Back when I was very small, I used to imagine that my house was a ship.
People seem to remember their childhood Summers as being warm and filled with endless sunny days. Not me. My memories of being little, over the Summer holidays, are largely of rain and wind-swept mornings with nothing to do. Of course, there were lovely days, they were just in a considerable minority.
So, I would sit at the front window, looking out at the squall pounding the glass. And there, partly concealed behind the partly drawn curtain, I would lift up the bottom handle that secured the window, swing it outward and, using it as a sort of lever controller, I would sail my house outward into the storm.
Silly, I know, but I was only a tiny lad with a slightly oversized imagination. Plus, there was a river right across the road from our house, so my little sailing illusion was solidly reinforced.
The very best part of my ‘sailing the house’ game was not the fighting of the storm or the returning back to dock safely. Oh no. It was the time before setting off. Always the time before setting off. The house/ship was bobbing gently at the dock, provisions were being loaded up along the gangway, and the journey lay ahead. Almost time to go, but not yet, not yet.
Coming home from work the other evening, I surprised myself a little by realising that I haven’t entirely let this game go. Or, if I had, it has gently resurfaced in my head at some unknown time. It’s still there. This subtle feeling that my house is a ship, and I am sailing it to… somewhere.
Don’t send the Paddy Wagon. Don’t run away. This is subtle, tricky stuff we’re into here. It isn’t some obsessive, all-overpowering compulsion to sail my house away like the Dude in ‘Up’ floats his home away on multi-coloured balloons. It’s just a hue, a leftover from a damp childhood, a feeling that I live on a ship that is sailing to some destination.
And that’s not even quite right. Because it isn’t about a ship that is sailing anywhere. Actually, it’s not that at all. As I’ve been typing this, I’ve come to realise this, so sorry if it’s all a bit disjointed.
It’s not about sailing, it’s about getting ready to sail.
Just as it was when I was small and the world was rainy, the best part of my imagining is not about the going or the getting there. No. It is about the ‘getting ready to set off’, the preparation for the voyage.
I come home from work, and I have things to do. The dinner has to be made, the fire has to be set, the dishwasher emptied and partly filled up again. The cat has to be fed and allowed in for a snooze if so desired, the errant other cat in the shed has to be shooed away (they fight). It’s a busy time after a busy day. But, often, as the things get done and it comes near time for Patricia to come home from work, the feeling of preparation for a voyage gently persists. Sometimes, if it’s not raining, I’ll take a minute or two and stand in the back yard and talk to the cat and smell the air and feel which way the wind is blowing. A first mate on a deck, mentally plotting a course.
Upon further reflection (writing is good for that) this feeling has largely returned since the boys have become men and moved elsewhere with their lives. Since it’s just Patricia and me. Perhaps there is more time to reflect, to play old childish games in my head.
Whatever it is, it’s not an unpleasant feeling. The ashes are taken out of the grate and the tinder is set for the new fire, the radio plays some half-recognised classic, and the house bobs gently below me on the dock, ready to depart as soon as Trish arrives.
It’s all quite nice.
And where are we going? Once the chores are done and the maps laid out and the sails trimmed, what point on the compass will we turn our bow towards?
Into the evening, of course. Wherever else would you want to go? We will sail into the evening together and neither wind nor rain will daunt us. And that's it, that's all.
Is it a dumb story? Is it a metaphor? Is it the very first sign of senility creeping in? That’s for you to say, not me.
Me, I have things to do. There are provisions to be laid down, gaps to be caulked, and the deck is crying out to be swabbed. For, very soon now, we set sail again.
“Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.”