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'
21 July 2017 | and if you don't like them...well I have others. - Groucho Marx
31 January 2017 | or Pygmalion revisited
25 January 2017 | (or cries in the wilderness)
31 October 2016 | or 'Foraging & Familiarisation'
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.
Reasons to be cheerful, Part 2
10 January 2021 | Once more into the breach
We presented ourselves at the optician's the next morning, fully equipped with driving glasses, wallets, credit cards, face masks, and a brown envelope stuffed with cash. We were ushered one at a time into the consulting room, a dark, cluttered, airless, virus-culturing black hole about the size of a broom cupboard. I held my breath as long as I could and then breathed in sips out of the corner of my mouth opposite from the optician, who was crouched down, breathing in my right ear while he adjusted the mediaeval instrument of torture that he had just clamped onto my head.
Once he had got that screwed firmly in place, he flicked a switch and shone what appeared to be an anti-aircraft searchlight straight in my eyes. I was beginning to believe that I'd been snatched from the street and had inexplicably woken up in Gestapo headquarters, a feeling that was reinforced when the searchlight went out and two dim patches of red and green light struggled through the stygian gloom. A voice suddenly shouted in my ear "Vot Kann you see, Englander scum?"(3)
"An indistinct patch of red and an equally indistinct patch of green" I replied.
Slightly thrown by this, he fiddled around with the cranial iron maiden and slotted in a random selection of lenses which looked like they could well have originally been ground by van Leeuwenhoek.
"And now?" he enquired. In all truth it wasn't much better, but I thought I'd give it a go.
"B... A... H..." He interrupted me.
"Stop! Stop! You don't need to read out the letters. Just tell me if you can see them."
"Well, not really - They're all a bit of a blur."
He took on a look that was a 50/50 mix of despondency and reproof, as if I were spoiling his game by deliberately not playing by the rules. He slotted in another seemingly random selection of lenses and looked at me expectantly. If anything, this was worse, but I decided to go along with things for a quiet life and assured him I could read down to the penultimate line in both colours. I thought that this was pushing things a bit, seeing as even someone with the visual acuity of a peregrine falcon would have needed an astronomical telescope to have read print that size at that distance. I half-expected him to challenge me on this, my having fallen into his cunning trap, but instead his demeanour brightened, and he moved on to stage two. This involved another piece of high-tech apparatus, namely a pencil.
Having ensured that my head was firmly clamped into the scold's bridle, he waved the pencil up and down and side to side, telling me to follow it with my eyes. Why he had to use a pencil instead of the finger that was holding said pencil is probably a jealously guarded secret, hidden away in an arcane, highly classified, dusty tome in the library of the opthalmologists' guild.
My successful completion of this considerable visual challenge signalled the culmination of the eye test. He ticked a few more boxes, signed with a flourish, smiled, and handed over the results sheet and a bill for 30 euros a head. Or 15 euros an eye.
I must admit that I had been a tad concerned about this whole medical business. Not being allowed to drive would severely limit our sybaritic nomadic lifestyle. I needn't have worried. This was not the most stringent of examinations. It was a signally ineffective process for preventing potential mass slaughterers from parking his guide dog on the passenger seat before getting behind the wheel and inadvertently taking out a bus queue. It made the old Jersey eye test look like the course to qualify as commander of a Royal Navy nuclear submarine, which is reputed to be the toughest on the planet. Most of what we had been through either had no effect on its supposed objectives or actively worked against them.
I was floundering as to how to square this incompatibility when I had one of those rare flashes of inspiration which link two apparently unconnected concepts and shine light on both. While I was thinking about the exam, a random synaptic connection provoked the memory that in Melanesia there is a social and psychological phenomenon called a cargo cult.
The cult started in WW2 when the indigenous hunter-gatherers were exposed to the, to them unimaginable, material wealth of first the Japanese and then the Allies. Knowing nothing of modern manufacturing processes or aerodynamic theory, they viewed the airborne arrival of all these desirable goodies as nothing short of magic.(4)
When the war ended and most of the allies went home the supply of technological trinkets dried up. The natives reacted to this by making fetishes(5) out of local resources. Palm leaves, coconuts, animal skins and lianas were turned into remarkably realistic radios, control towers, radar antennae, and especially aeroplanes. They would use the fetishes to conduct rituals which mimicked the behaviours of the Allied technicians, trying to persuade the Gods into resuming the flow of goodies.
Their efforts have been spectacularly unsuccessful for nearly 80 years. Not so much as a couple of mirrors and a Yorkie bar. Mind you, all of Christendom, along with Islam, Baháʼí and Messianic Jews have been waiting in vain for the Second Coming for over two thousand years.
The reason for the Melanesians' lack of success was that their rituals, like all rituals, concentrated on form and style at the expense of content. They could reproduce radio operators' jargon exactly, but they had no understanding of electromagnetism. Coconut halves can make quite plausible headset earpieces, but you'll never call down an artillery barrage with them. That's not to say that they were any more credulous or less intelligent than any other peoples. Given their knowledge and belief systems at the time, their actions made sense. Well almost. (6)
Then it suddenly struck me. All became clear - this wasn't really a medical examination designed to achieve a specific purpose. It wasn't a stringent assessment of my fitness (or otherwise) to drive. This was a ritual. It was a strictly choreographed kata we had to go through to appease the jealous and vengeful Gods of the IMT, the Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes. The clerks, civil servants and bureaucrats were the priests and the rituals reinforced and validated their place, rank and title. The whole business had precious little to do with safety or the common good. It was a prime exemplar of Parkinson's Law. (7) It also had the added benefit of having a revenue-raising exercise tacked on to it.
Thus was my cognitive dissonance resolved. The form was the content. Reaffirming the status quo wasn't just a side effect of the process, it was its whole raison d'etre.(8)
(3) Sorry - that was just lazy cultural stereotyping and anyway he wasn't German. Won't do it again.
(4) "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008)
(5) It's not what your grubby little minds are thinking. A fetish is an inanimate object worshipped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit. The sexual connotations were derived from it later.
(6) Bearing in mind that these are also the people who believe that Prince Philip (AKA 'Fellah b'long Missis Queen') is a Divine Being.
(7) Cyril Northcote Parkinson (1909 - 1993) made a reputation and a tidy income by articulating three bleeding obvious ideas as if they were esoteric side branches of quantum physics. In essence they are:
1 Work expands to fill the time allotted.
2 An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
3 Officials make work for each other.
No shit, Sherlock.
(8) Arranging the whole bloody entry just so that he could end it in French -What a pretentious ponce!
British Political Discourse 101
18 December 2020 | or Hot air ballooning for beginners.
I realise that this is going to be difficult for you to bear listening to. Rest assured, though, that it's equally difficult for me to say it.
Here we go -
I'm almost starting to feel some sympathy for Boris.
After all those years of lying, cheating, plotting; all those betrayals of friends, colleagues and wives, he finally gets what he wanted and it turns out to be a poisoned chalice.
OK, the man's an unscrupulously amoral chancer; a man who can't get within half a mile of a bandwagon without jumping on it; a man totally out his depth in the high office into which he has been catapulted by a combination of happenstance, external factors and his own low animal cunning and ruthless ambition.
He is a man of such poor judgement that he allowed himself to be recorded agreeing to help a schoolfriend from Eton, a since convicted fraudster, to arrange the beating and intimidation of an investigative journalist. He has such a sense of entitlement that he just shrugged off evidence that could have potentially resulted in his being charged with being an accessory before the fact or, at the very least, with conspiracy to commit assault.
But those who live by the sword etc.
Covid 19 has made plain that despite his allusions (and delusions), Boris is no Churchill. He has accomplished the truly breath-taking achievement of taking an already dire situation, making it infinitely worse, and then rubbing salt in the wound by crowing about how bad things would have been had he not been around to save the day. His record in the hubris stakes is beaten only by that of Donald Trump*, but then Boris has always been Trump Lite.
I suspect, however, that his days may be numbered**. That flapping noise is the sound of chickens coming home to roost. Or possibly circling vultures (AKA The 1922 Committee and the European Reform Group). Buy shares in handcart manufacturers. Never, in the mystery of human politics has so much been fucked up for so many by so few.
The situation is, indeed, grave but its resolution does not need politicians or spads furthering their own selfish agendas. It needs statesmen (& women of course). It needs men (& women) with the interests of the whole nation, nay the whole of humanity, at heart, not just the furtherance of their own grubby self-serving plans. It needs men (& women) blessed with the intellect to understand the problems and the wisdom to listen to expert, informed, impartial advice, even that which they don't want to hear. Which is usually any advice which is expert, informed and impartial.
It is a sad truth that, with a very few noble exceptions, the political class in its entirety has failed this country and everyone in it: It has failed every man (& woman). It has failed every child, every businessman (or woman), every overstretched, hardworking, middle class family, and every one of the 27 people in Britain still working in manufacturing. It has failed every hedge fund manager and every pizza delivery rider. It has failed the top ten percent and it has failed those heroes (& heroines) of the NHS, but do not despair. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. (or woman, of course).
What this country needs is a man (or, at a pinch, a woman) to unite it behind a common cause based on the fundamental
English British principles of tolerance, respect and dignity. The traditional English British virtues of hard work, public service and knowing one's place. What it doesn't need is the ability to speak and write in full sentences. It needs a man (OK - enough with the 'or woman' stuff already!) with the strength of character to still the moaning minnies, the doom-mongers and the nay-sayers. Someone (Now why didn't I think of that before?) without previous skeletons rattling ominously in previous cupboards, someone who can lead this once-great nation back to its former glory. Someone who can put Britain back in its rightful place as general top dog and shining example to lesser nations.
But where is our beloved Britannia to find such a man (or woman) in her (or his) (or its) hour of such desperate need? Where is our modern day Saint
George. Andrew. David. Patrick. Oh bugger it! -Where is our saviour? Who will put the 'Great' back into Great Britain?
Yes - the gentleman at the back with the blue rosette, the pint of Old Peculiar and a face like a wide-mouthed frog, whom do you suggest?
Who? Me? Oh no, no no no. You are too kind, but no and thrice no. I am just the messenger, the one who comes before ***, the John the Baptist if you will. Please, still your clamour and applause. I am not worthy.
What is that - you insist? All of you? Well then, if I must, then I must. It would be churlish to deny such popular and heart-felt acclaim. Please stand with me and render a rousing chorus of 'Land of hope and Glory' followed by 'All things Bright and Beautiful' with special emphasis on verse three.
Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou. I love you all.
Maestro, if you please?
* OK - and several despots in the Middle East, Central Africa and most of the ex-Soviet 'Stans.
** Possibly wishful thinking, I concede.
*** Unfortunate turn of phrase.