So the wife and I are going to sail the boat to the West Country. The plan is to get from Southampton, where the boat lives, to Falmouth, which is about as far as you can reasonably travel without having to go right round Land's End and press on to North Cornwall, an idea too ghastly to contemplate. Really brutal yachties get there non-stop in twenty-four hours. Because we are old and infirm and incompetent, we are going to take weeks, in a twenty-five-year-old boat whose keel was once nearly knocked off in Brittany (not by me, I might point out); and whose engine imploded the last time we went Way Out West.
Provisioning, as the stupidest sailor will tell you, is the key. Most of the boat is going to be filled with drink: a lot of it non-alcoholic, but also as many of the stronger beverages as I can lever into the gaps between two-litre bottles of sparkling water and stained bulkheads. When the great Cunarders used to cross the Atlantic in the last century, they would routinely carry two hundred jars of foie gras, a thousand lobsters, and tens of thousands of bottles of wine. This is what I bear in mind, as I fuddle querulously between the chandler's store and the supermarket.
The reality, as it happens: that fizzy water, plus discount whisky in litre bottles, plus a jacuzzi of really filthy grog. These days, I am sticking remorselessly to £5-and-less, partly on account of price, partly on account of its indestructability. Even after three days open, it doesn't get any worse - in fact it improves, especially after that first encounter which leaves you wiping your eyes with a tea towel and coughing into the sink. You let a Léoville Barton breathe for three days and see what happens. Not only that, but you can hurl the cheap stuff recklessly about without degrading it or compromising its character. This is important if it blows up or you're stuck in a wind-against-tide situation, with all the crockery flying around and the drawers bursting open - just like the Cunard days, when they had to board up the portholes, lash the potted plants down and dampen the tablecloths so that the plates didn't shoot off. Masses of fence paint red, therefore, plus some rosés for if we get a heatwave.
The edible provisions, though, are more problematic. We already have some tinned and bottled goods lying around in the boat, most of them dating back years, even decades. But why so much canned sweetcorn? We must have four tins of the Jolly Green Giant's grisly little pellets. I don't remember buying them. I don't even like canned sweetcorn. What do you do with it? Use it in omelettes? It's a kind of comedy vegetable. Also a profusion of tinned tuna and long-life red kidney beans: what do we do with these? I can see that if we were absolutely wretchedly starving, if we'd been drifting in the Atlantic for six days, we could tip them into a battered metal container and eat them cold, using MoD surplus spoons while wearing fingerless mittens and composing notes to our next of kin. And the wine pairing with this picture of misery? Now I think about it, some of PK's Mateus would go down just fine. We could chill it by trailing it in the icy waters for an hour (watch out for those cheeky killer whales!) before serving it in our bombproof boat tumblers. Oh God.
No, well, let's assume that a) it won't come to that b) I can get something to eat that can be eaten by anything more refined than a camel. Frankly, after a long and horrible slog to windward, I am not fussy so long as it numbs the pain. A giant sausage and a bottle of Calvados would be good. We even have a little jar marked Poudre de Curry, clearly acquired in France, to put the colour back in our cheeks. That and a nice relaxing Doris Lessing novel to curl up with at the end of the day. We shall see. Either way, I'm going to be silent for a while. Which means that if we take some time to be equivalent to about four weeks, I am just going outside and may be some time.