Birvidik

03 August 2022 | or 'Fings ain't the way they seem'
18 June 2022 | or Desolation Row
22 March 2022 | or "Every Form of Refuge Has its Price
28 October 2021 | and repeat after me - "Help Yourself"
23 September 2021 | Warning - Contains strong language and explicit drug references
23 September 2021 | or Everything's Going to Pot
04 September 2021 | or Out of my league
27 August 2021 | or 'The Whine of the Ancient Mariner
16 August 2021 | Found in marina toilet, torn into squares and nailed to door.
06 August 2021 | or 'The Myth of Fingerprints'
30 July 2021 | A morality play in three acts.
30 July 2021 | Ouverture – Allegro Crescendo
30 July 2021 | Second movement – Accelerando, Doloroso
30 July 2021 | Third Movement – Presto, ma no Troppo
18 July 2021 | or 'Big Bastard is watching you
08 July 2021 | or 'love and infection'
29 June 2021 | or It Never Rains But It Pours
29 April 2021 | or Ends & Means
04 March 2021 | or Bringing it all back home.

It's just an illusion...

03 August 2022 | or 'Fings ain't the way they seem'
Bob&Liz Newbury
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?

Is there anybody out there?

18 June 2022 | or Desolation Row
Bob&Liz Newbury
Well, here we are in a floating tin can in the middle of a heatwave and slap bang in the middle of Darkest Rural France.

Ah yes, Darkest Rural France, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The inland waterway system runs through the full gamut of French human habitats(1), from cosmopolitan cities like Paris and Lyon to isolated agricultural hamlets where the inhabitants' entire social milieu, including the ferret, can be counted on the remaining fingers of one hand. (It's a very dangerous field of work, agriculture - on a par with fishermen, steel erectors on skyscrapers and saturation diving underwater welders).

In between these contrasting centres of human activity are small towns such as Chalon sur Saône, and over-sized villages, such as Sainte-Jean-de-Losne, but most of the network runs through Darkest Rural France, where tumbleweed bounces and cartwheels erratically down the eerily deserted streets and the locals still point at aeroplanes.

Darkest Rural France, which appears to house the last few remaining pockets of pre-rationalist belief systems, all of which could give the Amish a run for their money in the anti-technology stakes This is a culture for whom even the humble cigarette lighter is the work of The Devil:

"Look! Witchcraft!
See! - fire comes from his fingertips! Burn the witch!
What's that you say - he's already on fire and doesn't seem much bothered by it?
Good point. Chuck a leather bucket of stale urine over him. That should do the trick."


Only in French, of course:

Voir! La sorcellerie!
Voyez - le feu vient du bout de ses doigts ! Brûler la sorcière!
Qu'est-ce que vous dites - il est déjà en feu et ne semble pas trop dérangé ?
Bon point. Jetez un seau d'urine périmée sur lui.
Cela devrait faire l'affaire.


(Middle French would have been better, and even more insufferably posy, but I couldn't find it on Google Translate.)

So, back to the matter of Darkest Rural France, a cultural and psychological bolthole which makes Children of the Corn and The Wicker Man look like documentaries, and where the internet is an abomination against both Nature and The Godly. Actually, they might just have a point with that last one, but since I'm using the abysmal telecoms infrastructure around these parts as an excuse for delays in updating this blog and my tardy replies to emails, I'll let it ride.

In keeping with the rustic horror movie conceit, if you unaccountably manage to actually come across a living, breathing inhabitant, (s)he will, without fail, be open, friendly, smiling, helpful, tolerant, and accommodating.

This just makes me more nervous.

As does the pervasive smell of garlic, the hoarse aural backdrop of cawing crows, the mournful tolling of the cracked church bell, and the fact that most of the locals seem compelled to avoid sunlight. In my fevered imaginings, this makes them odds-on to be either vampires or consultant dermatologists(2).

OK, I plead guilty without mitigation to wilful exaggeration, unsubstantiated assertions, and puerile fantasising, but there's still something unsettling about rural France. It really is big, and it really is empty, absolutely devoid of any extant examples of homo sapiens. Despite its abject dearth of human inhabitants, the whole stepfordesque landscape, both private and communal, is beautifully manicured to the point of appearing to be a model village that has unexpectedly grown up to life-size overnight, or the opening credits of Midsomer Murders.

Each blade of grass is mowed to the regulation 2.5 cm on what must a daily schedule, while every one of the regimented hedges is trimmed to conformity with similar frequency. Luxuriant flower beds and hanging baskets bloom in vivid profusion. Picture-postcard cottages are freshly painted, and thatched roofs kept scrupulously clean and tightened every other Thursday. Litter is an alien concept, the pristine streets unsullied by so much as a solitary Gauloise stub. Even the litter bins glisten proudly; cleaned, polished and disinfected on what must be an at least daily schedule. In the unlikely event of graffiti rearing its ugly head it'll be gone before the acrylic has set.

Maintaining all this would be a full-time job for an army of gardeners, painters, thatchers, roadsweepers, sanitation logistics operatives, community service conscripts, and general odd-job men, but you never see anyone actually doing it.

In fact, you never see anyone at all.

When does all this work get done? Do they all sneak out at three in the morning wearing night vision goggles and pushing stealth wheelbarrows full of rubber mallets and soundproofed shovels?
Where is everybody? Where are they all hiding?

It's not as if there aren't that many of the buggers. According to the most recent census, France has a population of a whisker over 65 million, making it the third most populous country in Europe, although how the authorities managed to count a whole countryful of congenitally unco-operative, invisible Frenchmen without the assistance of miners' helmets, helicopter-mounted, infra-red body scanners and a tracking chip implanted surreptitiously in every newborn during the general post-partum chaos is beyond me(3). There are probably half that number again squirreled away in the dark recesses of abandoned outside privies, peering hungrily through the gaps in roughly boarded windows like posters for The Hills Have Eyes.

Maybe it's population density, I thought. France is a sod of a big country. Perhaps they're just spread out more.

Not really. France has a population density of 114 people per kilometre squared. This makes it the ninth most populous in Europe which, if the world were fair and God were a socialist, would give each and every one of them their very own 8500 m2, or one and a quarter football pitch's worth of La Belle France in which they could put on yellow vests, play interminable games of petanque, pontificate on abstruse philosophical concepts, and protest violently to their hearts' content. OK, this is spacious compared with your average Dutchman, who has to make do with just the penalty boxes to stick his finger in dykes, supply the world with tulips and practice his clog-dancing, but it's not anywhere near enough to explain the strange phenomenon of rural France looking like the recent recipient of a stray neutron bomb.

"Ah!" I hear you exclaim smugly. "It's urbanisation and age demographic separation. The young up sticks and gravitate to the bright lights and fleshpots of the cities, leaving the countryside to slide into gentle geriatric decline. It appears deserted because its entire population is stuck indoors waiting for a bilateral hip replacement, while those brave and lucky few who do manage to limp to a window or doorway can't be seen because they're all dressed in black"

Good try, but wrong.

Eighty percent of the French live in urban areas, which makes them the tenth most urbanised in Europe. This puts them on a par with the UK and Spain, both of which have very unfrench cultural attitudes to the use and maintenance of the private and the public realms, and it is here, I suspect, that the solution to the conundrum lies.

The French, especially the rural French, view personal space from a completely different perspective than do most other western cultures. They are as socially dependent as any other group of humans, but they express that deep psychological need very differently from us Brits. As for our transatlantic cousins, if they think we Brits are a bunch of po-faced, formal, reserved, class-ridden snotbags, they should try striking up a conversation with a bunch of condescending French Jacques Derrida wannabees. In contrast to the immediate and unsolicited soul-baring and embarrassingly detailed personal and medical details we have come to expect from our American friends,
See here...
the French are a very formal, rule-bound and ritual-dependent lot. Take, for example, the famed French politesse. WASP cultures frequently comment on French greeting frequency, asserting that the average Frenchman can't pass within fifty metres of a piece of street furniture without wishing it a bon jour and that this somehow epitomises their exquisite good manners. This is based on a misunderstanding. When a Frenchman says 'Bonjour', he is not expressing a heartfelt wish that your day be a brim-full 24-hour extravaganza of untrammelled joy (that would be bonne journée try it - you'll get a completely different reaction). Rather, he is initiating a ritual, the purpose of which is to avoid any intimacy or significant social interaction:

M. 1"Bonjour, M'sieu-Dame."
Translation: "I acknowledge your existence, Sir & Madam.
Please rest assured that I have no intention to beat you to the ground, steal your rather tasteful watch, or abduct and ravish your, equally tasteful, good lady wife. More to the point, I have no inclination whatsoever to have the effrontery to attempt to engage you in conversation."

M. 2: "Bonjour, M'sieu."
Translation: "I, in turn, acknowledge your existence, Sir, and appreciate your restraint in the matters of unsolicited conversation, theft, bodily violence, ravishment and other social faux pas."

Mme 2: "Bonjour, M'sieu."
Translation: "I reiterate my husband's acknowledgement of your existence, Sir, and echo his appreciation of your restraint in the aforementioned matters."

M. 1 Nods, briefly.
Translation: "Bon! I have completed my role in the ritual, now please go away and leave me in peace".

M. 2: Returns the nod.
"Agreed. Moi aussi".

Mme 2 Smiles and returns the nod, while slowly lowering her eyelashes.
"Tell me more about this ravishment business."

Both parties are now free to go about their business untroubled by the mortifying prospect of gauche, stilted and ultimately doomed attempts at initiating even the most basic level of human social intercourse.

How magnificently efficient! All that negotiation and enforcement of cultural norms in seven words and less than five seconds. No wonder that the French can effortlessly display an uncanny ability to make exquisite good manners and punctilious politeness deeply insulting and humiliating.

This epitomises the factors in the French psyche that lead inexorably to the desolate emptiness of Darkest Rural France. The French don't socialise with strangers. Or acquaintances for that matter. Even those on the cusp of friendship are kept at a metaphorical arm's-length. No, the French socialise solely with very close friends and with family.
And they do it at home.
Behind closed doors and shuttered windows
Not in pubs like the Brits do, or in the street like the Italians, or everywhere, like the Spanish.

If, by happenstance, you do come across a Frenchman (or woman) in the street, (s)he is either protesting about the price of diesel, making their way to a friend's or relative's house for dinner, or buying the ingredients for the eight-course, twenty-two cover soirée they're throwing in three and a half hours' time.

Et Voila!
The problem of the enigma of Darkest Rural France is solved(4), without recourse to superstition, wild coincidence or Boris Karloff

Unless, of course, my original assessment was right, and rural France really is the last bastion of pre-rationalist paganism and the fallback redoubt of displaced vampires, werewolves, Satanists, zombies, cannibals and the like.

Nah!

Can't be.

We'd have noticed.

Whoops - got to go - there appears to be a posse of deformed peasants on the pontoon, waving fiery torches and shouting " Brûler les sorcières ", "Perfide Albion", and "Vive la Brexit!"

Must change the ensign.



And - the inevitable footnotes:

(1) And we'll have no sarky remarks about the terms 'human' & 'French' being mutually exclusive.
(2) I concede that there is probably some overlap between the two sets.
(3) For God's sake keep that idea away from any conspiracy theory nutjobs.
(4) Preferably to be spoken aloud in a heavy Clouseau accent. Someone needs to come up with a font called Clouseaunics OTT.

Long Time no Sea - Part I

22 March 2022 | or "Every Form of Refuge Has its Price
Bob&Liz Newbury
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.
Especially 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.
Could we?
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.
Might.
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.

Footnotes:


(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.



Vessel Name: Birvidik
Vessel Make/Model: Victory 40
Hailing Port: Jersey C.I.
Crew: Bob Newbury
About: Liz Newbury
Extra: 11 years into a 10 year plan, but we get there in the end.
Birvidik's Photos - Naxxar
Photos 1 to 8 of 8 | Birvidik (Main)
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Liz making friends with the locals
Palace bedroom
Chair back - real gold.
Ceiling fresco
More of the garden
Like a miniature Versailles
Naxxar palace gardens
Picturesque bus station
 
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