Gin & Cigarettes

Coming up for air

When I fell it was a long way. I remember the air rushing past me, tearing at my clothes on the way down. The ship had tilted to one side in the storm, it’s great slab sides hanging over the drop to the sea.

I’d always thought that drinking would be my downfall, but this was rather more than I had bargained for.

We’d been in the bar at the top of the glass wall looking out to sea. The ship being a floating city, its top moving with a pendulous wobble in the gathering storm. Ten stories up, our glasses shaking in the growing fury. The bar tender didn’t seem at all phased by this, having a strong faith in whoever had built the boat.

Sensible people would have sat and watched the lightening crack down onto the sea, and revelled in the roar building as the waves started to get almost as high as we were. The captain had put down stabilisers deep into the water and we were in no danger of being knocked over sideways, whatever it may have felt like at the time.

I found myself wanting to go outside, to feel nature’s wrath on my face and say I had been out there and faced it. It was also a need to have a visceral experience after days of feeling caged under glass.

You could leave the bar and make your way down the internal staircase, or go down outside on what might now laughingly be called the sun deck. I had watched the crew carefully pack all of the umbrellas and loose furniture away over the last couple of hours as the storm grew in intensity, its dark form massing on the horizon. Earlier, the captain had announced that we were attempting to outrun it and get to a safe harbour further up the coast. But then it moved its course very slightly and became complicated.

We had been assured we were perfectly safe, as long as we stayed inside the ship. They had closed the climbing wall because the swinging around started to make it a bit difficult for the climbers to stay on, the bars and restaurants facing outward were closed. But everything was fine, fine, fine.

I had to push quite hard against the wind to get the door open, and then, once clear and onto the high deck, it slammed behind me. The gin and cigarettes were forcefully blown out of my head, and I experienced a moment of intense clarity before the rain hit me square in the face and I fell from the slab.

I span head over heels all the way down into the cold, massive sea. Momentum carried me deep down below the crashing waves and I thought I would never breathe again. I emerged spluttering, the salt burning my eyes and my breath roaring into my lungs.

When I was a very young kid we trained for this. Some kind of water survival award. I remembered, kick off your shoes and tie knots in the leg ends of your trousers. Wave them around to fill them with air and then you could use them as something that floated to cling to while you tried to out wait your predicament. I was wearing shorts, so that wasn’t happening, even if the teeth of the gale hadn’t made the trouser waving something of a forlorn hope.

Kicking off the shoes did seem like a good idea, even though they weren’t the heavy brogues of my 1960’s childhood. We were in tropical waters, so I wasn’t going to freeze, but breathing as waves that looked like sky scrapers crashed around me seemed like it would be quite difficult. It was dark, and the ship framed by lightning moved away from me at a sedate, but inexorable, pace.

I realise I was probably going to die for the sake of wanting to feel the storm on my skin and some gin and cigarettes clouding my judgement.