This week I learned how to skin and fillet lemon sole: it's what you must do if you buy fish from the man who brings them in from the coast every Sunday morning. He sells them whole because they are fresh from his own boats and he doesn't have time to prepare them - or so he says. So I found a tutorial on You Tube, donned my apron and got to work. The job, from first incision to mopping the floor, took an hour: there were two fish. I cooked them simply, not bothering to make a fancy sauce, for, by this time, Shirley Conran's words "Life is too short to stuff a mushroom" were ringing in my ears.
It's possible, of course, that some people like to spend hours stuffing mushrooms, but the key to contentment in this respect is prioritisation. Assuming - as I do - that there is no afterlife, then it makes sense to utilise this life to maximum effect and not waste it fannying about. Planning is crucial in this respect: identify your objectives, prioritise them and focus on closure. Successful resolution depends on application - like the concert pianist who, when told by an admirer that she was lucky to be so talented retorted, "Luck has nothing to do with it. I practise eight hours a day".
I was pondering all this as I sat idly in a deckchair in the garden of the Manchester Art Gallery. Each time a tram rumbled past I heard my phone make an unfamiliar noise. When I investigated I saw that the phone was attempting to connect to the wi-fi networks in the passing trams. Should I be concerned about this or should I just let the machines resolve the matter between them?
How easy it is to get distracted from one's primary goals. It's some time since I last reviewed my own - I wrote them in a notebook which I then put away somewhere so safe that I now have to rely on memory; which is a handy justification for displacement activities. Remember that wizard wheeze to pay off the mortgage in five years by not spending money elsewhere? What a brilliant idea. But how many people manage to do that? You have to remain focussed and an effective way of doing that is to stick to a daily routine designed not to leave time for deviation. My own attempt at such rigour incorporates a daily walk to the gym for a brief fitness work-out. The gym itself holds no distractions but the walk can present challenges.
Take, for example the Furries - young people who dress up in animal costumes. Every Saturday they congregate at the bar next to the gym, spilling out onto the street to smoke and, if the weather's fine, gambolling in the small park across the way. I decided at last to ask a couple of them why they dressed so. They told me it was a form of artistic expression and that they adopt - or create - anthropomorphic personae so as to feel free from human behavioural constraints. I probed deeper to find out if it was just a passing fad but no, it's been an established movement since 1986. I wanted to ask whether aficionados eventually 'grew up' and moved on but I didn't want to cause offence and, anyway, the absence of older people spoke for itself.
Frankly, I suspect that Furries are wasting their time in escapist activities. I should have reminded them that "Pleasure may come from illusion, but happiness can come only of reality" and urged them - what with life being so short - to get real. But everyone's entitled to their own prioritisation - and, anyway, I began to feel uncomfortable talking to an oversized rabbit with a Lancashire accent.