I’m going to start at the beginning with this blog and I warn you it might be a bit long. But you won’t understand if I don’t give ya the back story.
I grew up in Devon but didn’t go to school as they couldn’t really handle the madness, they tried to class me as ADHD and me and my parents weren’t having any of it.
When I was old enough to start stealing my sisters ID I hit the pub scene. I was shocked. Coz I spent my childhood mostly naked and bare footed climbing in trees n building dams I’d never really experienced the social barriers between classes.
I started working as soon as I could find anyone that would take me. Then I started drinking. Being a fidgety friendly mother fucker I would go n sit next to anyone in a bar n strike up a conversation. This didn’t go down too well with the ever rotating upper middle classes that went to the university and dominated the pub scene. People would ask what I was studying and I’d reply with “I’m just working in retail at the moment, not really figured out what I’m doing with myself yet”. These students would actually look me up n down, pick up their fancy wine and walk away to a more prosperous table. This was a bit of a kick in the face for me, I’d never really thought I was “poor” I’d always been so happy and as I a child I had always associated poverty with misery and that was something I’d never felt so it hadn’t occurred to me that I was poor or “below” anyone else. One girl tried to start a fight with me because I was “too scruffy” to have been in “their” night club, it was about 2am in the kebab shop next door and I’d had enough so I didn’t say a word, turned round, whacked her in the face n broke her nose. I spent the next hour hiding in a doorway waiting for my dad to come get me, he took me home, looked at my bloody knuckles and said “next time use the palm of ya hand”. It didn’t help, I was just angrier coz now I had a sore hand too, needless to say that was the first n last time I ever hit anyone. Stuff like this and worse happened over and over again and I developed a hatred for wealthy people and it stuck with me for a long time. That is until I got sick of it all, dismantled my caravan, scrapped it for a few hundred quid and moved to Essex.
I’d spent the past few years drinking and building up a network of people in Essex, whilst crashing on my Uncles sofa. I heard about the boat building apprenticeship and thought fuck it…why the hell not, it’s either that or selling pens for the rest of my life. So off I went. Little did I know I wouldn’t just be learning how to build boats there.
I hated two things when I moved to Essex, rich people and people with dreadlocks. People with dreadlocks in Devon, generally speaking, have a £50,000 VW Camper Van, bought their jeans pre ripped, have absolutely no understanding of what a hippy is and would certainly never speak to a real life one.
Oh how different this place was. I hate to think what people thought of me when I first moved there, I was so judgemental and had no idea the rest of the world wasn’t as bloody horrible as Devon was to me. I met bricklayers with dreadlocks and 5 VW Beetles. I met a man who builds label making machines and is probably a millionaire and if he isn’t he should be. I met dreadlocked people who were honest, kind, hard working people. Not one of them were riding off of an inheritance or mummy n daddies wallet. I never met a bad person there. Rich or poor. They were and still are the kindest most diverse bunch of folks I’ve ever met.
Then I moved to Surrey to do some REAL boatbuilding. Although I’d come to realise that not all rich people were bad I still had a lot to learn. Most of the folks in Essex were self-made trades men and the thought of millionaires spending hundreds of thousands on their super yacht toys still made me feel a bit
sick. However, within a month of working at Dennetts I was helping to restore a Dunkirk Little Ship for just that kind of bloke, within 12 months of working at Dennetts we were re-varnishing and re-engining super yacht tenders for the 3rd wealthiest man in Australia who said we were the best English tradesmen he had ever dealt with, on time and on budget. In between big jobs like this I met people I thought I would never meet. It all seemed normal to everyone else but it was 1000 miles from my norm. Swanky folks with buckets of money wonder through the yard and take on little projects here n there. They drink with us on Fridays and they sit down for Christmas dinner with us too and you know what…despite the occasional air of arrogance they are all nice as pie.
They all seem to take a bit of a liking to me, I think I’m a bit of a curiosity to them, the grubby little girl under all the giant boats doing all their expensive work. I’m a novelty. Just this afternoon I got taken out to lunch by the leading pioneer of neuro science (I think that’s what its called…brain surgery stuff) and a few of his cronies as a thankyou for re-building their boat. On the way there in the back of this dudes Roles Royse the man next to me says “isn’t this wonderful, I wonder what the poor people are doing?” I so very nearly piped up with “well there’s one sat in the back of ya car mate” but I resisted and did so throughout the whole lunch. I learnt that the man that owns Pegotty (the boat I’m restoring) is a farmer and I thought oooo great, a regular person…then I learnt that the tractors on his farms have automatic GPS driving systems. ROBOT FUCKING TRACTORS! Why did nobody tell me they existed! Then just before they brought my lunch out the waitress came over and asked “who ordered the gammon” I sat there n said nothing n then someone piped up with “that was Abbey, she will have the gammon knife”. I ordered ham egg n chips and had no idea what on earth gammon was!!! Although it was only lunch and it was a bit pretentious, I enjoyed myself, the rich are great and aside from the other stuff they are an endless source of amusement.
The biggest realisation for me wasn’t that rich people can be nice. Bear with me on this one because the other day I mentioned this in a pub and got accused of sounding like a conservative, which is far from my intention. The biggest revelation was that to these people boats may just be a hobby, a tax write off or a fancy gesture but for me it’s my livelihood, a dying trade that would otherwise be dead and gone, a slice of history that would have been chopped up and sold as firewood, regular folks get to see them pass through locks and enjoy them on the river once again. These rich folk make all this happen and without them I would still be selling pens, getting scoffed at by bratty students and living in a caravan without a lot of purpose in my life. So it’s great that in real life their actually pretty friendly but from a wider point of view I’m really fucking chuffed they’ve got enough money to throw at wooden boats to keep the trade, the history, the boats and me alive and kicking.
Enjoy the pictures of some our more fancy jobs, they are pretty as fuck!
P.S We really wanna build some of these venetian tenders, the Italians are awful to deal with apparently (another quote from the lunch “the Italians don’t deserve Venice”…for the record I don’t agree with this but it did make me chuckle, casual racism on a Wednesday. Nice) so if there is any folks out there with enough pennies then were the yard for you!