Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

I’ve been struck recently by the onset of a condition that I thought would never visit me. It came upon me quite suddenly, just a few weeks ago.  Its symptoms are easy to spot. You’re lying in bed in the morning, planning the rest of your day, when your head suddenly fills with images of a luxurious breakfast, walking the dog and wrestling with the Guardian crossword. You try to supplant them with the usual ones, the ones you doubtless believed were indelibly ingrained into your subconscious: harrumphing 40 miles through rain, wind and expletives to spend the better part of eight hours listening to people unnecessarily turning nouns into verbs.  You tell yourself that this is ostensibly a negative outcome going forward but it makes no difference.  A black pudding roll with reggae reggae sauce, a pot of Assam tea and Chifonie’s finest are simply immutable.  You’re ahead of me, I see.  Retirement envy.

Retirement?  I Wish

If only it was a simple thing like a biological imperative that was at work here.  A recognition that my leg of the relay was done and it was time to pass the baton of accumulated working wisdom on to the next poor, yet more able bodied, runner.  But it’s not.  Well, not from where I’m standing anyway.  It’s not that I can’t run (well, with my ankles I actually can’t run at all but that’s kind of beside the point), it’s more that I don’t want to anymore.  I suppose those who still see an opportunity to medal, those staring greedily at my rear end as it lolls quietly along might take a slightly different view.

The whole retirement affair has been troubling me lately so I thought I’d talk to someone about it.  Well, I thought I’d talk to the dog about it, actually.  As you know she is a good talker although admittedly still somewhat deficient in the sympathetic listener department.  I wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject so decided to do the full Tom Daley with pike and tuck.

Me: You know how I hate my job?

The mutt sighed.

Me: Well, what I mean is you know how I’m always really tired?
Mutt: That’s because you sit up all night watching Star Trek and drinking wine.
Me: No, I’m talking about a different kind of tiredness.  A weariness of the soul.

The mutt’s eyebrows headed north, something they would do frequently over the next few paragraphs. They remained there, suspended like a pair of embittered schoolmasters sneering at Form B’s inability to grasp the concept of simultaneous equations.

Mutt: Ahh.  Weariness of the soul.  I see.  I know exactly what you mean.  After all these years you’ve reached your professional ceiling and been found out by people who have concluded that you aren’t very good at your job despite your protestations to the contrary.  It appears that learning a few technical terms and parroting them in a confident manner will only get you so far.  I’m just surprised it’s taken this long.

There was a bit of a silence.

Me: Are you having a bad day?  That seems a tad harsh.
Mutt: The truth, my friend, is a blade without mercy.

It was my turn to sigh.  So I did.  I’m pretty sure that was a quote from something she’d watched on TV recently, probably Murder She Wrote, but I couldn’t quite place it.

Me: Well, let’s park your scathing, and I have to say, decidedly jaundiced interpretation of my current situation, to one side for the moment.  Although I would perhaps be forgiven for pointing out that the insufferable Dilithium mining that I am forced to undertake each day on Rura Penthe keeps you plentifully supplied with minibones, crocodile chews and puppy sausages.
Mutt: Puppy sausages! Puppy sausages!
Me: Exactly.

There was a bit of running around in circles until the mutt concluded that no puppy sausages were imminent.  This, if anything, hardened her stance.

Mutt: Look, I don’t mean to be unkind and I appreciate that you control the food resources, but I’m not entirely sure where you are going with this.  You seem to have drifted from the point.  It’s like listening to Brian Rix trying to explain how black holes warp the space time continuum.
Me: Cox
Mutt: I’m sorry?
Me: Cox. It’s Brian Cox.  Brian Rix was a farceur.  He was famous a few years ago for repeatedly dropping his trousers on stage. He died last week.
Mutt: Didn’t he have a number one with the archly ironic ‘Things Can Only Get Better’?  I was unaware of the trouser dropping, although it does serve to reinforce my point.  Clearly, however, I’m sad to hear of his passing.  Science for the lazy brain is the poorer for it.

I refused to bite.

Mutt: ?
Me: !
Mutt: Whatever.
Me: Anyway, I was thinking of a possible career change.  A post retirement career change.

The mutt gave out one of those hollow laughs that are becoming something of a tedious trademark.   The one she usually reserves for TV programmes featuring cats, particularly where they are in some distress: being put into a wheelie bin by some street urchin or jumping off a sofa in pursuit of an idly tossed ball of wool and slamming into the wall.  That kind of thing.  The length of the laugh seemed wildly disproportionate but I knew that the best thing to do was just let it go.

Mutt: But you are completely useless!  What else could you do?  I mean you can’t even do the job you’re supposed to be doing just now!  I don’t imagine there are many openings for people whose primary talent is looking miserable.  Especially at your age.
Me: If you’ll just give me a minute to explain…
Mutt: It’s not like you’re getting any younger.  Or any thinner.  Or any happier.  Or any smarter.  Or any more approachable.
Me: Quite finished?
Mutt: I could go on.
Me: I know.  I was thinking of branching out into the world of entertainment

There was a brief silence before the mutt collapsed to the floor and started rolling about on her back like the donkey in Shrek.  Either she was keen to go to the toilet or she was finding it difficult to keep an upright posture.

After some minutes, she righted herself and gave me her best smirk, definitively settling the question of toilet or equilibrium.

Mutt: Entertainment? Well, TBF, you are entertaining me right now
Me: And I was thinking that you might be part of the act

That shut her up.  She raised an admonitory eyebrow and bayonetted me with her gaze.

Mutt: I think my hearing must be defective.  Perhaps a visit to UberSturmFuhrer Jennifer is required to attend to my ears.  I thought you said that I might feature in whatever nonsense you are cooking up.
Me: You heard me perfectly well.  I thought we could enter a dancing dog competition.  The Scotland Team is entering the European Dog Dancing championships this year for the very first time.  In Austria.  It would be perfect.  I could buy a spandex suit and you could wear a wee bow and maybe a diamante collar.

Suddenly, the air was heavy with menace.  Had a thunderstorm decided that now was a good time to pop onto the scene I wouldn’t have blamed it.

The mutt nodded.  She appeared to have reached a decision.  She adopted a cold, measured tone when she spoke, like Moriarty confronting Holmes at the top of the Reichenbach Falls.

Mutt: Do you know what the word cacoethes means?
Me: Nope. But I suspect I am about to find out
Mutt: Indeed, you are. It is the urge to do something inadvisable.  And that, my friend, is what you are currently experiencing.  Presumably, brought about by your recent bout of self-awareness regarding your incompetence or the stark realisation that your time to make a mark on the world is running out.  Why can’t you just get a motorbike or take up with someone 70 years your junior?  Accept retirement gracefully.  Or even better, just shut up and stop complaining?
Me: Hmm. I’m disappointed.  I mean, I thought you might have been more sympathetic, that you of all people would stand by me.  You know, Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

The eyebrows went north again and the mutt fixed me squarely in her gaze.

Mutt: Shaka, when the walls fell

Oh well.  That would be that then.

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