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?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017


We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon - Franklin D. Roosevelt

In my time at sea, I spent many an hour on lookout watching horizons. Staring dreamily, I would let my mind wander and there were moments when it seemed to expand. It was almost as though I had an aura proliferating from my body mingling, combining, intertwining..... harmonising, with all the eye can see. Scale was lost as I became the sky and the sky me. It was an odd but reassuring feeling, one of belonging, almost importance. I, little ole me, was part of this magnificent machination. My pneuma roamed free and I no longer felt alone. How could I feel lonely when I was part of this?

This was particularly true at night when darkness filtered out unnecessary visual distractions and put emphasis on celestial bodies dotted around the sky. The onset of night was a treat in itself, never are night and day so beautiful as when they meet to hand over the reins, they compliment each other. I have watched the sun rise from the top of a mountain, A six hour drive, a two hour trek, and a four hour climb in darkness, for a few seconds of pure liquid gold as the sun rewarded my efforts and signalled a new day. Dawn on a mountain is special but for dusk I preferred an open ocean.

Sunsets anywhere can be awe-inspiring but I was more fascinated with a somewhat less spectacular phenomenon I've only seen at sea. It was a small green flash as the sun dipped below the horizon. A goodnight wink from the sun as twilight finally succumbed to darkness.

We steamed through the nights, unerringly heading for the elusive horizon, like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick. It never occurred to me back then the horizon was unattainable, just something we followed to get to a destination. The horizon isn't a constant, it is like a rainbow's end. You can never get there. Instead of chasing the pot of gold we should concentrate more on the journey, that alone determines who we are. On many a dark stormy night with thick black clouds blocking the celestial beacons, the horizon was invisible. It was then a case of lowering sights and concentrating on maintaining direction.

Stormy nights could be disconcerting but thick fog was eerie. Sound and depth of vision are mysterious as they chop and change in a heartbeat. Every sense is alive, alert to danger. The hairs on your neck stand on end as your eyes become useless and you strain every other sensory organ to compensate. You can't see an end to the fog and start to believe it will be with you always. Then without warning it lifts, clarity ensues, and your horizons broaden once more.

A is for.......

Algeria has little in the way of good memories for me. I had a lot of problems there as a young reckless seaman. I went to Algeria on two occasions with quite different experiences. If I can say one thing about Algeria it wouldn't be 'boring'.

My first visit was on a gas tanker and it was to the port of Arzew. At that time we weren't allowed ashore because some months earlier two seamen had failed to return from ashore. They were never seen again and were suspected to be buried somewhere in the desert. Seamen did occasionally 'jump ship' but never in such an inhospitable location.

So, nothing of note then? Well there was one peculiar thing we did that I feel is noteworthy. We had a snowball fight. Can you imagine shirtless seamen in 100 degree heat running around throwing snowballs at each other, it was pretty good fun. So how was this done?

loading in Arzew, Algeria

It was due to the cargo of methane we had on board. The pipes were frozen and up to 6 inches of snow collected around them. It wasn't perfect snowball snow but it did the job. A couple of years later I went back to Algeria on another ship. I wouldn't have been so annoyed at not getting ashore when in Arzew if I had been to the next port first.

Annaba was a whole different ball-game and unfortunately nobody told me the rules. It was a couple of years later and this time on a chemical tanker with a cargo of sulphuric acid. The problems in Annaba began immediately. With no facilities in Annaba itself to accommodate our cargo, a convoy of road tankers were organised, we would fill them directly from the ship and they would do a 40 mile round trip. It was hard to tell how many were used but I estimated four.

This unsatisfactory method of discharging cargo meant our stay in Annaba would be almost a week instead of just one day. Despite this I was in quite high spirits, being ashore in any foreign land was a privilege, an unsolicited adventure of sorts, and finally I would touch terra firma in Algeria. If I had known then.........

Algeria had disappointed so far but in Annaba shore leave was allowed. I actually managed one run ashore without getting arrested. It was nothing spectacular but I was just glad to get off the ship. The group I was with, went to various hotels to drink. We were drinking bottles of wine and became quite drunk but were in good spirits. Things changed a little when the next bottle was opened and an insect (cockroach?) was floating on the top.

After such a find, a different tactic was employed the next day. We decided to get semi-drunk on board then go ashore and drink cola. It was then I found myself in trouble. As if being warned by some divine source, mayhem occurred just as we were about to go ashore.

One of the road tankers came back but the driver had forgotten to close a valve. As the ship pumped the cargo into the tank it shot out the other end spilling sulphuric acid all over the quay. The mistake was noticed and the valve shut quickly as the acid fizzed angrily on the sandy quay (this was 25 years ago they may have concreted the quay by now, I don't know).

Not having studied chemistry, the Algerian dock workers thought it a good idea to hose the acid away. A cloud of vapour suddenly engulfed the whole area as the water and acid reacted violently. Seeing the cloud coming our way carried by the breeze, we covered our faces and ran through it to get ashore.

A few days later when washing my jeans, they came out of the machine with small holes all over them, as if they had been shot by a shotgun.

Ignoring the omens we went ashore but I only made it as far as the dock gate. By the gates was a police building where visiting seamen had to get their passes stamped before going into the town. Having drunk a lot of beer on board the ship, I felt the urge to pee. The pass stamping process was slow and my 'urge' became a 'must do and now'. Hand firmly clamped on genitalia, I hopped from one foot to another as I asked the Algerian police where the toilet was. They ignored me.

Unable to hold myself any longer, I dashed out of the building and looked around desperately. With no other choice than piss my pants, I nipped round the side of the police building to relieve myself. I didn't even see the Algerian flag flapping high above on the roof of the building, not that it would have had any significance anyway. It's just a bloody flag. Unaware I had been seen, I went back into the building and without further ado had my passed stamped.

I left the building but only went 20 yards before the police came running after me. They dragged me back to the side of the building and pointed at the tell-tale wet patch. I was given a mop and bucket and it didn't take Einstein to figure out what the police wanted me to do, even with the language barrier. The irony was the Algerians didn't speak English and I didn't speak Arabic, but unknown to me I could have communicated via French which was the second language in Algeria. I knew enough from school.

It was a ridiculous exercise as I mopped up the sandstone wall of the building and the puddle on the loose sand below. Afterwards I was taken inside the building and dumped in a cell. The cell was completely bare. It was about 10' long, 6' wide, with a high ceiling. Opposite the door was a barred glassless window too high up to reach. It was the only source of light and ventilation. The heat inside the cell was intense and I took off his T-shirt.

On the floor under the window a gutter ran the width of the cell. Holes at each end connected to other cells either side. I looked at the cell walls and took a coin from my pocket. Scraping at the sandstone with the coin, it crumbled. I estimated I could dig my way out of the cell in a few hours. At that point I was still a little drunk and unconcerned about my predicament, I was just mad for missing out on a run ashore.

By now Algeria had certainly made an impression on me, but not a good one. It did however provide me with a tale to tell and something to look back at and laugh about. Okay I was wrong to piss against the police station wall but what choice did I have, what would you have done, just pissed your pants?

The alcohol and heat of the cell were getting the better off me and as I sat on the hard sandstone floor, I dozed off.  The cell door opening woke me up and the ship's Chief Steward stood in the doorway. The news wasn't good.
"They haven't decided what to do with you yet" he said hesitantly.
"How long?" I asked rolling my eyes.
"Six months, maybe"

Apparently the Algerians didn't just see my pissing against the wall as a need to answer the call of nature, the flag on top of the building led them to believe I was deliberately insulting their country.
"We're doing what we can" the Chief Steward assured me.
"Well do it faster!" up until then I had been just mildly pissed off but now I was fuming.

The Chief Steward went away and I tried to go back to sleep. It was then I saw water flush down the guttering and a turd sailed through my cell and out the other end. Jeez! Soon after a guard opened the door and passed me some mush in a tin bowl and a mug of water. I looked at the food which looked like some kind of rice dish. As I looked closer I saw it was alive with weevils. I decided to go on a diet, though I drank the water.

On the second day I had another visit from the Chief Steward who told me the Chief of Police was coming to the ship to see the Captain. I was starting to go nuts, I hadn't been let out of the cell at all. Again I refused the 'meal' I was given. It wouldn't do me much good eating the slop if I couldn't keep it down. The next time the 'shit-chute' was flushed - it actually looked as though someone was at one end throwing buckets of water into the guttering - the water stopped and I was left with a turd from who knows where in my cell.

That was the last straw, the next time it flushed and cleared my cell of neighbouring cells faeces, I blocked up the hole with my T-shirt and trainers. Time went on and I'd almost forgotten about blocking the hole up until I heard yelling coming from the next cell (I guessed there were three occupants), they must have been ankle deep in piss and shit, I laughed. I still had an inane grin on my face when the cell door flew open.

Three guards came in and saw what I'd done. I looked at them. Two skinny guys and a short fat bastard in charge. They started beating me with truncheons and though I fancied my chances on taking all three out, I rolled up into the foetal position and let them have at it. It was worth it.

I was let out the next day without incident. Apparently the Chief of Police had been bribed with 1000 cigarettes and 3 litres of whisky. I know this because the Captain told me it would be deducted from my wages. Of course I was also confined to the ship for the rest of the stay in Annaba but you couldn't have dragged me ashore.

On the ship in the crew bar I saw the 'Latest Betting' board where the 'sympathetic' ship-mates had speculated on my punishment. 6/4 for 6 months hard labour, 3/1 was a 1000 lashes, and it was 100/1 I'd get my dick chopped off. Thank God for corruption!

Would I go to Algeria again? What do you think.