The only downside of this coffee shop is that the owner insists on littering the pavement with blackboards bearing soul-destroyingly cheerful messages of hope, love and encouragement to buy coffee. "Think Big!" an A-board yells at me as I autopilot my hungover body back to the bar I left only eight hours previously to clear up the mess that I left only eight hours previously. As I fumble for the key to open another day's drudgery my peripheral vision is assaulted with meaningless chirpy aphorisms: "Only YOU control your life", "A journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single coffee", "Happiness is in YOUR hands". You get the idea. There are new ones every day, including the comically ill-situated one pictured.
|*Not to be taken literally|
But it has been a while since I brought up that old favourite of this blog: Donald E. Brown's list of Human Universals. This is the anthropologist's list of things that are either (in the weak interpretation) common in every human culture or (in the strong interpretation) universal to every human being. It's a fascinating read that I like to revisit whenever I need reminding that humans share a lot more in common than is commonly appreciated. Anyhow, way down the end of the list, 28th on the additions since 1989 addendum, is: "Proverbs and sayings in mutually contradictory forms" (An example from English would be: "too many cooks spoil the broth" and "many hands make light work").
What do I conclude from this? Not much and much. There is much that is contradictory in human behaviour. I suppose our proverbs would reflect that. I read this Anglo-Saxon one the other day and it seems as relevant today as when anonymously penned (or quilled or carved or whatever they did in those days) more than a millennium ago:
Man deþ swá hé byþ þonne hé mót swá hé wile
Man does as he is when he does as he wishes
Or, as philologist Tom Shippey translates more coloquially: "You show what you are like when you can do what you like." It works on many levels. I like to read it as a moral lesson showing the worthlessness of the idle rich, but also as a reminder to myself to spend my free time productively. I have a day off today. Maybe I'll go for a coffee.