"There is change, and departure: but there is also help when least looked for from the strangers of the day, and hiding, out among the accidents of this drifting Humility, never quite to be extinguished, a few small chances for mercy."
Sunday, 7 October 2018
Nick and Marcus
Nick and Marcus are sitting together in the cabin one calm evening, drinking tea.
They’re both lost in thought. Gradually Marcus discerns a ticking sound above the swaying creak of the boat’s timbers.
“Yeah, it’s my titanium valves…”
“Wow….that’s sort of soothing.”
“Fuck off! Soothing for you maybe. When that sound stops it means I’m dead…."
This story was told to me by a driver named Marcus who brought me from just outside Tours, in France, to just outside London, three weeks ago. There are holes in the details, for example the fate of the person driving the petrol tanker or the nature of Marcus’s first job, but I suppose they just weren’t necessary. The Acropolis has a lot of holes in it and nobody seems to mind.
During my last trip to England I found myself standing at the entrance to a petrol station between Tours and Le Mans, sometime in the early evening. A large petrol tanker drives past. The body a chrome barrel with the effect of a funfair mirror. As it passes I see myself reflected. A barrel-gnome in a fluorescent orange vest, standing in France’s finest interpretation of the deserted central asian steppe. Dun grassland as far as they eye can see. Just the view I needed to bring home the unlikelihood of another lift at that point. I thought about heading out to find the nearest woods and sleep when a silver volvo with an English licence plate drove straight past me, ignoring my freshly serifed sign (“Je Vais Au Nord- Paris/Calais”).
When a man emerged from the car in a rush and began filling it with petrol, I decided I may as well check in case he either hadn’t seen the sign or was put off by the French. I slowly walk over to this man. A stocky and thick-set man in his mid-40s. Blue jeans and a grey t-shirt. Shaved scalp, thick stubble and a pleasing proportion between his well rounded-head and a square jaw. I’m reminded of diagrams I have looked at on the subject of drawing heads. I also have an impression of keen intelligence from him.
“Excuse me, you’re not going to Calais are you?”
“Err…” He looks at me, mouth open and petrol pump in hand. “..Yeah, actually that’s exactly where I’m going. Go on, I’ll give you a lift.”
We drive, north, fast. This is the story.
Nick and Marcus
Marcus was an avid sailor in his youth. From my brief meeting with him I could see he took things on directly with both head and hands, and he sounded like he’d have been quite an industrious teenager. At the age of 15 he went on a normal sailing weekend with his family somewhere in England when a fancy-looking yacht anchored up nearby. When a man emerged on deck Marcus went over and said “That’s a nice boat you have sir, can I help you sail it?”
In that moment he met Nick.
Nick came from a family who owned a large lumber yard. At some point a few years previously, he had been in a car accident where his car collided with a petrol tanker. The resulting explosion slung a sharp metal bar through the car’s windscreen, piercing Nick’s heart and pinning him to the car seat.
The emergency crew arrived, sawed his chair out of the car and took him to hospital where he was thought to have a 5% chance of survival. Three of the four valves in his heart were broken and replaced with titanium ones. Nick spent two years in hospital, slowly recovering. When he was sufficiently fit again he sold his inherited lumber, took around £2 million and decided to carry on living his life. Boating became a priority, and from the day of their first meeting the two became firm friends, sailing together whenever they had the chance each summer.
Four years after their first meeting, Marcus has finished school and is excited about his first job. An excitement dampened by the sobering realisation that, now out of school, he would no longer have school holidays. Nick asked him about that summer’s sailing possibilities and Marcus replied that he’d be able to manage two weeks but not more.
“Well we can do Ireland at least.” said Nick.
Two days into their Ireland trip, Marcus says to Nick “It’s a bit odd that we haven’t seen land yet.”
At this, Nick shrugs and walks down the steps into the cabin. Marcus senses something is up. He finds Nick inside making tea.
“Err, Nick? What’s going on?”
“…Yeah Marcus…we’re going to America mate.”
“What?!…Oh for fuck’s sake! You can’t be serious! It’s my first job, Nick! I have to be back in there on Monday.”
“Come on Marcus, this will be so much better.”
“Nick it’s my first fucking job. They’re going to fire me!”
“Not if you resign first.”
“We’re on a fucking boat in the Atlantic!”
“Yes, but I have a satellite phone.”
Marcus pacing back and forth on deck.
“Hi? Yeah it’s Marcus. I know I’m meant to be in on Monday but I’m on a boat in the middle of Atlantic and we’re going to America. I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can really do about it. It was sort of a surprise. I’m just calling to give in my resignation."
Marcus’s boss: “Well I can’t say I’m impressed Marcus. It’s all fun and games for you but we needed you this summer. I’m sure you’re aware that formal resignation can only be processed in writing so I’m afraid I’ll have to give you the sack.”
Marcus returns to Nick, loudly lamenting his impending dismissal.
Nick: “Writing eh? I have a satellite fax.”
Marcus faxes his formal resignation letter to his boss and the two sail across the Atlantic.
Florida, some weeks later…
A fancy-looking yacht anchors up in a port somewhere in the Florida keys.
A gaggle of tourists in floppy sunhats and oversized sunglasses canter up the pontoon, arriving beside the yacht slightly out of breath.
When two men emerge on deck, someone in the crowd calls to them.
“What a nice boat you have, do you day-charter?”
Nick eyes the crowd cautiously.
“Err, yeah. Yeah we will…” he says, scratching his head and scanning the ranks of hopeful faces. “Come back in two days.”
Nick and Marcus investigate the boating scene and come up with a business model.
“Well it seems that for this to work all we have to do is sail people around the place, keep an icebox full of beers, pull a couple of lobsters off the reef and barbecue them. Well we would have done all that anyway, right Marcus?”
Marcus and Nick spend two weeks day-chartering the yacht. They charge $600 dollars a head. At the end of the fortnight the yacht is back in the harbour and the last tourists have left. Nick turns to Marcus and hands him the lion’s share of their accumulated loot.
“Alright Marcus, I’m sorry I lost you your first job, but it was worth it. This should be more than enough to fly you home and keep you going through the summer.” Marcus flew back to England the next day.
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