Episode 14 (of 18)
‘I don’t think that’s going to work Bo,’ was her not unexpected response to my proposal that once the report was finished we could make it clear that there were no recommendations for further action and maybe my contract could be terminated.
‘But they are just wasting money.’
‘Exactly, so now, when they have already expended a considerable amount of it, may not the best time to point that out to them.’
‘And,’ she sighed, ‘there’s us.’
‘We’ll not be able to see each other if I’m not your handler.’
And that was ……. well ….. that.
Svet had arrived that morning and now, as the light went out of the sky and the forest loomed around the cabin, we had turned our attention to the report. By the early hours we were wrangling about the conclusion and recommendations.
I had tried not to convey a sense of ‘I told you so’ as we pulled the various threads together from what was now a 22,000 word report (with appendices to be added). It was obvious that the tidal flows, although complicated, could be explained through the interaction of a number of natural causes.
‘But look at what we don’t know Bo.’
‘What else do we need to know?’ I gestured wearily at the untidy piles of opened books, reports, charts and diagrams strewn across the study floor.
‘Intelligence analysts always focus on what we don’t know …… so,’ she hesitated, ‘We don’t know the impact of the dredging inside Portsmouth Harbour, or the reason that Brambly Bank is moving westwards 5m a year …… or whether the cricket match has some purpose we, and most other people, can’t see …..’
I put my head in my hands, ‘But how do we link those things to the tides?’
‘Simple,’ she grinned, ‘we just say we don’t know whether there are connections or how they might impact on the tides, shipping lanes, navigation hazards, naval docks – and,’ she paused, ‘suggest that the situation requires regular monitoring.’
The following afternoon I typed out the recommendations. Number 12 stated that:
Given the number of uncertainties and as yet not fully understood causal links in relation to tidal movements in the Solent, Southampton Water and Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, it is recommended that regular on site monitoring is maintained and reports are provided on a quarterly basis.
Svet left the following morning and I spent a rather anxious couple of weeks waiting to hear – from her, and about it. When she returned she was in good spirits and brought more of them in bottles.’
— x —
Thus began a very agreeable couple of years. Every three months I would spend a week or so vanning around the Solent, checking on tides, shipping movements and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Svet visited me in the forest once a month bearing the thickly filled brown envelope and would typically stay a couple of days to review the information gathered and help with the drafting of the reports. She began to visit in between these ‘official occasions’, often ‘to get away from the office’ and write up stuff that ‘required full concentration.’ Sometimes she accompanied me on the field work.
Inevitably though, the quarterly reports became increasingly difficult to write – because we had nothing new to say, no new insights about causal relationships or any of that stuff that I had so blithely included in that original report.
‘We’ve got to come up with something Bo!’
‘I know …… but what?’
‘There are some notes here that we didn’t include in the original report,’ she was flicking through papers she’d retrieved from under the desk. ‘What’s this …. Perigree and Apogee?’
I looked over her shoulder, ‘Oh they’re scientific terms for how close the moon’s orbit is to the earth – and the consequent strength of the tides. You get exceptionally big tides in April and October when it’s closer.
‘Is that when they play cricket? …. Isn’t that outside of the official season?’
‘What about the tide running westwards along the shores of the mainland and the island at 1.5knots whilst in the main channel in the middle it runs at 1.5 knots eastwards?’
‘You included that in appendix 3 I think.’
‘We could of course mention the experimental geo thermal bore holes at Marchwood and Southampton ?’
‘They’re pumping brine at 76·C.’
‘Huh! … what’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Exactly!’ I grinned at her, ‘we don’t know … and …. If I remember my training correctly, that’s all we need to know … I er mean don’t need to know .. if you know what I mean ……’
Svet was not convinced.
‘Let’s visit The Island Sailing Club.’
— x —
Two days later, following some persistent but polite pressure from Svet directed at extremely busy and flustered staff in a very hot and crowded bar, we were shown upstairs to the door of the office of The Club Steward. From the other side of the door came a raised voice and disjointed words. ….’
‘Simply not acceptable …………. as a club member ……… should be able to moor my yacht without suffering damage …….. mooring rights’
Then a quieter, rather deflated voice, a voice shorn of optimism, a voice that had had its joi de vivre well and truly wrung out of it. But for all its flatness it was penetrative and more than hinted at obduracy.
‘I appreciate that it is upsetting to find a two metre scratch on your recently painted hull but the club cannot be held responsible for the actions of others and …….’
‘Sorry Ma’am whispered the Membership Secretary who had shown us up ….. he’ll not be a moment …………..’
Suddenly the door was wrenched backwards and out hurtled a large man, whose progress was only momentarily impeded by a brushing acquaintance with the wall opposite before he rapidly descended the stairs. There wasn’t much of an opportunity to appraise his manner, but I rather got the impression that he was cross.
Then we were shown in to meet the obdurate man with the penetrative voice.
He looked weary and harassed. He looked like a man who was in need of a good rest – or at the very least a couple of hours kip. I suspect he had retreated to his office away from the mayhem coursing through the rest of the club to grab a little respite ………. I feared that we might not find him at his best.
‘How can I help you?’ he, forced a smile, ‘I’m sorry but Cowes week is the busiest time of the year for us.’
‘We’ll not take much of your time,’ Svet was all sympathy and understanding, ‘I would like to ask you some questions about cricket.’
‘Cricket ??!’, the man allowed his incredulity to burst through his professional façade like a giant exploding seed head, leaving a wake of anger, frustration and exhaustion across his boat race. ‘This is a sailing club!’
‘Of course, of course,’ nodded Svet, oozing empathy and a nice touch of apparently heartfelt sorrow at having to take up his time on such a matter, ‘But you do play cricket against The Southern Royalists don’t you? ……. on the Brambly Bank …….. .’
He did his best to reconstruct himself, but Svet ploughed on.
‘My friend, Mr Jones,’ she tilted her head in my direction, ‘would like to join the team … wouldn’t you B … Jim?’
‘Oh ….. yes, absolutely,’ I rallied to the cause, ‘Very happy to turn the arm over for a few overs ….. used to bowl a bit of a googly at school ….’ I trailed off as the man slowly lowered his head into his hands.
Honestly! I kid you not. The man actually lowered his head into his hands.
— x —
We didn’t say much to each other on the ferry back to Southampton.
‘I’ll go for the train back to London’.
‘Well you come up with something Bo!’ her eyes flashed anger and frustration, ‘I’ve got a meeting tomorrow to review your performance.’
She turned and walked away. I stood and watched her gradually smalling into the distance. If I had to describe what that walk was like I would select the word ‘furious’.