Thursday, September 15, 2016

Meanwhile, back on dry land I reflect on whether or not too substantial breakfasts should be subject to an EU directive: Jack Tar's diet might have been abysmal, but it did mean Britannia ruled the waves for several millennia (though I’m told the Dutch take a rather contrary view on the matter). Then there’s the matter of snapped photos and an accusation of insanity from my daughter (so to speak)

First the good news I wasn’t seasick, not even a little. But then you don’t get too many storms in the Markenmeer north of Amsterdam, and when you do, I’m sure some EU directive or other comes into play ensuring that not only do certified landlubbers stay well and truly on land, but that we take the time allowed us by the enforced period ashore as an opportunity to mug up the texts of various EU directives with which we might not yet be familiar. Such high-handed nonsense was one of the many reasons why in June Britain voted by an overwhelming majority of 0.05 per cent to tell the EU it could stick itself, its constitutions, its directives and it ‘open borders’ where the sun don’t shine. This nation of seafarers (©Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, The Times and the Daily Telegraph) refuses to be told when, where, with whom and why it can go to sea: enough is enough, Johnny Foreigner!

I must say I enjoyed my two days on the high seas (we put into harbour during the night). Thirty of us set out from Enkhuizen on the Friday afternoon in the Novel, a


converted flat boat of the kind which before the days of mass tourism and pretty much unlimited leisure time (i.e. in the days when we all still worked) would sail along the north coast of Holland and Germany, delivering stuff to Hamburg and bring stuff back from Hamburg, the stuff being pretty much anything which it was easier to transport in bulk by sea rather than by land, clogs, edam cheese, dirndl dresses, that kind of thing.

Anyone who has heard of Erskine Childers famous novel The Riddle Of The Sands but hasn’t read it will know what I am talking about. Incidentally, I did briefly try to start a discussion with some of my sister’s German friends about the feasibility of Germany and England jointly invading Scotland by sea in the event of an independence vote but was smartly sent away with a flea in my ear. Make no mistake: today’s German is a sound democrat who has put his country’s past well behind him and her. If there is to be any invading, it can only be done under the auspices of the EU and by the EU invasion force Jean-Claude Juncker is putting together as I write. (Oh, and by the way, Juncker is not an out-of-control boozer as some malcontents are suggesting. If and when he falls over, it is merely because he has had a gammy leg after a car crash in the late 19th century and often finds it difficult to keep his balance with a glass of brandy in his hand. I think we should be clear on that.)

All those flatboats, and there must have been several hundred of them at Enkhuizen from where we set out and at Monnickendam where we spent the night, have since been converted for accommodation, and ours had 15 cabins. The Novel was a three-master with six sails (I am not speaking with any greater nautical authority, it’s just
that I can count quite well up to 100 and there were certainly not 100 masts and sails on our boat) with a crew of three - the owner, his wife and a crewman, Mick. Mick, by the way, a lad from The Hague with Indonesian heritage, had a degree in economics, one in infomatics - I don’t know what that is either - but then worked as a roofer before deciding his destiny lay in a life on the high seas, or at least on seas that get as high as they do on the Markenmeer.

Once everyone had arrived by 8pm on the Friday, we were shown how to secure the many, many ropes which seem to make up most of such a ship and told the names of the different sails. When I say the Novel had a crew of three, I should add that we were also part of the crew in that when directed to we, en masse, would pull on whatever rope we had to to hoist sails or lower them as necessary. And there was quite a bit of that. The rest of the time, though was ours, in which to do nothing but relax, eat and drink.

I sure there is a proper nautical term for food and booze brought on board to feed passengers - ‘provisions’ and ‘victuals’ sound far to land-based to my ears - but whatever it is there was a hell of a lot of it. Everyone contributed - wine, champagne, Sekt and beer, in particular - but there was more than enough for three square meals a day over two days with a lot of it brought back home again. My brother-in-law, who is a rather good cook, prepared a supper for the Saturday night (with help) of fillet steak, courgettes and risotto, with a very nice Rioja followed by pudding and cheese. It was very good indeed. In the morning everyone (except me - I don’t like to eat at all before noon) sat down to a substantial German breakfast (Brötchen and Schwarzbrot, Schinken, Käse, Konfitüre and Marmelade, and Kaffee) and the snack lunch consisted of bacon and eggs.

This all took a great deal of organisation, and I fell to wondering just what a similar group of Brits would come up. Years ago, at the beginning of term at university we were four in a flat and as nothing had yet been bought, we sent one of our number out to get ‘essentials’. He returned several packets of crisps, a jar of marmalade and a bottle of orange squash. I rather think had this been a Brit excursion, we would all have mucked in and survived on any number of Batchelor’s Cup-a-Soup Extras (‘A big hug in a mug’ apparently), loads of crisps, Morrisons ready meals and Angel Delights. Or perhaps the German in me is coming out and I am just being nasty.

I’ve got to say as far as food is concerned, give me the German way of life any day. I should add, though, that the Brit in me doesn’t take to well to some aspects of German organisation: it was regarded as slightly odd of me to skip breakfast and lunch on both days. (One helpful soul even tried counselling me and remained unconvinced, though diplomatically silent on the matter, when I explained that I simply prefer to eat when I am hungry, not according to some timetable. She definitely thought I was now just a few steps from the funny farm and gave my arm a charitable, knowing squeeze when we all said goodbye to each other on the Sunday afternoon. It assured me she would be there for me if, you know, if . . .).

I’ve got to say I enjoyed it. The only downside was that whereas I once spoke German as fluently as I speak English and was always taken for a German, that complete fluency has, not to make too fine a point, has gone, and I found I couldn’t converse as freely as I would have liked. Certainly all Germans and most of their pets can speak English (although not always as perfectly as the imagine), and like to do so, but, oddly, it just felt wrong to me to be speaking English to a German. That’s as best as I can describe. Although I know, or at least tell myself, that were I to live in Germany among Germans for several weeks I would regain that fluency - the German is most certainly there, but deep down - that seems unlikely to happen. Oh well. Now I must be off to pore over my charts of the North Sea. There surely must be some way to get the fleet up the Tay without causing too much fuss.

. . .

I have long like taking photographs, and now that everyone one of us carries a smartphone (or even two or three) and each has a camera, it is easy to take a snap of this or that when and if. What particular catches my eye are patterns in our surroundings. They might not be obvious at all, but I will see something and in a matter of moments take a picture (and usually then dicking around with it a little, usually giving it a judicious crop. Here is one such picture, taken at work a day or two ago:

I pasted it on Facebook and it immediately drew the following comment from my daughter: You are so strange wtf have you taken pictures of stairs for (sic).

My repy was ‘Elsie, it is not ‘a picture of stairs’. It is a picture of light and shadow and lines and curves. Try to look at it that way. Try to look at it as thought it were an abstract picture, not a picture of something you can recognise.’

My question is simple: am I getting soft-headed? I like the picture, as I like this one


and the same applies to each: don’t look at it as an object you might recognise, but try to look at it somehow in abstract. I suppose rotating a particular picture might help, to break that link between what we see and what we think we know. Like this


Here’s another question: am I losing it? I don’t think so, and for me all three pictures hold a certain, though it has to be said trivial, interest? But I do like the ‘light and shade and lines and curves’. Is there a lot wrong with that?

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