To quote the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, who went on to say “what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”. I was reminded of these words as I have been listening to the collected works of the great mathematician as I’ve been working out over the last week. Some may consider this an odd choice of listening, and in the early days of using my own music to drown out the awful noise served up in the modern gym under the guise of music I did try to use slightly more traditional, motivational musical tracks (though never anything by Survivor). However, over time I have drifted away from this “ideal” and used klezmer, Jake Thackeray and The Mikado (to name but three) to accompany my physical jerks. These have all been fine, but not all music works – for some reason the standard symphonic and classical string quartet repertoire is decidedly unsuccessful.
It was lovely to return to Mr Lehrer’s oeuvre after an absence, a return initiated by the seasonal need to listen to I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica – which I feel is cruelly overlooked in Christmas playlists. Anyway, that seems to have covered the source of the title, so perhaps I ought to add some content which might have occasioned its use.
I’m not entirely sure what I have put into this life, though it certainly includes a lot of hours – well over 400,000 by the time of writing, which seems to suggest a pretty decent attendance record, if nothing else. I am even less sure what I want to get out of it. I tried to think back to previous versions of me to see if my current life might have been what they (previous-me, that is) would have been hoping for – but this generated remarkably few insights. I think past-me might be quite pleased that I only work part-time, but probably disappointed that it has taken more than 27 years to make any sort of start on number theory. He would be astounded (and perhaps horrified) to find he had turned into a (mostly) vegetarian gymnast-wannabe. I think past-me might also expect current-me to have more of the answers – I have spent my life assiduously collecting answers (mostly, unintentionally), but have been even more successful at collecting questions so the net position is sadly on a downward trajectory.
Part of my problem with developing a life plan is the fact that I seem to have rejected almost all the ready-made plans which our society would suggest we use. I have shown little interest in procreation (or the supposedly fun activities that can lead to this end) and so my body is largely acting as a long-term prison for my genes (with no sign of parole), rather than as a vessel for their transmission. Whilst I quite like people – both as a concept and often in the flesh – I have singularly failed to pick a specific person on whom to lavish some seriously concentrated “liking” (for which you should all be grateful). I haven’t pursued vast wealth, career progression, fame or power over others – as, frankly, all of these strike me as seriously inconvenient to possess and would probably require some significant effort on my part to achieve (so very much a lose-lose scenario). I haven’t even climbed the property ladder or its motor vehicle analogue (ramp?) – my current flat is the smallest home I have owned and my car is also the smallest and least powerful yet (and, the poor thing is barely used). I fear I may be holding back the whole country in the “global race” in which it seems to be so important we all compete. The best life plan current-me has been able to produce is to avoid disappointing future-me – but as I have little idea what future-me might value, this is not a particularly constructive strategy.
Against this aimless backdrop, the whole world seems to be heading for the realm of Hades in a small portable whicker vessel. Only today I saw further proof of this fact (and you may find this hard to believe, but I assure you that it is true) when I saw something described as an “artisan kettle”. It wasn’t clear if this was marketed at the artisan – though the price would suggest not – of if the electric kettle in question was made by kettle craftsmen (or women) in the same way they have been making them since the sixteenth century. A chap could despair – how long until the first artisanal 4K television hits the shelves?
Despite all of the above, my flat is often filled with laughter – sadly much of it directed at me rather than with me, but you have to take what you can get when you live alone. I seem able to have fun on a relatively modest budget – my last theatrical trip (to see Tree at the Old Vic) cost a mere £13 (+£1.50 booking fee) and allowed me to laugh at third parties for an evening (I try to avoid laughing at fire or theft, potentially inappropriate). I can usually get enough answers right on Only Connect (even if this did require some very unexpected – and embarrassing – knowledge of the surnames of the less famous 80% of One Direction on Monday) to feel that I am not a total idiot (despite the evidence from the other 167.5 hours in the week). As a result (perhaps), I suddenly realised whilst watching Birdman (odd, but worth a look) at the flicks last weekend that I was happy – not just at that moment, but in general. Obviously life still has its frustrations and annoyances, but I think I may essentially be happy – so previous-mes are off the hook for the moment, I could wish they had done things differently but can’t complain too much about where their efforts (or lack thereof) have delivered me. So, I find I am inclined to continue without any sort of life plan and just allow muddling-through coupled with the pursuit of reasonably-priced divertissement to continue and hope it carries-on delivering me to somewhere pleasing. I think this might be quite a Buddhist and/or Jedi approach with its almost complete lack of striving – but given that neither religion made an appearance in my Religious Studies O-level (which rarely left the shallows of St Luke’s gospel), I could well be mis-representing their teachings. Maybe, in later times, this post will be considered the foundation text of my own eponymous faith – my first analect – though given my verbosity and tendency to go off at a tangent, I do fear there will be enormous scope for schisms among my future followers: it might be important to write a post about the importance of tolerance, the evils of dogma and my love for the heretic before too long…