It’s not all about me

A couple of my readers have commented that my emails tend to be a little self-obsessed. Fair cop. I used to write about an Englishman’s observations of America, followed by the musings of a middle-aged man on a bicycle and then I promoted my novel. Now I don’t have a theme, other than a mission to make people laugh. My style of humour is self-deprecation. The clue is ‘self’! My last communique (Could do, can’t do) was the most ‘me, me, me’ one yet. It also happens to have generated more positive feedback than any of my other mailers. So there you have it, research proves that people want to read about me!

But to demonstrate that I listen to my readers, this one’s not about me. Instead it offers a rose-tinted view of our fucked-up world.

A recent, beautiful Japanese film, Perfect Days, stars a guy who cleans public toilets in Tokyo; someone who lives in abject poverty at the bottom of the food chain. And yet he savours the simple pleasures in his life. Blues skies and birdsong herald a joyous start to each new day. Heartwarming stuff. Hats off to him. As it happens, I’ve worn his shoes as I was once a toilet cleaner. I have to say, though, I failed to approach my work with quite the same joie de vivre. I guess it’s simply a matter of perspective.

Take the US election for one. It’s easy to get profoundly depressed about what’s happening, and could happen, over there. But look at it as a work of fiction and there’s a compelling story. The villain of the piece is a narcissist with the emotional maturity of a 10 year old, who has a tendency to grab women inappropriately and who pays hush money to porn stars. A classic baddie, he poses an existential threat to democracy. The only man who can save the world is an unlikely hero; an old guy who gets easily confused and sometimes falls over. And then another character enters the fray. Part of America’s political dynasty, he, notably, has a dead worm in his brain. Pure gold and we get a ringside seat.

As another Kennedy (the father of the guy with a dead worm in his head) put it in 1966, “there’s a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they’re also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

Someone who made the worst of times his own personal best of times was the playwright Denis Potter. When dying with a terminal illness, he said, “…at this season, the blossom is out in full now. It’s a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying “Oh that’s nice blossom” … last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance … not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.”

There’s a chance my eyesight won’t recover sufficiently to able to drive again. ‘Bother’ said Pooh. But as Eeyore or Piglet might point out, what an opportunity to take the high ground and become an eco warrior. I’ll get myself an electric bike and berate all my gas-guzzling friends for destroying the environment. I’ve recently started cycling again, both in London and the Cotswolds, and have been overwhelmed by the joy of being back in the saddle. The silence of a well-oiled machine, the beauty of Spring, the rhythm of making my own way through country lanes or quiet city backstreets. It’s truly life-affirming.

Oops, I’m writing about myself again!

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