Birvidik

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.
07 February 2021 | or confessions of a bank outsider
30 January 2021 | or The Confessional
22 January 2021 | And a little bit of this'll get you up And a little bit of that'll get you down
10 January 2021 | Queue outside IMT offices, Portimao

Open your wallet...

28 October 2021 | and repeat after me - "Help Yourself"
Bob&Liz Newbury
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.

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.
It's tax.
Well, and Brexit, but I promised not to talk about that anymore.
Sorry.

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.

JESUS H. CHRIST!
HOW MUCH?!


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.

Footnotes:
(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.

The Trouble with Nature - Part 1

23 September 2021 | Warning - Contains strong language and explicit drug references
Bob&Liz Newbury
It's another two-parter. Part 2 follows immediately after part 1 (uncannily enough). If you can't see part two, click on 'older' (bottom right) or 'contents' (top right).

The current ongoing movement extolling the virtues of natural products is all well and good, but it has its drawbacks. Just because something has come from Nature's bounty doesn't always mean it's good for you. I posit deadly nightshade, death cap mushrooms, puffer fish, and polar bear liver for starters. Then, of course, there are all those cute little pathogens, the likes of bubonic plague, cholera, ebola, malaria and, of course, covid - all products of Nature in all her bounteous glory.(1)

Frequently complementing the 'Natural is good' philosophy is a vituperative denunciation of 'chemicals' and a vehement loathing of anything (and anyone) who has ever been within two hundred metres of a laboratory- fifty kilometres if it's a genetics lab.

"We don't want to put any chemicals in our bodies" they bleat, pitifully. God give me strength. Their whole bodies are made of bloody chemicals. Everything's made of bloody chemicals.

I'll stop that right here. The whole business warrants a dedicated posting of its own, and the subject matter of this one has already been booked.

I have, however, recently experienced the vagaries of natural remedies personally, specifically regarding herbal medicine. Don't get me wrong - I haven't undergone a brainectomy and become an avid follower of the inane pronouncements of the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. Why on Earth would anyone take health advice from a raving narcissistic nutjob whose knowledge and understanding of science and medicine is firmly rooted in the Dark Ages and whose daytime job is dressing up and playing let's pretend?

You may be aware that I was diagnosed with Parkinson's about a year ago. Since then, the medics have been experimenting on me with different combinations of drugs, trying to hone the regime to a best fit for my particular genetic make-up. That's the main problem with treating conditions such as this - you're messing around with some pretty fundamental biochemistry and physiology, and genetic variation means that everybody reacts differently, so the whole tangled web of cause and correlation, effect and side-effect, ends up as an exercise in trial & error cunningly disguised with white coats and clipboards.

Now, I would hate you to think that I've stuck a colander on my head and joined QAnon, but there was one area that the medics couldn't readily investigate because of obstacles put in their way by The Government:

There is some evidence, far from watertight, I admit, that cannabis can alleviate many of the symptoms of Parkinson's, and ease some of the more unpleasant side effects of Parkinson's meds. It's not impossible for researchers to investigate these phenomena, but to be allowed to do so, they have to jump through a byzantine assault course of bureaucratic hoops.

I don't suffer such constraints. So I could set up my own mini Cochrane Review (2) and investigate this fascinating little area of study without having a battalion of Home Office heavies and undercover policemen breathing down my neck and editing the final report so that it better reflects what they think is public opinion but what is, in reality, a hotch-potch of saloon bar prejudices culled from the owners and editors of the tabloid press.

I would like, at this juncture, to pre-empt the inevitable deluge of snide, sneering, cynical accusations of hidden agendas and assure both of our readers that this is in no way an underhand attempt to justify a return to the wayward hedonistic habits of my gloriously mis-spent youth; a feeble and disingenuous ploy to give some moral credence to my lapse back into indolent stonerhood. Before this current apostasy, I had spent 45 years without so much as a tantalising whiff of the stuff.

Mind you, neither was it an altruistic and unbiased attempt to establish objective scientific fact.

Not with a sample size of one.
And not even single blind, let alone double blind.
And no way of accurately measuring dosage.
Or objective, accurate and repeatable means of measuring effect.

Nope. All in all, the whole enterprise serves as an unsurpassable example of truly appalling experimental design.

"So why do it then, you plonker?" I hear you ask, your voices straining with hoarse incredulity. That, mes petites chouchous, is a very good question, and one to which I will respond as soon as I can think up an answer that's even half-plausible. Don't hold your collective breaths.

However, to return grudgingly to the narrative, consider point 3 in the above list of omissions, failings, and faux pas, namely no way of accurately measuring dosage. This is not, primarily, a matter of a lack of suitable equipment - accurate balances and all the other equipment essential to carrying out a full titre - although that certainly doesn't help. No, the major problem here is that I was working with natural materials and natural materials are, by their very, well, nature, inconsistent. Every time something reproduces, a load of genetic cock-ups (3) occur, resulting in genetic variation.

This is a good thing as it gives evolution something to get its teeth into, but it's a pain in the arse if you're trying to measure out doses of dope.

The sensible course of action here (which, surprisingly, I adopted) is to start low and gradually build up. This was not made any easier by our chosen means of administration, namely, to make a fridge-full of weed-enhanced chocolate brownies and to weigh out the doses on kitchen scales which were accurate +/- 2g (If we were lucky). Nevertheless, we persevered and established the most effective method of preparation and the optimum dosage for maximum suppression of tremor and least psychoactive effect (4).

Successive subsequent batches of raw material produced pretty consistent results, and therein lay the seeds of my downfall. I grew blasé and hubristically confident. My impatience was my Nemesis. Historically, I had employed a dose escalation regime, starting with one gramme of cookie, which is about the size of a communion wafer, or a rose petal if you object to the religious reference. When this had no effect, which was always, I tried 3g the next day, then 5 etc until it had the desired effect. This was invariably between 11 and 13 grammes of cookie, equivalent to about 1/12 of a gramme of cannabis bud, which is about 1½ sunflower seeds worth.

Admirably anally retentive though this procedure may be, it is not without its snags. Primary amongst these is that all calculations are founded on the total mass of plant material, not on the mass of the active ingredients. These latter values could be easily obtained were we to lash out five years' worth of pensions on a mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. Powerful though these toys are, they were unable to survive Liz's power of veto, and we had to resort to back-of-the-envelope calculations and educated guesswork.

Another irritation was that with each new batch, we had a fallow period of a week until the dosage built up to effective levels. This wouldn't do at all, so we (= 'I') decided to give the first four days dosage a miss and start at 7g, half the normal effective dose, thus saving over half the fallow time. All we had to do was make up the cannabis butter with the new batch as usual and start the process at 7g of cookie, only a sunflower seed's-worth of flower buds.

What could possibly go wrong?

Footnotes:

(1) OK - the origins of covid are as yet moot. We'll leave it in both camps pro tem.
(2) The Cochrane Foundation is the gold-standard test for medical research. If a theory, study, claim, or piece of research is supported by The Cochrane Foundation, then you can be pretty confident in it.
(3) or should the plural be 'cocks-up'?
(4) Ironically, this approach is in diametric opposition to what my intentions would have been fifty-odd years ago.

The Trouble with Nature - Part 2

23 September 2021 | or Everything's Going to Pot
Bob&Liz Newbury
What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot, as it happens.

If you cast your mind back to the opening salvos of this sordid little tale, you will recall me blethering on about natural genetic variation. Well, it seems that I don't even listen to myself.

We cooked up a batch using the latest delivery from UberSpliffs and I took a seven gramme slice of cookie before setting about preparing dinner. I first noticed that there was something out of the ordinary going on about 20 minutes later. This in itself was unusual as previous batches had taken between 40 minutes and an hour and a half to kick in. Liz asked me something and I turned to face her. As my head and eyes turned, the room lagged behind, only to suddenly speed up and overtake me before springing back, overshooting, and finally settling down in the right place. Needless to say, I found this rather disorientating. I shook my head to try to clear it. This was not the wisest decision I've ever made. Never mind, the sensation of being unpleasantly like being drunk (1) passed after a couple of minutes and something approaching normality returned. I finished preparing the starter and poured the drinks.

I knew something had gone seriously awry when I returned my glass, unsipped, to the table. Not even a Leffe Brune tempted me. Several attempts at conversation petered out when my tightly reasoned (and characteristically opinionated) monologues descended into gibberish. I started to worry that Liz might think I was having a stroke. Or that I had unaccountably decided to conclude the discussion in Klingon.(2)

Then things really started to get weird. Whatever this stuff was, it had to be the most hallucinatory substance I've ever come across, more so than LSD, psilocybin or mescaline. The strange thing was that the hallucinations weren't visual, or auditory - no distorted faces or phantom voices. This stuff played fast and loose with basic concepts of identity and self. Primarily, it distorted my sense of time, my sense of self and my sense of setting, both physical and social.

It started in a mundane, yet bizarre, way; I had an overwhelming and disproportionately vivid sense that I was wearing a hat. I knew I wasn't. I could see in the mirror that I wasn't. I repeatedly tested this surreal sensation by patting the top of my head with the flat of my hand. Nope - definitely no hat. Liz's mental equanimity was not helped one iota by this strange tic that I appeared to have developed. This was rapidly followed by a low level, but persistent, background sense that there were three of us there in the room.

The real scary humdinger, though, was the time distortion. This was erratic, disturbing and yet fascinating at the same time. It seemed to me that my mental processes chugged steadily along at a constant rate. The world around me, though, was all over the place. About 50% of the time the two worlds coincided and coexisted, if not in harmony, then at least in a state of truce. After an hour or so I started to get used to it, but when it first happened it scared the bejasus out of me. I was, by this time, laying on the sofa, while poor Liz was left trying to square the circle on our little local difficulty. She got up and went to the kitchen. As my eyes followed her, she seemed to progressively slow down, not in a jerky fashion á la old black & whites, but smoothly and elegantly like a modern slo-mo. As she approached the kitchen she slowed right down and finally froze motionless. Every aspect of the room now took on the aspect of a still 3D photograph. The wall clock remained motionless, as did my watch. Still my thoughts continued to race. It was impossible for me, in my altered state, to conjure up any real idea as to how long this tableau vivant lasted. I had the brainwave of counting my pulse and estimating the time from that, but I lost track at doo humble and threebly sticks.

After an indeterminate period of stasis, the rest of the world kicked itself back into gear. Everything started moving again, slowly at first, then accelerating. Mimicking the visual phenomenon at the start, it overshot, leaving Bobbyworld trudging along in its wake at plod factor one. It oscillated around Bob Standard Time for a bit until the two universes matched up enough to settle into an uneasy truce.

These time distortion episodes recurred with increasing frequency, which gave me the opportunity to practice and hone my heart rhythm-based timing ploy. Still no luck, although my best effort got as far as sticks bumble and toobly jive before I completely lost the plot.

When all this nonsense started, I was quite sanguine about it all, and viewed the whole, bizarre business with a mixture of calm, detached fascination, and smug, sardonic amusement. OK, this was orders of magnitude more psychoactive than anything I had previously experienced, but it was received wisdom that it was impossible to get a fatal overdose of cannabis. The only way, it was generally agreed, that dope could kill you was if 20 kilos of it landed on your head from a great height.

All I needed to do, I told myself, was to lay back, enjoy the ride, and wait for the bloody stuff to wear off - shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. In response to this challenge, it intensified its time distorting activities. Then it started to play dirty, to nibble away at my sense of self and my deep-seated assumptions about the constancy of the world around me.

According to no lesser authority than The Journal of Neuroscience, "The cannabinoid (CB) system is a key neurochemical mediator of anxiety and fear learning in both animals and humans. The anxiolytic effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, are believed to be mediated through direct and selective agonism of CB1 receptors localized within the basolateral amygdala, a critical brain region for threat perception. However, little is known about the effects of THC on amygdala reactivity in humans." (3)

Glad I told you that? Thought you might be. In English: THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It interferes with connections in the part of the brain that evaluates possible threats. As a result, it reduces fear and anxiety.

Well it didn't bloody reduce mine.

In a brief interval when the time distortions paused for breath, the clock indicated that this nonsense had been going on for nearly three hours and was showing no signs of subsiding. If anything, it was intensifying. This was somewhat in conflict with my expectations, and all my carefully repressed worries, anxieties and fears took the opportunity to bubble up from my grubby little subconscious. OK, dope can't kill you, but what if this wasn't dope? What if it doesn't abate and I'm left in this pathetic state long-term, or even permanently? That's the problem with unregulated supply chains.

Having worked myself up into a frenzy of doubt, fear and self-loathing, I was in no condition to deal with the coup de grâce - serial room 101.(4) This is a tactic of such ingenious sadism that Torquemada himself would have been jealous. Dig, probe, and pry into the deepest recesses of your victim's psyche until you know every night terror, every secret fear, every shameful indiscretion, every soul-crushing failure. Then make him truly believe that they are, in all their full horror, being visited upon him. It doesn't matter a jot whether it is real or an illusion, as long as he believes that it is real. He will suffer equally, and illusions are cheaper.

I certainly believed that whichever one was current was real. They culminated in my Winston Smith moment, which took advantage of my desperately needing a pee. As my physical co-ordination at this time verged on paralysis, Liz had to help me get off of the couch and traverse the eight metres or so to the bathroom. As I looked in the mirror, the setting switched. I was no longer in our bathroom. In a sudden wave of clarity, I saw that I was in a nursing home, experiencing a brief, agonising flash of lucidity, breaking through the dismal fog of end-stage dementia - probably my greatest dread.

I turned to my carer, who was somehow still Liz, but not Liz. "This is it, isn't it?" I asked. "This is reality." Even in my drug-addled imagination, even as both Liz and not-Liz, she was still, as always, totally incapable of telling a bare-faced lie. She looked me in the eye and nodded.

That cheered me up no end.

What did cheer me up was that this vicious little episode had been the final heave; after over four hours of this purgatory the malign little bastard's influence was beginning to weaken. It was starting to wear off. After another half an hour I was able (with the help of my long-suffering carer) to crawl up the stairs on my hands and knees and collapse into bed. I slept like a baby for ten hours.

And the moral of the story is fourfold:

1. Never underestimate the extent of genetic variation, especially if it's reinforced by selective breeding.
2. He who has knowledge but fails to apply it is a complete dickhead.
3. The intelligent man learns from his mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. The complete dickhead learns from neither.
4. Knowing a lot about something in no way precludes a complete dickhead from being a complete dickhead with it. In fact, it frequently makes things worse.

Nevertheless, the stuff does seem to suppress the tremor, so further research is needed, but only under the strict supervision of a responsible adult (like Liz).

Even then, a real, top-notch, complete dickhead can still cock things up.

Footnotes:

(1) © Douglas Adams
Ford Prefect: "This is unpleasantly like being drunk!"
Arthur Dent: "What's unpleasant about being drunk?"
Ford Prefect: "Ask a glass of water."
(2) Subsequent discussion of this with Liz elicited the opinion that she hadn't noticed any significant deviation from my normal, usually incomprehensible, standards of discourse
(3) Journal of Neuroscience. 2008 Mar 5; 28(10): 2313-2319.
Cannabinoid Modulation of Amygdala Reactivity to Social Signals of Threat in Humans
K. Luan Phan,et al
(4) This is the real, terrifying room 101, as in '1984', not the occasionally mildly amusing self-promotion vehicle on The Beeb.
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.
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