11 March 2023 | Joseph Heller, eat your heart out.
OK, OK. I know I promised not to mention the B word on this blog, and I have been very good so far, but I've been provoked beyond endurance. A man can only withstand so much.
BREXIT! BREXIT! BREXIT!
There - I've said it.
I need help.
How are you at logistics?
Due to Brexit, (or 'Bloody Fucking Pisspot Shitbag Brexit' to give it its full title) we are faced with a little logistical problem. I will try, almost certainly unsuccessfully, to be brief:
We've got to be in Madrid on the 4th April.
And possibly a day or two after.
Or maybe a week or so.
"But why, Bob, why?" I hear you cry in uncomprehending frustration. "Why do you have to be in Madrid in the first place? Why the fourth of April, specifically, and why for such an annoyingly vague and indeterminate period?"
Questions, questions, questions, Dear Heart. Always questions. Calm yourself - all will be made clear.
Due to the aforementioned BFPSB, we are going to need French visas to go to the boat for our customary 4 - 5 months this summer. We could get away with it if we were to drive the 4000 km there & back, but neither macular degeneration nor Parkinson's make that an enticing prospect. Not having a car is a bit of a drawback, as well. (Don't ask)
So flying, and therefore visa'd up to the eyeballs, it would have to be. I pulled up the French government site and blundered my way to the 'get yerself a visa' page.
Having successfully negotiated the online byzantine byways of Gallic bureaucracy, I got to the last screen, (number 31, thankyou for your interest) to be told that we had to attend our nearest French embassy in person, by appointment only, where we would be biometricated to within an inch of our lives and then have our passports snatched away and consigned to the black hole of French governmental filing.
So far so expected. - a nice little daytrip to Lisbon. We can cope with that.
Not so fast, sunny Jim. This is the French you're dealing with. They obviously took our insouciance on this matter as a personal affront. There is no French government body or representative, in the whole of Portugal, that has the authority, nous, wherewithal, ability, and Pritstick necessary to stick a visa in a passport. Well, I can see their point - pissy little country - no oil. There's only twelve million of the bastards. Hardly worth an honorary Consul, let alone a proper embassy with flags & flunkies and stuff. "You want what? A visa? Won't get one of those here mate. Bog off to Madrid."
Just to put the tin hat on things, they have an online, computerised, fully belled & whistled, interactive appointment-booking system . "Clique ici" they confidently assert, "Prise de rendez-vous groupée (Exemple : Prise de rendez-vous Famille, jusqu'à 6 membres). They go on to assure us that we will have the opportunity "de choisir les créneaux les plus appropriés pour un rendez-vous Famille."
Seemed promising to us. We're working two months in advance, there's bound to be plenty of slack in the system. We'll schedule it in with a little city break in Madrid.
Can software get OCD? This one did. It became fixated on Tuesday 4th April, where it proudly offered six available half-hour slots.
I tried in vain to get it to even consider any earlier or later date. Nope. That's your lot. Tuesday 4th April. Take it or leave it.
Then came the coup de grâce. At the end of this hard-won meeting, they would have to take our passports into custody for an unspecified period, while some trainee jobsworth tried to figure out how to use a prit stick without gluing his forefinger to his eyeball. This intellectually taxing task would, they assured me, be completed in 2 to 5 days.
Then we would be notified to come and collect them.
"PROBABLY !?" I screeched in html, 'Probablement?' Quel est le problème avec 'définitivement' ou 'sans fail'?
"Je suis désolé, Monsieur, Vous semblez confus ou misinformé.
Nous sommes des fonctionnaires français. Nous ne faisons pas le helpful."
I remonstrated. How were we supposed to function for up to a week in Madrid without a passport? Ah! They'd thought of that. They had a courier option. If we couldn't hang around twiddling our thumbs in Madrid for a week, we could go home, and they'd send the passports to us (18 quid per passport per person) (plus VAT) (insurance extra). To the question as to how we were supposed to get back home in another country without a passport, answer came there none.
So here we are, facing detainment at the French equivalent of His Majesty's Pleasure, while the fonction publique de l'État trains up a Visa Adhesion Operative, Second Class. Looks likely that we are going to have to make a short-term tactical withdrawal in our valiant rear-guard action to stave off the worst consequences of Brexit. I have a sneaking suspicion that, for this year at least, we are going to have to stay within the 90/180 day rule.
Now all we've got to do is work out how to get the bloody cat to France and back. God alone knows what paperwork les fonctionnaires will want from her. Mind you, it could be worse. If we were trying to get into the UK, all three of us would be halfway to Rwanda by now.
From seasoned full-time liveboards to frivolous summer dilletantes in three simple steps. How are the mighty fallen.
Still, look on the bright side; I'll probably recycle this and shamelessly use it to pad out book 3, which is on schedule to be published around Easter.< end brazen plug >
The Division of Labour
24 December 2022
Or A man´s gotta do what a man´s gotta do.
Ladies & Gentlemen of the jury,
I wanna complain.
The Obergruppenführer has instructed that I clear our burgeoning backlog of overdue email replies, arguing some feeble tosh about my having some small degree of facility with words.
Balderdash, piffle, flummery, moonshine, claptrap, drivel and crock.
(Yes, I know - sounds like a particularly dodgy firm of solicitors).
This grubby little tactic, this pathetic, lame, and disingenuous faux justification of what can only be described as modern slavery, a return to feudal vassalage, cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. Anyway, it goes against the spirit and the letter of our Joint Agreement on Chores, Kitchen-duties and Allocation of Sundry Services.
In its 'Communications, electronic & hard copy' section, JACKASS clearly states that I am responsible for all the creative stuff, such as writing best sellers or winning the Turner Prize by not making my bed for three months, whereas SWMBO (1) is charged with the more workaday tasks, such as passing on accurate information, co-ordinating visits, social events and zoom calls, and making plausibly sincere enquiries regarding the recipients' health, prosperity, and general well-being.
This division of labour into the two categories of the sublime and the mundane is reinforced by the other clauses in JACKASS, in support of which argument I proffer the following sample clauses:
Social Events on board Birvidik:
I do the inviting, blackball those not up to my exacting standards, welcome the guests aboard, open and pour the drinks and engage in jolly banter and/or enter into reasoned and informed analyses of current affairs or recent advances in neuroscience. Liz, meantime, has bought the ingredients, transported them back to the boat on her bicycle, and cleaned the boat from stem to stern. She then prepares, cooks, and serves the food before clearing the table, doing the washing up and laying down with a flannel on her head.
Boat Cruising (May - September):
I do the blue-sky thinking. I consult the charts, pilot books, guidebooks, I-Ching and internet before choosing our route and destination. Liz reroutes us to her favoured destination, then drives the boat, negotiates the locks, shallows, narrows and cross-currents and then parks it. I tie it up with some impressive, fiendishly complicated knots. Liz comes up and replaces them with bowlines.
Winter sojourn (October - April):
I ponder on the big questions -
Is Boris a fit and proper person to take on the role of Prime Minister of Great Britain? (2a).
What is the correct and proportionate response to Putin's annexation of large chunks of The Ukraine? (2b)
Does the manager of < insert football team of choice> know his arse from his elbow? (2c)
Does the Large Hadron Collider contribute to the sum of human happiness to a degree commensurate with its ₤4billion build cost?(2d)
Does God exist and if so, is he both omniscient and omnipotent?(2e)
Why is Justin Bieber?(2f)
Liz, meantime, busies herself with more mundane, quotidian matters, such as finding somewhere to live, making sure we are covered for medical care and building up a social support network. Her defining recurrent questions are of the 'What are we going to eat and what do I need to buy in order to make it?' variety. These are supplemented by the likes of 'What is your sock doing in the muesli?', and 'Shouldn't you see a doctor about that dodgy-looking mole on your left arm?
I submit that all this is nothing more than a cynical attempt to make her life even cushier by browbeating me into a low skill but nevertheless time-consuming task which, incidentally, is well below my pay grade. I further argue that this constitutes a clear breach of JACKASS protocols and principles and can justifiably be categorised as domestic abuse. I've got enough on my plate as it is, what with the NHS on the verge of collapse, inflation running at ten percent, the Northern Ireland Protocol teetering on the edge, apocalyptic climate change predictions, intergenerational strife, and bitter divisions over the 'woke' agenda (3)
All these matters need careful and sustained thought. How can I concentrate on my core responsibilities if I'm forced to spend my time feigning interest in the (frankly, unhygienic) behavioural quirks of great aunt Celia's bloody cat, Tiddles, or expressing ersatz sympathy with that bloke from S/Y Sphincter over his still being a martyr to his Chalfonts (4), despite eight weeks' strict adherence to a diet that seems to consist mainly of cardboard.
These opinions don't just form themselves you know. (5)
"Oh come on Bob" I hear you wonder. (6) "Who won? Do tell. Don't leave us in suspense like this."
I'll give you a hint. Check your inbox in a few days' time. If there's an email in it from me, you'll know that evil has triumphed.
And now, Ladeez an' Gennelmen, the bit you've all been waiting for:
(1) Viz: H. Rider Haggard, 'She'.
(2a) Are you kidding? He's not a fit and proper person to run a Venezuelan whelk stall.
(2b) Christ only knows. And he's not letting on. I don't blame him. You don't want to upset our Vlad, no matter how well connected you are.
(2c) Don't ask me. I don't even know what a football manager does. All I do know is that they seem to get sacked a lot.
(2d) Sadly, probably not. Unless it really did find the Higgs boson (aka The God Particle), in which case we can ask it for the answers to questions (b) - (f). Don't bother with (a) - it's self-evident. Or Responsum quod quaeris, per se notum est. Ooh - Hoc est crustulam fragmen? as Boris would say.
(2e) If the answer to parts (1) & (2) is 'True' then He, She or It is a callous bastard.
(2f) Even an omniscient, omnipotent, callous bastard would have trouble answering this one.
(3) I've never had this 'woke' business satisfactorily explained to me. As far as I can work out (Which, admittedly isn't far) it boils down to 'Be nice to people. Treat them with consideration and respect. Let them live their lives their way, and expect them to reciprocate.'
Can't see much wrong with that. In fact, didn't some bloke with long hair and sandals propose a similar philosophy about 2000 years ago? Mind you, I do seem to remember that he got nailed to a tree for his trouble.
(4) It's rhyming slang - work it out.
(5) Well, actually they do, but that's bye the bye.
(6) I wonder what wondering sounds like.
26 August 2022 | or 'French Leave'
The French, eh? Doncha jus' lov'em?
OK, I know they're The Old Enemy, and we've been on opposite sides in over 30 wars between 1109 & 1940, compared with just the two instances where we've fought side by side. (*or three if you count the Suez fiasco). Even then, in WWII we managed to remain at war with a bit of France, and we further cemented Anglo-French relations by bombing the shit out of the French fleet while it was holed up in a neutral Algerian harbour. (Don't ask - it's complicated).
Sorry - I digress.
Where was I? Oh yes, The French.
Despite the aforementioned little hiccups in the Entente Cordiale and the best efforts of The Sun's headline writers (I posit "Up Yours Delors", a masterpiece of reasoned debate succinctly encapsulated in a bijou nutshell of the journalist's craft. The least they could have done was put the comma in), we still hold them in grudging regard.
The French, that is, not Sun headline writers.
Our unwilling admiration stems from our perception that they are everything we're not. They are sophisticated, elegant, sylph-like aesthetes; effortlessly chic, exquisitely yet casually dressed, and fastidiously yet understatedly well-groomed. (This includes dustmen, fat-berg removal operatives, building site labourers, beggars, and most scarecrows.) We are the proud possessors of a fashion sense that hovers uneasily between Primark and the charity bin. If invited to a garden party at Buck House, we might splash out on a pair of Blue Harbour slacks and some slightly less saggy and malodourous underwear.
They will spend their free time in a fug of Gitanes and absinthe, languidly discussing abstruse philosophical concepts. We neck down six pints of Special Brew, a quart of vodka and Red Bull and a virulently coloured kebab before executing a barely recognisable reconstruction of the Hofmeister beer ad and throwing up in the taxi.
They can all cook to cordon bleu standard while still in nappies. We need Delia Smith and a four-page instruction manual just to tell us how to boil a bloody egg.
They can recite entire chapters of À la recherche du temps perdu from memory. We look upon anyone who can get past the second line of 'If' as being highly suspect - homosexual at best, and probably unspeakably depraved into the bargain. Not to mention being a bit of a snowflake.
They have an active, varied and innovative sex life and at least four lovers per spouse. We have cocoa.
Oh - and an out-of-date packet of Durex (unopened).
In summary, they have style, confidence, flair, poise, and élan.
And we don't.
All of this, of course, is utter bollocks.
France is a big country (67 million & counting. Some of them fit the stereotype profile, but an awful lot don't. Some of the most obscenely immense bellies, sallow open-pored skin, hair reminiscent of wire wool and hideously garish shell-suits have been visited upon me by French nationals.
The UK is an equally big place (also 67 million as it happens, although that'll be whittled down to 56 million once everyone else has buggered off leaving England in splendid, isolated control of what's left of its own destiny). Some of those 67 million can give your average Frenchman a run for his money on the style, savoir faire and sophistication fronts.
Well, OK, about six of them, but we've all got to start somewhere.
However, despite my Guardianista protestations above, it cannot be denied that there are certain cultural norms which colour the psyche of nations and lead inexorably on to stereotypical behaviour, attitudes, and beliefs.
I'm sure that it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I have a theory about this. Like most of my theories it is almost completely unsubstantiated by fact or evidence. It also shamelessly panders to my prejudices and preconceptions, but it's my blog and my theory so you're going to get it anyway.
I contend that, despite the received wisdom on the combined effects of globalization and the EU, European culture is far from becoming homogenous. On top of the many extant national cultural quirks, Europe is divided into two opposing world views or Weltanschauungen if you want to show off and come over all intellectual. These are characterised by attitudes to work and rules.
On the one hand there is the Protestant work-ethic model which emphasizes individual responsibility and views work and obeying rules as an over-riding duty if not a sacred obligation. Such societies tend to cluster in the North and West of the continent.
The alternative view is the Catholic-fatalist model. This sees work as a heavy burden imposed by fate, and rule breaking as an intrinsic and generally unavoidable part of the human condition, which can be forgiven in return for penitence.
In stark contrast to the anally-retentive Brits, the French have gone for option 2 in a big way. A major manifestation of this is our relative attitude to the concept of a work/life balance. Both societies have one, but the scales are weighted very differently. We Brits surreptitiously stick our thumbs on the pan labelled 'work' whereas our Gallic cousins cheerfully and openly slap an anvil on the other and then retire en masse for a three-hour lunch.
The French will protest, disrupt, strike, work-to-rule and throw clogs in machinery at the drop of a hat. All of this is done with an air of complete openness. There is no pretense that their actions are in support of abstract concepts such as justice, fairness, benefit to others, or the greater good. Mais non! They cheerfully admit that they are solely concerned with maximising their own self-interest.
This refreshing honesty is supplemented by some imaginative planning. You will never, for example, see any self-respecting Frenchman or woman go on strike on a Wednesday. In fact, they only ever strike on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This is so they can faire le pont (make the bridge). The reasoning goes something like this:
Tuesdays and Thursdays are only one day away from the weekend.
There's not really that much point in coming in on a Monday or a Friday if you're not coming in for the surrounding three days. So you might as well throw a sickie.
Et Voila! - the four-day weekend.
This mindset carries over into attitudes to time off in general and holidays in particular. Which leads us (convolutedly, I concede) to the real, if heavily disguised, point of today's stream of consciousness. First one to correctly identify it gets a coconut.
We had been looking forward to getting to Lyon. It's France's second biggest city, although France is no great shakes in the city size stakes, but we were looking forward to a bit of culture, a lively social scene and to knocking a few jobs off our ever-growing snag list.
I was very excited about the culture bit. Extensive and thorough research (OK, google & Wikipedia) revealed that Lyon had an opera house. I like opera. I don't understand it, but I like it.
Well, the easy stuff anyway.
You know - Mozart, Handel, Verdi, Bizet - Puccini at a pinch.
As long as it's not bloody Wagner.
As for the social aspect, after six weeks in Darkest Rural France, an intensive care unit would be like party central.
The main attraction, though, was the snag list. There are myriad pithy epithets claiming to encapsulate the essence of the cruising life, all of them of the 'Repairing boats in exotic places' genre. Things boat-related persist in going wrong (It's the laws of thermodynamics again. I know I keep going on about them, but they really are pervasive and intrusive buggers). We deal with it by having a running 'snag list.' Whenever a problem, or potential problem, arises it is added to the list and given a priority ranging from 'Aaargh!' to 'Might get done before dementia sets in, but don't bank on it.' Important maintenance is carried out as it arises whereas the lesser snags wait until the winter or such time as I'm feeling particularly conscientious and energetic, which isn't often.
Blogs passim have documented the phenomenon of Darkest Rural France, describing in full and unnecessarily graphic detail the virtual impossibility of getting anything, other than a baling machine or a combine harvester, bought or repaired in the agricultural hinterland of France. This dearth extends into the lesser urban areas, resulting in accessibility to most materials, artifacts and expertise being restricted to out-of-town business parks, hypermarkets situated slap bang in the middle of a motorway interchange or in the big cities.
Hence our child-like excitement at the prospect of mooring up in the middle of Lyon. Our snag list filled several pages of A4 with addenda added in cramped script down the margins. That's where the Parkinson's-induced micrographia comes in handy. High on the list were computer repair, fixing a knackered zip on the spray hood, blood tests and scripts, stopping the leaks in hatches and getting a new battery in my Skagen watch, which most jewelers wouldn't touch with an autoclaved boathook.
So it came to pass that on the 13th of August, we motored confidently into La Confluence marina, moored up and I started to give Google Maps a good seeing to. I was on a roll - we were right in the middle of the commercial area of the city. Everything we needed was there in spades and all within easy walking distance. Computer repairs? - choice of six. Canvas work supplies? - a mere four. Clinical labs? - choice of five. GPs? - too many to count. Bricolages? - two biggies. Jewellers? - more than you could shake a stick at. I trawled through the cornucopia of suppliers and artisans at my disposal and selected some likely suspects. I noted addresses, contact details and reviews.
I also learned a new word in French.
'Congé,' thank you for asking.
Every bloody shop, bar, restaurant, lab or surgery that I visited, phoned or emailed, had a notice bearing the legend 'Fermé pour congés'.
Congé translates as 'official leave of absence', and is allied to 'Les Vacances' which, in keeping with the French view on work/life balance, have been elevated to almost divine status. And the sanctum sanctorum of les vacances is La Grande Vacance.
Which, to all intents and purposes, is August.
All of it.
And bits of September sometimes.
And the end of July's looking nervously over its shoulder.
With the stubborn exception of supermarkets and funeral directors, the whole city was shut. I can see why these two are exceptions. Without them, the streets would be littered with emaciated suppurating corpses. Apart from that, there's zilch: Fancy a drink and a chat or a nice Vietnamese meal? You'll be lucky. Doctor's appointment? No chance. Take two paracetamol and mail the fifty euros to him in Reunion. Warfarin blood INR test? Sorry - just bleed quietly in the corner until the middle of September. Shipwrights? What? You want me to rebed a hatch in August? Haven't you Rosbifs heard of buckets?
I know when I'm beaten. I kluged up the hatches with duct tape and Captain Tolley's Creeping Crack Cure, bodged up the canvas work with more duct tape and a staple gun, p/x ed the computer for an abacus, trusted to luck on the medication and we went, chastened, on our way.
Oh - and the opera was bloody Wagner.
At least it wasn't the complete sodding Ring Cycle