Reasons to be cheerful, Part 1
10 January 2021 | Queue outside IMT offices, Portimao
I suspect that the majority of the gluttons for punishment who manage, blog after blog, to plough their way through this turgid prose are, like the author, grumpy old buggers of a certain age, set in their ways and resistant to change. They certainly need to have a significantly longer attention span than most of the gadfly consumers of modern media.
Nevertheless, I try to limit each entry to a maximum of 1300 words (Or a modern celebrity's entire vocabulary as we grumpy old buggers call it). This one, however, ran out at just over 2k words, which is a bit much for even you lot to digest in one sitting. I couldn't satisfactorily shorten it, so I've split it into two. I've also had to change the order. The blog you're reading is the first part and if you make it to the end without falling into a coma, part two is underneath.
Normal service will be resumed ASAP.
Reasons to be cheerful Part 1
Those brave souls amongst you who have read the first book (1) may remember a section on bureaucracy in Portugal. In it, I described how the Portuguese Uncivil Service had become more efficient, and the staff had become so much less surly and arrogant over the twenty years between our leaving Portugal in the 80s and our returning on Birvidik. I also expressed a (possibly perverse) bittersweet yearning for the old ways.
The whole system may have been byzantine, corrupt, obstructionist, petty-minded and frequently downright nasty, but it had character. Bad character, admittedly; verging on psychopathic at times, but character, nevertheless.
Dealing with it gave purpose to life and on those rare occasions when you were able to beat the system you were rewarded with deep feelings of elation, achievement, satisfaction and schadenfreude. It also served as a conversation starter and provided a suitable whipping boy; a convenient common enemy, to be given a good verbal thrashing in the ceremonial tribal bonding litanies that pass for pub conversation in humans.
The double-whammy of covid and Brexit has stymied our plans to continue our peripatetic lifestyle, blundering our way through the waterways of Europe. Instead, we've been stuck here in Portugal for over a year, and the boat is stuck 2000 kilometres away in St. Jean de Losne. Still, we decided to make a virtue out of a necessity and see if we could become resident in Portugal in the vain hope that doing so might mitigate some of the more irritating limitations imposed upon us by Brexit.
And so, once again, we were drawn, moth-like, into the tangled web of Portuguese paperwork.
Given the astounding progress I reported in the book, I anticipated accelerated bureaucratic improvements in the twelve years that had elapsed since we were last here in the boat. I fully expected to be dealing with organisations firmly rooted in, if not the 21st Century, then at least the 20th. What we actually encountered was a bit of a curate's egg. At one extreme, some departments were heavily computerised and fast, manned by friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient polyglot staff who could expedite even the most abstruse matters in real time. At the other extreme were those departments still languishing in the Dark Ages. Dimly lit by guttering candles; stooped, dusty and bewigged; bad-tempered mediaeval scholars laboriously hand copied missives into dusty ledgers the size of The Stone of Scone.(2) Waiting intervals were measured in geological time.
If their working methods and equipment were still pre-renaissance, their procedures and understanding of efficiency maximisation and critical path analysis were stranded somewhere in the late palaeolithic. Much of what they did appeared pointless and seemed to do nothing to achieve the purported aims of the organisation. Indeed, much of it was at odds with them.
A good example of this is the procedure you have to go through to exchange your driving licence for a Portuguese one. To do this you need a medical. This is fair enough; you can understand that they don't want you behind the wheel if you're prone to sudden seizures or abruptly falling asleep with no warning. Neither is it a good idea to be in charge of several tonnes of metal and glass careering along at high speed if you're hemiplegic from a stroke or have gone completely gaga.
Indeed, or blind. So on top of the medical you need an eye test. For first time drivers in Jersey this is (or at least was) a piece of piss. Some bored-looking bloke you've never seen before looks at his clipboard, points to a car down the road and says "See that blue Fiesta over there - What's its reg?"
"J40297" you reply with quiet confidence, seeing as it's your car.
The bloke nods approvingly, ticks the box and gets on with the driving test.
Nothing so simple in Portugal, especially for doddering old crumblies like me. "You want a driving licence, Grandad? First, you'll have to be patronised, prodded, poked and punctured by Dr. Mengele here. And then on top of that you'll need to go and get an eye test."
"Can't Mengele do it? He is a bloody doctor after all."
"No can do Mate. You'll have to go to an optician - they're the experts in perusing yer peepers."
"What about some bored-looking bloke with a clipboard?"
"You pulling my plonker? Get yerself off to an optician and come back Thursday fortnight."
Luckily, there was an optician in Luz. Even more luckily, he could fit us both in the next day.
That should have told us something.
(1). An Idiot Aboard.
Book one of the Utterly Useless Guide to Mediterranean Sailing series.
e-book and paperback. Available at Amazon and all... er... that's it.
(2) 66cm x 42.5cm x 26.7cm, since you ask. It weighs 152 Kg.