When I was a kid Buckaroo and Kerplunk were popular games. Buckaroo involved a toy donkey. Players took turns to add items of equipment onto its back all the while hoping the donkey wouldn’t buck when they placed their item onto the burgeoning pile. After being stacked high with buckets, sacks, rope, spades and various other goodies, the donkey would eventually reach the point where it could bear no more and living up to the name of the game, would buck all the pieces off. Real life donkeys don’t seem to do this, they have heavy loads foist upon them until they’re barely able to walk. The phrase beast of burden is often applied to donkeys and it’s not difficult to see why. When I worked in France one of my French colleagues said, “you English, you are stupid. You work like the donkey and what for? You are working 50, 60, 70 hours and you do not complain. In France we do not do that, we are not like you stupid English donkeys and we are happier to have time away from the work.” My colleague made a very good point!
Kerplunk was a Buckaroo situation in reverse. Thin plastic sticks held up marbles inside a tall cylinder. Players had to remove sticks without letting the marbles drop through. As pieces were removed so the weight of marbles increased until eventually someone would remove a stick causing all the marbles to fall. Kerplunk, game over. On another occasion in France I saw children aged around 8 years old aligned in crocodile fashion marching through the Metro station at Chatelet. They were shouting, chanting and carrying placards accompanied by a small number of adults. My French wasn’t good enough to understand all they said so I asked a French colleague to interpret and explain what these children were doing. Why were they marching through the subway stations? She told me the kids were with their teachers and they were protesting about education reforms; a reduction in the number of teachers and taught hours. I was amazed. I couldn’t imagine British 8 year olds taking part in a protest to maintain teaching hours or have more teachers. My colleague laughed. She said in France children learn to protest early and French people stand up for their rights and the things that matter to them such as education, fair remuneration, decent medical care and so on.
I cannot remember when I first heard the phrase ‘the straw that broke the camels back.’ It was sometime before I reached my teens but I’ve no idea when. The idiom is thought to stem from an Arabic proverb. The camel is another beast of burden and the straw that breaks its back is the final thing making the weight on its body unbearable. Instead of throwing off the load like Buckaroo, the camel sinks to the floor broken in half and presumably dies as a result of its heinous injury. Once again while working in France I came across a ‘straw that broke the camels back’ situation. A large French company undertook a programme of transformation, restructuring and changes to people’s roles. Some of the changes were radical and the impact on certain members of the workforce was quite dramatic. A number of employees couldn’t cope with the situation they found themselves in and committed suicide. I was deeply traumatised by this situation, not the first workplace suicide Id encountered. In my early career a young guy in my workplace committed suicide. Afterwards everyone said they should’ve realised the signs, he was under too much pressure, withdrawn, silent and very unhappy looking. He hung himself from a stairwell. People were shocked, they talked about the stress he must have felt and mused that he had no outlet for his distress. I remember thinking how sad that a young man, probably aged around 22, felt so alone with his problems that the best solution was to end his own life. I still think its sad that he died suffocating to death in dingy stairwell, his life slowly slipping away because the burden of living became too much for him to bear on his own.
It isn’t often that I feel like the Buckaroo donkey or overloaded camel. Normally I’ll bear a heavy load and keep moving forward but of late a series of events has been edging me ever closer to broken back territory. Although challenging, in isolation each event is manageable. Cancer, chemo, social exclusion, work issues, loss of friends, discrimination, the thought (and reality) of more surgery – all unpleasant but in isolation or limited combinations all bearable. Even when they happen in combination and quick succession they’re bearable as long as nothing else is dumped on top.
This week something else got dumped on top; two additional significant challenges to further embellish the list. I checked my major life events against the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. A score of 300+ indicates a significant risk of illness. Unfortunately many of my major life events are a direct result of illness so my Holmes and Rahe score was already running at over 300. This weeks challenges have pushed it to over 500 and there’s very little I can do about it except wonder at what level the scale moves from ‘risk of serious illness’ to ‘be sure to note your preference, flames or earthworms.’
I opted for flames long ago so I can look on the bright side in that respect – at least I know what’s coming to me in the end! Being downbeat doesn’t really suit me but I am human and I have limits. There’s only so much crap I can take before I feel overwhelmed and the past year has been packed full of it. Fortunately I still have a few friends and family who stand by me and check in to see that I’m OK. The young guy I worked with felt abandoned, the employees in the French company had no-one to turn to and couldn’t see a positive future once their jobs had disappeared or changed beyond all recognition. My friends and family can’t undo the hardships and stress certain others are hellbent on creating in my life but their moral support means I’m not entirely alone and that’s important. It helps me maintain a Buckaroo mindset casting off the crap instead of slipping into the camel persona and being completely broken by the weight of the load.