Wednesday 20 May 2015

What are laurels for, if not resting on?

I don’t know about you but I for one am completely fed up with politics.

Not particularly the Westminster variety, which has a certain grim fascination as all those insiders who knew all along that Ed Miliband was completely useless break cover to rain blows on his still twitching corpse.

No, I am thinking more of the everyday sort of political manoeuvring and conniving which seem to feature so strongly in the way many of us choose to conduct our lives.

Getting the edge over a colleague for that promotion or pay rise, taking credit for something you didn’t actually do, sneaking the children into a better state school, trying to catch the attention of those who dish out gongs at Buckingham Palace …

So many of the aspiring middle class seem to devote their entire lives to these games, and I find it really hard to understand. Both because it is not my own way and because it is ultimately pointless.

I have never raised my own sights particularly high. School friends will vouch that my only sporting ambition was not to be picked for the team. True, I was notably good at passing some types of exam many decades ago, but only in subjects that required no real effort.

Any work ethic I ever developed was firmly based on fear of pedagogic sarcasm or mild violence, rather than a personal desire to do well.

We called him "Beater" Bertram for a reason

I have drifted through my non-career motivated only by a desire to attain a certain standard of comfort and to die peacefully in my own bed. So far one out of two doesn’t look bad. And if it means so much to others to gain kudos for the few things I have got right along the way, good luck to them. They are welcome to it.

Only they do need to realise that ambition is a drug and the appetite for success can never be satiated.

I have one friend who started in life with literally nothing and, through decades of hard work driven by burning ambition, is now a billionaire. He confirms that the drive for betterment is an absolute and hardy perennial.

If you have that mindset it doesn’t matter whether your current obsession is getting your family out of your parents’ front room and into a modest house of your own, or looking with envy at the next plutocrat’s bigger yacht. There will always be something that gets in the way of sitting back contentedly and enjoying what you have already got.

A man who would surely have loved to see Ed as "Britain's first Jewish Prime Minister"

So if you are a go-getter intent on shinning up the greasy pole remember that you’re never going to be satisfied and there are many things more important than career success, like spending time with your family or visiting those places and doing those things you always really fancied trying one day. 

There’s no point waiting until you get the terminal diagnosis to start drawing up your bucket list, and you are a very long time dead.

Whenever I make the mistake of thinking I am at risk of screwing up something important, I remember a valuable saying of my mother’s: “It will all be the same in a hundred years’ time.”

100 years ago: Alnwick 1915, with my grandfather's garage in the left background

I offer that to Ed, Ed, Vince, Douglas, Danny and all the other political losers by way of consolation. Perhaps they might like to have it engraved on a monolith in their gardens as a handy reminder.

Of course, if I’m honest, I did once have a small list of personal ambitions. To get married and have children: tick, belatedly. To publish a best-selling comic novel: no chance. To win the lottery: ditto. 

Oh, and to have a column in the best regional daily paper in the country. I was immensely privileged to be given that honour many years ago now, but it was still great to have The Journal’s outstanding qualities recognised at last week’s Regional Press Awards.

Well done, all. Take a break, enjoy your success, and don’t obsess about where the next award is coming from.

In fact, do the precise opposite of what my teachers at the RGS were always warning me not to do, and have a really good rest on your well-deserved laurels.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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