I glanced at a newspaper article today, one of many lamenting our weird-ass electoral system which has allowed our general election to last what seems about 45 days without producing a winner. (By the way I’ve just heard a rumour that Gordon Brown has resigned, but I’ve got a baby strapped to me and I can’t reach my phone to find out if it’s true, so we’ll proceed as if things are normal.) Anyway, this article claimed that our system of forming a government, since it dates from the 19th century, is ‘one of the longest mistakes in history’. This is a debatable point, because other systems of election also have their problems, but what interested me was the idea of what the ‘longest ever mistake’ might be. And what the longest one I’ve ever made is.
Thinking about the second question, there are two possible answers - one large, some very specific. The general answer is that I’ve always been too hard on myself, worked myself too hard, and been too negative when I have failed to meet my own impossible standards - as regular readers of the blog will be aware – and that repeated tendency has cost me quite a lot in terms of professional progress and mental wellbeing. As well as making me a bit of a pain in the arse to be with, quite a lot of the time. I’m working hard on changing it as my personal challenge, and general mild optimism is where I’m hoping to be by 40. Nine and three-quarter years to nail it.
The more specific ones are numerous. I stayed on a pay-as-you-go phone for about two years too long when I got have just got a contract, because I hated dealing with phone companies so much that I could never find the will to set up a contract, and also because I didn’t trust them not to completely screw me once I WAS under a contract. Of course this was a classic ‘cutting off nose to spite face’ move, since it meant I punished the phone people for being bastards by paying them much more money than I needed to. Take that!
Oh, speaking of Take That, I predicted that their comeback would be a failure because people wouldn’t want to see 40-year-old men singing sexy songs and the world had moved on. In the event, it was probably the most successful comeback in pop history. Hmm. I also predicted that the Harry Potter phenomenon would be a fad, for adults at least. Again, hmm. Still, there was that man from Decca who turned down the Beatles because ‘guitar groups are on the way out’, so there’s always someone worse off than you.
Also, I gave my brother a Chinese burn when I was ten and he was six. Really made him scream. And it was only because he was being too noisy; not justified. For many years after that I felt guilty about the incident, getting occasional flashbacks and feeling that it must be in my brother’s subconscious as it clearly was in mine, and it could never quite be erased. These days I realise that fighting is an essential part of being small boys, and my brother and I are still best friends, plus he’s now strong enough to kill me with his thumb. So those years of remorse for the Chinese burn were a waste of worry. Mistake!
In terms of global mistakes, if there turns out not to be a God – and I’m reluctant to settle the question once and for all here, although I know quite a lot of people have made up their minds – then religion will have to go down as a big old 2000-year-plus blunder. Millions will have devoted their lives to, and millions more died as victims of, something which had no business existing. Of course people would have found all sorts of other pretexts for torturing each other, people always do, but even so. Whoops! On a less sweeping note, we can all agree that many of the clothes worn in the 70s, like platform soles and those shirts, were a mistake; and the BBC sitcom will probably be regarded by historians as at least eight years of ill-placed effort. But who knows? Who knows what mistakes the future will judge us most harshly for? That’s why this is a fun subject.
So, open discussion – what is your longest-running mistake (or mistake with the longest-lasting effects)? And what is the world’s most protracted mistake ever? Since I make everything a competition, we’ll make it a competition – if anyone comes up with a really good one, I or we as a group will try to reverse the effects of it somehow. I don’t know how.
But hey, I’ll soon have hooked someone up with a narrowboat owner, sent ten copies of my book to blog readers, and begun a human chain to get an iPod to a complete stranger, so why not? I hope when I’m 40 my longest mistake hasn’t become ‘devoting a decade to a blog where I set ever more elaborate competitions and was consumed by the admin they produced. Still, if it does come to that – as mistakes go, at least this is a fun one.