The Last Banana

Image: The last banana in the fruit bowlI read a passage in Rachel Abbott’s The Back Road the other day that depicted a father coming down to breakfast. He kisses each of his children affectionately and takes a piece of toast from the rack in the middle of the table, at which his daughter Ruby is somewhat put out because she had her eye on just that exact piece of toast. I expect this little domestic scene might resonate with many, and in my case it put me in mind of the time all the family – five of us, mum, dad, me, my sister and her boyfriend – were cooped up together aboard a tiny motor cruiser for a fortnight’s holiday.

We were moored at the then new marina in Dartmouth. This was in the 1960’s when marinas as such were all more or less new to the British Isles. Our 19 foot boat had two berths and a cooker in the cabin, two benches and an outboard motor in the cockpit. One of us was elected to sleep on the floorboards between the cockpit benches. Guess who? Yup, that’d be me. Eating meals, going to bed and getting up in the morning was an elaborate ballet of pre-planned moves so that nobody trod on anybody else’s feet (or in my case, face).

But y’know, we had a fantastic fortnight’s holiday. Mum produced a good hot meal for five every night on her two-burner gas cooker and every day we cast off and put to sea, sometimes along the coast to Brixham or to some pretty spot where dad would anchor for us kids to go swimming while he buried his face in a newspaper. On windy days we headed up river to Totnes with the incoming tide, dad sounding over the side with a pole for warning of shoal water, for we had no fancy-dancy echo sounder in those days, much less anything so wonderful as accurate GPS or an electronic chartplotter. Our old style paper charts bore impressively authoritative legends such as Surveyed 1893 and White House, (conspic.) They were all black and white too, no colours to distinguish shallow from deep, land from sea. You had to read the contours carefully and wield a little hand-bearing compass to know whether you were in safe water or standing into danger. I still have some of those old style charts, and still use them too. The rocks don’t change much, after all, and in home waters at least I can make my own notes of new features as they appear: not quite Here be dragons, perhaps, but one of my charts bears the stark warning, Danger! Officious harbourmaster!

By contrast I recall the dozens (now it would be hundreds) of flashier boats berthed in the marina that never moved the whole time we were there. Even the biggest, poshest, most impressive yachts in the harbour seemed forlorn and abandoned most of the time, their halyards left slovenly un-frapped to clap at their metal masts in the wind. In the naïvety of my youth I thought anybody rich enough to own such a vessel must perforce have time to use it, and had that been me I would have been permanently aboard, enjoying the pride of ownership that a boat invariably brings, at least when she is new to her owner. What few of those big boats had crew aboard hardly ever left the pontoons in my observance, their crews preferring to promenade in dark sunglasses looking cool (as they thought), and looking down their noses at us (as I thought). But every morning our cockpit canopy would be thrown back and five of us would erupt from the confines of our happy little ship to greet the new day with all its modest adventures in prospect. We had more fun from our little boat, we assured ourselves, than all those millionaires (as we thought them) in their dark glasses, who never went anywhere, who thought themselves so superior but never seemed to have any fun.

I’ve learned better in the years since, of course, but that was the way things seemed to me when as a schoolboy I was elected the obvious candidate to sleep on the floorboards between the cockpit benches, and thought myself blessed to be there. Happy memories indeed.

And the last banana? Oh, yes, well, one evening after dinner we five were slouching about the cabin after the washing-up, just at that point when someone would suggest unscrewing the table legs and stowing the table top away under the berth cushion to clear some foot space, when I reached for the one banana that remained in the fruit bowl looking lonely and begging to be eaten. “Oh, I just fancied that!” chorused four voices in unison. I really cannot remember whether I was so selfish as to claim prior dibs, or whether we shared the banana out. Three of the other four are dead and gone now. Perhaps the one remaining might recall? Predictably, ever after, The Last Banana was a standing joke in our family, to be resurrected and given another airing whenever there was something to be shared.

So thanks, Rachel, for triggering that little reminiscence. But now I must close the lid of my laptop and go back out to my workshed where a piece of fine mahogany awaits my ministrations on the bench, destined to be part of the saloon table of a new and (slightly) bigger boat that I have been re-fitting, on and off, for the past ten years. I really did not mean to spend so much time writing just now; but there, once you get started…

Has anybody been similarly reminded of some personal incident by something in Sunset over Salhouse Broad? If your memories are as happy as mine why not share them in the comments below (but perhaps at shorter length…)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Post Navigation