Ditsy is the new character in my life passing itself off as my alter ego and also the description which best fits some of the ways I seem to be accomplishing the most basic tasks these days. Let me emphasise right away that being ditsy is not my preferred way of being nor ever has been a habit of mine. Those who perhaps thought I was absentminded in my first flushes of youth were mistaken. That was me being deeply absorbed in thought and not really giving two continentals in the back of a large automobile about what was happening around me.
When I was, arguably, still in the first flushes of youth, I worked as a secretary for a very demanding captain of industry for whom I had great respect in spite of – or because of – the fact that he never used the word continental, preferring instead the monosyllabic, more direct version. And, despite being in the first flushes of youth, I never once blushed nor winced when a flurry of continentals passed his lips, partly because these delightful expletives were never directed at me.
This chief executive demanded one’s complete involvement in the task at hand, and perfect recall of any pertinent detail of preceding events. Tiny details, such as the precise time and date and circumstances of the receipt of a letter from another VIP, for example. When questioned, the latter details had to be delivered in one complete sentence without hesitation. Because I sincerely had no fear whatsoever of this man, we got on famously in what was during the period of my employment a very professional and extremely formal relationship. It was only a couple of years after his early retirement that we became true friends.
Anyhow, the training I received there stood me in good stead during my two-year stint as a sales and marketing manager for a flower export company years later. (I wish I could write my CV in this fashion.) The trick in that position was to send the right variety of flower to the right auction on the right day and in the right quantities to maximise the price received for the product. It was a complex game of chance based on an analysis of statistics daily, which I also had to produce. The “split”, i.e. the decision of what went where, and the compilation of the packing lists occurred at 06:30 at the farm, and could take no more than 30 minutes, for it had to accompany the flowers to the airport for export.
One more twist: each of the seven varieties of cut flower produced at the farm was sold in various lengths; the number of flowers per bunch depended on the length of the flower. So when I read the auction results online and saw that, say, 4,800 stems of Solitara 80/40 had not appeared on the auction floor on a Wednesday as expected, but the rest of the products on the packing list had been sold, I had to phone our man in The Netherlands and ask him why this product from packing list number X had not yet hit centre stage. You can imagine that I developed a very good in-built tracking system to cope with this job.
It sounds all very high-powered until one learns that my international calls from the little tin-pot African country invariably took place outside, sitting on a rock under a tree in a neglected garden surrounding the modest house used as an admin office by this particular company. I got a better signal on my mobile phone that way. Taking the relevant papers outside often proved to be more hassle than it was worth, so once again, I would have to rely on my memory, and work off the seat of my pants, so to speak.
So, what has this got to do with being ditsy today? Quite a lot. The little old 1990 Opel Corsa which I bought a week after we arrived in Portugal, and which I have been driving ever since, has a fuel gauge which only functions with partial accuracy if the fuel tank is more than half full. This means that for the last seven years, I have had a fuel consumption tracking system in my head. Knowing how much petrol I had put in the tank, and when, and roughly how much driving I had done since, gave me a good idea as to when I might run out of petrol completely.
For quite a few of those seven years, life has been tough, so there has never been any point in putting more petrol in the tank than I actually needed. My highly-developed tracking system has worked perfectly on all except one occasion when I was truly overworked and stressed out last year. I ran out of petrol after a meeting which ended shortly before midnight on the short 5 kilometre stretch from the village to my home. No problem. I phoned a friend who had been at the same meeting, and got rescued.
One could say that I have gotten off lightly as far as being ditsy goes so far. True. I have. Why the sudden scatterbrain approach? Ha! The initial symptoms of what is termed middle age; when the first flushes of youth have wilted somewhat; when experience, focus and drive have us accomplishing things far more effectively than we ever did before we hit the so-called big three-O all those years ago; and, when answers to minor questions no longer considered important to the brain such as where the car keys are, what I came into this room for, why I withdrew so much money from the cash machine in the first place and when I last put petrol in the fuel tank all skeeter off the edge of the known universe into oblivion.
The subtle shifts over time which pass entirely unnoticed until they become as blatantly obvious as the grey hairs on your head are what make you a little ditsy. That’s okay. I have an iPhone.
I can take a picture of my dashboard while travelling at just under 80 km/h, as I did this afternoon. Then, if I have a problem remembering that I gave the old girl (I mean, the car, in this instance) a top-up on 18 September before a quick trip to the nearby town, I can always check the date of the photo on my iPhone – or simply give it another top-up of the same amount, since even so, the tank will not overflow. Throwing money at my petrol tank instead of using my once highly-developed tracking system, or using my iPhone to avoid engaging my faulty tracking system? Could this be a solution? I cheated. I wrote the date and the amount spent on a scrap of paper and shoved it in my glove compartment. No sense in using a log book. I detested those things when I was in the corporate world. I bet the next time I clean my car (imminent), I throw the piece of paper away while the information on it is still useful, all the while thinking it is rubbish. And then, I bet I start looking for it when I next start worrying about how little fuel there is in my tank.
Super. I arrive in the next town on time. I sign papers for João’s next stay in the home for 30 days while I head off to a conference in Coimbra for a few days, and use the rest of the month to review lists and things. And do memory training exercises.
Because I have been ditsy lately, I congratulate myself for making my trip to the next town worthwhile by combining two activities into one trip. The second thrilling assignment involves shopping for essentials. Before I left home, I also congratulated myself for remembering to take with me a couple of those “save our planet even though it is already too late” carrier bags for the shopping session. God knows I have purchased enough of those “you’ll be long dead before we have decomposed” bags because I keep forgetting this small step in the sequence of everyday events…
Right. I am in the supermarket with which I am very familiar. I whizz around with my customary speed and collect the items I came in for. I am tempted to buy an extra tube of toothpaste, but then decide against it, even though I forgot on three separate occasions when I last ran out. No problem. That’s what bicarbonate of soda and salt are for. I have got plenty of both. I am almost finished. I park my trolley and go half-way up one aisle to pick up a small item. Then I have another thought, and move (without my trolley) to the next aisle “just to see” if they have those sugar-free snacks which come in so useful when I need to stuff my face rapidly instead of actually sitting down to eat a proper meal. No. The snack I want is not on the shelf. Too bad. I can actually live without it.
Suddenly, I am lost. I do not know where I have left my trolley. I poke my head around corners and look down several aisles. No luck! Finally, I have a brilliant idea. I think of the penultimate thing I put in my trolley, and I go there. Then I retrace my steps: I relive the exquisite experience of pushing my trolley down this aisle, and noticing a new brand of olive oil on the shelf, but not stopping to see what it was. I am still not interested in the fancy packaging of the new olive oil product.
I begin to wonder whether I should ask the shop staff at Enquiries to make a request over the PA system saying that if anyone should see a small stationary trolley with an enormous pack of adult incontinence nappies and a pack of disposal bedsheets in it, could they kindly convey said trolley to the enquiries desk. I find this enormously amusing, because I envisage, variously, Dawn French, Tracy Ullman, Ronnie Corbett and Yoda making this announcement. Then I turn the corner: Lo, and behold! There it is! My mottley collection of material goods of which I can claim full ownership once I have paid for them!
That’s it. I am done. Time to go home. Don’t be so bloody rude! Of course I knew exactly where I had parked my car. And where my keys were.
©2015 Allison Wright