a holiday in history
Well, the racing tip didn’t pan out, unless eighth counts as a place? Whatever. I’ve never bet on horses, though I did ride a bit as a kid and still enjoy seeing them racing – I’ve visited Kempton Park near London, and Leopardstown here in Ireland, and have the photos to prove it. Royal Ascot was fun, too; I was in the cheap area on the inside of the track, but with camera, and found myself standing at the fence alongside Lord Snowdon, slumming it with his Leica.
I lived in a rural area in South Africa from age 7 to age 16; one of my school friends was the mayor’s son, while the largest farmer in the area had four kids in my school, the eldest daughter in my class. Throughout my school career I was in the top classes for academic reasons, but I was surrounded by people who made me look silly in other ways. The farmer’s daughter Sally and her friend Kim were swimming champions and friendly rivals, with Kim swimming at national level later, while Sally stayed more academic and studied to become a teacher. Sally’s father’s farm was where I learned to ride properly, except on the occasion when the horse took a corner and I just kept on straight – I was lucky not to break anything.
Later on, after we moved to a different, more industrial town, the same academic school pattern repeated itself, with the added complication that I was a new outsider who hardly fitted in. It wasn’t just me, though, and the friends I will be holidaying with in July are my fellow misfits from those last two years of school. One was a bricklayer last time I saw him eight years ago, but in Denmark, where it’s a respected career. (He was earning more than I was then, but paying Danish tax rates too.) Another is a Chartered Engineer, and one is a Doctor of Biochemistry, working on research into animal diseases. Then there’s me, the computer geek.
I don’t suppose I’m doing that badly, though. Today I got written confirmation of my new job grade, resulting from the HP-Compaq merger. The grading is the highest offsite engineering grade, the description similar to that of a project manager. Which is fair, I suppose, with the number of balls I have in the air at any one time, with major support cases, and training, and planning of some support operations this year.
Our team has been the subject of all kinds of positive feedback since the merger; we were told we’d be in a pivotal role, and though I don’t take such talk at face value, it seems to be going that way in practice too. While I don’t mind some responsibility, I found out the hard way what it’s like to be indispensable, and it’s not funny. I’ve had steel furnaces shut down, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars an hour, waiting on me to fix some wires. I’ve had printing presses waiting for me to finish copy, with the managing editor leaning over my shoulder like Death himself.
This aversion to responsibility on my part may be partly genetic, since I know my father had similar symptoms. He turned down promotions to management, staying in a hands-on engineering role, long after he could have moved up in the world. I can understand the position he was in, but in my opinion there was one crucial difference: I have no dependants, so I can afford to avoid high-responsibility positions, but my father had a family, and the extra income might have made real improvements to our lives. Such as decent clothes, a car that didn’t have a dangerously cracked chassis for years, maybe even a chance for me to go to university, rather than being forced to go straight to work and pay rent at home.
But what does all that matter, so many years and so many miles away? The past has made me who I am, and anyone who knows me will understand why I’d rather leave the past where it is. If I do revisit it, I will be highly selective, pretentious, even revisionist, and I reserve the right to write about it like the history it is. History is written by the victors, and my survival to this point is something of a victory. Some memories are bad, and the people behind them probably don’t need to be told to stay the hell away from me; but meeting up with my school friends this summer will be several steps in the right direction, I think.
755 words? Enough typing for one night.
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
— Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)