If I get knocked down tomorrow by a number 27 bus there may be a moment when my whole life flashes before me and I think, “What was all that about?”. I might just have the strength to reflect upon what exactly I have learnt from my 50 odd years at the crease. Not much, of course, apart from the obvious: that beer is the reason we carry on, that we do everything to impress our mothers, that women are gods, that vinyl is better than CDs and that Bradford City is the greatest football team the world has ever seen. But seriously, folks, what lessons have I really learnt from life? Well here are a few to be going on with:
Love is essential, but it’s not enough. That’s because, love it or hate it, we also have to work. The happiest people I have met are those who love what they do, those who would do it for nothing. Love is a feeling; it comes and goes and there’s not a lot we can do to make it stay. But work happens every day and if you don’t get excited by it, life is going to be a long, frustrating haul.
Kindness is a virtue. I once invented a character called Brian Bottomley. He was ugly, overweight, had bad skin, dressed terribly, and smelt like an old cabbage. “How can we possibly like him?”, I asked my friends. The answer came back: “Well, if he’s a kind person, we can forgive him all the rest.” After all, it is doing good things and helping others that makes us happy.
Don’t compromise in relationships. It’s easy to kid yourself, in the heat of passion, that your new squeeze is Adonis or Helen of Troy. But unless you develop deep respect for your paramour, the pillow talk will soon turn sour and the sight of unwashed underwear make you gip. Love is finding someone who is endlessly fascinating. And that can take years. Settling for less won’t bring you joy.
What’s your hobby? I’ve heard it said that English men are famous around the world for three things: having bad teeth, having hobbies and being gay. It’s all those camp actors, lousy dentists and stamp collectors that did it. Nevertheless, without a hobby, without something that engrosses me and makes me feel like a demi-god sometimes, my life would be a poor show. Work and the family are just not enough. We need to lose ourselves in something.
Travel is golden. There is a lot to be said for staying in one place, putting down roots, having a wide choice of friends. But it’s the adventurous spirit that finds the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. “See the world, lad, before you settle down”, my grandad said. England can be an inspiring place, but it’s just one little, funny country. Travel can turn the Brian Bottomleys of this world into the George Clooneys. Well, you know what I mean.
Material wealth won’t make you happy. In his book Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton explains how people today are less happy than before, despite being much better off financially. That’s because they can’t bear the shame of not having as much as the next guy. They bust a gut to keep up with the Jones’s. Everybody could get by with a lot less if they realised that being rich is a state of mind.
Ignorance is not bliss. Tony Benn, my all-time favourite politician, once made a joke about his time as a government minister saying that he wanted to raise the school-leaving age from 15 to 65. Learning enriches your life all the way. One day even I will understand the link between interest rates and inflation, or the opening speech of Measure for Measure.
Music is divine. Words are all very well, but they often get in the way. They dominate, assert themselves, trick you, bully you. Most of all they interrupt the silence. Music is purer. Through music we listen to our inner selves.
Death is something to look forward to. Imagine being 539 years old. You would be tetchy, bored witless, seen-it-all-before cynical. You’d also probably be pretty disgusting to look at. If coming into the world is a great adventure, why can’t going out be a greater one? Friends and family are wonderful, but to be on your own again for that rollercoaster ride into the great unknown must be the ultimate thrill. “To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream,” as Hamlet says. By the way, I want the Monty Python theme tune (The Liberty Bell) played at my funeral, alright? And if I don’t hear it I’ll haunt the lot of you!