I’ve been all alone aboard Carina for the past ten days. On Monday of last week, Julian, Lily and Katie flew back to the UK to visit family, leaving me to get on with a major spring clean, a lot of writing, and my own and Julian’s teaching. I’m generally getting on with all the tasks I’ve set myself. The spring cleaning is underway and the writing is slow and painful.
I’ve sorted through all the food stores – cleaning, reorganising and throwing stuff away. There hasn’t been much to throw away, as we generally make sure that everything is eaten before its use-by date. But the pine nuts covered in green fur and the rusty old tin of treacle had to go in the bin. With everyone else away I’ve been using up foods close to their use-by date, or foods that exist in such small quantities that they can only provide a meal for one, such as tiny quantities of Japanese rice, okonomiyaki flour and maize flour.
Because the troops are returning by car (with Granddad), Julian’s taken a shopping list back to the UK. It’s a rare opportunity to buy some of our favourite non-perishables that either can’t be purchased in Spain or are far more expensive here, so we thought we should treat ourselves. I’m looking forward to having the ingredients to make Thai green curry, to have mango chutney and lime pickle to accompany our dahls and other curries, and to have an ample supply of Golden Syrup for baking.
The aft heads, which we use as a storage space, was in dire need of cleaning, so I tackled that last Saturday, removing all the folded sails, reorganising the medical cupboard, and cleaning the mould from all the surfaces. The fore cabin – Lily and Katie’s bedroom – had turned into a black hole recently. Every toy, piece of paper and shell got sucked in there, and I couldn’t wait to have the boat all to myself to get rid of all that stuff without being told ‘Don’t throw that out. I need it’. After two hours in the fore cabin, and two days of airing the mattresses, I had amassed two large bags of clothes and shoes for recycling and one bag of things that will not be missed!! I sorted through the jigsaw puzzles and removed those they no longer play with – replacing 24-piece jigsaws with the 50- and 100- piece jigsaws they play with now.
This weekend I will tackle the aft cabin – Julian’s and my bedroom. I know I have clothes and shoes in there that I no longer wear and there are books to be recycled or sent back in the car with my father-in-law. So I’m sure another couple of bags will emerge from there. The floors throughout the boat need to be washed and the galley and forward heads given a more thorough cleaning than they get on a week-to-week basis.
I was feeling a bit down about my writing, thinking that I hadn’t achieved as much as I had hoped. But then I thought more about it. I completed the first draft of my book. I’ve now given it a thorough read-through, taken notes, and I am now in the process of re-drafting. I’ve got an article almost ready to submit to a sailing magazine and another one in my head ready to be committed to the page. And I’ve blogged regularly.
So I can’t complain about what I have achieved in the past ten days. Having the boat all to myself has meant having more time to catch up with people far away. I’ve finally had the time to email friends in Japan, Canada, the US and the UK and I had a one-and-a-half hour Skype conversation with a friend in the UK the other night. I’ve watched a couple of movies (making up for lost time with Michael Fassbender!), I’m listening regularly to my favourite radio programmes – Woman’s Hour, Desert Island Discs and the Mayo and Kermode Film Review, and I’ve finally caught up on all my favourite blogs that have been lying unread in my inbox for months.
But boy oh boy do I miss my family. Perhaps I don’t miss Julian so much, because we have been having telephone and Skype conversations, and we’ve been emailing each other every day. So, although we are far apart, we can still be there for each other to some extent. But, with a 4-year old and a 5-year old, things are very different. Our phone and Skype conversations are short, and the girls quickly get distracted by other things. I’ve come to realise how important their physical presence is – their hugs and kisses and their need for assistance with getting dressed or washing their hair – I miss that physical closeness to them.
Julian and I, of course, are used to being apart. He used to do four-month stretches of field work deep in Antarctica and I used to do two-month stretches of field work in the Canadian Arctic. We missed each other, but we were always so busy we didn’t have time to wallow and we could always keep in touch by email. Anthropological fieldwork is a very social activity, so I was always with people I knew and cared for, and my Geography field trips to New York in 2013 and 2014, when I was away from the family for 10 days, were such whirl-winds of activity that I didn’t have time to miss the girls or Julian. But writing and spring cleaning are solitary affairs, and so I have more time to miss everyone.
In the ten days that my family has been away I’ve had good news followed by bad news followed by good news followed by bad news followed by bad news. I know if I had my family here I would be so caught up in the mundane activities of everyday life – caring for the girls, keeping them fed and busy, etc – that I wouldn’t have time to get swept away by these highs and lows. The practicalities of family life would force me to maintain a more even keel. But here, on my own, the highs feel higher and the lows feel lower.
Eight more days to go and I will be reunited with my three favourite people. In the meantime, there’s a lot of spring cleaning and writing still to do, a novel or two to read, and maybe a few more movies to watch on the laptop. And now it’s time for Woman’s Hour, so I have to go!