooh this is a bit different from the Croatia trip last month. Um. Yes. Yes. It is. Not that I was there but I can certainly imagine. I’m sure we went out in weather like this when I was a kid, growing up on a yacht as we did. But I’m old and inexperienced now. And no longer a happy passenger regardless of mode of transport.

One day, soon I hope, I’ll just start to enjoy myself and stop worrying so much about dying. Because I haven’t yet. And I could have enjoyed at least three recent journeys as opposed to spending the entire time tense and probably making myself ill. Which is precisely why I’m back to see Dawn, the marvellous acupuncturist next week whom I’ve not seen in quite some time.

So out we sailed, alone the five of us, alone out of Westhaven. Joking at the cars up on the bridge going what a bunch of cowboys out sailing today. Desperate I say. Desperate and on a mission. Off to bury mum.

As I was saying it was kinda fun for the first bit but as the squalls got more screechy and the waves got crazier and the boat bounced and the sails went all flappy and unpredictable I was becoming less and less comfortable. As we sailed past Devonport I was judging how well I’d be able to swim there with Astrid because by then I was well and truly ready to get off the boat. But we made it to North Head by 9.30am. And Hamish got the box of ashes. And the lid stuck. And I wondered whether he’d have to smash the box and the ashes would go everywhere. But they didn’t. The lid stayed on and came off nicely. And there was no ceremony as planned as the boat bobbed around in amongst the waves and we turned in circles by North Head. There was no taking turns with the ashes. Dad just cast them out into the wind and we all said farewell, bye, goodbye, see you, Mum. Cynthia. It took ages and ages and ages for the ashes to go, even with the wind just whipping them out straight out to the north sucking them out just as hard as the wind could.

And Megs and I got ash in our eyes. And I grabbed the camera and took photos. Which are there. But not here. Not yet.

Then back we headed. Thank God. I didn’t stop to think about mum at all. I was too busy sitting on the downwardside with megs and madeleine and astrid – all of us being forcibly held down by gravity. Megs started singing row row row your boat to take our minds off the lean and the waves and the general shitness of the situation we found ourselves in!Hamish let out a great ‘Fuck’ as the dinghy tried to take itself overboard and dad was swamped.

Madeleine was crying. I was gripping Astrid for dear life and decided I’d better start singing too. I said Megs, I don’t like this one bit – I’m well out of practice. She said keep to the downward side and gravity will take care of you. Then we sang a bit and Astrid climbed on top of me, for which I do not blame her -I preferred to feel the g-force more than relaxing! Then megs took one look at me and said I won’t be forgetting this in a while. Especially as I’m now feeling pretty nauseous, she said, and her hand reached straight out for the shopping bag the ashes box came in and she just could not stop being sick into it! Madeleine just wouldn’t stop crying.

I worked out Astrid had her sandal in Madeleine’s face and Megs was totally incapacitated so I grabbed both kids, which was strangely difficult considering they were both pressed right up against me. Astrid’s little bottom lip was starting to quiver and she looked at me with tears in her eyes very calmly and I smiled and said, we’re all fine sweetie. We’re all just fine. We’re in very good hands and gave her a big hug. Hamish swooped in and took Megs upstairs where he hurled the vomit-filled shopping bag over the side then came down for Madeleine. Madeleine by this time was asleep through sheer and utter exhaustion and Hamish just tucked her down in the cockpit with her harness and big fur coat on and let her sleep.

Astrid and I were sailing like trapeze-ists – not doing the succumb to gravity thing – we were pretty much standing up sitting down watching the water through the window trying really not to look and trying not to freak out too much each time the boat suddenly REALLY healed over knowing deep down we were in good hands. Only once saying, we are now slightly scared. Hamish, we are officially now slightly worried. Dad said to Hamish, is Charlotte ok. Hamish said, Yep. Yep, we were fine.

To myself, just unused to sailing. We feel like we’ll capsize but really deep down we know we’re ok. Just to take you there. We were in a fairly small yacht – about thirty foot, being tossed about by high winds and not so big seas – but big enough. The thing I was most worried about was being scooped up by a freak gust of wind. And while one bit of sky was blue the other was black so I was just waiting and watching for the marina to come back into view. It’s incredible how things change when you’re also in charge of another small person.

Hell, how long’s it been? A fucking long time. Sixteen years at least. No wonder. No wonder mum got so pissed off and refused to go out sailing any more. Just like dad saying, oh yeah, it’ll have to be sixty knots to stop us. And that was 35 knots!

Rowena said Dad had to do it. He really needed to.
I’m still processing.

What I do know is that three glasses broke that day. And when I was doing the dishes that night after the big celebration I got a bit of glass in my hand, in a really impossible place and I just can’t get it out. I’ll have to go to a doctor. That’s never happened before. And it’s exactly in the place where in palmistry your first child line is. And now that I look there all of a sudden it says three children. Always used to say two.






14 responses to “There were photos”

  1. Nanette avatar

    I’m sure you won’t mind if I tell you that I laughed hard whilst reading this. It brings to mind a Ken Loach film in which the ashes of a departed parent are scattered at the precise moment that a whopping big wind blew up throwing the aforementioned parent into every available orifice. It was, however, on land. And not at 35 fucking knots.

    1. charlotte avatar

      yes, you know me well enough by now to know I won’t be offended. You know I still haven’t told you how I was thinking of you the whole time they were sewing me up after Edith was born. How random is that, but I was really thinking about the word rummage and of course that’s you, so there you go!

  2. aga avatar

    charlotte , the story is all : beautiful moving funny preposterious real sensitive scary calming~down brave.

    wow. i loved reading it. and you definitely have an amazing writing talent. as well.

    your mum must have had a good time watching you all from up there.


  3. Michelle avatar

    what a gripping read Charlotte!

    So glad you are home and safe. and wow. how memorable, what an adventure.

  4. Yvonne avatar

    What a story, honestly two years already? And 3 … uh oh!

  5. Jen avatar

    You are an amazing writer Charlotte. I loved reading every bit of your story and am certainly glad you arrived home safely, mission completed.

  6. Clare avatar

    Jesus frigging crap Charlotte!!! Lucky I had a glass to gulp from as I rode those waves with you.What an incredible recount.I laughed and held my breath.35 knots is well and truly enough!! You are so right how things change when the little people are there.The stakes are huge.What a send off for your mum.Three??? really??

  7. emily avatar

    oh my word. two years. and what a day. and your words, how you share all of those gusts of wind with us and i feel like i’m rocking on the boat there with you while i’m reading. hugs.

  8. Anna Bartlett avatar

    That is an amazing story. I love it how even when people are gone, we can still make memories of them – and this is a beauty. I’ve been following you for a while, but after reading this felt compelled to say ‘hello’. And ‘god bless’- I think that’s appropriate!

  9. victoria avatar

    Gorgeous read – you had me on the edge of my seat. I could NEVER do that, NEVER EVER. I have always had a fear of drowning, although I can swim well and am not afraid of water in itself. I have a very healthy respect for it and despite my husband’s love of surf and getting into it, I’m trying to pass on my love of calm seas to my girls.

  10. heleen avatar

    man, I felt seasick reading this! what an appropriately unforgettable day 🙂

  11. di avatar

    Certainly a memorable day in many ways for you, although I can’t help thinking it’s a relief that it wasn’t even more memorable… (I’m not good with sailing or speed, so feeling a little freaked out just reading this..)

  12. Tania avatar

    Whoa. If the whole experience was ANYTHING like riding a rollercoaster but then without one of those safety bar wotsits, then you just took me along for the ride. And now I know in advance that I’m not good with boats and 35 knot winds. For that I thank you. Heartily.

    Rest easily Cynthia

  13. Clare avatar

    So glad you’re all safe.

    Three…really, ha! :o)

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