Things Fall Apart 8

I went today to speak to a national conference of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. I was delighted to be invited because I have always had a huge amount of respect for them and the good work they do. When the followers of George Bush or Osama Bin Laden make me despair of religion, I think of the Quakers as an antidote.

I was talking at 11.15, so I got up in Shepherds Bush at 6.45 to get there by train. The journey was complicated by weekend engineering works, but I made it to Swanwick at 11am. Alarm bells started to ring when the taxi driver had not heard of the Hayes conference centre. Nor had the guard at the Marina, the girl in the pub, or the man in the Post Office. It turned out I was at Swanwick in Hampshire, and the conference was at Swanwick in Derbyshire, several hundred miles away.

The Hampshire Swanwick has a railway station. Swanwick in Derbyshire doesn’t, so when I bought a ticket nobody asked me which one I wanted. But when I looked through my agenda it did in fact say Swanwick, Derbyshire. So it was entirely my fault.

I had clerical and other assistance from day 1 of my working life, and subsequently PAs and drivers, and servants at home. I was always very aware just how reliant I was on this assistance. I think this comes over in my book. I may be bright, but I am not at all practical. Get me to a meeting and I will have complete command of the brief and the meeting, but without help I will never get there. In many ways I am the archetypal absent-minded bumbler, brain always on a knotty question while I lose my spectacles. I have lost four mobile phones this year. I really feel quite depressed about it; now I face the every day problems of self management that everyone has to deal with, I simply cannot cope. Despite trying very hard indeed.

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8 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart

  • t

    Dear Craig,

    Please don't be upset with yourself. You're experiencing a perfectly normal response to modern everyday life. One of my more capable friends tells me that there's now a word for it: "acopia" – as in, loss of the ability to cope. Symptoms can range from mild acopia (missing a meeting, losing phones) to severe acopia (hiding under duvet hoping world will go away).

    It is amazing that situations conspire to disempower even the most capable of people. It is not your fault that your job shielded you from mundanities; it is not your fault when you discover that, despite the glitzy surface, they are still rubbish. Reassuringly, when around teenagers, I find they can't cope with the pace/general disruption of things either: in fact, they are slower and even more bewildered than us adults. Perhaps we all need to shrug and loosen up.

  • kazbel

    Oh dear – a friend of mine was looking forward to hearing you at Swanwick (Derbys). Still, perhaps there'll be another occasion – would you be able to speak to Friends in the area on another date?

  • kazbel

    I meant to say not to worry too much about it. I'm sure the Quakers will have used the time well and that there will be another occasion. These things happen to everyone, and it must be hard when your life has changed dramatically, quite recently. Please don't expect perfection of yourself. I find the Samuel Beckett lines "No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better" oddly comforting.

  • ziz

    A party of schoolchildren were taken to the wrong Hampton Court last week be reliance of their coach driver on a Sat Nav device.

    Technology has not yet replaced common sense… anyway I trust you meticulously filed the bar receipts when dangling your feet in the Pegasus swimming pool… Why aren't these conferences ever held in (say) Fairbanks, Alaska in January ?

    I think we should be told.

  • Craig


    I hope your friend will get to see me some time. I am always prepared to accept invitations to speak to any reasonable sized audience.

    Thank you for your later sympathetic comment, which for some reason the software refuses to publish.

  • rogilman

    I'm afraid these abilities and inabilities are not equally distributed among us, and or even within us, and certainly don't improve with age. Talk of modern life being the cause is like Durkheim's laying the blame for suicide on city life. In one organization I used to work with, one absent-minded leader had to be barred from driving because he kept getting into accidents, even just getting the door smacked exiting the car. I, myself, am a crack organizer of events and projects, yet just last week got up early and ready for a meeting that I had in my book for the previous day. Very annoying, and I'll have some explaining to do tomorrow. The best one can say is that there are little tricks we can do to help ourselves, while keeping a good sense of self about it all.

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