Saturday, March 31, 2012

Late Night Visits from Agents of the Government

01 04 2012
The Final Days of Almerimar, Spain

Mooring in Spain is a challenge.  On entering a marina here you must stop at the marina office before anything may occur.  Failure to stop at the marina office instigates Spanish alarm systems accompanied by yelling, waving of arms and gesticulation.  People get upset.

Marina offices you see are all immigration offices you see.  To enter the marina without clearing in is tantamount to driving through the border post at the Canada US border.  

In Spain you must clear in and out of every marina.  Failure to do so is a serious offence.  Marina offices are presented with Passports for all crew (which are copied and faxed to big brother central), Certificate of Registry for you boat and Proof of Insurance in Spanish.  To be permitted to leave you must prove to the satisfaction of the marina office that you have settled all your accounts in full.  The office may ask for proof of payment of bills with local tradespeople and service providers. 

Every dealing you have with the marina is documented.  The marina keeps a file on every boat and boater; the file an ongoing record of notations, observations, records of payment and such.  One night just after 10:30 pm we were visited by distraught marina staff demanding we get out of bed and submit to a search of all our documents.  Earlier that day we had paid for another month of dreadful internet service and the appropriate comments and receipt were entered in our file: copy of receipt, notation that we tended to our obligations in a timely manner, that sort of thing.  

The marinero could not find the comment sheet for our file in which he had recorded his observations. The mood of the marinero conveyed the seriousness of the situtation.  For 8 hours the man had been looking for this critical document.  His vacation began the next day and he had worked six hours of free overtime to find the missing record.

Hopes of the marinero that we had picked up his documents with our receipt were dashed when we searched through our copies (we keep everything since arriving in Portugal) and he was distraught.  It seemed that our lives might get very complicated.

My memory produced a description of another man who had done business with the office right after me.  Not knowing the man  or the business I described him to the marinero who was immediately relieved.  

An hour later the man returned.  All was well again.  The man who followed us in the marina office had himself picked up our documents with his own receipt.  The poor marinero, wrung out from the exertions of the search and fear of consequences, was quiet and very subdued as he apologized needlessly but repeatedly for his interruption of our sleep.  

It was a bizarre reminder that we were in a foreign country and that we truly did not have a grasp of the workings of official matters.  Despite our every effort there remains a serious lack in our understanding of Spain.

Nothing new in that.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Closure: Readying to Leave Almerimar

28 03 2012
We're to the Place We're Leavin'

It may be that finally we can leave Almerimar in good conscience and with safe conditions.

The Levanter, now four days long and scheduled for another three, has not subsided winds continue gusting to 30 plus.  We still have three coats of Cetol to put on the toerail, but...

It is within grasping range.   And so we will tie up some loose ends and answer some questions posed by readers before we set off:

How DId Quiz Night Turn Out?

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times.  The quiz was a total bust.   Designed to produce a perfect score of 50 the winning table of eight people managed only to provide 18 correct answers.  18/50.  The low table achieved only 6 points.

British quiz contestants are not used to not doing well and they are quite vocal about whose fault it is when that happens. 

Of course neither are they used to an in your face Canadian lawyer deflecting and reflecting the blame. All done in good humour of course.  For some reason this gained the BC and me the approval of the room and now we seem to be known over a much larger part of the marina.  

It was good fun and I hope everyone had a good time in spite of the dismal scores.

Why Haven't You Left Yet?

This question from a couple of Ontario friends has a simple answer.  Two days ago we enjoyed a high temperature of 16 degrees Celsius in Almermar.  In Toronto daytime temperatures topped 23.  Are you sailing yet?  Gee, why not?

If You Hate the Regulations, Taxes and Heat of the Mediterranean Why Don't You Go North to France, Netherlands and the UK this summer?

A darn good question.  Among the answers:

1.     Same reason we came to the Med in the first place: the BC wanted to and I saw no reason not to.  Our sailing strategy is to never be afraid something until we have assessed it for ourselves.  In many ways the sailing community is full of bitchy little school girls.  Exaggeration is rife.

A lot of functionless grumpy old men fill their days trying to "lead" their accolytes to safety and freedom.  Of course to do this the aging eunichs  must keep the accolytes afraid.  

It would be my observation that two thirds of the reports of bad conditions, violence, piracy, abuse by government and over regulation is false testimony repeated to advance the interests of the speaker in one way or another.  Personal investigation is the only way to run your life.  And for you boaters still holed up in Green Turtle Cay waiting for someone else to tell you that it is safe to "run the Whale" and get to the Sea of Abaco, well, I got nothing to say.

The fact that since arriving we have discovered many reasons not to stay here does not invalidate the decision to come.  If we already knew everything there was to find out about Europe there would not be much adventure in this would there?

2.     Northern Europe is in the Wrong Direction in Many Ways.  To go North we must fight strong southbound winds and current.  The steady state current in the Atlantic off Portugal's west coast is 1/2 knot southbound.  Normally the wind pushes this to 1 knot or better.  The Portuguese trades limit northbound travel to a few hours in the morning.  If a sailor is lucky.  Offshore conditons are better than coastal but weather can get very rough very fast and without warning, as we discovered last fall.

3.  We cannot take the French canals.  The Canal du Sud, which exits the Med and carries a boat north via connecting canals all the way to the French Atlantic coast has a control depth of 1.5 metres or 4.9 feet at mid channel, less elsewhere.  Meredith draws 5.5 feet and that is in salt water.  Canal water is fresh and so would our draft would be even deeper.  It is a no go option.

Are You Having Fun Yet?

Wintering in Almerimar has been informative and entertaining.  

We will never do it again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nothing Heard: Radio Net in the State of Tranquility

27 03 2012
Tranquility etc etc

Here is the verbatim transcript from this morning's radio net here at tranquility base.  It begins at 1000 sharp and keeps us all fully informed of the days events.  Everything in quotation marks has been broadcast as I type:

"BEEEEEEEEEEP"  (some idiot turns on his radio to receive the net.  His radio activates his AIS sender causing every AIS receiver in the marina to shriek out out a warning.  He does this every morning about 0920)

"Click.  Click.  Click.  HSSSSSSSST"  (a second idiot keys his mike to tune the radio, a procedure not needed since WWII which is probably the last time this gopher used a radio)

"Jeannie of London?  Jeannie of London?  This is Wendy on Margaret Alice."


(slightly more forcefully:) "George on Jeannie of London come in please!!"

"Nothing Heard"

"Good Morning, this is Wendy on Margaret Alice.  I will be your net coordinator for this morning.  First the radio check.  Could listeners call in now please?"


"Nothing Heard"

"Now for  Emergency and Priority Traffic   Is there any Emergency or Priority Traffic?  Come in now please"


"Nothing Heard."

"Next we have new arrivals.  Has anyone arrived at Almermar recently or is anyone departing?"


"Nothing heard"

"Moving on to Local Knowledge.  Does anyone require local knowledge?"


"Nothing Heard"

"And now for rides and lifts.  Does anyone require a lift or can anyone offer a lift to someone who needs it?"


"Nothing Heard"

"Moving on to parts exchange.  Does anyone have anything they wish to sell or wish to borrow?"


"Nothing Heard"

"Does anyone have anything else, any jokes or comments for the communtiy?"


"nothing heard"

"I am returning to England tomorrow so we need a new net coordinator for a couple of weeks.  Can anyone assume the duties in my absence?"


"Nothing Heard"

"Really our need is quite desperate.  George on Jeannie of London seems to have left and I will be gone.  Can anyone moderate this net in my absence?"


"Tomorrow your net coordinator will be Paula aboard the yacht Calypso"

Update on 28 03 2012:

This morning Paula did not moderate.  She handed the duties off to Maria for whom she had assumed responsibility for the Wednesday net.  Maria returned from Belgium yesterday.

Maria slept in or something.  Wendy from Margaret Alice stepped up and announced that she would not moderate this morning.  

The net then settled back to equilibrium:

Nothing Heard.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Today is a Rainy Day. I Want to Withdraw Some of That Daylight I Have Been Saving.

25 03 2012
Not So Tranquil Any More

Early Morning at the Marina
The Sky Did Not Clear Today
One of the scourges of modern society is the application of "Daylight Saving Time".  It happened in Almerimar this morning at 0200.  Did you ever notice how the agents of government always effect their evil in the dark of night?

Forcing some people to wake an hour earlier just so others can work longer days in energy free daylight seems an unnecessary intrusion into my life by an overbearing state.

If some jackass wants to get up earlier to enjoy more sunlight let him.  Don't force me to join him.  

It is not as if there is any real "saving" going on.  Where is all this daylight we have saved through our sacrifice and disrupted sleep patterns?  We should have warehouses full of the stuff lying around.  We have been saving it for a hundred years or more.  Are they carefully storing it all underground, enormous pipelines carrying oceans of sunlight and dumping it all carefully in some leaky state reservoir?  Where does it all go when we have saved it?

And what do we do with it all I would like to know.  Probably the Ministers of the Crown just sqander it on their favourite tart of the day.

Does the government come by in the dead of winter saying "Here is some of that daylight we saved fo you last summer.  Enjoy.  You Deserve It".  No.  Never.  The fatcat bureaucrats keep it all for themselves.  

Almermar has a solution.  This morning Daylight Saving was imposed here by government fiat.  Like many things in Spain DST happens a bit later that it does in the rest of the world.  All that tranquillity gets in the way of promptness. 

Today the Spanish fought back.  It is cloudy.  There is no daylight to be saved.  
There is barely enough light to make my morning coffee.  

Now this is how you run a protest.

You want to make me get up early so you can take all my daylight?  Well I won't give you any.  Daylight that is.

It the four months we have been physically present in Almermar it has rained twice.  Both times hard and seriously.  It has been cloudy only a couple of days more.

Two days ago, coincidentally, we were ready to begin painting the newly stripped and sanded teak toerails adorning our Meredith.  It required five eight hour shifts worked by two people to get to the point we were ready for paint.

Yesterday, Spain fired its first volley of protest against Daylight Savings Time.  The forecast came in "passing showers".  It was a one day prediction.

The Perils of Not Having Sufficient  Daylight.Work in Hand
You Cannot Practice Your Skills as an Jamonero in the Dark 
Today the forecast today is for "showers" and for tomorrow for "passing showers" tomorrow.  Skies are leaden and heavy, the air pregnant with moisture ready to depart the womb of mother nature.

Two days out of 120 and now every single day.  

Power to the People.  We Will Overcome!!!!

I hope the Falangists cave soon.  My wood is in need of paint.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where Have All the British Gone, Long Time Passing?

23 03 2012

Many reasons are proffered for the collapse of the Spanish real estate market and the departure of the British expat community here in the south of Spain.  The two most popular reasons for the British departure do not ring true.  These reasons are that Brit expats are poor due to the fall in value of the pound against the Euro and the collapse of house prices in UK.

Is it true?

Here are a couple of charts that give you something to wonder about, if you care so to do:

Exchange Rates - Pound v Euro for five years (thanks to yahoo)
First historical exchange rates over 5 years.  No question the pound has suffered since 2008.  In 2008 a pound got you €1.5 and today it buys only €1.20.  Pensioners living in Europe have taken a 20 percent cut in pay over the past years.  However the rate has firmed up and improved since 2009 so over the past two years those same pensioners have received a 10 per cent raise.  All this is over and above any increase in pension benefits that might have been bestowed.

The house price argument raises its own questions.  House prices last year did increase but by far less than inflation.  Real house prices fell again last year.  Except for the stupid years of the early 2000's prices are not substantially changed over ten or fifteen years.  The silly gains of the good years have been matched by equally tragic losses in the bad but overall the Brits aren't really that far back in terms of house prices: unless you believe the artificial pricing of 2002 and 2003 is a fair benchmark.

Almerimar was originally developed to be sold to Japanese.  The marina manager is Japanese and he decided to remain when his Nipponese employer sold out.  When the Japanese influx failed to materialize the project was repackaged for sale to golf mad Dutch.  Then the Brits found themselves marvellously enriched by the housing boom and a high flying pound and they formed the base of purchasing.  

Now no one invests here.

No one except a group of self styled real estate sharks.  These guys think they have found the money making bargain of a lifetime and so they are buying into the falling market of Almerimar.  Formerly mild mannered milquetoasts these newfound land barons picture themselves as predators swimming as equals with the sharks.  

I wonder why the real sharks are selling so cheap.

Regardless the last two years have not impoverished the Brits.  They have vamoosed for other reasons, if in fact they were ever actually here.  

I's the B'y Who Builds the Boat: Advice From Paul Fay on Adding Two Stroke Oil to Diesel Fuel

24 03 2012
Stuck in the Twilight Zone, Sea of Tranquility
Storm is Over, Never Really Happened, Rain Forecast Prohibits Painting Today

Ti Gitu - a Fay 40 Radius Chine
Designed, Built and Sailed by Paul Fay

Paul Fay is an interesting guy, his wife Mo even more so.  Paul is an inventor, shipwright and marine surveyor who knows a lot about a lot of stuff.  He designed his own wind self steering system.  Paul and Mo sail Ti Gitu, a 38 foot, steel hulled, twin masted, junk rigged sailboat of Paul's design and construction and we met them first in Bermuda and then weeks later again in Flores and Horta.

Mo took up sailing at a late stage in life and at the age of 52 undertook a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a vessel closely resembling Joshua Slocum's Spray.  She accomplished this amazing feat in a boat designed specifically for her and built by Paul.  This was how they met: Mo needing boats and Paul supplying them.  You can read about some critical bits of Mo's life in her book Lone Voyager: One Woman's Journey of Self Discovery.

Anyway Paul is writing a Blog chock a block with good info on how to maintain your sailing yacht.  You find it at   I suspect Mo is writing the thing or at least cleaning it up.  Paul was never that glib when we were drinking his favourite Grant's whiskey.  Mind you taht was usually about 3 in morning when all the pantywaists had drifted away to bed.  

His latest entry is on Adding Two Stroke Oil to the diesel fuel used in older (pre 2006 build) diesel engines to compensate for the lost lubricity in modern low sulphur fuels.  Our friends back home nearly all have such older engines and most of them would benefit greatly from Paul's well written advice. 

It is a far more complicated topic that you might imagine and Paul gives it a good airing.  He tells you what kind of Two Stroke Oil to buy (who knew there were different kinds) and what ratios to mix it at.  

So, if your diesel was built before 2006 add TSO (two stroke oil) to the fuel.  Paul tells you what and how.  

I am a follower of Paul's site and find it very worthwhile.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Disappeared Bunnies of the Sea of Tranquillity And Anyway What is All This Sea of Tranquillity Business

19 03 2012

Tranquility Base, Espagna

"Es tranquil" erupted our host, Francesco.  "Es muy tranquil".  (or words that sounded a lot like that.  My facility with Spanish is tragic despite four months of erratic hit and miss efforts to learn a noun or conjugate a verb or two.)

Through the kindness of strangers we were dinner guests that night of Conchi and Francesco, a cultured, compassionate and successful Spanish couple whom we met through the Budget Committee's morning exercise exertions.

Over our third or fourth bottle of wine from Francesco's excellent cellar Francesco sought to explain the key difference between our two societies, North American and Spanish.  Spain was tranquil he was proposing.

It happens that the BC and I agree with Francesco's observation, so much so that we now refer to the waters in which we sail (those bordered by Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece) as the "Sea of Tranquillity".  Meredith has become Tranquility Base.

Here come the bunnies: Spain was given its name, "Espagnol", by invading Carthaginians who named it "the Land of Rabbits".  

Spain is our favourite country outside of Canada and it holds us captivated.  If only it weren't so darn hot.  Seems to us Canada and Spain could do with some serious sharing of business and social practices.  We both have much to offer the other.

In the house of successful families like Conchi and Francesco, cooling pool in the front yard, tasteful local art adorning its three floors and expansive balconies,  it is easy to see Spain as a country without focus on or even awareness of its problems. The tranquillity with which the Spanish deal with their problems can deceive the innocent into believing that Spain is trouble free.  As was observed by one boater friend "The children never cry in Spain.  Eveyone is so happy".

That kind of comment is redolent of the "nseeing bunnies of Richard Adams Watership Down.  Remember the society of bunnies kept by a farmer.  Every day food and shelter were provided and life was good.  It was just that every now and then a bunny would disappear.  Not wishing to upset their cozy little world the domesticated bunnies handled the disappearances by banning the memory of the disappeared bunny.  Eveyone just pretended the bunny never existed and so no one had anything to worry about.  

Not all the children are happy in the Land of Rabbits.

Francesco was a builder and a developer.  Until that is the Spanish market for real estate collapsed.  And no the Americans did not suffer a similar crash.  We have seen communities affected by both nations' market "corrections" and as bad as things got in the US they are far worse here.

Francesco changed careers.  Now he manages the family greenhouses.  In his spare time he manages the construction of a hospital in Africa.  It was beyond my skills in Spanish to determine if this were a business proposition or just charitable concern.  It could have been either and there was no boasting of it by Francesco.  In fact Francesco did not mention the hospital or his work at all.  He just dealt with the troubles.  Tranquilly I suppose but effectively.

Spain's government institutions are failing its people and families like our friends have an incredible job to do to prevent a major collapse of their society.  With only 32.5 million people Spain and 20% unemployment Spain has 1 million undocumented workers, mainly Moroccans, working for under the table wages in terrible conditions.  Such a situation can only exist with government knowledge.  There is estimated to be €500 billion to €700 billion in bad debts that have not been declared as such by the banks which have underwritten them.  When the loans finally are removed from the banks' balance sheets there will be a banking collapse like never seen before.  Again the government has to know and collude in this situation.   Caritas, a Catholic charity, estimates that as much of 50% of the population around Almeria lives below the poverty line.

Hamstrung by a government controlled by wealthy citizens families like Conchi and Francesco have an incredible job ahead of them.  There are thousands of citizens passionate about their country and growing increasingly active in demanding reform.  

Just now they have suffered some setbacks.  A reforming Madrillano judge, Balthazar Garzon, famous in Canada for obtaining the extradition for trial of Agusto Pinochet has just been removed from the bench.  His crime was to order wire taps of members of the Falangists and other right wing political parties and some construction company executives so he could determine whether bribes were being paid.  The government had him disbarred for his audacity.  With overwhelming vocal support from the Spanish people he has fought back and obtained reversals of two of the convictions and is appealing the third. 

Go Garzon.  He has friends in low places (common people not crooks) and they are becoming active in the reform of their country.

My money is on the Spanish.  It would be so nice if my second favourite country dealt more effectively with the challenges of tyranny and political self service than my country of birth.

No Work Today My Calm Has Gone Away

23 03 2012
Tranquility Base, Sea of Tranquility, Espagna

Meredith (on the left fool) without her stanchions and lifelines
ready to be painted

It is official.  We shall never get out of Almerimar alive.

All that we needed to do to lelave was paint the toerail.  Just three or four coats of Cetol and away we would go.  All the sanding was finished, the seams caulked and the forecast for a continuation of the last fortnight's "light and variable".

Today we woke to the sound of the marineros frantically tying lines on unoccupied boats and rousing the crews of those which were to inform the owners.  Bad weather coming they said.  Winds 140 to 160 km per hour.  

For sure the 0700 winds were a sprightly 15 knots.

No one paints in 15 knot winds.  Now we have no idea if anyone paints in 70 knot winds.  That is a mistake we have not yet made.  

Here we sat with the biggest blow of our stay at Almerimar inbound and we with no stanchions up and no lifelines from which to hang fenders.  You have seen how close the boats are moored here (about six inches apart at the beam) so fenders are essential. 

Paula and Hanno at Quiz Night
As we did not appear in response to the light tapping on our decks by the somewhat timid (read polite) marinero we were not properly informed of coming conditions.  Enter our good friends Hanno and Paula.  No one ignores Hanno.  He is the guy smart captains always pick first for their team.  Stupid captains never understand why.

Ex British forces, ex SAS, former marksman, former sniper, one time British Army marksman of the year, ex carpenter, ex fishing boat captain and current shipwright, Hanno is one cool dude.  Offered a big money job as a mercenary in Africa Hanno bowed to one of the two things on this planet that are important to him: his daughter, Carrie.

Equally important to Hanno is Paula, about whom you need know only two things:  One is that she tamed Hanno.  The other is that she sold her house in Britain packed up a suitcase of clothes and another suitcase with the cash from the sale of the house (literally) and drove with an overloaded trailer to Almerimar with Hanno.  Here she will begin a new life as cruising sailor. 

Not too exceptional you think until you learn that Paula has never been to sea on a sailboat.  Not ever.  Yet here she is readying her boat for a lifetime afloat.  

To hell with the wind.  When things have calmed down we're gonna go have tea aboard Calypso, Hanno and Paula's boat.  Beats painting by a damn site.

Happy Birthday Juan Gris. The Perils of Google Translate.

23 03 2012
Tranquility Base, Sea of Tranquility, Spain

Today's Topics:

Hard at Work the  Budget Committee (Her Shoe)
Up the Mast 

Note the Mooring Arrangements -
Meredith is the NoMan's Land Between German Olli and Brit Casa

Google Translate
Google's Misleading Translation of its Own Doodle

Boatwork - Abherrence v Abhorrence

It is official.  We will never get out of Almermar alive.  Now in Day Five of sanding the toerail down to bare wood and prepping for new Cetol we have encountered a host of insurmountable problems.

That we began the process of renewal on poor overcharged Meredith is unusual in the extreme here in the centre of expat society.  Examine the two boats which are moorred beside us:

To starboard (your left if you look at the aerial photo above) is the British Westerly Casa, untouched by her owners in years if not decades.  Pay particular attention to the Dodger (or Sprayhood as they call it here).  Opaque is not an adequate descriptor.  Perhaps "deeply opaque".

And then, on our port (to the right in the photo above and to the left) is German Bavaria Olli which proves that anything the British can do the Germans can do better.  Not only can you not see out of this dodger but the mast has fallen some time in the mists of time and punched a couple of holes.  Which explains the dark spot on the upper left bit of the window on the dodger.

In our efforts to For starters Sikkens Cetol Marine products are not sold in Europe any longer.  A host of excuses have been given, mostly aligned with the theme that Cetol is banned for environmental reasons.

Untrue of course.  From my research I discover that Cetol Marine coating is made in the USA and shipped to Europe in 55 gallon drums.  Once on this side of the Atlantic the barrels are decanted into smaller 750 ml cans for retail sale.  Guess what: Europeans do not like using American stuff.  So the Europeans just stop selling it and I am certain began the nasty rumours.  

It is all just economic xenophobia.

On Meredith we love Cetol especially now that they have the new "light" version.  A couple coats of Cetol Marine Light and a couple more of Marine Gloss and you have a fantastic maintenance free coating to protect your wood.

Sikkens USA suggested we try to find some old stock in Europe to tide us over.  This we did at a bankrupt marine store (there are so many in Spain this year) liquidating old stock.  Euro labelling system describes the product as "wood varnish" and it took a few emails to Sikkens USA to sort out that we could use this product here and continue with Cetol when we get back home.

Sikkens customer service - IN NORTH AMERICA - is fantastic.  In Europe it is nonexistent.

Today was also the day we were to begin coating.  The wind is up however to 15 to 20 knots, the first day it is so in three weeks.  No coating gets done in 20 knot wind.

Fun with Google Translate

Accessing the internet is problematic on many fronts in Spain. Lousy wifi service is only the beginning.  Once you connected most browsers identify the country you are in from your IP address and then route you to local services and web pages - Google.ES for example.  

These local pages are mostly in Spanish which is lovely if you are Spanish speaking.  Not on Meredith where linquistic progress ceased the moment I could order a Cervesa Grande y tapas.  Imagine my joy when I discovered it was not common to say "please" when you order in Spain.  That reduced my memory work by almost 20%.  

Anyway Google has a built in translation service which is nothing short of a marvel of programming.  Change the settings on your Chrome browser and it will automatically transate everything on almost any webpage into English.  

Juan Gris' The Guitar
There are some humourous lapses however.  Today's Google Search doodle, the neat graphic that heads up the search engine every day, is in honour of Juan Gris, the Madrillano artist, a contemporary of Matisse and Modigliani who was a force in the development of the Cubists style of painting.

However, since I have Google set to translate when I put the cursor over the image it tells me the graphic is there in honour of the 125th anniversay of John Gray.  

John Gray's Brown and White Spaniel
Now John Gray paints nice British pictures of pouffy dogs and dreary landscapes and he could never be confused for Juan Gris.

All of which is just good fun.  Google has advanced the abilities of all users of the internet in phenomenal ways and their translate service is just one more example.  Other translators are good but Google's is eminently usable and nearly invisible.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Quiz Night At the OK Corral

08 03 2012 (day 33 of Boatwork)

"Don't you mean 'what is the only mammal that lays eggs?'"  inquired my hapless spouse of the round gray Quizmaster running this week's Quiz night.  She should not have done so.

The moment the question fell from her lips the room at cafe Espigone grew instantly quiet, as quiet as if some hapless poor Moroccan had just walked in the front door.  One does not,  one never ever, quizzes the Quizmaster at the weekly quiznight in Almerimar.

The quizmaster is omnipotent and all knowing.  If a question does not make sense one accepts that the failing is one's own and one seeks meaning in the words of the enlightened master through greater concentration and meditation.  It rarely works.

Welcome to Trivial Pursuit: Blood Sport Edition.

But back to the Budget Committee and her predicament.  "Young lady" intoned the rich baritone of the aging female beachball holding the microphone "The question stated was this: what is the only animal that lays eggs.  A mammal is NOT an animal so clearly that is not what I meant."

The Budget Committee sat down, her mouth clamped so tight I think she bruised her jaw.

Now this is just the beginning of the saga of BC v Quizmaster.  At the end of the night we trade3 our answer sheets with our neighbours and mark each others' answers.  The answer to the egg laying animal question was "duck billed platypus".  Now a platypus does lay eggs and is clearly an animal.  Equally clearly the platypus is a mammal.

Having learned her lesson the BC did not protest.  Neither did anyone else.

Our Belgian friends once protested that the questions were too hard to understand.  That night half the questions were on 1950s' and 1960s' BBC radio shows.  "Madam" explained that night's quizmaster, "these questions are not for your kind. They are for the British".

One very good friend is convinced the players are plotting against him.  He is convinced they deliberately arrive early to force him to take a different table than he normally takes.  The flaw in his neurosis is that he always sits at the very same table every week.  However the competitive juices do flow at quiznight.

Two weeks ago our quizmaster was Scottish which meant he could barely speak English and when he did no one could understand a word of it.  At one point the room had him spell the words in his question but we could not figure out what letters he was saying.

There was one night however when, buoyed by a fit of colonial pique, we did dare to protest.  The question was "what Canadian province has the same name as a breed of dog?".  We allowed without comment the inference in the phrasing that Canadian provinces were somewhat less than the dogs after which they were named however we could not ignore the quizmaster's answer which was  "Labrador".

Labrador?  Labrador?   The Canadian province of Labrador?

I rose ponderously on a point of privilege, quickly establishing my credentials and bona fides (62 years spent studying Canadian geography, steady C student and all of that sort of thing) and then apologized for having to hesitantly point out that sadly Labrador was not a province.  My explanation continued to explain that while not itself a province Labrador did by happy coincidence form part of the province of Newfoundland which did oddly enough share its name with a breed of dog.

A tense silence followed my terse delivery.  The brow of the quizmaster furled and unfurled, reddened, went pale and reddened again as the possibilities were sifted through.  "Ahhhh, I see." began the quizmaster.  "Well in that case your table may have a point for the answer 'Newfoundland'.  The other tables will be bound by the official answer of 'Labrador'"

The matter disposed of, the quizmaster returned to delivering answers to the remaining questions.

Now what intrigued me about this question of Labradorian dogs was that three tables got the question right, by which I mean the wrong answer.  Three tables answered "Labrador".  Makes you wonder.

Revenge however comes next Wednesday.  I am quizmaster.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Living Life the Hemingway

2012 03 07
Almeriimar, Ejido, Andalucia, Spain

This year we did things the Hemingway.

In Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway had his protagonist alone with his great true love in a cozy mountain shack in an exotic European mountain setting, isolated from society, even the local population, by mountainous snowfalls and force of will.  The hero was retreating from the brutality and senseless slaughter of civilization at war and from the  ambition of men that initiated such failure in society.

Snowed into his mountain redoubt he found love, peace and the opportunity to reflect.  Mainly I remember that the guy drank a lot and spent a lot of time in bed with his great true love.

We know his pain.  The crew of Meredith emerges from the grip of Spanish winter isolated from the world, not by snow and distance, but by lack of language skills, lack of communications, lack of transportation and lack of internet.

Moored in a sleepy little coastal town in the foothills of a European mountain range we escape the mundane world left to us by the passage of time, the maturing of personalities and the aging of frames.  Denied the diversions of great wealth, not satisfied with the exercise of the meager power amassed during our lives or the diversions offered by the consumerism made possible through abuse of desperate Chinese labourers, we sought something more.  We found a quiet winter permitting reading and drinking and spending time in bed (sleeping of course).

It has been a marvellous winter and Spain is an unbelievable place, currently our favourite destination.    Spring is upon us however.  Our hibernation and months of quiet living and reflection come to an end.  Boatwork is upon us.

As I finished Farewell to Arms and was asked by the author to share his character's pain and sense of loss my only thought of the protagonist was this:

"You are an egotistical self pitying ass."