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
It's just an illusion...
03 August 2022 | or 'Fings ain't the way they seem'
Psychologists call it The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Well, the more Puckish of them do. Those of a more prosaic bent tend to call it The Frequency Illusion. This latter term, despite its relative mundanity, gives a better idea of what it's all about, and is far less likely to dredge up suppressed traumatic memories of 1970s urban guerrilla warfare and so-called fashion sense - you know; Loons, Che Guevara T-shirt, Afghan goatskin waistcoat you could smell coming four blocks away, platform soles, Zapata moustache, tight perm, beret, Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, rucksack stuffed with Semtex, pocketful of assorted detonators - the usual suspects. (10 point bonus to the first person to tell me in what film that phrase first appeared.)
Yup. We all do it.
Suffer from the frequency illusion, that is, not wage a bloody campaign of murders, abductions, assassinations, pipe bombings and cold-blooded executions. We leave all that to the Government.
Usually the Russian one.
I, however, call it The Audi Syndrome. Let me explain.
Other than as a means of getting from A to B without getting too wet, my interest in motor cars is diddley-squat divided by N where N is a really really really big number. You know, infinity or Jeff Bezo's bank balance. (Same thing, really, on reflection). Consequent upon this, cars pass by on the periphery of my awareness and impact not a jot on my mental model of the world. (Or 'Bobbieworld' as Liz only slightly disparagingly puts it.) As a result, and much to the dismay of my few male mates, I am unable to engage in any form of conversation that starts with the words 'What are you driving these days?"
Until, that is, we suddenly, and inexplicably, found ourselves with a not inconsiderable disposable income .(For reasons that are too tedious to detail here. Don't worry - it didn't last.) Not major league, of course - we weren't in the Forbes "How to Spend It" magazine bracket, but nevertheless we had more available readies than we could reasonably spend on cocaine, bespoke suits, flash holidays and poncy restaurants.
"What we gonna do with all this wodge?" we wailed ungratefully, "It's cluttering up the furniture and blocking the fire exits."
Luckily, I had a flash of inspiration. "I know!", I ejaculated , (As in the sense of 'Shouted/blurted out', not the way your grubby little minds are going.)"Let's buy a car!"
"Don't be silly, dear", counselled Liz, tolerantly, "We've already got a car."
"No, Dear Heart, I mean a proper car - not one of the rusting mobile death-traps we usually drive."
"You mean with brakes and a reverse gear and everything?"
Yes, Sweet Muse, everything - indicators, second gear, - even a driver's door that stays attached to the car when you open it."
Liz was open to persuasion, but still had her doubts. Could this really be happening? Could she really be facing a future free of the ignominy of having to ask a bunch of passing schoolboys to give her a push so she could execute a three point turn on a steep slope? Her trusting eyes stared deep into my soul.
"What about suspension?", she asked pointedly, her voice tinged with an uneasy conflation of suspicion and hope.
"Of course, Light of My Life, Wife of a Thousand Peacocks. You shall have independent multilink Macpherson strut individually pocket sprung suspension systems at your beck and call."
So it came to pass that we tootled down to the nearest car sale room, pointed at the first car we liked the look of, took it for a 20-minute test drive and said "Yup. We'll have that. What is it?"
And so we became the proud, if ignorant, owners of a gleaming white Audi 80 Quattro.
And that's where the Frequency Illusion kicked in.
If, in our days of beat-up moggie 1000s, you had asked me how many Audis there were in Jersey, I'd have hazarded in the region of a hundred or so. I only knew their badge was four interlocking rings because it amused me that Gerhard Schröder had earned the sobriquet 'Audi Man' on his fourth marriage.
Once we had one, however, they all came crawling out of the woodwork; the bloody things were everywhere. Every other car was an Audi. They hadn't, of course, and they weren't. This was the Frequency Illusion in full spate. The number of Audis hadn't changed - my perception of them had. I now took notice of them because they were of some relevance to me. Before we owned one, my brain filtered out Audis and consigned them to the category of 'unimportant background noise'.
This filtration process is not idleness, it is self-preservation. The human brain operates under constant threat of information overload. It receives terabytes of information every second, most of which it promptly throws away. Even the 10 14 synapses in the human neocortex would have trouble processing that amount of data. (Sorry about using powers of ten, but the numbers are just too big otherwise. Anyway, compare this with 10 11 stars in the milky way.) All of us are under constant threat of information overload and have to constantly empty our spam folder. This enables us to concentrate on important things such as 'What's for dinner?' and 'What do you mean, I am?'
Thus it was when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. From being an intellectually interesting, but rare, condition hovering around the fringes of my consciousness, it leapt centre-stage and took pole position. It was bloody everywhere - Muhammad Ali, George Bush Senior, Billy Connolly, Jeremy Paxman, Ozzy Osborne, that bloke who sang 'Sweet Caroline'. Even the bloody Pope got it. It's common as muck now - the world and his sodding dog seem to be shuffling and shaking their way down to the bookie's, frightening the horses. (Developing a gambling habit is a not unusual side effect of some Park's medication. It is a manifestation of a condition called Impulse Control Disorder, which is slated for the blog after next.) At least it gives the frazzled parents of stroppy recalcitrant brats an effective threat they can use on the little bastards: "See there? You'll end up like that if you don't stop playing with yourself!"
I smiled to myself, knowingly. "That'll be the Audi Syndrome playing its little mind games with me. I've got your number, Boyo. You don't fool me - I know the number of Park's cases hasn't suddenly exploded. It just seems like that to me."
This stance, however, became increasingly difficult to maintain as Park's started to mow its relentless way through friends, acquaintances, fellow yotties and those blokes down the saloon bar of The Frog & Parrot. Few cognitive biases survive first-hand experience unscathed, and the Frequency Illusion is no exception. I decided to do some investigating.
"Why you?", I hear you ask. "What makes you such an authority on it? Well, I'll tell you. It's because of Newbury's First Law of Medical Research, which states:
"If you want to know about a disease or medical condition, don't ask a doctor, ask someone who's got the bloody thing."
A doctor's involved; a patient is committed .
(Best explained by reference to a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed.)
What I found as a result of my painstaking and rigorous trawling through Wikipedia was that the incidence of Park's had, indeed, gone through the roof. We Parkys have lost the compensatory cachet of rarity and exclusivity. From 1990 to 2015, the number of people with Parkinson's disease doubled to over 6 million. Since then, it's really started to take off. How in the name of All That's Holy did that happen? Well, I'll tell you that as well, since you ask.
Apparently, the meteoric rise in incidence of Park's correlates with three factors: increasing longevity, increasing industrialisation and, ironically, the decline in smoking rates. Smoking may the biggest public health catastrophe since the Black Death, but it does appear to convey considerable protection against Park's. Forty percent, since you persist in interrupting with your endless sodding questions. Anyway, now I'm not feeling quite so smug and self-righteous about giving up 31 years ago.
Anyone got a fag?