by admin on February 25, 2020

A novel for grownups A novel for grownups

A very busy month of February in the theatre has kept me from posting more regularly on my blog.


After a disastrous attempt to enlist her ex-husband to help her find her missing daughter, Ama returns to Halifax to await Spike’s arrival on his old fishing boat, The Mongoose.

Spike and his 80 year old boat-builder friend, Fergus,  put the Mongoose through her paces and decide it’s ready for the coastal sea voyage to Arcadia. An enjoyable start to the trip rapidly goes wrong when the Mongoose veers off-course. 




After Fergus pronounced himself satisfied with the Mongoose, Spike tried to pay him but the old man refused, said he did it for Simon. He drove off in his battered old pickup and Spike paced round the docks on his own, thinking of the trip ahead.

Fergus had showed him the route on the chart he was proposing to follow. He had finally agreed to go with him, provided they went nice and slow. ‘Simon and I liked gunk-holing, so we won’t be standing off and running straight down the coast, Spike. We’ll poke along in sight of shore while we explore all the bays and harbours between here and Bridewell.’

‘Suits me,’ said Spike. ‘Give me some practice getting in and out of port and familiarise myself with this coastline – under supervision.’


Over dinner at Esther’s that night, she talked of Simon’s Shakespeare project and how much the graduate students loved continuing his research. They enjoyed finding modern English equivalents for the obsolete words and phrases, which baffled contemporary audiences so much. Esther mentioned how often Simon ran into resistance and often open hostility to his project from teachers, professors and other scholars.

‘His standard response to these attacks was to quote Dryden’s defence of updating Chaucer, because the sense of it is lost when it’s barely intelligible to modern ears, unless they’re scholars – like Simon. I plan to write a preface to the plays and use Dryden’s argument, that he didn’t update Chaucer for scholars and experts who didn’t need it, but for ordinary people to be able to enjoy his work. He really demolished all the arguments against a modern English version – called his critics misers who wanted to hoard Chaucer for themselves and deprive ordinary people of him.’

‘Sounds like the perfect argument for a modern English Shakespeare, alright,’ said Spike. ‘Too bad nobody reads Dryden anymore.’

‘Except scholars, professors and critics,’ said Esther. ‘And my medieval studies grads – don’t forget them. They know Dryden’s defence by heart.’


The next morning Spike and Fergus followed the heavily indented coastline at a comfortable distance, occasionally changing headings but mainly running on autopilot. Around midday, Fergus idled the engine in the almost smooth water.

After lunch Spike took the wheel as they skirted round the famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. Masses of tourists crowded the smooth slippery rocks, taking endless photos of themselves, against the best-known backdrop in the Maritimes. Kids cavorted about near the water’s edge despite prominent signs warning of the danger.

‘Every year tourists get swept off those rocks and drown,’ said Fergus, pointing to two young boys chasing each other on the black rocks, glistening with slimy algae. He shook his head. ‘If those two were mine…’

‘Be a shame if the authorities decided to make it out of bounds, though,’ Spike said.

A while later, Fergus throttled back the Mongoose as he eased the boat into a tiny cove. ‘You go forward and be ready to drop the hook when I give you the signal, Spike. Good sandy bottom here so we’ll lay out lots of chain on it to get good holdin’.’

Spike dropped the anchor on a nod from him, watching first the chain and then the thick new rope he and Fergus had bought and fitted, with different coloured duct tape marking each fifty-foot length running through the cleat.

Spike unfolded some canvas chairs and they sat on the rear deck of the Mongoose in the late afternoon sun, drinking wine.

‘Let’s eat out here this evening,’ said Spike.


Both the casserole and the wine vanished rapidly in the early evening air, which now had a hint of coolness as the sun dropped lower. Fergus fetched a bottle of Armagnac from his bag to go with Spike’s coffee. They sat back watching a pair of great grey herons work lazily back and forth across the sheltered cove.

‘To Simon,’ said Spike, raising his brandy.

They drank a toast with the Armagnac, saying nothing for awhile as they watched the sun set in dramatic fashion over the water. Finally, Fergus broke the silence.

‘Did you ever think of it yourself, Spike? Suicide.’

‘A few times, but never seriously. At least not back then. Today, it’s a different story,’ Spike said.

‘What’s changed for you? Simon’s death?’

‘That’s certainly made me think about my own end of life. It’s more dying than death, I think. Death is a kind of blank wall. It defeats my imagination whenever I try to visualise it.

When we no longer enjoy the comforts of religion which our parents and grandparents relied on, it does present a bleak prospect.’ He held up the Armagnac. ‘I’m with Omar Khayyam – Make the most of what we yet may spend

 Before we too into the Dust descend;

 Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,

 Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End … I used to be able to recite the whole of the Rubaiyat by heart – not anymore. I have to keep looking it up.’

‘Will you and Ama each keep your own separate places, or both live aboard the Mongoose?’ Fergus said, looking around at the unfinished state of the deck saloon.

‘Ama’s game to try living aboard but she’s not used to the primitive conditions, so I think it will be more like camping out until the weather gets too cold. Not sure what will happen after that.’

‘She told me that she has a big fancy house-sit, while the owner is abroad for a year,’ said Fergus. ‘Sounds like that would be a good spot to hole up for the winter. You sure as hell don’t want to be livin’ on an uninsulated boat when the snow flies.’

‘Ama’s dead keen to have me helping on her theatre project, so it makes sense to be living together ashore. I’ll have to wait and see the set-up when I arrive. I might end up camping in the Green Room for the winter, if it’s still a building site by then.’


Underway again the following morning, with Spike at the helm they followed the ragged coastline down the peninsula out of St Margaret’s Bay. As a sailor, Fergus said he preferred keeping a good distance between them and the shore, so they ran down the bay using the autopilot. They sat on the forward hatch to keep an eye out for other boats while they sipped mugs of tea and studied the passing coastline.

‘We seem to be running a bit closer to shore than before,’ said Spike. ‘Should I change the setting on the autopilot, Fergus?’

‘You’re right, we are too close. That’s funny, I was sure I’d set a course well clear of that headland.’ Fergus pointed up ahead. ‘I’ll come with you and take another look at the chart. Better turn on the sonar, too, Spike – this coast is covered with low-lying reefs.’

In the wheelhouse, he glanced at the compass heading, while Spike switched on the sonar. Fergus grabbed the wheel to turn it away from the shoreline. ‘We’re way off-course. What’s happened?’ Spike tried to turn the wheel again but the autopilot pulled it back out of his hands.

‘You have to disengage it first before you can change course,’ said Fergus. He reached across Spike to throw the lever but nothing happened, the autopilot continued its grinding and sawing noise.

‘Jesus – look at that,’ said Spike, pointing to the sonar screen. A long ridge of rocks lay dead in their path.

Fergus struggled with the wheel which yawed back and forth, pulling towards the land. ‘Switch it off, Spike, switch it off –’

The grinding noise stopped and the wheel once again responded, as Fergus yanked it hard over and the bow swung slowly away from shore.

Neither one of them spoke, as they studied the rocks on the sonar screen edging closer. The ridge seemed to curve towards them. Fergus yanked the throttle lever back to idle and they began to wallow in the swell as they lost way.

‘Go forward, Spike – see how much depth we have – I can’t tell clearly from this screen.’

Spike ran to look over the bow, shielding his eyes from the sun to see the reef. He could vaguely make it out in the depths. ‘Looks like it’s pretty deep. Should we risk going over it?’

‘Take the wheel, while I have a look.’

They changed places and Fergus studied the reef. ‘What’s the sonar say, now?’

‘Nine feet. You said we draw four and a half,’ said Spike.

‘I think it’s falling away. Ease her ahead slow, we should be clear,’ said Fergus leaning as far out over the bow as he could.

Spike pushed the throttle forward just enough to give them some headway, watching the sonar screen and Fergus for a signal. They crept forward over the ridge of rocks with Fergus beckoning him on.

‘Shit!’ he shouted and made backing off motions. ‘There’s a huge one right in front of us.’ He pointed as white water broke over the top of the submerged rock. ‘Full astern, quick!’

Spike pulled the gear lever backwards into reverse at the same time as he felt a jarring bump. The Mongoose seemed to shift sideways with a scraping sound as they glanced off the rock. Fergus came stumbling back into the wheel house and grabbed the wheel from Spike, swinging it hard to port and shoving the gear lever and throttle forward. The Mongoose steadied as they came head on into the swell. He peered at the sonar screen and nodded to Spike. ‘Fifteen feet…twenty feet.’ He inched the throttle ahead to keep them moving forward.

The compass needle swung onto the new heading and held steady, as Fergus steered away from the reef and well off from the looming headland.

‘What the hell was that all about? I thought you told me you’d fixed it,’ Spike said.

‘I did, we tested it several times in the outer harbour. The tide does odd things to the currents along this south coast,’ said Fergus, ‘that’s why I like to have plenty of distance between me and the shore.’

‘Maybe that’s what was causing it to over-compensate, do you think?’

‘Possible. But all the same I think we should stick to hand steerin’, till we can have a look at it again. I don’t trust it, Spike. That was a bit too scary for me.’

‘Me too. Let’s just take turns at the wheel from here to Bridewell.’

‘You go first,’ said Fergus. ‘I’m goin’ below to get us both a stiffener.’

He disappeared down the companionway and Spike clutched the spokes of the wheel. He tried to calm the nerve in his right leg which threatened to give way on him. He thought of what Ama had said to him several times. Maybe this boat was too big for him. What if it had been her instead of Fergus with him just now. The memory of how he had gone blank frightened him. Was it his age that made him freeze, instead of respond to the situation? His self-confidence evaporated whenever he became stressed, he realised.

‘Here we are,’ said Fergus, reappearing with two tumblers in his hands. ‘Dutch courage. Drink up, this will steady our nerves.’

Spike took a large swallow and choked. ‘Jeezus…’

‘Ninety proof Jamaica rum. Never leave port without it,’ said Fergus.

————end of Chapter 7.—————————



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