"Four Men in a Boat "continued – by " Shipmate"

18 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (Play School)                            

 (Yarmouth Isle of Wight).

The new yacht was a Camper Nicholson 48.  She too was a ketch but here the similarity with ‘Meretone’ ended.

‘Meretone’ was a graceful lady of the sea and St. Jacut, the Nicholson, was more of a greyhound.

They left the River Hamble in fine spirits on a bit of a test run and decided to head down the Solent, turn to starboard opposite Calshot and enter the Thorn Channel heading on a southwesterly course towards the Needles.

She sailed beautifully and with the main set, her Genoa served to pull her along at over nine knots.

Keith, the playboy, had just returned from a business trip to New York and they were dreading what he had brought back.  Each time he went abroad he picked up a little something that ‘may come in useful.’  Unlike most of his purchases, his latest acquisition did find a purpose but not quite what it was intended for.

As they passed between Yarmouth and Lymington, Keith proudly produced his latest find.  It was to measure their speed through the water.  It resembled a hollow inverted walking stick made of Perspex,’ but maybe twice the diameter.  The sides had graduations marked on them.  The idea being that you stuck the handle end into the water, which was forced up the tube the amount depending on the speed.  The faster the speed, the higher it went.  Theoretically the speed could be determined by reading the scale adjacent to the height of the water.  Perhaps it may have been suitable for a calm lake but the seas motion prevented any serious or successful trials.

Just as they reached Castle Point, the weather turned nasty.  The wind had increased to a southwesterly force six causing a very heavy swell in the Needles Channel.  As a consequence, John, the navigator, decided that they take a close shore course sheltered by the ‘Shingles’ bank.

He knew that the channel was very narrow and unmarked.  It had to be entered very close to shore so they took in the sails and started the engine.  The first few minutes were alarming as she wallowed helplessly broadside on before the engine got hold and they reached the relative shelter of the bank.  The crews were all anxious and their anxiety transmitted to John who wondered if his decision was valid and his memory sound.

However, the bank gave an effective protection against the tumultuous seas and they passed through the narrow channel without incident.

Emerging from the other side, they spotted the Mudeford entrance buoy and altered course for Poole bringing the wind and sea onto the port bow.  Although crashing into the waves, she seemed happier and coped with the head seas much easier.  The motion was such that it was uncomfortable to go below, so in true sailors fashion the lee side was used for relieving oneself.

Keith succumbed to the call of nature and mindful that the unpredictable wind sometimes caused the return of discharge, he devised a cunning method to counter the effects of the wind.

It involved hanging on to the mast stay with one hand whilst both legs were braced between two starboard stays for balance and support.  Next came the stroke of near genius.

He turned his speed device round and placed one end near the water.  The short end was placed between his opened flies and he could go about his business without the chance of any blowback.

The one thing he hadn’t considered is what sailors call a rogue wave.  The next moment Keith was wedged empty handed hanging over the side.  He started so he couldn’t stop and the highly unpredictable wind returned his offering somehow using his face as the target.  Another gadget bit the dust.

Two tiring hours later they turned to starboard and entered the Poole Channel.  It was well marked and they were all relieved to be close to a suitable haven and glad to be in much calmer waters.

They stowed the sails and motored past Brownsea Island at a moderate five knots.  No one would know that they were exceeding the harbour limit of four knots.

The disadvantage of mooring alongside the stone quay was that the berth was tidal and even with very long warps they required constant attention.  This was, however, compensated by the proximity to several fine public Houses.  It was relatively easy to nip out between drinks to attend to the moorings.

Whether Keith was seeking a replacement for his lost widget is not known, but somehow after he had been shopping at a novelty shop, a realistic plastic item turned up that was later to cause much merriment.

It began on the morning after they arrived.  It was truly a morning after.  The evening before saw them celebrate their arrival and John lost count of the number of times Neville proposed a toast to the new yacht.  At five o’clock in the morning when John went on deck, he noticed the lines were bar tight.  He skillfully adjusted them and walked down the Quay in search of a loo.

As he came out, an old friend greeted him.

A black Labrador cross, without a collar, came running up wagging its tail and jumping up for attention.  John remembered, rather hazily, that they had been adopted by ‘Sooty’ as they named him, who followed them from bar to bar, the night before.

His four-legged friend accompanied him to the lifeboat station where he obtained an up to date weather report and together they returned to the yacht.

 John made a pot of tea and rummaged through the cupboard for something for ‘Sooty’.  The only thing remotely suitable was a tin of sardines in tomato sauce so he removed the lid and placed them on deck.  You would have thought it was the dog’s favourite food.  He scoffed it down in ten seconds, licking the tin as clean as a whistle.

The Pub opposite opened at 10 o’clock and the whole crew plus the black stowaway were seated and pulling on their first drink before five past.  They were the only customers and when the landlord noticed the dog, he chased him out.

Keith produced his widget.  Neville placed the brown object strategically in the hearth and to add a bit of realism he poured over a drop of lager.  They nonchalantly continued to relive the previous night when the barman came in to light the fire.

All hell was let loose!.

“That bl..  dy Dog.  Sheila, get down here at once.” 

Sheila arrived and took one look and disappeared.

Neville smartly wiped the floor clean with some paper serviettes and pocketed the curly brown plastic before returning to his seat and continuing with the conversation as though he never stopped.

Sheila returned.  Her hair had been tied back with a scarf and she carried a mop and steaming bucket that was giving off an odour of disinfectant.  She knelt before the fireplace as though about to pray.

“It’s gone,” she exclaimed.

She labouriously got to her feet, and, shaking her head, she slowly left the room.

‘Sooty returned shortly after and was very appreciative of the ash tray of bitter John gave him and the bag of crisps but the excitement obviously proved too much because he left a deposit in the grate before he went off to find somewhere safer.

A few moments after he left, the barman returned and shouted at the top of his voice.  “ Get down here, Sheila.  This fireplace needs your attention.”  He went out to serve another customer who had just arrived in the saloon bar.

Sheila duly arrived and this time looking straight at Neville she said,

“You can’t make a fool out of me twice with your plastic turd.”

She turned and before anyone could say any thing, she marched over to the fireplace.  As she bent over her glasses slipped off her nose but didn’t fall as she had a strap round her neck.

The fact that she couldn’t see properly, may have contributed to her actions.  She put her right hand out and grabbed the offending article.

They didn’t wait to see the outcome.  Drinks were downed in a second and as one, they quickly left the bar.

 They left Poole in rather a hurry and pondered as to where “Sooty” was, but probably not so much as the Landlords wife.  They intended to spend the night in Lymington so that it was only a short hop across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight the next day.

Early the following day they followed the ferry out of the river serving Lymington and crossed to the Island.  Soon after, they tied up between the wooden pylons and hailed the water taxi asking to be dropped of at the jetty near the George Hotel whose opening time was an hour and a half later, at noon.  A little further along in the tiny square at the foot of the pier was their intended goal, the Wheatsheaf .  It was their favourite watering hole and where they met for ‘play school.’

‘Play school consisted of several retired gentlemen who gathered for a drink while their wives went shopping.  Or that’s how it started. 

The original members consisted of an ex Judge, a lifeboat man, a retired head master and a postman.  Apart from quenching their thirst, they had an unusual agenda.

 It was an unwritten rule that nobody could leave until the ‘Telegraph’s’ crossword had been completed.  Help from certain members of the public was encouraged and the banter was exquisite.  The Judge was a dry old stick but his rich brown voice wasn’t without humour.  By tacit and unspoken agreement, he was in charge and filled in the clues as they became solved.  Both the postman and lifeboat man were very well read and the headmaster a fund of knowledge.

Over the years the sailors had become acquainted with the group and were often able to help out with an odd answer to a clue causing a problem.

John suspected the Judge would deliberately hold back to keep his companions from leaving.

This may well have been the case as the Judge and the headmaster had both recently, become widowers.  Whereas the lifeboat man lived with his amenable partner, the postman seemed to have difficulty in deciding who worried him most.  His dog or his wife.  Both were constantly demanding in a caring sort of way.  He was a little man with a little dog but he had a big heart. 

Greetings over, each group carried on separately, occasionally joining forces to solve a clue.

The proceedings were unhurried and nobody from playschool noticed when John placed the plastic memento surreptitiously onto the floor by the fireplace.  He added a generous splash of lager for good measure. 

 The postman arrived a little late and said hello to everyone while he gave the dog his customary ashtray of water.  The normal proceedings resumed.

Ten minutes or so later, the Judge peered over the top of his reading glasses and in his rather imperial deep voice announced, “Popsie has done a whoopsie. ” 

Although his observation was directed at the Postman, all eyes turned on the dog and the fireplace.

A look of unabashed disbelief crossed the postman’s features.  A well-aimed boot connected with the unsuspecting dog and with a loud ‘yap’ he ran out of the bar.

Had the postman troubled to look a bit harder, he would undoubtedly have detected that the offending plastic was nearly as big as the dog.  As it was, nobody from play school noticed and without exception they all followed in pursuit of the dog.

Yarmouth on the Isle of White is a very small town not much bigger than a village.  In fact if it wasn’t for the Ferry and the harbour the world would have past it by.

There weren’t that many places to look. Five Pub’s six Shops Two cafeteria’s, a barber, the Church, village hall, boat builders, harbor offices, and a little way out of town over the bridge was the seafood shop where the lobsters and crabs were cooked.

The Judge was the first to return.  He had forgotten his ‘Zimmer’ frame.

Before he returned however, the incriminating evidence had been removed and the Judge suspiciously eyed the empty hearth in silence.

The Vicar was halfway through a christening and was astounded by being having his service disrupted by the arrival of an unruly crowd calling out ‘Popsie’.

A little later, pensioners lining up in the Post Office became quite agitated when the searchers burst in looking for the dog.

Investigating the other hostelries took considerable time and the party split up to share the burden taking the opportunity to slake their thirsts.

One by one they returned.  The lifeboat man had got his crew to form a search party.  He needn’t have bothered because ‘Popsie’ was safely at home by the side of his mistress and was absent from all future meetings.

The postman, fearful of confronting his wife, resorted to ‘Dutch’ courage and was later observed staggering home with an idiotic grin on his face and assisted by the buxom barmaid.

Calm returned to the bar with the two main groups resuming their business and the chatting and drinking and carrying on as normal.

A friendly darts match was commenced but was soon abandoned when discovering that the starting double remained illusive and only about one in three darts actually hit the board.

The Judge had moved to a comfortable armchair in front of the fireplace and had adopted Court mode so that nobody could tell whether he was deep in thought or asleep.

It was getting on for three o’clock when the headmaster solved the final seven-letter clue, the answer that had been causing everyone perplexing moments of lengthy consideration.

 ‘ An absent God returns to America!’


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