“In my beginning is my end…” wrote T. S. Eliot in the poem Four Quartets. In this situation, I am now found.
When my working life started in 1980, I took over my late departed father’s position as an office clerk for a local construction company and, whereas my father while he was there moved up the ranks, my tenure was short-lived, as employment was only for a few weeks during the summer holiday.
Thursday was always an eventful day, as the rest of the week transpired to be a relatively lonely and isolated affair.
My office was situated in the east of the building, at the furthest end of an elevated section, so the only person to come this far was a tea lady, employed for the sole purpose of wheeling a trolley along the corridors of power, twice a day, to dole out tea or coffee and selected comestibles for the staff who languished under the weight of the tasks they had to perform, for the night cometh when no man can work (John Ch9:v4).
From 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Wednesday and then Friday, it was my role to transpose costings from computer printout sheets to record cards and tally up those costings for future reference by another member of staff, who I would never meet in the whole time I worked there.
I longed for Thursdays to roll around. Early every Thursday morning an armoured van rocked up and unloaded the wages for the staff, to my office where, through a small sliding window, I would pass over the hard-earned, or sometimes less than hard-earned, weekly wages to the queue of chaps who filed past.
All received a little brown envelope of cash with the amount contained written on the front, which was duly tucked away for safekeeping in a back pocket until pub opening time, or when it was finally handed over to the wife on the front doorstep and met with a frown in response to how much had been removed for ‘personal expenses’.
This handing over of multiple brown envelopes became the highlight of my week and an event looked forward to, as not only did it detract from the mind-numbing monotony of transcription, but became a social event where I had the opportunity to pass the time of day and a few words, sarcastic or otherwise, with the company workforce.
Wind forward 40 years and I find myself once more in isolation. An enclosed office with no window to the outside world except for an opaque skylight that filters the sun at its zenith to a hazy hue, cast over my hunched shoulders as I pound away, four-finger typing, on the keyboard of my existence. As if by chance, it happens to be Thursday and at my side is a small brown envelope with a lozenge-shaped window, through which the employee’s name is displayed. It exhibits my name. I pick up the envelope and feel its thickness. No cash. It now contains a slip of paper, printed by a computer and informs me, that even in isolation, the worthy workman is due his wage (1 Timothy Ch5;v18). I look at what the taxman removes and wince, but then console myself with the knowledge that in these unprecedented times of world crisis, someone needs to pay for the expenditure of finding a cure to the disease that has sent us all finally scurrying back into our homes, in the hope that if we are in the endangered species category, we will be immune from contracting or, at best, avoid coming into contact with a carrier of the aforementioned plague which is now upon us.
Isolation has the opportunity of doing strange things to the mind. Even the fear of possible isolation can turn some people into a state of helpless despair. Equally, it can give us all the chance to examine our lives and assess who we are as individuals and what it is that is important to each and every one of us. That self-examination from which we can emerge, like the bear from winter hibernation, refreshed and revitalized to either carry on the tasks we already perform or move into new fields of exploration and development.
My working life is at its close. I can no longer hide from the fact that the cogs of time have turned and as summer has surely turned to autumn and from winter to spring and back to summer, my life has played out in a manner that, as I look back, it seems like only yesterday that I was handing out the little brown, cash-filled envelopes from my office of relative isolation. From my beginning, alone in an office, I am now once more in an office, alone.
In my beginning is my end.
But as one life ends, another begins. It was five years ago that Charlotte and I looked to warmer climes, knowing that England’s damp and mellow fruitfulness was not a place we wanted to subject my ageing carcass to for the long term. Instead, we set our sights a few degrees of latitude south, far enough south to have a change of climate, but not far enough to pass the termite line that stretches across the northern hemisphere.
With my schoolboy French, that my teacher would have quite possibly launched the chalk or blackboard rubber at me for using, we went in search of a property that would give us enough to do, but not too much that my advancing years would render me unable to cope with. The Estate Agencies of France were very accommodating and whether or not they could speak any English, we went with the desire to purchase a home based on what our Translation App told us to say!
So after a couple of years, we had decided that isolée et à la campagne was to be the desired location.
On November 25, 2018, we completed on the purchase of our new home. Isolation, ‘far from the madding crowd’ where we can breathe and live and work and where you are welcome to come and stay, to recharge those batteries of the mind and soul.
Isolation can have its up-sides too.
So finally, in my end, there is my beginning. Carry on regardless!