Long time ago, a black passanger hidden in the cargo of coal was found on an English ship. Black indeed, dirty as he was, a boy about 14 years old, dressed in rags. Being just a passanger was not what he wanted. His dream was to become a seaman and he was willing to to anything to stay on the ship. He was asked to climb the mast and nobody (even the boy himself) really believed that he would be able to do it. When he untied royal sail, (the highest sail on square rig ships) and returned safely on the deck he was accepted as a new crew member. Few years later he become the youngest captain in Britain and after some years one of the greatest and most respected seacaptains ever. His name was James Cook.
Much of my own sailing dreams (more modest) had become true before I decided to crew on a British ship. I was not planning to become a captain, just a deckhand and I would be happy with nothing more than a local ferry in the Falkland islands. Times has changed a bit: being a black passanger is not a ticket to get a job anymore (no coal cargoes) and nobody wanted me to climb anything. All I was asked for was a paper. Who cares about previous experience or knowledge! After the age od sail and age of engines we live in the age of papers. I knew it. I own several of them. Put on the table they look very nice (I am not exactly talking about my photos now, there is one on each of them). I can deal my papers like cards. Very impressive. Not bad for a small yachtie! None of those cards ever helped me to sail or to make a port safely. On the ocean I did not find any use for them so far. Sadly I realised that they barely float! More sadly, in the office of the shipping company in the Falkland islands, these papers were useless as well. Not British enough. "We know it is silly" they said, but they could not do anything. I did not pass as an able seaman.
Famous British bureauracy (a friend of mine - now living in the US - said so, sincerely I would not know it was famous otherwise) always offers a solution: I could buy a ticket, fly to UK, pay for the training and come back. The job might be still available. Instead of a long trip with an uncertain outcome I rather made 20 more steps towards a house next door. I think, James Cook, poor as he was before he started his sea career, would have to do the same. The next house was a caffe and I did not need a paper to start making burgers there. (Actualy several papers were produced to get a workpermit for me and many weeks passed before my first burger was launched into a hot oil but it is another story). I will not crew on a British ship but I am working in a cafe with many Union Jacks in its windows. Life is about compromises.
Staying in the Falklands for winter satisfied more than my darest sailing ambitions. I became CAPTAIN COOK. My good friends call me James now.
Not a tragedy. Something like this has happened before to many people in situations hundred times more absurd than mine. The age of papers. Perhaps it is a way how to make crews better than they were in the age of sail. Or maybe otherwise. There are no "Ifs" in history, but letīs imagine one: IF the papers made their triumph aboard British ships 3 hundred years ago, James Cook could become a Burger King, Horatio Nelson might have been a waiter, chips would be called "English fries" and Trafalgar Square would be in Paris.
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