After a few, uncomfortable seconds of staring at each other she realised the need to prompt me: “It’s Amanda” she said. “Sorry, Amanda, I've been out of the loop for a while”. I stalled while I searched my memory fruitlessly and, I am sure, visibly for some clue as to who she was. Our conversation didn't go any further. She took offence and disappeared deliberately into the conference-hall crowd.
Later, with the help of a colleague who had witnessed the encounter, I was able to recall who she was and set about justifying why I had failed to remember her: a few years previously I had known her but in a different context; we had met a few times in the course of business but communicated usually by phone; she was the sort of person who gave nothing away; we never really hit it off - and so on to excuse my lapse and to ease my embarrassment. “Never mind her, see you for a beer soon” said my colleague as we parted company. But I am still concerned about the incident.
I am also concerned about my colleague’s promise of “beer soon” which resonated with lack of commitment. It sounded too much like one of those well-intentioned but unfulfilled half-promises that we all experience, the classic being “you must come to dinner sometime” uttered by an acquaintance in the course of an occasional, unplanned encounter. Enough! Get your diary out, I say. Things don’t happen unless they are written down by at least two parties, thereby constituting an informal but nevertheless binding, contractual arrangement.
Actually I need a similarly binding method for my solo diary entries which comprise forthcoming events that I would like to attend – such as concerts, exhibitions, gigs, lectures and political meetings – so that I won’t get distracted and forget to go to them. I have too often missed an interesting or stimulating event for want of a simple aide memoire. But it is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and, if we substitute the word ‘disappointment’ for ‘hell’, the proverb describes my predicament. A solo diary entry does not constitute a contract with oneself: positive commitment is required, pre-purchased tickets or, better still, a willing companion. My reluctance to commit to either puts me in the same category as the casual acquaintance with his half-hearted invitation.
Nor does it stop there: alongside my diary of unattended events I keep a notebook in which I list all the books that I intend to read. Like my diary, however, it has very few ticks next to the entries. The obvious solution would be actually to buy the books rather than list them but I fear that would leave me with an unread pile on the table - and in the e-reader - testing my time-management skills to breaking point
Add into this the demands of the media, in all their modern, electronic forms, which clamour for attention 24-7, tempting me to explore stuff I didn’t know I needed to know and I have to ask myself if it’s time to start hacking away the undergrowth of superfluous information and set my mind on a single, identifiable goal.
At times like this I almost envy the lives portrayed in Downton Abbey where a simpler, less questioning approach is the default, thanks to the limited availability of information, and a good education might be acquired simply by reading a few ‘classic’ books.
Since, however, a return to the lifestyle of yesteryear is out of the question I might take the advice of the business guru who coined the aphorism KISS – keep it simple, stupid. If I harboured fewer ambitions I might even achieve one or two of them and if there were fewer people in my life I might be able to remember who they are.