14 July 2019 | or Antipodean Antics
Hello again. It's been a while, hasn't it?
Sorry about that. Perhaps an explanation is in order.
I appreciate that this may be a tad difficult for most of you to believe, especially those of you unfortunate enough to still be having to hold down full-time jobs, but I've been a bit busy lately. A lot of the winter has been taken up by writing and publishing book two of the 'Utterly Useless Guide to Mediterranean Sailing' series. *
Any time unaccountably left over has been devoted to pondering on, and trying to second-guess, the implications that Brexit is likely to have on our peripatetic lifestyle. This has proven to be inordinately difficult. In desperation I was even driven to resorting to management twaddle.
Back in the 80s and 90s I was subjected to a constant stream of management-speak; an endless barrage of acronyms and bullshit leavened with a sprinkling of the bleedin' obvious dressed up as profundity by the use of pseudo-scientific and light engineering terms which were, in reality, just heavily disguised abject bollocks.
I thought I'd left all that crap behind, given that most of it had the durability and life-expectancy of a mayfly with a serious crystal meth habit. One of the more tenacious of these management fads is known as a SWOT analysis. This has managed to outlast such apparent immortals as Management By Objectives, Total Quality Management and SMART goals.
SWOT, like most management and PR crap, is an acronym. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I'm sure the tossers who think this dross up spend more time working on the acronym than they do on the content. In fact, I'd go further; they mould the underlying content (such as there may be) to fit the acronym rather than vice versa.
Nevertheless, I persevered and started to apply a SWOT analysis to our Brexit conundrum.
Indeed, despite SWOTting 'til my brain hurt, the only real conclusion I could come to regarding the potential consequences of brexit was 'Nobody knows'. Especially the politicians. Or if they do know, they're certainly not telling anybody, especially the likes of you and me. In fact, the more I SWOTted, the more convinced I became that no-one could, or would, ever know.
Until it actually happens.
Or doesn't, as the case may be.
You may have noticed that I have studiously avoided nailing my colours to the mast and proclaiming to which Brexit tribe I belong. The reasons for this cowardice are manifold, but the reticence is ultimately pointless. Those who know me will undoubtedly be well aware of my characteristically trenchant views on the subject and those who don't know me could probably work out my allegiance in microseconds. Nevertheless, it's a desperately divisive subject and one which, I suspect, will leave scars on British society for decades, whichever way it goes. So I'll try to keep this blog a haven of tolerance and co-operation, a neutral zone in the, thankfully mainly verbal, civil war that passes for current British social discourse.**
And that moi, in addition to being a tribute to Miss Piggy, leads us effortlessly into the third feeble excuse for my inaction on the blog front. We are currently in France, making our way along the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, from St. Jean de Losne to Mulhouse. Over the winter we reverted to land-based transport, doing a circuit taking in Jersey, Spain, Portugal and back to France. Such a lifestyle entails a constant battle to master the basics of whatever language happens to be most prevalent in the area in which we find ourselves at any particular time. This is not usually over-successful as our mental processes seem have a built in time-delay, which results in our addressing Spaniards in French, the Portuguese in Spanish and the French in Portuguese.
So, at the moment, present circumstances dictate that we spend hours every day trying to reclaim what's left of our, already risible, 'O' level French. The problem here is that the French don't speak 'O' level French. They speak a form of fractured, post-graduate French with every third word missed out. The difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that the Jurassien accent is so thick that it qualifies as a proper dialect. Learning Standard French and then encountering a native of the Jura is on a par with learning BBC English and trying to hold a conversation with a Geordie. He can make a reasonable fist of understanding what you're trying to say, but you haven't the slightest idea what the Hell he's on about. You can see that we're on to a hiding to nothing here.
However, matters are eased somewhat by the presence of a considerable number of anglophones. In the main, these are not French. I have a strong suspicion that virtually every French national is secretly fluent in at least four languages, invariably including English, but that they have all made a clandestine mutual pact to only speak auctioneer-speed French to any upstart foreigner who has the temerity to attempt to engage them in conversation. In extremis they can usually be persuaded to take pity on the poor helpless foreigner and will break into near perfect RP English after an apologetic shrug and an embarrassed disclaimer for their supposedly abysmal language skills. This puts them streets ahead of most Brits, whose grasp of languages other than English is so dismal that their primary tactic when confronted with a foreigner who appears to have had the effrontery not to have learned English is to shout English at them slowly or, if in Spain, Portugal or Italy, to tag an 'o' on the end of each word.
In this area of the inland waterways, the majority of anglophones are neither French, nor English, but antipodean. The place is overrun with Aussies and Kiwis. For three to six months in the summer the place is swarming with them. Hardly a Brit to be seen. And so it came to pass that we have been doing most of our socialising with our antipodean brethren.
George Bernard Shaw was referring to England and the United States when he coined his famous aphorism about two countries divided by a common language, but he could equally have been referring to Britain (especially England) and the antipodes. One would have thought that the shared language and the considerable overlap in cultural heritage would have led to a marked similarity in customs and social mores. Of course, this is true to a degree, but to far less of a degree than one would have expected. Well, than I would have expected.
A good example of this occurs when invitations are made to 'just pop round for a couple of drinks'. When invited round for a few drinks, the archetypal Brit will open the fridge, absent-mindedly pull out the first bottle of plonk his hand alights on, stroll down the pontoon and clamber on board his host's boat, casually handing the plonk over as he does so. He then takes the proffered seat and proceeds to hoover his way through the table-full of assorted nibbles while simultaneously decimating the host boat's beer supply.
Should he have the good fortune to be accompanied by Mrs Yottie, she will attempt to elevate things to a more civilised and refined level by bringing along a delicate posy of lovingly hand-arranged flowers, or a tasteful little packet of After Eight mints. She will hand these over to a soft cooing of appreciation from the hostess, before the host asks what she would like to drink.
"Oh, I shouldn't really", she will simper coyly, "but perhaps just a small glass of white wine would be lovely." Two bottles of Chardonnay later she switches to G&T and when the gin's gone makes heroic inroads into the Baileys. A few nights like this and the host boat will be reduced to Dickensian penury.
Contrast this, with inviting a bunch of Aussies and/or Kiwis round. You are fully prepared for the expected onslaught of yottie locusts. The table groans under the accumulated weight of Lidl's entire stock of party food, augmented by bowls of crisps, olives and pistachios. The fridge is jam-packed with enough beer to necessitate the raising of the waterline by 20 cm and you've got enough G&T to keep a yacht club commodore happy for a fortnight.
Then your guests arrive. The men are in the vanguard, staggering under the combined load of two crates of beer each. They are closely followed by the ladies, gliding down the pontoon, single file, in stately procession. Their heads held high, they carry in front of them trays laden with exotic, lovingly hand-crafted titbits; seafood delicacies, light fluffy mushroom timbales - I wouldn't be surprised to come across baby voles in aspic stuffed with hummingbird tongues. Looking upon the spectacle you could almost swear you could hear the accompanying strains of Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.
If hosting a drinks soirée for a bunch of Brits threatens penury, then hosting one for the antipodean contingent poses the opposite problem, one is left with an embarrassment of riches, but a desperate shortage of stowage.
Cupboards creak from the strain of trying to accommodate the many newly acquired bottles of obscure spirits, while floorboards erupt upwards as the bilges struggle to contain the seemingly endless crates of assorted beers. Fridge doors have to be buttressed shut with boathooks. Host boats are frequently driven to setting up food banks for the local disadvantaged, just to free up some cupboard space.
Of course, whichever norm you follow, these things all even out as people take their turns to be host, but when different cultural expectations mix, it can lead to little misunderstandings at first. What we need is a sort of cultural babelfish.
*It's called 'Finding Einstein' and is available on Amazon at the knock-down, unbelievable, never to be repeated, price of £2.99 (e-book) or £6.99 (paperback). Get it today, folks, while stocks last.
**Well, mainly verbal. So far, at least.