A Matter of Death and Life

My family have lost two cousins in the last six weeks.

In an ill-judged attempt to lighten up that opening, the innate (and probably regrettable) humourist in me goes back to the old joke about how losing one can be put down to misfortune, but losing two is starting to seem like carelessness.

Both of the cousins were ladies, one in her late 60s and the other just 65.

For various reasons, I was brought up in fairly close contact with both of them: the first because her family were physically the nearest relatives we had when we were growing up, the second because her family had a large semi-rural property and we spent many an hilarious Christmas holiday staying with them.

Both ladies were individuals with a capital I.

The first, the daughter of my parent’s cousin (someone brighter than me can work out what the official relationship is), was an outspoken lady who told it like it was.  Not in any kind of bad way – you were just left in no doubt where she stood.

The second, the daughter of my father’s sister, was also direct but with one totally unusual feature – in all the 65 years I knew her I never ever heard her say a bad word about anyone.  Ever.  At all.  No matter what the provocation, and believe me she sure had some!

And she also seemed to come with the most amazing boundless energy and tremendous enthusiasm for everything she touched.

Both ladies died extremely suddenly, with no warning of their imminent departure.

We had bumped into the first cousin as we were heading into a local mall on a wet Saturday.  We hadn’t seen her for maybe a couple of years so we took the opportunity for a sit down over a cup of morning coffee and a bite of something that I can’t remember now.

But the great pleasure of seeing her and catching up sticks in my mind.

A few weeks later, she collapsed and died.

The second died a week or so ago as the crow flies.  Some of the family had gathered together at a family event over a long weekend.  We had played garden cricket and quoits, chatted and caught up, than consumed a wine or two and some barbeque and gone our separate ways at the end of it.  As usual, she was the life and soul – chatting brightly with everyone, enthusiastically cricketing, helping with food etc.

Three days later she collapsed and died.

And both of these ladies, for their individual reasons, will be sorely missed by the wider family.

Now I don’t intend this to be a sackcloth and ashes piece about loosing relatives.  It happens, and reportedly no-one gets out alive.

But what I have become acutely aware of is the assumptions we make.

There is an accounting assumption that says that the company being accounted is a “going concern”  that will remain and continue to operate and function as it is now.

Which is fine for companies.

But people may not.

And that is especially true as we age.

You cheerily say to loved ones “see you later” or similar as you part, with the assumption that they will still be there the next time, still going strong, albeit a bit older and greyer or whatever.

But the last six weeks have brought home very clearly that the pleasure of seeing them again may not be the case.

So my recommendation to you is that when someone goes away from you, before you part take the opportunity to give them a big hug.  And let them know just what their existence means to you.

First Steps

The idea started when the Big Cheese decided that a “review” of the workplace was needed.

It didn’t seem important that the Big Cheese didn’t know anything whatsoever about how things functioned, what was connected to what, what impacted which.  A review was needed.

The review resulted in my job being declared “disestablished”.

What a wonderful language English is.  There are so many euphemisms available to us now that weren’t there 30 years ago.  “Disestablished”, “restructure”, “realignment”, “redeploying” , “resource” – all means the same thing: “not wanted”.

The upshot was that I faced applying for a job I didn’t really want, working in a place where the atmosphere had taken less than 24 hours to turn from happy, friendly and supportive to toxic.

It’s happened to pretty much all of us since the fashion for re-structures started around 30 years ago –  you find yourself wondering what you’re going to do.  Do you want another version of the same job?  Can you be bothered dusting off and re-polishing a curriculum vitae that hasn’t seen the light of day for 10 years or more?

Or is it time for a massive change of direction?

I have a few savings.  Not a huge amount but enough to provide living with a small government-funded income.  I don’t really have a lot of high-cost needs, if you don’t count international wanderlust or assisting the whisky industry to maintain its lifestyle.

Maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to leave the workforce rat-race.

But what to do?

I told my wife that I could become a house-husband.  She was still laughing three days later, although the laughter had started to have a slightly hysterical edge.

I could practice my old job as an independent contractor, working from the house.  Nah, that doesn’t really appeal.  Too competitive a market, and I’m sick of doing that type of work.

I need contact with people and the outside world: “Hi, Tom.  How’s the kids?  What are you doing on the weekend?”  I need mind exercise.  I enjoy writing: could I become A Writer?

We have a friend whose success I’m rather jealous of.  He had long harboured a desire to write and he couldn’t find a job that he wanted.  So he started to write.  He wrote a book.  A very good book.  And he sold it!  It’s now been printed in several languages (including American) in hard-back and paper-back versions.  And it’s being turned into a movie, with proper Big Time Stars!  Wow!

I won’t fool myself that I’m in that realm.  At all.  But with increasing age come experiences, observations and views of the world – the funny, the bizarre, the horrendous, the interesting, the nostalgic stuff that has long gone and will never return.

I have interest in whisky, people, music (especially from the 60s and 70s), cars and a whole lot of other stuff.

Why couldn’t I do some writing and see where that might go?

Blogging seemed to be a good starting point.  No great capital outlay.  Get a website together to post your deepest (and maybe sometimes shallowest) thoughts on.  Write stuff, post it, sit back and see what happens.

Now, here’s the start of the learning curve.

I know computers.  I’ve been using them since the late 1980s, when all your programmes were held on little blue plastic things called floppy disks.

And I know websites, because I visit heaps of them daily to find stuff out – where to go, how to get there, what to see/buy/eat when you’re there.  It must be simple to have a website, because all the world seems to have one these days.  They must have learned how from somewhere.

Thank heaven for search engines!  You can find absolutely anything these days, if you type in the right words.

In the last few weeks I have found out what a domain name is and how to reserve it, what a server address is and how to get your domain name on it, how to make an attractive website on your new domain so people can search for it on your domain name on your server so they can read what pearls of wisdom you’ve written this week.

There are brilliant videos on the web that give step by step instructions that a fool can follow.  Which is just as well, because one is!

So now I own a domain.  Housed on a server.  With a website which, if you’re reading this, is obviously searchable.  Yay!

So this is the start of my New Life.  Not that everything has been thrown out, but there no longer is a formal “job” with a nice salary.  Now I look at things around me with a whole different eye.  Observing people, looking at trees, sampling whiskies, experiencing Things, sampling more whisky.

And then I sit at the kitchen table in the sun with my laptop and write about the things I’ve seen and the thoughts that I’ve had and the whiskies I have sampled.

And I hope that you read them.  And if you read them, I hope you enjoy them.