In today’s installment of “What can I space off on rather than focus on my job, which, at this moment, really doesn’t require much focus in order to do whatever it is I’m suppose to do,” I began to wonder what one could do with a blog post that begins with as dull a first sentence as possible. At about the same time my nose itched.
My nose itches. The time-honored solution is to scratch it. But a nose being a nose, rather than, say, an arm or torso, the location of the itch plays a significant role in the proper social response. If the itch is on the tip of the nose, as was mine, you simply scratch. However, if the itch is INSIDE your nose … well. Cause blowing your nose doesn’t always relieve the itch. And if a sneeze isn’t forthcoming, that leaves you with, yes, sticking a finger up your nose. Which is socially disgusting. Yet safer than scratching with a paring knife.
Speaking of “disgusting,” it’s time for you to choose. In his book, Batavia’s Graveyard, Mike Dash describes life aboard a 1628 state-of-the-art Dutch East India Company trade ship bound from Amsterdam to (you guessed it) the East Indies. Generally speaking, while sailing for months, life on board a trade ship (or retourschip) really, really, really sucked. “Within a week of sailing even basic cleanliness became a dreamed-of luxury for the passengers and crew of a retourschip. There was no fresh water for washing, and although one of the largest ships of her day, the Batavia was equipped with no more than four latrines” (p. 94 of my paperback copy). If you were a ship’s officer or one of the East India Company merchants or a socially high-ranking enough passenger, you stayed in the stern of the ship. Life here only sucked very much.
If you were crew or a soldier or socially low-ranking, you stayed in the bow. Unless your duty called you to the stern, it was a severe flogging offence for the scummy bow people to go on the other side of the main mast (which went all the way down to the keel). You are a common crew member assigned to the bow section to live for months. Living your life in the bow: Which Is More Disgusting?
No. 1) “The rest of the crew had to line up to use the remaining pair [of latrines] in the bow, which were nothing more than holes in the deck under the bowsprit. … The only additional amenity was a long dung-smeared rope that snaked through the hole in the latrine. The frayed end of the rope dangled in the sea and could be hauled up and used to wipe oneself clean.” OR
No. 2) “Hard tack was the worst affected. This twice-baked bread contained no fats or moisture and would keep indefinitely in normal conditions, though it was so dry it cracked teeth and had to be dunked in stew to make it edible. Damp, it was easier to eat but became a perfect larder for the weevils that laid their eggs within and turned each piece into a honeycomb of tunnels and chambers full of larvae. Each sailor who made the passage to the Indies learned to tap his ration of bread against the sides of the ship before he ate it, to dislodge the insect life within. Any that remained were eaten anyway. Novice seamen learned to distinguish the flavors of the different species: weevils tasted bitter, cockroaches of sausage; maggots were unpleasantly spongy and cold to bite into.”
Once you finish barfing, vote in the comments.