I bet you’ve all moved house at least once in your life so you will have some idea of what a huge undertaking moving the boat yard was. In fact, many of you came to the boat yard, looked around and shook your head whilst muttering “I wouldn’t fancy moving this lot. How on Earth are you going to do it?”
I wondered that, daily, for a year, but saying it aloud? That’s about as helpful as telling a pregnant woman how terrible and gruesome the birth of her child will be. It doesn’t help. Lucky for me, when I fell pregnant with my first child I picked up a book called ‘New Active Birth’. I won’t go into details but the book helped me ignore the negative comments and I had two good pregnancies and two amazing labours. With the move, however, there was no book nor manual that could mentally prepare me. The move and its success was dependant on so many people and so many variables that it made me dizzy to mentally list them, which kind of became a daily masochistic ritual, which in turn led to some pretty high stress levels.
People deal with stress in different way and when I’m stressed, or facing major life events, I turn to books in the same way some might turn to food or booze. When Neil and I were arranging our wedding, I don’t really remember much of the lead up to it other than being so utterly absorbed by The Time Traveller’s Wife and The Big Stone Gap Saga. I was impervious to stress because my head was too full of the characters struggles and woes. I remember waking early every morning and sitting in our courtyard in the sunshine, a cup of tea and book in hand.
Reading and the time to read, in the sunshine, was a luxury I took for granted back then and I should have savoured it because after having my first child I didn’t read for a bit. I went off reading the same way some women go off horse riding when they become a mum. I couldn’t read stories in which terrible things happened, particularly to children. I needed stories that painted the world as soft and fluffy, as a safe place for my children to grow into but those stories were rubbish so I just gave up.
My daughter was two when Alex, my best friend (a friendship created by boats and strengthened by books), sent me a book called Master Pip. By that time I’d been on a reading break for almost four years. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed reading until I started that book, and then it was like I’d been starved. My appetite was huge. I managed to get through thirty two stories that year, with each book being a gem. I’ve never taken a break from reading again but all my reading is done, late at night when I fall into bed. I feel guilty if I sit and read during the day as there is always so much to do. Also, I can’t escape my children like I used to. That sounds terrible and before you judge me and call social services, let me explain; they don’t have morning and afternoon naps now because they are at school and when they are at school I’m out at work all day. When I am at home with them, even though they are capable of wiping their own bottoms, it feels like they need me more than ever. My role has changed from just fulfilling their basic human needs to now include peacekeeping between siblings and a free taxi service to after-school activities and clubs.
By the time the summer holidays started I was desperate, I needed more time to read and escape, I just couldn’t see a way to make my reading work for me and my family. Then late one afternoon, I brought the children home from mud-sliding down at Blakeney quay, assuming they would be tired and exhausted and I’d be able to get some work done that evening, but that’s another thing that’s changed as they’ve grown up. They were wired and wanted to relive the day as they ate their supper. I was distracted. Worried. Running through the mental list of all the things that had not gone to plan with the move. Running through the list of all the people I needed to call, to push, to cancel. I didn’t hear or see what was going on at the dinner table until one was screaming and the other was crying. I felt like screaming and crying too. I managed to hold it together. I told them both to be quiet and stay sitting. I took myself for a timeout and went to look at the books on my shelf, planning my next read later that night. That’s when inspiration struck.
On a friend’s recommendation a couple of years ago, I had bought the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. They are children’s books and all about Greek myths and legends which I thought they’d enjoy as we frequently holiday in Greece. However, when the books arrived I was worried they were too grown up for my children to understand and enjoy so they had languished, forgotten. I pulled the first one, ‘The Lightning Thief, from the shelf. The strapline that ran across the top declared ‘Half Boy, Half God, All Hero’. That’s what we needed, a Hero. The children were older now, I reasoned. Maybe they were ready. And if we couldn’t go to the place where the Greek legends and myths were born because of the yard move, they’d have to come to our dinner table instead.
From that first page, we were hooked. I read aloud. The children were silent. Neil came home to find us sat motionless at the table. We were too engrossed to stop so he joined us and I read for three hours that night, only stopping because my voice was becoming dry and hoarse. The children begged me to carry on. Tomorrow night I promised. It was a promise I intended to keep because I needed to know if Percy was going to go on the quest, and because, despite the dry throat, I felt amazing. I hadn’t had the capacity to worry about the boat yard and the move for three hours! I’d spent three hours of my time both reading and engaging with my children. This was amazing!
The next night we did the same. And the night after that, and after that. I limited the reading to a maximum of three chapters a night, this was a good two hours’ worth of reading and discussing the story. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Percy Jackson kept me sane and here is why:
The lease for the new yard was supposed to be simple and straight forward, completing by March and giving us a six-month moving window but there were planning issues. This held up the lease and also our grant application. The move window dwindled from six months to two weeks and this was time critical as Will, who works for us, was getting married and we had promised him the barn at Glandford would be vacant so he could use it as the venue for his wedding party. It was by the skin of our teeth but we did it. We moved everything out.
Will had his wedding in the barn and it was a beautiful day. With the lease signed, the grant confirmed and the wedding done my mind was able to focus on the fact that I had no office and although everything from the old yard was at the new yard, it wasn’t a boat yard yet. Nothing was set up and we, my team, had only two more weeks to get it set up as the boats would be coming out of the water and need somewhere to go at the start of October. It then occurred to me that maybe our customers wouldn’t move with us. I was tired and once I let one worry in it hit me like a tide. It was a crazy period.
We survived but more specifically, I survived because I was compensated by a two hour, guilt free, escape with my children every evening courtesy of Percy Jackson. My children will remember the move, not as stressful or of them being pushed aside while we ploughed our energies into the mammoth task, but as a time of escape into a story which we all shared but experienced in different ways.
My son quietly absorbed the story, picking up on Percy’s defiant nature that was both a help and hindrance. My daughter adored the female character, Annabeth Chase who is as strong, brave and intelligent as the male demigods. For me, I saw how Percy accepted help from other ‘half bloods’ in order to fulfil his quests, he never went into battle alone. So, when we needed help I asked for it and when it was offered we accepted. The moving of the boat yard was a monumental task of Herculean proportions but it was a team effort and every single person involved is a hero worthy of demigod status. This post is dedicated to them, and to Percy Jackson, and to books of course.