|An Occasional Column from the Antipodes||by Rory Gordon, Australia|
During the off-season I like to spend as much time as possible at a little fishing village in Australia. Quite aside from the fact that the accommodation is free - which always helps - it is a place that I enjoy thoroughly mainly because there are (what I call) the essentials of life, but few of the luxuries.
Mind you, my essentials are things that many people would call luxuries. Things like electricity, solid walls, a roof, a floor, hot and cold water, showers, fridges and so on. Definitely not for me is being "under canvas", campfires and communal washing in a swift-flowing, cold river.
One of the luxuries missing from my fishing village is that of "TV variety". I am, you may remember, a TV addict and the mere two channels available do not come anywhere near satisfying my addiction ... well, one of them isn't too bad, but the other is ghastly and comes close to my definition of the "Worst TV Channel In The World".
One of the consequences of this - apart from the sheer pleasure of having a snooze just about every afternoon and the long walks along the beaches - is that I read even more copiously than I normally do. Basically, especially in the evenings, there isn't much more else to do, apart from getting drunk and, at my age, the mere thought of hangovers is enough to curb that activity.
Despite being a TV addict, I am also a book-worm, rarely going anywhere without something to read. (I have learnt that if I fail to have any semi-decent reading material with me at an event of some kind, I will inevitably get bored silly ... take a book or a magazine and I seldom need it.) My preferred choice of books is fairly wide, ranging from science fiction to political history and from biography to war novels.
One of the great pleasures of my holidays is that range of books available to me at the accommodation are almost totally different, but quite similar, to what I normally read, which is hardly so very surprising since they are my mother's books. Despite this, I nearly always manage to find something new to read and enjoy.
This year, one of those books was Francis Chichester's "Along The Clipper Way". At this point, I can hear you say not only "Big deal" but also "So what?".
Some little explanation might be in order here. Chichester gained not a little fame by sailing around the world single-handed. Being a sub-teenager at the time, I can't remember many of the details, but I do remember, since I was living in Britain at the time and he too was a Briton, his return to Britain. And then, on his official return up the Thames, he was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II with the very same sword that Queen Elizabeth had used to knight Sir Francis Drake.
Anyway, for a sea-faring nation like Britain, Chichester's journey was indeed a "Big Deal". But Chichester had been doing things like that for a while, and "Along The Clipper Way" was a reflection of that.
The book is a collection of writings about the route that the clippers used to take in the days when sail was the only way to go and the prevailing winds and currents decided the course that a ship would take. As it happened, the quickest way for a clipper to go from Britain to Australia and back to Britain - and bear in mind that the Suez and Panama canals didn't exist then, was simply to go around the world. The stories in Chichester's book are simply amazing and well worth browsing through.
So, by a typically rambling and tortuous route, we come to the crux of the whole thing. In one section of Chichester's book, he comments on navigational errors:
To me, the key word in that sentence is "sense". The implication is that the difference between an ordinary navigator and a good navigator is that the latter will nearly always have that innate ability to know where the ship is, without having to look to closely at a radar screen, or a GPS terminal, or even a chart.
And it's that same "sense" that makes a driver the best, that puts him above the others in the field. During a damp race at, say, Spa, he'll know exactly when just the right moment has come to change tyres.
It's probably nothing that operates on the conscious level, but more of a feeling based on his experience and with the assistance of advice from the pits, that tells him whether or not to pit.
Out on the circuit, he knows instinctively when not to try and overtake a slower driver, but to wait for a few seconds until the other driver is ready to be overtaken.
How often have you seen a driver spending, what seems like, laps behind another car, trying desperately to get past? And yet, there are certain drivers who manage to get through without you even noticing. Part of this is, of course, due to the car itself and the nature of the particular circuit.
To my mind, only the really great drivers have this ability ... this sense ... of when to do things and when not to do them.
Which is why the controversy over Michael Schumacher's road manners worries me. Schumacher is the class act of the F1 field today. He doesn't need to rely on punting other drivers off the circuit, and yet he seems to do so continually.
Schumacher has the "sense" and that is so clearly obvious. He presents as a "robot", totally dedicated - some would say "blinded" - to winning the World Championship. And that dedication seems, every now and then, to blunt his senses and he is party to some highly controversial action.
Why? For Heaven's sake, the guy has more driving ability than most of the rest of the field put together. I do wish he would let his "sense" regain control and let us all see what a truly great driver he is.
But that's just me.