When you hit thirty or so, you start to realise that your life won’t amount to much. Barring catastrophe or the sudden discovery of a hitherto latent genius you’re unlikely to hit the headlines. That’s what women mean when they talk about biological clocks and feeling broody, and men when they talk about sowing oats and getting their feet under the table. It’s this urge to have achieved something. Copulation mainly. “My loins are fertile,” you wish to announce to the world, rather than, “I was third best fascia and soffit salesman in my area last month,” or, “I spent all weekend watching Taggart reruns in my socks.”
So I hit thirty and had a kid, because it’s what you’re supposed to do. And the child is, no thanks to me, well-adjusted and healthy and starting secondary school next year and lives with its mother about three hundred miles away. I see it biannually, which is more than sufficient for both of us.
So I hit forty and, still in my latest dead-end job, decided the kid was probably a cop-out, because my sole input was seventy million sperm cells (probably still quite drunk from the night before) and the three maintenance cheques I paid before I got fired from Associated Fascias and Soffits. Since forty is too young, nowadays, to experience a midlife crisis, I decided discovering my latent genius was the only option.
I won’t tell you the number of things I tried before I settled on my particular area of expertise. I will say that fire juggling is harder than it looks and that Russian is only moderately easier to learn than Urdu. Eventually, though, in the local library when I was looking for volumes on sword dancing I came across a slim volume with a cover faded to such unreadableness that I immediately and unreasonably, without even looking inside it, formed the view that it would provide me with my next field of endeavour. It’s like when you get a hunch about a particular set of lottery numbers. The hunch is invariably wrong, or almost invariably since I suppose someone wins sometimes. I borrowed the book still without looking inside it, a raised librarian eyebrow the only indication that I had hit upon something unusual.
Rushing to catch the bus home (driving is not my genius, so I gave it up to concentrate upon areas in which I might excel), I shielded the precious tome from the drizzle, the words within already osmotically entering me. At home, I pulled down the blinds, made myself a cup of tea, and read. I found myself nodding and, before long, pre-empting what the book would say. The book was The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Before I was a fifth of the way through I knew I had found my star-fated destiny; to be the greatest military tactician of the age.
Alas, the MOD begged to differ, despite the endless letters and CVs I sent. No longer content to hone my skills playing battlefield strategy games, and unable to rely upon the present regime to allow my genius to flourish, I resolved to stage a coup. It is the only way my talents will receive the recognition they deserve.
Luckily, my years as a salesman have given me charisma sufficient to build, and lead, an army. First, I think, a popular uprising is called for. I predict a riot.