from Facing North
God knows why of all rooms I’d have to choose
the dark one facing North for me to write,
Liking as I do air, light and views,
though there’s air in the North Wind that rocks the
light I have to keep on, all year round, all day;
nor why, despite a climate I profess to hate,
and years spent overseas, I stay,
and, when I start to pack, procrastinate.
This is my first day of the rest of my life.
I thought I may as well have it before it’s too late. I can remember fifteen years ago and being in the preliminary stages of realisation concerning the years I had been collecting. My footballing skills had most definitely waned and I started to see more and more grey hairs appearing on my sideburns. I had lost a bit of umph and had started to worry about the chronic back pain that I was suffering from on a regular basis. That was the time that I was just wallowing, doing reasonably well at work but nothing so remarkable that I was flying. Perhaps, at that time, I still believed in what I was doing.
I was a dedicated teacher whose opinions others sought. I was also a huge bit boring, especially in company when I would gravitate towards subjects such as the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, or the state of education. My best bits were when I suddenly launched myself into poetry, swapping between Tony Harrison and my own. It was as if the words gave me the power to see beyond what I had become. It was still pioneer time for education with a plethora of research fuelling the then inevitable improvements that would come in the form of better outcomes socially and academically. I needed a cause to fill my days and teaching, making a better society, was my metier.
Change is good. I have always enjoyed its new challenges and opportunities. Many would say that I enjoy change too much. “He never stays in one place for very long.” “What is he doing now?” “He can’t hold a job down!” All of these are probably true.
No, definitely true.
I am a transient who enjoys the experience of experiences. Perhaps this is why I have lived such a full and varied life. Why I have done this, that and the other before coming back to this and that before moving on to the other again. A short while ago, I felt that my life was moving in a circle; the wheel of fortune with me as the hero, villain and eventual corpse. I am not so sure of this now. My life has very little structure. There is often some rhyme but not much reason. The only structure has been put in by the demands of my work, my wife and my children. Wherever my wheel of fortune is taking me, I am sure that there is nothing logical or predetermined about it.
Structure is perceived through retrospection.
Fifteen years ago, a couple of youngish male teachers died, one suddenly the other not so suddenly. Those are the type of moments that shake the foundations of certainty. They are the times you look at your own brief tenure and wonder how long is left. It’s like renting a house and never knowing when your lease is up. When these two guys died, I looked at my then young family and worked out how old they would be if I died around the same time. I have reached my calculated age and have had to add another into the calculation; my youngest arrived without warning or preplanning.
The breaking news is that I am not yet dead. As far as I can tell, I am still living, breathing and cogitating. There are a number of other things that life has deemed to be unnecessary for me to participate in such as football, being an object of desire and generally being successful. I am one of those old dads who is occasionally mistaken for a granddad, whilst out shopping in areas where parenting starts around sixteen. But I have got here. I am in the future and am still vital (ish). I suppose this is the moment when something happens to knock me off this mortal coil, just to make life seem full of irony and me full of shit. My wife hates me writing this type of thing. She thinks that it is naval-gazing nonsense which only the criminally boring would ever deign to read. Deep down, I probably agree with her, but I CAN’T GIVE UP.
Yesterday was International Happiness Day; it said so on the radio. Yesterday was Monday. I wasn’t happy and could not bring myself to be so on any one of the entire twenty-four hours. I didn’t see anybody else, apart from the kid in my class, who looks like Ronnie Barker, looking happy either. If happiness is a gurn, he was happy.
There was once, at a New Year’s Eve party, this neighbour who put on a very passable chirpy cockney impersonation and asked me, “What’s not to be happy about?” Being a father of an anorexic daughter and being in loose possession of a failing career, I reeled off at least four things that determined why I should definitely not be happy. The fellow’s inane smile dropped and a slump was actually introduced into his demeanour by the time I had managed to get onto the government, the tragic nature of international affairs, and the essential fruitlessness of existence for sentient beings. He never asked me that question again, nor did he really ever speak again without being accidentally dropped within two feet of me without fair warning.
What’s not to be happy about on international happiness day? I wish I was a howler monkey.
According to Doctor Amit Sood, the author of The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness: A Four- Step Plan for Resilient Living, happiness is a habit. Some are born with it and some have to simply choose it. He encourages us to do strange things such as: exercising, reading, music, art, prayer, meditation and yoga. He doesn’t mention drink or drugs or even sex for that matter. I gather from my brief insight into this book that I was born miserable and have chosen miserable for every day of my life so far. He also mentions the famous 5-3-2 technique that involves making your first thought of the morning about five people that you are grateful to have in your life. For the first three minutes in the morning you should meet your family as if they were old friends rather than wreckers of carpets or bathroom spaces. The next time you see another new person you ought to send them a silent, “I wish you well.” Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!
So Doctor Amit Sood (I call him Ami now, French for friend), I have put your wise words to work. On wakening this morning, after I had juggled with the cat, in a pretty serious hide and seek activity, before finally putting her out for a morning stroll, I looked at my wife as if she was an old friend who I hadn’t seen in ages.
“Good morning, old friend!”
She looked at me and rolled her eyes before telling me not to be so stupid; it was early.
Not to be deterred, I then continued to wake each of my daughters so that I could greet them as old friends. There was no response from one whose sleep would not be offended whilst the other just, “UHHHed?” and made sounds that suggested that I should give up being daft. I let the cat in and didn’t give her a playful little foot up the arse as part thanks for waking me two hours previously. I greeted her. She ignored me and yowled for some food. By the time the kettle had boiled, my resolve was starting to flag a little. Once the two workers -mugs of tea were ready for my wife and I to consume, over a general perusal of the previous day and its detritus, I took a Prozac and all was well.
I am officially living in the future for now. Each day is an unexpected delight. Each moment I spend is another step towards a destination that has not been predetermined by my upbringing, my IQ, or my fragile psychological wellbeing. The only problem is that other people don’t realise the fundamental shift in my temporal alignment. They are just going on as if it was yesterday.
This is my first day of the rest of my life.