All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players. / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts. SHAKESPEARE As You Like It
Like lots of us I've had many jobs, played many roles and experienced many moods in my life. Jobs have included potato picker, hod carrier on a building site, mill-hand, farm labourer, postman, cleaner in a surgical instruments factory, computer programmer, mobile librarian, taxi driver, foreign language teaching assistant, encyclopedia salesman (I lasted one day at this) and publishing sales executive - which was my main, breadwinning career. Publishing sales meant travelling 40,000 miles a year round England's motorway network and attending innumerable sales conferences (95 per cent of which were a total waste of time). Roles have included helpless child, awkward adolescent, perpetual student, reluctant careerist, dutiful son, imperfect husband and, probably, undistinguished father. Moods have swung vertiginously from hopelessness and black depression to brimming joy and ecstatic happiness.
During my life I've often felt like a chameleon, ever changing my colour and mood, adapting to whatever scene I was acting in at the time. Or a river, constantly meandering, never in the same place twice.
In my time I've had years when I've earned heaps of money and years when I've earned very little at all. I've bought houses and furniture, cars and kitchens, clothes and musical instruments. I've bought music centres, mobile phones, cassette decks, DVD players, iPods. I've had expensive holidays and I've had holidays on a shoestring. Sometimes I've dined in fancy restaurants and at other times I've not been able to afford to eat in even the humblest café.
I've never been hugely ambitious for money or material success. I was lucky enough to realise at an early age that money and material success do not bring lasting happiness. I'm so glad I had this insight when I was young. I've probably saved myself years of pointless struggle, anxiety and neurosis. Yet, of course, life's far from easy for anyone, whatever life-changing revelations one may have. I've had problems like the rest of us, and at times I've felt my feet hitting rock bottom.
What have I learnt after more than 50 years of negotiating the perilous, flint-strewn corniche that is our predestined human track? Well, a few things I hope - though there's still so much more I need to learn, I fear I've only just arrived at the outermost gateway of knowledge and wisdom. However, I do know this. The simple life is the good life, is the best life. Joy, happiness and fulfillment come from the innocent, simple, often freely bestowed pleasures of existence: a bracing cliff top walk on a blustery autumn day; the sound of bagpipes in a remote Scottish glen; crossing the Spanish meseta under a hot sun, then spending the night in a cheap albergue with other pilgrims; growing, preparing and cooking one's own food; the scent of fir tree sap; the cold grittiness of rock beneath the fingers; the tang of citrus; the cry of owls; the running of deer; eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, sleeping when tired; lovemaking.
Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days' worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.