Procrastination

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.

Seneca – 4 BC (Córdoba) – 65 AD (Rome)

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That line comes from Seneca’s essay – ‘De Brevitate Vitae’ (The Shortness of Life), written in 49 AD.

And as Wayne Gretsky, the former Canadian ice hockey star, once said – ‘Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.  You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’.

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I well remember a Qantas commercial from the early 1970s when I lived in Australia.  It started out with a young man saying that when he finished school he was going to travel.  Then it was after he completed his studies.  One saw the young man looking a little older, saying that when his children grew up, he was going to see the world.  Then the man looking much older, salt-and-peppered and conservative, saying that when he retired he was going to travel and see the world.  Finally, there appeared a very old grey bearded wrinkly saying – ‘One of these days…’.

For me, decisions involving my own money – buying a house, shares, a car, a phone, a computer etc. are relatively easy.  I know what I want, I have a reasonable idea of the cost, and when I find it, I buy it.  I really don’t care if I later find that I could have bought it for less somewhere else, or by waiting I could have had a better deal. The deal is done and I move on.  For me the old saying, that ‘time is money’ very much applies.  I very much believe that it is important to know what your time is worth and not to waste it in trying to make relatively insignificant savings.

In a similar manner decisions involving where I live and/or work have also been relatively easy for me and have always been because of what I wanted to do next in life. We have no choice of parents or of where we are born and raised, but we certainly can decide where we want to live.  Consequently, I have left a trail of cities behind me – Toronto, Sydney, Los Angeles, London, Lagos, Caracas, Miami, Panama, Lima, Camberley, Neuchâtel, Paris, Uppsala, Chamonix, Montevideo and now Cape Town.  One of these days I may settle down… 🙂

At work the major decisions are usually much more complex and involve many variables.  Making 5 out of 5 profitable decisions hardly seems possible.  With 4 out of 5, promotion is just a matter of time.  With 3 out of 5, one may remain employed.  Anything less usually results in ‘adios’.  And procrastination on a difficult decision rarely wins respect.

Where I have often struggled is with the negative decisions involving people, for example in terminating a relationship or someone’s employment.  With some, I would certainly never win a popularity contest.  And yet, once the decision is made and communicated, I have usually felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  As is written in the bible, and frequently misquoted, ‘the truth sets you free’.

Life is too short to waste on regretting what could have been…

In the words of Edith Piaf – ´Non, Je ne regrette rien’.

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Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien – (original)

Shit

I grew up on a farm in Ireland and from the age of crawling, I was exposed to shit.

There was cow shit, horse shit, chicken shit, pig shit, sheep shit, goose, duck, goat, dog and cat shit, and other shit that I have trod on, but not noticed.  And more than once a passing bird has evacuated its bowels on my head, which Irish logic would explain why I have been exceptionally lucky all my life.

And there was the manure heap, with the daily contents of the piggeries and the chicken houses, together with the remains of dead animals and birds.  It was a veritable soup of bacteria, constantly stirred by an army of rats.

Of course, we kept ourselves pristine clean: my mother made me have a bath once a week, but only if I really needed it.  Now to some of you that may sound a little extreme, but one should remember that we had no running water until I was eight or nine years old, and then no heating.

The only times I ever had to take a precautionary medical measure, was when, on occasions I cut myself and went to the doctor to have a tetanus injection.  And of course, there was the ringworm infection that I had on my forehead, probably from wiping my sweaty brow on a warm day.  It started to spread towards my hair and I had to have treatment.

I still have most of my hair, albeit not as lush as formerly

When I migrated to Canada, I first heard of allergies.  It was a new word for me.  If it existed in Ireland, I had never heard of it before. So many people in Canada seemed to be allergic to something.  And there was the modern infliction of stomach ulcers and haemorrhoids.  As an innocent Irish immigrant, I was on a steep learning curve.

Some years later, on one of my last nights in Lagos, with some of my friends, I went to my favourite little French bistro in the city.  It rained heavily while we ate and when we emerged, the streets were flooded, and the parking lot, where I had left the car – I was driving, was a lake.  The sewers had regurgitated their contents, and the water was putrid.

I took off my shoes and socks –  I was already in shorts, and waded to the car and managed to start the engine and exit the car park.  When my friends got in, they were nauseated by the smell that rose from my legs.  When we got back to my apartment, to my amusement, one of the girls (a very city girl) insisted on dousing my legs with disinfectant, despite that I had already showered.

Once in Chamonix in recent years, with Lotta and some of my sons, just about to start dinner, Andrew mentioned that the toilet in his room was blocked.  ‘Leave it to me’, I said, and I leapt into action.  Sure enough, it the  toilet was filled to the brim and solidly blocked.  I plunged my arm up to the elbow, pulled and pushed at the blockage, and with an enormous sucking noise, it all disappeared.

Was I treated as a ‘hero’ for my heroic action?  Not at all.  ‘Yuk’, ‘OMG’, ‘how could you do that? etc.  And once again I was doused with all sorts of disinfectants. And dinner was a rather subdued affair.

Sometimes being Irish is no fun… 😦

When it comes to gardening, I can understand women wanting to protect and keeping their ‘hands soft and smooth´, but I have never understood why men wear gloves.  To me, gardening in gloves is comparable to sex with a condom:  to feel and assess the moisture content and the texture of the soil, one has to get one’s hands dirty.  I could never imagine my father or his workers ever wearing gloves in their work.

I remain totally convinced that exposure to germs, bacteria or whatever they are called, from a young age, helps to build a resistance that lasts a lifetime.

I appreciate that my view is diametrically opposed to that of the product propaganda of the cleansing and pharmaceutical companies and most city people.

But then, what do I know?

 

The Ash Tree

My mother loved her garden.  Apart from a few essentials for herself, every spare penny she could save was invested in scrubs and plants.

When we moved into the new house in 1952, the site was covered in rubble, ashes from the burned out Irish cottage, that previously stood in one corner, weeds and nettles.  There was little or no topsoil.  It looked as if nothing would ever grow there.

Yet a few years later, it was a virtual ‘Garden of Eden’, with a variety of flowering shrubs, roses, various plants and bulbs.  My mother had a proverbial ‘green thumb’, and visitors to the farm used to marvel at the profusion of year-round colour.

In a secluded corner of the garden, where there was a small ash tree, my mother had one of the workers construct a seat under the tree, using a sheet of corrugated iron, backed with soil and topped with a layer of grass.

It was never a success.  It was too shaded, too damp and within a year the iron retainer started to rust.  Nobody ever sat there.

But I liked it, for it enabled me to climb onto the lower branch of the tree, and standing on the branch, I felt as if I was on a ship.  I used to spend many hours in that corner of the garden.  It does not take a lot to stir the fertile imagination of an eight-year-old.

On Friday, February 07, 1958, the BBC morning news announced that a plane carrying the Manchester United football team had crashed the previous evening, when attempting to take-off from Munich airport, and that 20 of the 44 passengers had been killed.  Later three more died of their injuries.

The team had been returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade and had landed at Munich to refuel.  The pilot had aborted take-off twice in a snow storm, due to poor runway conditions.  On the third attempt, the plane hit a thick layer of slush, careered off the runway through a fence, and one wing hit a house.

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BEA Flight 609

One of the undoubted heroes on the night was Irish goalkeeper, Harry Gregg, from my home area.  He managed to carry and drag several of the injured from the burning plane, including Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower, Dennis Violett, the pregnant wife of a Yugoslav diplomat and her daughter, and his manager, Sir Matt Busby, who was twice given last rites, but survived.

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Harry Gregg in his playing days

 

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And at the 50-year memorial, with a candle for each of the victims

 

Like a great many people, I was very shaken by the news.  I went down to my secluded corner, climbed into the ash tree, and with my penknife I carved ‘Man U 1958‘ in the bark.

Several years later, when I returned on a visit, I could still vaguely make out the carving.

The garden has now long gone, but perhaps the ash tree is still there.

 

In case you wondered

I confess that the subject and content of some of my posts may seem random to the uninitiated. But there is a purpose to my ramblings.

Let me explain.

A few years ago I realized that I was the only one who knew the details of the history of my family.  Much of my insight results from thirty years of research in the archives in Belfast and Norwich, coupled with first-hand knowledge of three of my grandparents.

Some years ago I documented what I had discovered.  One evening during a skiing trip with my sons in Sweden, I read excerpts from my notes.  They listened with polite attention, but it was obvious that they were not easily enthused by ancient history; they wanted to know of my travels and experiences.

But how to document it?

I have always had the view that autobiographies are usually an ego trip for the writer.  I did nothing further.

It was not until I recently read ‘La Colmena‘, by Camilo José Cela, that I found the inspiration and the technique to write up a series of seemingly random but ultimately connected events.

So one by one I am working though my long list.  And when I run out of inspiration, I will knit together the resultant product into a document that can hopefully be passed to my descendants.

And perhaps they will know me, although I may be long gone.

So wonder no more…

Fiftieth Anniversity

It was on this day – 8 July 1965, that I left Ireland and migrated to Canada.  Like several million Irish before me, I set off to travel and make my fortune.  I had just over £100 in my pocket and all my possessions fitted into a small suitcase, with plenty of room to spare.  I was just eighteen and still quite ‘wet behind the ears’.

Since then I have managed to see a great part of the world, but there are still many places in which I would like to spend some time.  I may need another fifty years of wandering.

 As for my fortune, it is still a work in progress.

And apart from a small collection of books, my few possessions still fit in a small backpack.

I could never be described as a conspicuous consumer…

Hot August Night

‘Eat, drink and love: the rest is not worth a fillip’ (Lord Byron)

The first time I came across that quotation was on a steamy summer’s early evening in a little Greek restaurant in London, in Soho, just down the street from the Palladium theater. The quote was incorporated in a large fresco of an idyllic Greek island scene. At the time I was insanely in love, but apart; she continued travelling around the US and I had to return to the UK to work. That quotation just about summed up my nascent attitude to life in that era.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

After an early dinner, I went to the Palladium for a Manhattan Transfer concert and the next day I flew out to Nigeria to start a three month assignment with an multi-national oil company.

Manhattan Transfer

And today, sitting in the sun outside a bar in a little plaza in Leon, I came across that same quotation, and I recalled that night long ago. I don’t know if the restaurant still exists or if Manhattan Transfer still perform, and her path and mine only briefly crossed one more time. But I don’t believe that my attitude to life has changed much since that hot August night in 1978.

George Bernard Shaw

I am currently reading an autobiography of Gabriel García Márquez  – Vivir para contarla.  In it he quotes George Bernard Shaw – ‘Desde muy niño tuve que interrumpir mi educación para ir a la escuela’ ( ‘From childhood I had to interrupt my education to go to school’).

 George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

That also about sums up my attitude to formal education.

Over the years I tried very hard to shield my views from my sons.

I hope that I was not too successful.