Russian interference in UK elections?

How very odd. I’ve got a book about that. I wrote it in 1983 and published it on Amazon in 2017.  This was the review by Geoffrey Wansell in the Daily Mail:

Former Daily Mail reporter Passmore first wrote this novel in 1983, when it was dismissed by publishers as ‘a little far-fetched’. How wrong they were.

Featuring a new Left-wing British Prime Minister committed to scrapping the Trident missile fleet, a Russian President meddling in foreign elections and a U.S. President determined to put his country first, it feels astonishingly contemporary.

The plot revolves around a Trident submarine captain and his Admiral father intent on ensuring Britain keeps its nuclear options open, a newspaper reporter and a secretary in the Defence office who falls into a honeytrap set by Russian intelligence.

Fast-moving and immensely prescient, there are echoes of the early works of Ken Follett and Frederick Forsyth — and that is no faint praise.

The tragedy is that it remained hidden in the author’s attic for 34 years. Let us hope he has time to write many more.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trident-Future-out-control-happening/dp/1521800731

Departure

La Jument Lighthouse

The land is complicated. Life is simpler at sea. I have now been in Falmouth for 42 days – exactly as many as I spent going nowhere and back again.

It just seems longer.

The boat is loaded with food (another 49 cans of sardines). All I need to do is fill the water tanks (no longer leaking) and I am ready. The Shipping forecast offers northerly force 3-5, fair, good. Lying at anchor in Falmouth harbour I can see sails shaking out all around me as the locals revel in being allowed out at last.

I could go too. I could accept that the last spare part will just have to stay at the harbour office while I pass La Jument light off Ushant just in time to pick up the north easterlies across Biscay. It’s 1,300 miles to Lanzarote. Another 400 round the islands and then 875 to Porto.

Of course, I could stop – or maybe make a detour to Madeira. Last night I sat over the six o’clock beer working it all out and saying: “Sod it, let’s go!”

I could imagine the anchor breaking out and the bow swinging to the wind. The friendly couple on the 45ft cutter next to me waving goodbye – the children on the little beach, standing waist-deep in their shortie wetsuits and staring … the surge of the first swell off St Anthony’s Head. Would she carry the spinnaker?

Except that, this morning the wind is dying. The ensign has folded itself over the pushpit and I have missed my weather window.

The trouble is there’s absolutely no urgency. I have all the time in the world: 1,575 miles is 18 days at 90miles a day which is what I managed last time. I don’t have to be in Porto to meet the family for another 37 days. I other words, I have all the time in the world. It is an extraordinary thing to have the luxury of time. Why not revel in it?

I could make a fastening for the lid of the chart table so that it wouldn’t open if the boat turns over. I mean, how likely is that? But it’s easy enough to do and there’s some important stuff in the chart table. I could varnish the companionway – that needs doing three times a year.

But the fact is that I’m ready. Just to make sure, I went and propped the boat up against the little quay over on the Flushing side and spent a tide scrabbling around on the wet sand underneath scraping off pubescent goose barnacles and greasing the propeller, replacing the anode…

People came and interrupted me – a relief because there is nothing quite as unpleasant as scrubbing away above your head with a stinking pan scourer while green slime drips into your eye. The only upside is that you didn’t buy a bigger boat.

The new cooker is installed but I still haven’t put away the cigarette lighter (not quite believing I have electronic ignition). The new pipework doesn’t leak. The replacement mainsail is bent on and fits perfectly. The upgraded reefing system is ready to try in earnest. In fact, after 42 days, I can’t even remember all the entries in the “To Do” app which have been despatched with that self-satisfied click as“Done”.

But there is one thing that isn’t “Done”.

After all, those 42 days and 3,629 miles or whatever it was, just as we squeezed passed the Manacles and I went to let out some more headsail for the final close-reach into Falmouth, the furling gear jammed.

This is, of course, one of those ultimate nightmares. It’s right up there with sinking, dismasting, knock-downs, roll-overs and running out of beer. Many a boat has limped into port with a headsail fluttering in shreds because a fortnight ago someone didn’t keep the tension on the line and ended up with a riding turn, jamming the gear and leaving a fraught crew battling to make headway with the boat effectively in leg-irons.

I have a love-hate relationship with my furling gear. If I had my way it would be a Profurl or a Furlex – something that was simple and reliable and accessible.

Mine is a SeaFurl, made at about the time Noah was debating whether to give up hanked-on headsails. It is enclosed in a discreet stainless steel cowling which you have to unbolt (dropping the bolts) to get at the works.

And the works include a silly plastic disc which is supposed to stop the coiled line riding up into the top of cowling and jamming (which it wouldn’t if the cowling wasn’t there). Obviously, being plastic there is a possibility that this disc might get damaged somehow and need to be replaced. Also – obviously – you wouldn’t want to have to remove the entire assembly in order to do this.

So the designers came up with a brilliant idea: They would make the silly plastic disc in two halves which would clip together round the drum. The fact that this made the whole thing even more flimsy somehow escaped them.

It broke two years ago. Now it had broken again – and sure enough, the line grabbed the opportunity to jam itself once more. This time in the most inaccessible place, right against the back of the cowling. Beyond the reach, indeed, of someone lying on the foredeck with the big screwdriver and the occasional wave breaking over his head.

The obvious solution – taking the sail down – is never an option in this situation because it only arises when the sail is partly-furled. That means removing the sheets, leaving the sail flying in the wind and motoring round and round in circles until it furls by itself.

In such circumstances – the open sea with a stiff breeze – this is impossible. It would need the sort of engine people install when they don’t intend to put up sails in the first place.

It wasn’t until I was inside the harbour, in flat water, that I was able to execute this embarrassing manoeuvre (in full view, naturally, of all the amused blue-water sailors who gather in such a celebrated jumping-off point).

I got the sail off just as soon as the wind dropped, picked out the tiny pieces of the silly plastic disc and set about ordering another…from Tampa in Florida…in the middle of a global pandemic…

I suppose 42 days is not really so long. It was three weeks before I could get anybody on the phone – a harassed man on his first day back in the office looking at a list of emails that seemed to stretch around the world (many of them mine).

Then I became acquainted with the phenomenal efficiency of the US Postal Service tracking system. My consignment was in transit to the Next Facility. It had arrived at the Regional Facility and then progressed to another Facility … and another … before being Processed and arriving at its Origin Transfer Airport (Miami) and Departing (two days later).

I became obsessed, like a teenager on GroupMe. Hey, it had Departed Heathrow (had it arrived?) and was In Transit to Destination.

The Destination was the Harbour Office in Falmouth and therein lay another problem. The Harbour Office was locked down. That is to say, you had to ring the bell and someone would come clumping down the stairs to open the door and tell you not to come in. But they would agree to look in the cupboard and see if your parcel had arrived.

In the past, they had done just this – many times (Allen keys, mung beans, repaired autopilot…) Indeed, one of the Harbourmaster’s assistants made it quite plain that I was abusing the HM’s hospitality. I didn’t feel like calling after that – not until I was sure my Item had arrived.

And it did arrive – but in Coventry for Customs Clearance. Then, after another 48hours, Frabjous Day: “Your Item has arrived at the delivering Post Office.”

Isn’t that great? Nothing about having to pay duty on it, either – that’s what happened last time. I was getting to like pandemics.

But somehow my Item seemed to get stuck in the Delivering Post Office. I waited for the obligatory 48 hours for the final message “Your item has arrived at Destination” or even “We’ve decided you have to pay Duty on it after all” but the screen remained stubbornly blank.

I telephoned Falmouth Post Office. They were unimpressed with my US Postal Service tracking number. I called Parcel Force. Parcel Force is online.

In some desperation, after three days, I puttered across the harbour, slithered across the muddy seaweed (low tide, should have thought of that) and scrambled up the ladder to pay the Harbourmaster a call. Mr Grumpy was off duty. Instead, his charming colleague looked in the cupboard and said there was a letter for me. She brought it to the door. It was from Parcel Force: They would deliver my parcel just as soon as I paid the duty. The letter was three days old.

It is now scheduled for Delivery on Monday. It has its own UK tracking number.

I reckon I could be away by lunchtime. The wind is due to return at two o’clock.

48 hours of fame

They do say that one small, spur-of-the-moment decision can change your life.

The last 48 hours have been like nothing I have ever experienced before.

It all began very innocently: I was underneath the galley trying to stop the water pump squirting all over the ready-use stores when Jeremy Vine popped up on Radio Two to tell Ken Bruce he would be talking about “What we will miss when Lockdown ends.”

Well, of course, my lockdown was a bit different. As you now know, I skipped it entirely – or rather, I took the social distancing instructions seriously. Boris said: “Two metres”. I went for 3,629 miles.

I sent in my pennyworth to Radio Two. After all, my sister had suggested that particular instalment deserved a wider audience.

Years ago, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I had a column in Yachting World – and another in the Daily Telegraph. But now I’m old and past it. Most of my former colleagues are long gone – although old hacks never die. They just pontificate on Facebook.

I did send a couple of emails to the Guardian, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost them. Certainly, they never got back to me.

But Jeremy Vine not only read my email. He read it out on air to all his 7.42million listeners. I have it here: “I am over 70 and they were telling me that I would have to stay indoors for three months. Instead, I went sailing on my own. I thought I might get arrested if I went through the Dover Strait and so I went over the top of the Shetlands, down to the Azores in mid-Atlantic (didn’t stop) and then back to ask ‘Is it all over yet?’ It doesn’t seem to be and I had such a good time that as soon as a spare part arrives, I’ll be off again.”

It was a shame I missed it. I was on the phone at the time. Still, maybe there would be a flurry of listeners wanting to contact me saying: “Has he got a blog? Has he written a novel? Does he have a magical health supplement? Can I join his remote business and get paid to go sailing too?

Actually, no. I spent the afternoon with Woody Allen’s autobiography – and then sat up until two in the morning watching Love and Death on Prime.

So, I was still in bed idly marvelling at the news from the USA when the BBC rang: Would I do a ten-minute interview with Jeremy Vine?

Well, of course I would do an interview with Jeremy Vine. I felt sure I could find ten minutes at 1.30 (it doesn’t do to seem too keen).

No sooner did I press the “end call” button than I was out of the sleeping bag, making a list of points to cover and rehearsing my off-the-cuff rhetoric. Mustn’t forget to mention the blog. What would he ask? Just how far offshore is Rockall? Is it cheating to measure from the mainland? The Nutella joke is good… Remember the blog – write that down in big letters and keep it next to the phone…

So: An early lunch, charge the phone, ringtone to “silent” … not the best signal off Trefusis Point but we’re doing it on WhatsApp…

Of course, the rest – if not history – is certainly destined for my collection of favourite anecdotes. I was still talking when the messages started pinging in: “You’re on Radio Two!” (Yes, I know).

I remembered to mention the blog – in fact Jeremy repeated it at the end, bless him. The afternoon went by in a blur. Everybody rang up. Everybody had heard it – although when Tamsin gave her mother advance notice, Eira said: “But our Radio’s on Radio Four.”

– Well, change it, then.

“I don’t think we know how…”

Hits on the blog shot up to 5,000 – and counting…

The BBC got through to say “thank you” and how well they thought it had gone – and then rang back to say that a literary agent wanted to talk to me. Would it be all right to give him my number? (Please, can I pay you to give my number to a literary agent?)

This turns out to be Jeremy Vine’s literary agent – and Anton du Beke’s – and a whole lot of other people who I’m sure I would know if I paid more attention to popular culture.

Would I write a book? He was sure he could find a market for it. I had a novel too? Self-published on Amazon? Maybe he could find a home for that as well…

Of course, I mean yes – please… A proper publisher… and book tours… and chat shows and all that champagne and those little canapes with the caviar that falls off onto the carpet…

Ah, but wait: Maybe I should get back to him – just in case there was an email in my inbox with a million-dollar advance from Random House…

He sent me his CV.

I have spent this morning writing furiously to make up for lost time – except that I keep stopping every time the phone goes ping and somebody else wants the magic supplement. It’s just as well Facebook doesn’t ping – the part-time money people come in on Facebook because I need to check their profile pictures first (don’t ask). Also, Kindle Direct Publishing has to be refreshed every 20 seconds in case someone else has bought the novel.

Naturally, Random House let me down (and the galley pump is still leaking) but the blog is up to 55,000 hits. More than 300 information packs have gone out for the magic health supplement and I’ve raised the good-taste threshold for profile pictures before I agree to talk about the money thing.

Meanwhile, the agent has gone off to play the recording to all those proper publishers.

If you missed it, here it is: