The sea.

The sea.

Sometimes life is like being afloat on a raging sea in a little rowboat, just trying not be washed overboard.

So sang Neil Hannon in a song that has always made me think of my father – a tune called Charmed life.

Dad spent much of his time living with the attitude of someone who considered their life to be a charmed one, and did it with a touch of theatrical cheek reminiscent of this twinkly Divine Comedy song. Shame I never got to play it to him; I remember him for that thankful, upbeat attitude more than I do for the slow debilitation of his last months, or the many trials he took on in his 74 years.

Of course, typical of his instinct to combine a little theatre with a little passion and a little pragmatic risk-dodging was his life-long affinity with tall ships and his apparently equally life-long avoidance of the sea.

Now, whether you ever set foot on a real boat or not, Neil’s simple lyrical point rings instantly true. Metaphorical boats seem to have figured often in my private journals over many years – despite the fact that my own idle affinity is with flying.

I’ve spent some of the last few days, however, literally trying not to be washed overboard, somewhere off Plymouth. ..While taking careful extra risks to wash some things very definitely overboard, on the shameful occasions my brave belligerence with the methodical Cardinal Chunder briefly caved.
Four nights bunking in berths with some old friends and bobbing about with a couple of new ones was a healthy alternative to another embattled week in the bunker; I took my journal and jotter pad and didn’t feel the urge to touch them all week. Hanging off sheets and hanging onto my breakfast filled each day’s imagination sufficiently it seemed.

I’m grateful to the good skipper King and the rest of the gang for inviting me help crew a another remarkably organised demi voyage – this time aboard a beamy 44-footer. Because, apart from all the fun and fine cheeses, sailing reminds me of the need to feel a little pushed.

So much of our modern life is comfortable, even when we feel justified in moaning about it. Physical effort is a good perspective-giver – and, much like running, sailing cleverly uses the body to get to the brain. It hands out numerous contemplative life lessons in its careful risks and little co-ordinative demands.

Effort and teamwork dawn on you as costly concepts when a boat needs getting home safely in all weathers and all stomach conditions. If you don’t stop mewling over the gunwale and start winching the mainsail to wind, who will?

Another kindly member of the crew, is who. But the fact remains, it makes you realise that you too are another member of the crew.

Naturally, much of the time British weather will pack in far more different life lessons afloat than life itself will dish out in the same time – stretches of plodding calm with little wind in the sails can last for a long time in daily life, but just a morning off the Eddystone lighthouse. And at the end of four days of bare-boat chartering, if you’re able to afford it, you’re highly likely get to go home to a stable bed and pull the warm sheets over your head.

When life breaks a wave over your bows, it’s unlikely to be so easy to dry out, I think.

I’m prepping to steal one of the bank holidays to mix an album version of the tunes I’ve written for Rampage’s last major TV production involvement – Lyndey and Blair’s Taste Of Greece. As you may have heard me say, it’s been a thoroughly positive project for Momo, producing some of our nicest little tunes and I hope the bootleg soundtrack to a few friends’ summers this year. And part of the feel-good on screen was young Blair himself – Australian TV chef Lyndey Milan’s charming, buoyant son.

An actor and voice-over artist and clearly fit young chap in his late twenties loving life – and bringing a very likeable amount of it with him wherever he goes, it seems. It worked nicely in the show and I’ve certainly been hoping to meet him for a beer one day.

Today I had an email at tea time that blew the wind out of my sails a little – for in the small hours of Sunday morning, Blair died in Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred hospital. Apparently of acute myeloid leukaemia, more or less out of the blue.

Not knowing Blair myself, I can say little. Other than that this is still shocking news. My heart is sincerely with his mother and family, which seems to have included a lot of people.

What can any of us do in our little rowboats, when all we want to do after some weather is get carried away by the tide?

With sadness, I think of Blair and trust that all those who have felt swamped by this week’s sudden news will remember the life and the theatre and the fun he brought them sooner than the sadness of his premature leaving.
We make sense of the sea largely by sharing experience. And always we survive the sea by pulling together. Somehow. Despite how we’re feeling.
A little helplessly, I say: bon voyage, to a bon viveur.


Blair Milan: Sydney Morning Herald.

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