This is an angle that is very rarely talked about but I thought it was something that folks may find interesting: The reintegration into society! It sounds strange but we have lived a very intense and unusual life for 5 weeks. There are some strange things that you notice when you get back onto land.
The first is almost immediate, the lack of movement. Even in port the vessel is always moving. That 1st step onto land, a stable surface, is very strange. It feels unnervingly still, you don’t quite trust it. The movement now seems internal. You will find yourself swaying slightly. I feel it most when I am sitting still. The strange thing is that those who were on the boat with you will likely be swaying in time with you. We are all strangely harmonised. When this is very extreme you can even start to feel land sick!
The next thing that you notice is your inability to handle crowds. Suddenly there are people everywhere…..and they are strangers! For so long you have known everyone you meet, they politely greet you, hold the door for you or you both instinctively known what side to step to. Suddenly there are people everywhere and you don’t seem able to get out of their way without getting in someone else’s. This also extends to navigating traffic; I’m terrible at getting over the road when I am fresh off a boat.
It’s such a treat to walk in one direction for more than a few meters. I will often get the urge to walk anywhere just for the sense of freedom. When we came into port this time we were about 40min walk from the town centre. Although it was dark and raining I walked the whole way for the sense of freedom (others would have you believe that I got lost in the port but my story sounds better).
The next thing you notice are smells. Salty air really masks smells and even then those on a boat are quite limited; diesel and grease, that day’s dinner and the fishy smell of samples. Suddenly there are smells everywhere.
I’m also aware that I have been conditioned. As much as it may offend my sense of free will, I have become Pavlov’s dog. I am suddenly hungry at the times the meals were on the boat. I and others have also confessed to waking up at 4am ready for an ROV shift. I was once staying in a hotel that had a fire alarm in the middle of the night. When I awoke fully I was standing in front of the wardrobe having pulled everything out looking for my life jacket. I am clearly so well trained, it’s not even conscious!
On returning home you better hope that you took out all of the bins and cleaned the fridge. Oh, and your plant’s dead. You won’t recognise any of the songs on the radio. You won’t follow any of the recent gossip and thankfully you are totally unaware of X-Factor or Big Brother. You will however, have to grovel to sulking pets.
It is now time for the most expensive shopping trip of the year. All your favourite foods in unrealistic quantities! There just don’t seem enough meals in the day to have everything you have missed quickly enough.
At first you love your freedom. You finally have private space and peace but this can be a double edged sword. The boat is full of noise and life. There was always someone awake, you could always find a friend to chat with. Now you are finally alone and it’s so very quiet. This is something you were so looking forward to but now you feel slightly anxious, lonely.
For so long you have been living incredibly closely with a diverse mix of interesting people. It’s only natural to miss your adopted family. But things come full circle. I started this blog by talking about how small this world is, how you will see the same people time and time again all over the world. I will see a lot of them at the end of the month for the CoralFISH conference but I know my path will cross those of the others time and time again. I don’t know when it will be, but I will see everyone again. I can’t wait……