Archives mensuelles : janvier 2016


Isn’t money one of those strange concepts we live with but don’t think much about? [Not that we don’t think much about money, but that we don’t think much about what it means.]

Every now and again I have the reserves spare to invest my monthly pay cheque entirely in savings/shares etc.. What I get at the end of the month are numbers on a (virtual PDF) pay slip, that then appear as numbers on my online bank screen. These I then transfer (thanks to websites and email) into investment accounts. At no point (at least at my end) does the money materialise itself even in the form of printed numbers on a real piece of paper.

Then what happens? Well the investment in say shares/savings will continue for many years and in itself only ever ‘appears’ on regular electronic statements. The sum will hopefully earn interest/dividends/capital gains, which will increase my financial value, and perhaps one day give me the security to retire (hopefully early) (when I say retire, I really mean, change careers to something I’m 100% passionate about for which I do regardless of financial gain).

But there’s probably a good chance that the initial investment will never be ‘cashed in’, i.e. transferred into something material like a house, car or holiday. Instead, it’s quite likely that what started as payment for a month’s work, will in its entirety be handed over to my descendants upon my death, who may well finally convert it into something physical. [If I was in the mood of the writer of Ecclesiastics, I might speculate about the pay cheque eventually being meaninglessly wasted by descendants :-)]

Looking at this whole process, doesn’t it seem rather strange how much power virtual numbers on a page mean to us? Perhaps the power they have is the potential they embody. But it still seems that this month’s pay cheque makes almost zero difference to my life. Of course, I could simply head out and spend wildly – but for some reason I’d prefer seeing the value of the pay cheque as numbers in a virtual online account, rather than materialised in a new car or a few foreign holidays to far-flung destinations.


It’s been a good morning on two fronts (base and elevated) – firstly the bathroom scales displayed 74.6kg, so a month late, I’ve hit my 2015 goal of getting under 75kg. And I had a bit of time free before coming into work, so I finished off an Italian novel; ‘The Leopard’ by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. There’s something special about finishing a novel and still getting into the office by 7am.

I’d never heard of ‘The Leopard’ until about 18 months ago when I read ‘How to be well read’ by John Sutherland, which consists of lots of different pen portraits of the great works of literature (I think he covers about 500). Sutherland was profuse in his praise for ‘The Leopard’, which was interesting as I’d never heard of the book or indeed heard it being referenced. Hearing about an amazing (and yes, short) novel attracted my curiosity. It is an incredible book, telling the story of a noble Sicilian family around the time of the creation of Italy (1860s, Garibaldi et al). It’s witty and very moving.

I haven’t delved much into Italian culture – but from the little I’ve seen (‘The Leopard’, and films like ‘Dolce Vita’ and ‘The Great Beauty’), there seems to be a common set of themes – of past greatness, nostalgia, worship of high culture, the Catholic church, aesthetic/erotic pleasures, and decline. Admittedly my sample size is not large for these generalizations. In other literary cultures, I’d most compare the spirit to the one you find in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ or ‘One hundred years of solitude’.

I’ve spent very little time in Italy: a few brief hops over the border from Switzerland, and a week hitch-hiking from Ancona to Florence in 1999. The beauty of even the most simple dwellings makes it a country I definitely want to spend more time visiting in the future.

I leave you with three quotes from ‘The Leopard’ (I’ve only just figured out Kindle highlights):

« The two young people looked at the picture with complete lack of interest. For both of them death was purely an intellectual concept, a facet of knowledge as it were and no more, not an experience which pierced the marrow of their bones. Death, oh, yes, it existed of course, but was something that happened to others. The thought occurred to Don Fabrizio that it was inner ignorance of this supreme consolation which makes the young feel sorrows much more sharply than the old; the latter are nearer the safety exit. »

« free as he was from the shackles imposed on many other men by honesty, decency and plain good manners, he moved through the forest of life with the confidence of an elephant which advances in a straight line, rooting up trees and trampling down lairs, without even noticing scratches of thorns and moans from the crushed. »

« They were the most moving sight there, two young people in love dancing together, blind to each other’s defects, deaf to the warnings of fate, deluding themselves that the whole course of their lives would be as smooth as the ballroom floor, unknowing actors set to play the parts of Juliet and Romeo by a director who had concealed the fact that tomb and poison were already in the script. Neither was good, each self-interested, turgid with secret aims; yet there was something sweet and touching about them both; those murky but ingenuous ambitions of theirs were obliterated by the words of jesting tenderness he was murmuring in her ear, by the scent of her hair, by the mutual clasp of those bodies destined to die. »

The CAR chapter

I was going back through old career files last week and came across my supervisor’s feedback from my three month deployment in the Central African Republic in 2014. The feedback was positive, but that period seems such a long time ago (is 18 months really such a long time?). It pushed me to reflect on that period – it seems like such a discreet chapter of life, unlinked to anywhere else. I developed good new friendships with work colleagues, but these almost all but ceased when I left. I was able to develop a good reputation within the office, but now I no longer work for the same organisation or the same people. So it feels like whatever I achieved there is now closed and has no relationship with what I do now. Isn’t it strange to build something and then start from scratch a few months later? Anything you did to establish relationships, institutional knowledge or a reputation remains in a closed box marked ‘CAR’. All you take with you are some experiences, some skills, and the knowledge that you can through a test.

Maybe it’s a bit like life. You work so hard for certain goals and ideals that seem very much part of the world you live in, and then when you move on, you realise that from another perspective what’s important seems very much different.