There are many things considered essential for life or a successful life at least.
Good health might head up this list, which the majority of people are lucky enough to enjoy and yet so many of us take it for granted or else squander it with bad choices.
On a more granular level, oxygen comes in at no.1. Water too is inarguable as is warmth, sustenance, shelter and from here, things become a little more nuanced. Love and kinship, anyone?
I am a big advocate for hope as an essential element of life – much higher than material wealth which I reason comes too high on too many people’s wish list – proving the maxim that wealth doesn’t equal happiness.
And what about self-esteem; a highfalutin term for feeling good about ourselves and this is intrinsically associated with what we do in life. What we fill our life with.
Our job, career and role in life will always categorise us. The professions gain highest kudos and income. White collar jobs against blue-collar jobs. Desk/manual. Skilled/unskilled. Qualified labour against unqualified labour…
And whilst these categories contribute to levels of self-esteem, they don’t completely define it. By this I mean there will be people towards the bottom rungs of the metaphorical workers pile who are much more complete and contented (happy) than many workers at the top with their corner offices and sexy salaries.
Even though I have spent my life working in humour, the only area I have any kind of affinity for and yet some of my happiest and proudest moments in the work place have been in my youth, at a very lowly level and with nothing to do with being funny.
Marks and Spencer’s is a retail institution in the United Kingdom. A much-loved retailer whose presence qualifies a town and its shopping district. A shop held in great affection albeit one with many quirks and contradictions: its affordable and safe clothing sitting rather awkwardly against its expensive and trend setting food. Marks and Spencer (M&S) has been a major player in my life and career. I spent three summers working in various branches including its flag ship Marble Arch store on London’s Oxford Street and its branch on Kensington High Street where the rich and famous live and shop. And since then, as a stand-up comedian, M&S has featured prominently in numerous routines and has allowed me to continue gigging and invoicing. As I type this, I am sitting comfortably in a pair of M&S underpants. I can say this with certainty because I don’t have any underpants from anywhere else and on this loyalty I am not alone. Most Brits clothe their nether regions with clobber from Marks and Spencer.
Working in their Kensington store as a 16-year-old, a highlight was serving Dustin Hoffman who for some reason needed to buy eight suits. Excitement spread through the store. Staff from other departments suddenly found reasons to visit the men’s suit department.
Scroll forward 30 years and staying in the Trump Hotel in Toronto, accompanying Tom to the film festival for The Impossible, I encountered the movie star again. Mr Hoffman was enjoying a quiet breakfast on his own and against all my instincts I approached him. Quickly I introduced myself to give some context because I’m not so stupid to think he would recall me. Mr Hoffman’s shopping foray to M&S circa 1983 sticks in my memory much more than in his.
His eyes immediately showed alarm – that he wanted to be left alone and didn’t need another fan telling him how wonderful he is. And so he relaxed a little when he realised there was something of a connection between us as a I hastily explained how I had sold him so many suits so many years ago.
He took a moment to let this sink in. Maybe he tried to recall it and then he responded…
“I wish they all still fitted.”
A great answer and I left him to his porridge or something else sensible and non-fattening I presume.
And now I have another reason for my bond with Marks and Spencer’s, now that their current Christmas advertising campaign stars Percy Pig and features the voice of a young, up and coming British actor called Tom.
The advert runs for only 30 seconds or so. I don’t know how long it took Tom to voice his lines – maybe as little as thirty words. A couple of hours perhaps and from his home I am told (Covid). If he was paid an hourly rate, it is safe to assume that it seriously eclipsed any rate I managed to secure during my long and distinguished tenure.
And this highlights the point I am trying to make in this short blog.
Because at such a formative time in my life, having any responsibility at all and any level of income was such a positive force – plus I had the chance to meet the odd movie star. These were happy and formative times in my working life – and as such, they are more valuable and durable than any income I made.
And who knew that one day one of my boys would be become a person like Mr Hoffman, who creates similar memories for everyone he encounters.