You May Be Sailing Aboard A Ship Of Fools, But I'm Certainly Not

Oskar Laske, Das Narrenschiff
Oskar Laske, Das Narrenschiff

Oh! I am sorry. You've boarded a ship captained by infirmity, crewed by quarrelers, without navigation or helmsman, beset by violence, senseless, narcotic stupors, mutiny and plotting, raiding of the stores, and abuse of the clear-eyed, and dedicated to the protection of Saint Grobian, patron of vulgarity? As I say, I'm very sorry to hear that.

But we are, quite literally as it happens, not in the same boat; my captain is quiet, courteous, genteel, and frequently updates his log-book. My crew comports themselves well, and keeps their uniforms up to standard.

Your fellow passengers are frivolous – oblivious – deranged? At atmosphere of absurdity, pointlessness, and despair predominates? You cannot make progress no matter how you unfurl the sails or command the rowers? Oh, if only you had boarded the ship I am on now! We are making excellent time in a consistent direction, always heading towards our destination. All conversations in every part of the ship are rational.

I don't mean to rub salt in the wound, of course, but I do wonder if you might have saved yourself an awful lot of trouble had you simply scanned the ship for signs of folly and misrule before boarding, as I did? A stitch in time saves nine, you know! Had you asked me beforehand, I would have advised you to examine the ship and its crew for any indications of coarseness, rudeness, buffoonery, paradox, the breakdown of order, nihilism, etc.; had you reported any such signs I would certainly have advised you to abandon your plans and join me immediately aboard this safe, sane, and sensible ship, which is riddled with decorum and good order. Here everyone knows his purpose and his place, and no one trades hats, or uses a spyglass as a fork, or anything like that.

Really, I don't think it's very difficult to avoid the ship of fools. I am sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's the easiest thing in the world to tend the helm if you are the helmsman, to mind the rations if you are the quartermaster, to utilize the sextant if you are assistant to the navigator, and so on. Perhaps it does make me sound self-satisfied, but I really think it must be what is commonly referred to as a skill issue. It simply could not be me who stepped aboard a ship like yours!

Now – if the captain of my ship, who is a strong and able seaman, were to offer me a turn at the wheel, that would be quite different – I myself have a great deal of experience standing at the tiller, and know the names of almost all of the stars. I was taught the secrets of navigation many years ago by a Genoan of my father's acquaintance, and it would be only natural for the captain to turn to me for a few moments if he needed relief, or had an errand to attend to on the other side of the ship but did not care to leave the tiller unattended. This would mean no violation of the natural order of things, you understand. It's possible one or two of the fellows from the lower decks might at first – only at first, you know – take it a bit hard, not knowing my vast experience and prodigious naval acquaintance, but a cuff or two about the ears will soon set them aright! And any other fellow who thinks he's going to get between me and that wheel shall feel the full might of my blows, by God, ha-ha! I'll throw them all over board, and let the fishes pick over their bones! I can see a great dripping Moon lurching over the horizon, and tonight we set our course by her to Fiddler's Green, and see terrible things – and see terrible waking things – see terrible waking walking things, or I ain't the king o' the cats!

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]