James May, Swivel Chairs and the Gift of Simplicity

For better or worse, I used to quite enjoy kicking back and watching Top Gear on a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea and a toasted teacake. This was during the Clarkson, May, Hammond years and not the travesty of show it became after Clarkson got a bit ‘punchy’ in a hotel bar.

Anyway, I digress.

I am the complete opposite of a petrol head, I have no interest in fast cars, screeching around racetracks, doing doughnuts or drifting. In fact I am so uninterested in fast cars that when I was bought a Red Letter ‘race day’ for a birthday present, I swapped it so my two youngest kids could have a day horse riding.

The Top Gear I used to love, were the adventures. The hour-long episodes where the trio wold buy a car, a van, a lorry or a motorbike, suitably ridiculous-ise them and then embark on a road trip across the most beautiful and challenging landscapes, all over the world. I think that’s partly what inspired Adrian and I to start Two Men In The Wild.

Anyway, in this particular episode, the trio had been challenged to turn a regular estate car into a mobile home and James May had bought an old army cot for his and what he referred to an ‘itchy blanket’, by which he meant the old, grey woollen blankets that are warm and dry to sleep in but would sluff a layer of skin from your body throughout the night.

The reason, he said, that he had chosen this over a traditional sleeping bag was that the blanket was “…designed to remind you just how lucky you are’.

This tickled me at the time because it’s the sort of ‘old man’ saying I like to use myself, but I thought nothing more of it until yesterday. Yesterday I was stuck in traffic on the way to work and it cost me a parking space in the car park, I missed the mobile coffee van and then to add insult to injury, I arrived at my desk to find that my nice office chair with the arm rests, recline, raise and swivel functions had been STOLEN!

Around the corner from where I sit, another chair had been dumped, identical to mine, but BROKEN!

I could see what happened here; someone’s chair broke and instead of taking it on the chin, they realised they were in the office early enough (possibly even PLANNED it!) to swap theirs for mine. Now I’m not an accomplished crook, by any means, but had it been me doing the surreptitious swap, I would have simply exchanged the chairs, like for like, whereupon they would have assumed that the gas piston had simply stopped working and they would have been none-the-wiser.

This person, however, not only chose to take my chair, but they replaced it with the least similar chair they could lay their hands on and so when I left work two days ago, this is what I tucked under my desk.

Which then overnight magically transformed to this.

Now perhaps it is because I have been minimalizing my life recently, or perhaps I was just in a better mood than most mornings, but the part of my brain that would normally say something along the lines of “What barsterd stole my chair and left me this monstrosity?” actually did a passable impersonation of James May and said to me “It’s designed to remind you just how lucky you are!”

I have been sat on this chair now for two days and you know what? I actually like it. My seating posture has improved, it gets a little ‘dead-bum’ after a while which reminds me to get up and stretch my legs every once in a while, usually to the water fountain which means I’m drinking more water and because it has no arms, I don’t have to dismount it like a motorbike every time I get up.

I think my brain is changing. I used to be the guy who had to have the best of everything. If I bought something it had to be top of the line with the most features, most storage capacity, most add-ons, most future proofed, biggest screen and so-on.

Now, that I am in reverse-consumer mode and have had to lose money on things I have bought in the past, demanding the best but actually building in the maximum depreciation I could find, I am realising that actually, the best things are the simplest. They need the least attention and maintenance, there is nothing to stop working, go wrong or need replacing when it wears out and when you need them, they are just ‘there’, waiting to do the job they were designed to do. Nothing will go wrong with this chair because there is nothing to go wrong.

I know it sounds odd, but it just feels right sitting on a chair that is just a chair, no frills, no gadgets,  no settings,  no adjustment. It somehow feels like it is more honest, if that is possible, like it’s simplicity doesn’t beguile you. “I’m a chair, you sit on me, that our contract.”

I am definitely gaining a new perspective on the world around me and how much we take from The Earth to make high ticket consumer items that we can really do without. What’s that line from Fight Club? “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”

This chair is a gift and I’m glad that person left it for me.

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