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.




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!

now for something completely different

As the Church of England and much of the media world are focused on the vote on women bishops today, I’m turning my attention to a different challenge.

I’ve put myself into training after rashly deciding to enter for the Bay2Bay swim in about 10 days time. It’s an open water swimming event of one nautical mile (1.9km) from one bay to another on the other side of the island. It happens very early in the morning and everyone wears hats, goggles, long legged serious costumes and lots of Vaseline. Last year I watched my son head into the water amidst the crowd, like a waddle of penguins (yes, that is the official group name), they rushed towards the water and soon became a blur of white water heading out to sea. It looked a bit like a mass shark attack – but that wouldn’t be a happy thought. At the time, I thought, I should do that next year – although it did look a slightly scary and a long way round the cliff lined bay to the next.

So, 12 months on I have been training – after finding myself committed late one night in the bar, it had seemed like a good idea at the time. But I’ve always enjoyed swimming and thought I was probably OK at it. That was before I joined a couple of mates at the pool. As I launched into the water attempting my very best breaststroke, I was a little put off to find them passing me on either side, heads bobbing up and down rhythmically at a speed I couldn’t hope to match. ‘Oh dear’, or words to that effect, I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this…it will take me all day.

Back home in a smaller pool I attempted to perfect my breaststroke. Someone was on hand with lots of tips… my knees weren’t coming up tightly enough, I needed to push back with my feet flat against the water… kick harder, pull the water with your hands… I swear I got slower and more uncoordinated. There was even a video of someone doing breaststroke to watch. It didn’t help.

Next session, I tried to kick harder and wider and pull more with my arms. I ended up nearly disjointing my hips. I decided to risk it and try front crawl instead – the stroke most of the swimmers were ploughing up and down the pool with. After three or four strokes I almost drowned, I couldn’t breathe… so it was back to my tortoise-like breaststroke.

Last week I was pleased to be able to complete 50 lengths in 50 minutes – that was progress. My goggles had stopped leaking…someone pointed out I had them on upside down! There was a bit of a set back when we discovered the 64 lengths we had been aiming at had turned into 78… as a nautical mile is longer than an ordinary mile. The real test, we were told, would be trying to swim in the sea.

So on Saturday I set off as early as possible to a nearby bay, to see if I could go the distance in the waves. A line of marker buoys marked the route across – which was 400 metres – I would need to do this four and half times to cover the equivalent distance for the Bay2Bay. This time I had a hat, goggles and my secret weapon ‘natural buoyancy’…

Strangely enough, because I float so easily, swimming in the sea was easier. Apart from swallowing a lot of salt water and the waves pushing me in the wrong direction, I soon got into a rhythm. My spotter from the shore hardly recognized the white cap bobbing up and down as it moved across the bay – Michael Phelps eat your heart out. Although I don’t think his bottom was quite as high out of the water as mine. I did it. But that was just the practice.

The challenge now is to keep up the training and my nerve for the event next week.

In the meantime, I’m hoping and praying the CofE rises to its own challenge and finally agrees to allow women to become bishops. If it does, I’ll be tempted to marker pen a mitre on my swimming cap as a tribute next Friday.