Wednesday, June 01, 2005

YardstickLe grand weekend.

Avec la usual ill-tempered drive down. The M27 does that to people. Despite spending near enough the entire time at the sailing club, I somehow contrived to only sail once. And that was with the commodore (if you're the type of person who says "ooh, get him": A. What are you doing reading my blog? Shoo, go away. B. Now's your cue).

Most of my time was spent bunting. Bloody traditional decoration. Normal rope gets twisted and tangled. Bunting tape gets even more twisted, tangled and kinked. Add to this a great many tattered rags, in varying states of knotted decrepitude, and one has an entity loosely related to a bramble growing over a barbed wire fence. And I am not responsible for the pennants hung the wrong way round. We were planning how they should be strung, but one of the other members who was helping got a little too enthusiastic (he tends to; it's fun watching people's faces as he decides to do more than they originally envisaged. I think most have problems telling a volunteer to stop).

I untangled it, I put it up, I took it down, I moved it, I put it back up again, I went away, I came back, I put it back up again, I did other things, I took it down, I rolled it up, I unrolled it and rerolled it, I handed it to someone else to deal with, I learnt a new use for clingfilm.

What else? I spent a lot of time parking Wayfarers (excellent total body workout) and the sacred Albacore. I spent a lot of time parking cars (well, directing them, and being ignored, complained at and about, and occasionally being efficient or charming). I discovered that I'm not the only person who isn't keen on one of the members of the club, and that amongst his many sotto-voce nicknames (including some which are very good, but unrepeatable as they away his name) is Jesus. Why? Because he must be able to walk on water as it is physically impossible for him to get his feet wet.

It's bitchy, but fair chunks of that club are, and always have been. X doesn't talk to Y. Z ensures their children won't talk to X or Y. A was married to B, but had an affair with C, who was married to D, D having already left E for C, A was going out with F, but is now engaged to G, but G was married to H, who may or may not being going with A, although rumour has it that I had a dalliance with H, but I tends to have dalliances with all and sundry. It's worse than listening to the Archers for the first time.

I made the mistake of referring to one woman as So-and-so's latest. So-and-so used to go out without someone who I still see occasionally (in a in-Sainsbury's way). So-and-so went out with someone else before that, and has been married somewhere in the distant past. So-and-so also drove down in his convertible Porsche (with just him it) to a packed sailing club, when the remaining spaces are reserved for distinguished guests (rather, occasionally extremely, elderly members), and demanded a space. So-and-so had ridden down on his bike earlier in the day. He lives within walking distance. Basically he's nice (except if one happens to be his girlfriend) but selfish.

But they have selfishness in spades (where does that phrase come from?) down there. A hundred odd people had signed up to come to the dinner on Saturday night. There are 40 seats indoors. While to food was designed to be fork-only, one would expect a certain level of rotation. What happened instead was entire tables got bagsied, and occupied for the whole evening, even if it was only by scattered clothing (we only found out later that there was supposed to be wine, which had magically failed to pass beyond the first table). We were one of the few groups who moved.

But then we were one of the few groups who turned up to help. Half of the people on the committees miraculously found they had prior engagements which took up the entire weekend (the anniversary of the club, while not celebrated annually, is a fairly predictable event. It was hardly last minute). But then half the people who did attend apparently neglected to pay (as you can tell, organisation isn't necessarily the current management committee's forte).

But maybe I'm just slightly annoyed that beyond the usual 3 people, no-one can remember who I am (and I've only been a member since I was 6). People, in the course of making polite conversation, still regularly ask me which A' Levels I'm doing. But my brother, who is 3 years older than me, always gets asked about GCSEs. But then most of them can't remember who my parents are either, despite one being a treasurer for umpteen years, and the other having been around since joining as part of the Grammar School (along with a sister with whom she is often confused, and whose husband was vice-commodore for aeons). And still I get asked if I'm a member (no, I'm only standing round in a wet wetsuit holding a buoy that's bigger than me for the fun of it).

But hey, at least I got out of safety duty. I'd spent the morning running round doing things, like directing distinguished guests who can't drive (or listen), or dealing with a disgruntled woman. She was being driven in a car with a disabled badge, but I knew it applied to her. She was sitting in the passenger side, so I gave them a space in which the passenger side was unobstructed. While her son parked the car (rather too theatrically), she sat and ranted behind the closed window, gesticulating towards another space opposite which might have been easier to drive into, but would have left the car pinned between the sides of two others. I stand back waiting for her to finish, wondering if she's realised that glass is transparent yet. She opens the door. I ask if she's alright there, explaining I thought it might be easier for her to get out, and that I'd rather leave the other spaces for the older guests who can't necessarily park well (I managed not to add that if she wants I'll class her as an old dear, and treat her as such). She insists she's fine. And then walks away muttering.

I spent ages running up and down a car park, eventually running off to find out if there are many more people to come or if we're going to be left standing around until people start leaving and someone notices that we're still there. We go to have lunch, which is a bit of a scrum, but it always is (not some much first come first served, as first come gets food but by third come it gets iffy).

So polite conversation whilst trying to stop various components of a Ploughmans blowing away. Then consulting, and waiting for the teamleader to issue suitable decree. The consensus on sailing in that wind, as it had been all day, was "don't be daft". The team leader decided to take a RIB out to investigate. The rest of us listened to the halyards clanging and boats whistling, and watched the anemometer bounce up to a high seven several times.

It won't happen. It's a shame, considering we're all supposed to be showing how the club is continuing to prosper as a sailing accented sailing club (except prosper isn't quite the right term at the present time).

The team leader comes back. Get changed? Are you, um, er, sure? Really? Ok then. And off I go to change. The changing rooms have been flooded by the juniors, and now demonstrate sedimentation patterns wonderfully. I get changed, after debating just how many layers I need, and suncreamed myself to death. I'm in mid-struggling into lifejacket when I hear that we're not going after all.

[Be positive, be positive] Well at least I'm less likely to get sunburnt. Yeah, not having to go through this charade would have been nice, but if it's the price of not going out in, ooh, it's up to 8 now, then so be it. There's just a slight shadow of a "I told you so" lingering.

Then it's back in to change, then upstairs. Stand round waiting patiently. Repeat ad nauseum. The recollectors end up as a Grammar School reunion. I wait, and wait. Eventually I give up and go down to the beach and start skimming stones. I'm not very good, having hurt my shoulder hefting boats the day before. I'm even less good when someone who probably is actually doing GCSEs (rather than being thought to be) comes down a slices through a wave with a stone which skips along forever. I managed a couple of sevens, but for the most part they're twos if they skim at all. Depressingly I do just as well with a couple of huge stones which have no right to skim, and yet do (one got four).

Going back, and there's a small hoo-ha because someone's raised a burgee instead of the commodore's pennant. Needless to say, the only person to notice happened to be approximately eighty. But I've never really paid much attention to the flags. Sometimes they're there, sometimes they're not. Sometimes the club is above the ensign, sometimes below. I know it's supposed to matter, but I'm never very good at it, and I always have a hard enough job remembering which way the thicker white runs on the union jack.

We leave. We return for the dinner. Much sharp-elbow-age, apologies and slinking (and I end up in couple of documentary photographs, in traditional cake-carrying and "you're sitting down; I've been running round all day so I'm going to lean on the back of your chair and you're going to lump it" modes. And yet when I wasn't being described as a handsome young man, I was being told I was a charming young man. Firstly, you need to put your glasses on. Either that or you need to stop calling people handsome when you can't think of anything else to say to them. As for charming, well I, um, well, actually I don't try. I just tend to shut up and smile, and hope they don't notice the blind panic flitting across my eyes as I completely lose track of just what it was they were talking about).

Then came dancing. Well, first came being flirted upon (not with, as I'm never really sure how to respond, so once again I shut up and smile. Which they usually take as being wry or enigmatic or something), and dragged downstairs. Whereupon she found even fresher blood, and promptly danced with their younger sister (this is the woman who the next day had no electricity, hence not heating or water, as her boyfriend's daughter had complained, at 2 am, that the toaster wasn't working well. Her boyfriend, being a very drunk army type, shouted something along the lines of "if you don't like it, don't live here" and promptly hacked off the flex from the toaster, and flung it into the garden so none of them could complain about it. They went to bed. They got up. They discovered, whilst very hungover, that every circuit in the house, except the lighting circuit, had blown when the metal knife cutting through the flex had shorted it. Apparently they replaced umpteen fuses, but the boiler was in huff and refused to work. Oddly enough, when I saw her in her cold unwashed state, she was in the foetal position, and didn't attempt flirting).

I retreated to a rear corner (much too loud), and listened to the finest singer standing on that stage. He's a regular at anything round there. Usually I only hear him distorted as it drifts across the bay (which actually does him a few favours). He started off ok, with the usual miscellaneous guitar music suitable for all ages (Brown Eyed Girl, Cecilia, Wild Thing). He had a few problems with the lines, some of which he made up as he went along. Then bizarrely came a sing-along Jerusalem, and once again he had a few problems with the words. and it was pretty much down hill from there. Other people dancing provided some entertainment. Like a 65 year old doing some worryingly flamboyant and energetic dancing, or the mismatched couples each dancing to their own internal rhythm.

But the music went slower and duller. I overheard someone complaining that the singer had managed to sing a Bob Dylan song worse than Dylan himself (not being aware of what is and what isn't Dylan, I can't confirm this, but I can confirm it was dreadful, and I was cold and bored).

[And as I type I'm listening to Radio 1's One World, which is a odd entity, but more fun than what I listened to on Saturday, and it makes a change from "this again" Xfm].

Sunday, sunday (ba-dah, ba-di-dah-da). Cold. According to the clubhouse equipment it didn't get above 13oC all day. At one point I was skimming stones into the mist, and I couldn't tell how many jumps they'd made as I'd lost contact. And yet there were people walking round in shorts and sandals pretending it was summer. Which was a bit daft considering that 12.9oC isn't that warm, and if there'd been a frost that morning we would have thought nothing of walking round in big thick coats. But it was hot yesterday, so it can't be that cold.

But standing around waiting for people in well ventilated damp concrete clubhouse is an ideal way to sap heat. Eventually I went for a walk to warm up. And then I was still cold, so I went for another one. And promptly discovered that whilst the beachmaster is struggling to see the race past the pier, on the hill behind I have a wonderful view of the bay, and the absurdly large course considering the winds. I also took great delight in noticing the really patronising woman and husband (who crushed his hand the next day moving boats because he was showing he knew what he was doing rather than admit someone else might know more than him) fail to make the first mark when they'd already messed up the start (the excuses were that someone cheated on the start, although no protest was lodged, and that the tide got up [especially for them, and only them. The tide is a terribly capricious thing. One can never tell if it's coming or going. There's just no structure to it]). I know laughing at people is unkind, but this woman is so annoying and rude. I once decided I'd had enough of her proffering her wisdom (usually of the blindingly obvious sort) capped of with endless "dear"s. I started ending every addressed sentence to her with "dear". She didn't notice.

Anyway, the second walk was bizarrely warmer as we climbed the hill. Although that could have been all the people. The coast path on a Bank Holiday Weekend. Bad idea. Although I did have to wonder about the people complaining about the lack of dolphins around. I mean, honestly, would you hang around when the sea is a haze of packs of jetskis, shoals of dinghies, flashes of clashing gigs racing, flocks of yachts all being pierced by motorboats with skiers or inflatables skittering in their wake? Considering cetaceans are sensitive to vibration, I think they'd have moved out to the shipping lanes on the grounds that they were comparatively tranquil.

But I did get to see a kestrel from above; the joy of cliffs. Walking back was a case of noticing changes, and not quite knowing how to react to them. These are places I've known all my life, and yet some things and never as I expect them.

Then another gardening mission (we'd been spending most of the non-bunting time trekking backwards and forwards to a house a few miles away to do various gardening things. Like the guerrilla hanging of a hanging basket [at easy watering height: about a foot too low]. It's not my house or garden, and the story's complicated).

So on to Monday. The sun returned. It was warmer. I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was asked to crew by the commodore. Ok, who told? Someone must have let out I'm so bad at saying no that it usually comes out as yes. We prep the boat (well, mainly she does, as I say it's a different set up to the Wayfarer I normally sail). We get changed. I lose keys. She gets impatient. We launch, and sail off without too many problems (other than the ubiquitous non-descending rudder). We get to the start and try to work out how soon it is. I helpfully get confused by the porthand round flag (look, when I'm hoisting them I only notice it's A up, one minute, B up, three minutes, B down, one minute, A down as they start. How am I supposed to know what A and B look like?). We debate which buoy is the intended target (the commodore doesn't seem to have noticed porthand round might suggest we have to leave the buoys to the left). We also come to realise neither of us knows how many laps there are. I guess one of us really should have looked at the board. Any idea what the tide's doing? When was high tide? It's still springs isn't it?

The commodore's plan is to follow someone else (who happens to win things a lot, and hence is the fiercest critic of the proposed scheme to have local handicaps). I say nothing, on the grounds of knowing that following X is never a good idea when sailing, as one always gets to wherever they wanted to be too late (if X tacks to get good wind for example, it will have passed by the time Y gets there). But then I'm not very good at spotting wind and reacting to it or other boats around me. You can tell I don't really bother with racing.

The five minute gun goes. We mill, sorry, seek out the optimum position to take full advantage of the start. A couple more guns. I'm mainly doing as I'm told (on the grounds of not quite remembering any of rules, or just what I'm needed to do).

We start in a flurry of other boats and flukey wind (it's really strange, but have a couple of large triangles of cloth to windward really causes odd patterns in the wind. Whodathunkit?). We tack chasing after our quarry. We never get him. Instead we have confusing wind by the windward mark, which seems to be heading everyone no matter what they do.

We round the mark, and bear away towards the gybe mark. There's a couple of odd moments as [the author realises mentioning the name of a road in this as yet unnamed town might help people in working out which town it is, although frankly there have been enough clues already. Anyway, a gust of wind which corresponds to the end of a long straight road, as which is named after it] hits and my helm overreacts by heading up and spilling nearly all the wind. Which when I'm sitting out... I had the sense to get inboard quickly but the boat was all over the place, and so was I. I apologised for failing to keep the jib tensioned, and we carried on.

She worries about gybing, bless her. Admittedly I have the usual problems pre-positioning the centreboard due the lateral force on the reach (trying to lean down into a boat to move an unmoving object, whilst trying not to take my weight away from where it's needed is quite hard). So she warns me to keep me head down. She doesn't seem to have twigged that if I've been sailing since I was six, mostly in a Wayfarer, I've had to dodge quite a few booms and guillotine-like kicking straps (a vang for my American readers, if I have any).

The run, after and abortive attempt at goosewinging (can't you steer in a straight line woman?) becomes me sitting to leeward holding the jibsheet overboard. This is while the commodore is telling me to pull it in as hard as it will go. I ignore her until she remembers that this is a run, and close-hauled sails do bugger-all on a run.

Then centreboard back down, tighten up as we round the mark, beat back up, repeat.

We got better (it's the idea that the helm moves which really throws me), but the wind got up, and my arms began to ache (they're only little). I discovered the commodore pinches, but didn't have the nerve to tell her (she later said the boat has a tendency to head up). We tried chatting for a bit and she expressed surprise that I didn't know she'd sailed halfway round the world (obviously I hadn't got round to reading her logo-strewn top by that point).

I got better at tacking, and started trying roll tacking, although I might just have been I was moving too late for normal tacking. Our gybes got better, largely through me swinging from the boom to get the sail across. We even managed to nearly run down a rescue boat who didn't seem to think that sitting just beyond the gybe mark might be in the way a bit. It took them a while to realise that an overpowered Wayfarer which is heeling hard and bombing it, might not be able to stop before we run them down.

And we get going round, eventually learning to take the windward mark from a wider angle. And then round a bit more, and then we got lapped, and then we began to wonder how many more laps there were to go, and then we heard people being finished, and then we past the committee boat but didn't hear anything, which meant we still hadn't finished, so then we beat up to the next mark, wondering what was going on, decided to sail to the gybe mark as it was back towards the sailing club anyway, and ask the rescue boat hovering there what was going on. We both look back towards the committee trying to see any signals. Nothing. We discuss amongst ourselves as the standing gust hits. Coming down off it we look back to the mark, and realise we might have a small problem rounding it, as it's moving to windward and has a wake. Rather strangely, so is the safety boat. Ah, I guess we have finished then.

Then back to shore, haul the boat up the beach (it's lighter than ours), rinse it off, get changed, have lunch, be offered drink because I was such a willing crew (I think it was simply a case of the commodore would have been livid if she'd slogged her guts out all weekend, and not had a chance to do something she wanted). And apparently asking for ginger beer isn't quite the done thing (but as I couldn't guaranteed I wasn't going to find myself driving back...).

Once that was over with, and various other things finished with, boats got put back and put away. Cue the usual comedy as certain people have a slightly nebulous take of dimensions of boats (theirs is about a furlong wide, everyone else's can make do with a couple of feet. What is utterly beyond their comprehension is that the boat down in the end space needs cornering room as well. Not that this is the voice of experience, nor that there's still marks on the engine shed from when I misjudged the clearance).

Then we upped and left, and went off, diverting to tend plants and consult, and avoid a heath fire (which by the number of sirens must have left much of the area to the south devoid of protection for a couple of hours).

And that was pretty much it. Except for making a horrible discovery. Someone, who isn't that old, was showing signs which aren't good. When I saw standing by her husband dismantling their boat, her face was completely slack, which isn't like her. Later she forgot the code for one of the doors, and when told it just pressed one button which isn't part of the code. Apparently when she went to get changed to go out, she went through a running commentary to take all her clothes off, stood for a while and then started putting on her wetsuit. Someone asked if she was going to wear anything under it [wet suit, bare skin, can be very painful], to which she responded it was a good idea. She then tried to find a swimming costume, but she hadn't brought one. Someone else mentioned that she had been in the committee boat, doing race results and had forgotten how to write numbers. I hadn't noticed, but when she was sailing, there was a third person in the boat (in a boat which is normally two or single-handed), to act as crew as she could no longer pull the right rope (which means I'm now waiting till someone who hasn't twigged complains about this boat breaking the rules and sailing with more people than the RYA allows).

It's ghastly; I don't think of her as being that old. I think it's just the shock of the sudden before and after, but I've never really noticed X becoming Y before. I've known X and Y (and a few Zs), but have never had the change illustrated so bluntly. But other than these symptoms she's normal. She's always been chatty, and can still chat, but now she won't leave her husband. When she originally saw me, she greeted me with "Hello", shortly followed by "Oh, hello" in a much friendly voice as something somewhere registered that she actually knew me.

I don't know how to respond to this (not the hellos obviously). There's still normal in parts, but how does one react to those which are no longer?

And on that thought I'm off to worry.


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