Vie à Bord
A journey down the Suez Canal
(Photo: Main mast, Fleur de Passion, built 1941, docked in Port Etna, Sicily)
In 2011 I volunteered on a marine conservation ship of Swiss and French crew, Fleur de Passion, for The Changing Oceans Expedition, which examines human impacts on marine ecosystems. We travelled from Sicily through the Mediterranean to Crete, down the Suez Canal and on through the Red Sea to Hurghada in Egypt, just as the Arab Spring was erupting across the Middle Eastern world.
I initially decided to write a book about my experience on the expedition as a fund-raising initiative and was sponsored by many family and friends who contributed towards my costs for the trip. I finished proof-reading the final draft of Vie à Bord (Life on board) in August 2013, my first attempt at writing something longer than a poem, and after feedback from as many friends as possible it is available electronically.
An initial evening of readings and live music (follow link for gallery) took place at Betty's café in Dalston, on Friday 12th July 2013. Thank you to all those who came that evening, as well as to my book launch at the Poetry Café, Covent Garden, on Thursday 15th August 2013. It was a very memorable evening and particular thanks to Gemma Cusworth, Stephanie Caiger-Watson and Hannah Lovell for their beautiful musical offerings. It so happens that evening was the last time I saw my late father, whose grammatical pedantry I was never so grateful for as when he was helping me edit this book.
Please find some extracts below:
'Lifting up the lid of the bench to the tins and jars store in the kitchen, its contents provided a map of our travels, the last tin of HEINZ baked beans a remnant of London, a jar of bright red chilli sauce labeled in Arabic gave a trace of Tunisia, a jar of blood orange marmalade contained a taste of Sicily, and now jars of dolmades marked in Greek letters ‘ντολμάδες’ joined the mix, suggestive of Crete.'
'I woke to longed-for sunshine as we were anchored in the bay – the buildings on the island stretched along the coast, their whitely-painted exteriors reflecting the sunshine. Beyond them the hilly terrain rose in undulating mounds of shrub-covered highland, and white fluffy clouds ambled above in a sky equalling the radiant blue of the sea. A welcome sense of relaxation descended and everyone could go about their business. I sat on deck with my laptop for most of the day taking the chance to write whilst Mimi and Leo swam near the boat and Julien and Dylan fished from the stern. Vincent showed young Dylan how to hook and cast and they caught four little fish which were later fried in butter with onions and eaten for breakfast by Vincent and Yffig. They were small like perch – a golden greeny colour with striped markings running horizontally across their sides. The sun’s rays glittered off their skin as they flipped around in the bucket.'
'Our embarkation down the Suez Canal is rudely delayed by the passage of two American war ships. Little did we know of their imminent involvement in Libya. We sail past shed-like dwellings, huge discarded irrigation pipes, sun-baked dunes, and fishermen casting their nets to earn their daily bread. As we progress down the canal Al Qantarah bridge looms in the distance, 4km long and 70m high, linking Africa and Asia.
In Port Said and Port Suez we see soldiers everywhere, their eager friendliness a bizarre contrast with their militant guise. One waves down at me with his gun from where he is perched up in his tank. A man who sells me some postcards talks of how impossible it is to earn a living. In Hurghada we arrive to the marina’s brightly-painted buildings, pristinely-watered grass and perfectly-tiled quay. We emerge from this tourist Legoland for the reality of the chaos of the street markets where we replenish our fruit and veg. I watch two women in hijabs chatting on the street corner, one holding a toddler in her right hand and two live chickens in the other.'