Have you ever been struck by the unbearable crapness of being? I bet you have – you might not have known what it was at the time, but you’ve felt it. I’m not talking about those times when you are in despair because life seems totally shit. This isn’t about life being awful, it isn’t. No this is about those moments of epiphany, when the scales fall from your eyes and you realise that life is really, well, just a bit crap. You know what I mean – those times when it becomes apparent that the reality of life can never live up to all the expectations which films, literature, education, religion, politicians, parents and the like have created about it in your mind. From an early age we’re told about all the great possibilities that life holds, all the wonderful things which can happen to you, the amazing lifestyle you’ll enjoy when you grow up. I’ll give you an example from my own experience. When I was a kid, they used to run these TV ads for the drink Cinzano Bianco – they all showed these handsome young people enjoying a luxurious lifestyle: driving airboats, fast cars, flying planes and the like, in exotic locales. Each ad would end with them all sitting under umbrellas enjoying a glass of Cinzano as the sun went down. All very 1970s. Anyway, as an impressionable young child, that was how I imagined my life would be in the future. No matter that I was living in a three-bedroomed house with my parents, three brothers and my sister – hell, my parents had just bought that house, it was only built in 1967 and it had central heating as standard! We were clearly on the up – it could only be a matter of time before my father jacked in his job as a TV repair man for the life of an international jet-setter and we moved to Monte Carlo. As an adult, however, life hasn’t actually measured up to these expectations: my father never did change jobs (he did get his Open University degree and had some short stories published), and he lived in that same house until he died. My mother still lives there. I’ve never driven an air boat or a Ferrari (although I did once own a 1978 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28), and I live in a modest terraced house in the South, not of France, but England. The reality of life has been much more mundane than the expectations raised all those years ago by Cinzano Bianco. It certainly hasn’t been terrible – I own my own home, live comfortably and have achieved a lot of academic success – but there’s no denying that most of the time, it’s a bit crap. On a day-to-day basis, not a lot ever really seems to happen. It’s just a sadly predictable daily grind, in which I seem to be frustrated at every turn whenever I try to change things.
OK, I know you probably don’t remember those ads, and even if you do, you probably had a completely different reaction to them, so perhaps a more general example of the Unbearable Crapness of Being is required. Let’s see – the Unbearable Crapness of Being is like visiting a club out of hours. When you go to a club during opening hours you are dazzled by all the glitz, the lights, the buzz of activity – it seems like the most exciting place in the universe. You feel that you are somewhere. That something is happening. However, if you go there during the day, when it’s closed, it seems drab and dull. Daylight reveals the faded carpets laced with fag ash and beer stains. The smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke clings to everything. Empty, it seems flat and unatmospheric. The artifice is laid bare. I once had a similar experience when, suffering from jet lag having just got back from the States, I made the mistake of visiting my local pub at lunchtime. What under artificial light always seemed a warm and welcoming haven, full of fun and laughter, was revealed in daylight to have drab and peeling wallpaper, rickety furniture and a badly cigarette burned carpet. Even the beer tasted flat. I’ve never been back during the day since. Life is much the same – we’re fed the illusion of glamour and excitement, when the reality is drabness and crapness. A whole industry has grown up to nourish the illusion – self-help books and gurus abound, all telling us that we can unlock our inner selves and fulfil our true potential. But the truth is that most of us can’t ever transcend the general crapness of being. Similarly, our TV screens always seem to be occupied by programmes explaining to us how we can transform our humble homes into palaces, and how our houses are unhygienic health hazards until we do. The reality is that most of us live in at least mildly shambolic conditions. “Carpa diem” people keep telling us, as if leaping out of bed at the crack of dawn every day will somehow cure the crapness. But what if I don’t want to seize the day? What if I want to lie in bed until lunchtime because I feel crap and I know that if I do get up the day will inevitably follow its usual path of crapness?
But what’s wrong with being crap? The truth is that whilst my life might well be in the grip of the Unbearable Crapness of Being, I’m actually reasonably happy most of the time. It is only the unreasonable expectations which the media and society create about life which makes the reality seem unbearably crap. So what if my house isn’t a palace? Who’s ever going to know, or care? It’s not as if I’m expecting film crews to suddenly turn up, or have any intention of inviting the likes of Lawrence Llewelyn Tosspot round. The bottom line is that my house is where I live – my life happens there. It isn’t some kind of exhibit in an ideal homes exhibition. It’s the same with regard to career matters and lifestyle. So what if I’m not some kind of City high flyer jetting to exotic locales around the world? The fact is that I regard work as a necessary evil, something to pay the bills, not the be all and all of my life. I also found a long time ago that I find foreign travel pretty tedious. I’m far happier in my crappy house. The bottom line is that I’m far less stressed these days than when I was working at the ‘centre of government’ in Whitehall, consequently, I’m healthier and likely to live longer. Viva la crapness! We really need to start changing our attitudes to life, or the Unbearable Crapness of Being will engulf us. From an early age we need to educate children to embrace the crapness. I don’t mean we should encourage them to lower their career expectations or anything, but we should be teaching them that there are other paths to happiness and fulfilment apart from the conventional materialistic ones. So there you have it – my seasonal message to you all: be crap; be happy! Remember, it’s not unbearable: it’s normal!