A magnificent friend of mine loves what he calls ‘shit cars’. He has owned a great quantity of them, so much so that the DVLA once queried why he was buying and selling so many. Was he, they wanted to know, a vehicle trader? And if so, why didn’t he have a vehicle trading licence?
But no, my friend was not a vehicle trader, and the proof was that he’d so seldom made a profit from a vehicle sale that, if he were buying and selling to put food on the table, he’d have starved to death. Over the past twenty-five years or so, I’ve watched with bemused interest as this car-obsessed individual has bought, briefly driven, and resold an endless succession of rusty old bangers, some of which are now considered classics, but which were mostly, at the time, well, ‘shit’.
Highlights have included Ford Cortinas and Capris, a Zephyr, a Toyota Crown, at least one Nissan Sunny, a Vauxhall Viva – many more. So numerous have been these clattering wrecks that, to celebrate his 50th birthday, my friend decided to have a count-up to see if he’d managed to own the same number of vehicles as he had had years on the planet. The answer: nearly but not quite.
When the time came for my turn to summit the hill and begin my careen down the other side, I, too, had a numerical query. Had I, I wondered, undertaken a number of jobs equal to or exceeding my age in years?
Ranging from aircraft rivet counter to fish frier and from lifeguard to finance company receptionist, my 53 jobs have, like my mate’s cars, offered variety; unlike his vehicles, however, they’ve brought little in the way of enjoyment. In fact, regardless of the merits of most of my roles, I reckon I could count the number that I’ve enjoyed on the fingers of one hand.
How mad I have driven family and friends over the years. Moaning about work, barely progressing in even the most initially promising of careers. Switching from one thing to another, never settling, always out of step, seldom able to do anything in a way that complied with anyone else’s sense of logic, even as it made total sense to mine.
If I could just have stuck, I could have been a management accountant by now. Or a lecturer. Or I could have owned my own ice cream van. But no. I would have to keep buggering off – to France, to the beach, to the other side of the world, to the swimming pool, the office, the workshop, the radio studio, the newsroom.
Though people have tried to ‘help’, I sometimes wonder to what degree they meant to assist and to what they sought to save me from myself, or worse, get me to conform to their idea of a sort of acceptable ‘norm’. I have, I must admit, spent much of the time feeling fairly terrible about all this serial employment. I thought I was malfunctioning.
All the times when I was thinking about this when I should have been doing that. All the pondering of the ‘what if?’ All those daydreamed scenes of disaster and triumph, longing and surrender, all those odds and ends of journals and short stories, blogs, and truely awful poetry. My radio reports on football and cricket matches; articles on tall ship sailing. All that time, I thought I was getting it wrong when it turns out that I was getting it right, and here is the proof of it: a signed contract with Hermitage Press.
I don’t care much about jobs; it’s stories that matter to me. Like dragons hoard gold, I hoard my experiences. I sit on them and mull them over until they make a deep impression on my laurels. My what? My laurels. Don’t tell me you don’t know what your laurels are.
Resting on my laurels
In my childhood, there was a sliding scale of laziness which began at ‘zero’ – acceptable, and descended all the way to extreme laziness – at which point you would be branded a ‘lazy hound’. I remember waiting anxiously for my mother and father to return from my school parents’ evening with their report on my progress or the lack thereof.
I was never actually lazy at school but was, from time to time, accused of ‘resting on my laurels’, something I was advised one must never do. Oh, sure, I would reassure my concerned mum and dad, I would redouble my efforts and get off them directly. Afterwards, though, nobody having actually told me what my ‘laurels’ were, I would lie in bed wondering where they might be found.
I reasoned, quite sensibly, I think, that if resting on your laurels was halfway to lazy hound, then the creature doing the resting must be a dog. The ultimate lazy hound would be the lying down lazy hound lounging unproductively on its slothful belly. The halfway lazy, lazy hound must be the sitting lazy hound, and it stood to reason, therefore, that a lazy hound’s ‘laurels’ were its furry bum cheeks.
I pictured myself as a lazy hound, sitting on my laurels, waiting idly for my owner to bring me a bone. It was hard to see what was so offensive about it; after all, nobody likes an annoying lazy hound that pesters visitors for biscuits and tidbits. In my view, the seated lazy hound is the best lazy hound. This hound rests on its laurels while it waits unobtrusively, for destiny to smile upon him.
All of which brings me, at long last, to the coronation of King Charles III, about which I have virtually nothing to say except that he has waited an awfully long time to become what he was always supposed to be. No matter what you might think of the monarchy, how nice it is to think that, whatever your true calling in life if you just keep on keeping on, every dog – even the laziest of laurel-resting hounds – must surely have its day.
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