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‘A hen can sit still and earn a living, a man can’t.’ Thus ran one of the “jokey” signs that hung in our family kitchen back in the day.
It fitted, indeed fits, well with the traditional model where the man goes out to work — to do “real” work with his hands, that is. For the likes of my father, born in early 1940s rural Ireland, such thinking ran deep. Physical labour outside the home was where it was at (let’s conveniently skip over the fact that many housework chores require plenty of elbow grease, too).
However, as has long been the case but even more so these days, it’s the man or woman sitting relatively still, staring into a screen, who invariably makes a better living than those engaged in employment that is more physical in nature.
For the majority of my working life, I’ve very much been in the former camp: the soft-hands brigade (minus any significant payment).
Nonetheless, I don’t shy away from donkey work when the opportunity presents itself. In fact, with the adage ‘a change is as good as a rest’ in mind, I largely relish the chance to get my hands dirty these days. (No doubt it’s also a case of ‘what’s seldom is wonderful’ — not-so-fond memories of long, tiring days shovelling concrete during summer holidays from university help to keep things in their proper perspective.)
So it was with an amount of enthusiasm that I agreed to lend my modest lifting force for two recent substantial house moves, or trasteos as they call them in Colombia. Over a year of pandemic-induced monotony also has to be factored in. Anything that breaks the routine right now is largely welcome.
While it might be a stretch to say these were wholly invigorating experiences, they certainly gave me a boost.
‘I’ve always struggled to understand those who drive or take public transport to go relatively short distances and then pay for gym membership to run on a treadmill that goes nowhere.’
This is not to say I’ve been living a largely sedentary existence of late. The Google Maps record of my monthly movements, which isn’t the whole story, shows I cover a minimum of eight kilometres per day on foot, plus another few kilometres by bicycle from time to time (I prefer power walking to cycling, especially considering the chunky bike I inherited isn’t really made for speed).
The reason the house-moving work made me feel particularly good was, I figure, due to the novelty of it together with the need to use physical force to meet a clear, specific end. I felt I was doing something useful — and appreciated by others — with an immediate goal in sight.
Running to stand still
Digging more deeply into this, it ties in with my tendency to think in the short term. It’s why, I guess, I’ve never been a big fan of going for runs or hitting the gym ‘just because’. I generally like to see an immediate return when engaging in an activity. ‘What’s the benefit, the point of this, in the here and now?’ It also explains why I prefer to play a game of football or whatever rather than just practise for it.
Of course, a slight change of mindset is all that’s needed for me to view the likes of regular running in the same light. Rather than seeing it as mere ‘running for running’s sake’ I could take a different approach, where I tell myself I’m achieving something tangible at the moment of action.
In fairness, this is what I do with my walking. If I have an engagement that’s inside a 10-kilometre radius of where I am, I’ll usually go on foot, should time allow of course.
It’s why I’ve always struggled to understand those who drive or take public transport to go relatively short distances and then pay for gym membership to run on a treadmill that goes nowhere. Why not just walk or cycle to the places you have to go to when going about your daily business?
That aside, all this just underscores why the 8-6 monotonous office job is not for me. Even though I see the benefit of routine, I enjoy having variety in what I do, variety that includes an amount of regular movement.
Old school this might be, but earning a living sitting still for the most part just doesn’t sit well with me.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.