Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Stoats and senility and social media….

It’s so beautiful down here at the moment. I mean, ridiculously so. There’s that special Spring thing going on, which we as a temperate nation appreciate more than most. We’ve emerged from yet another bleak mid-winter and are now officially frolicking in the sunshine. If I was a lamb I would almost certainly be gambolling, and if this was pagan times there would be all manner of fertility rituals going on. This has been replaced in modern society by seven pints of Stellar and a kebab eating competition, but the theme is still the same. Anyway, I like Spring. A lot.

As I was feeling young and fecund, I strolled across the park to join the nearby lifeboat station as a volunteer. I know everyone says they do this out of a sense of duty – which is true – but there is also the not inconsiderable motivation of the possibility of rescuing the (all female) crew of a yacht that has stranded on a sand bank and urgently need lots of lotion applying. The thought of hoving into view to be greeted by the words “Thank god you’re here. We’re the Hooters display team on a motivational outing and there will be genuine bikini chafing issues unless you can do something RIGHT NOW”. 
Well, let’s just say it added a certain spring to my step as I approached the lifeboat shed.

I duly chatted to Rob, the boss, who is a very nice man, but told me that I was too old. Crikey. I’m forty five, and the maximum age for a D Class boat is….forty five. The crew were all very welcoming indeed, and – seeing my crestfallen expression as the vision of helping out in a helicopter lift by attaching a hook to a leopard skin thong duly faded – Rob said that I could help out on shore. I am therefore being trained as stand-by tractor driver to get the boat in and out of the water. My feelings on the RNLI are well known as I do try to write about them whenever I can – they represent the very best of what we can be I think, volunteering to put themselves in harms way to save others. I’m happy and honoured to help out, and for now have put away my tub of coconut smelling factor 30 and bikini release shears. But I’m ready at a moments notice.

We went up river in the RIB to explore the Dart. It’s a strange sensation to motor away from the genteel, manicured seafront in Dartmouth, and within minutes be puttering through what appears to be the Amazonian basin. The trees come right down to the edge of the water, and the valley echos and crackles with life. I was fully expecting some parakeets to fly overhead or a tapir to emerge from the margins. Although that didn’t happen, what did was probably – in fact definitely from Reuben’s perspective – just as exciting.

As we motored through one of the larger turns in the river – which are in effect huge, sweeping lagoons as the Dart slows in it’s leisurely amble to the sea – I saw something in the water. We were probably three hundred metres from the bank, right in mid-stream, and a long way from anything.

The first I saw was a very small head motoring very determinedly along, whiskers bristling, whilst a very short distance behind there was a fluffy tail being used as a makeshift rudder. As we got closer we realised – after considerable debate in the boat - that it was a stoat. Plainly there was something highly compelling on the opposite bank that had made it plunge in to swim a very, very long way indeed. We drew alongside and I could make out it’s little legs whirring away, eyes fixed on it’s destination, a demented David Walliams on a mission to the promised land.

There was a great deal of ‘ahhh’ing” and “come on little fella’ ing” from all of us in the boat, which drew the attention of the – until this point rather bored – dog.

Up to this juncture Reuben had been occupied with his crewman’s duties which consist mainly of a) barking at the water, b) sitting on my feet to keep them warm, and c) barking at the water again. Having performed these duties with some aplomb, he was by this stage pretty unimpressed with the trip. Imagine then his considerable delight as he hoisted himself to his feet to be met with the sight of what appeared to be a swimming squirrel right under his twitching nose. This was the equivalent of every single one of his Christmas’s and Birthdays arriving simultaneously.

At this point a certain level of bedlam broke out on the boat. Reubs was very, very, very keen to retrieve said squirrel for – as the Japanese whaling fleet might put it – scientific purposes. We were equally keen that he didn’t. Kerin – Tam’s brother – basically had to assume a similar position to a water skier as he held Reub’s collar and skidded across the deck. Reinforcements became involved, and Reubs was taken into custody before being manacled to the deck. He found this disappointing. He started barking, the baby started crying, it started to rain, and the stoat engaged the after-burners and accelerated to about one mile an hour. It seemed as good a time as any for us to leave the scene.

Anyway, what an amazing thing. It turns out that stoats are very good swimmers – we did a bit of research when we got back – and found out that they can swim out to offshore islands as far as a mile out. Unless pursued by Reubs of course, in which case I bet they’d swim much further (and faster). He sulked all the way home by the way, and is still slightly huffy about it.

The shop looks great, and will really come on in the next week or so. The big opening is Friday 6th April – hooray indeed. We’re doing a course about how to use social media soon, so we can keep everyone posted about what animals we’re seeing via twitter and all that. The shop, although small, will have an electronic signature akin to the USS Nimitz shelling a beach prior to an invasion.

Isla's very well, although she’s now the size of Miranda. Reubs loves her, and keeps a close eye on proceedings. 

We’ll keep you posted as ever – can’t believe that soon we’ll be flipping the sign from Closed to Open!

Best, Monty

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The sad demise of HMS Nelanor......

It’s all happening. Right now. At enormous speed.

Having said rather glibly for a while now that I’ve got aaaaaages to get the shop together, it suddenly appears that I’ve got two weeks until the first customers will walk through the door. These will be real people, wanting stuff, and attempting to give me money. With this distinctly alarming prospect in mind, the last few days have been moderately intense. There has also been, I must say, more than a smattering of fun though.

The main fun element was taking the RIB out for an impromptu photo shoot. I did this in the company of three old muckers from the Royal Marines. The optimum word in that sentence is probably the “old” bit, as we’re all in our mid forties now. Although we’ve still got it. Oh yes. Mind you, that does make the assumption that we had “it” in the first place. Whatever "it" is (never quite figured that one out....) 

The boys have done well since leaving the Marines. We’ve got Doug – now an airline pilot. Paul, a polar explorer of note and an expert in leadership training. And Si – a ludicrously talented man who has done amazing work in Nepal, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, as well as writing brilliant children’s books and recording some genuinely excellent albums. What a collection of life experience. What talent. What could possibly go wrong? 

The answer to the latter question is relatively simple. Also in the boat was my good mate Becks – in her own right a hugely talented jazz musician. She’s a legend is Becks, a smiley, very bright, enthusiast who gets on with anyone and is destined for great things. So, to recap, we have four Royal Marines all at various stages of their mid-life crisis, twenty four feet of fast boat driven by two hundred and thirty snorting horses on the stern, and a good looking girl on board. Oh dear.

It was Simon who succumbed first really. Having taken over for a quick drive, he politely asked me where the throttles were located, then pushed them smartly forward until they were up against the stops. The engine noise went from a mutter to a full throated roar to a bestial howl. We went so fast that my sideburns blew off, Paul was blinded by his own luxuriant moustache, and Doug blacked out due to the intense G forces. I glanced across at Si as he was driving, and noted that he had by now sprouted horns and had testosterone dribbling out of his ears.

It is actually written into Naval law that should your skipper go insane, you are allowed to forcefully relieve him of command. As such there was a brief mutiny, and Si was summarily sacked. The rest of the trip passed at a more sedate pace, giving us the chance to get very close to a bruiser of a grey seal, and watch two harbour porpoises roll and twist through the surface, their flanks gilded in the dusk.

We’ve also done the rowing boat thing - called Nelanor for some reason no-one can quite figure out. I picked her up last week. It turns out that quite a small rowing boat in a large garden in Cornwall, is actually a rather large rowing boat in a small shop in Devon, and it dawned on me it was going to be a bit of a squeeze to get her in the shop. Nonetheless myself and Simon the carpenter hacked and sawed away under the aghast gaze of the good people of Dartmouth (who know a thing or two about boats). 

It was very shortly after we stood back in triumph, with one large rowing boat having just become two smaller ones, that our friend Hayden idly remarked that (prior to dismembering it) I could have repaired it and done it up for about £400 quid. Add this to the £400 I paid for it, and that would have come to £800. A lot less than the £3000 Hayden said we could have got had I then sold the repaired boat. And so my first big business gesture had been to vigorously saw in half my main investment of the month. Great work. 

But it is quite simply the greatest counter a shop has ever had. We’re just going to have to sell A LOT of coffee to make up the money we could have got for it in the first place.

Anyway, aside from offending the entire town, nearly making the RIB engines explode, and enthusiastically sawing up two grand, the business is going splendidly. The boat really does look very good indeed in the shop, and Simon has done an amazing job. We’ve also got the sofa in there now, which means I can now sit on it and bark instructions at him which he seems to enjoy very much.

It’s a gamble being down here and setting this up. But the other evening, as we flew like a comet ahead of the twisting tail of our spreading wake, with the cliffs of South Devon glowing in the sun, and my muckers in the boat around me, you realise that after all is said and done, some gambles are worth taking.

Two weeks until opening! I’ll keep you posted…

Best, Monty

PS. Thanks so much for your kind comments about the fishing series. So important we support our fishermen.....

Monday, 5 March 2012

The ego has landed..... other words - we're in! Through the door of debt and into the new premises. Obviously only a fool would set up a business in the current economic climate, particularly one based entirely around a rowing boat that has been sawed in half, an old sofa (more of that in a moment), coffee, and tall stories of questionable accuracy. But it appears that's precisely what we're doing.

I walked through the doors for the first time last week. Actually, that should be "we" walked through the doors last week, as Isla was strapped to my chest at the time. I used her as a sort of fleshy buffer to ease the door open, and so our entry into the shop for the first time was punctuated by an exclamation of delight from me, and a howl of protest from her.

Anyway, it's great to be in. The people of Dartmouth have been more than welcoming, one of whom is Josh, who introduced me to Jim, who told me about Simon, who recommended me to Steve, who said I really should chat to (confusingly) Simon (a different one), who said I'd be mad to proceed without talking to (even more confusingly) Jim (a different one). So, me, Tam, Isla, Jim, Jim, Simon, Simon, and Steve are now getting stuck in.

One of the first things Simon did was rip up the carpet, to reveal a set of tiles covered in an adhesive that appeared to be made of jam, combined with snot, combined with something very, very sticky. Seldom has an adhesive been so adhesive. We've spent a great deal of this afternoon scraping it off. Reuben has assisted us in this process by bringing me his ball every fifteen seconds so I can throw it three feet away (it's only a small shop), for him to chase, then bring back, drop at my feet, and look at me like this is simply the most impossibly exciting game ever invented. This went on for two hours, and would still be going on now if he had his way, the utter buffoon.

  Now, the sofa. This is no ordinary shop, so this will be no ordinary sofa. I've found one in a place called "Commerce" in Dartmouth (go there, it's full of wacky furniture and eccentric, absolutely beautiful odds and bobs that have a whiff of intrigue and adventure about them). It's worn and battered, and the cushions are made from a faded red ensign that fluttered off the back of a commercial vessel that has circumnavigated the globe. Sit on it and your generously supported rump will be nestled into the warm winds of Madagascar, the psychotic fury of a hurricane off Alaska, and the cold fog of the Grand Banks. This sofa alone is reason enough to visit the shop I'd say. We're going to charge at least a tenner to sit in it, and a fiver to sniff it.

The wooden flooring arrives tomorrow, and then I'm off to get the rowing boat from Nige down in Cadgwith. And on that note, hope you're enjoying the new series by the way. If you happen to enjoy the sight of a grown man being turned into a great big vomity organ of evacuation, then the next episode is definitely the one for you.

Walked Reubs home at the end of a knackering day, pausing only briefly by the river so he could be assaulted by two swans. If you look at the picture, you might see elegance and serenity, but actually you're looking at Vinnie Jones and Ray Winstone with feathers. Shortly after this photo it got a tad feisty. I know hurting a swan is tantamount to shooting the Queen, but touch my big hairy boy (not a euphemism) again and I'll do something unpleasant to you with some sage and onion stuffing that would make Bill Oddie go quite ashen.

Anyway, off to Cadgwith to get the rowing boat. Which we'll then saw in half. Oh yes.

All the best, Mont