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Family matters

Michael Stuart learns from his kids

Families are strange things, each with its own unique way of operating and never the twain shall meet. In my experience, those containing a preponderance of females tend to be noisy, with all humans emotions – ranging from loving and the opposite – close to the surface, allowing you to retain the impression, rightly or wrongly, that you are generally in tune with everyone’s feelings.

I have two kids just the wrong side of thirty years of age, one of each gender, who now live their own lives and (hopefully) make their own way in life. As it happens, I’ve seen both this week.

On Tuesday I went to see my daughter up near Oxford for a catch-up meal.

By coincidence, the following evening I collected son Barry from Luton Airport. He’s flown in for a 48-hour quasi-business visit. As a professional ‘yottie’, in his case currently based for the winter in Gdansk, he has to take the opportunity, when shore-based, to catch-up with mail and sundry personal matters.

One of the latter is getting an ‘MOT-style’ all-over medical check-up in Harley Street and an equivalent dentistry version. The last thing a yachtsman needs is to succumb to a serious medical condition halfway across the Atlantic, way beyond the reach of urgent expert attention, so it’s important – both for personal peace of mind and simple practicality – to have yourself assessed regularly when you can.

Plainly, suffering a medium-to-serious injury in the middle of the ocean is slightly different – the crew have all been trained as paramedics, so ‘securing’ a broken bone or limb, or sewing stitches to protect a gash (even on yourself if necessary), comes with the territory.

Last night Barry and I were joined by Fiona – his South African crew hostess – who has arrived at Heathrow to revisit London and then accompany Barry on his trip driving back to Poland in his Land Rover Discovery. The job of a marine ‘hostess’ covers a host of disciplines. In Fiona’s case, they include on-board kitchen manager, food supplier, chef, waitress, laundry manager and occasional deck crew.

We went for a meal at the nearby Gaucho Grill – an upmarket and, in my view, somewhat expensive restaurant whose theme can be summed up as ‘Argentinian beef’.

In the scheme of things, I’d probably place my own family as ‘middling’ as regards openness and closeness. My kids’ mother died of cancer when they were relatively young, so we have few secrets and a strong bond. However, avoiding false modesty, I’d pigeon-hole myself as no better than an average Dad. I don’t pry too much into my kids’ lives. I once enquired of my daughter whether I shouldn’t join Facebook, the better to keep up with her ongoing news. I was bluntly rebuffed, accepting her horrified “No way! It’s a ‘need to know’ basis only, as far as you are concerned, Dad!” at face value.

One aspect of parent-offspring relationships I find fascinating is that of learning more about, for example, your kids’ careers from others (e.g. colleagues) than you do first-hand from them.

Last night, in the course of a two-hour conversation, I was struck by Fiona’s description of her job and what it entailed.

Put at its starkest, if you’re going to be at sea for up to a month or more at a time, the job of a hostess is vital. She’s not only required to cook meals at any time of the day or night (watches vary, but ‘four hours on, eight hours off’ around the clock is normal – sometimes ‘four hours on, four hours off’ may be necessary) but, of course, must have bought provisions in advance to last the entire voyage. In effect, she’s managing a serious catering business in which cooking high class meals to order, sometimes whilst being tossed around in the ocean, is all part of the service.

Having listened to how she operated, I complimented her on the scale and range of her duties. She immediately commented that she had learned most of what she knew about ‘management’ from observing Barry who, as captain, had responsibilities ten times greater than hers.

Looking across the table at my son, at one and the same time I found I was able to feel both a father’s natural incredulity than his offspring could manage anything at all and a glow of pride that he inspired such respect from someone who worked with him.

That’s the thing about kids – they have an unerring ability to surprise and impress you.


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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts