Sunday, 23 July 2017

B is for......

Brazil one of my top 5 favourite countries. Despite this, 'B' was a difficult choice. I could tell a dozen stories about experiences on various trips to Belgium, or maybe an anecdote about a highly enjoyable time in the Bahamas. Then there was the less enjoyable but interesting experiences in Bahrain where all the Saudi sheikhs go for a piss up and 'cabaret' because their own country doesn't allow alcohol and strippers. The runner up would have been an unscheduled stop in Barbados when the engines failed but Brazil makes them all pale into insignificance.

I only visited Brazil twice and the experiences were quite different. The places were as diverse as the people. This diversity wasn't apparent on the first visit. The port of Paranagua (at the time) could easily have been one of the banana boat ports of Central America I had visited, in that the terrain and facilities - or lack of - were the same. There were subtle differences though and most noticeable were the smiles per square mile. In Paranagua the warmth of the people was palpable.

In order to understand my experience in Paranagua, you need to know the circumstances. In 'Sea-Daze' the events culminating in the visit to Paranagua begin in Millwall docks and are related in full. This is just part of the story......

The crew on this ship were stereotypical of the view many shore-siders had about seamen. Amoral, belligerent, rum-sots. Drunken brawls were common amongst themselves and such a mixed crew exacerbated divisions. It seemed like they took the most ill-disciplined scum-bags from every pool in the country and stuck them on this one ship. There was one Geordie, one Jock, one Taff, one Scouser, etc., I represented Prescott Street Pool (London). By the time we reached Brazil it felt we had a cargo of dynamite on board a ship of heavy smokers. We hadn't been ashore since getting arrested in Oman (told in 'O is for....') and hadn't seen an available woman since Lisbon, some 3 months earlier.

When we tied up alongside in Paranagua my eyes lit up. After the nightmare of the Persian Gulf and a strange enlightenment in Cape Town, this looked to be more familiar ground. The terrain reminded me of many banana ports I had visited in Central America. In many visits to this type of port I had never had a negative experience yet I had doubts. The volatility of this crew was far in excess of any others I had sailed with. Alarm bells rang inside my head when I saw there was another ship in port.

Being on watch I managed to get ashore before the rest of the deck crew and I walked past the other ship noting it was registered in Greece. It could have been worse I suppose, I didn't know any crew member who had a specific dislike of Greek people. There was only one bar in the small town/village as it was (I understand it has been developed over the last 30 years) and on entering, my heart sank. There were a dozen or so Greek crew members in the bar and they were quite vocal.

Part of me wanted to warn the Greeks there were a bunch of arseholes headed this way in an hour or so, but the other part wanted to believe our crew capable of behaving in a civilised manner. Yeah, reading that back it was a stretch. Weeks at sea and a number of unfortunate events on the passage would have strained any crew, this bunch didn't need an excuse. As soon as they walked in I could feel the tension. Surprisingly, for almost an hour all was well. I was sat with a steward and the deck boy who also saw the warning signs. We sat at a table well away from the middle of the bar. The Greeks had quietened down a little when our crew walked in and I began to think it might not kick off after all, which was just around the time it did.

A Greek seaman accidentally knocked the beer out of the hands of one of our crew and grinned sheepishly. I guess by his silence he didn't know any English, it wouldn't have mattered. If he had bumped into anybody else there wouldn't have been a problem, but it was the Scouser and he could start a fight in an empty room. A master of misinterpretation it's likely he took the Greek's sheepish grin to be mockery. Who knows? What I do know is it resulted in a chain reaction that started a mass brawl. The three of us sat at our 'out-of-the-way' table and watched the spectacle unfold with interested bewilderment. It was like a saloon brawl in a wild west movie. At one point the three of us quickly lifted our beers just as one of the Greeks was thrown head first over our table.

When the whole of the Paranagua Police Force entered the bar - all six of them - it was like a tap was turned off. The fighting ceased instantly..... except for one guy. He was a Geordie and a big lad. The police saw he was the only one still throwing punches and homed in. It took all six of them to subdue him and they hauled him out of the door. There was no more trouble after that, perhaps because the ladies distracted the combatants or maybe it was just out of everybody's system. Several of the Greeks left but those who remained ended up being treated like long lost friends. It was the nature of seamen, argue and fight with a person then buy them a drink and sing with them.

[When in the middle of an ocean, a thousand miles from any land, and a hurricane hits...... It is easy to criticise the behaviour described above as loutish and disrespectful, indeed there were many times I was ashamed of some of my fellow countrymen, but in mitigation the psychological impact of life on board a ship should not be overlooked]

Later that night we were all on board discussing the possible fate of the Geordie guy. Nobody was optimistic about his prospects. We were still talking about it when he walked in, swearing and cursing. When I found out what the Brazilian police had done to him I literally laughed out loud. The evening had ended on a good note having made friends with the Greek guys and this was the icing on the cake. The police had bundled the Geordie into a car and drove him a few miles into the jungle where they dumped him. He had to walk a dirt road back to the ship in darkness. It was an apt punishment made all the better by the fact the guy hated creepy-crawlies and imagined all sorts of snakes and spiders lurking in the surrounding jungle.

The Greek ship sailed the next day and it was maybe a little coincidental that for the rest of the three weeks we were in port, no other ships came in. It meant we had both grabs working for us but I wondered if it was because the authorities just wanted to get us out of there as soon as possible. As stated though, there was no more trouble and in the six months I spent on that ship, those three weeks were by far and away the most harmonious.

I could go into the fun times we had with the 'good-time girls' and indeed there were some hilarious antics (told in Sea-Daze) but one thing in particular stole a piece of my heart that will forever remain with those wonderful people. For all our faults, most seamen were notoriously generous and after almost two weeks in port we ran out of money. One of the crew who still had a little money left was ashore and the girls told him to fetch us. We had spent a lot of money in the two weeks but for the last week everything was free.

It was rare indeed to receive such reciprocal generosity. I always (perhaps unfairly) summarised my experience with the people of Brazil thus: If you have lots they will take but if you have nothing they will give. Of course this was a small town/village and there are one or two other places I have experienced similar, just not to that level. It wouldn't have happened in the next Brazilian port, Santos, a major city.

When we arrived in Santos it wasn't Carnival but you would have been excused for thinking it was. The place was like a beehive of activity compared to the sedate pace of life a few hundred miles to the south. It was World Cup fever and every shop and bar had a television on 24/7, when Brazil were playing, everything stopped. Crowds of people who didn't own their own televisions* crammed shops and bars, over-spilling onto the streets. Each goal celebrated with incredible enthusiasm, each victory celebrated until dawn and beyond. The atmosphere was electric.

*An assumption, they probably did have their own televisions but just wanted to join in with the party atmosphere, I would have done.

We were only there four days but none of us wanted to leave. It was in Santos I became aware of the diversity of ancestry among the people. Brazil was a melting pot of races and nations. Nobody would look out of place and it gave a psychological homely feeling. Like most other countries Brazil does have its problems and as a result I label one of those countries I love to visit but wouldn't want to live there. For me it will always be good memories of hugely positive experiences.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Coffee Break: Answers

Oops, forgot to schedule the answers on Monday but I'm sure you knew them already. Just in case here they are.....

Technically speaking, an ounce of feathers is lighter than an ounce of gold. This is due to gold being weighed in Troy ounces which are 480 grains compared to the avoirdupois ounce which is 437.5 grains.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Something Strange About The Boy

From the moment they cut the cord Joel was considered 'special' in certain ways. He had 'abilities' of which he was unaware. The adults knew there was something different about the boy. Joel's paternal grandmother bought him a pack of Tarot cards. Before long he was giving readings to an assortment of aunts, and eventually a few uncles. Joel seemed to have a lot of aunts and uncles.

The adults took the readings far more seriously than Joel himself, he just thought it a party trick and never really believed any of what he said. In general he rarely even remembered what he had told during a reading. It was as though it was Joel's alter ego performing the readings and he wasn't privy to that information. The readings were rattled off in a bored monotone, Joel had better things to do at that age. Perhaps that was why he didn't remember them. It wasn't just the cards that led to the special label though. Joel was particularly fond of myths and legends. He always believed them to be true, just distorted over a period of time, similarly to Chinese whispers.

His favourite place to play was among the dunes of a sandy beach, where he could gaze longingly out over the sea. At low tide Joel and his friends would scour the water-line to see what the parting tide left behind. Mermaids purses, cuttlefish-bones, a huge variety of seaweeds, and driftwood of all shapes and sizes. Some small, others whole tree-trunks. There was always something even if it was just the fine powdery sand. He watched it through sunlight as he let it slip between his fingers.

Sand through a microscope

Like his friends, Joel loved slap-stick on the television. There was just the one television though and Joel didn't really get to choose what to watch. His father certainly had no time for the 'custard pie in the face' antics which Joel found particularly funny. It irked a little that the custard seemed to be more like cream, or shaving foam, and it wasn't even a pie, more a flan. This was typical of Joel's train of thought and as with the myths and legends he wanted to know what it was all about. Joel looked up 'Flaneurs' and found they originated in Belgium and were hecklers, the pies were indeed custard and they ate them if they found no reason to throw them at a speaker. "Why do I even need to know these things?!"

By 14 years old Joel hated reading Tarot cards for people, why did they take it so seriously? The last straw was when he overheard two 'aunts' for whom his mother insisted he do readings.
"Everything he said was right" said one.
"Yes" agreed the other "There is something strange about the boy"

Strange and weird became adjectives Joel was all too familiar with as a kid, it was something that would never go away.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Coffee Break #1

Here are a selection of challenges, trivia, and something to listen to. Answers to puzzles will be posted on Monday.

So let's sharpen you up with the age old question 'what is heaviest an ounce of gold or an ounce of feathers?' I suppose many of you will think you know but do you really know?

Below is my own version of sudoku. Just fill in the missing colours making sure lines and blocks of nine do not contain the same colour twice.

Now have a go at my Crossword which is a mixture of clues some cryptic some straight forward,


7. Introduced the west to arabic numerals and the golden ratio (9)
8. A mixture of finely divided solids with enough liquid to produce a pasty mass (5)
10. Strike-breaker joins a poet that covers a sword (8)
11. It's in the eye of the beholder (6)
12. Letter from Tibet and Greece (4)
13. Never look a gift horse in the mouth for example (8)
15. Country known for inventing the neck-tie (7)
17. A town and county of Ireland (7)
20. Illicit inhabitant seen in French toilets (8)
22. Hardly a stroll in the park (4)
25. Anna _____ English novelist best known for Black Beauty (6)
26. Drag it on (8)
27. An arachnid's legs worth of singers (5)
28. Dramatic soliloquy (9)


1. Sounds like this grassy area is familiar to singers and road-workers alike (5)
2. From the middle to the tip can be only a minor flaw (6)
3. One rodent rising with anorak or without; Region of New Zealand (8)
4. The first was Plato's school of Philosophy just north of Athens (7)
5. One could spoil the whole barrel (3-6)
6. Is quick to anger and likely to cry (9)
9. A punt could help (4)
14. How often do you hear this? (9)
16. Roused from sleep (8)
18. Virtual reality or living dead (8)
19. Number 36 in the Periodic Table (7)
21. These bells could cost you (4)
23. For the love of a narcissist (6)
24. Baden Powell started this movement (5)


Tautological Pleonasms

After a while on a blog / Twitter there is a tendency to repeat oneself. I've done it a fair bit but in my defence I'm not the only one. At least I don't repeat myself in the same sentence like these, like these:-

'It looks like a busy weekend on the ferries, particularly Saturday and Sunday - Peter Powell

'It was a sudden and unexpected surprise' - BBC correspondent

'I've said I've never broken the drug laws of my country, and that is the absolute truth' - Bill Clinton

'It's like deja vu all over again' - Yogi Berra

'I never make predictions, especially about the future' - Samuel Goldwyn

The confusion for many is whether the above are examples of tautology or pleonasms. There appears to be a grey area between the two. Tautology to my mind is repetition in different words. A pleonasm is 'redundancy' or unnecessary use of words already implied. Peter Powell's quote could still fall into either category. Bill Clinton's comment 'absolute truth' is clearly tautology whereas I consider Samuel Goldwyn's gem as a pleonasm, as is Yogi Berra's.

The BBC correspondent gives us a different perspective. In general pleonasms and tautology are to be avoided when writing, yet in common speech they abound. As with the BBC correspondent (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt), repetition is often used for emphasis. There are other words used unnecessarily, oddly enough more common in writing than speech. 'But', 'that' and 'which' are the main culprits. When writing I try to limit the number of times I use these. Try omitting these words when you write and see if your sentence still makes sense.

He didn't know that it was gone
He didn't know it was gone

I started to get bored with semantics, at the end of the day who cares what it's called, just stop it! So the devil in me thought of how to repeat myself without actually doing so, there are some curious examples of how to achieve this.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

Your invalid insurance is invalid.

The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.

After a number of injections my arm got number.

The farm was used to produce produce.

That's all well and good but if you want to get really silly you could take it to the next level with this:-

If one doctor doctors another doctor, does the doctor who doctors the doctor doctor the doctor the way the doctor he is doctoring doctors? Or does he doctor the doctor the way the doctor who doctors doctors?