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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Literary allusions and lost opportunities

 

Looking back over my peripatetic working life, I just wished I had been a more widely-read person at that time which would've enabled me to gain a greater insight into the people I met and the places I visited.

When I lived in Greece in the early 80s I visited Hydra several times without ever knowing anything about George Johnston who with his wife Charmian Clift lived for some eight years on the island. George Johnston is of course best known for his book "My Brother Jack" and I have read every one of his (and her) many other books since.

When I worked in Port Moresby, one of the old accountants in my office was a Mr Chipps, and the whole office would chortle "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", every time he left the office without my ever realising that they were making a literary reference to James Hilton's famous book.

And of course the same James Hilton wrote "Lost Horizon" in which he gave us the word "Shangri-La". Indeed, the Shangri-La hotel chain bought the rights to his book and placed a copy on every bedside table in place of the usual Gideon Bible. I knew nothing of this when I stayed at various Shangri-La Hotels in Malaysia and Singapore and I had barely heard of Hermann Hesse when I stayed in the suite named after him in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

I visited Pago Pago without ever having read Somerset Maugham's short story "Rain" and lived in Rangoon before I had ever heard of Rudyard Kipling's "On the Road to Mandalay". Even Saudi Arabia would've been of greater fascination to me had I had the time to read Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom".

How much richer my travels would've been had I done all that reading earlier but of course as it was, I found just enough time to read the necessary technical literature to allow me to carry out my work. In those hectic days it was an almost unheard-of luxury to find the time to read a novel. Instead, I read 'The Practice of Modern Internal Auditing', 'Petroleum Accounting: Principles, Procedures & Issues' and 'Ship Operations and Management', studied accountancy standards or IATA rule books, improved my laytime calculation skills, compared charter parties and worked through case studies in forensic auditing, as the case may be.

To this day I am still fascinated by books about unaccountable accounting or the world's worst maritime frauds. BUT I have also found time to dip into John Donne's "No Man is an Island" and Boethius's "The Consolation of Philosophy", so things are beginning to balance out.