My brother Nigel has always been methodical. And rather private, so he isn’t actually called Nigel. When we were little kids we shared a bedroom. Whenever our room was in a mess, it was in fact my mess. His stuff was always packed away in drawers or stowed in the toy box. My idea of tidying was, and remains, tipping everything onto the floor and then picking through the pile item by item. The reality is that I have thoughts and feelings about every item and usually make it halfway through the pile. The act of tidying becomes a kind of melancholic tone poem where I remember the story of every item and what I was doing when we last met.
The downside to this became stunningly obvious about five years ago when I had to shift house. Nigel came around on moving day and saw I was paralysed with inaction. My two room flat looked very like one of those houses in the reality show HOARDERS. In my defence, I will say the cheap-arse cigarette ash coloured carpet was visible. And my junk was in neat stacks, but I was in a state of mental and emotional chaos.
He got on with it and helped me to move everything in time. I could not have done it without him.
We share a house now and I make sure that I keep everything more or less to his standards of tidiness in all rooms, barring my own. Mostly my room is tidy, too, but occasionally I backslide four decades and the chaos returns.
Nigel knows where everything in the house is. I have a vague notion of where the vacuum cleaner is kept. All the instruction booklets to all the electrical appliances are kept in a folder in the sideboard in the dining room. A Nigel initiative. Recently, he found me randomly pressing buttons on the oven trying to discover which was the best fan and element combination for a roast. In the five minutes I took to not work out the problem, Nigel had grabbed the instructions and found the answer. The idea of researching a document to discover information seems utterly tedious to me. This could explain why I took six years to earn a three-year Bachelor degree.
My car is kaput. The alternator. So I’m driving around in Nigel’s much newer and much nicer car until next week. I usually drive a 15-year-old Toyota Liteace van. The ceiling is torn. The paintwork is rusted. It has seen better days. The radio has one tiny, tinny speaker, so basically when it plays any music of any era, it sounds like it was produced by Phil Spector in 1963. When I hopped into Nigel’s car last week, I discovered all the radio stations were arranged according to frequency with the low numbers to the left. On both the AM and FM bands. I thought, yep – that’s Nige.
I have mentioned his eye for detail in a previous post. This is part of his methodical skill set and an obvious bonus for a graphic designer, which is what he does. We were in Ikea a few days ago, looking for a table where he can arrange all his financial papers. He broke off from explaining to me how his system would work. He was off put by the fact that half the Ikea signs were in Verdana. “They announced they were switching over to Verdana, he said, “But look at all this Futura.”
Later when we were driving home, I asked him why he had tuned his radio to the Christian radio station. Our mother is a Chinese Buddhist and our father is a lapsed Irish Atheist, so I was a little surprised at Nigel’s choice. He’s somewhat the Atheist himself.
“They playing some rocking good tunes now? Had a format change?” I asked.
“I never listen to the radio,” he said, “I play my iPod on the car stereo.”
“What about all these stations?”
“You did that when you borrowed the car a few months ago.”
I had tuned his radio the way I thought he would want it arranged. And then forgotten I had done it. I never know what station is where in my car. As with the oven, I just keep mashing buttons.
So the conclusion I draw from this, is that if I want to be more methodical I need to imagine how my brother would approach a task. I do have method and order within me, if I just ask myself “What Would Nigel Do?”
Nup. Never gonna happen.
NOTE: Phil is not in the park. He’s riffing metaphorically.