The Travelling Ex-Salesman’s Problem

In which The Author tries a juggling act

The Piss-Artist Formerly Known as My Brother used to like juggling. In fairness to him (and I don’t say that often!) he became very good at it. I’ve always lacked the physical co-ordination to master it, personally. It’s something I’ve tried a couple of times, but (like drawing/painting and playing the guitar/piano), in my case the gulf between what the brain commands and the hand actually does is unbridgeable.
The sort of juggling act I do best is purely mental – what’s known these days as ‘multitasking.’ I remember one particularly hectic day in work, years ago, when I was compiling the Autumn Stock Orders for the forthcoming academic year. I was in Keith’s office, surrounded by an apparent maelstrom of order forms, sales histories, reps’ suggestions, adoption lists, publishers’ catalogues and reading lists. I sat at the eye of the storm, able to put my hands on anything I needed within seconds. In spite of appearances, there was an organising principle concealed deep below the chaos. On his way to make a cup of coffee, Laurie popped his head round the door and said, ‘Look at the bloody mess in here.’
I put my finger to my temple and replied, ‘That’s not a mess. In here‘s a fucking mess!’
Anyway, I’m doing a similar juggling act at the moment. Martin H. and I need to go to Cardiff next week to sort out a bit of business. Martin S., the chap we’re meeting, has suggested Monday afternoon as a suitable time. We’re free to do as we please, of course, but Martin S.’s schedule can get a bit chaotic owing to his line of work. Anyway, on Thursday we exchanged a series of emails and eventually pencilled in Monday afternoon for a pint and a chat.
Also on Thursday, Shanara rang me out of the blue. She wanted to know if I was planning a visit to Cardiff soon (see A Capital Day Out). It’s over six months since we last met up, so I still haven’t seen my other Bangladeshi honorary nephew. She’s only free in the mornings, so I suggested killing two birds with one stone. So far, so good…
Yesterday I had a message on Facebook from Nerys. We used to work together in Dillons an unspecified period of time ago. She finished work, emigrated to Australia, and thence moved to New Zealand, where she’s been happily settled with her partner for a long time. She’s in the UK for a few weeks to take in the Glastonbury Festival and visit family and friends. We’d been hoping to fit in a catch-up while she’s zigzagging the country, and I suggested she and Cherie could come up to Aberdare for a couple of hours. Last night she told me that they wouldn’t be able to make it, and suggested meeting in Cardiff today instead. However, thanks to the good people at the Circumlocution Office I’m still waiting for my ESA claim to be processed (see Digital by Default (almost…)), so that was a definite no-go.
[A digression: I once heard that Lenin inspired the Bolshevik Revolution with the slogan PEACE, BREAD AND ELECTRICITY. Well, I don’t really care about the ‘peace’ part at the moment – Nerys will get enough for both of us at Glasto, no doubt. However, I’ve got bread and electricity only because friends of mine have subbed me while the DWP sorts my claim out. Martin’s going to pay for us to go to Cardiff, and I’m hoping Rhian can advance me some cash as well. Otherwise, the whole thing will be a non-event.]
So, I suggested trying to cram in an hour between Shanara and the Two Martins on Monday instead. Nerys replied that she’d be with her parents in Ammanford instead, but would be back in town on Tuesday. I’ve emailed Martin S. to see how he’s fixed for that day instead. I’ve also texted Shanara, and provisionally we’re okay for Tuesday.
I’m sure most people’s lives don’t involve this degree of forward planning and co-ordination. Or am I wrong? Quite often I’ve talked to friends about the way that communications technology has made our lives more, not less, complex than they used to be. Thirty years ago, before everyone had mobile phones and email addresses, when you lost contact with someone, it stayed lost. Twenty years ago, when you were going to (for example) see a band somewhere out of town, you arranged to meet in the pub half an hour before and set off from there. If, by some mischance, one of the gang had double-booked him/herself, or had been unavoidably detained – tough shit! We went without him/her and picked up the pieces afterwards.
Now, modern technology has turned everyone’s diaries into a state of flux, subject to constant updating as circumstances change and plans are amended in real time. It’s an unexpected side-effect of the Twenty-First Century that nobody could have foreseen (except maybe River Song and Captain Jack Harkness.) (To add to the confusion, my mobile has literally just run out of credit. I can’t afford to top up, so a massive – and I mean industrial-sized – spanner has just been thrown into the technological works. Anyone texting me and expecting a reply will have second prize, as we say in the Valleys.)
I’m still waiting to hear back from Martin S., so we might have to stick to Monday as planned. (By the way, I committed a nice Freudian Slip there: I inadvertently typed ‘Mondas’ – the home planet of the original Cybermen. That’s what thinking about Doctor Who does to one!) It would be a real shame, as I haven’t seen Nerys for such a long time. If money wasn’t a limiting factor, I wouldn’t mind two days out on the trot. But at the moment it’s out of the question.
Maybe I should re-define my life in terms of the Money-Time Continuum. It’s a variation on the relationship between frequency and wavelength. Time and Money exist in inverse proportion to some unknown constant (possibly the speed of light), like this:
Stated in words, it’s quite simple. When you’ve got plenty of money, you haven’t got any time to do anything. Conversely, when your time is your own, you’re too skint to put your plans into action. On the other hand, maybe there’s no need to make a scientific examination of the situation. Quite possibly, life just sucks, and I’ll have to wait at least another decade to catch up with Nerys. I’ll keep you posted, folks…
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