September 21 in 1964 was a Monday. I remember it well. It was the day as a painfully shy, newly tall (I had grown almost 8 inches in two years, much to my Mother’s dismay!), rather ungainly young man that I walked into the doors of 49/50 Berkeley Street in London to commence a clerical role in banking with the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney. The start of what on this day has become a fifty-year anniversary in banking.
It was not my first full time job. I had been employed as a clerk for 18 months at the now defunct Union International Group in Smithfield, London and for those of you who are still trying to work out my age by making certain assumptions based on the foregoing, let me help you by telling you I was born in 1945, and because my engagement with school was somewhat unsatisfactory – on both sides – I started my working life early.
And neither was that date in September the only time the number 21 would feature in my early banking career because it was also, on 21 January 1968, the date I started my first day in the British Bank of the Middle East, Dubai Office.
Over the last few years I have been often asked whether, if I could live my life again, what would I do differently – if anything. Apart from the fact that I think it’s a fairly pointless question, I do nevertheless think about it sometimes, if only for a reality check.
So, would I want to have changed my life? You know, even with the benefit of hindsight the short answer is no.
Life is not perfect, unless you are extraordinarily fortunate, but I can honestly say I have had the most amazing and wonderful experiences. I have been lucky enough in life to have started from the most humble of beginnings, taken opportunities without trampling on people or stabbing them in the back, worked hard and constantly to the best of my ability. I am not a rocket scientist in mental capacity, or anywhere near. I try to understand my own limitations but use my strengths. I have achieved more than I could have expected, or dreamed about. I have met such a diverse range of people, travelled to many continents around the world, experienced living in a number of different countries ... what could I, and why would I want to change?
Now, do I wish I had actually worked harder at school and then gone to University to achieve a greater level and rounding of my knowledge? Yes and no. Luckily I’ve done very well without it, but I recognise I wouldn’t even get invited for an interview today with my lack of academic qualifications.
Do I wish that I had expanded what musical ability I might have had, into something more tangible or professional? To the extent of perhaps providing entertainment. Yes I do but hey, I’ve sung solo in front of 1200 people in a concert hall, and a Prime Minister, and in a few bars and clubs – and I am thankful for all of that. The fingers still work on the guitar, albeit a little less quickly than before, and the voice hasn’t totally cracked up yet. Besides, as a folk singer you can get away with a lot!
Do I wish I was or had been a better person? Sure, but what’s gone is gone. You learn from the mistakes too, and after that it’s only today and what follows thereafter that you have to worry about. And you still have some control over that.
You cannot change what has passed, so the question about doing thing’s differently is redundant. But can you do things differently from now on? Yes of course you can. If you want to learn to read music, speak a new language or take up a new hobby, you can. It might take you longer than it would have done when your brain was more receptive but that should not be a hindrance to trying.
50th Anniversaries are a milestone, a time for reflection, and for thought of the future. What you can still do becomes important, and I have to say that on a personal note – with apologies for the apparent morbidity of this – the older you get the more you realise your own frailty. The more you should realise that each day is a bonus and that you should live it well while you have the chance.
Too many young friends have passed away these last few weeks, and will be remembered for the laughter and the joy they brought to others – not for the sorrow involved with their passing, sad though it is.
And lest people think that last paragraphs are somehow a subliminal message that all is not well with me, I must dispel that notion immediately. I am well, thank you and still looking for things to do. However, if I get run over by a bus tomorrow (God forbid – although He probably looks at me with some suspicion), I can only quote you a favourite piece of mine from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that reads:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
Would I have done things differently? Nah! It might have been fun at first but could ultimately have led me up some dark paths, and some very different conclusions. Be thankful for what you have. Live each day to the best of your ability and if there are things you want to do, or things you want to change, then go for it. It is never too late!