Clark’s Commandos And Wayfinders

Screenshot 2019-07-09 at 22.58.44Each month the editor offers up a handful of books. With the passage of time even business books are getting more “woke” and my black heart sinks lower. Fortunately the titles are a dead give away. I plead not  to review books titled something like “The Chief Executive of Feelings: Leadership without Privileging Facts”, “Problematic! The Endless Oppression of Business Plans”,   or “9-5: One Giant Microaggression”

“That sounds good”, I said.

It was called “Paws”

I used to want to be an army tracker. With my robust, hard as teak, leather school shoes you would get, in addition to a compass in the heel of the shoe, a little booklet that told you, well, it told you how to be a six-year old explorer. You had hand signals for silently communicating “gather round”, “go that way”  and “stop”. Basic stuff but I loved it.

There were illustrations of the secret signs you could make – arrows made of pebbles. A cross made of sticks that would tell your imaginary team of die hards not to go down this route because it led to a volcano or dinosaurs.

And you learned how to do tracking. You could tell, theoretically, from the indentations of a footprint whether someone was walking forward or backwards, running or tiptoeing.

And then, best of all, there were paw prints. This one was a wolf, this was a tiger, this an otter, and that one a red squirrel. I checked the flowerbeds. I circumnavigated the woods, scoured the local park and, free from wolves, sat on the roundabout and monitored the ground as I slowly spun. Nothing. It was fruitless. The odd Quality Street wrapper and a few fag ends and that was about it. Either there were no hedgehogs, goats or hippos or they were, by some cunning animal magic, not leaving footprints.

But I was in the flow and time evaporated. Or maybe it stopped. In any event its passing was invisible. As for the tracking, the embers never died. So I looked forward to this book.

Alack and alas, etc. As you can see, I had the phonetics right but the spelling wrong.

This is a book about not doing anything and frankly there isn’t much you can teach any writer about that. It’s 90% of your job. Nevertheless I was intrigued because here was a writer who had been given the task of writing about 35,000 words on how to do nothing. Take away the words and that would be a dream job. How would he tackle it? How could he even get out of bed with such monstrous levels of invention to perform?

Well it’s like this. Step 1. Define the concept of Pause as widely as possible and in that way encompass the entire world of inaction – from hesitating before angrily responding on twitter, to counting to three before entering a room, to having a sabbatical to listening to John Cage’s 4’33” or taking a Bill Gates’ style “Think Week” each year,

Step 2. Having argued that half the world of things you could possibly write about are relevant to the idea of “the Pause”, you then  create a plausible structure that encompasses it all and write about all the different forms.

That’s the formula.

And it works very well.

The author holds a reading retreat in a remote mountain village in the middle of Spain every year. It sounds fabulous. People have to be forced to go because they’re convinced they’re too busy. However once they eventually find time to go they get as committed as Born Again Reformed Smoker. After that they make it a linchpin part of their life. That’s all it takes, having forced themselves just once to take a pause from the hurly burly of freneticism they discover they can indeed put a value on mere nothing and it is so valuable it must be repeated. It just a few days to realise the value of “pausing” is incalculable. Here I should warn readers that inaction, while it is of incalculable value, does not pay very well if you make it the maypole of your career.

Here’s the rub, though. If you don’t buy into the possibility that there is something valuable in taking time-outs, sabbaticals or days off then this book will drive you bananas. If on the other hand you “get it” but need pushing over the edge; some advice on how to fit a pause into your life or even how to justify it to yourself or someone else, then this book is your first injection of pause-heroin.

So beware because it is addictive; I’m still hunting for heffalumps.


I read: Do Pause: You Are Not A To-do List

By: Robert Poynton