The ghost of Thorney Island

I’m not afraid of ghosts. These past few weeks I’ve been living with a very lovable one and I don’t think he’ll disappear until all the boxes are packed and the removal van chugs off down the road.

It’s three years since we arrived to live on Thorney Island, in the heart of Chichester Harbour. I never expected to become so attached to this place, but it has a way of seeping into your soul. I’ll miss the rattle of the halyards from the boat yard, the whirr of planes overhead, even the noisy chatter from the squirrels.

Most of all I’ll miss the shoreline; its rhythmic beauty as the tide slides in and out, alternately masking and revealing the bright green grass and muddy banks that lie beneath. I’ll miss my walks to the beach, watching white sails glide past the fields and breathing in those big skies that stretch right out to the Isle of Wight. I’ll definitely miss the swimming at all heights of tide and in all temperatures – including Christmas Day – knowing a hot shower awaits just around the corner. I’ll also miss the serenity and the sound of nothing but birdsong, most of the time.

Today, as I wander through the empty rooms of magnolia walls and beige carpets, merging into one, it feels as if our time here has been sucked up with the final hoover. There is barely a sign that our family, and particularly our cat, ever lived here.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw him around every corner. I heard the rattle of the cat flap – even when it had been removed. I heard his meowing chatter as he arrived in from a night of hunting and saw his face at the window peering in. It has been like living with a ghost – the ghost of Simba past.

Simba was the Cypriot cat who arrived without warning in our garden in Cyprus one morning, and who for the past five years has been a big part of our family. None of us are keen on cats and yet he found his way into our hearts and it was very painful to see him waste away over the last few months and eventually succumb to his illness.

Simba was a character. He accompanied us on walks beside the sea, he scared off spaniels beside the sailing club with his massive mane spread out and back arched high, he stalked squirrels, caught mice, sunbathed on the decking and was the longest cat living when he stretched out on the settee. He was also very beautiful and loved to cuddle up close, nestling into your neck on a cold winter’s night. He was known as the ‘Lion Cat’ by our neighbours – knick-named for his fantastic mane and lion colouring.

Now it really is goodbye Simba and farewell Thorney Island. The two will stay together and when we return, as I’m sure we will, we’ll pause by his favourite pine scratching tree and remember our time here with one member of the family who is sorely missed, but not forgotten.

 

 

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To camp or not to camp

Camping is like marmite. You either love it or you hate it. But even if you love it, at some point you’re going to end up hating it.

Despite having dropped plastic boxes caked in grass in the garage, loaded a pile of damp clothes into the washing machine and kicked sleeping bags and airmats into odd corners of the house because I haven’t the energy to put them where they belong, I’m still feeling fairly positive about camping. The last load of washing is drying outside and when we packed up the tent it was bright sunshine, so we don’t have to wait for a windy day to air it on the lawn to stop it growing mold… such is the lot of a seasoned camper.

Last week we headed off for our umpteenth camping trip beside the sea in Devon. What could be more wonderful? Two days before ‘D’ day we decided we couldn’t fit everything in the car plus an extra passenger and would need to order roof bars so that we could take a top box. This wonderful invention allows tall people to store beach things and anything sandy high up out of reach where they will never be seen again, until you come to unpack at the end of the holiday and discover that’s where the badminton rackets, beach ball, windbreak and umbrella were after all. The roof bars arrived and were carefully assembled, but unfortunately didn’t fit the connection with the roof box. Problem one. No time to order new bars, so alternative bars had to be purchased locally, which also didn’t fit. Problem two. Third time lucky the bars were exchanged, fitted and the box was on top and the car was ready to be packed. Another problem was the fridge. Problem three. Tents don’t have fridges unlike their superior caravan cousins. So cool boxes/bags had to be bought (and returned due to unsuitability)… We began to wonder – is it really worth it? Why are we going camping? What about air B&B?

 

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7 reasons I love camping:

  1. No housework
  2. Minimal cooking – due to limited pans and burners
  3. Waking up to blue skies
  4. Sitting out under the stars drinking… wine mostly
  5. The perfect view from the tent of a curving sandy bay and rolling waves, with an island in the distance
  6. Smelling fresh grass and BBQs 24/7
  7. Not feeling guilty about fried egg and bacon for breakfast

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5 reasons not to go camping:

  1. The possibility it may rain
  2. The long walk to the toilets in the middle of the night – or stinging yourself on nettles seeking alternative loo point by the hedge
  3. The beds – there aren’t any
  4. The cool box, that isn’t, and smells of cheese after 24 hours
  5. Filling the water bottle, carrying it up the hill back to the tent and then realizing you needed to go to the toilet
    Oh and also… leaving the Fairy Liquid beside the communal sink – returning half an hour later to find a half used Co-op bottle in its place!

On balance, I think camping is a good thing. Our children love it. We endure it and I expect we’ll be back again next year… after all there are 7 good reasons to go. And I forgot to mention the sunsets!

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a turtle for company

It was 6am and the sun was creeping up the horizon with a smudge of pink appearing behind the trees lining the bay. Yesterday, I was the lone swimmer crossing the calm waters to the far side… well I thought I was. As I peered down to the ripples of sand on the sea bed I was very happy to spot a friendly turtle munching his way along just below me and a few moments later I watched him pop his head up for air as he checked out my front crawl style. Ploughing on from one salmon pink buoy to another it was comforting to think that there was someone or some thing out there with me.
   
 It’s that time of year again, when a few mad swimmers prepare for the island’s Bay2Bay swim. Friday morning will be a 4am start for those of us travelling from the other side of Cyprus for the open water swim of 1 nautical mile around from one cliff lined bay to another. We’ve been told to take breakfast and a pillow. I’m worried I will be even slower than last year, despite mastering front crawl, I find myself needing to break into breast stroke to calm my breathing… so ‘mastered’ probably isn’t the right word. But whatever my ‘time’ I’m determined to enjoy it – it will definitely be a lot warmer than swimming in the English channel or even the Solent. Something I will have to adjust to very soon.
The imminence of our move back to the UK this September was brought home today as I passed the first set of folded packing boxes at the top of the stairs along with some giant reels of sellotape. I remember this well – my life of ‘packing boxes’ – which is exactly where this blog began more than two years ago. Now the next adventure begins.
It’s not quite as exciting as a foreign posting, but I am looking forward to coming ‘home’ to be nearer friends and family and moving to our very own small Island… which we will share with a few hundred other army families and personnel!

As much as I love the UK I know I’m going to miss:

  • looking up at the stars while floating in a sun-warmed pool
  • never worrying about the weather for a BBQ
  • clothes – not wearing many
  • living life outside
  • mediterranean food – especially bags of free oranges and grapefruits
  • palm trees in the garden and crystal blue waters in the sandy bays
  • our view of the mountains
  • the sound of crickets buzzing day and night
  • visits to the numerous cafes, bars and restaurants we love
  • But more than all this I’ll miss the friends we’ve made, some of whom are moving on too, but others who we hope will give us the perfect excuse to return and visit in the future.

So packing boxes can wait a few more days because the sun is shining, the crickets are singing and there’s swim training to be done!