Hurrah for the slave of duty!


In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance, the young tenor Frederic has a sense of duty which is so ludicrously over-developed that it drives half of the plot and causes him to change sides for various reasons several times over.  He is one of the most ridiculous characters in the G&S canon due to his over-dutifulness (and when you consider the rest of their ladies and gentlemen, that’s no mean feat).  The combined zenith and nadir of this character trait comes when the Pirate King finds a legal loophole that suggests poor old Frederic must remain his apprentice until the age of 84. 

I abhor your infamous calling; I shudder at the thought that I have ever been mixed up with it; but duty is before all — at any price I will do my duty.

Foolish boy!  But anyway.  This isn’t a post about G&S, or pirates, or even the lovely Cornish town of Penzance.  It’s about duty, and the way in which I am thankful for my own sense of duty.

When my brain is misbehaving with chemicals out of balance all over the place, I have found that one thing that can really keep me going is a sense of duty.  I don’t know how healthy it is, but I tell myself that I must do things for I have a duty to do them.  If I stopped completely, was signed off work and withdrew from rehearsals, I honestly believe it would make things worse rather than better, so I reduce my commitments to a certain extent, but I keep on going, like the Duracell bunny.

I have a duty to get up in the morning, and to go to work and to perform my tasks to an acceptable degree.  I have a duty to wash and deodorise and shave in order that I do not offend the noses or eyes of the people around me any more than I usually do.  I have a duty to eat in order to gain energy to do the other things I have a duty to do.  It doesn’t always work (the eating thing is particularly prone to slip) but to a strangely large extent it does keep me going.  ‘Come on, you can walk down this road because you have to walk down this road.’ 

I will often fight back tears, or conveniently disappear to the little boys’ room, but not always.  Sometimes I don’t really care if people see me crying for no reason whatsoever.  But I will not fail my duty.  It may be a slightly mad way of doing things, but it does keep me rather more sane than I otherwise would be.  One of life’s strange contradictions.

  1. I think it’s admirable, David. Also very brave.

    Though I’d say your duty to eat is just as important as your other ones. If you can’t bring yourself to cook then maybe get in some prepared meals or snack items that can be consumed without too much fuss and bother. And those fruit-yoghurt drinks are also good for keeping your energy level up.

    The next time I get a bout of agoraphobia I’m going to keep this in mind and make myself go out and do things no matter how I feel – it makes sense. Giving in might feel more comfortable but I think in the end it only prolongs the problem, which does have a ‘life-span’ and doesn’t last forever.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Claire
    • July 26th, 2006

    Sounds like a sensible way of doing things to me. Not to mention, as Azahar says, admirable and brave.

    • Claire
    • July 26th, 2006

    Sorry David, that comment doesn’t do you justice. I was pondering what to write and then I had to go for the train, so I didn’t really say what I wanted to say.

    Since I’ve known you I’ve always been impressed with the way you think of others before yourself, and by the fact that you’re always ready to help people out. These things would be admirable anyway, but they’re all the more so because you do them in spite of your own problems.

    I’m glad that it’s my privilege to work with you.

    Sorry if that sounds a bit obsequious/sycophantic/false (not sure which is the right word!). It’s just the truth.

  2. I feel rather an urge to rush down to the Library of Doom and hug you. Which may well shock and surprise the pair of us, so I shall stay here and make supportive and admiring faces instead.

  3. And now I feel embarrassed… Everyone has problems, and everyone does stuff in spite of them.

    Incidentally, the ‘hurrah’ isn’t really for me as such.  It’s a Pirates of Penzance thing.  Hurrah for the pirate king.  But you probably already knew that…

  4. Yes, everyone has problems but not everybody deals with them as bravely as you do.

    So, a ‘hurrah’ for you and please stop feeling embarrassed – don’t you have better things to do? 😉

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