Thursday, September 11, 1997
‘Those who go through life prepared for every eventuality do so at the expense of much joy’, runs the (half-forgotten) quote.
Camomile tea has with it the air of preparedness. For some (few), there’s an immediate attraction in the taste, and for most, a welcoming calming effect, but it still smacks of being over-cautious.
You’re not living in a great big way drinking the stuff – it’s not shots of frozen vodka or even a good nerve-tingling espresso.
As such, it ties in with other obviously healthy elements to make a lifestyle that is faultless in its logic. But not smoking, going to the gym and eating the right food all express a certain degree of fear: it’s a tough world out there, and you have to look after yourself, and you’ll be in better shape to cope with life if you’re in better shape yourself.
This is not to deny that there isn’t an inherent pleasure to be gained from staying healthy. Both the endorphin rush of pushing yourself hard on a run or on a bike, and the more measured feeling of waking up and not feeling like death are worthy ends in themselves.
It makes sense, but how does it fare when stacked up against the glorious nonsensical nature of life, not to mention the platitudes of teenage rebellion – ‘burn out, not fade away’; ‘live fast, die young’?
What camomile tea is to the careful approach, the motorbike is to this more expansive way of life. Freedom, danger, life on the edge – it’s all encompassed by the two wheels and leathers. As reader Paul Sotrop from Florida remarks: ‘There is no visceral thrill in tea. It reminds you of the times you were ill. A really cooking motorcycle reminds you of a totally kinetic existence. How many webpages out there wax about the joys of tea?’
All those years spent living within safe limits, preparing yourself for events, looking after yourself – how much are they worth when compared to getting out there and experiencing a visceral thrill? Excuse the literary quotes, but D H Lawrence’s argument was designed with bikers in mind: ‘Life is ours to be spent, not to be saved.’
And this gets to the heart of it – if you live too carefully, you might wake up one day to realise that you’ve been waiting around for your life to start, and all the camomile tea in the world won’t help calm you down then. Live too big, however, and you might not wake up at all one day, just when it was dawning on you that dying young was losing its appeal.
The lesson of The Who should be remembered – no doubt Roger Daltrey believed it wholeheartedly when he shouted: ‘Hope I die before I get old’ on My Generation. But now he’s running a fish farm in the countryside, wearing green wellies and doing ads for American Express.
He was lucky enough to live big first and survive the excesses, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do things the other way round, if that’s what takes your fancy.
A recent UK newspaper article on the increasing sales of motorbikes to people of more mature years included the statistic that more than 70 per cent of people who took their motorcycle test last year in the UK were over 30.
These are guys with cars, who are buying superbikes to ride at the weekends, and while this might smack of mid-life crises, at least they’re doing something.
Ideally, though, we should be able to combine the two approaches to life concomitantly. Live in a reasonably prepared fashion, while at the same time allowing room for immediate joy.
While that sounds like deciding to be spontaneous, it also sounds like Aristotle’s golden mean. So make mine a camomile tea as I storm off on my Harley.
11th September 1997