Reality doesn’t always cooperate with our plans and ambitions. Life, to the inexperienced, happens in straight lines. Some of us older folk can’t even walk in straight lines any more.
A zigzag — you know this already — is a course characterised by sharp turns first to one side and then to the other, and can be described as both jagged and fairly regular. You can see why one word was needed to explain all of that. In the world of politics, it is the equivalent of what a floating voter does at election time. A mugwump uncertain which side of the fence to sit on.
Changes of direction are everywhere nowadays. Brewers rail against the evils of alcohol, pleading with you on their labels to ‘drink responsibly.’ It’s almost as if they didn’t care about profit at all, a state of affairs not reflected in their prices. Similarly, cigarette manufacturers warn us that their product can kill us. Unless, like Bill Clinton with marijuana, you never inhale. Now that people have to step outside to smoke, leaving a modern pub is like going into an old one.
How many of us started out pursuing one career path — rock star, train driver, prima ballerina (really?) or Baywatch lifeguard — only to find ourselves on another — busker, bus driver, stage-door Johnny or beach bum? Life is what happens when you fill in the wrong application form.
Zig and Zag were an enduring clown duo who appeared on Australian TV from its inception in 1956 until 1999. One of them, Zig — or perhaps it was Zag — used to voice radio ads while dressed as a clown, which is either endearingly professional or a severe personality disorder.
Zig and Zag’s theme song was written by Tommy Steele, Britain’s first teen idol, still alive at 85. But not many people have enjoyed careers that lasted as long as Tommy’s and Zig and Zag’s, without veering wildly in different directions.
Fashion designer Giorgio Armani went from dressing wounds in a military hospital to being a window dresser for a fashion store. Stephen King worked as a school janitor, which is presumably where he learned all about horror. Mick Jagger was a hospital porter, and later showed he could also carry a tune. Probably couldn’t get no satisfaction as a support worker.
Sometimes the zig takes some time to zag. For 15 years, Harrison Ford was a carpenter, but his later acting was anything but wooden. Grandma Moses didn’t begin her painting career until she was 78, so there’s hope for me yet. Where are those brushes I used for the kitchen shelves?
We should be grateful that certain people stuck to what they were best at. Imagine if Edward Jenner, instead of fine-tuning the world’s first ever vaccine, had decided he wanted to be a folk singer playing an out-of-tune banjo instead. We’d need masks for our ears. Professor Sarah Gilbert, the Covid vaccine creator, played the saxophone when she was a student, but wisely gave it up to save the world a load of grief. Now that was a fortunate zigzag.