Just different

Monday August 16, 2004

I try to be patient. I really do. I know that patience is a prerequisite to serenity, or tranquillity, call it what you will, and I’m told that serenity is good for me. So, when my pension didn’t turn up today I resolved to be patient and wait until Wednesday to see if the old pension fails to turn up, too. Then I can go over to the pensions office in Skegness, wait patiently in line, and do the simple-minded confused old man thing until someone presses the right button and kicks the payment into action.

You shouldn’t have to do that. Really, you shouldn’t. There are many people who can’t handle an interruption in their income, particularly those on small incomes. Real, hungry hardship waits at the door for the mass of people, only one weekly payment away. So, if I think at the problem the right way, I’m impatient in their behalf. At least, that’s the way I’d like to be.

To an extent that is the way I feel. But, if I’m honest with myself, my irritation is far closer to being annoyed that I have to spend time on the problem. Time is socially and financially a completely democratic thing. Rich or poor, you have only a finite amount of time. You can’t buy more of it. I resent being obliged to spend my time in ways that do not add to or maintain my personal well-being. So, going deeper, getting closer to my true motivation, I’m scraping away the dirt and getting closer and closer to my selfish nature.

And I don’t like that. Not at all.

It’s not a hardship thing for me. I have adequate savings to fall back on until the pension payment picks up. I could do without the problem of wrestling with bureacrats, is all.

My qualities of patience are being tried by PayPal and the UK banking system, too. Each day I click over to my bank’s online service to check for the arrival of the validation payments from PayPal, the amounts of which I must feed back into the security system before my PayPal account is fully verified and ready for action. It’s been only three days, and two of them were the weekend, so I have to be realistic about it. Even so.

I suspect that what reserves of patience I have at my disposal have been warped by the ‘I want it and I want it now‘ approach that online shopping and fast delivery services engender in us all.

If I were a shut-in, it would be a different matter. Internet and telephone shopping could quite easily satisfy all my physical needs.

I’m not a shut-in yet, though. I still like to get my hands dirty and my nostrils tested when I go shopping. I don’t want someone to go along the shelves and pick up a pack of oranges for me. I want to feel the fruits one by one, test the quality of the skin, sniff the aromatic oils that tell me an orange is going to be a delight rather than a dull, routine element consumed to satisfy dietary needs only. Similarly, when I buy a piece of steak I want to be able to tell the butcher to turn it over so I can see the side he doesn’t want to show. I can’t do that if it’s picked up in a sealed plastic tray from a display illuminated and designed to make all meat look the same.

And, more important to me, when I buy a second-hand book, I want the full visual, aural and aromatic experience of browsing along the shelves of a real live bookshop. I want to scan the trays of battered old books outside the store and in the car-boot sale, hoping to find something I’ve not seen before. I’ve enjoyed that sensation all my life. When I started out buying books I couldn’t afford to find material for my shelf any other way. My precious copy of Walden, close on a hundred and thirty years old now, was found that way. Cost 6d, in old money. Survived the fire. Still feels better in my hand than the luxurious and ludicrously expensive copy I bought from Barnes and Noble in the States a couple of years back. When I want to check a reference it’s the old copy I consult, rather than the new. And when I buy a second-hand book I want to feel it in my hands, check the back cover, inspect the bindings for the presence or otherwise of sheltering insect life, and sniff the paper for mould. Clicking a button on a computer screen may be effective, but it doesn’t give me that kind of experience.

Make no mistake, I’m fully keyed in to the instant world. I have Internet access, I know how to use it and, when there’s no other way, I do use it, gratefully and without hesitation. But, when I can, I like to test my purchases the old fashioned way, in person, inspecting and approving both sides of the slice of meat.

Ah well, there you go. I’ve worked the petty problems of the day out of my system now and, on all three irritants, I shall be patient. I shall wait for my pension payment to start, only jogging the process as appropriate. I shall wait for PayPal and my bank to set up communications with one another. I shall wait for a convenient day when I can hop over to Lincoln to the secondhand book shop. I shall do the best I can to keep my qualities of patience intact. And maintain a sufficient layer of dirt to make a decent covering for my selfishness.

It’s not the best time of year to be impatient. My bones tell me that we’re on the very edge between summer and autumn even though the calendar says it’s too early. All the signs are there in the skies and along the hedgerows. Looking out over to the west this evening I watched the cloudscape lighting up in the distance, reflecting an electrical storm too far away to see. There were no flashes of lightning, just the light generated by them, pink and yellow, like nothing so much as the glare from an end of summer funfair, bouncing up and around, lingering for a while and then fading fast.

On the wires overhead a cheerful community of young swallows were chattering and performing their evening ablutions, stretching one wing out at a time, as far as it would reach, and preening the feathers. I’m no ornithologist but I suspect they’re building up strength, condition and courage to start out on the long flight to North Africa and points east. A local countryman told me last week that the older swallows go first, to be followed by the younger generation a fortnight or so later. I shall miss them when the last of them leave. The old saying tells that a single swallow does not make a summer. Well, we’ve had a great many more than one swallow, and they have helped to make our first summer here a joyful experience. Soon enough the wild geese and migratory ducks will be flying in to help make another, colder season. I’m hopeful that it will be a season of equal joy. Just different, is all.


Lincoln, Aug,'04
pencam photo



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