May 4 – Establishing washing and finance routines

Location: Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat, France

I took it easy yesterday. I seem to have picked up the flu or at least a very bad head cold so I took the opportunity to call both of my daughters for a chat and some sympathy. My youngest SMS’d me a funny little poem to make me feel better.

Dearest mama please get well. Drink a hot tea and read some Thellwell. Or maybe if you asked particularly nicely, Bill will massage your achy bones precisely! Get lots of sun but don’t get too tanned! Keep nice and quiet—don’t go out and about as planned!! Remember down under you have two daughters that love you, Stephy and Jesse are missing you and envy you too!

GET WELL I LOVE YOU XXXXX

I spent the rest of the day smiling, doing as it suggests and taking it easy, happy to just potter around in between naps and meal times.

The boat timetable has several mealtimes—breakfast, elevenses (fruit), lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper (cup of tea and piece of chocolate). Despite this, believe it or not, I seem to have toned up heaps since Melbourne. It turns out that regularly getting lost in a vertical city connected by staircases and eating lots of French pastries is good for your figure.

Still feeling pretty awful but today’s big job is the washing, now that the sun has re-emerged. Did I just say that? Me? The former circus performer/programmer/computer journalist/PR agent/marketing consultant/editor and change manager extraordinaire?

Did I mention that I also have to iron? Can’t tell you the last time I ironed anything, but part of our contract is to wear washed and ironed uniforms?! And having washed the napkins (serviettes) we used the other day at lunch I also feel compelled to iron those as well.

Bill ,” I call.

“Yes?”

“I’m ironing the serviettes we used the other day at lunch. If you are ever handed another serviette at a meal-time, you are not, under any circumstances, allowed to use it. It has to be returned it to me in exactly the same pristine condition that you received it. Got it?”

“Got it”

I just finish as the mobile phone rings, signalling that Franco and Brenda are onshore waiting for a pickup.

Bill heads off while I quickly strip away and hide the towels protecting the settees and give the floor and benches a final wipe. I then go upstairs to open the little gate in the life-lines and drop the boarding ladder, plastering a huge smile on my face as I see the dinghy returning.

“Good afternoon,” I say as they pull up.

“Hello hello Lauraina,” yells Franco. Brenda smiles up at me as the little boat sidles alongside. She looks prim and proper sitting bolt-upright next to Franco who is behind the helm (steering wheel.)

Franco kills the engine while Bill hands me the rope to tie it to the big yacht.

Brenda goes to stand up.

“Not yet, Brenda,” fusses Francoin a pained voice. “Wait until Bill and I pass up the bags first.”

There’s a familiar routine to it all by now. No matter when Brenda tries to stand up, Franco always tells her, not yet. She must sit until told to stand.

Bag after bag of stuff is handed up to me, then finally Brenda is allowed to disembark. Franco positions himself behind her, holding the ladder so she has to climb up between his arms. I stand at the top looking down and feeling completely useless. There is nothing I can do at this stage except watch and hope she doesn’t fall in.

She’s a slight woman who looks normal but does not have the muscle-tone to lift either arm much higher than her ribcage as a result of surgery she had years ago, so when she climbs the ladder the event is fraught with concern for everyone.

After it’s clear she no longer needs me hovering around, I start taking the bags downstairs. Food bags in the galley; everything else in the aft cabin.

As I walk in, I almost bump into Brenda who is standing stock still, hands on hips, staring at the portholes. She flicks me an unusually defiant look, nods slightly and heads back upstairs. I realise she was checking whether the glass in the portholes was clean. It was. It is one of the jobs in the crew job-list. Hatches and porthole windows must be cleaned every morning. So I do.

Still, I feel slightly anxious as I follow her back to the galley, as if I’ve dodged a bullet and even though I know I positioned the settee cushions, before she arrived, exactly according to her previous instructions, I check anyway. Yep. Still there. Whew.

There’s still one bag that perplexes me and I have no idea where to put it.

“Where would you like me to put this,” I ask Franco, gesturing to what looks like a bag full of snails. I wonder whether they might be bait.

He gives me a strange look.

“You put them in the fridge of course,” he says with a sharp note.

“Oh, of course. I’m sorry. I don’t know what they are.”

He tosses a comment back to me over his shoulder as he walks into the aft cabin, which I don’t catch, so still not knowing what they are, I dump the whole lot into the fridge.

Fridges on boats are terrible places. Imagine the cupboard under any kitchen bench that’s just over an arm’s length deep, and just over an arm’s length long. Now imagine it has only two doors, one on top and one at the front, but each door is quite small. It creates a Tardis-like space. Something that looks quite small on the outside but which has the properties of an insatiable, cavernous black hole on the inside. Caroline has two such black holes—a fridge and beside it, a freezer.

I put the snails in the fridge, where they fall to the back, and into immediate obscurity.

I make a delicious fish pie for lunch under Franco’s instruction.

Bill , Bill ,” says Franco after lunch. “Before we leave do you need more cash?”

I look at Bill in surprise. “Yes,” he says.

Franco flicks me a bemused look. He’s noticed my surprise. “How much do you want?”

“One hundred Euro should do it,” Bill says far too casually for someone who looks like he suddenly got hit by a bout of constipation.

“And the receipts….?”

“I usually just keep a record of the cash I get then at the end of the trip total up all the receipts I have and do a reconciliation of that, against what’s owed to me in pay,” he says, with an obviously false bravado, especially considering Franco’s uncompromising stern look.

But,” he adds, “I could always do a monthly report if you prefer.”

Franco nods.

I can’t say quiet any longer. “Are we going to be getting regular cash as well as the credit card for shopping?” I ask.

“Yes,” say Franco and Bill in unison, as if it’s the dumbest question in the history of boating.

I look from one to the other. “This is good,” I say into the sudden silence. “This means I can buy fruit and vegetables from the street stalls instead of just the supermarket. And I no longer have to use my own cash.”

“Of course,” says Franco. “Where-ever possible you must buy from the street stalls. It’s much more fresh. Bill, why you haven’t given Lauraina money for food? That’s what it’s for.”

“There’s been no need. I’ve been doing most of the shopping.”

My mouth drops open but by the time I’ve formulated a response that is suitably professional, and taken a breath to deliver it, Franco cuts in.

“Here is another €100,” he says handing me the cash. “I give it to you both in future so there can be no more misunderstandings.”

“Thank you,” I say in my sweetest voice. “I suggest we keep the cash and the credit card in this wallet here, and if either Bill or I need it, we can just take the entire wallet with us when we leave the boat. We can also put the receipts in there and I’ll tally everything up at the end of each month, and provide you with a written report on what we’ve spent.”

“Yes. That sounds very good Lauraina. Good idea,” says Franco.

Shortly afterwards, Bill returns from running Franco and Brendato shore.

“Why didn’t you tell me Franco gave you some cash as well as the card?” I ask him, feeling perplexed.

“It’s no big deal. Every boat I’ve worked on has a petty cash system that…”

“Yeah, Yeah, I know,” I butt in. “I was here when you told Franco. I just don’t understand why everything with you has to be such a big secret.”

“Get over it,” Bill retorts as he disappears into our forward cabin.

I go to the fridge to prepare for dinner and notice the huge bag of snails still there.

I call Brenda. She says, “Never mind. Consider them a gift for you and Bill. Have them for dinner. They are delicious.”

That’s lovely, but I still have no idea what they are or how to cook them, or even if they need to be cooked? And I have to say that I prefer VIP tickets to the Tennis Finals as gifts of her appreciation and affection.

I turn to Facebook for the answer.

Help required please. Brenda and Franco left us a special present when they visited for lunch yesterday. See photo. My question. What the heck are they? What do they taste like? Will we turn into birds if we eat them? (Birds eat snails don’t they?) I need to be just a little bit informed so that I can then be suitably grateful.”

Later that afternoon I hear back from my best friend and former chef, Neil. He advises, “They are Whelps (bulots). Make a garlic and herb butter. Arrange the snails in a baking tray with the meat facing up and stuff the butter into shell. Bake for 15 min and then squeeze on some lemon juice. You usually use a small serving tool to hold them while extracting the meat with a small fork. The meat can be eaten as is, added to a pasta with a light tomato sauce or thrown overboard as desired. Bon Appetite.

“By the way they taste slightly fishy and if over cooked they go rubbery. Generally very nice. This is turning into quite the culinary adventure for you. Yummmmm! Alternatively, serve with a garlic mayonnaise.”

Having identified these slippery little critters, I am feeling more confident. I find and make a garlic mayonnaise, and serve an accompanying green salad with my favourite salad dressing of all time, also given to me by Neil.

Eating whelps imageThe whelps are surprisingly nice—firm textured without being rubbery, with a fishy, nutty, cheesy taste. I also love the salad and its dressing of combined lime juice, Dijon mustard and honey. Trouble is the Dijon mustard sold here is eye-poppingly hot! Eye-poppingly hot salad is quite unique and possibly an acquired taste. After just one taste, Billwhimps out and just eats the whelps.

Despite our enjoyment, we are unable to chow them all down in the one sitting so I package up the rest and return them to the fridge for tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s job will be to buy some stackable plastic tubs that I can use inside the fridge to store food neatly.

Yep, even I recognise I’m becoming compulsive obsessive. The glamour of European cruising is Tupperware shopping.

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