‘The long and winding road’ was a song put out by The Beatles in 1970. It is said that Paul McCartney, who wrote it, found his inspiration after observing a road “stretching up into the hills” in Scotland. It is somewhat ironic that a song bearing that title should coincidentally have a torrid history of recording discontent — McCartney is said to have hated the final ‘heavily orchestrated’ arrangement that was released, and there were in fact several versions of the song recorded, one of them including John Lennon playing bass guitar (‘somewhat erratically’.)
Whatever the case, the phrase itself is no longer original. It has become a metaphor for several qualities: Struggle, eventual achievement, doggedness, hardship, survival, drudgery... the list is long. Any endeavour that requires a good hard slog before success can be sniffed is portrayed this way. It can be dispiriting to some, to be told at the outset that “it’s going to be a long and winding road before you reach your goal”. To others, it can provide just the motivation to venture forth because as another saying goes, “every journey begins with the first step”.
But it’s not only ‘roads’ that can be long and winding. Life can be full of other ‘windy’ examples. Conversations, for instance. Speaking with some, it can seem like it takes forever to get to the point. A conversation can appear to be trapped within a revolving door. And circular conversations can appear endless. For example:
Son (to father): Dad, I’m going to need some money.
Father: How much money is ‘some money’.
Son: Well, there’s the cafeteria bill and petrol for the car, the drive to uni is not exactly just down the road.
Father: I thought I was paying for your snacks at the cafe as well as the petrol.
Son: That’s not the half of it.
Father: What’s the other half then?
Son: Well, you don’t go eat in a cafe by yourself. You have a mate or two with you. And you don’t just drive to uni and back, I need a life outside the classroom as well.
Father: And apparently your mates at the cafe don’t pay for what they eat with you.
Son: If you invite mates to join, would you let them pay? I couldn’t, dad. That’s why I need some money.
Father: So how much is ‘some’ money...
And like the long and winding road, the conversation goes on.
In modern times, email is an even more immediate instance where one might come upon the ‘extended’ conversation. One person might make a simple inquiry, as this example from a local resident to his local post office: “Does John Smith still work as a postman?” Only to be informed: “If you haven’t been receiving your mail or if it’s been placed in the wrong letterbox, please let us know. Although this is unlikely to have occurred, we wish all our residents to know that we have your interest at heart. Any incident of ‘wrongful mail’ delivery will be thoroughly investigated, you have our assurance.
“We have, of late, been forced to make a few alternative arrangements to accommodate employees who have had to take long overdue leave. Do not hesitate to get back to us with any of your needs or enquiries.”
In a long and winding literary way, I guess the original writer of the mail arrived at the conclusion that John Smith was one of those employees who was away on leave.
Whatever happened to the short, to-the-point response that email was specifically designed for? In asking that I am reminded of these two models of brevity: Son (in a letter to father from school): No mon, no fun. Your son. Father (in reply): Too bad, too sad. Your dad.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.