I'm no mountaineer. I've read a couple of books, but I wouldn't call myself a mountaineer, exactly. I do, however, know the three most famous words in mountaineering, which aren't "It's awfully big" or "Pass my crampons" or "Not another mountain". They are, in fact, "Because it's there": the reason George Mallory gave for wanting to climb Mount Everest.
If he were being honest he'd probably have said "to get a knighthood" or "to try and impress the missus", but it's become the quintessential justification for doing something that people think is misguided. Use it next time a policeman asks you why you're fly-tipping a wardrobe into a quarry. "Well, officer," you can reply with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile, "It's because it's there." "Of course. Sorry, sir. Carry on."
Last week I was watching Man On Wire, the documentary about Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. (Incidentally, whenever I watch footage of people larking about at great heights I get pains in the soles of my feet, an involuntary reaction that I'm unable to explain. Like farting when you see a spider or something.) Petit's reasoning for attempting the stunt was "When I see two towers, I walk" – or, in other words, because they're there. And I started pondering the beauty of lesser acts of pointlessness, like when I recently sat on a stage in Coventry playing the theme tune from The Sweeney while a motorised pie (yes, a pie) pulled some roller-derby girls around a speedway track, all in front of a few dozen people shivering in the cold.
A few days earlier I'd met an old schoolfriend, Mick, who, after noting the lack of seating at a bus stop by the Pen-y-banc turn-off on the A40 near Llandeilo, had used his upholstery skills to restore a chair, attached a note saying "take the weight off your feet" and installed it in the bus shelter. Of course, within a couple of days someone had nicked it, but that only made Mick's efforts more heroic. Too often we find ourselves dismissing ideas by saying "there's no point", when that's precisely why we should press ahead.
So yes! This week, please expend huge amounts of effort on stupid stuff for minimal reward – unless you work in human resources and you're considering spending three days reevaluating key performance indicators. That's just silly.
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- Feet (anatomy)