I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately of how people come out with wonderful little slices of philosophy that stick with you for life. Probably those who say these things forget about them the next day, but they become a part of your own personal outlook and ethos, and I would like to share just three of those with you.
The first is something we were told quite a lot of years ago. We were holidaying in the stunningly beautiful island state of Tasmania, and, on a winding road through breathtaking scenery, we came across a sign for a wood carver. It rang a bell in my mind; I was sure I had read somewhere that this was something definitely not to be missed. When we pulled into the driveway we weren’t even sure the place was open for visitors as there were no other vehicles around, no trendite little café or cute mushroom seats to sit on while partaking of morning tea. We stepped through the door of a huge, timber – of course – studio, and the first thing that hit us was the smell. It was wonderful. Now, tree-lovers perhaps will have trouble with this, but the smell of all those wood shavings was just beautiful, the various perfumes of the timbers rising up at us, and the curling shavings being themselves works of art. All around the room, on shelves and ledges, were tiny little figures, not real-life, anatomically correct, perfectly dimensioned human beings, but wonderful creatures that were somehow incredibly lifelike and abstract at the same time. Whatever profession you follow, you could find a miniature of yourself in that room. We came away with a delightful Edwardian couple, but could easily have filled a bag with solicitors, judges, school teachers, doctors, nurses, athletes. The most wonderful of the figures in the room, however, was the wood carver himself. He came to us out of a broad beam of buttery yellow afternoon sun that a dusty window let in. In my memory he is tall, he is thin, and he is bearded. His beard is long and grey and hangs down over the front of his leather apron. His eyes twinkle, and you feel that he has discovered so many of life’s secrets that he could be Gandalf’s cousin come to Earth. We chat with him and look at how he creates his little people. We pay for our purchases but feel we are coming away with more than just two wood carvings. And then he says it, “Remember, life is short and unpredictable. Eat dessert first.” The best? Oh, yes.
The next is just a short little comment overheard when a group of “oldies” were chatting. They were definitely well past retirement age, but with minds still active and offering a bit of a bring-it-on attitude to life. One of the ladies turned to her friends and said, “Well, as I always say, if in doubt, just do it.” What a great philosophy to live by; it’s got to be right 50 per cent of the time.
The third piece of incidental philosophy that I wanted to mention to you is something that came to us last October. We were in Montpellier, a lively and lovely city in the south of France. We were having dinner at a little bistro just along from our hotel. At the next table sat a bearded – hey, do beards bring philosophical thoughts, or do men of a philosophical bent tend to grow beards? – American, aged probably in his mid-60s. We got chatting, as people tend to do when they discover a shared language. He was a really interesting guy, an ex-soldier who had worked with the Australian forces during the Vietnam War and spoke at length, and admiringly, of their exploits and also of famous military campaigns such as Gallipoli. How could we not take a shine to him? We asked him about his travels, where he had been, that sort of thing. We told him about getting lost in Marseille at 4 o’clock of a Friday, of getting lost in a little village at 10 o’clock in the morning when we could see the church we were aiming for but could not find the street which would lead us there, of getting lost of an afternoon trying to reach the Montpellier airport and discovering instead signs that told us how close we now were to Barcelona. He said he never got lost. We were impressed. We asked him, did he have a really good GPS or was he just an expert navigator. “No”, he said, “I never plan any trip – even a walk - and that way wherever I end up is where I was going anyway, and I always reach my destination”. How can you argue with something like that? You can’t. I still don’t believe we were meant to end up in Marseille at 4 o’clock of a Friday afternoon, with a G8 Summit in progress and the roads full of either heavily armed Marseille hoodlums or heavily armed French police.
I hope you enjoyed these three gems. I think they’re great.