Sunday 7 April 2013


Amazing what you can learn from the TV - or from DVD boxed sets because we don't have a TV in the house.  We were lent a box of boxed-sets of Numb3rs a few years ago, and enjoyed it at least partly because of the touch of scienciness.  The conceit of the series is that one brother is an FBI dude and the other is an academic mathematician who helps out with fluid dynamics, epidemiology, topology, engineering, cryptology and whatever-you're-adding-yourself.  The difference between science and scienciness is that, in the former, the insights don't come so thick and fast, the expertise is a little more focused and it takes a lot longer to wrap it all up. I still think it's better than, say, Desperate Housewives or Mad Men because in among the tidy plots and soap-opera development of personal relationships you can learn something that might be useful outside of The Box.  I've forgotten all the clever mathy details but now know that, and this was news to me at the time, many nautical Americans tie up their boats to "boo-ees", while all my life I've been rhyming buoys with toys or indeed boys.

A friend of mine went on business to Boston a few years ago and arranged to stay the following weekend with friends whom he hadn’t seen since college.  After breakfast on Sunday they suggested that taking the kids to one of the sandy beaches of the North Shore might be a nice way to fill the morning. He agreed with enthusiasm thinking that a few gusts of fresh sea air would clear his head both of a busy week and last night’s drink.  When they arrived at the coast he, along with every member of the family, was presented with a large black plastic bag from the trunk of the car to fill with tide-line rubbish.  The hangover was making him a little cross-eyed because he forgot his usual impeccable manners and indignantly refused to spend even a small part of his hard won leisure cleaning up the detritus of strangers.

I can see his point.  Even five bags of trash transferred from foreshore to landfill is insignificant compared to the quantity of plastic that is reputedly being trundled slowly round the ocean by the North Atlantic Gyre.  Furthermore much of the brightly-colored stuff you see on the beach seems to need rubber gloves to handle.

On the other hand, there’s lots of good stuff to be found on the foreshore if you’re not squeamish about picking it up. I salvaged a cabin door from the rocks beside Dun Laoghaire’s East Pier in 1976 and re-purposed it as a garden table. In the 1980s, I picked four or five serviceable wooden fish-boxes out of the storm-wrack.  After cleaning all the sand out, and soaking in bleach over-night to reduce the pong, they were just the right size to shelve four rows of standard-sized paperbacks.  Shortly after that, much to my regret, fish-boxes were suddenly all made of plastic, which are useless as book-shelves ; but they make excellent  tomato planters – the drain-holes are integral to the design of both functions.  In more recent years, I’ve salvaged hundreds of fathoms <a word to remember on Talk Like a Pirate Day> of rope.  This is often found clotted with fish-nets, driftwood, buoys, seaweed, seagulls.  It is sensible, therefore, to go down to the sea with a good sharp knife, so that you can trim off the perfectly foul and untangle the rest.  To salvage a lifetime’s supply of clothes-line by solving a puzzle is restful and challenging: better than sudoku because it’s three-dimensional!  The fish-net itself is usually so knotted as to be not worth the trouble but I have some fine sections in the garden which the beans to climb up each summer and I’m ever hopeful to find enough to make a hammock.
How green would that be?  Swinging gently in a summer breeze, teasing out an increasingly long line of recycled cordage, saved from the sea (where it was a mere hazard to shipping) to be re-incarnated as a swing for the children.

And the buoys?  I have an ever-growing collection.  They are now hanging, like multi-coloured grapes, as an artistic installation in the garden.  What else can I call it but  “Fruits de Mer”?

Which gives me an opportunity to share an appalling if apposite and personal joke:
Q. What do you call a man with no arms and no legs in the sea?
A. Bob!  (eeee how we larfed)

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