An extract from ‘I Married a Pirate’

I Married a PirateSunday Night

Dear Philippa

I married a pirate.

Well, that’s the short explanation, but I can’t just write that. I mean, that’s exactly the situation but…

Look, he was one of my Internet men. I had dozens of them when I lived in France. It was just a late night hobby, emailing nonsense to virtual lovers all over the globe. It’s the sort of thing you do when you’re as sad and pathetic as I was.

The twins were still little then and I was cursing all men and endlessly struggling to make ends meet. Sounds a bit dire now, but that’s how it was and I wasn’t alone. The hills were alive with the sound of domestic discord. Every second mother I knew was singing the same song: I got kids, But no cash, Cos Romeo, Done buggered off and left me for his sodding secretary/personal assistant/plumber.

Between the lot of us, we could only muster about one part-time bloke. Two on a good day.

Anyway, I escaped from all this dire-ness by exchanging emails with internet men. You know the sort of thing: “Hello kevikof4637, my day was truly dreadful, how was yours?” Most of them replied “very busy at work today, out playing squash tonite”.

But PirateXXX used to ask me why my day had been so awful, and then come back with: “Don’t panic, the kids are fine, you are wonderful mother, don’t worry about roof and above all don’t answer letters from tax office. Then they don’t know if you exist or not.” (That piece of advice actually worked too.)

He said he lived on a traditional pirate’s ship – a 60-foot ketch; double-masted, iron-hulled, equipped with powerful engines as well as sails, radios, global positioning system, electronic charts, radar, computers and generators.

I tell you, Philippa, it’s a fabulous boat. There are berths and seating for a dozen people, a large galley, showers, lavatories, teak decks and railings, canvas shades rigged against the sun. He keeps her riding at anchor just off a small Caribbean island because she’s too big to sail single-handed. If he wants to go somewhere, he either takes his speedboat or gets someone to fly him.

Oh, she is beautiful, all polished teak and white sails – a real dream boat – unlike the Pirate, who is about as dreamy as a shark.

“Where’s yr man?” he demanded.

Me. Well, I’ve always been alone, apart from those few short months with… but you know, I got pregnant by accident and the minute he realised that an abortion was out of the question, he bogged off prontissimo. I haven’t seen him since, and I don’t suppose he even knows that it turned out to be twins. Charming, huh?

“The last great romantic,” remarked the Pirate. “Where you living?”

“In somebody else’s joke,” I replied sourly.

“Not a tent?”

“That would be luxury. Where do you live?”

“On the Sun,” he typed. That’s what he called his pirate ship: the Sun. His personal speedboat is called the Venus, and the rest of his fleet – various other smaller speedboats, a collection of yachts and a handful of catamarans – have matching celestial names; Mars, the Moon, etc.

He doesn’t actually fly the Jolly Roger, but believe me, he has a fine selection of dodgy flags to hoist aloft and neither his fleet nor anything else is respectably registered. Because he’s a pirate.

Oh God, Philippa. I know! It sounds crazy and no, I’ve never gone in for bodice-heaving or leaping about with a dagger between my teeth. Nor has he, actually. He doesn’t sit in crow’s nests, or slide down ropes or swing from chandeliers. He doesn’t look anything like Errol Flynn: he isn’t dashing or handsome or sexy. He doesn’t have flashing eyes or a smile that would amuse Queen Victoria, and he certainly won’t ever turn out to be the wronged son of a noble count or the dashing defender of the poor and oppressed.

He’s not that sort of pirate. He makes furious sweaty phone calls rather than swinging from the rigging. Frankly, he’s short, fat, old and irascible.

What’s more, he’s as amoral as a cat on heat. He steals, cheats and kidnaps and he only ever does what he wants. He’s never motivated by honour or duty. Duty! He doesn’t have any duties. He doesn’t pay any either. He doesn’t give a flying fish about obligations. He runs his personal empire, increases his wealth, and for the rest, unless it’s fun, he shrugs his shoulders and lets it fall overboard.

I bet you’re wondering why I fell for him, then? Oh, I don’t know. He was fun. He was carefree and optimistic and had answers for all my problems; he made me feel that life wasn’t that hard after all. In a weird way, perhaps because I’ve always lived so precariously, he represented security. At least he emailed regularly.

“What about you? Where you living? Tell me,” he ordered.

The house was in the mountains, which seemed okay when I first got there. It would. I didn’t notice the leaky roof when I bought the place. After all, I was bursting with hormones and daydreams and having been born in Paris myself, I thought it would be romantic to have my baby in France.

So I bought the house by cashing in my share of the flat in London – that was from when I was working for the record company – intending to do it up, bask in the sun, learn how to cook and occasionally teach piano in order to pay for the Ambre Solaire.

As you know, it didn’t work out like that. For one thing it rained constantly, and for another I didn’t have a baby, I had twins.

“What about yr family? Don’t they help?” he snapped.

I didn’t reply to that one. I wasn’t ready to tell him all that stuff. I mean, I hate people being sympathetic about my mother. She was killed in a road accident when I was twelve. Did I tell you that before?

Anyway, I got packed off to boarding school and at the time I thought the world had ended. I hated my mother for dying, I hated my father for sending me away and I hated everyone else just for good measure. But you know, what else was Daniel – my father – supposed to do? He’s a musician. He travels all the time so what do you expect? My mother was dead. I went to boarding school and he found someone else. Of course he did.

I know what it’s like on the road, on tour, gigging in Hamburg, playing sessions in Madrid. I know because Muma and me traveled everywhere with him until the accident. The only people I ever knew when I was growing up were other musos, opera singers, theatre people… I mean, even me, I’ve always worked in the music business one way or another and so has everyone I’ve ever known.

Perhaps that’s why when the Pirate sailed into my life and dropped anchor, he didn’t seem so outrageous to me. He wasn’t a musician, but he wasn’t from civvy street either. I felt at home with him. He made me laugh.

What was I saying? Oh yes, I hate having to explain everything to outsiders, people who can’t understand. People who tut and look shocked. You know, even when I had the twins and settled down, I was living on such a tightrope that people still used to give me pitying looks. So when the Pirate first asked me about my family, I didn’t trust him not to be sorry for me. I mean, I hardly knew him then. Anyway, I didn’t reply.

Two days later he emailed again. “What? You got no family? They all dead? I gotta dead sister. Fell down the stairs. Tell me.”

So I told him the whole boring saga and he wasn’t in the slightest bit sympathetic. “What? Ain’t you got no friends?” he complained. So I told him about Nickie.

My mate Nickie. We met just after the twins were born. Shell-shocked and exhausted on my way home from the French maternity unit, I staggered into the chemist clutching a prescription running into three pages of A4 and there she was, with a toddler screaming on her lap and a wet dog panting at her feet.

When she saw me with the two newborns stuffed into one pram and the rain streaking down my face and the fag I’d forgotten to drop on the pavement outside, she laughed. In fact, she had hysterics: wheezed and coughed, hacked away, thumping her chest, squashing her toddler and intermittently apologising.

All around us, sedate French matrons were raising their eyebrows and tucking their chins into their collars. They take babies very seriously in France. The chemist wasn’t amused either, and catching his eye suddenly I collapsed into overdue hysterics as well.

Nickie is a painter, and she’d toshed in her office job to come to France and concentrate on her art.

“Bloody hell!” said the Pirate. “Don’t you know no-one normal?”

“Well, if you think she’s mad, it’s lucky you don’t know Fiona,” I typed back. “I mean Nickie’s practically bourgeois, she’s so organised compared to Fiona.”

“Who the fuck’s she?”

Well, she was Nickie’s friend really, but she was way more outrageous than us. I mean for example, Fiona didn’t have special men, boyfriends or husbands, that sort of man. She just had Guys – a succession of mucky, sulky, black-eyed gypsies strutting about her caravan in colourful neckties with pockets full of weed. And a goat.

In fact, I think she’s still got the goat. No, don’t laugh, Philippa. I’m not joking, she had a pet goat. A stinky mottled creature with broken horns and mad eyes. It ranged around head-butting old ladies in the daytime, but it slept in the caravan at night. Probably even slept in her bed. No, not shagging her! Just farting and trampling and eating the sheets. That sort of goaty type thing that goats do. You know? No, no. I know. You haven’t ever shared a caravan with a goat.

Anyway, so there we were, the three of us, all English, all stranded in southern France. Me, Nickie, and Fiona; all of us with kids, none of us with two centimes to rub together and only Fiona with some sort of male to call her own, even if she did call him Billy.

“Jesus Christ,” swore the Pirate. “Fucking crazy Englishwomen…”

Although I think Nickie was still married then. Not to the father of her kids, to some sex-crazed hunk she met years before and never quite got round to divorcing. Or had he divorced her by then and simply forgotten to let her know? Can’t remember. Anyway, she was sort of married. Not that it did her much good.

Not that anything would have done us any good at that point. You have to remember, we were hormonally challenged and deeply disappointed women. To us, men were just fathers who didn’t pay maintenance, hopeless cases who turned up demanding food and alcohol, dickheads who could empty a bank account faster than a bar, and drank whiskey with all meals including breakfast… yep, all in all just Standard Issue Class A Bastards.

All except the Pirate. He wasn’t a bastard. In fact, he quickly became my best friend. Apart from Nickie, of course. I could rely on him to laugh at the same things as me and he sent silly cartoons and jokes. He saw the funny side of life, however black it got.

Because apart from poverty and parenthood, we did have comedy. We had lots of that. Addictive, bitter-sweet comedy, as soft and black as the night. Like when Nickie cut her chin open splitting logs and couldn’t go to the clinic because she didn’t have the cash.

Me and Fiona had gone over to help cut last year’s Christmas cards into new ones, and there she was, rain-soaked and red-faced, with blood pouring from the gash on her chin and the dog going potty trying to lick it off her t-shirt, and Fiona accused her of trying to dye her clothes on the cheap.

For a split second I thought Fiona’s life was worthless, but then Nickie choked and we all cracked up. Again.

We stumbled indoors and Fiona cobbled a sweetcorn omelette together for the collective kids present while Nickie found cotton wool, bathed her chin and realised she needed stitches. Needless to say none of us had health insurance, so in the end Nickie got her chin sewn up with rough blue string by the vet.

He owed her a favour because she’d taken a litter of kittens off his hands in the summer, but he was afraid someone might see through the kitchen window so having given Nickie a whole handful of useless canine painkillers he did it really quickly, leaving her literally in stitches but trying not to laugh because it hurt too much.

Between hoots she begged me and Fiona to shut up, but we couldn’t stop because we were both in the same boat. We all had string in our chins one way or another, and that was about all we did have. None of us had a bean. Blimey, we didn’t even have purses, we were so broke.

About a week later when she had to get the stitches out, Nickie went off to find the vet again. Obviously she daren’t go to anyone else. But the vet had taken fright and wouldn’t have anything to do with it so she had to take the stitches out herself. She says she couldn’t keep her hands steady for laughing because it was all so awful. Which is why she still has faint blue lines under her skin: she didn’t get all the string out.

So after that if anyone started moaning, we used to chorus “and I’ve still got string in my chin”. But mostly we only moaned from laughing too much.

Apart from anything else, we loved being in France. We were addicted to it, to the beauty of the mountains, the poetry of the ancient villages, the rhythm of traditional village life, the warmth of the sun, the colour of the sky.

We were living our dreams.

But I digress. That was my life, and that was why I had the internet men. I mean apart from the poverty I was too busy with the kids to bother with a real man – even if there’d been one on the horizon, which there wasn’t. So I used to flirt with and fantasise about a bunch of unknown strangers. At least that way I wouldn’t get pregnant again or find myself facing an irate Frenchwoman wielding a ham-knife. Internet men were a safe bet. In Cyberland, even the Pirate seemed safe.

But gradually the other internet men fell by the wayside. They were boring compared to him. I got into the habit of emailing him constantly; to pass on the gossip, bitch about the neighbours, complain about the kids, gloat over my small successes, and drone on about the washing machine packing up, and the house being so glacial all winter.

And he used to come back with all sorts of advice on how to chop wood without amputating your chin, how to mend an oven door with a tin opener, and what to say to morons who asked if I liked being on holiday all the time. He also offered to shoot people I didn’t like and it wasn’t long before he offered to send me tickets so I could visit him in the Caribbean. He emailed every day. Sometimes twice a day.

“Come here and let me look after you. I send tickets.”

He said he’d lived in the Caribbean for twenty-five years and had a business there – something to do with yachts and T-shirts. And he claimed to have pots and pots of the folding stuff and swore that he wanted nothing better then to squander it on me. Because I am blonde of course. And thin. He saw that from the photo I sent him.

When he got it, he instantly emailed: “You are too thin. You need me to look after you, come and live on my ship with me. I love you.”

I emailed back immediately: “Cut the crappy lurve-stuff. You’ve never even met me.”

So he sent me pictures of his Caribbean island and his boat, and the beaches, and asked yet again if I would go and see him – just for a holiday, no strings attached. I mailed back and said no, I couldn’t possibly drag my kids halfway across the globe and anyway I haven’t got the money and he declared that money was nothing more than a psychological phenomenon.

“If you wanted money, you’d have it,” he said. “Think about that.”

Well, I suppose he was right. I didn’t earn much because I refused to work during the twins’ school holidays, which meant I was constantly scrubbing about teaching piano to the local kids instead of getting a proper full-time job at the sweet factory like all the other mothers.

I didn’t really want to discuss that though, so I told him about the French countryside and what it was like to find a bolt-hole from the rat race, and he said he’d done the same thing when he ran away to sea and washed up in the Caribbean.

You see, Philippa! That’s what I fell for. He just understood. He never said stuff like “Oh, aren’t you brave? or “I don’t know how you cope,” or “Don’t you ever get bored living out there on your own?”

He told me tall tales about his life and his adventures at sea and sometimes he’d just write nonsense to cheer me up.

“Darling woman, let me take you in my arms, let me smooth away all your cares… my day was boring too, I had to shoot a robber off the deck of my ship, but now I take you in my arms and together we enter paradise.”

His emails warmed and cheered me. He was encouraging and positive, and he made me laugh. He was my refuge. I used to log on every night after the kids were in bed knowing there’d be at least one email waiting for me, knowing that he would offer proper advice and if all else failed, offer to shoot all the Standard Issue Class A Bastards in my life.

He sent jokes, flirted outrageously and incessantly begged me on virtual bended knee to visit him.

“Stop wasting your time with those fuckers and come here. I promise to make you happy,” he said. “No strings attached. Just come, I am rich man, I send you ticket.”

So in the end I closed up the house in France and caught the bus…

© Samantha David 2007