The Birth Of Anú-4 – Boat Ahoy!

‘Twas on a sunny evening on my decking on The Island two summers ago, that my long -cherished idea to live on a boat one day, finally came to be a definite plan.

My friend Barnaby ( who knows about boats )  and I sat sipping ice-cold cocktails I had made, ( well- it was six o’clock, and as my Dad says, it is always six o’ clock somewhere, )

As we enjoyed them, I told him they were called ‘ Gimlets.’

I love making cocktails and have always looked forward to The Cocktail Hour, as sunset is my favourite time of the day, giving us a chance to kick back and draw a line under the working hours.

One of the things I enjoy, is that they very often have Naval or ‘ boating ‘ connotations,  having come from this little isle of England’s long and distinguished Naval history ( ‘ Down The Hatch!’ )

‘ Did you know that this was thought to be invented by a Naval surgeon, Thomas Gimlette, as a scurvy remedy on board ship? ‘ I said to Barnaby.

A Gimlet is made with Gin and lime, and apparently Thomas  added the gin to the lime juice in order to persuade the sailors to swallow their ‘ medication’. ( see recipe below)

Of course, sailors soon became known as ‘ Limeys.’

There hadn’t been many reported cases of  scurvy on Thames Ditton Island of late, but Barnaby and I felt that it was a good idea to sip Gimlets in the summer just as a precaution.

My love of, and interest in, all things Nautical ( not just Cocktails )  and my fascination with how many of the words and phrases we use in everyday language come from this long and rich tradition, gave me the idea to write this next post about some of the ‘ Boating Terms’ which we may- or may not- have heard of. Some will be very well – known by the more experienced sailors amongst you, but I hope will be a welcome reminder all the same.

I’m hoping they will also prove useful to me- and to my family, friends and guests-  as we prepare to climb aboard ANÚ!

LINE- Rope

On a boat, the ropes used to tie up, etc are known as ‘ Lines.’

Here, I quote Mark Twain : ‘ So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.’

Which brings me on to…

BOW and STERN- Front and Back

The front of the boat is called the BOW ( pronounced like ‘ wow’ not like ‘ woe’ ) and the back is called the STERN. So when I ask you to ‘ throw me the bowline, ‘ I shall be hoping you will carefully toss me the rope at the front of Anú so we can sail off!

THE HEAD

On a boat, this is the loo, or bathroom.

The story goes that the crew always used to go to the ‘ head’ or bow of the boat to do their thing…but, as with most nautical stories, the exact history is somewhat hazy.

GALLEY – Kitchen

Usually quite small, as I am trying to bear in mind whilst unpacking my boxes from the current move.

Apparently, ancient Mariners cooked their meals on a ‘ galley’ of heated stones.

I shall be having a nice gas oven instead.

PORT and STARBOARD – Left and Right

Ever wondered where the word: ‘Posh ‘ comes from?

Well, it is short for : ‘ Port out, Starboard home.’

The ‘ Port’ side of a boat is the left side from the perspective of the captain ( looking forward ) and the ‘ Starboard’ is the right. Aren’t they lovely words?

I always imagine myself lying on the deck of a big ship, hands behind my head and a smile on my lips, a bit like Leonardo in ‘ Titanic,’ as I look up at a clear and starry night sky when I hear ‘ Starboard’.

I’m not sure, but I like to think that sailors of old may have called it this because they felt the same…such is the romance of being on the water, for me…

Anyway, back to POSH ( do try to drag me back, dear reader, I’m of Irish descent, and tend to suffer from making any short story long.)

So, the legend goes that when passengers were travelling between England and India during the days of The Raj, the well – heeled sought to have their cabins in the shadiest part of the vessel.

As Britain and India are both in the northern hemisphere, the berths on the left – hand side of the ship ( so, PORT ) were shadier when travelling out ( easterly )  and the berths on the right, ( STARBOARD ) were cooler coming back.

So the best and most expensive berths were POSH, which is what the upper classes had written on their trunks as they boarded.

Yes, I realise this story may be apocryphal, but I love it, so like to think it is true.

And isn’t it fun, this ‘ boating ‘ terminology? An absolute joy for me, as it satisfies my love of romance, the water, words and history all at the same time.

It seems to me that sailors, who were isolated for months on end, must have developed their own language between themselves, and it grew from there, since I  believe that language is always a living and evolving thing.

On to the next!

SALOON- Sitting / Living Room

The ‘ social ‘ area of a larger boat  is called ‘ The Saloon’ but is pronounced ‘ salon’ ( In sailing, as in the English language, many words are said very differently from how  they are written.)

‘ Of course. How silly of me. On Thursdays they always serve me in the small saloon.’

(  Tony Curtis as ‘ Junior ‘ to Marilyn Monroe as ‘ Sugar ‘ in ‘ Some Like It Hot,’ – which is my favourite film of all – time, and now that I think of it, features quite a few scenes on a yacht.)

STATEROOM- Bedroom

Sometimes also called a Berth, if it is a fixed bunk.

They are thought to be called Staterooms because originally, only officers or important  people of ‘ state’ had private sleeping quarters on a ship. Mine has beautiful built- in wardrobes  ( thank you Kieran and Keith ) and incidentally, the pole the chaps have used  as a hanging rail for my clothes, comes from the same people who supply Pole – Dancing poles…which I like to think adds a small,  slightly racy note.

KNOTS PER HOUR- Miles per hour.

On a boat or ship, speed is measured in knots. Knots measure nautical miles per hour.

I should imagine that when I first take the Helm ( steering area ) on Anú, that my knots per hour will be very low indeed.

I should like to finish with two stories.

The first one is courtesy of Barnaby.

He told me ( over our Gimlets )  that the term: ‘ Son Of A Gun’ has a nautical derivation.

Apparently, sometimes on very long voyages, ‘ young ladies’ would be smuggled onboard to keep the sailors erm…’ happy’.

Of course, Mother Nature intervenes on board ship too, and one of the young ladies would inevitably become pregnant.

The naval surgeon would then  curtain off a section of the boat near the guns for the birth.

As sailors would be required to pay for this service, sometimes, I regret to say, they did not own up to being the father!

Any male -child born on board who had uncertain paternity, would therefore be listed in the ship’s log as ‘ son of a gun.’

This story may well be a true one, since The Royal Navy Museum confirms that women did sometimes travel on vessels during the age of sail.

The last bit of boating knowledge for you in this blog, comes of course, from my boat – builder- Keith.

USE OF YOUR HORN: ( see pic! )

If turning right when on your boat- toot your horn once.

If turning left- toot it twice.

If you intend to go backwards- toot the horn three times.

For a U-turn to the right- do  four quick toots and then one longer one.

For a U- turn to the left – four quick toots and TWO longer ones  ( toot toot toot toot tooooot tooooot )

Five toots of your horn means : ‘ I am unsure of your intentions.’

 

I have a feeling, that this will prove to be the most useful one of all.

Captain Amanda

 

GIMLET COCKTAIL RECIPE – ( Makes 1 large one, double up for two people sipping on the roof of a boat or for parties )

Mix 1 shot of good Gin ( I like Plymouth London Dry Gin ) with 1/2 shot of Rose’s Lime Cordial, 1/4 shot of freshly squeezed lime juice, and 1/4 shot of still water.

Shake shake shake over ice in a Boston Cocktail Shaker, until your hand is so cold it feels like it might drop off.

Pour into a Martini glass, garnish with a slice of fresh lime, and sip with great pleasure, knowing you have most certainly kept yourself safe from Scurvy.

NB: These are so damn good, I’ve just had to mix one as I write!

‘Some Like It Hot.’  1959- Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L Diamond

Copyright Amanda Hills 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Birth of Anú- 3 – Afloat!

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‘ Bathing is a very lonely business.

Except for fish…fish all bathe together. Though they do tend to eat one another.’ ( Hobson & Arthur  – ‘ Arthur ‘ )

Well, it’s been a while since I had any time to write this blog, as we have just moved off The Island…

Previous readers may know how much we loved living there  ( my post: Island Life covers this subject ) but ’tis done…and onwards we go, to the next adventure.

So, feeling the need to remind myself  of the goal in sight, I went to see Keith, Cameron and Kieran at my new home to be- Hart’s Boatyard- to discover the latest joys of their  progress on my boat, Anú.

She’s afloat!

Sitting in the water, a wonder to behold, with her paint shining- the Shannon Green I chose way back in August last year, and with a lovely new canopy over the stern.

As my last post covered ‘ technical’ bits and bobs ( Anú 2 – Something For The Boys )  I thought it was only fair to bring all you ladies up to speed with the finer points of  the delicate art of home- making on the water.

I hope the boys will like it too!

As good as his word, Kieran- another of my fantastic boat builders- has now  wired Anú for sound, with speakers in the ceiling and remote access, so that I can play my music all over the boat, in any space I choose.

Regular readers will certainly know about my passions for both music and dance ( see my posts: Music Was My First Love and Shall We Dance? ) and not a day goes by that I don’t tune in and have a bit of a sing – I hope the fish won’t mind.

Kieran took me to see the new wardrobes in the bedroom.

Keith was listening when I told him I need plenty of space for my clothes – they are wonderfully spacious and yet so cleverly done that they utilise the area beautifully…well done chaps!

And then Keith showed me the bath.

Now I know not everybody has a bath fitted on their boat, but as I explained before, I do like to bathe- particularly in the winter and after a cold game of tennis.

And here it is ( see pic! )

As so often happens, a scene from one of my -and Molly’s-favourite films popped into my head. Song lyrics, or lines from films tend to come to me at random moments. It’s to do with being a writer, I think, and loving words.

I immediately thought of the bathing scene in the film ‘ Arthur’, where the very wonderful Dudley Moore and Sir John Gielgud ( as his butler, Hobson ) discuss the merits of bathing and whether or not it is better to bathe alone or in company.

I was fascinated to learn from Keith- who is an endless source of boating knowledge- that when I bathe onboard Anú, I will actually be bathing in the river!

This is because ( and excuse me if I get this wrong, Keith! ) when you’re in the bath, the bath level is actually BELOW the level of the river, so you are in fact up to your knees in the river Thames.

This is appropriately, and rather wonderfully, known as ‘ The Swim.’ NB: Look out for another post coming shortly on other Boating Terms!

My bath also doesn’t have a plug in it, but rather, a switch.

I couldn’t help but start to laugh at all this info, and of course, began to think of Dudders and how I would certainly not be bathing alone ( though I might like to wear a Top Hat in the bath, as he does )  but would be feeling at one with the fishes.

‘ Perhaps’ said Keith, ‘ you might enjoy a glass -bottomed bath for a better view?’

Now we were getting into the realms of my ultimate fantasy- which has always been myself as a Mermaid, à la Ariel in The Little Mermaid, or ( in my childhood )  Aqua Marina, from Thunderbirds and Stingray.

‘ I don’t think that would be as romantic as my fantasy Keith, I replied,  ‘ as the only things likely to float by in The Thames would be the odd plimsoll, beer can or Pike, rather than exotic species and I really don’t fancy seeing an eel swim past my leg as I bathe.’

On this note, we agreed to keep the bath non- transparent.

Keith then asked me if I would like to see my newly – varnished Porthole ( as per pic .)

As we went into the Marine workshop, it occurred to me yet again how very lucky I am to be having my own boat built to my exact spec.

How often in life is anything made for us with such loving care?

Everything on Anú will be crafted and built by Master Craftsmen, with skill and patience and love for boats and the water.

My own father is a Shipwright, and has a love of, and interest in, ships and boats and how they are built too, so I think it must be in the blood.

How can it fail to be anything other than happy, to live on such a vessel, entirely made of love, talent, hard work  and good vibes?

At this point, just as I was about to leave, the workshop door opened, and in came Cam bearing a massive Paellera.

Holding enough food to feed about 12, it contained Cuban Chicken, which my new neighbour Vinny, who is very  popular, and  known at his restaurant as ‘ The Naughty chef,’ had  made for our lunch ( pic)

It was absolutely delicious.

Oh yes- I think I’m going to be alright living here.

Captain Amanda

‘ Arthur’ -Screenwriter: Steve Gordon. Starring : Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, Sir John Gielgud.

Copyright Amanda Hills 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

The Birth Of Anu- 2. – Something For The Boys ?

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When I first  mentioned to my Dad that I was thinking of buying a boat to live on, I think he feared for me.

Maybe he had visions of me in an old, but charming vessel, bailing out through the night in my wellies and pyjamas …( it could have been the case! )

And then, once having decided to have a boat built especially for me, to my own spec, I sat down with my parents one hot July afternoon this summer and opened the brochure that  Keith ( boatbuilder ) and Ossie ( Marine owner ) had given me.

‘ What engine does she have on board? ‘ My Dad asked me.

‘ She doesn’t know the detail of that kind of thing, Chris!’ Said my kind Mum, who knows me well.

It was sadly true, and as I handed the brochure over to my engrossed father- who is after all, a Marine Engineer and Shipwright and DOES know the detail-  I resolved to rectify that.

So this second blog on The Birth Of ANU, is going to be slightly more technical, though I hope no less fun.

After my decision had been made,  I sat down with Keith again, and this time, he had just returned from overseeing the start of my build in Great Yarmouth.

I must thank him again, as I know this involved a very long day which began at 5am, and those of you who know me, know I’m not really an early morning person ( it’s the creative, yer see.)

I had asked him to send me a few photos of the hull and how she was beginning to shape up ( see pics )

And I also asked for some info on Anu’s construction, engine and all those vital  parts that my father ( and some others, mainly chaps, sorry ladies if I’m being a little sexist, I’m sure  there are many of you who may well be engine- inclined! )  had been so interested in.

So here is some of that info- abridged as I see fit, since this is not a manual for a boat – building enthusiast, and I hate manuals anyway – never knowingly read one!

Worry not, readers of the fairer sex, or those not particularly fascinated by  engines, I shall return swiftly to the real necessities of life afloat, such as a Cocktail cabinet, space for my little black dresses and three types of Gin.

My boat – Anu- is a Widebeam Barge. She will measure 57′ by 11′ and she will be a luxury one berth boat with all mod cons and built to a very high quality.

The name of the company building her is Alicat, which as I mentioned in my first blog, is project managed and overseen by Cameron Stewart,  who also happened to go to school with my daughter Molly.

Keith Bullard is the boatbuilder who designs and ‘ steers’ the whole thing ( pardon the pun) and he has now built 40 boats to similar specs…Anu will be his 41st- a good number!

At the moment, this is all happening in Great Yarmouth, but ANU will be floated down nearer to where I will be moored quite soon.

I chose Shannon Green and Cream for her paintwork, as those are traditional Irish colours and she has an ‘ Irish theme,’ with the Harp logo and Celtic knot design that I chose for her exterior.

Please forgive me, Keith, if I get any of this incorrect, I am still learning and I think always will be, but as I understand it, Anu will have a steel hull, and her engine is a 60 horsepower Canaline, which is a Japanese Marinised engine and the best of its type.

There, that was sexy wasn’t it?!

Canaline engines are very robust and easy to maintain, which is exactly what we want for this sort of vessel , which- after all-will be a home, as well as a boat I will learn to drive and sail.

She will have a fully fitted luxury kitchen, complete with aforementioned wine fridge ( very important ) a Swan Hatch…for saying friendly ‘hellos’ to passing wildlife whilst making your morning Cuppa  …and a large breakfast bar / table in stainless steel and glass for feeding the troops – a job I relish and thoroughly enjoy, for I dearly love to have friends and family  round my table.

Anu will have a beautiful bathroom on board, complete with shower AND bath, thanks to Keith’s design skill. As I mentioned in the first blog, I dance most days and play a lot of sport, so I do love to come home and get in a nice hot bath with a glass of fizz or something stronger!

I must remember to ask Keith about my on-board music system,  as that  is another thing in life that I cannot live without, and I often like to partake of a little Michael Buble whilst in the tub ( Molly calls this a ‘ Buble Bath’).

Anu will also have a large main Saloon, complete with a wood burner for extra toastiness, as well as being fully centrally heated- cosy.

The bedroom will be fully fitted with extra wardrobe and shoe space ( thank you Keith ) for the little black dresses and their friends, and there will be a Japanese screen at the foot of the bed, for privacy from passing ducks and to  give that rather ‘ James Bond in ‘ You Only Live Twice’ effect.

In fact, for future reference, and if in any doubt Keith, just imagine you are designing and building a boat for Bond, as I have always wanted to be the female equivalent- (except I don’t like pain, so would give in under torture) and am completely obsessed, owning the entire box set…for those rainy nights in front of the log burner.

To conclude the spec ( for now ) outside on the bow, there will be fitted seating for summer drinking, and a little ladder built in, for ease of climbing up onto the roof to enjoy the stunning views that Mother Nature always provides…and a handrail, collapsible for going under low bridges, on the roof itself,  to assist with wobbles as you hold onto your Martini ( shaken, not stirred, one olive and a twist for me ).

The stern will have a full, barge – style canopy fitted over it, so that we don’t get wet when pulling off our wellies or damp sports gear and to keep us cosy and act as a sort of porch in the more inclement weather.

So there we are, I think that will suffice  for now. Something for everyone, I hope.

During the writing of this blog, I actually had to ring Keith to check I’d got the type of engine right ( I hadn’t ) so I’ve got a lot to learn, I’ve not even scraped the surface yet, the tip of the iceberg, to use yet another boating term…of which there are many.

Perhaps Santa might bring me a book on ‘ Boating for Beginners ‘ in my stocking this year…

And on that note, I’m off to the kitchen that I currently inhabit, here on The Island, to mix this evening’s cocktails…just call me Bond- Amanda Bond.

Down the hatch.

Copyright Amanda Hills 2016  All Rights Reserved

Life Afloat- The Birth Of Anu

 

I think I have always wanted to live on a boat.

I have an adventurous spirit, and for those of you who have read my previous blogs, you may remember that one of my very first was about my love of the water- being beside it, in it or on it (  amandahlondon Just Keep Swimming ).

Having been blessed to live on a beautiful private island here on The River Thames for the last 10 years ( amandahlondon Island Life  for more on this! ) I have experienced first – hand the wonders of being so close to nature on a daily basis.

A friend told me, years ago, when I first bought this house, that once I’d lived on the water, there would be no going back.

Richard- you were absolutely right!

We have loved living here, but the time has come for a change of scenery and a new adventure, and recently, I decided that new horizons were beckoning.

I started to look at smaller houses and flats elsewhere ( this was to be a downsize – my eldest son, Rob, and his  girlfriend Marley, live in America and I want to be able to go over and see them on a regular basis ).

But I very quickly became despondent.

Even the nicest of the houses had one vital ingredient missing: water.

Where was the water?

My house here on The Island has a mooring, and amongst the boatyard friends I have made whilst living here, I am well known for being out there, in all weathers.Wrapped up in winter, sunbathing in the summer.

The sight of geese water -skiing up to greet me in the morning, or a baby coot following its mother, or the laughing of the ducks ( yes, they laugh ) fills my soul with deep joy.

And I’m a writer, so I find the peace and tranquillity of the river very inspiring, it allows me space to breathe and create, away from the bustle of London, where I often work.

I began to think I could not bear to leave. I love my house, and will be sad to move on, but it is so much more about my love of being so close to nature, and to water in particular.

But what to do? I needed to simplify and make life less expensive, and anyway, had itchy feet.

My friend Barnaby, who works at the aforementioned boatyard, had spoken to me before about the possibilities of buying a boat to live on.

We had talked at length about it, over a Gimlet or two, and I had listened very carefully.

Barnaby is himself building a boat, which he plans to live on one day.

And so, after much thought, and as I always do whenever I need the soundest advice, particularly in matters financial, I called my friend Zed Lorgat ( JM Financial, for any of you who need a top finance wizard ).

Zed had been advising me on my house move anyway, and knew my plans to downsize, plus my love of the water.

‘ Zed, ‘ I said to him, ‘ I don’t think I can leave the river. Do you think it would be absolutely crazy of me to consider buying a boat to live on?’

Now, Zed knows me well, but is also not afraid of being quite forthright in his opinions …he is a Yorkshireman after all. I knew I would get an honest answer from him.

‘ No,’ he said, ‘ I actually think it’s a really good idea.’

I thought so too.

As always, when I decide on something, The Universe seems to conspire to help me along, for the very next thing that happened was that Barnaby called me.

I had begun to look at some boats that were for sale locally, and I have to admit, I’d seen a couple of very unsuitable vessels ( ok-  they were stinkers.)

Here, I have to thank Steve, who along with his wife, Mel, is a friend of mine who also just happens to be the lock – keeper at the next lock along – East Molesey.

Steve steered me away from a couple of potentially dire purchases- as I say, I am very blessed, I have friends here on the river.

One though, was beautiful, but far too big for me.

She was a Dutch Barge, fully navigable, and my mind began to fill with possibilities.

By now, I had decided against a houseboat. I wanted a boat I could not only live on, but learn to sail. To meander upstream with my family or a friend, drinks in hand, and moor up under a weeping willow for the night…with always a good pub close by- what could be better?

And the delicious prospect of deciding on a new horizon and changing view as often as desired…yes, the sailing life was beckoning me.

‘ Amanda, ‘ said Barnaby, ‘ Don’t buy that one, she’s far too big and expensive and I’ve got a better idea. Come down to the yard and I will introduce you to Keith. He builds boats.’

Reader, I did.

I had always somehow thought that you had to be some kind of oligarch to commission a boat to be built for you.It seemed so…rockstarinsouthoffrance.

I never dreamed that I would be in a position to sit down with a boat builder and describe my perfect boat to him, yet that is exactly what happened.

I sat there, at Harts Boatyard and Stewart Marine with Keith and Barnaby,  and I decided  to commission a boat…built for me,  to my very own spec.

Amazing!

We looked over a couple-  Widebeam Barges, the type I would be having- and Barnaby told me the right questions to ask.

I knew I should be asking about the engine, and how smoothly she steered, but I was already out on the bow, entranced with the panoramic, 360 degree view over the most stunning stretch of river, with a faraway smile in my eyes, planning the name and colours. Imagining myself, up on the roof, enjoying a sunrise or sunset, chilled wine never far away. 

I was a goner. It was a foregone conclusion.

Even my Dad, who as a Shipwright, was involved with boats his whole career, approved the engine spec and design.

But how could this be done? I hadn’t yet sold my house, and a deposit needed to be paid to seal the deal.

Zed,  yet again, came to the rescue, pulling the rabbit out of the hat, managing to put together a finance package for me which would allow me to pay said deposit whilst awaiting my house sale ( thank you Zed, and Jane, PA extraordinaire at JM Financial ).

The impossible had suddenly become possible – I was on my way.

So Keith and I sat down again, this time with Ossie Stewart, who owns the boat – building company and the Marine,  and together we drafted the layout of what was to be my boat ( see pic for final version ) .

Keith must be praised here, for immediately ‘ getting ‘ me ( and for bearing with me during several changes of mind on where the main berth would go …thanks Keith).

He had incorporated plenty of wardrobe and shoe space ( I love clothes ), a bath as well as a shower,  as I cannot do without one, particularly in the winter, a log – burning fire,  bookshelves for my many books, and – most importantly- a special wine cooler in the galley kitchen.

We had even built in some steps leading up to the roof, for ease of access when admiring the view or sunbathing.

As I always say, I can do very well without essentials, but I must have my luxuries…and creating warmth and cosiness wherever I am is very important to me, as my family and friends will testify.

And in the meantime, a hot July afternoon spent dreaming in a deckchair,( always so vital for inspiration, doing nothing much ) with a beloved book of mine, ‘ Anam Cara’ by John O’ Donohue, an Irish poet and philosopher, had resulted in me finding a name for her- ‘ ANU’ , which is Celtic, and means  Goddess of the earth, rivers, sea and abundance.

Having always had  a very strong affinity with my Irish heritage on my mother’s side, and a deep love of Ireland, ( my daughter’s name, Molly, was chosen for this reason also )  I wanted Anu to be painted in traditional Irish colours, and Keith suggested Shannon Green and Cream ( again, see pic ).

I chose the harp as my logo, inspired by that traditional and most nutritious Irish beverage- Guinness, and because the harp is, for me, a mythical and beautiful instrument which I have always associated with the sea and water.

As a further nice connection, my son Fred plays drums in the Ellie Ford Band, where Ellie herself writes the songs and plays the harp.

It was all beginning to come together.

And so, the journey begins.

Keith has already been to Great Yarmouth, to oversee the start of the build.

I shall go with him next time, and will post some photos of the hull as it takes shape.

Ossie has a son, Cameron,who is involved in the building of Anu, and in another  twist, went to infant school with Molly…funny how life comes full circle.

It is SO exciting!

And a new talking point at parties, where quite a few people ( the chaps especially, I have to say) are expressing a huge interest, along with a desire to know more, and be invited on board when she is built.

‘ Oh, how wonderful, I’ve always wanted to live on a boat, ‘ they tell me. ‘ Can you fish?’

It is not for everyone, but as Zed says-  it suits me.

So, I look forward to sharing my adventures with you, as they happen, in this blog.

Both as ‘ ANU’  is born, and once I finally step aboard and start sailing her around the rivers and canals.

Bon Voyage, and I do hope you will enjoy the trip!

Captain Amanda

‘ Anam Cara’ by John O’ Donohue

copyright Amanda Hills 2016, All Rights Reserved

 

The Prettiest Star-a personal memoir of David Bowie

 

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‘ Didn’t know what time it was the lights were low- oh oh,

I leaned back on my radio…’

It was a normal school- evening in our house-a nice suburban house on a nice suburban street in leafy Surrey.

I was not quite 12 years old, in love with the most popular boy in school-like everybody else-in despair about my curly hair, goofy smile, freckles and the fact that nothing much ever seemed to happen in our small town.

My family were pretty ok though and life was alright…not as exciting as I would have liked…but alright.

We settled down, as was our usual pattern on a Thursday night, to watch Top of The Pops. It was July 6th, 1972.

I don’t remember the other artists that must have been on that evening, nor the DJ presenting. In fact, I don’t remember much else. Not what I was wearing, or the homework I’d been set or what my mother had cooked for tea.

I just remember the moment I first saw him.

Standing with one hip cocked, a cheery smile ( which he had all his life ) and an arm slung round the shoulders of his main wingman- Mick Ronson.

There-on our own TV, in a corner of our sitting-room, wearing an extraordinary, one-shouldered, multi-coloured catsuit, his elongated, pale  and extremely skinny body nonchalantly daring us to disapprove- stood my Hero…David Bowie.

And he was singing, and pointing down the camera lens at …me.

‘ I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-hoo…’

What on earth??

I knew immediately, without a shadow of a doubt-as I always do when I truly love someone-that I would love him forever. In fact- HAD loved him forever, for I already knew him. I’d been expecting him, somehow.

My parents were watching from their respective chairs.

My Mum, who even now, in her seventies, can admire and see the point of an avant garde artist ( she likes will.i.am ) looked up with great interest, a smile spreading on her pretty face.

My Dad, however, musician though he was, looked gob-smacked and yes- slightly appalled.

This, of course, was exactly what we, as Teenagers had been waiting for: somebody, at last to shake even our liberal 60’s parents from their smug and comfortable perches, where they felt they had invented music- being the generation who’d discovered  Dylan, The Beatles and The Stones.

They’d  never seen anything like Mr Jones!

For that was his real name- David Jones.

Changed to Bowie to avoid any confusion with the singer of the same name ( well, Davy actually ) who fronted the rather anodyne Monkees.

‘Is that a woman or a man?’ My father asked.

I was entirely sure he was a man, but not like any I’d seen before.

He was singing about a Starman who was waiting in the sky, who would ‘like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.’

He blew mine.

 

The next day in school, we gathered to talk about him.

‘Did you see that guy, David Bowie on telly last night? Did you like him? I loved him! ‘

We were divided into two camps. Some people  couldn’t handle him at all, the rest of us (  a minority, these were the Seventies and Boy- Bands like The Osmonds were rife )   were in love.

So Bowie haircuts were secretly had, and bright red, razor-cut crops appeared on the most unlikely of souls.

My friend Lesley and I hugged the knowledge to ourselves that despite being quite good girls, from nice families, we had seen the light and were devoted fans, which made us somehow immediately cooler than we had been before.

I rushed out with my pocket money and spent it all in one go on my very first album: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

What a title!

And the cover was so fantastic too, with a louche Mr Bowie, in a padded turquoise jumpsuit ( he loved a jumpsuit ) one leg up on what looked like a box  and cradling a guitar under a sign that rather inexplicably said: K.WEST.

This beloved record remains my favourite of all time- and not just because it was my first, but for the sheer brilliance and innovation of its sounds.

I took myself off to my bedroom, told my brothers to stay out, and settled down to learn every word…for these were the days of vinyl, and the  album sleeve, complete with full lyrics-0h joy.

For someone like me, who loves words and who has them deep in her very soul, it was these lyrics – as well as the gorgeous melodies- that thrilled me to the bone.

‘ Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind.

Like a leper Messiah

When the kids had killed the man

I had to break up the band.’ ( Ziggy Stardust )

I still know every word of nearly every Bowie song- and so do all the others of us who loved him at the same time, as evidenced at the concerts I went to, where the audience were word-perfect, despite some quite tricky phrasing: ‘ I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you.’ ( Moonage Daydream )

‘ Jung the foreman prayed at work, that neither hands nor limbs would burst.’ ( Drive-In Saturday )

You see, we didn’t have phones or the Internet. There were only 3 TV channels and we had no money to spend on very much, we were so young. There was nothing much to buy anyway.

These were the 70’s- dark days of power- cuts, the three-day week and the miners’ strikes, and we had never had somebody before who was all ours.

Our parents had The Beatles – and we loved them too-but suddenly, amongst us, as if he really had fallen to earth ( the title of one of his future films ) was this extraordinary being who seemed to me to be filled with a light I’d never seen before, but that somehow, I had dreamt of.

For I have always believed him to be a Wonder Soul, and some kind of Divine Messenger, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that back then.

So it went on.

And I, along with so many others, waited impatiently for another album release from our Hero, as even I couldn’t play Ziggy all day and night forever…and what’s more, my family were starting to object to the same sounds coming out of my room on repeat, from my little, prized Dansette ( I loved that record-player, I don’t think another, no matter how state-of-the-art or expensive will ever take its place in my heart. )

And we were rewarded-as we always were with any new Bowie album his whole career- with more innovative genius than anyone can reasonably expect in their lifetime.

‘Aladdin Sane’ was the brilliant title ( break the words down if you don’t know how clever ) of the second album I shot out to purchase.

Some of my very favourite tracks are on there- ‘ Drive-In Saturday ‘ ‘ The Prettiest Star’ ‘ Lady Grinning Soul’ with quite incredible piano by the unbelievably gifted Mike Garson, David’s long-time collaborator and friend.

(NB : Mike has a Facebook page , Mike Garson Official, where he is posting the most wonderful tributes and performances. Those of you who love David Bowie, check it out.)

And that instantly iconic, and now famous, cover of David with those white, white shoulders, that red, red hair and the orange and blue lightning bolt across his beautifully chiselled cheekbones.

For he was SO beautiful! Make no mistake about that.

More beautiful than most women or men have a right to be, and I believe it was this outrageous beauty that contributed to the  sense of shock he gave, and why he always troubled people who didn’t ‘get’ him.

Only last week, discussing his sudden death, a male friend told me he had never really liked Bowie as he was growing up because his androgynous beauty gave him a slightly uncomfortable feeling…was he a man or a woman? ( the same comment my Dad had made. )

For me, the shock of the beauty- and the androgyny- was a huge part of what I enjoyed so much about him. That was the whole point; to make people feel uncomfortable, wake them up, shake them out of their dull suburban stupor.

Only the very bravest among us are prepared to do that, have the talent to do that.

And as I grew up and changed, David changed with me. Ch-ch-ch-Changes.

Always just one step ahead, not quite a whole generation , but older than me by enough years to make him seem more adult.

His Berlin years-producing three of his finest albums in my opinion-were another milestone, coming at the same time as the fall of The Berlin Wall…no such thing as a coincidence that he was there for a major historic event that removed a barrier between people.He was all about breaking down barriers.

A message posted on the German Foreign office’s official Twitter account after his death read simply: ‘ Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among Heroes.( a reference to his eponymous album ) Thank you for helping to bring down the wall.

One of David’s most outstanding characteristics, and the trait I admire the most in any human, was his courage to be himself, in all his many forms.

Always evolving and changing ( ‘ turn and face the strange,’- Changes )

he had the fierce kind of intellect that refused to settle for anything mediocre, or less than he could be.

He explored the avenues that are often far too frightening for many of us, whether they were his sexuality, his struggles with addiction or his quest for answers in the spiritual realm.

For David Jones was a deeply spiritual man, a man who I believe had been here many times before and who was on his Master Lifetime.

Is it any wonder he sometimes felt so lost and alien? Like any truly Cosmic and sensitive soul, he often found it unbearably painful to live here on earth and witness what humans do to each other ( ‘ take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy’ – Life On Mars ).

He was sent here to help us heal, and heal us he did, through his wonderful, wonderful music.

Lucky indeed are we who grew up and were alive at the same time as him- and that is no coincidence either!

If there is a song from this period that sums up his quest for me, it is the sublime and heart-rendingly beautiful, ‘ Word On A Wing’.

From the album ‘ Station to Station’, a masterpiece of drama, emotion and epic accomplishment that Bowie wrote whilst battling the demon of Cocaine, to me, it is David’s most eloquent and sincere outpouring of his belief in God ( apart from his final song, Lazarus, about which, more later.)

‘ Just because I believe, don’t mean I don’t think as well, don’t have to question everything in heaven or hell.

‘ Lord, I kneel and offer you, my word on a wing. And I’m trying hard to fit among, your scheme of things.’

Please listen to this one, if you listen to nothing else… the sheer honesty.

We are all just trying hard to fit among the scheme of things, but David tried harder than most.

I think the reason I’ve loved Station to Station for nearly 40 years, and still play tracks from it most days, is the feeling I got -and get- that here was a record that came from somewhere else other than planet earth. From heaven perhaps. An uncanny album, somehow.

From David’s subconscious, or even unconscious mind, as he reported that he didn’t remember much about making it ( due to the drug abuse .)

His band’s quite astonishing musicality and range is on every single diverse track.

To listen to his stunning vocals on the haunting ‘ Wild Is The Wind,’ is to be transported to heaven for a while.

And I think that’s my 1, 2, 3 of his albums right there : Ziggy, Aladdin Sane and Station to Station…if I had to choose.

 

‘ I heard the news today, oh boy.’ ( Young Americans )

This part of my tribute- and I realise this is a long post, the longest yet- has taken me a month to be able to write and is the hardest of all.

I was in America at the time, with some Young Americans of my own…( Lovely Marley and my eldest son, Rob…not American, but living there )

Fitting really, as so was he, having made New York his home a long time ago, though he was a London lad, and one of  our very own to start with.

I woke up in Rob and Marley’s house at 8am, Florida – time and turned on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. It was 1pm in London.

No.

That wasn’t right. My eyes and brain were deceiving me.It could not be. It was impossible.

 

Two days before, on January 8th, I had posted the image, from The Huffington Post, that is featured at the top of this  blog, on my own Facebook page.

I had written that I couldn’t believe my life-long Hero, David Bowie, was 69.

I had commented also on the release of his new album, Blackstar, and how, I couldn’t imagine that it could possibly be his Masterpiece, as in my view, that had happened a long, long time ago with Ziggy.

Two days later, on 10th January 2016, he had gone from us.

I sat in bed, the tears streaming down my face and let out a cry that seemed to come from my deepest, darkest place.

I wandered through to get some tea,  in a trance.

Rob saw me.

‘ Bowie? ‘ he said simply, and put his arms around me.

For anyone who really knows and loves me, knew how much I loved the man.

I’m in tears typing this.

And not everyone reading this will understand, except those of us in his Soul Family – for I know he has one.

I saw him perform many many times, but I never held a conversation with him.

And yet, the love is real, and as I well know, the price we pay for love is grief, when the loved one is gone.

For miss him, I do, and I always will.

 

‘ Are you over Bowie yet?’ A kind friend asked me last week.

‘ No,’ I replied. ‘ I never will be over him. Love isn’t like that. Love never leaves you. I will just have to  learn to adapt to life without him.’

But I so much preferred knowing David Jones was in the world with me. He made me feel so much less alone ( ‘ You’re not alone…give me your hands, you’re wonderful’ -Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide )

His leaving has made me feel older, sadder and bereft in a way that I find hard to express in words.

As I said to my three grown-up kids, I rarely say never, but in this case,  I can say with certainty that there will never be another musician like this one for me.

Someone who spoke to every side of me ; the intellectual, spiritual and musical sides, all at once. Whenever I wanted to be inspired, moved, made to think – there he was.

And yet whose music was so damn fine to dance to- and oh yes, I love to dance.

‘Let’s Dance – Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,’ ( Let’s Dance )

If you don’t want to get a groove on to Sound And Vision, then there’s really something wrong.  My dancing feet will thank him forever.

No other artist will ever, can ever, match up to him.

He affected my heart and soul with the beauty of his words and made my life immeasurably happier with his music.

The complete, most influential artist, and a humble, friendly, kind man.

In the end, that’s what counts, it’s what people remember the most.

It’s what marks out the deeply spiritual amongst us…how we know.

For the greatest people who ever live are always the most humble and ‘ ordinary.’ They know they are only fulfilling their place in the ‘ scheme of things.’ ( Word On A Wing )

A man who looked like an alien – which he had to do, to grab our attention and shake us up- yet who turned out to be one of the people to show us most completely, what it is to  be human.

And  he continues to inspire me, even now he’s gone.

 

I listened to Blackstar on the day of his death.

I was wrong on that Facebook post; it IS his Masterpiece.

‘ Look up here, I’m in heaven ‘ are the opening lyrics of the track, Lazarus.

No coincidence either that Lazarus, in the Bible story, rose from the dead.

Brother of Mary Magdalene,  raised from the dead by Jesus, because he believed. ( John 11, New International Version )

What a brave genius David Bowie was, ( how I hate using that past tense )  writing this music, rehearsing day after long day  in the studio, knowing he was dying.

Doing it all so  intensely- because he knew he was leaving. Didn’t have much time left.

In immense pain, yet still, sending final words and a message for his life, to comfort us.

His awesome courage saying  – if I can do it, so can you.

He did everything he set out to do in this lifetime, everything he promised. And more.

How many of us will be able to say the same?

 

And still, I listen to his wonderful, extraordinary music, at some point, every day.

There is a Bowie song for each variant of my mood, and even if I’m not in the mood for anything- I’m still in the mood for some Bowie.

My musical Hero with a golden heart- The Prettiest Star.

He took it all too far…but boy, could he play guitar. ( Ziggy Stardust )

 

THE SONGS :

All songs written and composed by David Bowie, except where noted.

Life On Mars

Changes

Starman

Five Years

Moonage Daydream

Ziggy Stardust

Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

Drive-In Saturday

The Prettiest Star

Lady Grinning Soul

Young Americans

Station To Station

Word On A Wing

Wild Is The Wind ( Ned Washington, Dimitri Tiomkin )

Sound And Vision

Heroes ( David Bowie, Brian Eno )

Let’s Dance

Lazarus

THE ALBUMS:

The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

Aladdin Sane

Station To Station

Low

Heroes

Let’s Dance

Blackstar

FILM: The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg

Last photos of David Bowie taken by Jimmy King

 

Amanda Hills 2016, All Rights Reserved