All at sea

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Posted from Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.


This is pretty much a stream of consciousness narrative of the voyage on the overnight ferry from Cagliari to Naples. It was fun to write, but perhaps not to read. I can’t really tell.

7.05. We were supposed to have left. The ship is juddering. The evening sun picks out the detail of Cagliari with cartoon precision, the light flattening out the other surfaces, the hard lines of shadows delineating each window, pediment and coping. From a distance (and close to) it’s a handsome city, mounting up the hill to the facade of the cathedra; and the cupola of the old castello standing against a clear hydrangea-blue sky. The newer town merges seamlessly with the old, the colours a mix of yellows, creams, dull browns. The whole looks like an architect’s model.

I’m drenched in th smell of of diesel fuel. A very stiff wind threatens to tug this MacBook from my lap and send it spinning over board.

7.20. We’ve begin to mov. That familiar sense of anticipation. The movement of the boat is powerful but quite subdued. The Mola Immaculata recedes. Cagliari stretches along the seafront, more and more of it. The angle of observation slowly changes. Tugs flirt with our bow.The sun’s reflection off the sea has the dazzling flare of an explosion. A yacht carrying the British ensign drops away to our stern, heading for a birth in the port. We swivel on our axis to ease out past the protective arm of the harbour wall. Cagliari is already quite distant. It looks more romantic than before in the evening light.

The expanse of sea grows. The water looks twitchy, but not rough. There’s a touch of steel in its blue.

Are mine the only brogues on board? Are mine the only shoes that aren’t trainers or sandals?

Our wake curves behind us, as broad as our stern, ice-blue, like a the stream behind a jet as it begins to diffuse. The lumps and bumps of Sardina have become misty silhouettes. It’s been an interesting month there, for the most part unimaginably delightful and interesting, occasionally melancholy and infuriating.

Boats carrying people have been moving along these paths since the Mediterranean became inhabited. Boats have become larger, but they carry the same cargoes, the same people – Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Italians, Spaniards, Germans, Turks, French, Africans.

A young man with a tummy, chukka books, a dingy tattoo and a T-short of a depressing blue, announces his arrival on this deck by sniffing and hawking loudly.

There’s a couple leaning agains the rails. He has his hand in the back pocket of her jeans.

In the dining room, all sorts all ages. An elderly couple eat in silence. A young couple eat in silence. A man with his grey hair in a pony tail and his grey-haired wife in a flowing black dress and sandels couple eat in silence.

I wonder what people think about when they’re not talking to each other.

Any numbers of mother/fathers persuading their children to eat. New fathers are everywhere. I can;t remember men doing this forty years ago. Feeding kids was women’s work. One kid has ploughed his way through a huge plate of pasta, tomato sauce spreading further and further and his face.

Elderly couple behind me chatting away as merry as grigs. A man is mechanically lifting sections of pineapple into his mouth as if on an automated eating system, looking terminally bored, while his girlfriend (wife?) natters into her mobile phone.

A couple of Brit blokes with shaven heads walk past like elderly primates, arms held out at their sides, leaning slightly forwards, taking short steps.

Some people drift like fishes over a reef.

8.25. Dinner already over. Many brought their own picnic.

Time for tablets, telephones, kids to run riot. Time to play cards, slump already, heads on arms, arms on tables already.

I eat a Mars Bar, the first bit of absolute rubbish in 6 weeks.

I left England on 13th May, exactly 49 days ago; 7 weeks ago.

Back on the upper deck, outside. The sun is setting behind the silhouette of Sardinia’s eastern hills, a Haliborange tablet being dropped into the sea. I think that’s more accurate, if more prosaic, than ‘le soleil come un cou coupe’, Apollinaire’s simile. The sky shades from peach to dusty peach to dusty peachy yellow to dusty yellow to dusty yellowy blue to chalky blue.

The sea has gone navy blue. There are white ponies on the surface.

There is something implacable about the way the ship powers through the water.

I am up here on my own. Even the man with battered manner and the expensive camera capturing the last moments of the sunset has vanished. I wonder how much longer I’ll stay here, too. It’s cooling off a bit, and my bum is numb from sitting on the deck.

Night slowly closes in. It’s like Grandmother’s Foot Steps. I keep looking up. It’s a little bit darker each time, but I never quite catch the moment of change.

9pm. Below decks for me now, I think.

Settling into my seat for the night. The television is on with one of those programmes that are so idiotic, it could only be Italian.

And the man in front is banging on into his phone.

Is this going to last all night?

Sea the colour of black figs now.

When I made similar journeys when I was younger, there was always a bubbling sense of heading to the unknown, of excitement, of no knowing what to expect but always looking forward to it

I don’t have that same wonder and excitement any more. The pleasure isn’t in what the future holds, it’s in a deeper awareness and appreciation of the present.


So much for my determination to keep a running blog through the night. It’s 6 am. I think I went to ‘sleep’ about 10.30pm.

Feel as if I had been taking part in a bondage session in which I had been forgotten.

Vaguely, intermittently aware of the shortcomings of my sleeping arrangements; slight pitch and roll of the ship; concern of the effects of my snoring on my fellow passengers; occasional hacking roar of the real thing; unyielding lumpiness of of my rucksack pillow; the shortcomings of the foetal position for sleeping; the difficulties in changing position; the curious dreams and fitful sleep caused by all of the above.

And so I wake with some relief to a calm sea and an uneventful voyage. The ship still judders slightly from its engines.

The sky is bright and brightening outside, as we steam towards the sun.

Two expressos and a croissant filled with creme patissiere restore the spirits. I slightly regret eating both the peaches I had saved from Cagliari last night, particularly as one peach left my shirt spotted with peach juice.

The passengers disinter themselves from sleep in ones and two. Most have that stunned mullet look, of people who have either slept too well or hardly at all.

Some are taking the air, staring out at the easy-going swell and refracted surface of the dark blue sea.

I wonder how many have cleaned their teeth. Which reminds me that I haven’t. Peach-juiced shirt, stubble, manky teeth. Too bad. There’s no one here to tell me off.

7.20. Just over an hour to go. The mayhem of Naples harbour. The anxiety of locating the ferry to Ischia. The anticipation of Ischian delights. The tremulous beauty of Kathleen Ferrier singing Down by the Sally Gardens on the headphones. Sparks a sharp burst of home sickness. A sudden fierce longing for family and friends.

I wonder how the fields and hanging woods of Uley are looking. Green, green, green.

Rescued from introspection by a sudden cheery burst of ‘Buongiorno, buongiorno’ over the tannoy, and energetic conversation between two middle-aged blokes at a nearby table, and the gentler patter between their spouses.

The water streams past us. We pass a large island. I wonder which it is, will I be visiting it, what goes on there, are its inhabitants up and doing at this hour. Cloud is wrapped around its highest peak. Clouds to the east as well. Is the weather changing?

No one knows that I’m here. Extended solitude is curious. Conversations in my head become more real than those I have with real people. The conversations are usually between me and myself, occasionally between me and another.

I doze off.

8.30 on the dot. We’re pulling into Naples past vast, silent cruise ships, a bungalow among skyscrapers. They seem oddly vacuous without their passengers on board, Angkor Wat and Sacsahuaman of the tourist age.

The bustle of Neapolitan streets extends to its port. Ferries slip in and out. Pilot boats and barges surge past, sheepdogs marshalling an unruly flock.

Painstakingly we back into our berth. It’s time to go below, mount up and work out what the hell I do next. The sky is blue. The sun is bright. It’s hot already. Now, where’s the damned traghetto to Ischia?