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Birvidik
Happy days are here again.....
16/032013

Well, it seems that my attempted foray into a wryly humorous analysis of the absurdity of the human condition did not meet with unqualified success. Many of our loyal fan-base now appear seriously concerned about my mental well-being and fear that I have taken up residence in the Slough of Despond. Comments have ranged from the terse, but admirably succinct 'Dismal' through 'Over-heavy on the home-spun philosophy' to the somewhat pointed communication that merely gave the contact details of the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

Funny that. I thought I was just taking the piss.

Especially out of philosophy, both home-spun and otherwise

Full marks, though, to Mr. Kevin Saint of Walthamstow E4 who recognised the sub-Swiftian intent and replied in kind. He wins a weekend on the stump with Boris Johnson.

No, in the bustling social whirl that is overwintering, Mr & Mrs Yottie have no time for luxuries such as philosophy, melancholy, analytical thought or even drawing breath. Indeed, such is the dramatic contrast between the cruising season and overwintering that it causes yotties to exhibit a pronounced seasonal dimorphism and, moreover, one that is diametrically opposed to that to which they were accustomed before they began the cruising life. In those bygone days you put on weight in the winter and lost it in the summer.

For the cruising yottie, the summer is just too hot to do anything. Most of the day is spent lolling around like a dead fish in whatever shade isn't already occupied by the cat. If you're not lying around enervated by the heat then you're confined to the boat for days on end while you ride out a blow at anchor. As a result, over the course of the season the cruising yottie develops a physique reminiscent of a cross between a shar pei and Roy Hattersley as painted by Lucien Freud.

The winter, however, wreaks a very different metamorphosis. Exercise rates increase by a factor of ten or more and we are transformed into lithe, muscular heptathletes. For a start, the facilities block is halfway to the marina entrance, so it's a three hundred metre round trip every time you want a shower or a dump. That soon adds up.

Which leads me, somewhat circuitously, to the dubious point of today's update. What is it about the cruising life that means that we will happily spend six months of the year putting up with having to trog 300 metres through the wind and rain every time we want a shower or a dump, but by the same token wouldn't even consider looking at a hotel room if it didn't have en suite facilities?

From beer to absurdity
05/022013

Thomas Carlyle was wrong.

He described economics as 'The Dismal Science', but he was way off the mark. Mind you, we shouldn't take him too seriously in the first place as the term first appeared in an 1849 article entitled 'An Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question'. This was essentially an argument for the reintroduction of slavery as a means of regulating the labour market in the West Indies - sort of a George Osborne of his day. Way ahead of his time.

His fundamental error though wasn't his politics; it was that he chose the wrong science. Economics is a ray of sunshine observed through rose-tinted spectacles by a pathological optimist compared with the truly dismal science which is Thermo-bloody-dynamics.

According to Arnold Sommerfeld "Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don't understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you realise that you don't actually understand any of it, but by that time you are so used to it, that it doesn't bother you any more."

Well it bothers the shit out of me.

It's the second law that does it. This is a fiendishly subtle and intellectually taxing concept but, in essence, it boils down to this: Everything turns to shit in the end.

Life as a phenomenon makes a valiant effort at thwarting the second law, but it's only a holding action. Life has been described as nature's solution to the problem of preserving information despite the second law of thermodynamics.

Solution my arse.

The second law will win in the end. It has an ace up its sleeve. "O.K. Mrs Clever-Knickers Life, try this for size: The Heat Death of the Universe - try trumping that with your tricksy DNA with its oh so clever double helix and its cute little matching base pairs. Gotcha!"

What, you may well ask, has triggered this cheerful little discourse? Well I'll tell you. It's the wonders of modern communications. Email and the bloody internet. And time, of course. It seems that every third email I've received recently has told me that someone I know has died or, at the very least, suffered some major and life-threatening trauma or medical emergency. Welcome to the stage of life where The Lord stoppeth all the giving bit and starteth moving more into taking away mode.

Historically I've dealt with this existential crisis by the psychological equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting 'La La La La La' at the top of my voice. This can be supplemented by drink or drugs, which are effectively the same thing only chemically induced. It's difficult to keep up this level of denial though when you are constantly reminded of your ultimate fate by relentless news updates detailing the untimely demises of your contemporaries.

So will everybody just stop dying and falling apart. I'm all too aware of my own mortality thankyou very much without being constantly bloody reminded of it.

However, having been so pitilessly and remorselessly reminded, I have to find some way of dealing with it. I could turn to religion I suppose. In fact I gave it a quick go last Tuesday, but I couldn't stop giggling. "Ah, but" the devout have said to me "what will you say if you wake up and find yourself stood in front of the Pearly Gates with St. Peter leafing through a list of your sarcastic comments on religion?" I imagine my response would be something along the lines of "Whoops!", or "Oh Bugger" or possibly "Can I have another go?" or, as a last resort, shouting "Oooh look! Isn't that Richard Dawkins trying to sneak in over there?" and trying to nip in the back way during the general panic.

So, having ruled out all forms of theism and/or flaky mysticism, from Advaita Hinduism through Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Taoism and Shinto to Zoroastrianism and all points in between, what was I left with? What could make bearable sense of a universe so ultimately futile that it makes Leonard Cohen look and sound like George Formby luvved up on Es?

I haven't had a lot on recently so I had a quick flip through some of the major philosophies.

The ancient Greeks didn't cut the mustard at all I'm afraid, although Cyrenaicism quite appealed. I suspect this might have had something to do with its emphasis on a hedonistic world view, wherein bodily gratification is more intense than mental pleasure. Cyrenaics prefered immediate gratification to the long-term gain of delayed gratification; denial was classed as unpleasant unhappiness. I can see their point, but when reduced to syllogistic form it just didn't hold water.

Adam Smith's endorsement ruled out classical liberalism, while Kant, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche and Heidegger were just impenetrable and way too far up their own arses. Anyway, Nietzche's moustache lost him what little credibility he might have had to start with. I suspect such ludicrous facial hair is mainly adopted by men with huge egos and tiny penises. Sartre was just annoyingly French but even he couldn't hold a candle to Derrida in this respect so that ruled out both existentialism and post modernism.

East Asian philosophy in all its forms merely sounded like a particularly smug and deliberately obscure monologue from an early episode of Kung Fu. "So you see, Grasshopper, be guided by the flight of the stork, for life resonates to the sound of one cheek farting". Related to this were the kind of twee comments that you see on posters in shops that sell 'inspirational' books by snake oil salesmen with names like Chakra T. Gimlet or L. Ron Cobblers. You know, cod profundities like "The meaning of life is to give meaning to life." This crap was rejected on the grounds that it was (a) trite (b) a circular argument and (c) just bloody annoying.

In the end it came down to a short list of Absurdism, promoted by Albert Camus (despite his being French), and the admirably succinct '42' courtesy of Douglas Adams.

I was leaning towards the latter (mainly on the grounds of Occam's Razor - it made about as much sense as the rest and had the added benefit of being considerably shorter) when I luckily stumbled upon Bertrand Russell. His words enabled me to employ my favourite technique when confronted with a difficult decision: Carry on doing what I've always been doing and justify it post hoc.

Russell said that there is little point in worrying about something over which we have no control. One cannot avoid death, for example, but one can avoid dying intestate. Therefore make a will and then ignore the whole business and enjoy what's left of life.


Altogether now: "La La La La La La La La - mine's a large scotch".

Going Dutch
14/092012

We were heading for Fiskardo for the first time in four years. We like Fiskardo. OK, it's very touristy and expensive, but the pontoon is free and you can get water and electricity. It's chi-chi almost to the point of twee and although some would describe it as sophisticated, others consider it shallow, vain and pretentious. One restaurant owner told us "We cater mainly for upper middle class English". And My Word but he was right. You can tell that from listening to the ambient RP - all lavatories, sofas, napkins and puddings, not a toilet, settee, serviette or sweet to be heard. Other than from me, of course.

By rights I should loathe it with a passion, but we both love it and were looking forward to it like a couple of excited kids in the run-up to Christmas (i.e., around September if you're an English retailer).

We are not the only ones who like Fiskardo. It's one of the most popular ports in the Ionian and is almost always packed to the gunnels in the summer. There is a knack to getting in there. This involves arriving at around 11 in the morning and waiting for some idiot to decide to actually go out sailing. As soon as he leaves, you elbow all the other circling yachts out of the way and dive into the newly vacated space.

In August this tactic is doomed to failure as the harbour is full of Italians who, once they get a slot, stay there for the duration. Most of the circling yachts are also Italian and they drive boats like they drive cars, so you've got no chance of getting in. Even if you've dropped your anchor and have started backing in they'll screech in behind you, execute a handbrake turn and slot into your space, barging the other moored boats out of the way if necessary.

In September, though, things are a little quieter as all the Italians clear off back home en masse on the last weekend in August. As we approached we could see that the pontoon was still full, but this time the boats were mainly Dutch.

Yotties, especially Brits, are as prone to national stereotyping as anyone and usually denounce the Dutch as terse to the point of brusqueness and generally a bunch of crabby old misanthropes with the social skills of a congenital sociopath - sort of Germans-lite really.

We disagree. We've met many Dutch cruisers and, without exception, they've been open, friendly and helpful as well as excellent conversationalists, especially as most of them speak better English than did most of the kids I used to teach. So - Fiskardo and lots of Dutch. Oooh we were looking forward to it. So we circled and waited.

Sure enough, a couple of boats pulled out, leaving one reasonably wide space. We went for it, dropped the anchor and started backing in to the space, letting the anchor run as we went. There was, though, one slight little problem, namely a cross wind blowing us sideways.

Liz does a sterling job of manoeuvring Birvidik in tight situations, but this was really awkward. Nevertheless, we would have done it first go had it not been for the bloody obnoxious Dutch sociopaths on the next boat. We dropped the hook in the clear spot between the two anchors and started to reverse in. He didn't see us until we'd drifted off a bit downwind and immediately started shouting abuse. "Fuck off! You're over my fucking anchor!"

I told you they spoke good English.

I pointed out that we weren't over his anchor and that we could pull straight when the stern was in, but he just threw his arms in the air, gave me the finger and went below. We continued in, which brought him and his wife back on deck with alacrity. We got the stern in between their bows and I asked if they could take our stern lines ashore, which would pull us into position neatly between them. We could then pull in on the anchor and square up. The wife, upon whom I suspect the character of Rosa Klebb was based, pointedly ignored my proffered rope. Instead, she threw me a venomous look that could have curdled milk at twenty paces and hissed "Why did you come in here - go away!" I pointed out that it was the only space available and that if I had had any choice at all in the matter I certainly wouldn't have chosen the Chuckle Brothers here as neighbours. The wind was starting to cause havoc by this time, but we still had a chance to get in if only they would take our lines.

Unfortunately, they did the opposite. They ignored the lines and both pushed our stern forwards out of the gap, causing us to slew sideways across their bow and catch the keel on their anchor chain. "Now look what you've done you bloody fool" screeched Rosa in a decent enough impression of a cat being put through a mangle. We now had no choice but to extricate ourselves, pull off and try again. We lifted the anchor and I pointed out that it was not over his. He ignored this helpful demonstration.

We tried again, but the wind had increased to the point where it became obvious that we weren't going to able to get in, so we aborted. He took this opportunity to shout out "Why don't you go back to school and learn how to fucking sail!"

So I gave in to temptation and gave him the finger.

Luckily, another gap had opened up and we decided to abandon trying to go in stern to, and instead head in bows to and lie to the stern anchor. This is a piece of cake, but has the disadvantage that it's not as secure and it's a bugger to get out in a hurry if things go pear-shaped.

Once tied up, we had a cup of tea and indulged in some therapeutic chocolate. After about an hour and a half we had managed to suppress the urge to go out and punch every Dutchman we came across.

Funny, isn't it, how a lifetime of positive experience counts for so little against one obnoxious exception.

After a couple of days a sense of perspective has slowly returned. Menheer & Vrouw Klootzak are now seen as the exception that proves the rule and the Dutch are reinstated as Most Favoured Nation.

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