Transatlantic Gardening

Are there no more great adventures to be had? Are there no more daring risks to be taken, or hazardous journeys on which to embark? It wasn't all that long ago when men of character and breeding would strike out into the unknown at the drop of a hat, equipped with little more than a pair of sturdy boots and a pipe full of tobacco. Undeterred by danger, their only bastion against inclement weather would be a tartan blanket, and their only preparation for survival in treacherous and unknown country would be to take some sandwiches.

After all, when it came down to it, what more would a gentleman of courage have needed than his wits and a certain firmness of character? A man like that would have thought nothing of facing the direst of perils, for he knew that when encountering a monster with bright red eyes, flesh-encrusted claws and a gobful of sharp teeth, a firm voice and an unflinching manner would soon have the fearsome beast purring like a kitten and nuzzling against his shin.

But these days there is no more wilderness to explore or territory to chart. There are no more dark corners of the world to be illuminated. Where once ancient mapmakers would have inscribed the legend 'Here be Dragons', their modern counterparts are happily detailing the many public amenities and gift shops within easy reach of the hotel. There is nowhere in the world where you can't buy a Big Mac, watch CNN or hail a cab.

So does this mean that there are no more adventurers left? No, no it does not...

Thankfully, the world hasn't quite run out of challenges yet and there are still those who are prepared to meet them. Just such a man is Ray Powell of Plymouth. When a friend and colleague bet him that he couldn't sail across the Atlantic Ocean in his own garden, Ray took him up on the wager.

Ray was no stranger to the sea. Oh no. At the age of six he had won a goldfish at a local fair and by the time he was seventeen he had seen The Poseidon Adventure over a dozen times, so he was certainly no novice when it came to nautical matters. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side he went to seek advice from his old Uncle Gerry. Old Uncle Gerry, a seafaring man himself, had earned the distinction of being the first person to hitchhike across the Pacific, and was infamous for being the only man in history to have emerged victorious from a hand-to-hand battle with a tin of tuna. Unfortunately, old Uncle Gerry was dead, and consequently proved to be of little help

Ray, however, was undaunted. Living in a naval town he figured that he couldn't help but be a natural sailor. After all, he had certainly hung out with enough of them. The sea must be in his blood, in his fibre, in his very marrow, and he had long suspected that this was the cause of his arthritis. He bought himself an atlas and after studying it for several hours he managed to locate the page displaying the North Atlantic. Hurrah! He had a little drink to celebrate and then got on with plotting his course - and was immediately encouraged when he saw that the route was relatively short and more or less straight all the way across. He got a pencil and a ruler and carefully drew a line across the page. This navigation lark was a piece of piss.

Ray's next consideration was the matter of supplies. In days of old, sailors had survived long voyages on hard tack, salted meat and recycled water. Thankfully, since those difficult times some bright spark had had the foresight to invent crisps and pop, so Ray was able to ensure he had a plentiful store of Cheesy Wotsits and Tizer. Then, after making one last stop to pick up a packet of mint imperials and a book of wordsearch puzzles for the journey, he was finally ready to cast off.

It's not often that people get the opportunity to watch a back garden easing slowly out of Plymouth harbour and striking out towards open sea. And, whilst it's not the most impressive of sights, it has to be said that it is one of the most unusual, and consequentially quite a crowd had gathered to see him off. Sat at the helm in a ragged deckchair, Ray waved graciously to his well wishers as the breeze billowed in the duvet cover that he had strung from the washing line to form his makeshift sail. Slowly, as dry land became ever more distant behind him, their cheers and shouts of encouragement faded from his ears and Ray was finally on his own. Peace at last. He pulled a portable radio from beneath his chair, tuned it in to the cricket and then settled back and went to sleep.

And so passed the first few days. Ray was content to lie back in the sun as the wind filled his sail and carried him onwards. Oh, this was the life! He began to fancy that he was descended from some great mariner, maybe a buccaneer even. He certainly seemed to be perfectly home out here upon the ocean. That was until conditions took a turn for the worse. His problems began when a sudden downpour lashed the ocean into a broiling soup, beat down upon his flower borders and washed most of his bedding plants into the brine. But worse was to come when he was caught in the path of a hurricane, which wrecked his mainsail and carried off most of his patio furniture. Finally, a tidal wave almost capsized the garden completely and left it in a very bad shape.

Once the storm had passed and Ray's garden lay battered and becalmed, drying out in the feeble North Atlantic sunshine, Ray was able to finally assess the true extent of the damage. It didn't look good. Many of the gnomes were totally beyond repair, the gravel path had been all but washed away, and there was a fresh infestation of greenfly on his roses. To make matters worse, his garden had sprung a leak and he was taking on water fast. This, at least, he could do something about. Displaying the kind of imagination and initiative that had made heroes out of previous pioneers, Ray gathered together half a dozen stone slabs and arranged them artistically around the hole to create a water feature.

This done he made careful examination of his sail, but found it irreparable, so he tried to improvise by using a garden fork and a spade as makeshift oars. The idea was only moderately successful. Whilst the spade seemed up to the job, for some reason the fork proved completely ineffectual and Ray ended up paddling around in circles for the next day and a half. He finally concluded that garden tools were not the answer. Instead he turned his hand to weaving a new mainsail out of dandelions, which - perhaps surprisingly - turned out to be markedly more efficient.

At this point, Ray was still optimistic about his chances of success. He had endured a number of serious setbacks, but he had made the best of the situation and pulled through. Surely he had been through the worst of it now? But then, just four days after encountering the hurricane, fate was to strike him a further blow. It was early one morning. He had passed a restless night, but continued to doze fitfully in his deck chair. The sky was clear, the sun was just rising, sending its pale yellow beams skipping across the glassy surface of the ocean. Everything was quiet. Then suddenly he was woken by much shouting and cheering. A sickening shudder shook his little garden and Ray leapt to his feet to see a mammoth galleon draw alongside.

Pirates! They came streaming down ropes in their droves, cutlasses clamped between their teeth as two, maybe three dozen of them invaded his tiny plot of land. Snarling, leering and singing jaunty songs about rum and parrots and treasure, they lurched and careered all over his garden, revelling, carousing, and shivering whatever timbers they could get their hands on. They broke flowerpots, smashed his greenhouse, pissed in his fishpond and buggered his bird table. Then, after about five minutes of debauchery and intemperance, they evidently decided that they'd had enough, got back in their boat and sailed off.

Feeling more than a little stunned, Ray surveyed the fresh devastation left in the wake of this second catastrophe. Shrugging to himself, he set about clearing up the mess, collecting up the empty rum bottles, shovelling up the piles of vomit and trying to extricate chocolate gateau from the patio heater. Then, to his horror, he realised that the pirates had carried off his garden shed, complete with his supply of crisps and pop! He was finished...

For a while he just drifted. With his supplies gone he was forced to forage amongst his flowerbeds for worms and beetles, but the sustenance these provided was negligible. He found himself slipping deeper into malnutrition, and as each day went by so his energy faded and his will to carry on ebbed away. Then, probably about a week later, he received a strange visitation.

Sprawled upon the ground, his throat burning with thirst, his stomach racked with pangs of hunger, he felt a draught upon the nape of his neck. Looking up, his hazy, sun-bleached vision perceived the outline of a strange bird standing before him. It was like a seagull, only larger. As big as an albatross, but with brightly coloured plumage like a parrot, and a hooked beak like a hawk. It was similar to a vulture in some respects, but with the shrewd, intelligent-looking eyes of a penguin and the brightly patterned waistcoat of a children's entertainer.

It held something in its beak which it let fall to the ground with a wet slap. Ray snatched up the object eagerly, and ravenously sank his teeth into it. It turned out to be a fresh cod, which was just as well, since if it had been a limpet mine it would have blown his fillings out. That fish restored a little of Ray's vitality. No doubt about it, that curious visitor had saved his life.

The bird returned on subsequent days, each time bringing Ray a gift: sometimes cod, sometimes tuna, skate or haddock. Two weeks after its first appearance, the bird brought him a freshwater salmon, which Ray took as an encouraging sign that he was nearing land. Then it began to get more adventurous and started to bring him rashers of bacon, chocolate chip cookies and cheese. But the bird didn't just provide food - it brought him beer and fags as well.

It also provided company. Ray would spend hours talking to the strange bird, pouring out his life story, his hopes, his aspirations and his fears. The bird listened patiently, never interrupting, never displaying even the slightest sign of boredom. Ray began to wonder whether it was real. Perhaps it was just a delusion; a product of his own fevered imagination? But then, if that was the case, where did all the jam doughnuts come from?

Then, on the day of the bird's final visit, it turned up in a top hat and brought along a kebab and a bag of nuts. And it was on this day that it finally spoke to him. It told Ray that his journey was almost at an end; that he should turn right at the next squid he came to and then he would soon be in sight of land. When Ray implored the bird to stay with him so that they could enjoy victory together, the bird shook its beak and told him that he could not; that he had to return whence he came; namely, to the office of an insurance company in Florida, where it was head of marketing. And then, just as abruptly as it had arrived, it was gone.

Ray followed the bird's instructions, turning right at the next squid and then sailing on. He wondered where the bird had really come from. Had it been a messenger from heaven? Perhaps it was his guardian angel in earthly form? Or maybe it really did work in the financial sector - who knew? One thing was certain, its advice was correct and very soon Ray met a man travelling in the opposite direction on a rockery, who told him that he was only half a day's sailing out of Boston.

Tired, exhausted, wearied and tired again, Ray Powell finally landed in America just four months after he had set out from home. He was greeted by a tumultuous surge of indifference from the millions of disinterested bystanders who had no idea that he was coming. But that didn't matter. He had become the first man to cross the Atlantic overland. What's more, he had risen to the challenge, he had defeated the obstacles, he had shown courage in the face of adversity, perseverance in the face of ruin, he had proved his point, won his bet and pocketed twenty quid.

He flew back to England by restaurant, but this trip proved to be uneventful.

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