My friend Clare Davenport suggested that this blog should have our ‘back story’. I was initially reluctant to this idea as it seemed like a gigantic exercise in vanity and self indulgence. But she insisted that people would want to know about how Ben and I came to be etc. So here it is, my gigantic exercise in self indulgence …twenty self loving press ups coming up!
Our story goes something like this…I met Ben in 2006 having reached the ripe old age of 31. He was 36 at the time, living aboard Dhanu in Weymouth marina.
Meanwhile in an attic 144 miles north, I was living with my parents in Oxfordshire having moved back temporarily so that I could complete my oh-so-dull legal studies. I was living back in the bedroom that I lived in when I left home at 18. It was all very teenage.
As was our whirlwind romance which began on the internet…back when internet dating was a little bit dodge. It was a wholly strange experience but one that brought Ben to my inbox so how can I judge it poorly?
We met after an email correspondence of 6 weeks or so followed by some phone calls and texts for several weeks whereafter we finally met. I drove the 144 miles from my village to his boat world in Weymouth. It was the first weekend of Spring in 2006. It was wet and damp…I arrived 2 hours early (such was my excitement to arrive) with a pot plant and a bottle of red wine. I didn’t know what to bring someone who lived on a boat. I grew up in a very landlocked part of the country. I knew nothing of boats or marinas or berths or heads (or lack thereof). So the whole experience was exciting and thrilling and unfamiliar and intense. When I descended into the depths of Dhanu I found a warm cosy wooden hub. There was verve cliqueot in the galley. Antipasti on the table. Whilst this man did not own a towel, he did seem to have class. Anyway the details of what followed remain between us, other than to say that by the end of the weekend we had hooked each other good and proper. All lures successfully cast.
The next time I saw him was 5 days later at 7.30am on the train platform at Banbury station. I walked onto the platform and to my surprise, found him sat at a small low table dressed in a white linen table cloth, decked with tulips, hot tea in a teapot, bone handled knives, oysters, croissants, raspberry jam…the whole nine of breakfast yards he had somehow enabled on that commuter platform…looking back now it was nearly ridiculous yet at the time intensely romantic. We sat and stared at each other whilst a million trains stopped and went. Female passengers sat on these trains, caught my eye and gestured energetically towards their wedding finger with a question in their eyes. Boys in hoods took pictures on their phones and said ‘safe mate that is safe’ giving Ben a little affirmative encouraging prod as they passed. As if that was not bizarre enough, soon after arriving a journalist turned up from the local paper followed by a photographer…they snapped away and asked questions. A week later we were front page of the Banbury Guardian ‘Brief encounter for romantic commuter couple’ was the headline. I’m not kidding. Google it and you may find a very embarrassing picture of us in that moment – we look like startled rabbits. Of course it was Ben who engineered ‘the press’ – he tipped them off that his ‘friend’ had fallen in love and wanted to surprise his sweetheart. They fell for it too, hook line and sinker…forgive these watery puns.
Anyway there then followed a summer of falling in love, finishing many years of exams, moving onto Dhanu whilst working freelance as a police station representative. (In case it needs explaining, that is, someone who advises someone who finds themselves in police custody under arrest. They ask for a solicitor and someone like me turns up to advise them of their rights and to guide them through the process). It was a great period in my life, living free and with excitement. With love in my pocket, aboard Dhanu, working a few days here and there whilst becoming immersed in this strange new boat world. However the summer had to end as my training contract to become a criminal defence solicitor was to start in September, in East London. That I was excited about. Before we had even talked about how we would see each other, Ben said very determinedly he was moving to London. I wondered what he would do, a country boy in the big smoke. He said he didn’t care, that he would drive a bus or make sandwiches. Such idealism however attractive, did not sit easily with me. My head said Ben’s soul will die and with it possibly this amazing thing we had going on. Should he really come to London? Anyway we had weeks to decide and as the weeks fell away at the last moment we discovered that the Cutty Sark was being restored and lo and behold, was seeking to employ shipwrights! We rushed to Greenwich and it was as easy as that. Ben got a paid position working on the restoration in Greenwich and I started my training contract in Plaistow, East London.
This went on for several years, I eventually qualified but just prior to this Ben finally proposed..another overblown romantic gesture. He took me up in a 4 man plane, made me fly it (with assistance, yes) over a field in which he had spelled ‘marry me’ out of wooden planks. Of course I said yes, how could I not? Then within 6 months we had tied the knot, honeymooned on a boat in the Caribbean, moved out of London to the South West. By the following June (2010) we were living in Topsham, Devon. Ben working for himself as a shipwright and me a qualified lawyer, still working in legally aided criminal defence. Ie, NOT A FAT CAT LAWYER as you might be thinking.
The rest is simple; Olive came along in June 2012 and Alfi in February 2014. And the whereafter is now…
I should say that I am not a sailor. Well I may be starting to become one. But until we left on 30 July, I had not even sailed overnight. The longest I had sailed was during the summer of 2013 from Topsham, Devon to Falmouth, Cornwall. In two glorious blue sky hot hot hot weeks of July. It was an eye opener but NOTIHNG like what I have exeprienced so far. The most non stop sailing we did was 8 hours and all of that in great conditions. No overnight sailing. Little actual sailing as there was ont much wind. Hardly any anchoring. So until this great grand voyage commenced, I was (and still am in some ways) a complete novice.
I should also say that we do not have stacks of cash. There is no trust fund or swanky lawyerwage coming in. I am currently living on state maternity benefits and life savings. We are doing this on a shoestring. Ok we have the boat but that is a fact of freakdom. Ben bought it for peanuts years ago. He has managed to hold on to it and thank goodness he did as there is no way on the planet that we could have ever afforded any type of sailing yacht let alone one as beautiful and sound as Dhanu. We are not living the high life save for the fact we are masters of our destiny (whilst being the subjects of her highnessed, the weather the sea!)