Living it Medium

I didn’t go to Ibiza to ‘live it large’.  If large means the kind of nightlife I’d have to be dragged to, a half measure is fine for me in so many ways.  Plus if you’re living on a ten metre long boat, there isn’t a lot of space for the exuberant dancing.  Just moving around and squeezing past each other is plenty to contend with – apparently it’s called ‘boat yoga’.

But wow – the Freebird is fantastic.  I find it extraordinary what Andrew and Emma have done with the space available with all sorts of modern conveniences.  I’ve possibly forgotten the nautical terms but we’re talking master/guest bedrooms  (berths) kitchen (galley) bathroom (head) living room (saloon) and porch (deck).  They’ve also rigged up Wi-Fi, a TV and very fancy seafaring sat nav.  Staying on board was like being in a floating, but souped up, upgraded camper van. Despite the space being compact and cosy, it worked for the three, then four of us once American cousin Brynn arrived. This was true to the point that I wouldn’t need to book the hotel room I thought I’d need after a few days at sea and even when the swell got up and the boat rocked overnight, (thankfully) I wasn’t seasick and got enough sleep.

Moreover, they were the best of hosts – I virtually had to turn to finger lifting exercises because I didn’t have to do anything on the boat.  Over the week, delicious food seemed to magically appear – all I had to do was accompany the group to Lidl and carry a few bits.  We spent a couple of days unhurriedly strolling – not just around the supermarket – but the marina centred seafront of St Antoni de Portmany, with its crescent beach and even a windmill (I checked – Don Quixote wasn’t around).  It was warm too – in the high teens plus every day – and it was a sheer pleasure to be comfortably warm most of the time.  I also spent a few short periods being uncomfortably warm on a couple of beach runs to the point that I abandoned all stoma based modesty, took my shirt off and the bag flap around in the gentle breeze.  Jeez – even compared to the muddiest of race courses, soft sand is really hard going and I did well to churn out 14 minute miles as my calf muscles protested at the extra force required to push off with every stride. By the second evening, it was just as well that I was prevented from beach running by a stage and huge concert. We anchored (parked) Brian the dingy, tied it to a friend’s and watched the gig in style – like we had the royal box or something. I didn’t even mind that the concert consisted of a pretty inexperienced DJ playing some lesser known hits from the 80s!

Andrew and Emma have worked astoundingly hard to be able to essentially retire in their mid 30s and, even with the adverse weather that I was lucky enough not to experience, I’d say they’re living the dream.  But the budget is pretty tight and their caution with expenditure and waste reminds me of those heady days backpacking round India trying to live on £5 a day and considering a 60 cent Australian ice cream an extravagant treat. But as Brynn and I were in holiday mode, we treated them to a bit of luxury through the medium of food with some leisurely brunch, a night of exquisite Franco-Spanish tapas and a paella bigger than our dinner table.  It took some convincing, but by the end of the trip, they could just about enjoy the respite from austerity.

As the boat left the harbour, my calves began to recover because there wouldn’t be any running for a couple of days and, for once, I didn’t care. For we were on our way to an even more scenic bay with crystal clear turquoise waters and some kind of turreted fort. I resisted the stereotypically British urge to invade and plant a flag because the scene was so relaxed that I had a siesta instead. Those inhabitants were lucky! That evening, we watched the sun set on paradise in the company of Heleki (from the concert) and a few luxury catamarans.

The next day, the cats disappeared as we rowed ashore to explore the cliff top paths and have a swim. Well they did. The water was way too cold for me so I dipped my feet in occasionally, which was plenty. I also didn’t want to test out the waterproofing of my colostomy bag and risk spoiling such idyllic surroundings.

The weather gods had arranged for blue skies and placid waters.  Even the super yachts disappeared and, with the owner/occupants of Heleki, we rowed a short distance to what happened to be our own private beach.  This took at least two trips as we’d brought extensive barbecue  supplies and proceeded to utilise them over a blissful couple of hours eating, talking, singing and watching the sun retreat behind a westward lump of cliff.  During my five years on a strict vegan diet, barbecues weren’t much to shout about.  But as I’ve decided to be flexitarian (vegan at home, whatever’s available elsewhere) I was able to join in the carnivorous feast with rainbow trout, pork chops and (don’t tell my doctor – red meat isn’t great for digestion) beef burgers.

This was less of a surprise to the more observant members of our party, but as far as I was concerned, what happened next came right out of the blue.  The feasting was suddenly and bizarrely interrupted as a man dressed head to toe in black neoprene emerged from the water wielding a fairly imposing spear gun and carrying a substantially sized barracuda.  No – I promise – that is not a euphemism – this actually happened!  Conversation ceased as he tied a fish that would feed a small family to his weight belt and nonchalantly strolled up a rocky path, never to be seen again.  What if he lived in the fortress?  Maybe I was the one who’d had a lucky escape from invading it – that spear gun looked pretty sharp!

As the sun set, a campfire was ignited, bringing an array of primally comforting amber-red hues.  I’d struggled to stay warm in the evenings, but not on this occasion as I basked in the warmth of the gently crackling logs.  Talk about a perfect day – I could have given Lou Ried an extra verse right there and then.  But as I fell silent and took in the magic of the moment, conflicting emotions overwhelmed me.  A solitary tear of bittersweet tainted joy trickled down my cheek as I came to the realisation that I was experiencing something truly special.  It didn’t feel like life could get much better than being full of wonderful food, blissfully passing time in the company of my beloved family, warming my hands and my soul by a roaring fire in a beautifully secluded bay.  This was the kind of experience that people would, and do, pay thousands for and I had it here for free.  This moment was one in a lifetime.  And that’s what hit me – it won’t happen again in mine.  This wouldn’t necessarily be my last stay on a boat, coastal hike, dip in the glistening sea, beach barbecue or night spent by a campfire, but there’s a very small chance I’ll live to put them together again and feel what I did then.  Even if we all contrived to recreate this moment, it would be impossible to replicate the spontaneous emotion of the stars aligning and everything coming together.

Since being told I have incurable cancer, I’ve not been at all afraid of dying, let alone before my time.  But this was new – I just didn’t want to die.  Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to just pragmatically do what I could with each day of relative health.  I wanted to live indefinitely so I could have more days like these.  I’d been told that it’s common amongst the dying to resent the longevity of the healthy.  For the first time, I could see why.  The average life expectancy comes to around 4000 weeks.  If I survive to see June next year, I’ll edge past 2,000. Just.

That’s not fair. Almost everyone reading this can reasonably expect to live at least twice the life I have.  Twice the holidays, twice the sunsets, twice the beautiful special moments surrounded by loving friends and family.  What’s more, you’ll live a life that is closed to me.  Children, grandchildren, that unconditional love that is so intrinsically strong it hurts.  The carefree assuredness and wisdom that come with age.  A realistic shot at the pride of meaningful achievement and the chance to make a difference to the world.  To rest in the satisfied ease of a life well lived.  Just as I’m getting going, sooner rather than later, I’ll be forced to stop.

In the light of a fire that burned more fiercely than my resolve that night, Brynn, a natural empath and long time confidant, noticed something was up and we found a quiet moment to talk.  The fact that she’d travelled a few thousand miles for not many more reasons than to see me was enough to extinguish any annoyed bitterness about her, or for that matter any else’s, expectation of a naturally long life.  I’m hoping that the reflective fireside mindset was just a blip.  I may be living half a life’s worth of weeks, but as long as I’m able to put in the work, I choose to believe that I can live a full life’s worth of activity and experience.  I’ve already discovered that, if not automatically opening doors, cancer has at least left a couple unguarded and I’m just about able to force a few open.  It’s like being on the fast track programme to the opportunities most would need years to unlock – there can’t be many who’ve gone from zero to a national newspaper feature writer within a few short months.  That’s just as well really – I don’t have too many months, let alone years, to play with.

I’m not one to do things by halves.  Pints, portions, marathons – I prefer full size and that mentality applies to the life I now choose to live.  So let’s go! … As long as it’s not to a club.

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