Doors to Manual

This week’s blog post is just a thought, really.

The way this blog works, usually, is that I think about something through the week and I decide that this thing will be the subject of that week’s post. Then I let it steam gently in my brain for a day or two and then I write it down. If it’s a story or a memory, I can usually tell if it’s passable or not. When it’s just a thought, though, it’s harder to ascertain whether it has any value. The only thing to do is to write it and see.


Life is like a journey on a commercial flight.

That’s the thought.

The danger is that it’s one of those lines that a priest might throw out at the start of a sermon and then go on to flog it to death in a yawn-inducing litany of awfulness. I’ll try not to do that. ‘Get in and get out quickly’, that’s the plan.

‘Life is like a journey on a commercial flight,’ I though to myself this week. 

Here’s why.

On a commercial flight, most of us sit in the regular seats, Economy Class. We cram in to undersized accommodation, beside people who we don’t want to know, and (if we’re lucky) we get fed little containers of stuff that we wouldn’t look at twice at on the ground. Oh, and a hard bread roll. Let’s not forget the hard bread roll.

But there are other people on the plane. Up the front. People you don’t see much of, unless a curtain gets parted or momentarily left askew before being rigorously tugged back into place. These are the First Class people, the Business Class people. Call them what you will, their lives are better than ours. They get better food and drink, and more of it. Their seats are wider and comfier. They get smiled-at more. Life is just a darned-sight better and easier for them.

This analogy would be better if there was a class behind us too. A sort of ‘Airplane Steerage’ where folks in flat caps are made to sit on wooden benches and are prevented from breaking into impromptu jigs for reasons of safety and health. These steerage people would regard me in my Economy seat with ‘envious eyes’ just as I would be staring up at the Business Class bods with the same green-eyed ire.

There we would all be, flying along, envying each other, in our airplane… in our life. 

Then turbulence hits. 

It hits hard.

It doesn’t matter what seat you are in then. It doesn’t matter how comfy the cushion is, how fizzy the pomade. Everybody in the plane is rocked the same way. Everybody becomes aware of their heart beating in their chest.

Push the thought to the ridiculous extreme. The plane loses control, tumbles to the ground and crashes. What matters it then who is in First or who is in Imaginary Steerage?

This week, I thought that life is very much like that. 

Some of us sleep on feathers, some on cushions, some of us on hard rocks. It matters little, in the bigger picture. We are all on the same ride and the things that make the poor tremble make the rich tremble too. The things that devastate the steerage man will surely do the same up in that rarefied place where the grapes and the linen serviettes are.

It’s all window-dressing and it isn’t worth our envy. Whatever seat you find yourself in, bring along a good book and enjoy the view and the interaction as best you can. Don’t waste time worrying about the dude in front of you with the caviar. When it all comes crashing down, as it inevitably must, it won’t be about the quality of the ride. It will be about how well you enjoyed it.

That’s it.

There are no original thoughts or very few at best. I know this. These thoughts I have won’t ever be new or startling or revolutionary. The only real value they have is that they are mine and I made them myself. 

It’s like the difference of you eating your corn flakes out of a bowl you bought in the shop and eating them out of a bowl you crafted  yourself, with your own fair hand. 

There’s no difference, not really. Not to anyone but you.

That’s enough thoughts and comparisons for this week, Ken. Ta very much.

Any chance of a funny story next week?

For a change.


Jim Murdoch said...

I don’t know if writers are more prone to this but I do feel we spend most of our lives with our dicks out. I’ve just commented on another blog where its author was on about the need to read good books. Now I’m not against reading good books but I made a point to him about why it doesn’t hurt to read a bad book or two. If we spend all our lives comparing ourselves to the greats well that would cause most of us the shrivel up and die. I am never going to be Samuel Beckett. I’ve given it my best shot, got it out of my system (I hope) just as he did with Joyce but now it’s time to be me and be content being me. When I read a bad book—whatever a ‘bad book’ is—especially one that’s been traditionally published I generally come away with a thought like: Well, I’m better than him and he got published so why not me? The reason I’ve not been traditionally published is I’ve not tried hard enough. It’s the reason I’m not rich. It never mattered that much to me. My best friend at school has a yacht. We haven’t spoken in some twenty-five years but I looked him up on Facebook a couple of years back after stumbling across the obituary of another school friend (my first love as it happens) and I suddenly felt a strong need to see if he was still alive and kicking. Which he is. Very much so. And that pleases me. I wrote him a letter—to get stuff out of my system—but then (wisely—I can be wise when the need arises) never sent it. The reason we’re no longer a part of each other’s lives is that our lives headed off in completely different directions and it was becoming more and more of an effort to even think of things to talk about when we were together. Apart from the past and one can only feast on past triumphs for so long.

Life comes with limits. I went to the practice nurse a few weeks back for my annual asthma check and as usual she weighed and measured me. I’d lost a pound or two since last time and half an inch which slightly depressed me because I was never exactly tall to begin with. I’m down to 5' 6½" apparently. Maybe I was slouching. Let’s say I was slouching. But even accounting for the slouching I’m never going to be 6' 3". I seem to recall giving some advice to a youngster some years ago who was frustrated about not being all he or she (actually I think it was a she) could be: Be the best you you can be. Again this is not an original thought but I’ve no idea who we should credit with coming up with it first. I’m never going to climb Everest. I’m never going to learn to play the violin. Or the sackbut. It is possible I could learn to be pleased with what I have achieved. I’m not well at the moment. No idea where we’re going with this but I’m writing less and less—says the guy who just tossed off a novella a few weeks back and is now dismissing it as if that was nothing, a glitch almost—and I’m even running out of blog posts. But let’s imagine for a moment that I wrote nothing again after I finish this comment to you. Have I done enough?

I did what I could. Could I have done more? If I had would it’ve been any better? We always assume that the stuff we never did would’ve been better than the stuff we did do. Makes no sense. I said what I had to say as intelligently as eloquently as I was able to at the time. Did I say something worthwhile? I think so. I believe so. I bloody well hope so. Regret’s an odd feeling. It’s also a most unhelpful one. Love I have use for. Even hate. Regret’s like a handbrake. It’s all to do with the past—which is immutable—and yet how does hobbling the future help the past? If you can’t write, read. If you can’t read, go for a walk or if it’s chucking it down watch TV or listen to some music. Life’s for living. Living is a verb, a doing thing. Do something. Do what you can. Don’t whinge about what you’re clearly incapable of. And for Christ’s sake don’t start going on that life’s unfair. You play the cards you’re dealt. But as any card sharp’ll tell you it’s less about what you’ve got in your hand and more about your ability to keep your face straight.

Ken Armstrong said...

We've discussed the many ways I value your comments in other places. One aspect I may not have mentioned is how I get the 'up to the minute you' in these comments. I know your posts on the blog are often subject to a time-delay before they appear so, at the back of things, I know that I'm not reading 'today's Jim' but maybe 'last week's Jim' or even 'last month's Jim'. That's fine, obviously, but it's good to get the real-time input too.

I'm sorry to read that the real-time Jim is a bit poorly at the moment and hope all that gets better soon.

For what it's worth, I feel your canon of writing work will only gain in appreciation as the years progress and after we both have pushed up a few daisies. That will be good, I reckon. :)