I’ll take death, thanks.
Politics is a very unhealthy occupation. And not just because it numbs your brain and imperils your mortal soul.
Unless you’ve done it – you just wouldn’t believe the hours upon hours upon hours involved in sitting at a desk. And I don’t mean sitting in the States chamber – trying to fight off the ambient tranquilising effects by running Rage Against The Machine lyrics through you mind. I mean when you’re actually doing real work.
Sat at a desk in front of a computer screen – trying to cope with the avalanche of constituent phone calls; repeatedly playing back answer phone messages in an effort to comprehend the mumbled and crackly number left by the caller. Phoning people back to listen to their concerns and then make an effort to assist them – which commonly means spending a minimum of 2 to 3 hours phoning departments, e-mailing or writing letters. Frequently, a single challenging constituent case can take days of work – sometimes attempts to help them can go on for months.
The nature of each case can differ – sometimes the issues are easily addressed – sometimes the complexity of the situation involves spending an hour – even an hour-and-a-half on the phone to a single constituent in the evening when they’re home from work. And when you’ve received 15 messages from different people that day – well, that’s an awful lot of work – too much, in truth. For as much as I try, I just don’t succeed in finding the hours to get back to everyone. As it is, I could easily spend each evening on the phone to constituents from 6.30 until 9.30 – 7 days-a-week – but if I were to attempt such a thing, I don’t think my sanity or my relationship would survive.
Then – of course – there are the e-mails. In truth, e-mailing is a far easier and more effective way of interacting with members of the public. The concerns they have are easily expressed onto the relevant departments. But the sheer ease of e-mailing means another huge quantity of work.
Then there are one’s own political initiatives; researching subjects, preparing amendments, writing substantive propositions and accompanying reports, devising questions to ask. And, of course the sheer vast amount of reading.
On average, I could spend about 5 hours-a-day merely reading the spring-tide of documents, reports, propositions, draft laws, annual accounts, letters, various journals, web sites, books and e-mails which all come into my sphere of awareness.
There has, however, been one notable and welcome reduction in demands upon my time. My mobile phone no longer rings with calls from journalists. Since beginning this blog, I have often written critically of the Jersey media – and for a good reason. The media is a key and central component in the apparatus of power – yet it’s never scrutinised or challenged. But the island’s media has taken umbrage at my attempt to fill that glaring vacancy in the political discourse of this community.
So now, happily, I no longer get calls from hacks trying to induce me into using sensational words like “corruption” in order to pad out The Rag in best Phil Space tradition. (Hey Ben, I still don’t seem to have had an answer to those two e-mails yet.)
But still – after 18 years at this sedentary occupation – I’m over-weight, unfit and generally unhealthy. Not a good place to be at the age of 42.
So – clearly what I need is a “Mid-Life Crises”. One of those would surely sort me out. The difficulty is – there are just so many possible manifestations it’s really difficult to choose one. Hey – maybe I’ll choose several?
Take up learning to play electric guitar? Boxing, perhaps? Clubbing in Ibiza? Leave my partner? Start attempting to strike up “relationships” with women 20 years younger than me?
Hmm…none of these really appeal. I’m in a happy relationship – and even if I wasn’t, the prospect of trying to be hip – whilst holding in the gut and rushing to the gents every 20 minutes to stick the comb-over back in place just doesn’t really attract. Rock guitar? Purleeeeease! You know which madness comes after that – the psychotic delusion that leather trousers might look good – when the only man in history who ever succeed in making this look work was Jim Morrison.
Boxing, I admit, has a certain appeal – but I would have to have the right opponent in the other corner to get sufficiently motivated. Given time and, say, certain States members to take on, I would dedicate my self to training like Nigel Benn did for his fight against Gerald McClellan. But, I’ve never boxed before – and they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
So that leaves me with those activities of my sometimes misspent youth – things I’m vaguely familiar with. One of these certainly ticks all the boxes and seems a popular choice for The Mid-Life Crises. The casualty wards are full of men who once rode a Yamaha LC 350 20-odd years ago – and suddenly thought it seemed a really good idea to go and buy an 180 horsepower Honda FireBlade – the kind of thing that does 0 – 60 in about 3 seconds – 80 miles-an-hour – in first gear – and delivers 2 mile wheelies.
But when the anaesthetic wears off – and you vaguely start to wonder were your left leg and half your face went – I’m sure you would begin to reassess the wisdom of your choice. And I know what it feels like to crash motorbikes. I owned several when I was a kid – and I carry the scars and limps to this day. A 100 miles-an-hour through the tunnel anybody? But – there is no other feeling quite like sliding down the road head first – on your back – at 80 miles an hour – whilst your machine barrel-roles down the road ahead of you in a maelstrom of sparks, smashed lights and fragmenting fibreglass.
So that’s motorcycling out of the frame.
So this leaves climbing. Oh dear. Just the thought of it makes my deficient muscles quiver – and induces a vision of me thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here’ – as I plunge towards that “terminal crater” – climbing vernacular for a fatal ground-fall.
But climbing isn’t an entirely negative possibility for the Mid-Life Crises. For example, I was never much good at rock climbing; didn’t have the strength and agility to really tweak the nose of Old Father Time and tell him it was time he replaced his scythe with a strimmer. I left that kind of thing to the guy I belayed for, my climbing partner, Paul Mahrer – who frequently got so close to Death, he could have given him a hug and danced with him like it was a Greek wedding.
No, I pottered around on the lower-grade, easier routes which adorn Jersey’s sea-cliffs, admittedly getting right at the edge of my not-very-great ability on some occasions. Even doing the odd first ascent of new routes.
I was happy with this activity – keeping within my comfort zone – and just really enjoying the beautiful environment of the island’s sea-cliffs. I never intended to stop doing it – but, sadly, politics got in the way. And all the unhealthy desk-jockeying which comes with it.
So rock climbing looks a more and more attractive manifestation of the Mid-Life Crises; I used to vaguely know what I was doing; I never took huge risks and I wouldn’t over-step my limited abilities. I could be out there scrambling around quite happily – getting fit – losing weight – getting crapped on by the herring gulls and spewed on by the fulmars. Yes – it’s all coming back to me now.
But then I remember – when I was young, I regarded rock climbing as a mere component of mountaineering. I used to look forward to teetering on crampon points a hundred feet up a cliff on a Scottish mountain in February – 60 mile-an-hour winds – total white-out – minus 12 and a windslab avalanche zone to look forward to crossing on the way back down.
And then I remember – this was just training for the Alps: 2.00 AM starts with head torches – freezing winds – rock-fall – avalanches – mis-navigations leading you to climb a winter-only TD grade route, when you were aiming for the gentle amble up the grade F – running out of head torch batteries – running out of water – falling through the ice into crevasses – twice – after 24 hours of constant effort – vowing to yourself that ‘if you only survive this one you’ll never set foot on another bloody mountain again’.
And then after 2 big meals and 10 beers and 2 bottles of wine back down in Zermatt it’s “That was great – what one shall we try next?”
Ah……mountains. The beauty, the grandeur, the pure sensation, watching the sun-rise from the summit – boiling up in red, peach and crimson through the sea of cloud which fills the valleys below you – peaks upon peaks – as far as your eyes can see.
There is something addictive about mountains; no matter how hard the experiences – you just need to keep on going back. Joe Simpson calls it “the beckoning silence” – and he’s so right.
For some people, mountains are the ultimate seductress – unfortunately, one with a hundred different ways of killing you.
Book of the Post:
The Beckoning Silence, by Joe Simpson.
Joke of the Post:
A party of economists was climbing in the Alps. After several hours they became hopelessly lost. One of them studied the map for some time, turning it up and down, sighting on distant landmarks, consulting his compass, looking at the sun, checking the GPS again. Finally he said, ‘ OK see that big mountain over there?’
‘Yes’, answered the others eagerly.
‘Well, according to the map, we’re standing on it.