Usually they head straight for the nearest point of Europe, the Canary Islands. The press pictures are pitiful. Well, we all know that life in certain parts of Africa is pretty bloody awful and we can understand people wanting to leave it; but what is so terrible about life in Sri Lanka and southern India? I thought people from India were pretty well cultivated. Maybe it's the caste system - the untouchables. We could ask Shirley, but we won't. They travel huge distances just to get into Europe? And they die en route, the bodies put into the sea as the remnant plough onward, eyes fixed firmly on the western horizon. Many men have saved for long months to get money for their journey, working their way across Africa to board a boat in Guinea or Senegal.
One of Claudio's rods ends up in Los Cristianos. He tells us the unwritten story: "It was a bad day. We'd caught bugger all but we kept at it till late We could see the lights on Gee Cee. There was Claudio about to start his engines when Frank starts shouting. Our lights are on so no problem - so why the shouting? So we shush and listen hard. They must have seen our lights go on. We thought someone in the water maybe? a wreck still afloat? Too dark to see far. No moon, no lights except ours. Women's voices - and men's. Mother of God! Where is it coming from?
"Then Frank and I see it together. So Claudio starts up and goes for it - just a dark shape barely visible. Seemed like murder by the awful noise, howlin' like. And it wasn't women screaming - it was blokes. They were bailin' out with buckets. We didn't get too close in case they tried to board us. There were three Indian blokes on board who spoke English. Seems they'd been adrift for nine days. They'd lost count. They'd got hardly any water left and no food. Their skipper spoke French. He had a pistol and his crew were fighting to keep control, then one of his crew disappeared and somebody got shot over a bottle of water.
"So I told Claudio not to give them a line 'cos he might shoot us. But Lori had done it already and the poor sods were hauling the boats together and goin' to jump over. So we let go and got out of range pretty damn quick before they tried any tricks. And it was rainin' pretty heavy by now and Claudio was tryin' to get the coastguard on the blower but couldn't get through. So we threw some water over and stood off and watched them fightin' for it.
"I tell you, that old boat was leakin' somethin' rotten. If the sea had got up it would have sunk. We couldn't possibly have towed them, it would have been like a sardine towing a mackerel. And Claudio was worried about his fuel anyway. But we got a May Day over by Weather Net. And you know what! - it was getting' dark when we found the poor sods! It was getting' light before we left them! These Spanish police don't mess about. They were straight in there! So we buggered off."
We got to Lori later. "My Claudio good and mad. We have five rods. All pay good. And give up for these stinkin' Afros. We give all our water and put a line aboard for pull the buggers all back to Gee Cee. They got no papers. No papers is no good. Get their arses kicked and sent back to bloody Africa."
The Hardings sailing round the world in Sweetpea with a briefcase stuffed with papers all legally relevant have little to worry about. "We have been at sea for eleven months. We have plans for a market garden. The City was pretty dreadful." Summed up in three short sentences there is no more to be said.
Conversely, there's Rolf our resident Swede in his mobile home, a forty-foot Macwester, who sails round the world single-handed on nothing more than his driving licence. Never having seen a Swedish driving licence it must be a pretty impressive document! He once sailed back from La Palma with a broken mast held together with wire. Normally taciturn, this boring old dog has no sea stories, all he can talk about is his pitiful pension and the tax he has to pay. But, pushing his luck, he did once creep back to Los Gigantes with no wind to speak of and no fuel for the engine and a black sky out to sea and his pension still in the post office. He was picked up by the local diving boat and towed in, which saved his superannuated Swedish bacon.
But what can you draw from the few lines on page two about those remaining thirty-seven illegal immigrants? They wanted jobs, they wanted to send money home, the more they send home the more successful they look to their families. Instead they get sickness, starvation and death, violent killing, eventual deportation to Africa and dumb misery. You need an awfully big hole for that depth of misery.
I spoke to Dick about it. "Murder. They didn't pick up on the murder. The Skipper shot the guy who had killed the crewman for the bottle of water. It should be reported to the police."
"Did you witness the killing, flower?"
"No. I wasn't there."
"Then let somebody else report it!"
On the kerbside by the promenade there are Africans selling leather goods and wooden toy animals, some of them beautifully carved. I am a giraffe person myself. The craftsmen get that realistic twist of the neck and the spotted hide. I bought one and stood him next to the ironwood pelican we picked up in San Francisco and the china boxer dog I found at an antique shop in Wanstead, I can't remember where the bear came from, the two pot ducks from an art shop in Tissington, the bell with a shepherd on top that Lizzie got from the Pilgrims' Way in Compostela. There are other things, for memento rather than collection, for we are not collectors of toys. Yet they accumulate. They crowd the shelves and have to be moved to get to the books. But my giraffe; where are his sources? He is relatively inexpensive. I wonder how much pay the artist got for his work? The traders have French, Spanish and a crude English that I find impossible to understand. Some of the leather-goods people hide their stuff if the police are in the vicinity; hide their stuff and quietly disappear.
The boat people also quietly disappear. Out of sight and out of mind. Daily business pushes it to the rear. Then something else brought it leaping forward, for we heard from an unlikely source about the start of that last voyage. Peter had met some geophysics people at La Laguna working on coastal erosion in Senegal. Marimbata Du was towed back to port very low in the water. The police tried to get people off while repairs were made to the engine. But nobody would get off. Instead, more people got on. So they repaired the engine and pumps with the migrants still on board then she went out to sea again.
They were actually in sight of Gran Canaria when her engine met final disaster. The Canarian current was pulling them south towards the Cap Verde Islands. In darkness the screams and shouts were heard by Claudio's people who hitched a line aboard the old fishing boat and had great difficulty preventing those desperate immigrants from climbing aboard when they heaved on the line and pulled the boats closer together. It got very scary. They were warned off with anything that came to hand, hooks, spanners, paddles, for Claudio's small sports boat would have foundered with all those people on board. Claudio was worried about his fuel. He couldn't get the coastguard or the police until the weather improved and when they came they missed him in a rainy dawn.
"Why do we bother, Alan mate? Ever since the Marshall Plan put Europe back on its feet we've been pouring countless millions into Africa. And where's it all gone? I tell you, flower, into the bank accounts of tribal chiefs and officials. The peasants get fuck all! If I was younger I'd do something about it. The Charities Commission don't have the power to prosecute. But I'd prosecute the slimy buggers! And I'd hang them - in public!"
As a long term resident he was concerned about the local waters. With Pooh Corner at one end and the Costamar cesspit at the other end it was getting like a sewer.
"Who gives a shit! In the desert war ten swaddies had to share a bath before the water was changed, but that was clean compared with this lot. The only safe place to walk was along by the salt pans to Las Americas, all wild and woolly but the sea water was clean. Now this is going to disappear. We've got foundations for hotels and holiday flats. I mean, what's it going to look like when they are all standing occupied. The whole coastline will be ruined! There'll be shit everywhere! And nobody gives a shit!"
"You need to do something, Dick my duck, instead of just rabbiting on and drinking in the Black and White."
"Can't even drink here now. All this time-share rubbish comes in here for their meetings. I wouldn't have minded an allotment. But they don't have allotments here. I used to grow most of our stuff for the kitchen in the old days. And there were always lawns to cut, ivy to trim back and we had a holly hedge. Guests came out on the lawn for drinks and they would wander around the edges and chat and I would go round after and straighten the edges, then I sorted it with wooden edge boards, and then some idiot tripped over and fell into the nasturtions. I was so bloody busy in those days, never had time to think. Mind you we had good staff in the kitchen and on table. But I did the garden on my own."
"Not so good. Arthritis gets her. Maeve helps out."
He could have shared in the toil, the washing, ironing, mopped a few floors, but his poor old knobbly hands couldn't have coped. Dick had the Eighth Army and Monty and Rommel. His time. Passing time. And now all he has is recollection. Better had he stayed at home, joined the Eighth Army reunion, the British Legion.