Vicky is one of two ladies who clean the small apartment building where I live. She's the sort of person you could easily walk straight past, as she vacuums the carpet and dusts the window sills of the public areas. How could you possibly know that, like so many ordinary people, she is in fact quite extraordinary?
As I walked by today and passed her on the landing on my way outside, we began a conversation which became quite surprising, so surprising that she switched off her vacuum cleaner to talk to me at length. Did she talk about the weather? Did she talk about her family? No, she talked about Nostradamus!
Yes, she talked about his prediction that England would eventually sink under water. She went on to tell me that his real name was Michel de Nostredame born 1503 in Provence. Then she said apologetically, "I'm afraid I'm not really a bookish woman." I was gobsmacked. It's also worth noting that she recently suffered a heart attack.
All we hear nowadays is people complaining that they have no access to educational opportunities. They imply that these opportunities should fall from the sky. It is an eternal truth that those who want to learn will always learn. It irks me that we assume that the state should provide everything, like Mother Bountiful.
Emerson, the American poet, insisted, "The only person we are destined to become is the person we decide to be." Nostradamus himself never had much of a formal education before the age of fifteen. Vicky told me he went to the University of Avignon just before it was shut down because of an outbreak of the plague. After that he researched herbal remedies on his own initiative. He then went as a student to the University of Montpellier but was expelled because he had worked as an apothecary which is a manual trade. He had also criticised the medical profession, always a bad idea, especially if you want to study medicine.
I couldn't help thinking how one of the many effete mantras nowadays is 'Be yourself, fulfil your dreams'. But it seems to me that successful people are people who can do things they don't really want to do, not just things they do want to do. They are people with a sense of purpose and an ability to function under their own steam. I very much doubt that Nostradamus would have been claiming benefit, had he lived today.
It is an inescapable fact that, for every Vicky, there is a disaffected yob who waits for the world to give him the life he believes he deserves.
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