I invented an addition to my name, the Greatness of Green, to annoy my classmates in high school in England but, though they’ve long forgotten it, it has stuck with me as a private joke. I think of it, for example, when on a mountain hike weary legs are crying “Enough already” and I say to myself, “Come on, come on, this is time for the Greatness, keep moving.”
Or rushing to meet a deadline for the paper I worked for in London while standing in a telephone booth, reading from my notebook in the half-light and wrestling with a few words that wouldn’t fit into the story, “Get on with it, Greatness,” I’d say half jokingly — but only half. It’s amazing to me how well having that jeering voice in the ear works. As Shakespeare’s Henry V says, rallying his troops before battle, it “stiffens the sinews.”
But, mostly, for a personality that has always tried to stuff too much in the time available, it has been applied to getting to appointments, conferences, tutorials, births, weddings and funerals on time. My apprenticeship in this painful process came when, after college, I took a job very near the bottom of the food (and drink) chain in the docks in Manchester where, armed only with a docker’s hook, I pulled wooden crates taller than me, filled with tobacco and weighing three-quarters of a ton, onto a hand truck and trundled them to a place where there was an open space in the wall — a window without the glass — where they were lowered by a primitive crane onto a flatbed truck four stories below bound for the cigarette makers and thence to future lung transplant candidates.
The Greatness came in then because I had to get up earlier than anyone else in my suburban neighborhood on icy, sodden, pitch-black northern mornings, grab something to eat, race to the local train station and clock into work on time, even a few minutes late, earning the derision of the other workers who knew I’d been to college and thought I was a bit of a milksop. (They referred to me as the Mayor of Casterbridge after the Thomas Hardy novel that half of Britain listened to on BBC Radio. What else was there to do at 9 o’clock on Sunday night if you were short of money?)
From the moment the alarm clock went off — the name itself captures the panic it provokes — the race was on and the rule was not to make the slightest unnecessary move: clothes in a heap by the bed in strict order of donning, milk poured on the cereal in exactly the right amount to avoid a second pour or waste time throwing away any leftovers, the cup of tea picked up the second it was not too scalding to drink, cutting diagonally across roads, instead of going the intersection, at an angle Pythagoras himself couldn’t have faulted.
All this came back to me on Thursday last week when instead of waking at around 5:30 in time for the usual early hike, I was shocked to see it was 5:57. This was serious. Thursday is one of the two days when three or four cyclists puff their way past me on the forest road and at whom I hurl ribald comments whenever they fall behind schedule. Being late myself was to invite a barrage of scorn.
My fingers flew — socks on without looking to see if they matched (they didn’t) all niceties discarded as yesterday’s shirt lying at hand was quickly pulled on. Water presented a series of problems: for washing, I’d no time for it to warm up. For drinking, the bottle in the fridge was too much of a detour. The time it took to find a cup to drink from the tap was agony.
I normally squeeze an orange. But do you know how many seconds finding, cutting, pressing and drinking take? No? I don’t either, but it was out of the question.
Then, every sinew stiffened, the 1.3 mile drive to the trailhead.
And, oh joy, no other car was there. I looked at my watch for the first time that morning (no unnecessary movements until then, remember). It was 6:15. Good going. Wake to walk in 18 minutes.
Now, if you object, I’m willing to grant the Greatness of Green may be a little too grand for this. But I hope you will at least accept the Rapidity of Reg.
Reg Green's book, “The Nicholas Effect,” is available at authorhouse.com.