Sunday, April 24, 2016

North Sea Paddle: the fabulously fine art of faffing...and its quiet gift of focus.

Scotland has a deep and delightful richness of language and expression...there are the coolest words and figures of speech, like "faffing". My own definition: "to spend an inordinate amount of time on some activity that may appear to be inconsequential." Some may understand faffing as wasting time, or simply dithering.

But...nothing, could be further from the truth. :)

Faffing is a fine art, to be appreciated, cultivated, and enjoyed.

The other day, for example, was an absolutely perfect opportunity to be on the North Sea. We drove to one of our favourite launch spots, the ruined harbour at the foot of the cliffs beneath the tiny village of Auchmithie, just north of Arbroath. 

Part of the routine of a sea kayaking expedition, multi-day or for just a few hours, is in the preparations. There is the loading, the unloading, the carrying of the boats and gear to the shore, the checking and double checking that everything is in order...and then, for me, the faffing. 

Now it is readily admitted that this component can frustrate those intent on "getting on with it". Most paddlers I've enjoyed spending time with, however, exhibit gentle patience and an appreciation for the quiet, introspective moments of a good pre-launch faff. 

Time, after all, is precious. Every moment needs to be massaged. While Joan continued to load the boats, I faffed along the shore of the harbour, picking up one beautiful pebble after another...

...and allowed my mind to wonder about the marvellous story each could tell. There must have been billions upon billions of pebbles, and not one alike in shape or form.

I tried to imagine the molten rock, forming an intrusion into the mighty sandstone cliffs, maybe 250 million years ago.

A tiny arch, leading to another shingle beach, just begged to be explored.

So much faffing to do...and so little time.

Faffing might be thought of as the antithesis of that much admired activity of modern industry - so-called "multi-tasking". When we multi-task, however, attention to any one matter must be shared with another. Of course, it's possible to be on the phone, take notes, listen to music, and munch on a sandwich - all at the same time, but there can be no real or full focus on any one thing. 

Our human brains are simply not capable of fully focusing on more than one task at hand at a time. As we attempt to tend to several matters, all in the same moment, no single activity receives full focus. Without focus, there cannot be clarity. Sometimes I pat myself on the back, thinking I have attended to several matters, simultaneously. But, it often astonishes me, to think of how little clarity (or memory!) I have of any of it on any given day.

Time, deserves more focus.

When we faff, we tend to put out of our minds everything that can distract us...our worries, our agendas, our concerns for a future, still beyond the horizon. When we allow our minds to simply "be" on one thing at a time, the mind finds deep contentment, even peace, as it rests in that place. It is happy to be there.

It's probably why searching for sea glass, or listening to the waves rush up on the shore, or gardening is so relaxing, so calming, so restorative.

Faffing...spending moments every now and again, with just one delightful thing at a time offers a quiet gift of focus. With focus, comes clarity. With clarity, comes a richness beyond words, remaining with us in memory.

Having nurtured this fine art, yet one more time, it was launch time for another paddle on the North Sea, between Auchmithie and Arbroath.

And it was a cracker. :)

Much more to come...


  1. Great to see you both back out on the water - and having a good old pre-launch faff! :o)

    Warm wishes

    1. Thanks for that, Ian. Really looking forward to hearing about your most recent exped. I'll also be in touch soon. Warm wishes from us both.

  2. Duncan, a finely focussed feature on the fulsome form and fashion of a good faff! One fine fellow I used to paddle with had such little feeling for the joy of faffing that he raced off home from the beach after forgetting to tie his kayak to the roof. About 40 minutes later we passed him about half a mile down the road. He was faffing about the roadside finding fragments of a former kayak!

    1. Douglas, thank you for the comment and I won't even try to follow it with any additional application of associated alliterative content. Great story...but not so nice for the fellow who failed to faff! :) Warm wishes from us both.

  3. HI, Duncan and Joan. It's Heather and Gregor Schoenberg. We're visiting friends in Maple Bay at the moment and wondered if you were still here. Turns out no! Yours trip looks fantastic.

    We remember fondly our visit with you and our kayak outing at Maple Bay. Hope you are well.

    1. Heather and Gregor, so nice to hear from you. We remember well the "flotilla" on the water, a great time, indeed. Sorry we missed you at Base Camp 1. Have a wonderful time on the Island and warm wishes from us both.

  4. Dear Duncan

    Am I right in thinking that Joan is doing all the work while you are faffing??


    While Joan continued to load the boats, I faffed along the shore of the harbour, picking up one beautiful pebble after another...



    1. Hmm...that's a good question, Dick. I'll have to think back. Oh oh, the pictures kind of tell the story, don't they? ;) Yes, I suppose she was. But gosh, I was doing "research" for writing this blog post. That's gotta count. :)) Many thanks for your comment, always good to hear from you. Warm wishes from us both.