Start Late… Finish Early

You should have seen him work.

When I walk into his office he is on the phone. He looks up briefly, smiles tiredly and waves me to a seat opposite him while he continues speaking. The language is technical to the point where I quickly become distracted by the view out of the window. Wellington harbour lays resplendent before us. One of the few days per year that it could actually be seen and enjoyed, without interruptions from gale force winds, lashing rain, fog or other meteorological events.

“Unfair!” I hear the Windy City’s two or three supporters cry. “Wellington is a beautiful jewel of a city and every day is simply gorgeous!”

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…well – take a look at the reality..

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… I rest my case.

My attention is brought back to him as he hangs up the phone. We chat briefly, and then he gets another call. People call him and there is usually a sense of urgency in the timbre of the caller’s voice on the other end of the line. There is tension. I realise the tension exists because my Dad is about to retire and his colleagues, realising the wealth of knowledge in his head, are trying to prize every last item of information out of him before his due date.

Before his “promotion” to this desk job, when I visited him at his work in Wellington hospital, he cut a more relaxed figure in jeans and jandals. He had the air of a medical systems engineer who knew what he was doing, and did it well. Indeed, it had been a profession, that for him, had taken him from The Netherlands to Iran, Egypt, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico and New Zealand. Apparently, in Egypt, before moving into medical systems, he had had a hand in designing the lighting system for a smattering of pyramids just outside of Cairo. Not sure what that entailed exactly as I was just one year old at the time and remember nothing of it. As a family we simply tagged along behind.

The move to New Zealand was a decision to leave the ex-pat life behind in favour of a more stable environment for the family. Moving every 18 months to two years does not have a great or positive effect on either continuations of friendships, nor alignment between educational systems. Unfortunately, New Zealand was a total backwater.  Pleasant green fields filled with ruminating and flatulent sheep, where not only did nothing much happen…. it did not happen much repeatedly so. And yet, it was probably the best decision made by my parents on our behalf. Pity the family disintegrated six months after we arrived in Wellington on a cold, bleak winter’s day.

But that is another story. Six months later my Dad is dead.


These days, as I cram myself yet again into an overcrowded Yamanote line carriage here in Tokyo, I often wonder at the other salary men sharing my daily morning journey with me. The largely silent episodes, I hope are a time of personal reflection for them as they are, at times, for me. Each man potentially a zen master contemplating the ephemeral nature of existence. In reality though, each individual has probably gotten up at 5am, had a hurried cup of coffee and a donut before racing to catch the Tokyo train. The run, run, run of every day starts early and does not let up until the return journeys start after 7pm. There is a feeling of resignation in the air, not of purpose. This is done because it seems that it is expected and there aren’t any options outside of this.

In an effort to claim space for themselves, many are intent on the screens of their phones or mobile devices. One hand holding on to a strap or bar for support, the other holding the device. Thumbs have become expert at swiping and texting. Necks have developed the “kink.” The commute gives time to play a mindless stacking game, or a bubble popping game ( to win points), or engage in a first person shooter between stations. Some lucky ones actually have seats. The exhausted among them fall asleep, dip briefly into the subconscious, only to miraculously awaken at their stop and bound out of the train. I see one such fellow run at a mad dash for the escalator, a harried expression on his face.

Can it really be that important? Is this what it’s all about?

I consider that question often as I approach the same age that my Dad died. Perhaps I have a longer life expectancy than him, as I am fitter, less overweight and smoke less than he ever did. However, the news that one of my brothers recently suffered a massive heart attack (and lives to tell the tale), does make me think that perhaps the whole thing could fall apart in the blink of an eye. In my Dad’s case, it was a massive stroke that knocked him out of the field of life.

In one of my previous blogs, I recounted my wife’s mental health ordeal as she battled a major depressive episode. Two years on, she is recovering well and is a living testament to the efforts of the doctors, nurses, counselors, friends and family who rallied around to support her. Certainly our lives have changed because of it. And yet, we are still on the same mill that sent us tither.

Where is the learning?

The reality is that we are still subjecting ourselves to the mindless grinding routines that saw us sliding down the slippery slope towards bedlam in the first place. However, I would like to say that we have become more values driven, and that those values reflect a rejigging of the elements that we have found to be important in life. The choice lies in the space we give ourselves. Time to do nothing much. To read. To sleep. To bake bread. To let the house get messy and leave it. To leave the work at work.

To be at home.

3 thoughts on “Start Late… Finish Early”

  1. Maarten, I am always moved by your writing. It is simple yet deeply profound. It is just good writing. You use words well, not sentimentally emotional or tear-jerking, but in a way to prod one to think and consider. Thank you.

    See you soon in Tama. Jody


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