It's been eight weeks since I wrote on this blog; the longest break for years. Not that I've been idle; rather my hands have been tied - quite literally at times. And I've been thinking too, about the value of time.
All my adult life I've longed to play the saxophone. The wish began in Park View Records - a tiny jazz store that just happened to be on my route home from school. The owner didn't much care if you bought anything - so I'd hang around listening to the latest releases from Verve and Blue Note. At a time when my mates were drooling over Debbie Harry and Kate Bush, I was reading cover notes on Stan Getz and Ben Webster. I still reckon I got that right.
And yet, despite my wish, and always a love of jazz - I never quite had the nerve to buy one. Somehow, actually playing wasn't for me, and especially so the sax - it was too cool, too loud; too much of a statement. And in any case, I was crap at music - or at least I had been at school. What's more, I didn't understand it; chords and scales and tempos were a mystery - scary even.
I told myself I could paint and draw - and resolved to be happy with that. Later I'd learn to climb and kayak - later still to be a writer. But as for playing the saxophone, that would remain an unfulfilled dream...
I'm not sure what changed my mind.
My faltering progress on the banjo (a basic competence after three years of struggle) didn't hint at a latent talent. I turned fifty some years ago, so it wasn't even a rash present for the big 'five-zero'. There was no bet involved, no sponsorship, no dare; the truth is, I hadn't thought about playing the sax for years.
So when I happened by chance to pass through London's Tin Pan Alley I wasn't expecting to say, why the hell not? Even less was I expecting that after ten minutes sales chat I'd be lugging home a big old tenor, and a good one at that - in for penny (quite a lot of pennies actually); in for darn old racket.
It took a certain nerve, and a very thick skin - for your neighbours won't love you at first - to make those first few
My only regret is that I waited so long. I feel a need to make up for lost time. In my more wistful moments I imagine how good I'd have been - and the pleasure I'd have had - if only I'd bought one at eighteen.
In a sense that last thought is pointless as well as hypothetical - for there is nothing I can do about it. And yet it harbours a deep truth about the value of time.
We all know that time can't be bought.
When economists try to capture its value they succeed only in part. Figures show that in real terms £10,000 is worth 30% less than eight years ago - in four more, it's value will have halved. But this approach can't possibly capture the true loss - for even if we account for inflation, and add in a risk premium or a super-bonus just for the heck of it - what of the missed opportunity, the pleasures that could have been; the joy and memories forgone?
We intuitively know this. It's why we borrow at times - because the benefit of consumption today is so much greater than waiting for a tomorrow that might never come. We extend our mortgages because we need a bigger home when the children are small, not when they're off to college. And we know too that some opportunities come once in a lifetime.
And yet, so often we put off the things that cost very little. When I said my saxophone was a lot of pennies, in truth, it wasn't much more than a few fills of petrol. It's the effort it takes that is the real inhibitor. I know I'll never be much of a jazz musician and in a way that makes me sad - but less so than the prospect of dying like Croesus, who despite his infinite wealth had nothing to show for it.
Deep down, we know that time costs nothing yet has infinite value.
And as I play my saxophone one of things I ponder is how casually I've spent so much of it.
But the lament is not exclusively a sadness, it's also a call to action. For if a good life is a one richly lived, there's time enough to do much more - time to focus on what's possible, rather than what's not or might have been. Time to rethink priorities.
Time even, to start writing again.