Sunday, 20 December 2009

Rowing to the brothel

Despite inauspicious beginnings with the local rowing team I’ve continued, training when ever time is available. I even participated in a couple of races over the summer and just about avoided spewing my guts into the bilges.

Interest in training has flagged but there are a few of us that are still sufficiently keen to go out in the evenings. Sometimes there are only four or five of us, sometimes the full eight plus cox. But if the weather permits we always row out of the harbour and along the coast in the dark.

Our destination tonight, announced by Pegleg the cox, is the local brothel.

In Spain houses of ill repute are not discreet affairs. They scream their presence in flashing neon. They make a fine landmark at night and a useful navigational aid. A captain of the Spanish merchant navy once explained to me that cargo ships on coastal passages would measure their progress by these colourful lights. In one Spanish port the pilot would give transits that included the brothel.

Outside the harbour the sea is slick and inky. The boat twists on the remains of a particularly vehement northeasterly swell. It’s too dark to make out the oar blade and you can only tell if it’s angled correctly by how the pull stroke feels. There’s a risk of ‘slicing the ham’— tallar el pernil . This is when, through lack of awareness and control, the oar blade becomes angled forward, a perilous situation that often leads to ‘catching a crab’. Interestingly the Catalans chose to highlight the moment that the blade becomes horizontal with a colourful phrase, rather than the moment that the badly angled oar dives as we do in English with ‘catching a crab’. The Catalan slicing the ham leads to the English catching a crab.

Over my shoulder I can see the brothel lightshow two miles up the coast. Of course having such a landmark to aim for promotes bawdy talk. Once when still a beginner, resting on the oars amid cackling laugher at bow oar’s crude joke, Carpet Slipper—still considering me a complete wuss—leant over and warned, ‘Things are said in this boat that would never be said on land.’

Away from the shore the stars are brighter and the cold is biting but Pegleg drives us hard with series of 10, 15, 20 long, strong strokes. Our only navigation light is Pegleg’s head torch. We all move as one, powering the boat through the oily waters. We reach our destination and turn. The distant pulsing pink nubile silhouettes and the green lights atop the bawdy house ladder up and down like, ahem, well, like a whore’s drawers.

By contrast, over to port, a more traditional navigational aid hangs huge in the night sky. Orion. There’s a sharp edged beauty out here, the scattered constellations above and more immediately the boat, the pale bow wave, the heaving rowers. A shooting star arcs over Rigel. It would be enough to bring a tear to my eye if I weren’t concentrating so hard on not ‘slicing the ham.


Bob Easton said...

Great stories Ben! Your writing has become more interesting over the life of this blog. Very enjoyable; keep it coming.

Yes, we noticed on our last visit to Madrid that "the pleasure trade" is not very discreet. While everyone was tramping around in winter coats, gloves and hats, the young ladies around the shopping areas just north of Sol were shivering in their skimpy clothing. Makes em easy to find.

About your blog... You made some sort of change recently that affects how entries appear in RSS consolidators such as Google Reader. I used to see the first few lines of text for each new entry. Now, I see three lines of raw HTML code, starting with a conditional comment [if gte mso 9...] I'm not asking that you revert, just making you aware. I still take the extra step of going directly to you blog from the consolidator, but is was more informative before.

Thanks for the stories and Merry Christmas!

Ben said...


I don't know what I did but what ever I changed is also making it very difficult to post. Spacing and font size are all to pot and when I try to preview a post I just get lines of raw code. Any ideas what I might have done?

Glad you're enjoying the blog.


Bob Easton said...

I'm not sure either, but I have an idea that it has something to do with using MS Word.

I compared the raw html code for this post with the post in October titled "Absolutely Knackered." This latest post has a big block of XML code that's preceded by a statement identifying the code generator as "Microsoft Word 11." That XML code started appearing only recently. The XML code is what is causing the problem in the RSS feeds and the problems you mention. Yes, it has a number of font specifications in it, and those are pertinent to the Word environment, not the Web environment.

The XML code shouldn't be there, and I don't know enough about how you post (or about Blogger, for that matter) to imagine how it gets there.

Have you changed recently to using Word to post, instead of some previous method.

Ben said...

Thanks for this Bob.

I've always used ms word to prepare posts and then I cut and paste them into the blogger compose post window.

For the latest entry I didn't use word at all and I didn't see all that code that has recently appeared when I try to post.

I wonder if somehow I've changed the configuration of word...

Happy Christmas and thanks for the help.


bowsprite said...

harrumph. I want to hear more about the brothel and all I get is HTML RSS XML drivel--!!

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