When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. I’d buy books about space. I’d build model space ships. I’d make up stories about space. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised the combination of severe vertigo, fear of chest-bursting space aliens and the lack of a smoking compartment on the Space Shuttle pretty much ruled out a job with NASA.
In my teens, I swithered between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be a musician – not a rock star, but someone who made their living from music. I didn’t do anything about the writing until my mid twenties, but I did spend a great deal of time and money on the music thing. Sixteen years, I think.
Like going into space, being a full time musician wasn’t for me. I’m not even slightly miffed that i’m not in orbit, and in a lot of ways I think not being a full time musician is a lucky escape. These days I muck around with music when I feel like it and don’t when I don’t, so it remains fun rather than hard work.
What I do miss, though, is the passion, the ambition. I’m very lucky to have a job that I really enjoy, but my ambitions are pretty low-key: do more of this, do less of that, try to get the rates up there, persuade an editor to let me write about X. That sort of thing. All perfectly good, but nothing I’m likely to regret not doing when I’m shuffling off this mortal coil: “Dammit, if only I’d got that extra penny per word!” Doesn’t really work, does it?
Space, though. That was a big ambition. And so was music – it had to be, or I wouldn’t have put up with the costs and the crap of being an amateur musician. So it feels rather strange not to have that grand ambition. There’s a vague feeling of “what do I do now?”
Don’t get me wrong. There are still things I want to do, ambitions I want to fulfil. But they’re not things that keep me up at night plotting and planning, things that I’d give my right leg to make happen. And I think that’s a bit of a shame, really. Grand passions can be distracting, disruptive, maybe even destructive, but they’re always interesting.
I’m intrigued by this. Are big ambitions the preserve of the young and naive? Are they childish things to be put away when you grow up? Or am I in a minority, with everybody else harbouring a burning ambition? Is there something that drives you, other than the obvious stuff (wanting happiness for your family, having ambitions for your kids, wanting a bigger house/nicer car, that sort of thing)?
I don’t mean things like “If i had the money i’d get a BMW M5” or “If I had the chance, I’d kick Jim Davidson in the nuts harder than anybody’s ever been kicked in the nuts before”, because they’re universal. I mean the big stuff, the widescreen, technicolour stuff. Do you yearn to drive through Paris in a sports car, the wind in your hair? Are you secretly building a robot army in your shed, preparing to wreak robotic revenge on a school bully? Are you going to change the world, write the great British novel or return the banjo to its rightful place at the heart of popular music?