Splice the Mainbrace

I was in Oxford over the weekend –– purpose of visit, as the visa people say, was to give a conference paper. All that went off as well as could be expected, but when it was all over, I went off to spend the night with our good friend the Master & Commander and his lady wife. They made me most welcome and plied me with red wine, & I was so pleased and happy to be there that it took some while for a faint note of domestic disharmony to become apparent. ‘I feel’, said my hostess, apropos of not very much, ‘like Mrs Noah’. The full force, significance and import of the remark became apparent to me only in the course of the following day. On my way up to bed, I had, I admit, noted the existence of fathoms and fathoms of two-inch-thick rope spilling out of the M&C’s study, but by then, having been talking to people from Princeton all day and drinking red wine all evening, I was not at my most analytic. The following morning, at that nice stage of a Sunday morning when a croissant, fruit, tea, etc. is a happy memory and one has nothing much to do but digest, discuss what is to be done later, and decide if someone’s going to lumber out for a paper, I was chatting to my hostess about this and that when the Master & Commander suddenly reappeared with an expression poised midway between bewilderment and pride. ‘I have just realised’, he announced, ‘that I have forty-three pumps.’
‘What’, I enquired, ‘is going on?’
I should have known better. For something like five years, the M&C hovered agonizingly around the topic of whether he ought to buy a seagoing boat. One particular vessel, with which he was passionately in love for reasons far from clear to anyone else. He used to dig dog-eared Polaroids out of his wallet, demanding, ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ All I could see was that she was a bloody great big boat –– I think he said 17 metres in length the other day. She is an ex fishing vessel and seems 1) perfectly adapted for smuggling God knows what and 2), due to 1) likely to attract the attention of every coastguard it ever encounters. Anyway, reader, in the end, he bought her. And for the last three years she has been in drydock in Groningen being rendered the most perfect vessel of her kind in the history of creation –– I shall refer to her henceforth as the Anne Bonny, which is not her name. I have not set foot in General Noriega Avenue (as the street is generally referred to by the M&C), for some time, but as I discovered that morning, the house is crammed from top to bottom with the Anne Bonny’s future kit. No wonder the missus is getting a little restive. The M&C is of opinion that the only proper metal to use in a boat is bronze, so any number of objects more normally, as far as I understand him, made of aluminium, have been taken to one of his associates and duplicated in a nobler metal. There are serried ranks of switches, pumps, bolts, and God alone knows what, and there is a truly wonderful and poetic gimballed compass out of a Japanese U-Boat surrounded, like a small solar system, with iron balls on either side, a most complex system of internal magnets which allow all magnetic fields operating in a steel-hulled boat to cancel one another out, other than that of the Earth, with an azimuth finder (bronze) which screws onto it. Much later, having had the tour of the study, I sat on the attic stairs and marvelled for not less than half an hour at an array of five marine conveniences, each with its attached pump, and later, in the attic itself, at a collection of seven primus stoves all mounted on gimballs. I can see that in a vessel of substantial size, a number of privies is no more than sensible but I worry about the gimballed Primuses – is the idea that each cabin should have independent cooking facilities? –– or has the Master & Commander merely, with a peculiarly masculine romanticism, fallen in love with stuff? It has to be said, you see, that almost everything involved with the future arredamento of the Anne Bonny has involved painstaking and meticulous restoration of some piece of rusted-out crud, which has gradually been returned by lavish injections of time, ingenuity and money, to dully gleaming, oiled perfection. It is so nearly an end in itself that I am waiting with interest to discover whether once this lot is installed, whether the Anne Bonny will actually go anywhere. Or will she, like previous vessels, get sold once she has achieved completion? Will it turn out to have been the thrill of the chase all along?

One Response to “Splice the Mainbrace”

  1. Andreas Minor Says:

    Twas privies and the primey stoves,
    With gyres and gimballs for the waves.
    Anne Bonny was Groningen stowed
    While the azimuths bronzeéd.

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