National Express Night Bus 501, departing from London Victoria at around 11pm, arrives at Glasgow’s Buchanan Station normally around 7.30am. Ticket costs only a dozen or so pounds, it’s relatively independent from weather conditions, and with a bit of luck, there won’t be a two-metre-tall basketball player sitting next to you keeping you smashed against the window through the whole journey. Happened to me as well. True story.
Most of the time it’s half empty and, your trip is done in no time: you get on, you go to sleep and you wake up the next morning in Glasgow. Included there is a short break for a piss, a fag, and a coffee or whatever else one would like to do around three in the morning at some stop right in the middle of nowhere. Line 501 became my favourite means of transport connecting London and Glasgow between November and March, moving to or from the yacht in Ardrossan, I cover this route probably five times.
This time the decision to depart from London isn’t spontaneous, I should rather say it is forced by circumstances out of my control. I had planned to visit the yacht in the last few days of March, as to give myself three weeks to prepare her for a safety inspection of the Polish Maritime Office. However, I am going earlier, due to the upcoming chaos we hear about from various news all over the world on the development of the coronavirus epidemic.
When I learn that Israel is probably the first country in the vicinity of Europe to close its borders, and all toilet roll disappears from London’s supermarkets within two days, I begin to realize that if I want to do anything on the yacht before the season starts, I have to go to Scotland. Immediately.
I pack quite chaotically. Taking mostly packages with various spare parts, screws, silicones and a mix of other crap. I also pack two laptops and some randomly picked out garments. The rest of my modest English belongings stays at my friend’s apartment in Canning Town, London. I already have some of my stuff on the yacht, so it will be ok. I’m on my way.
As usual, it is calm, warm and cosy on the bus. Only disturbance to a blissful peace is one quite noisy English gentleman in his 50s. From the scrapes of his story spelled out into space, I put together that this gentleman is trying to get to Glasgow for the third time this week, but there is always something coming in his way. Usually some tricky liquor store, deceitful pub, or treacherous party. It is Thursday and the poor gentleman has not managed to get to Scotland since Monday. I close my ears to his surfacing and try to sleep, but I can’t, because… I start to suffer from a strange cough, plus I feel like I’m developing a fever. Great.
The English Odysseus, returning to his Scottish Ithaca, once again seems to be facing an obstacle. A moment later it would turn out that, again, he’ll not be able to make it to his destination. He carries out ethnographic research. His scientific method is the direct interview, so he begins to question all passengers about their ethnic origin. Some of them, like me for example, pretend to be deaf and simply ghost him. Some passengers are more sociable, or maybe less assertive, and willingly share where they come from. At this time Odysseus, probably overjoyed to boast about his eloquence, with amazing ease brings out from the recesses of his brain all sorts of national stereotypes, which he willingly and a loudly shares.
Passengers quickly establish an international social committee. “Batter” is its working name, and the first and the only point of the statute is to, well, beat up Odysseus. One of the members of the committee is so eager to go about implementing the program that he forgets about the two coffees he has on the table in front of him. They glide in an exceptionally picturesque way into the aisle of the bus, splashing around with refreshingly boiling water. The co-passenger, and probably the life partner of the committee’s voluntary activist – really doesn’t like it. She pacifies her partner with an efficiency of the riot control police squad. It seems unbelievable that you can use the terms “baby” and “fucking moron” in one sentence and in reference to one and the same person. On top of that she finishes the whole thing with a passionate kiss. As if she wasn’t already taken I’d probably propose on the spot.
Someone comes to his senses, which in this particular example mean approaching th phlegmatic driver who closes the whole topic with a few short sentences thrown to Odysseus: “That’s it buddy, You’re being racist. You need to leave the coach now” . Odysseus doesn’t even protest too much. He vanishes in the darkness of the night. Glasgow will have to wait for him.
It is only 10 minutes walk from Buchanan bus station to Glasgow Central Station, where the trains depart to Ardrossan. When I get to the station, I feel as if I made the route from London on my feet. My luggage weighs heavily, I’m sleepy, I’ve got a fever of about thirty-eight degrees centigrade. On top of that, it rains cats and dogs. I wait for another hour for the train.
When I finally arrive to Ardrossan’s marina office, all I need to do is pick up the two packages that are waiting there for me. I put all my belongings on a cart and drag it to the yacht. The interior of the boat is extremely unwelcoming at the moment. It is cluttered with sails, lifebuoys, ropes and other junk. Most of the floor panels are missing since my last visit when I disassembled them to let the bilges to dry properly. I must jump from frame to frame when I move inside the salon.
I manage to drag myself on to the nearby ASDA supermarket, where I buy a whole basket of food and a random electric kettle. I also try to buy aspirin. Shelves with medication, as well as those with rice, noodles, and of course toilet roll, are as empty as if it had been purged. The store resembles shops in the second half of eighties in Poland, which I vaguely remember from my childhood. I find a sole box of paracetamol and a bottle of some green syrup which label says All in One. I drag myself onto the yacht, lock myself in the left aft cabin, turn on the fan heater. Before I fall asleep, the boss from my London’s job calls to inform me not to come to the office on Monday under any circumstances. The company’s management made such a decision in light of the developing epidemic. Well, I was proactive for once, I did not plan on showing up on Monday anyway. When I finally drift off, it’s around 5pm.
I don’t wake up until the next day.
The following days merge into one. I am sick like a dog. I eat whatever I can get my hands on, which does not bother me too much, because I’ve got no appetite anyway. I sleep, lie down and drink tea whilst listening to the howling of the wind. I can’t cook anything, because unfortunately the gas cylinders are empty.
I am tired of some deeply embedded cough, which seems to originate at the very bottom of my lungs. I speak to one of my friends who is a doctor, and she diagnoses me over Messenger App that based on the description of the symptoms, it sounds like I have viral bronchitis. Did I have the coronavirus at the time? I do not know, although it seems possible to me. After all, I came from a city, where you travel by metro, pressed like a dried date so obviously there was a high chance of catching something.
These days UK was at the stage of ‘herd immunity’. At the time the only guidelines I found on the NHS (National Health Service) website were ‘If you have symptoms – isolate yourself’ and ‘don’t call 111 until five days after symptoms start’. Well, I do not call and treat myself with the obtained paracetamol, the green, nasty-tasting syrup and aspirin found on the yacht. Aspirin is maybe nine years out of date, but I’m convinced it does the best of all of these drugs.
Apart from the cabin, which is quite warm, the rest of the yacht is some sort of an ice – box. Outside, the wind howls moving the masts and rigging of the vessels. During the few days I spend in the bunk, it’s grey, it rains every now and then. Overall feeling quite bleak.
With bated breath I read how other countries are closing their borders and introducing increasingly stringent restrictions on incoming and outgoing traffic. I planned to offer cruises in Scotland, and later on other Western European waters, to Polish sailors. So to my ill – health adds a train of thoughts driving continuously across my brain about the success or failure of this plan.
There is no question of doing any work on the yacht. The most important thing for me now is to somehow regain strength. Only thing I manage is to put the name and home port onto the lifebuoys and to attach the flashing lights to the new life jackets.
On the fifth day, I am getting well enough to realise that I took my last shower six days earlier in London. But where and how to take a bath here? Can’t use marina facilities, I am feared of responsibility for infecting the entire town with a coronavirus.
I am calling the broker that sold me the yacht back in November. Chris, who worked for Clyde Marina at the same time. I ask him about my options. At first, he is very surprised that I am still in Ardrossan, convinced that I have already returned to London. Then himself and his colleagues come up with a plan for me. They arrange my shopping, because I’m already on the crumbs for food, and then tells me: “Take the flathead screwdriver with you. When you enter the restrooms, there is a disabled toilet on the right. You can open the lock with a screwdriver. You can use it, just try to walk around in such a way that you do not have contact with other people.”
So, I take my first shower under the cover of night, at eleven o’clock that evening.
The next morning, I get word that the British government has declared a lockdown and that the marina will be shutting down until further notice. Buses, long-distance trains and most of the planes cease to travel across the country. I am stuck on a boat standing on hard in the boatyard.