A lazy limbo.

The devil plays with the best made plans…

Seafaring is dependent on so many things, not only the weather and sea conditions, but the financial and external situations, often way beyond one’s control.

My plan this year had been to leave Sweden and head south towards Poland, aiming to winter somewhere near the Rhineland, Netherlands border. After a year of inactivity due to business back in the UK, I find myself suffering from the results some months later, culminating in the drying up of one of my main sources of income.

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Free… All ready and dressed up with nowhere to go…

The skullduggery of modern financial practices looks like it has soiled my next few years of sailing and has seriously challenged my desire to remain free. Ah well, such is life. I’ve had ten years, how could I not be eternally grateful for that? The generosity of this wonderful club here in Borka, allows me some leeway and a chance to remain in a more passive capacity. Sailing if possible must be confined to the local Jungfrukusten (Maiden’s Coast).

The nature of time is somewhat meaningless for a live-aboard sailor. Can it really be ten years already, since I first left the land? Thousands of miles later and an endless spectrum of amazing folk, leaves me in a timeless wonderland that is devoid of rigidity and mindless rules. I am truly thankful for that. On my winter returns to the United Kingdom, I am struck by the polarity of the country and the divide that exists after voting to leave the European Community. Folk appear quick to anger and keen to spew vitriol over all and asunder – and pity for those that have a middle of the road response to the decline of the nation. Their way is of course is bound to be the right way…. God help us all.

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The lovely folk in Borka, who have always made me feel so welcome. Micke, Sofi and Robin in the wonderful restaurant, an oasis of community.

I dread the thought of having to live in Britain again after the freedom of movement I have been used to; any restriction of travel can never benefit the free thinker, and lover of freedom. Instead, the narrow-minded, contraction of an old Empire that still tries to punch above its weight, and punishes its poor people with a diet of propaganda and ridiculous austerity measures, seems to running at full speed towards a period of sheer dreadfulness, not experienced since the Thatcher years.

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Birthday treat! A free Hälsingland cheesecake from Micke!

My sixtieth birthday came as a real surprise this year and reminded me why I love this small corner of Sweden so much. My dear friends Kjell-Arne and Margareta, surprised me with an afternoon tea and flowers, and the restaurant added to a perfect day with some lovely gestures. It is lovely to feel wanted at times, especially for a vagabond such as myself. My own family was hardly the place to feel valued and Borka sometimes feels the closest to a family I have ever had. So many wonderful folk have graced my travels. You all know who you are.

So, the sad demise of the links between the United Kingdom and Sweden will be felt by many of us, who’ve come to love it here. Oh yes, knowledgable British pro-Brexit, folk will remind me of all the good reasons for leaving and I do agree with some of them, but I fear more the sordid, little bunch of incestuous, greedy, mean-spirited people who will replace the chaotic, rather silly Brussels government. I suppose the question is, what is the lesser of two evils? Having already stolen our pensions, in the name of austerity, to reinvest the money in their pro-American, military shenanigans, and other clandestine activities, I cannot see any kind of future that is worth returning for.

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Free, from a helicopter… Why would you want to leave this?

Now I am entering ostrich mode… attempting to pretend that everything will remain the same and that I won’t need to leave; but I know that this is just an illusion and that the clock is running down.

How fortunate I have been to have experienced the sweet freedom and yes the universe is always changing, but you never know…

You never know.

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Romancing the fear.

I will always love Scandinavia….Viking genes are there in my DNA, my ancestors settling in the West of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it is that very spirit that calls to me now.

The preparations are underway; so much to do with food supplies and the inevitable maintenance necessary to keep a sea-going vessel ship-shape and Bristol fashion! Thinking about it produces a mental mountain, seemingly impossible to scale, but it will be done, one step at a time.

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On an evening like this, anything seems possible.

The weather is crazy in Sweden at this time of the year not unlike the United Kingdom, but amplified massively. It is easy to be caught out in the Baltic as I have found out to my cost. There is only so much one can prepare for, and I suppose that applies to life in general. How much security is there? Some? Little? Or none. I’d go with the latter.

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Free is about to get whacked by a freak storm just off Piteå in the northern Baltic back in 2014. There really is little or no security for a sailor.

It still surprises me when folk ask if my life is dangerous, and ‘are you afraid?’ I can’t help a rueful smile as I see their own fear manifesting itself within their own eyes, applying the uncertainty of modern life to my own. My reply remains consistent. ‘Of course I am.’

There is no shame in fear for it is healthy and indeed necessary for our very survival. How one uses it though is the key to a fulfilling, happy life. Fear is the fuel that produces action in its positive sense; however, it is all too easy to succumb to apathy and terror, causing eventual paralysis of body and spirit. Before long, one finds an overwhelming sense of helplessness and eventually depression as the fear corrodes all that makes us human. reducing us to cowards and slaves.

Time to face the fear, that alchemical catalyst.

I know my life must appear terrifying to some and I cannot deny there are moments when I call out to the Gods for protection, but the same limitations are there for everyone, no matter what they do.

Can you see a way through it? Will there ever be an end to the uncertainty of life with all the terrorism, dangerous environments and constant threats from banks, governments and those that we trust; even our own families and friends?

There will never be security… life never has been, nor ever will be a touchy, feely new-age paradise. It is what it is… a tough universe.

'Alone with you'

There will always be small oases of peace and relief in the eye of the storm. Here I am in the Stockholm Archipelago during the long voyage north in 2013.

I love to live this life knowing that each day could be my last. It hones the mind and swells the heart into a massive, and boundless source of joy, the sense of a life well lived for a’ that.

Welcome to the Lila the cosmic dance of the Hindus. They understood that we are all parts of this vast and terrifying beauty.

Take your partners please!!!

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The fog on the Tyne was all mine…

Yes it was, once upon a time.

And suddenly I am sixty years old…

This is a shocking revelation for someone who still sees themselves as thirty-four and yet there is no way to sugarcoat it.

I have pulled together my thoughts over this past month – since leaving the North East again – in an attempt to close the cycle and complete the healing of an emotionally charged childhood.

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Return of the native… South Shields, my home town.

I had delayed my return over and over again since my last time way back during my teacher training in Scotland. Then it was a visit to my last known surviving relative, my Aunty Dolly, but she didn’t recognise me. How can your roots be so thin, like a desert shrub, gripping to the sands of time? What a lesson in how transient we are, no matter what we believe; not that this was a required reminder for me for I suppose I have always felt it… Here is the root of my wandering life, slowly becoming an ancient mariner; never able to cut the cord of the eternal voyage.

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Hawthorn Leslie, my Grandpa’s shipyard, back when the Tyne was a working River. This is how I remember it.

So when I arrived at South Shields Metro Station, a feeling of nostalgia flooded through me, quite expecting to see my Grandma, waiting in her old maroon coat like she used to do after school. The ghosts were whispering all the way down to street level but there was nothing but the brisk, chilly easterly wind blowing up King Street from the Ocean Road.

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The Big River today, a ghost of its former self… Looking west towards Tyne Dock, Jarrow and Wallsend. Where did all the ships go? Gone also the smoke and the fog. 🎶I can remember when/ for I was just a child of ten…🎵

What happened to my river, the mighty, coaly Tyne? I sought the answer over the next few days, retreading my footsteps, past my old school St Gregory’s RC, through Harton Cemetery where I used to talk to the graves, imagining an underground city where all the dead were in fact still alive.

The sun graced me with her presence nearly everyday during my nostalgic ramblings, and the indulgent ghosts walked side by side with me around the town and out onto the Coast road that runs down through Whitburn to Sunderland. Was that rambling old Restaurant the ‘Marsden Grotto’ still open, where my father used to take me for ice cream on Sundays when he returned?

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A childhood icon… the Marsden Grotto Restaurant.

However, like everything else, it seemed to have become jaded, a memory of something that once was… and now isn’t.

Perhaps the only real solace came in the form of something that will never really change here, and that is the magnificent North Sea Coast, a survivor of the endless battering from the freezing, violent seas that have sustained South Shields and yet taken so many lives on her fishing boats and Merchant ships.

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Marsden Bay, typifies the magnificent Coastline of the North East.

How many masses were said for the fathers’ of my childhood schoolmates after they were lost to its brutal cruelty? We children were brothers and sisters in tragedy.

The beauty and power of this coast fashioned me into the person I have become. The rawness and self-belief, which often pushes folk away from me; the tenderness from witnessing the suffering of Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies, and the sheer bloody-mindedness from being told I was never good enough.

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Farewell to the Tyne…

Standing on the beach that afternoon, I spat into the wind with the belligerence of a viking that would rather die than be a slave, and then walked back towards the Metro to catch the train back to my hostel in Newcastle. The following morning, crossing back over the Tyne bridge and heading south towards Liverpool, I said my final farewell to the past, leaving the ghosts waving goodbye on the platform.

I could almost here them say: “Farewell hinnie… do wor family proud.”

I hope I have… truly, I do.

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A requiem for the Whitby men.

I feel moved to write mainly due to the fusion of great seafaring culture that haunts Whitby’s ancient streets. I doubt whether there are more places with a greater maritime heritage than Whitby and forces unseen are clawing at me to write their story. Night brings vivid dreams as the wind howls around the hostel’s windows. The cry of gulls reminds me that I am in my element, like my ancestors before me.

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Captain James Cook’s statue surveys the ‘big blue’ above the town of Whitby.

Whitby is famous for one of the world’s greatest explorers, Captain James Cook (More) who was apprenticed in the town as a young man, although a native of Marlton, now Middlesborough. I am also put in mind of a dear friend of mine from my Mediterranean sailing days, Mike Gardner (‘Ishtar Mike’, for those who have read my autobiography) who followed many of the great man’s voyages around the world on his boat ‘Ishtar’ which he registered in Whitby in honour of the Captain. I know Mike will be reading this, so blessings to you kidda over there in Madagascar!

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‘Taking five’ with Mike on his beautiful Whitby registered yacht, Ishtar, back in Turkey, 2007. He was a great influence in my life.

Since I have been in Whitby, my very soul was brought to the attention of another remnant of history that is not as positive as the exploits of the Captain Cook. It has lurked in the shadows of the great man’s navigational genius. In fact, many are not even aware of Whitby’s dark past until coming across the gruesome reminder, the ‘whalebone arch’, made from the jawbones of a whale. This was a dubious gift from Alaska, to celebrate a shadowy partnership in slaughter between the two nations.

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The gruesome whalebone arch, a reminder to the Whitby whaling men.

For me, however, it is not quite as simple as condemning the whalers out of hand, for were they not skilled, courageous sailors as well? They ventured far into the ‘big blue’ in pursuit of their prey, in great peril to themselves. Often they landed on remote islands yet to be discovered and named, and many were lost, leaving families behind them to starve in poverty. As with most things in this world there are always shadows of grey, and although I can never condone whaling, especially the modern version – which to my mind is cowardly, vicious, industrialised slaughter – the undoubted courage of the old sailing men cannot be questioned.

These days money has become the raison d’être for a system that will eventually choke in its own greed; but for the whaling men of Whitby, their way of life was far more elemental than their modern day contemporaries. In fact I would term it an insult to make a comparison.

As I stood alone late at night next to the whalebone arch, I felt a huge connection across the years and was moved to pen a poem and offer a healing prayer to those brave men, caught in a situation beyond their making, and to those beautiful, graceful creatures which I have come to love…

Whalers

Contemplating the abyss,

Uncharted oceans, giant beasts,

water vast, almost meaningless,

but not for the Whitby men,

with blood running through scuppers,

savage contest in the void.

For them fear is no option,

dimmed memories of loved ones left behind,

just silhouetted cameos.

Hoping to see again, love’s light.

But that was then,

for Whitby’s whaling men.

Storms, blood and blubber lie before them.

Candles flicker in cottage windows…

In memoriam.

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Small is beautiful… Or is it?

After all these years of writing I have an article published, something which pays me a paltry fifty pounds.

It feels surreal to see it on the page of one of Britain’s leading sailing publications, Yachting Monthly. Is that really my work? Maybe it’s a dream, because despite being encouraged to create all through one’s school years, the negativity often encountered when stepping into the breach is often shocking. Where now the encouragement?

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Fame at last? Hardly… But maybe something will develop from it.

Years ago, I was a serious poet and writer and had no doubt that it was my reason for being on this planet. Slowly over time, confidence drains away, especially in these days of celebrity where it seems any empty-headed, vacuous bimbo can have a biography ghost-written and sold immediately, because, ‘That is what people are interested in’.

We live in a hugely competitive times where gigantic egos vie with each other for that mighty success story and if one is connected then half the battle is won. London buses carry massive adverts for sensationally named novels, which on inspection are unimpressive and eminently forgettable; nevertheless, a well connected writer is almost there before their manuscript is completed.

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Here it is, my first published article. It is deliberately obscured for copyright reasons.

Who said life was fair?

It isn’t and nor is it meant to be. If one is unconnected, then a singular strength is required to push through, in the manner of the incredible JK Rowling, that Edinburgh mum who never doubted she would make it. I love her success story for it is the stuff of faery, real magic… Cinderella with a happy ending , if you will.

The irony of leading a ‘life less travelled’ hasn’t been lost on me. I’ve had my share of minor celebrity status in Scandinavia, but other people have made money off it! Journalists mainly. Not a bean to show for it except for a sack of wood dropped on my foredeck one day. Thanks for that…

Even my article, was offered originally at £200 for one thousand words, but eventually bottomed out at £50! However, they did throw in two free copies of Yachting Monthly. Thanks, I know the magazine has rising costs, and this sailor is probably padding out the magazine’s final spare page… Northern Baltic not sexy enough for you? Ironically, I’ve never yet met another single-handed female sailor, but I am informed they are around. They are definitely not up in the Northern Latitudes; nevertheless, this sailor’s life is not considered the stuff of yachting publications. No club, no sexy sailing boat and no certificates, make for a very ordinary seafarer, despite being 20,000 solo nautical miles in. I do have some Musto waterproofs but they rotted years ago. Now it’s commercial gear from a fuel station in Amsterdam at an eighth of the price.

Front page and centre spread for this one…. and a radio interview.

This is a lesson to be learned for any aspiring writer. There’s no substitute for hard graft; yours truly, has never been an exponent of the effort needed to succeed in a writer’s profession. She loves sailing and the call of the wind’ being out there rather than close-hauled on the nearest marina bar, shooting the breeze with all the weekenders (I prefer cafes with non sailor folk! The sight of a sailory beard and I’m out of there!)

The time and dedication needed for one unconnected in the business is huge, as JK Rowling proved. Rejection after rejection and yet she never gave up… a truly remarkable spirit.

So there you have it! My autobiography remains ‘self-published’ on an obscure website, going nowhere. If it were splashed on the side of London buses, maybe I’d have a chance;

Yes, and Free sails faster than the Cutty Sark!

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Disappearing Liverpool

I step down from the train as it finally grinds to a halt in Lime Street and traverse the station concourse with a huge smile on my face. I am back in Liverpool, a city which is slowly staking a claim to the wandering soul of this old Viking sailor. The sun vainly attempts to warm through a bitterly frigid, winter’s afternoon and the wheeling seagulls call a sailor’s song, reminding those who feel, memories of Liverpool’s great seafaring past.

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A modern sailor stands in front of a memorial to all the old sailors. A real honour…

I stand for a moment in front of the ornamental gateway that marks the spot of the original Liverpool sailor’s home. I thrill at the thought of how many sailors of all nationalities have passed through this amazing sea port whose origins stretch back to the Vikings and beyond. I am truly humbled.

For sure, Liverpool has a murky past, with much of its money acquired from the slave trade, but how many modern cities can actually claim any purity? Quite simply, the human race has a vicious, violent past –  all of it. No country stands without bloody hands, including those that were the recipients of the dreadful ‘Atlantic Triangle’. Even today, Arab slavers operate on the African continent and one has no need to look further than the outrageously decadent rich of Knightsbridge and Chelsea to find domestic slaves from poverty-stricken parts of the planet. Quite simply, humanity is brutal, beautiful, violent, humane, impossibly cruel and unbelievably compassionate. We are all things.

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Disappearing Liverpool…

The old warehouses are slowly being claimed by rapacious developers as the the new era of Mammon establishes itself in England’s ‘green and pleasant land’, and the whole city has exploded into a property ‘free for all’. Every time I return, something else has vanished to be replaced by ‘new build’ mushrooms that cater for the thousands of students and new tiny businesses that are filling the vacuum left by the collapse of the old manufacturing industries.

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Memories of Liverpool’s powerful past. The elegant St George’s Hall and the North Western Hotel outside Lime Street station. Opposite is the new St John’s Square Development.

Yet despite all this, the ordinary scouser is resilient, humorous and bloody-minded, as well he/she should be, for there’s never been a better time to question what the hell is happening on our precious planet; sometimes it seems as if society has had a ‘apathy implant’.

I am curious and a wee bit worried about the future of this magnificent, crazy and rumbustious city. Will she become emasculated and ‘health and safetyised’ like so many others, or will the true Scouse grit come to the fore and fight back as in the days of yore, during the resistance against Mrs Thatcher?  Maybe she will have a mass invasion of bourgeois foreigners like London’s richest areas, to quaff all the new property with their legally laundered capital during the weak pound’s slumber, adding a massive rent increase nightmare to her native population’s other headaches.

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Another Liverpool Christmas… A seagull ‘angel’ soars overhead!

Liverpool is firmly anchored in the present though and her folk bask in an amazing, colourful history, taking great pride in her musical and sporting heritage. One only has to stay in the Youth Hostel here on a weekend to rub shoulders with Liverpool and Everton FC football fans from as far afield as China, Denmark and Ireland, who make the pilgrimage to the hallowed grounds of Anfield, Goodison and the new Cavern club. To say that the weekend entertainment in the city is wild, is a wee understatement, for sure! Noisy, rough and raucous are only a few words to describe her, but there are many others, none of which would make the ‘Thesaurus’!

To end on a supremely optimistic note, it is the fighting spirit and humour of the Scouse themselves that will endure. Liverpool maybe disappearing on the surface but her soul shall never die!

I end with a joke:

An old man who worked on the docks was known as ‘Diesel’ by his mates, and a young apprentice asked why?

‘Well son, he sometimes riffled through the cargo looking for a bonus and was often heard to say: “Dese’ll do!”‘

Happy Solstice to you all!

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Friends that pass in the night…

A few months have passed since the last instalment of the Viking Saga has been written, and to be sure, Lyskväll seems like a lifetime away, a distant memory of my love affair with the north of Scandinavia. Life has interrupted my dreamy existence, where fresh air and tranquility had become the norm and this troubled, flawed and yet beautiful drama that is our world, intervening, as I always knew it would, rocking me on my foundations once more.

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Dear Anders Hollmo, a beautiful man and friend.

This has been a year tinged with sadness for me personally, and most of my Swedish friends; with the deaths of Caroline, in the Netherlands, and most recently, Anders, the brother of my dear friend Kjell-Arne, in Sweden.

Anders was a gentle and kind man, with a wonderfully dry sense of humour in the Swedish way. He lived his life with great courage having endured cancer for many years, and his passing has left a huge hole in the lives of his family and friends. I feel so privileged to have known him and indeed to have been befriended by the Hollmo family during my sojourn in these northern latitudes. Without them, I doubt whether my Saga could have continued as long as it has.

The passing of Anders and Caroline has drawn me into reflection on the nature of friendship and its fluctuating quality. Sometimes one makes a friend only to find that they weren’t really there at all, and had an agenda to try and change your nature to fit with their own expectations, despite the fact that it was your very nature that brought them into your life in the first place.

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Caroline, taken so tragically…

Alas, this year has seen the termination of two relationships involving such a ‘friendship’, two people whose loyalty I had over estimated, one of whom could have become special, and the other, with a preference to projecting all his bile and poison onto me, someone who only wanted to listen, and help. In the past I have been forgiving, patient and tolerant, but there are times when one has to realise that there are beings who can pray off one’s kindness and grow opulent on compassionate energy, which is abused and tainted.

This sailing life is a little unusual in that I am transient and therefore fiercely independent, as one has to be to survive. When a friendship begins to blossom, there is a tendency to let one’s guard down and allow the heart to entertain all manner of possibilities. To live with courage through the heart, one must trust and take the risks to open up, and even a Viking can be vulnerable at times!

Friends come and go in all our lives, and I am privileged to have some very special ones. A true friend will always be there for you no matter what. They will respect and honour what is sacred, special and unique in you without trying to manipulate and change you. There is never any guarantee about tomorrow but if I have learned one thing in this crazy old life it is this:

Value and cherish your friends for you never know if it may be the last time you ever see them…

The equinox came and went and in the past few days here in Liverpool, the coming Autumn has finally introduced herself with a distinct drop in temperature and cascading leaves, whipped up by the Irish Sea’s sou’ westerlies. Winter is on its way, for sure, and with it my thoughts turn again to dear old Free and Borka in Sweden and the very special folk who live there.

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