Steering away from Poole power station is what I call the method by which I raised my children. Like many women, I wanted to have children, and I wanted them particularly to be Robin’s children. I knew I would be a superb mother, because I knew exactly what I must do – the opposite of what my parents did with me. I hadn’t realized that there is a particular snag to this method.
In my second year at Art School, someone decided that a group of us would go out to Green Island, a small, uninhabited island In Poole Harbour, for a night picnic. My then boyfriend, David, owned a ‘converted’ army pontoon. The conversion consisted of removing and selling the engine, and replacing it with a rather inadequate outboard motor. Together he and I went to Wareham, where this thing was moored, and brought it down the river to Poole Quay. We encountered several hazards on the way, but finally arrived, and most of the waiting participants climbed aboard. On arriving at Green Island we found a dilapidated jetty, along which the party processed, with caution, trying to avoid rotting planks. The girl in the tight leopard skin skirt and winkle pickers had a very scary time, as it was difficult for her to bridge the gaps where planks were missing, and her stiletto heels kept imbedding themselves in the rotten wood. In the end one of the boys carried her to safety.
The party was not complete, some people had been left behind, and some had not yet arrived at the quay. It was decided (not by me) that I should take the pontoon back to the quay and pick up the rest. I have no sense of direction, and was troubled as to how I would be able to find the way back to the island. Someone airily told me to steer away from Poole power station, as it was a huge and brilliantly lit landmark and I couldn’t miss it. So back I went. The party waiting on the quay had been joined by a drunk man in his mid-thirties (really old) who kept complaining that it was his birthday, and he was looking for a party, were we going to one? We said no, we were going on a picnic. He decided this would do, and there was no stopping his climbing aboard and settling down.
By the time everyone was on board it was dark. I started up the engine and set off away from Poole power station. A fog descended, the brilliant lights were dim, and it was then I realized that you can steer towards something only in one direction, but away from something in any of one hundred and eighty degrees, one hundred and seventy-nine of which will be the wrong one.
How we arrived at the island again I will never know. And the tide had gone out – we were now nowhere near the jetty. However, the drunk man leapt overboard into the slime, and dragged the pontoon over the mud till we could reach the jetty and climb out. There would be no way to move it again until the tide came in in another six hours. And the midges on the island hadn’t seen human flesh for years. It was they who had the picnic, while we huddled by a smoking fire, covering ourselves in blankets and whatever protection we could find. One couple became so desperate that they paid the huge sum of five pounds to a passing fisherman to rescue them. For weeks afterwards the participants in the picnic were recognisable from the black rings round their eyes and the strange dancing way they walked while trying not to scratch the midge bites.
So, too late, I found that doing the opposite of what you parents did can lead you in many wrong directions. Miraculously I did find Green Island again, and my children have managed to grow into responsible, kind, loving, hard-working adults despite my many failings as a mother.