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Capraia Diary: Mike Leahy

Sunday 19th September

Because of the weekend bus timetable I arrived at Gatwick [Airport] a little early, and chilled out by reading Ted Simon's book 'Jupiter's Travels' which told of a man’s journey around the world on an old Triumph. I had enjoyed an exciting summer, following the previous ‘Rough Science’ trip to Capraia, and had spent a few weeks in Malaysia, Australia and Papua New Guinea travelling and visiting old friends. I made no secret of my distaste for my rather tedious life back in the UK, and needless to say, I was over the moon to be back with my castaway mates, and heading out to the beautiful island of Capraia.

After a while I wandered over to the pre-arranged meeting place at the Whistlestop shop, the same one as before. This time passers by were looking at me with fascination. It was probably because I had already taken on the aura of a film star, I thought, certain that it had nothing to do with the two six-foot lumps of wood that I was carting around with me. Paul was already there, guarding the luggage, and the rest of the team were scattered around the different shops and coffee bars in the Arrivals area.

The flight to Pisa was fine. I was impatient, and eager to get back to Italy. I knew that I would have no worries there. My food was supplied, my bed made, and the washing up looked after. All I had to do was run around, playing like a child in front of the cameras, without any concerns about money, credit cards, relationships, mowing the lawn, putting the dustbins out or bosses. I was looking forward to another stress-free time spent with good mates.

Again we took a bus from Pisa to Livorno, and again I balked at the aroma of the oil refineries, and began to wheeze as I inhaled the polluted air. Even so, I was very happy to be there. We stayed at the same waterfront hotel, and exchanged stories about our summers over a hearty dinner.

Monday 20th September

I woke up with a terrible hangover to the sound of thunder from a nearby storm. Where the mini-bar was meant to reside there was a hole under the table, and the water I had been ensured would be in my room wasn't. This certainly didn't help my hangover. I didn't want to eat any breakfast, but forced myself anyway, followed by several stiff coffees.

Anna hadn't slept very well because of the noise, and was one of the last to breakfast, still feeling stressed because of a fraught trip to the airport. Even so she was happy enough, and the whole team looked a damned sight healthier than I felt. We prepared to make a run for the ferry. It was now p*ssing with rain and all did not look good. I unfolded my old German army issue poncho, and Mike, Angie, Vanessa and myself took refuge under it as we made our way to the ferry. It didn't stop us getting wet, but helped a little. Once on the ship, I made my way to the lounge, still feeling very rough, and made the ultimate mistake of reading (a bike magazine). The waves outside began to get rougher, the swell built up, and the ferry pitched more and more violently. Eventually I gave up. If I had carried on reading I was bound to be sick, so I decided to go outside. It was still raining, and the ship was rolling and pitching like a pissed brontosaurus. I tried to focus on the horizon, which was hard, because it was barely visible, and concentrated on keeping my breakfast down. This was not the time for a hangover. The others were doing a better job, although the determined looks on Derek and Paul's faces showed that it wasn't so easy, especially when Mike accidentally put his hand in some thoughtlessly placed vomit.

We finally arrived at Capraia after over two and a half hours or torture, and Anna in particular was looking really green. Seeing the state of us, and knowing how he felt himself Paul gave us all the afternoon off. I did not drink any beer or wine that night.

Tuesday 21st September

the briefingAs I had previously asked Paul to give me the opportunity to show that I was a biologist as well being good at digging, sawing and banging, he put me under the charge of Anna for a couple of days, collecting plants with which to make dye for a flag. "Well I suppose it will be OK" I thought, still feeling a little rough.

me and Anna collecting plantsWe set off up a track which led to an old village, or at the least the site of an old village. The area had been inhabited up until a thousand years ago, illustrating the extremely long period over which the island had been occupied. Thunder still rumbled in the air, and I made the mistake of telling lightning-death stories, which pissed Anna off big time.

Anna collecting plantsAs per usual everything I said was wrong, and either Anna couldn't understand what I said, or took offence. Worse still, she was now really worried about being mutilated by a lightning strike, and I was definitely out of favour. In the meantime, I couldn't see the science in making a flag, or the dye, and even if it was biology I was sick of it already — bloody daft idea.

We collected vine leaves, roots, acorns and old pinecones, while Anna constantly reminded me how wonderful plants were. Fair enough, I thought, plants are pretty cool, but using this load of crap as a dye is stupid, unless you don't mind the flag being a dirty-brown colour.

preparing the plants

My pessimism was not welcome — so I played on it- and escaped certain death twice when Anna ran after me! Eventually we returned to the prison building. I was happy to dig, saw and bang from now on, but had two more day's dye making to contend with.