Matrons and marinheiros

news: Matrons and marinheiros

WITH TEMPERATURES indoors more or less steady at 28 degrees C for weeks and loss of water a constant worry, showers have been cut drastically and use of our washing machine equally limited.

Being tucked under the brow of a hill is all very well, but, during this long hot summer, rocks close to the house are absorbing radiation from the sun all day and becoming storage heaters after dark. Following several months’ slow burn, my already short fuse has been consumed and the person least deserving it often takes the blast, which is why the Boss’s visit to Porto came at just the right time.

Sailing in the 26th World Ranking Matosinhos Sailing Cup for Laser dinghies, he is classed as a Great Grand Master and will be competing against anyone over the age of 65 years old, who is in good health, able to sail in strong winds, has third party insurance and is a member of the International Laser Class Association. Competitors from as far away as Argentina and Brazil are said to be entering.

Without doubt, he will be the oldest Marinheiro present, proudly carrying the letters GBR on his sail. Four days, eight races and a long drive there and back is quite a challenge for any octogenarian, so I will be giving him a personal MOT on his return – looking for damaged bodywork and any signs of engine wear.

The fact is that our vintage chassis have a lot going for them and were built with no crumple zone, unlike some of the rising generation with its soft lifestyle and lack of exercise, likely to lead to early obsolescence.

It seems that computers are much the same, not made to last and, after a year or two, an endless source of worry. For the last month, I have worn a path to my electronic guru and even he has been unable to right what is wrong.

Having been seduced a few years back by the ease with which friends mastered the black art of online communication, I swallowed the bait. Now, on my third box of wizardry, I am hooked and the warlock within my console is up to his tricks again. However, five minutes with current news programmes restores a sense of proportion to these minor pinpricks. I look back to the time when disasters were given a few columns on the front pages, rather than an intimate show of apocalyptic human suffering in my sitting room, and wonder where ‘need to know’ stops and voyeurism begins. The future must look bleak to children, present day overprotection serving to emphasise the danger lurking beyond their front doors.

As a small child living in a Birmingham suburb, I was free to go out alone to visit friends, run errands and walk with my sister to kindergarten a couple of miles away along a busy trunk road. At boarding school, from the age of six, I worked on the farm there between lessons, starting with caged rabbits and moving on each term to bigger animals and more responsibility.

During the course of my seven years attendance, we had frequent mishaps with few needing hospitalisation, one of the matrons having applied TCP, slapped on a bandage and sent us back to our duties. This phenol based antiseptic had just appeared in chemist shops and, even now, one whiff from the bottle in my kitchen transports me straight back to school.

Likewise, the smell of beeswax polish indoors and the ammonia based aura of our Portuguese neighbour’s farmyard, past which we drive several times a week, have a similar power to stir old memories.

Viewed from this litigious age, what an income lawyers could have made by acting for parents, had they chosen to sue the school for lack of care… I was bitten by a piglet, savaged by three rats in a bin, nearly lost an eye when a young goat butted me in the face and was tossed from the farm tutor’s 16 hands horse when stealing a bareback ride – just one of many pupils to fall victim to a freedom unknown today.

Had I told my father, he would have put it down to experience and a good grounding for the life ahead. His youth was spent on the killing fields of the 1914-18 War, in the mud of the Somme, Ypres, and fighting across the farmlands of France in the presence of phosgene and mustard gas. Demobilisation of the forces, closure of factories supplying war needs and lack of jobs helped to trigger The General Strike in 1926. This was followed by The Great Depression, partially relieved by the 1939-46 conflict, which provided full employment again.

The end of hostilities in 1946 brought the same disillusionment and dole queues to the progeny of veterans from the previous global conflict. In each case, absence of work or hope for the future was sowing the seeds of today’s breakdown of society. Binge drinking and drug addiction are symptoms of something more serious than a youthful disregard of civil law.

In times past, a healthy fear of the wrath of God, even among agnostics when the chips were down, went some way to curb anarchic behaviour. A forecast that by 2040 only two per cent of Britons will be practising Christians is a sobering thought.