Day 4 – Drax to Norton

Another miserable day marching from somewhere called Drax to Norton trying to wade through rights of way now turned into a jungle by neglectful landowners and councils. Okay, why bother to make these paths walkable? I suppose judging from their vast size that the locals never walk. They must spend their time lolling in front of their tellies eating pan fried Mars bars. Sorry about that but it’s true. The NHS will sink soon in a welter of worn out hip joints, cases of diabetes and heart attacks; everyone saw this health tsunami coming but we did more or less nothing about it.

Like the “where the sod are we bird” Jane and I go round and round in ever decreasing circles.  I expect to find myself jammed up my own backside at any moment. Seriously after trying to find the track we end up in the garden of a rich farmer’s hideously red  house and find ourselves faced by two enormous “sod off” gates with no visible means of leaving the darned place. We had to retrace our steps and we had  a further mile added to our tally.

Poor George Carey. Such a good man too. I know him from way back and I like him. It must be so galling to find yourself caught out like that after so many years. George made his judgments – pre the ghastly Savile rows –  in 1990. Author LP Hartley wrote: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”. Quite so. George is being judged in hindsight by 2017 rules, our having learned a few things along the way. I will write to him when I get back. I learned a while ago that when a friend is in trouble always ring or write or visit. Don’t hesitate, just do it.



Happy Person Here!

I wish I had a happy face! But even when I am feeling on top of the world, in quiet repose my face just looks grumpy. People ask me, “What on earth’s wrong?” But when I say, “I’m feeling just fine thank you,” they back away looking bemused. I know lots of mouldy people whose faces look happy. It’s most unfair.

What makes us happy? It has to be more than a warm puppy. It’s not that man doesn’t try to be happy. We put prodigious effort into the search, but like the end of the rainbow, the goal appears elusive.


Futile Pursuit

French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about man’s great experiment: simply to prove that chasing after money, sex and power would lead to happiness. For countless years, he wrote, man (and of course women too) has tried to make the experiment work – but it always results in failure.

In any other scientific field, this ridiculous experiment would have been junked years ago. But generation after generation tries to make it work all over again.

Of course, money doesn’t bring happiness – in fact quite the reverse is true. It took me years to learn that lesson, but it is now firmly embedded in my skull.

Do people really change? Rarely. Once a philanderer always a philanderer, and the same is true of a liar. Was Monica Lewinsky a one-off conquest for Bill Clinton? Well how credulous can you get?


Vital Ingredients

Freud thought that work and love are essential to happiness. Noel Coward wrote that working was more fun than fun, and I like that. I wrote in an earlier blog that every man needs a maiden to woo, a battle to fight and a cause bigger than himself to live for, and that’s a useful starting point.

Good health is important to the state of happiness, but I have met people who, although permanently bedridden, appeared to live thoroughly fulfilling lives despite all their ghastly drawbacks. Being reasonably attractive helps as people are inclined to be warm towards you. But extreme beauty can be a drawback. The poet Yeats wrote in his poem “Prayer for my Daughter” that he hoped God would give her beauty but not “…such beauty that makes a stranger’s eyes distraught.” The wrong sort of beauty destroyed Marylyn Monroe and countless others besides.

I once employed a woman with an incredibly beautiful face and body. Men immediately thought that she was “up for it” and so would leer at her at every opportunity. However, in character she was as pure as any woman I have ever met, and she hated the looks and inevitable groping she attracted.

Apparently statistics indicate that first-born children have a tendency to happiness, as do children with two parents at home, and men who are married. People can be happy fighting in war because there is the band-of-brothers element, a strong sense of common purpose and the feeling that they are involved in something useful and bigger than themselves. Often those engaged in war are testing themselves. That seems to be important too. And note that happy people are rarely gloomily sitting on a “Lazee-boy” sofa watching daytime TV. They are usually involved in some ongoing interchange with life, however inconsequential that may look at first sight.

Happy people often have work that is a love affair, a passion. Teachers can be like that, and so are vicars. And, of course, actors – you have to be in love with the stage to put up with the insecurity and the rotten money. You can’t accuse anyone engaged in these difficult professions that they are doing it to get rich. But if you actually enjoy your work then you are profoundly lucky, for a passion can see us through the dark periods in life.


Finding your inner leaf

Oh yes, and I read somewhere that we all have to be a “leaf on a tree.” We should be individuals with a sense that we really matter, yet at the same time we need to be part of something bigger than ourselves – a family, a community, a regiment, a hospital, a theatre group, a political party… A leaf that has fallen off a tree has the advantage that it can float around a bit; but then it becomes disconnected, decays and dies. Far better to be an evergreen leaf that hangs on!

It seems that the people who are best protected from anger and heart disease are those who are socially involved. They are socially attractive because they are not introverted – they are the ones asking the questions and they want to know about other people’s lives. If you are complicated or socially needy, people will choose to avoid you. It’s best to avoid introspection – so ask others about themselves, and stop talking about yourself all the time!

Next, embrace change. I’m not suggesting you should move house every second year but have enough change in your life to keep things interesting. Boat rocking can be good for our health while uniformity is a great threat to happiness – so don’t “take care”, instead “take a risk”.

Live for the moment. Focus on the things that you want to do, and then get on and do them (if you reckon they’re worthwhile). If gardening is a pleasure, then garden away. Spend less time working on the family finances, talk to friends and family, and listen to the opera (if that is the thing that floats your boat).

Then audit your happiness. Why do things that make you unhappy? And if you are happy, then tell your face and keep on smiling at others – for it transmits a signal: “Happy person here!” If you feel negative, just tell yourself that you have to be positive.

Act, play the part, listen to Julie Andrews: “Whistle a little tune” and then put on a happy face. If you are feeling miserable, tell yourself to feel happy instead: that in itself can trigger a change in how we feel. A wise old preacher, Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, once said that one of the greatest tragedies is to say of someone: “He was born a man yet he died a doctor.”  This means don’t let your career eat you alive so you lose your humanity: you are a human being, not a human doing. I know retired headmasters, senior civil servants and generals, and some seem to be stuck like chicken in aspic, stuck where they used to be. It’s essential to be able to reinvent yourself.


Wheat Fields

After George Osborne was introduced on the Andrew Marr show as the MP for Schadenfreude North, he told viewers that Theresa May had boasted that the worst thing she had ever done was to “run through a wheat field.”

As George glanced down to look at the election results, he commented, “Well, she won’t be able to say that anymore, will she?”



1 comment

    • David Bishop on June 24, 2017 at 7:48 pm
    • Reply

    Dear Tom,

    I have enjoyed reading and generally agreeing with today’s blog. I particularly liked learning that the first born has a tendency to happiness though it does seem hard on those who through no fault of their own happen to be younger siblings. I was/am the oldest child in my family.

    I enjoyed the aphorisms like “brothers in war” “leaf on a tree” “don’t take care take a risk”. George Osborne’s witty remark is a lot kinder than some others he has made about Mrs May.

    Keep right on to the end of the road . . . David

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