Episode 13 (of 18)
We stared at each other, both cross and frustrated. I felt guilty, as though I’d strung them along … but I had tried to tell them ….. but I had taken the money … and spent it … and had a new van …. and, and, and, and ….. and I had met Svet.
She pulled a face and turned away from me, rummaged in her rucksack and produced a bottle of vodka and the de rigour 2 glasses. Pavlovian, I set up the small ‘occasional’ table ……. and the re-education discussion began.
‘This is not the British Civil Service Bo where all the decisions are already made and where there is a fetish about less being … well less.’
‘There’s nothing more to say Svet, I can’t make it up.’
‘Ha, ha … don’t treat me like an idiot! …… there’s everything more to say.’ She indicated the two holdalls – they’re full of stuff about the Solent …… and Portsmouth Naval Base.’
‘But they won’t make any difference to the tides!’
‘How do you know that? You are but one agent …… there are many experts in Russia who would like to pore over your field work …. And it’s your job to give them something to pore over!’
I shook my head.
‘Bo! We do things differently. We expect thousands of words, pages and pages – we require thoroughness and detail, graphs, tables, references …. – so your analysis and conclusions can be evaluated and so that nothing is missed.’
‘But loads of words won’t change my conclusion.’
She poured a second slug into the two glasses and grinned at me.
‘Let’s leave the conclusion until the body of the report is fully drafted … otherwise you might well have not bothered to write it.’
If I had any notion of pointing out that was rather my point I swiftly put the idea aside. It was her eyes …
‘Let’s skim through the stuff in the holdalls … not looking for detail, just big areas and then we can build a structure.’
— x —
Dawn was breaking as we agreed our outline:
1) Brief – issues to be addressed and authority for undertaking the review.
2) Fieldwork undertaken and sources
3) Description of Solent and the surrounding area
4) Geology and the formation of the estuary
5) Erosion and Sedimentation
6) Pleasure craft
7) Commercial shipping
8) The Royal Navy and Portsmouth Naval base
9) Tidal Flows
10) Strategic Significance
I was just leaning back, a refilled glass in my hand when she re-introduced a difficult subject.
‘We must have a section on the Brambly Bank.’
‘Why? It’s just a bank of sand in the middle, exposed for short periods at low water during spring tides. It’s a navigational obstacle alright, vessels regularly run aground on it, but we can fit it into the sections on erosion and sediment, or tidal flows, or shipping …. and,’ I blew out my cheeks, ‘it’s called The Brambles.’
‘If it’s such a problem why don’t they just get rid of it – like they’re doing in Portsmouth?’
‘It’s too big, and I think it’d just re-form.’
‘No, there’s something fishy about it ……. That cricket match … it’s absurd.’
I groaned, not this again.
‘It’s supposed to be absurd …. it’s a laugh …. symbolic … in the middle of the Solent… played once a year between The Royal Southern and The Island Sailing Clubs.’
‘Upper Class foolishness? I don’t believe it!’
‘It’s a joke!’
‘Like the football match in Robinson Crusoe?’
‘No!’ I snapped… ‘that was a satire on colonial relations’.
She leaned back, then grinned, ‘Seriously?’
‘Which literary theorist did you get that from?’
I went red …… ‘My Dad, he read it to me when I was a boy … he saw everything in terms of power … race, gender … but mostly class. He always said you should never discount economic class.’
‘Ha!’ she was triumphant, ‘he was right you can’t underestimate the impact of class …. we’ll have a section on The Brambly Bank.’
— x —
We emerged a little bleary from the van onto a pebble beach as the light spread across the sky and walked down to the water’s edge.
‘C’mon Bo it’ll wake us up!’
I didn’t have time to deploy the old sorry I haven’t got my trunks defence – she was casting attire aside with a serious intent that brooked no discussion. Then she turned to me and laughed aloud as I clumsily pulled a random shoe off, a sock. She was still laughing as I finally straightened, still in my string vest, y-fronts (non matching, inevitably) and (so she told me later), one sock.
She ran straight in and dived into a powerful crawl. I gingerly felt my may across the pebbles (I knew the lack of swimming shoes would not count as an objection) and advanced slowly and with a rising dread into the freezing fucking water. Then, as the bottom disappeared from view my eyes strayed and I came up short …. well not short actually ….
‘Shit!’ frantically I looked around as my hands moved down and together before I pulled them guiltily apart… phew! Too early for anyone to be around.
‘C’mon Bo … get in …. you look silly there!’
Perhaps in the water was the best and possibly the only option – so in I went …. And she was right; it certainly woke me up … and cooled me down!
Half an hour later we were back in the van, wrapped in towels (and in Svet’s case my dressing gown) heater on, mug of hot chocolate in each pair of cupped hands and the shivering just beginning to subside.
‘How does this bed work Bo?’
‘Oh it just pulls out’ I replied rather absently.
‘C’mon, let’s get it sorted, we need a break before we start detailing the content.’
Without thinking I showed her how it worked and retrieved (the fortunately just laundered) bedding from underneath it. She was immediately shaking out sheets, arranging pillows and positioning the continental style duvet.
She disrobed for the second time and laughed at me again.
‘C’mon Bo … where do you want me?’
‘On the inside?’
— x —
Dad’s manuscript comes to an abrupt halt at this point and several pages, well more than several actually, appear to be missing. The text from the start of the swimming has in fact been crossed through with pencil and a big question mark in the margin. I spent some time trying to decide whether I should take this section out too – but he had left it in the bundle of papers and to be honest I thought it needed to remain as the text overall is pretty vague on some rather important matters!
The final page of this episode did however escape Dad’s subsequent censorship:
— x —
In all it took us best part of a week, moving from place to place to avoid suspicion, to work through all the source material, make notes and then through debate and discussion annotate the rapidly growing report plan.
‘Good,’ she smiled as she gathered papers into a neat pile and stapled them together in the top left hand corner. ‘You can produce a first draft back in the forest, good job we got you that Amstrad processor.’
‘Are you coming back with me?’
‘No I have to go back to London …. But I will come over in a week to see what you’ve got and we can spend a few days working it up to something close to completion.’
‘Shall I drop you at the station?’
‘Yes, but first let’s go over to the Isle of Wight for the day … it’ll be fun and it should really be included in your field work.’
‘We’ll drive round to Southampton then.’
‘No need, we can get the ferry over to dock head from Hythe.’
‘And get to ride on the Hythe Pier train!’