It’s hard to believe it’s just two weeks since our trip to London. It’s even more difficult to believe that a visit to the capital city with all its hustle and bustle, perpetual motion, noise and mayhem, could be seen as an oasis of tranquillity. My son had said “I don’t want this to end…” I can easily see why.
When I took up my current post I made a conscious decision to step back a level. In doing so I sought to achieve something that had eluded me for several years – the fabled work-life balance. I’d come to believe it was as rare as a unicorn and the last time I saw one of those I was seven years old with my head in a mythological creatures book!
Being a well-paid business person is all well and good but the salary isn’t much help if you’re dead. No matter how good the employer they’re unlikely to pay your family for your untimely demise due to overwork or work-induced critical illness. I know too many people who didn’t make it to retirement age and not one of them said they wished they’d spent more time at work.
My father, knowing me well (and holding much the same values, ethics and ethos), has often said I wouldn’t like a boring job. He’s right, whichever way I look at it that statement is true. I find slow, bureaucratic and/or stagnant very unattractive along with anything that requires scant intellectual challenge. It’s not that I’m hard to please, I just need some pace, some food for thought, some ability to improve things (you know the phrase change or die? Only one of those conditions is aspirational), and some willing comrades to work with. I like being part of a good team delivering interesting, useful stuff that makes a difference to other people’s lives.
Along with cancer the eighty-hour week is something I chose to consign to the past and having consciously stepped back I wasn’t looking for the kind of role that rips through your every waking hour like the biggest dawg-gone twister this side of the yellow brick road. I wasn’t looking so guess what I got… Some sparkling red shoes and one hell of a journey in all directions.
Preventing my head from exploding or simply rolling off my shoulders has been a high priority over the last few months. As a naturally hardworking person with empathic tendencies and the ability to carry a heavy load, (one of my previous French colleagues said “you English work like stupid donkeys” and in my case he was probably right), I sometimes forget that the maelstrom happening all around me also works its way into and through me. I do not want to be caught up in the chaos or torn to wafer-thin shreds because at a cellular level my health probably can’t withstand that turmoil again.
People develop cancer because normal
cells suddenly become abnormal. The abnormal cells proliferate because they never switch off. Holistically and right down at a nano level we’re all supposed to switch off.
Silence is the best option and lately I hunt it down like a trained assassin. Alone isn’t worry-making for me, it’s a long story for another time. I’m happy searching out the most depopulated, remote, off-the-beaten-track places I can find. North Wales is good, mile upon mile of hills with little evidence of any other humans to be seen. Clee Hill summit is also good and somewhat closer to home. I almost bought a house on Clee a few years ago. The purchase fell through but not before one of my dear colleagues of the time advised against living there… “they’re strange folks up on the hill you know…”
Despite the warning the hill is where I went last weekend and it’s where I’ll be heading this weekend too. It’s empty. Emptiness is next to godliness as far as I’m concerned. Past the car park the only way to the summit is to walk using one of the scrawny uneven paths carved out by rugged sheep who look at you knowingly as you pass by. It isn’t an easy walk for me, flat ground is better, but there’s no hope of finding an expanse of flat ground devoid of human detritus, clutter and noise nearby. The hills are all that’s left, untouched by developers because they’re frequently inhospitable.
The walk is worth the pain because the environment is strangely welcoming. It is often totally silent. Have you ever heard complete silence, the kind that engulfs you from head to toe, seeps under your skin and deep into your psyche? You could be persuaded to think the whole world disappeared except on top the hill you can see it stretching in front of you like an impossibly large green carpet.
Close your eyes and you could be out in the dark silent vastness of space.
For a split second the silence is eerily daunting because our lives are so full of 24×7 noise. When the birds stop singing there is no sound at all. Even the voice we all carry in our heads, the one that reminds us to put the trash out, buy some milk, clean the car, phone Susan – and for goodness sake get a grip of your work email because there’ll be a thousand more to deal with next week – seems to find it’s mute button. All it takes is an hour’s silence.
A few years ago I couldn’t imagine the thing I most enjoy at weekends would be scrambling up a barren hilltop past some tumbledown ruins, a handful of sheep and the occasional crow simply to find a complete and all-consuming silence. A silence impervious to everything including the chattering of one overly conscientious inner voice. The desolate hilltop is the only thing keeping me from the madness of a world that was not of my making. I will fix it because my conscience doesn’t allow for anything else but this time I am older, wiser and understand the costs involved. They are not mine to be borne alone.