My son Barry, a professional seaman, is currently back in the country for one of his rare visits – having his annual medical and catching up with friends and family before returning to Spain where he is based. We have been having some interesting conversations because he has an inquiring mind and a sometimes quirky viewpoint. This is no surprise because I guess we all gather to ourselves a perspective than is borne of family upbringing combined with the lessons of life that we have learned along the way and he happens to operate in a world that provides a service to relatively-wealthy people.
I can best explain this by giving my own experience of occasionally going out to visit him in situ. At the end of most days those who work in the yachting industry there congregate in one of the small bars off the main drag beside the marinas to unwind after another day, literally ‘before the mast’ in some cases and maybe in others having just been going about their business on board the boat with which they are currently connected.
It’s probably only a mild exaggeration to state that, as I sat amongst those relaxing over a pint or two prior to perhaps going for a light meal and thence to bed, I was always struck by the contradictions inherent within their jobs. During their days of long hours and hard graft these people operate within a strange rarefied world in which money is not often an object, in which respect I call to mind the old quip about buying a Rolls Royce (“If you have to ask the price you cannot afford it”).
Barry, and others like him, would spend their days e.g. receiving pitches from prospective contractors hoping to get hired to do highly-specialised work upon expensive yachts and then making their choice. For jobs over a certain limit, quite rightly, he had to refer the deal to the yacht’s owner before committing to anything but then again (let’s just put it this way) the daily spending limit on his corporate credit card was set at 30,000 euros. It’s obvious, but serious yachts requiring permanent crews are costly items – even an average berth in the marina in question can cost a million euros per annum.
Then back to the evening visit to the bar after work. There the matelots who have been making decisions upon, and working with, very expensive equipment and accessories, and also dealing with owners who by their very nature are highly demanding (whether half a continent away or not) talk ‘shop’, compare notes and unwind over a couple of drinks in the kind of place that said owners would probably not be seen dead in, even if they knew of their existence.
In other words, such professional sailors have their feet planted (one in each of) two very different worlds.
Barry asked me this weekend what I thought the outcome of the EU Referendum would be and I gave the truthful answer that I had not a clue.
He seems to be concerned that a ‘Brexit’ would be extremely unsettling – for Britain, for EU countries and indeed for Brits who live and/or work in the EU.
Interestingly he has a fairly robust attitude towards the EU’s ‘Mediterranean’ countries, i.e. those in which he most often plies his trade, viz. that they’re all basket cases. He holds to the stereotypical Brit view that there are two things wrong with the EU: (1) that Britain doesn’t run it; and (2) that Britain begins with a disadvantage in that we always obey EU rules or regulations as issued, whereas countries like France are notorious for only applying those they wish to apply … and, while paying lip service, the Mediterranean countries totally ignore them.
In Barry’s view the Spanish are uniformly poor quality and lazy workers. Their tax laws are so draconian that in response the average Spaniard does his best to pay no tax at all, simply to in order to have the wherewithal to afford a reasonable lifestyle. Further, because both the unemployment and tax rates are so high, nobody regards this degree of tax avoidance as a problem or even unusual. It’s effectively filed under the general heading of ‘getting by’.
Apparently Brits seeking to set in business in EU Mediterranean countries have great problems if they wish to do this ‘above board’ and with total legitimacy, simply because Spanish authorities generally are so inefficient, confused and confusing. In the end – quite often – many of them give up the unequal struggle and simply operate ‘outside the system’ like everyone else, albeit at potential risk, e.g. if the authorities ever ‘catch up’ with what is going on, though arguably (as hinted above), given their general inefficiency, this is probably an unlikely development.
At some length Barry told me yesterday that the uncertainty over the outcome of Britain’s EU Referendum was causing considerable difficulty in the yachting industry and indeed generally holding up all sorts of business decisions and developments.
I countered by responding that I couldn’t see why this need be a problem. After all, in not much more than a couple of months the world would know the answer to the EU Referendum and – whatever it was – surely, as night follows day, (one way or the other) certainty would thereafter immediately follow?
He didn’t sound convinced.