04 March 2021 | or Bringing it all back home.
07 February 2021 | or confessions of a bank outsider
30 January 2021 | or The Confessional
22 January 2021 | And a little bit of this'll get you up And a little bit of that'll get you down
10 January 2021 | Queue outside IMT offices, Portimao
10 January 2021 | Once more into the breach
18 December 2020 | or Hot air ballooning for beginners.
12 December 2020 | or Don't keep taking the tablets
25 November 2020 | “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
04 November 2020 | One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is just a statistic. Attributed to Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953)
20 April 2020 | I've never washed my hands so much in my life
12 August 2019 | or The Rime Re-written
14 July 2019 | or Antipodean Antics
31 July 2018 | or chickening out
02 March 2018 | or 'A crisis of conscience'.
22 December 2017 | or 'Making a Spectacle of Myself'
09 December 2017 | I’m not sure this is a good idea, but what the Hell – I’ll give it a go anyway.
02 November 2017 | or 'The Naked Truth'
04 March 2021 | or Bringing it all back home.
I don't normally hold with all this modern technology nonsense - it's against nature. Nevertheless, even I have been forced to concede that all this computery stuff and the interweb have come into their own during successive lock downs and made the whole business far less onerous. Could have done with all that in 1918.
So it came to pass that I took part in a seven-strong zoom hook-up with a bunch of old school friends, some of whom I hadn't clapped eyes on for 54 years. Such co-operation in the face of technology is quite a turn-up for the books for me, seeing as I'm normally averse even to telephones. The idea of a video conference filled me with horror. I envisioned a panoply of crabby old gits comparing medication regimes and vying with each other for the title of the greater martyr to his piles, prostate and post-nasal drip, while simultaneously bemoaning the state of the world today, (especially yer yoof and what they call music) and looking through rose-tinted glasses at the arcadian age of the 1960s.
All of which is more or less exactly what we got, with the added bonus of the peculiar phenomenon of déjà vu when we looked around the meeting and saw we were the absolute spit of our fathers doing exactly the same thing down the Ivy Leaf on a Sunday lunchtime in 1963.
This, of course, was to be followed by the ritual roll-call of our erstwhile schoolmates:
"Nanky Pants?" "Dead."
"Tank?" "Retired and living in Norfolk."
"Norfolk, huh. So dead in all but name then?" "Yup. Put him on the list."
Painted in apparently random sites in our school were injunctions, usually in ancient Greek,(1) exhorting us on how best to lead Seneca's notion of A Life Well Lived. Prominent amongst these was 'γνῶθι σεαυτόν' - 'Know Thyself'. The runner-up, at a close second, was μηδὲν ἄγαν - 'Nothing in Excess'. I have failed both of these tests spectacularly throughout my entire life.
This was brought home to me by a throw away aside toward the end of the conference. It seems that I was primarily thought of as a bit of a clever bollocks and a lot of a stoner. The exact comment was that I was one of the cleverest people he knew as I only had to see or hear something once and I'd remember it. He then took the shine off it by adding that my intellectual talents were exceeded (and, indeed, eclipsed) only by the prodigious quantities of dope and alcohol that I consumed.
I demurred. This assessment was news to me and I questioned it on both counts. On the first, I argued that he had conflated having a good memory with intelligence. The two can occur together, but there's no reason they have to. The other three possible combinations are equally feasible. I had always thought of myself as intellectually average with a slightly above average memory. Judging by my school reports, most of my teachers seemed to be of the opinion that my self-assessment was, if anything, somewhat on the generous side.
As for the stoner assessment, well, I really must protest. True, given my personality, Nothing in Excess was on a hiding to nothing from the outset. Admittedly, I did get through a fair bit in my twenties, but I haven't touched it for over forty years. OK, I defer to the pedants who've read previous blog entries and I concede that I've recently started using the gear again, but that's medicinal so it doesn't count. And anyway, it was our commenter who introduced me to the stuff in the first place, so he can't talk.
Certainly not on the generous side was my self-assessment as regards women, in particular with reference to my attractiveness to them.
Or lack of it.
I was one of three brothers and I went to an all-boys grammar school. I grew up in utter and complete ignorance of all things female. Their ways, attitudes, desires, wants and needs were a profound mystery to me. As to why any woman should even want to spend the time of day with me, let alone deign to grace me with her sexual favours, this was totally beyond my ken. On the rare occasions that I got lucky, I assumed that license had been granted out of sympathy, pity or as an act of charity. It made no odds to me. I thought any sex was good sex so I took what I could get and was pathetically and embarrassingly grateful for every last instance of it.
I did, however, study hard in the forlorn, and generally unsuccessful, hope of scoring return bookings. As this studying consisted mainly of reading dirty books and magazines(2), it was singularly ineffective in furthering its objectives. Thank God there was no internet then or Christ knows what I would have thought was normal human sexual behaviour. I strongly suspect that the writers of this soi-disant erotica were as ignorant of matters sexual as I was, and I didn't even know about the existence of the female orgasm until I was nineteen. Even then I didn't really believe it. "Don't be silly darling - ladies don't go 'Ooh'"
First-hand experience of the phenomenon, which only took a couple more years, soon disabused me of that attitude. Mind you, it did come out of the blue and scare the living bejasus out of me. I thought she was having a seizure or I'd done some appalling gynaecological damage somewhere. I nearly crapped myself. That would have done wonders for my already dubious reputation in these matters.
I did my teacher training in Eastbourne. The college had been female-only for most of its history and had only started admitting men the year before I arrived. When I turned up on the doorstep, the roll ran to a whisker over 600 women, mostly between 18 and 22, and eight blokes, two of whom were gay. With odds like that you would be justified in thinking that I should have been in hog-heaven.
Justified, but wrong. You would have failed to take into account my dismal lack of self-confidence in the face of the mystery that is Woman. I fumbled around in a fog of ignorance, misconceptions and bra straps, making both type one and type two errors; I made advances (3) that even an autistic in a permanent vegetative state could see were doomed to failure, and I suffered the subsequent ignominy of rejection, no matter how gently it was put. More often, though, I would come over all coy, reticent and uncertain when the poor woman in question was virtually pulling my M&S Y-fronts down with her teeth. I had done that which I ought not to have done, and I had left undone that which I ought to have done.
Subsequent conversations over the years gradually enlightened me to the belated realisation that I had, in my prime, actually been quite attractive to women; much more so, apparently, than I appreciated at the time. Unfortunately, this epiphany came too late to make any practical difference to my abysmal record of sexual conquests as by then I was (a) too old, saggy and raddled and (b) married to a woman who could incapacitate a man at twenty paces with just one look.
It was probably just as well, really. I am too weak a character. Had I known my true allure I would have been singularly incapable of resisting taking advantage of it whenever the opportunity arose, and that would not have made me a better man.
Would I have been happier? Perhaps, perhaps not. More satiated? Possibly. Probably less frustrated. Without doubt smugger and more arrogant, and almost certainly universally loathed. But not better.
So, all in all, things probably turned out for the best.
Be careful what you wish for.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
If Youth only knew. If Age only could.
My only real regret in life is that I didn't have more sex and take more drugs.
I can manage about three minutes then I need eight hours sleep and a bowl of Wheaties.
1) Attribute the above quotes.
2) Find allusions in the text to the following artistes/works:
Bachman Turner Overdrive.
The Book of Common Prayer.
Robert A. Zimmerman.
(1) This was rather ironic given that Borden Grammar, despite its pretensions to equivalence with a minor public school, taught no Greek, Ancient or Modern.
(2) Reveille and Parade, mainly. Innocent days. Cosmopolitan was more use.
(3) Polite, diffident, self-effacing and tentative advances, I hasten to add. I'm not Donald Trump.
More Mr Bean.
Counting House Blues
07 February 2021 | or confessions of a bank outsider
The cruising life is not all sun, hammocks, lissom bikini-clad deck dollies and grapefruit daquiris. Like all lifestyles, it has its, shall we say, challenges. Amongst these is dealing with institutions and officialdom at a distance. These entities struggle with cruisers because we don't fit the expected pattern on which their algorithms, and hence their forms, demands and procedures, are based.
Prime among such establishments are banks. Much as we may bemoan the fact, it is virtually impossible to function in modern society without at least one bank account; a situation which is not going to improve. Quite the opposite in fact.
My relationship with banks is of the "Can't live with'em; can't live without'em" variety. I know diddley-squat about banking and finance. I don't know exactly what they do, how they do it or, perhaps most importantly, why they do it. This probably explains my irrational, visceral loathing of the entire unholy, fly-by-night, morally compromised edifice.
The arcane nature of the whole sector is reflected in the media coverage of matters financial. Most newspapers print several pages devoted to finance and economics, almost all of which are awash with unexplained financial jargon. Most newspapers wouldn't, in a thousand years, print a story containing terms such as entropy, integral calculus, RNA transcription, regression toward the mean, thermodynamic equilibrium or the difference between correlation and causation, yet these ideas are all fundamental to understanding ourselves, each other and the world around us.
The media avoid them on the professed grounds that they're not 'sexy' and that their readers would neither understand them nor be interested in them. More likely would be that the primary reason is that these lumpen sentiments apply as much, if not more, to the writers as to their readers.
Exceptions are grudgingly made in circumstances where the concept is immediately and seriously relevant. Covid has provided several instances of this, prime examples being the concepts of exponential growth and limiting factors. The world and his dog now profess an understanding of these, but just try asking them to sketch a graph showing exponential growth and to discuss its implications and limitations. It soon becomes apparent that for many people, 'exponential' just means 'big'.
The only other exceptions are relativity and quantum mechanics. The consensus among the media luvvies appears to be that these two, mysteriously, somehow manage to attain the exalted status of sexy.
I suspect that there are a number of factors in play here. For a start, the ideas are so seriously difficult, so esoteric, and so contrary to common sense and experience of everyday life that there is no shame or stigma attached to failing to understand them - even actual physicists have trouble getting their heads round them. This is certainly true in my case. Richard Feynman said "If you can't explain something in simple terms to an average freshman (a 15 year old in the US grade system), then you don't really understand it." That means I don't understand either of them.(1)
The second factor in my list of suspects is the comforting prejudices of the familiar. In the popular imagination, these two areas epitomise the long-held stereotype of the unkempt, otherworldly, slightly dotty scientist whose head is so full of rarefied theory that he comes to work with his trousers on inside out. Or completely missing.
Finally, despite the abstruse nature of the two theories, the equations are dead easy. None of that
y(x,t) = ∑ Bn cos ω t sin nπx
n = 1 L
Everyone knows e = mC2. Rather fewer know the basic equation of quantum mechanics, which is surprising as it is even simpler:
E = hf
Not even a pesky raising to the power of 2.
Piece of piss.
As long as you don't ask what units h is measured in.(2)
However, to get back to the point, those self-same media outlets, despite their low opinion of their readers' intellectual capacity and powers of concentration, will happily publish articles peppered with financial jargon. How many of the people laboriously wading their way through this guff actually understand gibberish like:
Collateralisation of uncovered forward rate agreements.
Redistribution of low-IRR short positions.
Diversifying arbitrage-free market segments.
Amortising sequential-pay derivatives(3)
And then, of course, there is the most popular word in the finance world: leverage. This can mean anything, everything, and nothing. It's every bloody where. So I had to look it up. In its most common financial guise it is defined as:
The ratio of a company's loan capital to the value of its ordinary share equity.
If you translate that into English, it comes out as indebtedness. So a leveraged buyout involves buying a company with borrowed money.
Well, I'm glad I got that sorted out. Now if I can just ask the finance bods to clear up a few points for me, I'll be happy with my new-found knowledge and everybody can go home.
Take it away, Maestros:
1 Why are rising prices a Bad Thing, unless they're house prices in which case they're a Good Thing?
2 Why is it a Bad Thing when governments print money, but a Good Thing when banks do it?
3 What's with this limited liability business? Is it morally justifiable for company owners to reap the benefits in the good times but to shirk their liabilities when the company goes under? Is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
4 Why is our entire economic and monetary system essentially run as one big shiny casino where all the major players are effectively gambling with other people's money? Is this really a Good Thing?
Answers on a postcard please to St Winifred's Home for the Terminally Bewildered, Lower Witless, Berks. BE11 END
BIRVIDIK @ SAILBLOGS - AN APOLOGY
It has been brought to our attention that this blog has been operating under false pretences. To wit, it purports to offer an amusing and informative account of life as a cruising sailor, but in reality it merely serves as a conduit for the author's ill thought out, half baked, and unsubstantiated prejudices.
On our strong and frank advice, the author has made a full apology and has promised that in future his narratives will be factually accurate and will stick to the rational course as described, with no digressions, deviations, diversions, or diatribes. He further guarantees that the next entry will stick to the bloody point and describe the interaction of the cruising sailor and the banking sector in a clear, unbiased, and appropriately restrained manner.
However, given his previous, we're not holding our breath.
Emmanuel P. Strobes
Clerk of Chambers
Messrs Weasel, Polecat, Ferret & Stoat Ltd
(1) Mind you, Feynman also said "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." And this from a man who won the Nobel Prize for physics. For his work on quantum mechanics, since you ask.
(2) I said don't ask, but since you have, it's Joule Seconds.
Or Joule seconds per radian, depending on what you're measuring.
(3) These actually are gibberish. I got them out of a random jargon generator. However, the fact that the majority of those who read them, even those who are also avid readers of financial news, think that they are genuine, makes my point.
The kindness of strangers
30 January 2021 | or The Confessional
I affect an image of surly pessimistic grumpiness; an aura of sour bile, seasoned with simmering anger and disdain, garnished with a few sprigs of delicately fragranced prejudice and finished off with a soupçon of sneering sarcasm. I’ll let you into a little secret here; I’m actually quite a sanguine, optimistic, easy-going sort of bloke. My affected persona is a little private in-joke that I play on myself and the world in general. Those of you who have ever played a Victorian parlour game called ‘teapot’ will recognise the format.
For the joke to work properly, the audience should start off believing the affectation and gradually realise the true state of affairs. The next stage of the joke is not for members of the audience to be so crass as to call me out on it, but to become complicit in the charade and to try to out-curmudgeon me with an equally straight face. There is no winner, but the loser is the last one to cotton on. In the right circumstances, with the right co-conspirators, this can stretch things out for entire lifetimes until the whole pretence takes on an independent life of its own.
The rules of this game are relatively well understood instinctively in British, especially English, society.(1) All humans come with an irony chip installed as standard, but it needs to be activated by the environment and this precondition is satisfied in spades by British society, steeped as it is in irony, satire, understatement, false modesty and litotes. Try it on other cultures, though, and you might run into a slight problem or two. Or several. This seems especially true of Americans, despite (or perhaps because of) the absence of a significant language barrier. Bill Bryson observed in Notes from a Small Island that an American is unlikely to realise that, should an Englishman say something with a completely straight face, accompanied by the most imperceptible of pauses and perhaps a microscopic elevation of the right eyebrow, then he does not expect to be taken entirely seriously.
Thus it is with my cynical, sour-faced, misanthropic alter ego, whose splenetic accusatory verbal rampages, both oral and in print, are scurrilous, unsubstantiated inventions of such bare-faced mendacity that they could easily have tripped from the gorgeous pouting lips of our beloved, and much respected, current Prime Minister.
There will now be a short pause while I replenish my depleted stock of adjectives.
That’s better. Now, where was I? Oh yes, confessions of a serial sceptic. I was fleshing out some of the themes of the current project (2) when it struck me just how cussedly I have played fast and loose with the facts for comic effect. Well, that, and to support the whims, prejudices and presumptions of my assumed persona. Contrary to any logical interpretation of my books and blog posts, the sum of our interactions with other people throughout our extended cruising has been overwhelmingly positive. In fifteen years of full-time cruising we have experienced just one instance of being involved in a physical fracas and that was fairly ineffectual – a bit of pushing and shoving, followed by some not particularly successful (or dignified) attempts at intimidatory posturing and strutting. Supporting this star turn in the hostility olympics were no more than five or so verbal altercations of varying degrees of rudeness and aggression. That’s about one every three years. You’d match that whole fifteen-year quota in an hour and a quarter’s cycling through central London on a Friday afternoon.
Contrast this with the other side of the coin – unsolicited random acts of kindness, not just by friends or acquaintances, but by complete strangers, whose name is Legion (3) and who outnumber the rude, the aggressive and the mean spirited by several orders of magnitude. They are far too many to enumerate but let me give a flavour of their works.
First up to the oche is Edison from the port of Orikum in Albania. We left Orikum early in the morning and arrived in the commercial port of Durres after a tiring twelve-hour trip, only to discover that we had left all the ship’s papers behind in Orikum. In most countries we would have expected a yacht arriving without papers to be sent straight back again to get them, irrespective of the weather or approaching darkness(4). Not so here. Arben, the local agent, filled in the necessary forms using other bits of paper we had kicking about, and 'phoned Orikum, where he spoke to Edison, one of the marinheiros there.
Edison found the papers and drove a 120 mile round trip after he finished a full shift at work in order to deliver them to us. This would have been magnanimous enough on Western European roads. Albanian roads look like the aftermath of the battle of the Somme. It took him over three hours all told. Even so, we had to hassle him to accept any payment at all, even for the petrol.
Edison’s was a grand, selfless gesture. At the other end of the scale, but equally thoughtful and appreciated was the chap in Teulada, Sardinia. We had misread the bus timetable and were marooned in the baking heat for five hours until the next bus back to the marina. We had thought to while away the time in the cool of the town’s only bar-café, but that was shut.
We propped ourselves in what little shade we could find and checked on the bar at frequent intervals. It remained resolutely closed, and we became progressively more mummified. After a couple of hours had elapsed, the door opened in one of the houses opposite and a man in his sixties shuffled out. I recognised him as I had seen him through the top floor window. He smiled at us, and wordlessly placed a bottle of beer, two glasses and an opener on the low wall beside us. He indicated that we should leave the empties on the wall and shuffled silently back.
There were countless other random acts of kindness from being driven around Cavtat , Croatia, in search of a dentist to the free use of a 175 scooter for the whole of the winter in Marmaris. We took up hours of an Italian gentleman’s life, and made a significant hole in his phone budget, while he walked us step by step through recovering our debit card from the ATM that had summarily eaten it. We were treated as honoured guests by the overworked staff of Finike hospital and were offered lifts for us and our overloaded shopping trollies times without number. All in all, a simple count puts the lie to my Mr Hyde incarnation’s gloomy and cynical picture of humanity.
So, I stand accused of mendacity, misdirection, gross hyperbole, and cynical manipulation of the facts to further a personal agenda, alongside my co-defendants Messrs Johnson & Trump.
I plead guilty as charged, but offer the defence, or at least the mitigation, of artistic licence coupled with a desperately needy obsession with chasing clicks and book sales. And anyway, the giant lizards made me do it. They said that otherwise they’d carry on starting the California wildfires by firing lasers from space. Gawd, stone the crows! It’s a fair cop,
Mary Poppins Guv’ner. You got me bang to rights, but it ain’t gonna stop me.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good dose of bigotry, that’s my motto.
(1) It can be a bit of a problem if too dead-pan, though. It’s a fine line
(2) Book 3 nearing completion. Working title “Two Way Stretch”
(3) Yeah, yeah, I know. Legion in this quote (Mark 5:9) actually refers to a multipartite demon, who is unlikely to have instigated random acts of kindness, but if I can play fast and loose with real facts then I’m hardly likely to hold back on mangling some Bronze Age creation myth.
(4) Or the stray mines reputed to have been left over from Enver Hoxha’s regime.