April 13 2011
As a contemporary European, I sometimes feel tired, as if I’ve learned the burden of success. As if I’ve realised that success has an expiry date and needs its lows to stay fresh. My grandfather, in contrast, was an exuberant fellow – in his life he produced all sorts of things: forklifts, birdhouses, packaging machines, garage doors and chicken wire, not to mention curlers, irons and stuffed animals.
He was also involved in the nationwide distribution of milk cans, loudspeakers, nylon tights, corkscrews and copper wire. Even in his old age, he was still inventing products and setting up business plans: a project for improving the drinking behaviour of European songbirds, a workshop for repairing winged flywheels, run by farmers from Liège… he did it all. In good times and in bad. In the pink of health, and even after the onset of dementia.
But my grandfather had one great failing: he had as many bankruptcies as launches. He would build up and then go under. Once everything was running smoothly on the work floor, once his assistant was typing and his engineer was drafting, Grandpa would head for his local pub, Café Den Beffer in Mechelen, to drink to his next plan.
He started his last business at the ripe old age of 92: a shop on wheels selling Valentine’s cards, pedalled by a greasy adolescent with slicked-back hair and more spots than a loaf of raisin bread. It was a complete flop.
Den Beffer has closed its doors now, but I’m still concerned. What do you do with a worn-out model? An expiry date that’s come and gone? The story is as clear as daylight: fatigue goes before a fall. Whether it’s the fall of an individual, a building, a company, a country or a society.