Regrets I’ve Had a Few

I am currently on holiday (in the sun) in (on?) Crete. Yesterday we did something we rarely do when vacationing, we went on an organised excursion. I really don’t know why we have seeming steadfastly baulked at such adventures in the past. Probably because of the children though they may have been a comfortable excuse as they have been for many activities we had no heart to participate in. We went on a Cretan Safari. I know, it does sound vaguely shit and we may never have plumped for it had it not been for the recommendation of Julie, the receptionist at the very splendid Mythos Suites Hotel. The previous day we had taken a splendid walk through the hills around Rethymno in the company of some fellow ‘Happy Walkers’, again on her personal recommendation, so we were on fairly solid ground we felt.

We got to the pick up point to be greeted by a very jovial Cretan named George who informed us that we would be on a virtual private tour in his Land Rover Discovery due to there only being 4 of us travelling with him today. This, clearly, could be a good and a bad thing – no one gets to schlep around in the back of the vehicle but what if you don’t get on with the others in the party? As it happened our fears were allayed when we picked up Paula and Diana from their hotel and after exchanging some pleasantries we embarked on our intrepid safari together.

The reason for telling you this story is to introduce you to George and to contextualise the various musings he shared with us throughout the day. From the start we knew that George was going to be a talkative kind of guide, he wasn’t going to just drive us to the designated stopping points, he was determined to give us the full world according to George and boy what a world that is. The first significant pause in our journey was to look around one of the 2464 (approx) churches on Crete. It is the custom in Greek Orthodox places of worship to light candles for ones prayers, symbolically casting light on the dark areas of our lives – death, suffering etc., but this was not Georges reasons for doing so. George would light 3 candles; one was for the living, for each and everyone of us, the second for peace, if we can all learn to put our differences aside then we can all live together, and finally for memories. We are the product of that has gone before and we must continue to acknowledge and pay due diligence to those stories and thoughts from the past. Nice thoughts from what was clearly a nice man. The rest of the day followed a similar pattern. We did have a rather surreal period just after lunch during which George’s duet of ‘My Way’ with Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, segued into a story of his love and tragic loss of a white horse in the hills around Spili. He showed us his Facebook profile picture to attest to his equine devotion. We were moved and all thoughts of Father Ted and My Little Horse were quickly expunged from our minds.

Towards the end of the day, the Raki had been duly administered in almost lethal doses so we were all feeling a little mellow, George pulled up on a hill over looking Rethymno and it was here he was to impart his great idea, his magnum opus. In the grand tradition of Land Rover based Greek philosophy we were about to make a great discovery of our own.

“Do you know where civilisation began?” He asked. He probably nudged me at the same time as I was in the front of the vehicle with him and he was what can only be described as a ‘nudger’. “Er, Ancient Greece” I opined. “Nope”. “China?”, “Iraq?”, “the Middle East?”. Every one of our increasingly desperate attempts to provide a viable response were greeted with solid Greco-Cretan “Ochi” (No).

“Civilisation was not created in the mountains where everything is fixed and final – a tree is a tree, a mountain is always there, no, my friends (we were at that level by now) civilisation was born on the beach”. Oh, we all thought, not quite sure where he was going with this. “On the beach, what can you see?”. We were getting used to these rhetorical questions from George, I am not entirely sure he intended them to be but we certainly had no answers that satisfied him. “The horizon!!” Was the answer. He continued “the horizon is different for us all and it is ever changing, always out there, that, my friends, is freedom, that is civilisation”. I would like to say that with that he put on his sunglasses, turned up whatever Sting song was currently playing from his USB stick and thrust the Land Rover Discovery into gear before wheel spinning away.

Alas, he didn’t. He carried on ‘explaining’ his theory though never quite clarifying it further. Eventually, he returned us to our hotels and we all parted, in the way people do now, amidst promises to perhaps become Facebook friends.

Like most I tend to take pictures while I am away and this year is no exception (I shall post a link to the Flickr album when I am back). What I am doing slightly differently is using a fixed 50mm lens on my Canon DSLR.

There are two reasons for this; one is practicality – the lens is small and keeps the camera handier to carry, the second is a bit more esoteric. The thing with a lens of fixed focal length is that you cannot make adjustments for distance that allow you to capture more, or less, in the photograph. If I want to change my perspective I literally have to do that and move closer or further away. I like this idea, in effect it means that I must bend my will to that of the world. The move can only be mine to make.

There are many ways in which we can distort our viewpoint, our perspective, to make our interactions with the world a highly individualised experience – to do it ‘my way’ – but I wonder just how sustainable and beneficial many of these are. The very fact that I am in Crete in May is to allow myself to enjoy some sun and warmth at a time when it is in scarce supply back in the UK will have a harmful impact on the planet as a result of my flying here.

There are few fixed things in this world of seemingly constant change, but, as George pointed out, there is a permanence that the trees and the mountains have. Our seemingly insatiable western demand to have things the way we want them is causing untold damage to both and before long we may only have the featureless horizon to look at.

The horizon is generally used as a symbol of the limits of our imaginations, seemingly endless and open to all possibilities, and many would use something of this in their definition of freedom. There is another way to look at it and it could well be that the limitless possibilities, far from being liberating, are actually constraining. The pressure to do anything, the idea that we are able to do and be who we want can be tangible and oppressive. For most people in the world this is just simply not the case and never will be. Might it not better to experience the world as it is – a world of semi-permanence and constraint, a world in which true freedom might be experienced in knowing ones responsibilities and having the capability to fulfill those obligations?

I confess that there are times (I’m sure you knew) when I like nothing more than to lie on a sunlit beach, basking in the warmth of its heat and dreamily staring at the distant, unchanging horizon but then I go home unchained but not unchanged, back to doing what I need to do and, hopefully, doing some of the things I want to.