2/14 A new tack


Let me ask you a question:

Let us say you have spent most of your life sailing down the same long estuary. Where you started, the head of the estuary was narrow, the product of a meandering stream which had grown into a river. This river joined other rivers, all flowing into the very same estuary. The further you sailed, the wider the estuary became. And as it widened, so you grew. The shoreline contained you but you always had enough sea-room. There were a few navigation problems but no more than on any voyage. Now finally you have reached the open ocean and the opportunity to steer a completely different course. You have a good feeling about this.

But at the last moment the weather turned. Instead of being free to ease the sheets and sail gently away as originally planned, you found yourself sailing into the wind – tacking back and forth across the estuary entrance, hanging on to each tack till the very last moment in the hope of making headway in one direction or another. This was immensely frustrating, each tack seeming longer than the previous one, pushing you ever closer to the shore. There was the  temptation to give up and head for the nearest port. However, as the man said, “ships are safe in port, but that’s not what ships are built for,” (Grace Hopper). There is more you want to do, so you kept going – one last tack should do it!

Finally, with one eye on the closing shore, you push the tiller away from you and bring your boat into wind for the last time – the sails flap and the boat slows as it plunges into the waves. You watch the bow, mind the sheets and feel the wind on your cheeks. In a short while you will come round and set off in a new direction – your other hand on the tiller, the wind on the other cheek. In slowing into the tack, there is a very brief pause, a watchful moment to reflect, to look around and see what you see.

Here is my question:

Do you keep what you see to yourself and merely enjoy the moment? Or do you record a note or two? This is a unique moment for you, Should you say something? But this is 2014. Even if you do speak out, you know that last year there were over thirteen and a half million new WordPress blogs on top of the ten million the year before. Isn’t your note going to be lost in the ocean of words you are sailing into? Your few square yards of sea are unique but the wind and the waves will sweep the ripples away the moment you sail on.


Perhaps you should make a record. Others may judge of they want to.

Surely the significant point is that you still have the freedom to say anything at all.


Although it can be read as a single post, the above is part of a series that illustrates one of the author’s current interests, taken from a locker full of interests, at a major waypoint in his life. The series sets out as a comment on retirement before focusing around language. He wonders whether he himself has the language to cope as he steps out into the wider world popularly known as ‘retirement’ – an irreversible step into a world that he has previously only glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, a world in which he thinks the word ‘retirement’ to be a misnomer. He has used the medium of the blog to paint the picture. The irony is that, whereas writing about it does allow him to reflect, sitting alone at a computer actually distances him from the face-to-face interaction he is describing.