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Iíve done it again. Iíve fallen so far behind I canít seem to find a way back in. Iíve had a few false starts but nothing Iím prepared to put my name to. I seem to spend so much time playing catch up that I end up even further behind. What I keep running up against is my lack of self-discipline. Itís not that I donít want to do it; itís just that Iím always finding other things to do instead. Itís the story of my life. Itís why Iíve achieved more than many but not as much as others.
Iíve had it with all the doom and gloom. So many people I know have had a really rough trot of late, beset by a myriad of personal tragedies both large and small. Add to that all the doomsayers in the press and media, not to mention the coldest and most miserable winter for decades and it would be easy to think that life was pretty grim. Well fuck that! No one said it would be a bed of roses but you reach a point where you have to say, damn it! Iím here, Iím alive and Iím doing okay!
Itís nice to be able to sleep in. Iím not too bad when it comes to getting up in the morning. Iím not one of those for whom it takes ages to wake up. On a weekday I usually catch the alarm just before it goes off. But itís nice to wake up, check the clock and realise I donít have to get up any time soon if I donít want to and I love the sensation of sinking back into the pillow and chasing the thread of some dream Iíve just had which Iíd like to get back into.
I enjoy redecorating. I donít always like the idea of it but once Iíve actually started I can happily sand and paint for hours and not get bored. Music helps. It occupies a different part of the brain and the dual activity of doing and listening makes for an enjoyable and productive passing of the hours. Today itís been my back catalogue of Joni Mitchell thatís been keeping me company. Come to think of it, Joni has been a staple re-decorating companion for many years. Others may have come and gone but when Iím redecorating, Joni never lets me down.
The last few months have been gruelling but a change of scenery, a change of country and
changes. Deep in the Burgundy countryside itís hard not to let go of the stresses of London and a job I am steadily disengaging from. I look out of the window and all I can see are vineyards, French rural architecture and the early blossoming of spring. On a clear day, so I am told, it is possible to see the snowy peak of Mont Blanc, although Iíve yet to see it myself. Good friends, good food and good wine. Ah, bliss!
It is the quality of sleep here that I appreciate the most; the utter silence of the night in which it is possible to retreat into dreamland without the need to unconsciously shut out the sound of buses and taxis, noisy revellers and the late night arrivals from Heathrow and Gatwick clattering their suitcases along the streets as they arrive late to their budget hotels. It is the blissful absence of any kind of distraction save the gentle breathing of the person lying next to me which, in the absence of any other sound, is as soothing as gentle music.
There are people who transform our lives forever; those for whom there is the person we were before we met and the person we became thereafter. I am blessed with having known more than my fair share of such souls and here in the Burgundy countryside I am spending time with two of the three to whom I owe so much. They are the ones who remain constant in the face of all that life can deliver, the bedrocks of my life upon whom I can place all of my trust, safe in the knowledge such trust is not misplaced.
Life is inevitably repetitious and humdrum for much of the time. No matter how dynamic oneís profession; no matter how active oneís family or social life, itís all relative: everything finds its own level. I have friends who, from the outside looking in, lead what looks like exciting and fulfilling lives yet they still will speak of a restless sense of unease over what they perceive to be the monotony of their lives. In the end it all comes down to what weíre willing to settle for in life: that and the ability to appreciate whatís right before our eyes.
Itís good to get away from time to time. Itís good to come back again, too. Time away allows for a recharging of the batteries and the luxury of gaining a broader perspective on things; coming back allows for seeing familiar things with a fresh eye. Itís an opportunity to upwardly value things that may have been neglected; to feel pleasure in the simple things that we perhaps take for granted yet were once the things we longed for. Dreams of tomorrow are what pull us into the future but letís not forget that today is often a dream fulfilled.
Inertia is easy. Itís comfortable. Itís familiar and safe. Itís also incredibly dangerous. Inertia speaks of submission and submission implies surrender. There are arguably some things in life worth surrendering to. Indeed, surrender can be a powerful act. That is not the kind of surrender Iím referring to here though. To choose to surrender after having given something your all is one thing. To surrender without having tried is quite another. One implies an informed choice while the other implies an abdication of responsibility, which in turn implies the triumph of ignorance. And surely, life is too precious and short.
Few things could be worse than getting to the end of oneís life and realising that such an amazing gift had been squandered. To look back in regret, not for the things done but for the things left undone: the opportunities missed or simply not taken; the choices made out of fear of failure which can never be redressed; the love not shared and the sins not forgiven. We live on the most extraordinary planet in the known universe, taking it all for granted, as though we had all the time in the world, until one day, it hits us.
It can take a long time to exorcise the ghosts; those faceless phantoms that can wield such power over us and keep us from believing in ourselves. To be able to say I choose this for myself and that for my future can be a daunting aspiration for some. Even when we think weíre making progress we can be taken by surprise as something comes bearing down on us from left of field, shaking our confidence to the core. The irony is it takes such a formidable amount of energy to maintain the chains that keep us from moving forward.
I havenít been sworn at for nearly two whole weeks now and while I prefer not to think too much about work while I'm away from it I canít help but pause for a moment to appreciate the absence of antagonism and conflict. Who knows, perhaps one day Iíll look back on these years in London working with the damaged and disaffected youth of South London with fondness but after such a long period of loving what I do the shine has seriously started to wear off. Itís the kind of work that has a shelf life Ė and an expiry date.
After a protracted period of redecoration and renovation the process is complete and we can now begin the task of getting things ready to put our home on the market. Itís another step along the way of wrapping up our lives in this hemisphere and returning back down to the one where the next chapter of our lives will be commencing. Itís strange to think that this little piece of London will soon belong to someone else; strange too to think that this area of London will be nothing more to us than a memory of a time that was.
It is always a moment of immense pleasure when I set foot back on the isle of my birth, for while my direct lineage derives from much further north in the UK it is here that I made my debut onto the planet and it is here where a piece of my heart will always remain. It is both an historical marker of significance and a current focus of concern, a place like no other, for there are people here whom I care about and love and with whom I will remain inextricably linked for as long as I live.
I stumbled upon an old red brick mid-Victorian railway bridge while wandering out over the island today. As a young boy it was a familiar landmark on a regular walk I used to take along what remained of the original Ryde to Ventnor line after it was mothballed in 1966. Stepping over brambles and squinting against the bright sun filtering through branches with the luminescent green of new spring leaves I could almost hear the footsteps of the boy for whom this bridge was once a gateway to that world of childish respect and wonder for a world long gone.
For the last few years Iíve been regularly crossing the Solent seeking the solace and quietude in the company of good friends on the island from whence I emerged some fifty odd years ago. Doing so has been an easy enough endeavour, living as I do within easy travelling distance. Before very long however that distance will be magnified some 150 times or more and such easy sojourns will become a thing of the past. And while I will still make the effort to re-visit the wonderland of my formative years, such visits will sadly be few and far apart.
Within a few hours I will be back in a role Iím increasingly eager to shed. Itís not that Iím bad at what I do; itís not that I donít like the people I work with; rather, itís a matter of having taken the role as far as I want to. Iím not going to slacken off in the last few months remaining: there are enough challenges to keep me engaged, if not entirely interested. But Iíve had time now to reflect on whatís been achieved and focus on the many new challenges ahead, and itís time for a change.
Nothing has changed. My desk is still there and will remain so for a while yet. My office is still a sickly shade of pink, a legacy from my predecessor Iíve never found time to remedy. The daily demands remain the same, as do the staff, the students and doubtless the constant power play that defines so much of their behaviour as each vies with the other to be the centre of attention. As first days back go itís been relatively straight forward. All that remains to be done now is to put one foot in front of the other...
Were we being naive? Everything was going so smoothly weíd become a little cocksure perhaps. I know I had. Today however came the shock. A major obstacle has been thrown up. Itís not terminal but it may prove to be expensive and it will certainly delay things. The challenge now is to turn it on its head and see what good may come out of it; to find the silver lining thatís lurking in there somewhere. Life has taught me that these things happen for a reason. Itís time to roll up our sleeves and find out what it is.
When it comes to my career and my job I have a very low threshold for boredom. I can be very competitive. Give me a new role and Iíll be in there boots and all proving to anyone who cares to notice that Iím the best man for the job. Once Iíve done so however my interest tends to wane quite rapidly. On the up side itís what has kept me moving forward in my career. On the downside itís what can make the end days of any job I do excruciatingly tedious.
I have never been very good at pacing myself. I have a tendency to push myself too hard, sometimes to little real avail, only to fall foul of my body and collapse in a heap. Add to that my inordinate capacity for procrastination and itís not hard to see how I can sometimes be my own worst enemy. Itís not that I donít have what it takes to be better organised; itís just that I have a restless nature and a mind that wanders easily. I like to think of it as an artistic temperament. Other may beg to differ.
Thereís nothing like a good sleep to put the world to rights again. Problems that appear insurmountable the night before can become infinitely more manageable in the light of day. Funny then how hard I find it to climb into bed at night. Itís not that I donít have the opportunity or even the desire. Itís more that I find myself dithering late at night over things that are often inconsequential but which seem to assume a greater significance at night. I understand perfectly well the health benefits of good, regular rest. Why then do I so often deny myself?
At any given moment there is tragedy somewhere in the world. I received a call from a very dear friend this afternoon. When I asked how she was she replied, ďnot good,Ē and then, sobbing, told me her mother had just passed away. We knew it was coming but no amount of knowing can prepare you for the shock, the yawning chasm of grief that such loss throws up. It hasnít been a good year for the elderly parents of so many friends. Iím told itís our age and of course that is true but it hurts like hell nonetheless.
Where do they go, those turns of phrase, those warm clasped hands, those gentle smiles and knowing looks? Where is the breath that once heaved and sighed and fuelled the laughter that infected others and spread with such ease and warm intent? Where are the ideas, the hopes and dreams; the bitter disappointments and subsequent resolutions to do better, try harder live fuller to the very last? How is it we can be here one moment and gone the next, just like that, leaving behind but a vapour trail where once there was breath, and memories where life once resided?
Who would have imagined, eh? After all this time, the timing is uncanny. I remember the first time. I wasnít even looking but when I saw it I just knew it had my name written all over it - which isnít to say I didnít have my doubts, especially once contact had been made. Itís funny how first impressions can be deceiving. There was a part of me that wanted to forget the whole thing. Fortunately I persisted and in doing so opened up a whole new chapter that even now after all these years may once again be bearing fruit.
It all begins today which, when I pause to consider it, is always a good day to begin, even if it is a Tuesday. Historically my beginnings usually occur on a Monday. Perhaps Iím becoming a little less anal as I get older. Tuesday is as good a day as any and it would be churlish to dismiss it simply because itís not the first day of the week. Indeed, in some respects it could be considered a more committed beginning, implying as it does a refusal to wait another six days. And so, itís done! Iím off and running!
If I wasnít already leaving, this is the day I would have made the decision to do so. Iíve experienced this sort of thing before; those moments when everything coalesces to culminate in a moment of reckoning, an epiphany, after which there can be no turning back and no denying the truth. The circumstances have not been pleasant but they have at least served to bring me to this realisation. In truth the issue at hand was not the issue: that in itself is something that can be remedied. No, the issue was, and is, itís time to move on.
After crisis, clarity; and with clarity, anger and remonstration melt away. In its place is a sense of liberation and a reaffirmation of what really matters. We are all prone to error. Itís the nature of things, and people. Thatís what precipitated the events that have allowed me to stand back and gain a little more perspective. Some have suggested I have been too forgiving; others that I have not been forgiving enough. The desire for vengeance is a powerful emotion but it should not be confused with the desire for justice. And of the two, only one is healthy.
Four months in and I am beginning to experience closure. Itís like Iíve been grappling with the future without being able to get a firm handle on it. Every time Iíve tried it seems to have slipped from between my fingers, ever elusive and lacking form. But in the last few days, all that has changed. Iíve crossed over. What lies ahead now feels more intriguing and attractive than what is being left behind. Something is awakening within me that wants to smile, dance and revel at the thought of the journey ahead.
And that canít be a bad thing.
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