Long Time no Sea - Part I
22 March 2022 | or "Every Form of Refuge Has its Price
Pour yourself a drink, sit down, and make yourself comfy. It's a long one - 4,200 words, since you ask. So I've split it into two parts á la 'Dancing with Doctor D'.
It had been two years to the day since we last saw Birvidik II. I was beginning to think she was just a pigment of my (highly coloured) imagination. It was a strange sensation, being land-based, especially for so long. It felt as if we were in some form of nautical Limbo, drifting aimlessly between the terrestrial Hell of The Land-bound and the marine Elysium of The Full-time Liveaboard. Before getting the back of Boris's hand and a good kicking from covid, we had been full-time liveaboards for fifteen years - that's a good chunk of anybody's life. Over a fifth in my case and getting on for a quarter in Liz's.
You could tell that we were drifting towards The Dark Side though; we had signed up for a two-year lease on a bijou little end-of-terrace here in Portugal and were now the proud possessors of fibre-optic internet, a walk-in wardrobe, two bathrooms, an industrial size fridge-freezer (front opening(1)) and a washing machine. Most damning of all, though, we had bought a car. This, apparent apostasy, however, was a double-edged sword. It may have represented a seismic shift toward the dull tedium of lubberdom, but it also enabled us to take a short (ish - 2000 km each way) road-trip to Sainte-Jean-de-Losne, where we could renew our acquaintance with Birvidik and see if our love-affair with the life aquatic had survived the lengthy separation (2).
My problem (well, one of my many problems) is that I have an irresistible tendency to anthropomorphise. Anything that can, by any stretch of the imagination, be attributed human characteristics will do - animals, natural forces, Jeremy Kyle, machinery, boats.
This led me to a series of reveries where Birvidik displayed the all-too-human qualities, traits, and feelings that I subconsciously projected onto her.
You know what it's like when you arrange to meet up again with old friends (3) after a long time apart. The run-up to the reunion is characterised by intermittent episodes of unease as you wonder just how far you may have drifted apart in the intervening years. Your imagination conjures up nightmare scenarios where you all sit squirming with embarrassment, while conversation consists mainly of self-conscious, awkward silences, interspersed with desperate and increasingly bizarre attempts at conversation starters, only for them to peter out as you all shuffle in your seats and look down at your feet for inspiration:
"Have you read any good books recently?"
"Yes. I'm the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement."
This does happen from time to time. It's bad enough if it lasts for a few hours over dinner. If you have rashly arranged to stay with them for a fortnight in an isolated yurt on the fringes of the Gobi Desert, then it's untrammeled purgatory. It's even worse if you're all trapped within the confines of a small boat. Nine times out of ten, however, you slip seamlessly back into your old ways with barely a thought. It might take a little longer with some than with others, but it remains the default position. In this happy state, silence is not the bugbear that our abovementioned desperate conversationalists struggle so hard to paper over. Rather, companionable silence is a gift from the Gods to be relished and savoured, a quintessential example of 'Philia', one of the four Greek words for 'love' (4).
These were the thoughts that tormented me. Would this be the case with Birvidik? Would we be able to keep our parting promise to come back and give her some well-deserved TLC, or had we succumbed to the siren call of the land-based sybaritic easy life? Surely we couldn't betray her innocent trust for the sake of a walk-in wardrobe.
Mind you, that washing machine is a boon, you know.
There was only one way to tell, and that was to go and see her, given that she was unlikely to come and see us, to make the reciprocal trip on her own bottom (5). This is where having the car crossed the metaphorical floor and enabled us to reinforce our links with Birvidik and the cruising life. It also highlighted the psychological and behavioural differences in the same man (namely me), when in boaty mode as opposed to landlubbery, not-so-boaty mode. The differences are striking (and totally irrational).
In boaty mode I am given free rein to express the paranoid, QANON side of my nature. Conspiracies abound. Everyone and everything is out to get me: lurking reefs, floating ropes, mechanical failure, other vessels (especially ferries), and, towering threateningly above all these put together, The Weather.
Any trip of any significance is preceded by days of obsessive maintenance, planning and checks. If it involves an overnighter, then you can double that. Anything that could possibly go wrong is pulled, waggled, woggled and hit repeatedly with a tuning hammer, before being closely scrutinised through a binocular microscope for any signs of damage, weakness, or incipient failure. Routes are planned in ludicrous detail and unfailingly include alternative safe havens, back-up alternative safe havens and they usually also sport reserve, back-up, back-up, just-to-be-on-the-safe-side, safe havens.
When we finally arrive at our safe haven, I heave a sigh of relief and lay out three anchors, two 30kg chums and as many lines ashore as I can get away with. Just before going to bed, I invariably take a 'turn around the deck' during which I check the nav lights, moorings, rigging, weather, nearby boats, emergency escape routes and spare clean underwear. I then set every alarm I can find, leave sharp knives by every mooring line, lay out lifejackets in strategic places, turn the radio to channel 16, prop up the MAYDAY script alongside it and leave it on standby. All in all, the whole exercise is a gallant, if unrealistic and ultimately futile, attempt to thwart the laws of thermodynamics. When I'm ashore you're lucky if I remember to switch off the lights and feed the cat.
Taking the car somewhere is a completely different, much more laid-back, exercise. I climb in, turn the key, and drive off. If I'm feeling particularly attentive to detail, I might deign to check the fuel gauge. If travelling to Kuala Lumpur by way of Timbuktu and Tierra del Fuego, I might also take a quick butcher's at the tyres, oil and brake fluid.
The vehicle in question is an Audi A4. Sounds flash, doesn't it? Allow me to disabuse you of that notion. It is an Audi A4 diesel. To be precise, it is a 1998 Audi A4 diesel station wagon, and it sounds like a tractor with a longstanding 60 Capstan Full Strength a day habit and the consequent chronic emphysema. (6)
And it's got air con.
Unfortunately, as we soon discovered, said air con didn't work. We soon did something about that - without the air con, driving over the summer was akin to being sentenced to the corrugated iron 'oven' in a Japanese POW camp. In the light of all this, we made damned sure that it was fully serviced and functioning before September, when we left Portugal for Sainte-Jean-de-Losne. This was a pity really - all that time, effort and money would have been much better spent improving our knowledge and understanding of autumnal climate conditions in continental France.
Aircon? - we didn't need aircon. What we needed was heating, de-misting, (screen and side windows), rear window heating and wipers front and back. All of which, as we rather belatedly discovered, were the very things we didn't have. Well, we had them but they didn't work.
Well, we did only pay 1500 euros for the thing.
I've had my fair share of technicals at sea, but never any comprising the quantity and variety that coincided in this one trip by car. There we were, bowling happily along a busy French autoroute, when we spied an ominous-looking squall line ahead.
Well, I say 'ominous'. That is somewhat of an understatement. If I'd seen that while on a boat, I'd have been hyperventilating and doubly incontinent while simultaneously shouting out obscure commands, such as 'All hands on deck!', Batten down the hatches', 'Make guns fast', 'Lower & lash yards!', 'Clear strum boxes and prepare to man pumps!', and finally, in desperation, 'Splice the mainbrace' and 'I want my mum', before huddling in a corner of the cockpit, hugging my knees and whimpering pathetically.
In the car, I just glanced at the fuel gauge, grunted, and eased off the accelerator.
Then immediately pressed it down again.
Boxed in as I was, I had little choice but to keep station with the surrounding traffic. This was 95% French and therefore drove like The Furies on crack. This, so far, I could cope with. Then the squall hit. Torrential rain, augmented by the tyre-spray from the vehicles hemming us in, reduced visibility to single figures.
I gave Liz a world-weary sigh and reached confidently for the wiper switch before realising that I had no idea where it was - in the five months we'd had the car I'd had no occasion to use them. Thirty seconds of frantic scrabbling later, having confused the Hell out of the surrounding traffic by the random operation of fog lights, hazard lights, indicators, sunroof, wing mirrors and headlight flashers, I managed to waggle the right stalk and the wipers sprang into action.
Well, not so much 'Sprang into action' as 'juddered erratically across the windscreen whilst simultaneously emitting a tooth-grating screech (7) and leaving barely translucent smears right across my field of vision.'
I managed to maintain some forward vision by tilting my head and leaning forwards like an inquisitive parrot, thus enabling a letter box view through the 20cm2 of windscreen that wasn't rendered opaque by a suspension of birdshit, old engine oil, and tyre debris. Just as I was entering smug, self-satisfied mode, humidity came into play, and every one of the eight windows promptly misted up. The surrounding traffic, however, took no notice of this change in conditions and continued at its customary breakneck speed. I was now in the enviable position of being herded along the motorway at around 130 km/h by a sodding great mobile cement mixer in front of me, a sodding great fuel truck alongside me and a sodding great refrigerated artic doing its level best to climb into my boot.
We did manage, eventually, to weather the situation. (Pun unintended) Liz dug around and managed to come up with a couple of cloths which might, just, take more crud off the windscreen than they put on it.
Do you remember those plate spinning acts that were inexplicably popular on TV variety shows in the 60s? You know, the ones where some vapid twat with an idiot, vacant grin minced his way around the stage trying to keep ever-increasing numbers of plates spinning on flexible rods. As more and more plates were added the action became more frenetic and the rictus became more manic and strained. Just as this pointless exercise approached its shuddering anti-climax, the perpetrator rushed frantically from plate to plate, barely managing to avoid impersonating a Greek restaurant in Soho after the pubs chuck out.
Liz employed similar tactics in trying to keep the windows clear enough for me to have a rough idea of whatever it was that I was about to hit. She started on the windscreen (driver's side), which made driving an interesting experience. Once she'd got the screen on the grubby side of murky, she moved onto the other windows in priority order and tried to clear them before the windscreen completely fogged up again. The rear window was a lost cause. Nevertheless, we blundered our way through in reasonable humour and without undergoing complete nervous collapse. Compare that with my OCD approach to navigation and seamanship.
You have been reading for nearly ten minutes now. Take a break. Part II follows.
(1) Most boats are fitted with top-opening fridges. These win hands down at conserving both low temperatures and battery power, but they're a pain in the arse to use. Whatever you want is always at the bottom.
(2) "Absence is to love as wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great."
Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy (13 April 1618 - 9 April 1693)
(3) Or an old lover, of course, but that adds layer upon layer of complications
(4) 'Eros', 'Agape' and 'Storge', since you ask or Ερος, άγάπε, & στοργε if you want to show off.
(5) A nautical term meaning traveling under her own power as opposed to being loaded onto a freighter or a road trailer to be transported as cargo.
(6) Or Congestive Obstructive Pulmonary Disease to use its current name, which is so much more succinct that they've had to abbreviate it to COPD. That helps matters no end, doesn't it.
(7) In the Good Old Days, before blackboards had been supplanted by whiteboards and overhead projectors and they in turn by interactive whiteboards, I used to keep a supply of cheap and nasty chalks. With these I could produce tooth rending screeches at will, more than sufficient to reduce even the rowdiest of classes to whimpering compliance. Thank God for heightened teenage sensitivity to very high frequency sounds.
Long time no sea - Part II
22 March 2022
Welcome back. I admire your application and stamina. To continue:
The glaring inconsistency between that sea-going perspective and my lackadaisical attitude to land travel piqued my curiosity. Why were there such pronounced differences in mindset and behaviour exhibited by the same man with the same genes, the same history, the same beliefs, the same prejudices, the same experiences, and the same upbringing, all dependent solely on whether he's in a car or on a boat. I needed to have a big think and to consult Mr Google, along with Messrs Sanger and Wales and their myriad elves on Wikipedia. (1)
As with all matters of human psychology and behaviour, there seems to be an abundance of factors and theories, most of which appeared to be just-so stories made up down the Frog & Gimlet on a Friday night. Many were contradictory and more again were totally unsubstantiated by hard evidence.
According to a highly stringent and scientifically rigorous straw poll that I carried out down the pub last Friday, the most commonly believed explanation is that familiarity with the situation breeds, if not contempt, then at least a sense of blasé, dismissive confidence. This is intuitively appealing, superficially cogent, in keeping with popular wisdom,
It doesn't accord with the evidence. We are talking about a specific example and a specific person here, remember, namely me, me, me. If this theory had so much as a grain of truth in it, then things should have been the other way round. I have spent fifteen years living full time on a boat. That's 131,400 hours. During that time, I have driven a car/van maybe 120 hours. By rights, then, I should set sail in a state of insouciant un-seamanlike, unprepared indifference (Not unknown. See https://www.sailblogs.com/member/birvidik/276264) whilst I should shit every time I drive to our local Lidls to replenish our ever-dwindling stocks of cheap white wine, even cheaper T- shirts and obscure items of what is probably either garden equipment or close-quarters weaponry.
No - tempting though the familiarity theory is, it doesn't pass muster.
"OK, Clever-bollocks," I hear you snort, What does cut the mustard for you? What explanation floats your pedantic, demanding little boat?"
Well, gentle reader, there are two. Or there were at the last count.
The first is related to the above explanation that I so dismissively pooh-pooed. It goes by the catchy sobriquet of risk perception and compensation. To many people, crossing open water in a small boat is seen as inherently far more dangerous than strapping yourself into a couple of tonnes of metal and glass and then belting down a crowded French autoroute at 130 kilometres an hour.
I was going to ask you to do a quick 'back of the envelope' calculation involving rate of change of momentum with respect to time, but I couldn't face the reproachful looks, so I've done it for you. Basically, should a modern car, travelling at around140 km/h, bump into something really solid, such as a flyover pylon, or a sodding great artic, it will come to a standstill in, ooh, I dunno, about two seconds (and that's erring on the mild side). The force thus generated is around 40,000 kgf, or near as dammit 40 tonnes. You, as the driver, are in the middle of this. Safe, it ain't. It's a statistical certainty that the most dangerous part of any adventure holiday is the drive to the airport.
The second, and, I suspect, most important factor, is peer pressure. It's a funny and beguiling thing, peer pressure. It's totally irrational on the surface, but innumerable experiments have demonstrated its prevalence and deep-seatedness in the human psyche. In fact, peer pressure is probably the most extensively researched topic in the psychology lexicon. I suspect that this may well be funding related.
I shall elucidate.
Whether you want me to or not.
Peer pressure is generally looked upon as being mainly exhibited by children, especially adolescents, where it is almost invariably viewed as a bad thing. Adults in general, and those working in education, social work and law enforcement and the like in particular, see adolescent peer pressure as a powerful, underhand, and threatening cultural weapon in the inter-generational war between conflicting beliefs, values and principles. Funding bodies in education, social care, law enforcement and the like, throw money at psychology research bids in a desperate attempt to find the Holy Grail that will turn sullen, surly, loud, threatening, slugabed, fifteen-year-olds into smiling, respectful, compliant, acquiescent, neat-and-tidy Stepford Kids.
Or Kryten. (2)
As a result, there have probably been more psychological research studies into peer pressure than there have been to most of the other areas of study put together. They have repeatedly demonstrated that the phenomenon is not exhibited by children alone. Far from it. Almost everybody succumbs to it, the only differences being of degree, not of kind. It influences, and modifies the behaviour of, all ages, all cultures, all intelligences, all income brackets, all degrees of status, all political persuasions and all sexual proclivities.
All these studies have convincingly shown that a large proportion of people will go to preposterous lengths and undergo tortuous mental and logical gymnastics in order to fit in to whatever group they find themselves in at any particular time. In one classic experiment, subjects were given sheets of paper with pairs of lines of different lengths drawn on them and asked to judge which were the longer. Left on their own they got them all right. The task wasn't very intellectually taxing - even sociology undergraduates could do it. Other experimental subjects were given the same tasks, but asked to deliver their verdicts verbally, with the subjects reporting last. Unbeknownst to them, all the others in the group were experimental stooges who gave deliberately wrong answers. Over three-quarters of the subjects adjusted their answers to fit in with others in the group, even if the true answer would have been apparent to Mr Magoo at a range of 200 metres in thick fog.
At first glance, this seems absurd. Look at it from an evolutionary perspective, however, and it starts to make sense. It is a deeply ingrained psychological trait, which has evolved in response to the demands of living in groups, a lifestyle choice which evolved in turn to counter the fact that humans are such pathetic, slow, poorly-armed,(3) 98 pound weaklings that the only way they stood the slightest chance of survival, let alone reproducing, was to come at life mob-handed. Stay in the group and you're in with a chance. Venture out on your own and you're dead meat.
This apparent no-brainer, though, comes at a price.
Membership requires demonstrations of absolute loyalty to the group and unquestioning respect for its abovementioned beliefs, values and principles, even if, in your quietist moments, you secretly think them unbelievable, valueless, and unprincipled. Hence the popularity of initiation rituals from college and military hazing to circumcision and FGM via freemasonry investiture rituals. Hence also the practice of setting loyalty tests such as feeding your grandmother through a meat grinder; or shooting someone you've never met before, but to whom your prospective capo di tutti capi has taken an unreasoning dislike; or hacking off your little finger with a rusty penknife and presenting it (the finger, not the penknife) to some uninterested ingrate of a yakuza boss.
You wanna stay wid our gang/tribe/group/lodge/chapter/church/union/ multinational corporation/Chinese Politburo/Lower Walden Womens' Institute? OK wise guy (or gal) - you can stay. But first, you gotta show loyalty and you gotta show respect. You wanna stay wid us, you gotta play wid us.
HEY You! Lady wid de twinset & pearls an de burwood brogue shoes! You like it here in Lower Walden? Yous wanna stay? I thought I told yous to jump dat queue. Wadya mean, you can't bring yourself to do it? It's either dat, or it's back to da Batley Bingo Club for yous.
This realisation engendered a glimmer of explanation in me. I suspect that I make a mental shift when I move from boat to car and vice versa. I switch mindsets between the group filed under Western European>landlubber>motorist to that filed under Western European>boat owner>yottie>liveaboard. These groups have different beliefs, values, and principles. Expectations and attitudes differ, and the enforcement and the severity of sanctions vary from mild tuts of disapproval through public humiliation a la Dreyfus, all broken swords and severed epaulets, to ending up as ballast in a newly constructed flyover. Apostasy in any form usually poses the greatest threat to the integrity of the group, and therefore usually attracts the most draconian penalties.
Exploring this perspective requires that we address the beliefs, values and principles of the Yottie clan, and the effect these have on the behaviour of its members. At its heart lies the following assertion:
In general, and with a few notable exceptions, yotties are an easy-going, amiable enough, helpful, live-and-let-live bunch, except for one, glaring, peculiarity; namely their almost pathological obsession with the virtues of self-reliance. They will put themselves, and their boat, at considerable risk to help a fellow seafarer in difficulties. God help him, though, should there be even the slightest suspicion that the difficulties might have been even partially due to some error, omission, lack of proper preparation or malpractice on his part. This will be sufficient to provoke a similar reaction in the assembled yotties as does feeding a mogwai a double Big Mac at two in the morning and then setting a water cannon on him.
If you find this difficult to believe, take a gander at some of the boating internet fora. The opprobrium heaped upon some poor unfortunate who has lost his home, belongings, livelihood, marriage, self-respect and several body-parts has to be seen to be believed, and all because he committed the cardinal sin of omitting to compare his chartplotter data with a paper chart drawn up from soundings taken in 1795 by some knackered, bleary-eyed 14-year-old midshipman perched precariously in a small open boat, while trying to juggle a sextant and a lead line. It's little wonder that we yotties are so meticulous when it comes to planning, maintenance and seamanship. Miss one little trick, check or repair and you're in for a lifetime of reputational annihilation and social ostracism. Luckily, they tend to stop short of rude graffiti on your topsides and turds through your letter box. Hence the obsessive maintenance, preparation and planning. Who wants the ignominy and public humiliation of being demoted to punka-wallah 3rd Class at The Brazen Head (4)?
And the motorists? They are a simple and undemanding lot. They have only one rule, augmented by one codicil:
Fast is good.
Faster is better.
Master that MENSA-busting manifesto and you're in, ensconced on the top table between Jeremy Clarkson and my brother-in-law, Geoff. Well, they can't make the entry criteria too stringent, motoring's a big club. Virtually everybody's in it, even me, and I'm a bloody awful driver. It's all horribly reminiscent of Tony Blair's ill-conceived wheeze to force-feed every twenty-year-old in the country through what purport to be universities, while assuring sceptics that there would be no dilution of degree standards. What is wrong with these people? Haven't they heard of Normal Distribution Curves?
So, diversions, digressions, and detours notwithstanding, what was the outcome of our foray back into Boatyland?
A heart-warming glow of enthusiasm to renew our aquatic lifestyle, that's what, but an enthusiasm tempered with a cold bucket of realism which took the form of an inchoate grudging recognition that Brexit has effectively put the block on our chances of returning to our carefree, pre-covid, halcyon existence as full-time liveaboards, bumming our way around Europe. Between them, the 90/180 day Schengen rule and the 180/360 day Portuguese residency rule are consigning us to the lowly yottie category of 'Dilettante summer yotties', poncing about on the boat for 12 weeks in the summer and then skulking off to the lotus-eating land life for forty weeks of book clubs, bridge evenings and breakfast television.
It is difficult to justify buying, running and maintaining a boat like Birvidik II if it is only going to be occupied for 23% of the time. Unpleasant thoughts began to manifest themselves.
If truth be told, this came as no real surprise to either of us. We knew this was on the cards from June 24th 2016. We had just refused to acknowledge it. Until now, that is, when reality butted rudely into our cosy little dream world: "C'mon you bunch of Reality-deniers. Time's up! Party's over! On yer bikes!" In the face of this brutal, unsolicited reality check, we had little choice but to grasp the nettle, bite the bullet, face the music, pay the piper and brave-face the Long, Dark, Tea-time of the soul.
Yup, sorry but it's looking increasingly like (Hush, Hush, whisper who dares) the only sensible option is going to be to sell her, downsize to a more modest vessel and use the released equity to try to keep Liz in the manner to which she'd like to be accustomed.
It's not going to be the same, though.
(1) Wikipedia is poo-poohed in some circles as being too prole-ridden and insufficiently verified, but I find it very good. It's self-correcting, much like the scientific method. A good way of checking on the reliability of reference media such as this is to look up things that you actually know about. Research has been done on this, comparing Wikipedia with Encyclopaedia Britannica and they came out evens within experimental error. If anything, Wikipedia came out on top.
(2) If this is completely bewildering to you, then you really should binge watch all 61 episodes of 'Red Dwarf'. Geek paradise
(3) And don't start shouting "Poorly armed? What about AK47s and hyperbaric bombs? How poorly armed is a species that's bristling with Leopard 2A7 battle tanks and helicopter gunships?" at me. I've told you before, evolution is a ball-achingly slow process. Physically and psychologically, we're still scampering fearfully around the savanna, thinking ourselves lucky if we've got so much as a pointed stick and a bit of broken obsidian.
(4) 1-3 Cathcart Rd, Glasgow G42 7BE. Try sauntering in there wearing an orange t-shirt and whistling 'Marching Through Georgia' or 'Simply the Best'.
On reflection, probably best not.
Open your wallet...
28 October 2021 | and repeat after me - "Help Yourself"
I've never really been one for small talk. Some happy souls can rattle off for hours in relaxed, animated conversation with someone they've never met before, and with whom they have nothing whatsoever in common. I can usually manage about 4 ½ minutes before I run out of inspiration, tolerance, prescription painkillers, and the will to live. Nevertheless, it is difficult to avoid completely, and it does serve a useful societal purpose in establishing common ground, determining relative status, and assessing the likelihood of future relations being based on anything other than mutual loathing.JESUS H. CHRIST!
A favourite tactic is the "Where are you from?" gambit. This is usually followed by something along the lines of "Oh, the university of Sussex, eh? You must know my second cousin twice removed, Henry. I forget his surname, but he's a cleaner in the Social Studies Department - or was it Anthropology? Something like that." This usually elicits a response in the form of "Oh I must know him - after all, there's only twenty thousand of us there." Then, almost inevitably, there follows a supplementary...
Nowadays, our default response to the initial enquiry vis-á-vis our origins is to say 'Jersey'. Neither of us was born in Jersey, but Liz has lived there since she was four, and I moved there fifty-plus years ago, so it's the nearest either of us have got to a home. Without fail, the ritual plods relentlessly along its tedious, well-trodden path:
Man In Tank Top and Ill-fitting Wig: "Jersey, eh? You must know Lill. Lill Reece, or Rhys. Wait a minute - could have been Rees. Or Reese, now I think about it. Something like that, anyway. She was the barmaid at the Fort D'Auvergne hotel when we spent our honeymoon there in 1963. Came from Cardiff, or was it Swansea? Somewhere in Scotland, anyway. You must know her. Everyone knew Lill. Give her my regards."
Me: "Oh absolutely. I must know her - after all, there's only 100 000 of us. She must be about a hundred and four by now - that should narrow it down a bit. I'll start scouring the local care homes as soon as I can wrench myself away from this blatant breach of both the Geneva Convention and the 8th amendment to the US constitution."
Then comes the inevitable, predictable, supplementary:
"Jersey, huh? Tax exile, are you? I'll bet you're sitting on a pretty pile."
Resisting the temptation to appraise him fully of the full visual horror of my haemorrhoids, I boot up the well-worn sub-routine titled 'I am not a bloody tax exile' and let it run on auto while I go off into reveries of acid baths and verdicts of justifiable homicide. The gist of the sub-routine runs thus:
Jersey has a reputation as a tax haven. This evaluation is strongly disputed by The Great and The Good (or perhaps the Not-so-good) there, who argue that The Island's (1) popularity with the entitled, the light-fingered and the loaded is purely down to the unparalleled quality of the imaginative financial services offered and the knowledge, expertise and acumen of the myriad financial wizards that ply their arcane trade from this sceptred isle.
Yeah, Right (2)
It is certainly indisputable that the place attracts more than its fair share of the rich, the super-rich, the unbelievably rich and the just plain obscenely rich. Most people are aware of this. What most people don't appreciate is that these interlopers are but the tip of the iceberg. You don't have to reside in Jersey to be able to park your money there, away from prying eyes and inquisitive relatives, tax inspectors, soon-to-be-ex spouses, the Serious Fraud Office or UN war crimes tribunals. In fact, most of those who take advantage of the Island's somewhat accommodating arrangements rarely, if ever, visit the place in person.
It is virtually impossible to determine anything about the 1(1)k residents as they are cryptically known. Trying to get any information out of any Jersey institution, about anything, at any time, for any reason, is like trying to pull teeth with a pair of eyebrow tweezers. Even something as anodyne as the actual number of High Net Worth Individuals (Tax liability ≥ ₤ 150k p.a. at a flat rate of 20%) resident in Jersey appears to be a closely guarded state secret. The best estimates I've managed to get are around 200 to 300 tops. That's about 0.25% of the population. So it's no surprise that you never see one. It's unusual to find yourself behind Nigel Mansell in the food queue at M&S or sitting next to the Barclay Brothers as they demolish a couple of kebabs on the late-night number 15 bus. And you never bump into Roman Abramovich in the public bar of the Soleil Levant. The nearest I've come to it in a lifetime was bumping into Phil Jupitus carrying a suspiciously large attaché case through arrivals at Jersey airport. I've come into contact with fifty times that many celebs and modern-day robber barons while running a bar in Praia da Luz for four years. I've heated a milk bottle for Rick Wakeman's baby, you know (3).
So - around 250 tax exiles out of a population of 100 000 means that if you meet a Jersey resident there's a 1 in 400 chance that he (it's usually a he) is a tax exile. Put another way, there's a 399 in 400 chance that he's not.
"But Bob," I hear you cry in frustration, "what's all this got to do with cruising which, after all, is the purported theme of the blog and the only reason we log on to it and subject ourselves to this pointless, opinionated drivel (4)?"
O.K. - I'll tell you, since you're so interested.
Well, and Brexit, but I promised not to talk about that anymore.
The point, to which I was about to get before you interrupted, is that although we may reside in Jersey, we are certainly no tax exiles. This is, in fact, not only The Point, but a sore one to boot. What's made us so sensitive on the matter is that we've just been stiffed by the Jersey taxman.
Prior to That Whose Name Shall Remain Unspoken, our UK passports made the whole world our oyster. Well, Europe anyway. We could flit between Jersey, France, Spain, Portugal - anywhere in the EU - with impunity. Not now. Now we are limited to 90 days out of 180, and that is a right royal pain in the arse. To try to mitigate the effects of this, we decided to relocate from Jersey and make ourselves resident in a Schengen country before the transition period dribbled to an inconclusive end. We chose Portugal, on the grounds that we had contacts there, spoke the language (to a degree), knew the culture (to a lesser degree) and the authorities seemed intent on facilitating, indeed encouraging immigration. After managing to vault the customary obstacle course of bureaucratic hurdles, we succeeded in getting our Portuguese residencias. You can't, however, be resident in two different places at the same time - a sort of bureaucratic interpretation of the Pauli Exclusion Principle. So, when I filled in my state of the art, digital, online, Jersey 2020 tax return, I looked at the question "Were you resident in Jersey throughout the year in question?" and ticked the box marked 'no'.
Several weeks later I received an electronic billet-doux containing our tax assessment. I casually flicked the file open, expecting the usual modest increase that had characterised earlier incarnations of this classic example of the official version of demanding money with menaces.
It had more than doubled. How in the name of all that's holy did they manage to come up with that figure? Our pensions had increased by 0.9%. What possible justification could the grasping, avaricious bastards have for increasing our tax liability by 233% ?
Find out in the next, unedifying, instalment of 'Open Your Wallet', coming soon to a computer screen near you.
(1) The locals rarely refer to the place as 'Jersey', but usually call it 'The Island' (mentally capitalised).
(2) Delightful, though probably apocryphal story:
Lecturer: " If Mr Jagger can't get no satisfaction, then he must, perforce, get some satisfaction. In English, two negatives will make a positive, but two positives will never make a negative."
Student at back: "Yeah, Right!"
(3) Well, actually, I didn't - Liz did. But I took the order.
(4) © Name & address withheld. I'm still awaiting his permission to publish his coruscating hatchet-job on the blog.