The Lesson of Nic

We all have a story…. Like a boulder on the shore, shaped by endlessly crashing waves, so too are we, wrought by the constant onslaught of life.

We had a friend called Nic. A very special man. A man with an uncomplicated, but infectious sense of humour, quietly spoken and an unending empathy for his fellow man. Nic came into our lives with nothing more to offer than himself, his corny jokes and his friendship. In the time he was with us, he never drank alcohol. His drink of choice was Coke, always a bottle, a little bottle, with a slice of lemon wedged in the top. There were never any details of Nic’s life before he came into ours, but I always sensed the demons of his past were still very much part of his present.

Then one Sunday afternoon, after we had finished our game, he and I were left alone. On this day, he ordered a Coke for himself, don’t forget the lemon, and a beer for me. The drinks arrived and we sat side by side for a long time, not talking, the mood had unexpectedly become somber. Suddenly, very quietly, Nic began to tell me his story…….

He spoke of a happy, normal life, work and a family. He spoke of competitive sport and the disappointment when deserved recognition does not come. He spoke of a life unravelling through hurt caused and hurt endured, of a broken family and severed relationships, of addiction and destructive choices. He spoke of sleeping in doorways and ending the pain once and for all, then, with tears flowing freely, he spoke of a second chance.

Sadly our friend Nic was taken during the final stretch of his walk to redemption but I consider myself privileged to have been entrusted with the account of how he came to us.

The reason for my convoluted introduction is that Tuesday is garbage day in our neighborhood, and as happens in many places the world over, we put out our neatly tied up black bags in the hope that the council will collect and dispose of them on our behalf. In our part of the world, for reasons best left to another forum, abject poverty is all around us and many desperate souls are forced to scratch through piles of rubbish to find something to sell or use, or worse, something to eat. Many of these people, after riffling through the bags will tie them up neatly again, leaving them as before, others not and the mess is something to behold.

For the last three weeks, when I have taken my bags out early in the morning, there has been a young man sitting there with no obvious belongings but a single blanket impeccably folded on the pavement next to him. On each occasion, as I have walked out my yard, he has approached me and with a simple “good morning Sir” has taken my bags from me and carried them to the other side of the road.

This last weekend, I had spent some time cleaning out some clutter from the house, an old toaster, magazines and various other bits and pieces, so this week we had a few more bags than normal. On Tuesday, I walked out my gate, and there was the same young man again with his perfectly square blanket folded at his side.

Once again he approached me “Good morning Sir, did you see how nicely I cleaned up last week?”

“Thank you very much, I did” I replied.

“Oh, does that toaster work?” he asked excitedly.

I replied that it did, “thank you Sir, have a great day” he said as he turned to start searching my unwanted rubbish for something that, in his world, would be hugely valuable.

This young man has been on my mind all week, he clearly has some level of education and upbringing and I can’t help but wonder what life has thrown at him and what choices has he made to be where he is.

I have, however, decided to try and get him to tell me his story. It cannot be that this obviously intelligent man is destined to live on the very fringes of society because he didn’t get a second chance…… if he wanted it.

Our friend Nic would have insisted.

To be continued……………..

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Men Behaving.. Sort of.

I am the eldest of seven siblings, with six sisters, four surviving, I have a wife, two daughters and two granddaughters. As you can imagine, the desire to enjoy some “Bro Time” can be rather intense at times.

A few centuries ago, the concept of male bonding was vastly different to what it is today. Back then, men would have gathered, donned a few respective tons of armour, mounted powerful, feisty battle steeds then ridden off to sow mayhem amongst the poor folk living in some rain sodden, rural enclave.

Whilst not being scared of horses, I have ridden my fair share, the idea of my body being encased in steel plate holds no appeal for me. Not that I am a prude, being adventurous is in my nature, but if my body were to be encased in anything, possibly a few microns of latex would be the limit. That being said, besides the armour, the sight of blood and the screams of agony, especially my own, are things I would rather avoid at any cost.

Thankfully, today the chest beating alpha male can achieve a similar testosterone fueled experience with way less bloodshed. For the last 100 years or so, warfare has largely been replaced by sport, not that you would notice with humans finding any reason to slaughter each other, often with little or no reason, but by and large, instead of competing on the battlefield, most of us compete on the playing field.

Recently, three fellow team mates and I undertook one such sporting adventure. Disclaimer: Names have been omitted to protect the not so innocent, suffice to say the team was made up of G, M, P and yours truly.

It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning as we gathered at a central point from which to leave. Our wives, each looking unsettlingly happy at our imminent departure, fussed around us making sure nothing was forgotten. Toothbrush… check, underpants…. check, mobile phone charger… err.. ummm… check!

So it went on, until, laden with suitcases, beer, scotch and cooler boxes stuffed with scrumptious delights that we would enjoy around the braai fire (BBQ) every night, and with cries of “drive safely!”, “play well”, even “don’t’ come home if you don’t win” ringing in our ears, we set off.

An hour away from home, my mobile rings, it’s my wife:

Wife: “Hey Love ask G where his wallet is.”

I dutifully comply.

G: -who was driving- “In my pocket”

Me: “Love, he says it is in his pocket”

Wife: “Really?? Then why is it on the dining room table in his house?”

A reasonable question I deduce.

Me: “G, how can it be in your pocket and on your dining room table at the same time?”

G: -after some frantic pocket patting and centre console exploring- “F@*K!”

Anybody who has been on a sporting tour knows that discretions of that nature do not go unpunished. Team: 1 G: Nil

After a second outstandingly unsuccessful day, day two of the tournament drew to a close. We enjoyed an after match drink with our victorious opponents and then made our way back to our accommodation where we were going to sit around the pool, light a fire and continue to devour our way through the various cooler boxes. Needless to say, one beer turned into two and two into three, soon P and G were entertaining us with reminders of their heroic plays of the day and tales of herculean feats. Quite how M and I, despite being right there, did not witness even one of these match winning shots, and the fact that the scoreboard told a completely different story, was completely lost in the fervor of the moment.

Yes, we were bonding and, despite being off the field of play, still competing. No blood had been shed, no village burned and we would live to fight another day, but first there were some fines to be paid, least of all for the, since reunited, wallet. We drank, used bad language, passed wind, burped and displayed our masculine prowess in every inappropriate way we could think of.

The wonderful British novelist Iris Murdoch once said: “… male company, sheer complicit male company: the complicity of males which is like, indeed is, a kind of complicity in crime, in chauvinism, in getting away with things, in just gluttonously enjoying the present even if hell is all around.” … and so it was.

…… 6 am

The sound of a phone ringing propels me upwards, through the murky waters of alcohol induced sleep, to the surface where semi consciousness awaits me. I recall the events of the evening and surprise myself by thinking that my wife, and Iris, are correct when they imply men are just big children, but where is that bloody phone? P, my roommate, stirs but I realise it’s my phone, I answer….

Me: ….  Mmmmm

G: “D, you awake?”

Me, contemplating my chance of entering a successful insanity plea after murdering my teammate: “It’s 6 am Dude, who died?”

G: “I got a problem, I’m locked in”

Me: “What, you locked out?”

G: “No D, I’m locked in my room!”

Me: “Where is M?”

G: “He’s locked in with me! We can’t find the keys”

Me: ————–

G: “Please find the manager and ask him to come let us out”

Me: “G, I hope your liver in in good shape, because I can see yet another fines meeting in your very near future!”

It is said that being successful at sport is about consistency. If this is true, then we were successful, having consistently underachieved all week and by the end of day five, our tournament was over. We spent our last evening with new and old friends, clinking glasses and promising to meet up again next year. M and I had proceeded to finish every last drop of rum that the club had, which is very surprising seeing that I don’t drink rum, but hey, we were on tour.

It was at that moment, when we had both decided that the club’s stock of scotch was our next target, a beefy man of similar age to us comes up to M and says ‘Hey, I recognise you”

M: “Oh?”

Beefy Man: “Yes, from the army, Special Forces.”

They begin to discuss various units and areas of operations, M mentions names and the guy nods vigourously in agreement. This goes on for a few minutes and the beefy guy eventually moves off.

I turn to M: “I didn’t know you were in Special Forces.”

M: “I wasn’t.”

M continues: “but I’ll tell you what, neither was that guy!”

It was classic M humour, he had sensed the guy was not legit and had set the trap, which Beefy Guy had walked into hook line and sinker. The mirth rose up from deep within me, bursting out in a crescendo of sprayed whiskey and snorting, we laughed till we cried, unashamed tears of joy at just being in the moment and the sheer complicity of it.

It was a fitting end to a week of being big, childish men, and while we hadn’t done as well as we were capable of on the field of play, we went home with a renewed appreciation of the value of bonding with fellow men, and oh, nobody had died, surprisingly.

In a few days we would pick up the trappings of our various respectable jobs, but right then, our glasses were empty and it was my round.

Cold Reality and Cold Beer

My father in law is 83 years old. We enjoy a relationship that is more like father and son than friends, always has been. He scolds, I pout, we fight and we make up….. Always over a beer.

Early on in our relationship, over beers, of course, he introduced me to esoteric thinking and reading material. It was a completely new genre for me, a different way of thinking and seeing the world – The old man has a very different view of things and how he articulates them.

I joined him in the business about 16 or 17 years ago and I remember asking him what we made on the sale of a particular product. His reply was: “depends what time of the month it is.”

I was puzzled.

“You see” he continued, “Until we reach breakeven we don’t make a cent on any product.” It didn’t answer my question, but it made me realise that, with this man, my requests for information would need to be way more specific.

Anyway, I digress…..

He has long since retired, but we meet often to… well… have a beer, or three. One such evening, after a long hot day, we were sitting with our second sparkling, deep straw coloured refreshment before us. I watched as the condensation collected and dribbled down, soaking the thick paper coaster that my glass was perched upon. A question, a sensitive question, which I had wanted to ask him came to mind. I dived – or is that dove – right in.

“Boss Man…” my nickname for him, one that has since been adopted by one of my own son in laws for me… bugger, I digress again…  “Boss Man” I said, “It is true, that, at 83, there are not many summers left to enjoy, how do you feel about your pending demise?” He didn’t answer immediately, his eyes flitted from mine to the almost full glass before him. He picked it up and took a lengthy sip before slowly replacing it on the table, precisely as it was before.

Once again his eyes caught mine, he rested his arms on the table in front of him, leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner and said, “I am excited.” I sat up in surprise, I had been expecting something, well, unexpected, but, quite frankly, not even I would have guessed that reply. He continued, “I am excited to see what is next, what the next part of the journey is. Surely these last 83 years cannot be all it is.” As he often does, he left me with more questions than answers, but then he has always wanted me to work out the answers for myself, rather than him just give them to me.

I think that when one gets to the point where they have lived more than they still have to live, the question of their own mortality comes to mind. In a way, his reply has brought a peace to me when I am contemplating the cold reality ….  And I know the Old Bugger had exactly that in mind when he answered my question.

Flying Cars and being a Grandfather

Its 1977…..

A typical summer’s day in the then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. We are 16 and the classroom we are occupying is humid with the heat of 30 bodies in thick khaki school uniforms. We have just finished discussing the unbelievable technology that will be available in the year 2000. Robots and flying cars, doctors being able to operate without cutting and, believe it or not, telephones without wires! It is all so fascinating.

While our teacher is cleaning the chalk off the worn, green blackboard, I sit and ponder on this space age future that awaits us. How long do we have to wait, and more importantly, how old will I be. Will I be young enough to enjoy the full benefits? I grab my pen and on a piece of paper I begin to find the answers – We will have to wait 23 years, almost a quarter of a century I deduce. It is a figure that is difficult to comprehend when you have only been alive for 16 years, but what is staggering, is that my calculations show that I will be a decrepit 39 year old in the year 2000! My grandparents died when I was very young and my father died at 40, so that was my only measuring stick, 39 was cutting it close and I was mortified that I would not be around longer to enjoy driving my flying car.

Cut to 2019, those telephones without wires are a nuisance, doctors can work wonders with lasers and robots are becoming more commonplace. I have safely navigated through the maze of life to be 58 but still haven’t driven, let alone owned, that flying car. I have, however, been a husband, a father and recently, a grandfather.

I look at my silver haired reflection every morning and ask myself where all the years have gone, and, as I have done all my life, I wonder what I want to do with my life, because after nearly 6 decades, I really have no idea.

I have always played sport and recently, due to constant abuse, my old faithful knees began to play up, I’m sure it is a common thing amongst men and women our age, so, in order to satisfy my competitive nature, I began to play lawn bowls. That, in itself, is a story for another day, but the reason for me mentioning it, is that it has given me the opportunity to interact meaningfully with people a lot more senior in years than I and realise that most of them struggle with relevance, or the lack of it.

I first felt it when my youngest daughter returned from university with her post grad degree and could engage me in real, grown up, debate. She would often leave me astounded at her new found maturity and differing views and I began rethinking the answers to some questions I was very sure of when my kids were younger.

Am I and are my ideas still relevant? Do my values, my belief system, still have a place?

Am I ever going to own a flying car?

Hello!

Hello! Thank you for stopping by. My name is David and I live on the southern tip of Africa. This is my first foray into the world of blogging, something I have always wanted to do, but never got round to it. Isn’t that often the case?

Anyway, just wanted to say welcome, there is a cold beer in the fridge, take a seat and lets chat.