Some time ago I read that we, as human beings, need several things on a regular basis in order to be completely happy. Spiritually, sexually, physically and emotionally.
Adults require human contact, regular sex, unconditional love, hugs, approval of their peers and the love of children.
For the 99% of us who aren’t, in the words of Simon & Garfunkel, “a rock or an island” these things are like canisters of compressed air in a diving school’s trailer. They are hard to fill, prone to explode if placed near flame and must be treated with care at all times. Fill it too much, it will rupture, not enough and you might run out of air at 30 metres with no hope of surfacing without severe harm being done to your fragile body and mind.
So, the canisters we need to fill in order to be at peace, content and happy with our lives are numerous and, unlike a seaside diving centre, will have specific contents. Hard to find for some, harder still to retain for others. Take too many breaths, exhaust the supply too quickly. Fail to check your equipment or maintain it regularly, and you will lose your precious cargo.
In the 3rd week of my 3rd mid life crisis, staying with my Dad in the holiday resort of Plakias in Crete, and I’ve been going to bed dissatisfied and grumpy some nights. I always felt something wasn’t quite right, but it remained in a blind spot. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I’d go out, relax, maybe a bit of snorkelling and a coffee followed by a jog in the early evening and a beer or two or a meal with friends.
But this still didn’t cut it.
I’m in one of the most beautiful places on God’s Earth and I was feeling like a Smiths fan when Morrissey announced they were about to split up in 1987.
Then, I met a guy.
Chris was staying here with his wife and 10 year old son. Long haired, tattooed and fond of a beer it turned out that those weren’t the only three traits we shared in common. We met a few times in my Dad’s local bar and my usual caginess around strangers (especially if I’m hungover) meant I was polite but didn’t spark up a conversation with him. Then he friended me on Facebook and we met for a beer (well to be accurate, Chris was on retsina) and had a good chat about nothing much and everything. I said I’d like to take up fishing and Chris offered to show me how to. Next day we took his rod and bait out to one of the docks on the beach and sat on the rocks, cracked open a couple of Mythos beers and he taught me how to fish. I’d never done this before since I was about 5 and fell in the local stream when my dad tried to educate me in the subtle nuances of man vs piscine back in 1976.
Chris was clearly passionate about his fishing, telling me all the tricks and showing me how to cast (45 degree angle before you release) and surmising that the tinned octopus he’d brought would be the best bait. We eventually caught something, that fought like hell and gave me wanker’s cramp in my right hand as I tried to wind it in. Chris speculated that “the one that got away” had probably been an octopus by the fact that it had pulled away with so much power. He was able to string the line in seconds and showed me how to work the reel along with the difference between the current moving the line and something having taken the hook in its gob and pulling hard.
He offered to sell me the rig for half what he’d paid for it and this was a good deal, especially as I’d had a free fishing lesson thrown in as well.
We chatted about this and that as we waited for a bite and Chris said he understood my anxiety issues as he himself has them and has lived with them all his life. He then asked brightly if I’d like to come on a road trip with him and his family the following day, their last full day in Plakias.
Next day at 9am I met him at the car hire place and we checked out a Jeep**. I offered to drive so Chris could relax and have a drink at the stops we would make. We took in a church dug out of a gorge (where St Nicholas is meant to have hidden, no less) and stopped in a beautiful village for a coffee (where the taverna owner tutted at Chris’s son being in direct sunlight and pulled the awning down to give him some shade). We stopped at a beach, had a swim and then slowly drove back to Plakias (with me only once going the wrong way round a roundabout like a true Right Wheeler).
When we got back I picked up the fishing rod and arranged to meet Chris and his family for dinner after we’d all had a shower and chilled out a bit. When we go to the restaurant they offered to pay for all my drinks, as a thank you for driving them that day. As the wine flowed and the food arrived Chris and his wife both said how pleased they’d been to spend the day with me and that they had enjoyed their time with me. I said the same and we chatted for about 3 hours, blagging an extra carafe of raki after our meal with the words “they’re leaving tomorrow, this is their last night”, until they had to go back to their hotel, conscious of a 7.30am pick up, especially with a hangover. Chris was crying as he said goodbye to me and the bar owner Joe and while I teased him about this, his wife said he always tears up when he’s about to go home.
After they’d left I finished my beer and then went to a bar further down to see if any of my other friends were out. They weren’t so I went home and turned in for the night, making certain I had a couple of huge glasses of water to forestall the inevitable raki hangover the next day.
I didn’t make any attempt to analyse any of this until this morning when I woke up only slightly hungover and felt completely at peace with the previous day’s events. I hadn’t set up a bar tab, violated my daily allowance of expenditure or got shitfaced until 6am in Smerna bar until the sun came up again. I had enjoyed the company of some very lovely people, gone snorkelling with their 10 year old son and not touched a drop of alcohol from when I woke up until after we’d returned the Jeep to the store.
The canister of Human Contact that had only been partially filled and rarely checked was, for once, at 100% and checked for ruptures or leaks by a trained hand. It was a feeling I hadn’t had for a very long time, the feeling of being content with what I had and not wanting or expecting more. Of enjoying the day as it unfolded and just spending time with other people without anxiety, stress or depression floating on the horizon. The fact that Chris and his wife were so openly friendly, trusting me to drive not only them but their 10 year old lad around for about 80km in Greek roads was a feeling that simply felt GOOD. There was no pay off, no reward and no build up. It was what it was.
What I realised was that I’d been filling the most obvious canisters and neglecting the more fundamentally important ones. I had entertainment, alcohol and people to socialise with. What I didn’t have was human contact on a level a little deeper than getting shit faced on raki and then collapsing into bed in a virtual coma.
By letting that particular canister get filled up to limit with good quality substance, I went to bed feeling good and woke up feeling even better.
Having thought about this for most of today I think that the daily canisters I need filled would be called:
Something Worthwhile Each Day.
A Good Shag.
Seeing A Baby Laughing.
Spending Time With My Dad.
Seeing At Least One Awesome Thing.
The list goes on. But it took this long to realise that my daily dissatisfaction came from not filling the right canisters and overusing the ones that didn’t matter quite so much.
And at the back of the trailer is a canister marked RJG. Its flavour is very sweet.That I breathe every day and I savour each and every breath.
**If you don’t fully push the 4 wheel drive/ 2 wheel drive stick back to its correct position it makes a noise like a sealion. Think we annoyed half of Western Crete before we figured that one out.