The Obstacle Race

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I presume that I am not alone in assuming that life is just an obstacle race in which I have been given the bum lane, where the hurdles are both insufficiently spaced and incomprehensibly high.  I know that it is seldom the severity of the hurdles that causes me to baulk, as much as the regularity of them.  The incessant thud, thud, thud of shin on barrier, forehead on lintel, or ego on life is what truly impedes evolution: the offside law as interpreted by VAR; the Chinese Puzzle of tangled metalwork in the unopenable cutlery drawer; the Gordian Knot in the Hoover cable.  The main obstacle to the progress of life itself is the very challenge of existence; the twisted coil in the Slinky of being.  I fail, therefore I am.

They say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, but it doesn’t does it?  Slothing the day away in front of the TV will not kill you – at least, not in the short term – but it’s hardly going to qualify you as an Olympic weightlifter either.  The truth is that what doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you – which, although not terribly profound, does at least have the benefit of leaving you somewhat more vital than dead.  There are (many) times when there is nothing better in this world than a large glass of red, a huge slab of chocolate and a couple of hours slumped in front of Midsomer Murders, and I have little doubt in my mind that I am quite safe in their hands.  If I want to find something that might kill me, I will look for a gun, or a knife, or a blunt instrument (or, if I’m still in Midsomer mode, I will smear myself in truffle oil and search for a wild boar).  Given sufficient time, I guess that most things can kill you.  I’m not aware of anybody ever being killed by celery, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.  I seem to recall being told that the calories used to eat celery are in excess of those that you gain by eating it.  Is it possible to chew yourself into starvation?  If it didn’t kill you, would it actually make you stronger?  I wonder how much celery has ever been consumed by Arnold Schwarzenegger?

I don’t suppose that life is straightforward for anybody all of the time, and I’m not certain that I would want to live such a life anyway.  Life is a trifle crammed full of petty annoyances and tiny triumphs, but garnished with moments of despair and overwhelming joy.  Both (like Ant & Dec) make the other bearable.  Is it even possible, I wonder, to experience joy if you have never suffered pain?  Does chocolate not give such pleasure to someone who has never tasted okra?  Do you have to experience Starbuck’s coffee before you can appreciate a good malt whisky?  (If you want my advice, avoid the Starbuck’s and hope for the best.)

Some people, of course, are unhappy all of the time (they are called Belgians) but most manage to find some degree of happiness even in the most difficult of circumstances: the macabre East End Humour of the blitz; the ironic cheers of losing football fans; the audience at a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown concert.  We all have bouts of self-pity, but they tend to grind to a halt when you catch a proper look at yourself and realise how pathetic you appear.  It’s not easy, after all, to take yourself too seriously when nobody else does. 

And I know that you understand by now the way that my brain works, and I swear that I can hear you thinking (a useful addition to my armoury, as my ears are increasingly reluctant to hear actual noise) “So, what’s your point?” or, probably more appositely, “What’s your problem?” and, if I’m honest, if you had asked me that five hundred words ago, I probably wouldn’t have known.  That’s the way it works: I start to write and about mid-way through my allotted thousand words, I begin to realise exactly what it is that I am writing about.  (Not always though.  As you are fully aware, I am perfectly capable of making it right to the end without ever properly understanding what it is, exactly, that I’m writing about.)  Well, some of you – those who have been ‘fortunate’ enough to have suffered the horrors of School Sports Day – will understand the main problem with obstacle races: when you’re on a flat bit, you lose all perspective.  When you’re between obstacles, all that you can actually concentrate on is the hessian sack/bean-bag/hula-hoop/despotic whistle-bound deputy head teacher torture that lies ahead.  Anticipation of challenge (and, per se if you’re me, humiliation) to come, swamps all notion of well-being. 

You begin to imagine that the only rationale for experiencing peaks is to make the troughs look deeper.  When you’re at the top of the hill, all that you can think about is the inevitability of falling to the bottom.  When you’re at the bottom, then all you can think about is the pain of hauling yourself back to the top.  Age is erosion: it eats away at the sharpest pinnacles and dumps the bits it has chewed off at the bottom of the troughs.  With the apex flattened, you get to maintain balance there for much longer.  When you plunge to the bottom, you find that it is not as deep as it used to be and that it is full of the echoes of the peak before.

Life is an obstacle race in which everyone has been given the bum lane.  However much you are dreading hauling yourself into the vacant potato sack, those either side of you are dreading it just as much.  Should you be lucky enough to emerge as last person standing, then your only responsibility is to help everybody else to get back to get back in the sack.

Weak orange squash in a coloured plastic beaker and home for tea.

Ah life…

Pompous quote of the week: ‘I’m indifferent to puddings because I’m no longer a child’ (David Nicholls – author).  Just remember guys, if ever you fancy a tiramisu at your favourite Italian restaurant, you’re just being immature. 

5 thoughts on “The Obstacle Race

  1. Definitely an obstacle race. Some people have bigger hurdles. Some don’t bother to attempt the hurdles. I think most of us do our best while a handful sit on the sidelines laughing and tossing out assorted other obstacles to trip us.

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  2. Yeah, the race is fixed, almost all of us finish second at best. But it’s the taking part that matters, isn’t it? Hang on I think back on my aptly named Gym Bast- Master, Mr Gourlie, and he definitely wanted to take us apart, so, yes, you’re right.
    Point two; Starbucks is a wash. I’d rather gargle Listerine. Even Gaffe Zero is a half step up. Point Three; Midsummer Murders, after the first sexually infused series, became so comfortably numbing you want the whole damned village and surrounds to fall into some middle aged subterranean catacomb and be left buried forever.
    Bollocks to both the insufferable Barnaby’s and their lot.

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  3. I sure like being immature that way. I have a sign on my wall that says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except bears. Bears will kill you.”

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