Barney, who I was having things to do with, never really wanted to take me sailing. We hadn’t had a cross word up until then, either, all summer. It’s a con, sailing. It looks really nice from not too close up. Like early colour cine film. But I’d really wanted to go out on the river, and though he knew how it was likely to end, he always tried to be the gentleman.
I’d only been on the cross-channel ferry before, and I was looped bloody painfully into a child’s lifejacket, my espadrilles were wet. And Barney, bless him, was clearly distracted, banging on as we passed the raras out on the decking feature about how the committee was touting for someone to write the official history of the Yacht Club.
I said, ''From what I've heard it'll read like Swallows and Amazons written by the Marquis De Sade.'
Barney and I were passing some nicely, shiny, white, fibreglass boats.
I said, 'That's encouraging. They look efficient.'
'Lasers,' he said. 'Here's my Lapwing.'
AKA a barnacled, old, wooden thing.
'Where did you salvage that, Barney, Mount Ararat?'
‘It’s a classic, thank you,’ Barney said, taking the cover off it.
He had me joining in playing airfix kits with it, putting the sails up, checking that some plug things were bunged in.
‘Oi oi, sweets!'
It was Gerard, Barney's cousin. Face of a Botticelli angel, body of a bruiser, Old Etonian come back to bed hair.
'Just signed you in properly as a Club guest,' he said to me.
'I already signed him in, Gerard,' Barney said.
'Yes I saw, Barney. But not properly. How is it on the water?'
He picked me up. 'This is my teddy bear-hug, you likey?' He knew about Barney and me, though nobody was meant to.
'Just about to go out on the water, Gerard, matter of fact,’ Barney answered.
‘I thought you were both looking a bit dry,' Gerard said. He grinned up at me. 'And, sweets, you feel dry. Which is never how I like my women.'
‘Gerard, can you put Iestyn back down?’ Barney asked. ‘I’m trying to teach him to rig.’
Gerard let me slide down his torso, front teeth on his bottom lip. ‘Why are you rigging here and not down by the water, Barney?’
‘Too many people down there that would put their oar in when I’ve got a novice with me.’
‘Ho ho…oar in,’ I said. Sailing pun.’
‘Oh, yes. Very good. Missed that. Yes. Well.' Barney uncoiled a length of rope, which he then handed to me.
‘Give me enough of this,’ I said. I caught his warning expression. ‘Okay, I’ll stop with the defence mechanism quips now.’
Gerard said, 'Your mother's out in the Pickford's Shrimper, Barn, by the way. Tried to make with go with but I pled a perforated eardrum. On my way to the Martello Tower to smoke. Stop looking worried, sweets, Barney’s a safe pair of hands.'
'Barney's more worried,' I said. 'I just asked if this thing has a periscope.' Gesturing at the Lasers I added, 'But you’re quite sure, Barney, that we shouldn’t go out in one of these here already made earlier boats?’
Gerard smirked. 'Drinks when you get back, sweets.'
He gave me a peck on the cheek.
Watching Gerard walk in the direction of the Martello Tower Barney asked me if he and I really had to...you know...
Yes, frankly, Gerard and I did.
'Climb aboard, Iestyn.' The Lapwing was finally primped and ready.
'No, you first. You’re the crew. And stop singing "The Animals went in Two by Two", please. In you get.'
We were both in the boat, finally, and had gone about three yards.
'Bloody hell!' I shouted.
'It’s maybe my imagination, or it may be peculiar to this river, or it may be a general naturally occurring phenomenon- '
I was cut off by a squall.
'Naturally occurring phenomenon?' Barney prompted, unconcerned.
'That the nasty cold wetness and Percy Bysshe Shelleyness of water rises in direct ratio to the inevitability of my falling into it. Woah!'
I said thank him very much I’d had sufficient and I was sure he wouldn’t mind going back now, anyway, having been so reluctant formerly.
But, oh no, now he had the wind in his sails and was all ships a-shitting-hoy.
'Barney, why are you moving around? Sit still. Please, sit still.'
'I’m setting up a trapeze.'
'No, for you to put your foot in it and lean over the side as a counterweight when we’re making way.'
'Have you lost your fucking mind?'
All was well. I found the brake.
It wasn’t a brake.
'Let go of that, Iestyn. No, it’s the helm. Yes, a steeringy thingy. So let go. And open your eyes! You're heading us straight for those boats.'
I opened my eyes. 'Not the ideal place for a boat installation, is it Barney? Especially with us heading for it at ramming speed.'
''Iestyn, damage to those boats would be our fault and I can’t afford the insurance.'
'Surely you can, Barney?'
'All right, yes I can afford it.' He yelled: 'But let go!'
Okay then. I let go.
The boat reared and listed. Something swung into my head. The boat fell over, me with it. Yes, terrifying, but also the freezing and the slight fizz a bit like falling into a glass of Champagne.
I was swimming in the sails. I kicked gingerly to make sure I wasn't tangled in ropes and looked up at Barney. He was in silhouette, his head blocking the sun, on a triangle of wood sticking out of the bottom of the boat.
'No wonder it fell over,' I called up.
He said, 'We’re twenty yards from the Yacht Club and you manage to capsize us. And without wishing to be unkind, it was a bit of an anti PR job bringing you down here. Get yourself free of that sail, please. Thank you.' He pulled the boat back into an upright position, vaulting niftily into it as he did so. 'Sail's over. Come back aboard.'
'Are you mad?' I trod water. 'I’ll swim back, thanks.'
And we were like the couple who’ve had the row in the car, and she’s got out, taken her heels off, stamping along in her bare feet, while he’s kerb-crawling along beside her.
Get back in the car, babe, don’t be stupid.
'Iestyn, please just get back in the boat. You’re clearly exhausted; that’s practically doggy-paddle.''What do you expect, Barney: concussed, humiliated, semi-drowned: Kay fucking Curtis Modern Mermaid solo fucking synchronised swimming fucking champion?'
We went back and forth for a while, before sighing and shaking his head, he left me to it.
I was bone-numb with exhaustion having swum against the tide for however long. I splatted up the jetty, round the back of the Yacht Club to avoid Barney, then went back to 54a, my holdiday rental, for a hot shower and a change of clothes. I thought about not going back to the Yacht Club at all.
Barney was still beady, buying me a brandy and leading the way to the table furthest from the clubhouse. He sat sipping Adnams, looking over the river towards Ferry Farm. I can still picture the pastel colours and the vaulted clouds.
I said, 'Making sure we nearly can’t be seen by the ra-ras sitting all the way down here?'
He clinked his glass against mine and said he was sorry, but that by panicking and grabbing the tiller thinking it was a brake I had nearly scuppered his Lapwing. 'Could have been dangerous.'I said, 'I did ask for it to stop just after it started.'
He said he had thought that was just beginner’s nerves.
'No, Barney, it was me having a J.P.Morgan premonition; except you wouldn’t let me cancel my passage.'
I’d lost him.
'J.P. Morgan cancelled his passage on the Titanic because of a premonition.'
'The money guy?'
'The money guy.'
Gerard, back from smoking at the Martello Tower, came thumping over the decking, stoned.
'Sweets, genius! I hear they were about to launch the inshore lifeboat!'
He asked why Barney hadn’t gone back upstream to pick me up.
'Because he was refusing to be picked up,' Barney answered.
Gerard took me by the shoulders, saying he needed to examine me.
'Yep, there are definite signs that you could still do with...' He laid me over the picnic table and leant in to give me the kiss of life. 'Better safe than sorry, sweets.'
'Erm…okay…enough,' Barney said. 'That’s really…People are looking. Guys can we not? Iestyn, don’t just lie there, maybe?'
Gerard sprung upright. 'Oops, it's the boss.'
I turned to look. It was Fungus the Bogeyman, apparently.
‘Cyril,’ Gerard explained. ‘Club secretary. Just look like you belong.'
Cyril, creating static galore in nylon shirt and matching nylon slacks, mooched closer.
'I suppose you're the guest signed in as the Royal Yacht Britannia?' Cyril said to me.
Gerard nodded, smiling at me. 'Told you, I signed you in properly.'
Cyril said, 'I'd like you off the premises, please. Such behaviour is not acceptable. And Gerard, your membership is forthwith temporarily suspended.' Further static crackles. 'Barney, your guest is your responsibility. I suggest you remember that. There are children in that Shrimper, and they've just had to witness, along with the rest of us, Gerard cavorting with his holiday catamite.'
Fast forward a number of years: I'd sung for Her Majesty on Victory at the naval supper marking the two hundredth anniversary of Trafalgar. And, apparently, my holiday catamite status ceased to be an issue. The Yacht Club committee respectfully wondered if I could please recreate my after dinner Victory sing for their membership?
Of course I accepted. In this business, make a boat fall over by all means, but never burn one.