I have not, despite the fact that we are at times close companions, become fully reconciled to failure. I would still really rather like to succeed from time to time. I try to succeed; I always try to succeed, but more often than not, the avoidance of utter disaster is as close as I get. I aim to do things right and I aim to do them well, but in reality I seldom do either – certainly not to my own satisfaction. When I began this thing, I wanted each piece to have a beginning, a middle and an end; for each piece to have a point, and I think that by and large I have succeeded in that. But I aimed for something approaching Stephen Leacock, Alan Coren or Alan Bennett, and what I ended up with, more often than not, was Orville the Duck.
Making the effort is the big thing of course, trying to do the best you can. The only problem is, when you have tried really hard to get things right, the dog’s dinner that you end up with is doubly troubling. Having a unicorn in your head is all well and good, but when the result is a carthorse on the paper, it is wildly frustrating.
I have recently, much against my better judgement, embarked on a number of DIY projects: flooring, joinery, general decorating, with results that can be best described as variable. (Some are bad, some are worse.) I managed to electrocute myself last week via the simple process of catching a wire whilst screwing the top back on a socket, but I have baulked at plumbing. I have no desire to drown.
On occasions I have watched skilled craftsmen going about their work and I am always struck by the serenity. There is none of the all-out panic that I experience during the course of a simple task. Picture a headless chicken in possession of an electric drill and Stanley Knife and you’ll get the drift…
I can imagine that the more charitable amongst you are thinking, ‘Now come on, there must be something that you’re good at,’ so I’ve given it a little thought, and the answer is ‘No.’ I have never found myself involved in anything that I did not feel somebody else could not have done much better. I have never looked at something that somebody else has done properly and thought, ‘I could do that better.’ I have looked at things that have been done by somebody even more incompetent than myself and wondered if I couldn’t have done it slightly less badly. There are even times when I do things to an altogether reasonable standard. It’s just that it all takes so bloody long.
Many many moons ago I wrote, with my very good friend Chris, a series for the local BBC radio station, which we also recorded and performed. We were inordinately proud of it. I loved the whole process and I loved our little series, as did the commissioning producer, the radio station and even The Radio Times who chose to plug it with its very own cartoon in the radio listings. When it was broadcast, NOBODY listened. The first series also became the last and the whole enterprise was quietly put to bed. At the time I blamed everything – it was broadcast at a stupid time, it was on the wrong show, Saturn was rising in Uranus – but what I never considered was the possibility that it (or more likely, my own contribution to it) was actually just not good enough.
I feel that I have something to say, but unfortunately nobody seems to want to hear it. Which brings me back to the beginning: not my tendency towards the frighteningly inept, but my inability to fully reconcile myself to it.
Today I went for my annual MOT at the doctor’s. My blood pressure was, as usual and despite medication, on a par with that to be found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The nurse asked me if I had been doing anything particularly stressful and I said, ‘Breathing.’
‘Well, I would consider packing it in then,’ she said. I think she was joking.
The point is that I have decided that stress is the enemy of age, and it’s worth side-stepping it whenever you can. Refusing to worry about all these things that you are not very good at is a good place to start. Especially when that is pretty much everything…