Charles Handy enjoys his own company
The real measure of success in Britain is to be invited to be a guest on Desert Island Discs. It is very strange form of success if you think about it, to be alone on a desert island, playing music you’ve chosen, to yourself.
Well, it never happened to me in Britain, but I did do the equivalent programme in Australia. I suppose there is nothing bad about being a success in Australia even if not in Britain. But it was strange that the last time I went to Melbourne, nobody seemed to notice me when I was there.
And I have to tell you, if you want to feel lonely, try turning on the evening television news in a strange country. You cannot imagine what all these funny people are doing and why they are worried about what’s appearing on the screen. You feel very alienated and long for the site of Big Ben and the face of Boris Johnson to reassure you that life is going on, or life as you understand it, anyway.
I am lucky, I quite enjoy my own company. We are very alike. We share the same interests in these funny things called religion and philosophy. You know, why are we living? Is death something to be worried about? Does God exist?
My wife couldn’t understand my predilection for musing. “Why don’t you try living, instead of just talking about it? Go and cook something for us.” Well actually, cooking is something me and myself were very interested in. In fact cookery books, well illustrated, were our form of gentle pornography. We loved leafing through them and thinking about them as long as we weren’t expected to actually cook anything that they showed. And if conversation dried up between us, we could always debate the merits of Burgundy as opposed to Bordeaux wines and even try a little private tasting between ourselves. Very interesting and educational.
Now that I have had a stroke and am disabled, I am effectively a prisoner in my own home – which I actually very much enjoy. No, I don’t just tolerate it, I enjoy it. As I said, I am my own best company. There is always somebody to grumble with about life and its unfairness; always someone to complain to about other people, and always someone to test out my ideas on, even if they always agree with me.
Actually, that’s not quite true – he doesn’t always agree with me, and that’s what makes him interesting. Sometimes in fact, I think he’s more interesting than me, and I would like to be him.
I suppose that’s why I’m such a fan of idleness. It’s just another excuse to hide away with my best friend while we solve the problems of the world and have a quiet drink of red wine while we do it.
Charles Handy’s books on management have sold over a million copies and have changed the way we view business and society. His latest book, 21 Letters, is now available in paperback and on audiobook. Read more here. Charles suffered a stroke two years ago following the death of his wife in a car crash. This piece was dictated to his carer.