Depression is on the Increase – 2021 June No.1

We are surrounded by uncertainty these days, and much of it is a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, which came out of nowhere and turned our lives upside down in a matter of weeks of its first appearance in China, towards the end of 2019.

According to a recent international survey, South Africans are rated as some of the least happy people on the planet, and for good reason. We are currently being bombarded with negative reports and disturbing news items. With a failed economy, a corrupt ruling party, crime which is rampant, a failed power supplier, potholes everywhere, unemployment (the list goes on and on) it is not surprising that many of us feel despondent and helpless. These negative emotions can manifest themselves in a state of severe depression which may be overlooked by one’s nearest and dearest until the sufferer may need medical intervention.

It is a sad state of affairs that we still have a negative connotation regarding mental illness. If you have a leg in a cast, or a huge bandage around an injury, the reaction from others is more often than not one of concern and sympathy. However, if you are sad and feeling down, and battling to find anything positive or amusing in your life, you may find yourself ostracised to a certain extent as being too miserable to be around. It is often uncomfortable to spend time or energy trying to cheer up a person who is negative and having an internal battle with themselves and their feelings. When the situation becomes desperate, and even possibly results in a suicide attempt, then those closest to the sufferer may feel guilty at not having seen the signs, or having avoided getting involved because it caused them too must discomfort.

Isn’t it strange that we shun the words “mental health” yet we as humans, provided we are mentally intact ourselves, function as a result of our feelings and emotions most of the time. Unless we have succumbed to a frontal lobotomy we are normally bombarded throughout our waking hours with sights, sounds and various other forms of stimulation which result in our having a mixed bag of emotions. Being able to shrug off anything which causes us to feel down and sad, is usually achievable, within reason. However, if you are suffering from severe depression even the slightest trigger can be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. A failed attempted suicide may be the result, and this then creates a situation where the depressive may be given a limited amount of freedom and is watched constantly in case the next attempt is successful. A challenging situation for everyone involved.

I have known several families throughout my life who have had a family member who committed suicide and this has resulted in painful memories prevailing for many years after the event . There are always feelings of guilt from the surviving relatives or spouse and questions asked of how this could have been avoided.  Were there signs that this was going to occur? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy? If a suicide note is left it probably helps to alleviate many of the unanswered questions. Without a note, is it possible that the act was never meant to be successful but more a cry for help?

There appears to be a massive move afoot in Western society to accept that mental health deserves as much attention as physical health. Telling people to pull themselves together and to cheer up is not an answer to serious depression. Even giving drug therapy often just treats the symptoms and not the underlying cause. It is a difficult balancing act on the part of professionals and is not as simple as mending a broken bone or removing a malfunctioning body part. A holistic approach is probably the most successful treatment which would be likely to include exercise, diet, counselling as well as the possible intervention of certain medication whether alternative or complementary or resorting to anti- depressants, if all else fails.

We all have times when the trials and tribulations of life threaten to be overbearing, but thankfully these interludes do tend to pass without too much trauma. However, if doom and gloom become the order of the day, it is definitely advisable to seek help so that the condition can be nipped in the bud before all the beauty around us fades into oblivion and is replaced by darkness and negativity with life itself having no meaning at all. Together we can all try to make a difference in the lives of others if we just observe, take notice of disturbing signs in those around us and bother to get involved.  Easier said than done as those afflicted may be resistant to others trying to help them, but help we must in order to try to prevent a possibly disastrous outcome.

Human,Hand,Helps,Sad,Young,Girl,In,Depression,Lying,Hugging

Having studied clinical psychology at an Honours BA level, and later qualifying as a Lifeline counsellor following the Carl Rogers approach, I do believe that many of us are capable of helping our friends and family members just by being a good listener. We all tend to run around like headless chickens being busy with our lives and we often resent having to give up some of our precious time for others. However, those who are emotionally hurting need to be heard. Talking to another human being and unloading one’s worries and distresses can be extremely cathartic. By simply identifying the other person’s feelings and emotions and feeding them back to them can sometimes help them to identify their own way forward. Telling a depressed person what they should be doing to get their lives back on track is totally counter- productive. We all (well, most of us at least) have two ears and one mouth. Let the words we are hearing from the one who is battling depression be received consciously by both our ears and let us be very careful what we utter in response.

ESP

It had been happening for as long as she could remember, but she just thought it was something which happened to everyone, but then again – did it? She had never mentioned it to another soul, other than her mother, and most certainly not to Gary, her husband, who was way too practical to have been able to understand it at all. He would be very quick to call for help and it might even include the kind which came equipped with restraints, and men in white coats!  It was a great pity that she had to keep all of this information bottled up inside. Also, very sad that they had so little in common, especially when it came to anything which he deemed to be bordering on lunacy or purely unscientific. Anyway, enough waffling, and let’s see when this gift of Jane’s was going to raise its head again.

Our heroine led a pretty mundane life which consisted of doing some part time work for a local vet and otherwise being a housewife, with one adult son, living in another part of the country, who was presently studying to be a lawyer. However, as it happened, things took an interesting turn one fateful morning in mid – December. She was shopping for Christmas gifts for her brother’s twin girls at the local mall, when she suddenly thought of her old school friend Maureen, and wondered what kind of a life she had lived. Jane hadn’t heard any news concerning her in years and she couldn’t understand why she should be thinking of her now. Despite all the distractions surrounding her in such a busy shopping centre, she just could not get thoughts of Maureen out of her mind. These thoughts were connected to their last day of high school, when everything looked exciting and no -one knew what the future might hold for them. Some of the students would go on to study further whilst others had jobs lined up or were taking a year to travel before worrying about the future. Those were the ones whose parents had enough money to support them while they made up their minds about what they wanted to do. Jane wasn’t one of those, although Maureen probably was, as her parents seemed to be well off, and she was an only child.

ESP 2 350x229

When they all arrived at school on that last day, Shy Simon came into the class carrying a fluffy pink teddy bear. Well, you can just imagine the giggling and hushed whispers from some of the girls as well as the snide remarks from the rugby jocks who were part of the class. Poor Simon must have felt like a total idiot, but he had enough strength of character to ignore everyone. He put the teddy on his desk and didn’t even look around. “Hi Simon. Who’s the lucky girl – or is it for a boy perhaps?” That came from the class stud, Ian, who although extremely good looking, a first team rugby player and the most popular boy with most of the girls, was an absolute egotistical pig. He was also known as being a total dumbo when it came to academics whereas Simon was Dux scholar. Before Simon could answer, Maureen arrived at class and the giggling and sniggering stopped. She was a very pretty, unassuming girl who had a beautiful personality to go with her looks. No-one had anything bad to say about her.

ESP 3 350x220

A few minutes later their class teacher arrived and addressed a few words to the pupils before his attention was taken by the bright pink teddy bear sitting on Simon’s desk. “Well, Simon, that is quite a bear. Who is going to be taking it home with them?”, he asked. With that Simon, who ever since grade 1 had been nicknamed Shy Simon, got up from his seat and walked over to Maureen’s desk and presented the bear to her. “I want to wish you everything of the very best for your future, Maureen. Our paths are very unlikely to ever cross again, but this bear will remind you of how much you have meant to me through all my school years. You will never know how much your kindness has helped me to cope when so many of the rest of you (at this point Simon turned to all the grinning faces which were ready to make a fool of him) couldn’t wait to try to make me feel like a loser. Thank you for your friendship Maureen and may the future bring you everything that you deserve. ” There was total silence in the classroom as Simon placed the bear on Maureen’s desk and went to sit down. No-one said a word.

The last morning at school was taken up with saying goodbyes to one another and saving the addresses and telephone numbers of the people you hoped to keep in touch with as well as signing one another’s school shirts to be kept as souvenirs. Then, in no time at all it was midday and those 12 years of school were finally over.

What has all the above to do with Jane and her extra sensory perception? Well, for as long as she could remember, Jane had been able to know when someone was going to phone her, or when she would find a letter from a friend or relative in her letterbox. It had become commonplace with her, and she just took it for granted. Her mother had also on many occasions seemed to know what was about to happen before it actually did, so Jane never questioned her own intuition, as she called it.  It was obviously a gift which she had inherited. Somewhere in the past there had been an Irish relative who was reputed to have been able to foretell the future, so it must have been a gift which had been passed down through the generations.

When Jane was checking her e-mails later on that day, after a successful shopping expedition and feeling quite tired after lugging so many heavy parcels out of the boot of her car, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. After almost 30 years, there was going to be a reunion of her final high school year. No-one had bothered to do anything at all regarding keeping in touch and now, after all this time, how many of her class were still in the country, or even still alive? The reunion was scheduled for the middle of January, as the writer (past head prefect) felt that too many people would be away on holiday over the festive season. Jane replied in the affirmative and then sat staring at the screen with so many thoughts going through her mind.

Separator -1 500x57 Test

After leaving school, Jane’s family had moved to another part of the country and Jane herself had started working for a small engineering company as their receptionist, but had soon been promoted. She had studied book-keeping part-time and once she completed the course, she began keeping the books for the company and then went on to marry the owner’s son, Gary, much to her parents’ delight. She had virtually lost touch with all her old school friends except for a girl called Shirley who just happened to move to the same town as Jane’s family and who also, coincidentally, joined the same gym as Jane and her husband. Shirley was gay and had moved away from home because her family were extremely narrow minded and made Shirley’s life a living hell. Over time, Jane saw quite a lot of Shirley and her partner, Kay. As Gary was not really into socialising other than with his family and a few golfing friends, the girls made a point of meeting for lunches or dinners at local restaurants or coffee shops at least once a month.

Shirley must have kept in touch with some of the other old friends from school days and given them Jane’s e-mail address, otherwise how on earth would she have been included in the invitation to the reunion? As she gave it some thought, she realised that it would be a lot of fun to go back to the old town and re-connect with some of her ex-classmates. It could be interesting to see just how their lives had panned out and how they differed from hers. Also, it could be very interesting  to find out who had married whom, and which of them were on their second or even third partner! Would Maureen be there, or had she emigrated? She was probably leading a very exciting life, maybe she had even landed up in Hollywood with her looks, and the modelling classes she had always taken. She had a stunning singing voice as a teenager and took ballet classes as well as modelling. Who knew what life had been like for her? Most certainly a lot more exciting than Jane’s!

Separator -2 500x57

Christmas came and went in much the same way as it always did. Martin, their son, spent the festive week with his parents before joining his varsity friends for a holiday down at the coast. Jane’s brother and his family as well as their parents always tried to spend this time of the year together and it normally passed without any squabbles or unpleasantness, unlike so many families to whom Christmas and New Year always presented stress and disappointment. All the cooking and preparations were shared, and the time passed all too quickly.

Before one could blink, Gary was back at work and Jane was into her usual routine. Her three half days at the local vet had become her refuge from the humdrum pattern of housework and shopping. She had been replaced as the bookkeeper at Gary’s company once Martin had arrived. Over the years she had been quite happy to be able to spend the time when he was growing up taking him to all his extramural activities and helping out at school fetes and other fund- raising activities. However, those days were over and she enjoyed her job meeting new people and lending a sympathetic ear when there was worry regarding the health of a favourite pet. It was amazing just how much she had learned just by listening to all the conversations between the vet and the pet owners. She sometimes felt that she was so knowledgeable these days that she could diagnose some of the ailments herself!

Separator -3 500x57

The school reunion was approaching and Jane made the effort of buying an attractive outfit and having her hair re-styled as she wanted to look her best after all these years. Unlike many women of her age, she had kept her figure and always made sure that she wore make-up before she left home. She was really looking forward to the event and she and Shirley had agreed to drive there together and had booked into a local hotel for the night. It was too far to consider coming back home after the dinner and they were certain that the whole affair would probably carry on until fairly late. The woman who had organized everything had found a restaurant which had a large conference room which they were going to use, and music was planned once the meal was over. It all sounded great, and Jane was getting quite excited at the prospect of re-connecting with old friends. Gary was quite happy not to accompany the women to the reunion, citing urgent business as his excuse. Jane was actually rather relieved to be able to play the role of the single woman, if only for one night, as he could be a real party-pooper if the mood took him.

On the afternoon of the reunion, Shirley picked up Jane and they had enough time to take it easy on the journey back to their old hometown. It was quite strange, but on the way, Jane suddenly started feeling really sad and depressed, and she just could not stop thinking about her old school friend, Maureen. Try as she might, her mood became very morbid, and she really battled to shake it off, in order to enjoy this rare time of freedom from the humdrum routine which was her normal life. She tried chatting about all sorts of different things while Shirley did the driving but deep down she felt sad and couldn’t understand why.

The women booked into their hotel and parted company as they each went to their own rooms to relax for a while before getting themselves showered and dressed for the evening. Shirley’s partner had also decided to avoid any form of potential unpleasantness which may have cropped up by joining in on the occasion, and it seemed that Shirley too was quite happy to have some time to herself. The arrangement was that they would arrive at the venue around 7pm and dinner would be served at 8pm.  

When they arrived at the restaurant it was to find that they hardly recognized some of the people whom they had last seen so long ago. It was unbelievable how many of them looked like total strangers. A large number of the men had lost most of their hair, had pot bellies and bore no resemblance to the 18 year olds with whom they had matriculated. The women seemed to have fared better, although some of them looked extremely overweight, frumpy or, in some cases, mutton dressed as lamb. Very short dresses with high heels were fine as long as the body did justice to the overall look. Once the drinks started flowing, and people started introducing themselves to one another, a festive feel came over the gathering. Jane, however, although chatting away to some of her old classmates, still could not dispel the feeling of sadness and gloom which had been bothering her most of the day.

ESP 4 350x195

It was interesting to find out how some of the classmates’ lives had panned out. Some of them had actually moved overseas but had made the effort to be there for the reunion, others were still living in the same town and their own children now attended the same high school as their parents and, unbelievably, some of the original teachers were still teaching there. Amazing how, although time marches on regardless, some things just stay the same. It turned out that two of the classmates had died over the past few years. One had sadly committed suicide when his business collapsed, and the other one had been killed in a light aircraft crash. Other than that, it seemed as though the passing years had been pretty kind to most of them.

It was almost time for them to take their places at the tables as dinner was about to be served. Suddenly two late comers arrived and all the chatting and laughing came to an abrupt halt. The late arrivals were assisted into the conference room by two of the hotel staff who held the door wide enough for the two wheelchairs to enter. There was a shocked silence, and no-one seemed ready to make the first move. The couple who had just arrived had hardly changed at all in appearance, but it was quite clear that their circumstances most certainly had changed, and not for the better either.

Separator -4 500x57

It was Maureen who broke the silence by saying in her well- remembered, clear and melodious voice, “Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for contacting Simon and I. We wouldn’t have missed this occasion for anything!”

Everyone started gathering around the two wheelchairs and the whole atmosphere very quickly returned to its previous happy and jovial mood. No-one had expected Maureen and Simon to have remained friends, but it would seem that they were far more than friends. It was time to be seated at the tables and everyone had their name on their designated spot. It was ironic, but Maureen and Simon had been placed in the centre of the long table, as it was obvious that one of the old classmates had known their circumstances. It turned out, once Maureen started explaining, over the first delicious course of the dinner, that both she and Simon had gone their own ways for over 20 years, until bumping into one another whilst on an organized coach tour of Europe. Neither of them had married, and they each had several failed relationships behind them. They had found that they really enjoyed one another’s company and it wasn’t long before they moved in together, and a year later got married.

No-one wanted to bombard them with personal questions, but it wasn’t necessary as Maureen told everyone the devastating story which had resulted in both herself and Simon being wheelchair bound. It seemed unbelievably bad luck that within a year of their marriage, Maureen had taken a tumble down a flight of stairs at a local shopping centre and had broken her back in several places and would never walk unaided again, whereas Simon had been diagnosed a few months after Maureen’s accident with multiple sclerosis which was currently progressing rather rapidly, He was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his balance, hence the wheelchairs, which they now both needed. Maureen had enjoyed many years as a relatively successful dancer and singer and had travelled quite extensively until she found that she was getting very tired of the lack of permanence in her life. Simon, on the other hand, had qualified as an accountant and had held a high position but realised that he had an insatiable desire to travel. It was ironic that he should have booked for a European coach tour at the same time that Maureen had decided to have a really chilled travelling holiday, without having to arrange hotel bookings, theatre tickets etc. How strange that life had brought them together after all these years. They seemed so very much in love, and it was a real eye opener for many of the old classmates to see these two, with all the challenges ahead of them, being so comfortable with their situation, and so obviously happy.

Jane realised that those thoughts of Maureen which had popped into her head several weeks ago must have been her esp. along with the feelings of melancholy which had crept in today. Any sadness had now been dispelled as it was clear that Maureen and Simon had something very special, which many of the other people attending this reunion might never experience for themselves, even if they lived to be 100. Sad as their situation might appear to others, they actually had a relationship which was to be envied and not pitied. Life was full of surprises, good and bad, and having a sixth sense was something which you got used to and embraced. Altogether, the reunion just cemented the fact that life cannot be controlled and it is full of surprises, challenges, and good times which need to be savoured and stored in one’s memory, to be brought out in the years ahead to give meaning to everything. One just did not know what might lie ahead and, possibly, that was a good thing anyway.

Little things please not so little minds

Isn’t it amazing how we often tend to forget that, as part of the human race, we are so lucky to have been gifted with emotions as part of our genetic makeup. This generalisation obviously refers to those of us who fortunately do not have any underlying conditions preventing the manifestation of emotion. We know that animals too have the ability to feel and to react in various ways to different stimuli, which we perceive to be their form of emotion. However, for this brief article I will concentrate only on emotions which are a common denominator amongst a large percentage of homosapiens.

Covid 19 and isolation apart, we are often so busy chasing our tails in the ongoing need to earn a living that we forget to “stop and smell the roses” for want of another more apt expression. That being said, the divine fragrance of a rose has the ability to elevate one above the mundane pressures always prevalent in life, and transport one to another world – a world where life is good and worries are banished. Surely this must be the reason for roses having been a symbol of love and devotion throughout the ages and still today, sending a bouquet of beautiful roses is seen as a sign of just how much the sender cares for the recipient. Sadly, cultivated roses tend to have no fragrance, so to own a rose bush which produces gorgeous smelling flowers and to be able to enjoy them for many months each year, is a real privilege.

Enough about roses, and what about the feelings which are stirred up from browsing through old photos, birthday or Christmas cards received from friends and family over many years. So often one tends to have forgotten just how precious a certain person was in one’s life and it can be a very emotional as well as therapeutic journey to spend some time just remembering the past. Nothing makes me feel more sad than seeing in a charity shop a photograph album which is full of old black and white photos which have no meaning to anyone other than the person who lovingly filled all the pages, and is now obviously long gone. A tragedy that there was no-one left behind who cared enough to keep the album, in memory of the relative or friend who died.

Ornaments which were purchased to embellish one’s home or as mementos of a much enjoyed holiday or given for a special occasion are items which often tend to just take up space in one’s home and periodically need to be polished, washed or dusted. Taking the time to actually think back to the reason for them being in your home can also resurrect all sorts of emotions, especially if they are connected to a place or time which created great memories for you.

Taking a little time to handle items which have been in a display cabinet, untouched, for years gives one the opportunity to take a well- deserved trip down memory lane and reconnect with the past in a very positive way. The smallest item may have the potential to make you feel a rush of emotion which may surprise you. We all know that the past is the past, but to have old memories conjured up by handling a small item which  has been in our possession for a long time can make you realise just how good life has been despite all the possible pitfalls and sadness along the way.

Being strong and not showing one’s feelings is all well and good, especially out there in the work force,  but sometimes we need to be able to let our defences down and allow our emotions to take over, albeit in the privacy of our own homes. To suddenly feel the need to dance around the lounge, to cry over some old photos or greeting cards, to giggle over memories of old friends – this is a gift which we humans have and we need to preserve it as long as we possibly can. After all, emotions and being able to express them are what make us human and show that we are all much the same despite our many differences. So try not to feel any guilt when you take the time to chill out, and to do those things which stir up your emotions and give you the much needed zest for life which life itself often manages to take away.

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room
in our hearts.” – Winnie The Pooh

The Effects of Lockdown on Mental Health

For a large number of human beings who have grown up in societies where freedom has been taken for granted, lockdown with all its restrictions appears to have had a massive effect on mental health. I have read recently, as well as having heard reports on the radio, that many mental health professionals and organizations such as Lifeline, have been inundated with calls from people feeling so down that they are contemplating suicide.

How do we explain these feelings of desperation? People by nature need contact with others unless they have chosen a life of solitude, such as becoming a hermit monk. I don’t think that the percentage of people who have gone in that direction can be very high, to be honest. Being isolated from family members and close friends has been very tough on most people but especially on those who live alone. Different countries have treated lockdown in their own way and with their own level of trying to control the spread of the virus. However, where it has resulted in the banning of friends and family members being able to come to one’s home, this has proved to be a very hard pill to swallow and has caused many people to feel extremely isolated and depressed.

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall in misery
the time when we were happy.” – Dante

Even if one has been able to carry on making a living whilst working from home, just having to think twice before going anywhere can, in itself, be a very distressing way of living. Is it really necessary to go outside one’s home? What is the risk of coming in contact with the virus? Are you in that age group which is seen as the vulnerable bracket or do you have an underlying health issue which could affect you very negatively, if you should you actually get Covid 19? Are you comfortable having to wear a cotton mask whilst you are outside the home? If you wear glasses, can you even see with the mask having the effect of steaming up your lenses? Oh boy, so much to take into consideration and you are more than likely happier to stay at home after all, and make do with the groceries you already have in your store cupboard or do the obvious and order on line.

Many elderly people living in retirement homes have been in total lockdown for months now in order to protect them and the rest of the residents from the possibility of being infected by visitors who may be carrying the virus. These individuals are not in total isolation as there are others living close by as well as nurses and caregivers in most cases. They would have been in a much more difficult situation if they had still been living in their previous homes, very often after having lost their partner.

Much has been said recently about the effect this lockdown, and the fear of the virus, is having on children and young adults. Although children are believed to be fairly resilient and able to bounce back in many situations, this Covid 19 pandemic is completely alien to us all. No-one has so far devised a fool-proof method of teaching them new coping strategies. Only time will tell just how severely this lockdown, with all its restrictions, has affected the mental health of many young people all over the world. One can only hope that it won’t be too long before we can all relax a little and start to put our rather fractured lives back together again, even though we are warned that a “normal” way of life will, in fact, be a “new normal”.

Lockdown Mental 2 350x218

In the meantime, whilst we are playing the wait and see game, children are slowly returning, or have already returned, to the classroom. Having to have their temperature taken each morning before going into the school building, wearing a mask all day long, and being sanitized at the school door, are all practices which have to be followed. Some parents have reported having to cope with children returning from school complaining of headaches and being extremely tired. This could be as a result of the new regulations in place forcing them to breathe behind a cotton mask whilst trying to concentrate on the work being presented to them by the teacher. It is critical for parents and teachers to take cognisance of these side effects which appear to be the result of going back to school.

Having been home schooled for so long, it stands to reason that it will take some time before students, especially the younger ones, adjust once again to being away from the comfort and relative safety of their home environment. The school year had hardly begun in the southern hemisphere when Covid 19 reared its very ugly head. Little people had just become happy to say goodbye to their parents in the mornings and the crying and clinging had stopped. Now, there is a big chance that this will start all over again as the smaller ones face going back to pre-schools and nursery schools.

Lockdown Mental 2 350x233

The excitement of seeing friends again and interacting with other children is obviously a big factor when it comes to going back to school. Online lessons, with the advantage of Zoom, is a good substitute but nothing can compare with the fun that often comes from interacting with one’s peer group. This mixing with their own age group is particularly important for teenagers, who often feel that only their friends understand them. Months of keeping friendships going via social media and mobile phone calls does not have the same meaning as actually seeing and interacting with one another.

Teenagers have been affected badly by the lockdown and isolation and they have always been a very vulnerable group where suicide is concerned. Without school classes as well as sporting activities it stands to reason that many young people would have experienced feelings of anger and frustration Those looking towards writing their final exams at the end of the year must have become very anxious, especially if it was impossible for them to study on line. Others may have suddenly had to give up the intense physical training they were doing regularly in their various sports. With so much having been halted in one foul swoop, it is no wonder that the result is often depression and a severe feeling of loss.

Lockdown Mental 3 350x233

Many parents too must have thought the end of the world had come when, having to work from home, surrounded by young children needing care and on-line lessons, they are totally exhausted every single day. Realising just how demanding trying to teach children can be has definitely raised the respect level given to the teaching profession. However, the feelings experienced by parents of not doing everything as well as they should, may also have caused much anxiety and despondency as this is not a normal situation, by any manner of means.

Lockdown Mental 4 350x223

One wonders whether the effects of this pandemic will be long lasting or will we all forget just how stressful life in 2020 has been. So far, we have actually lost a huge portion of the year which has included Easter, Mothers’ Day and soon, Fathers’ Day and one hopes that by the time Christmas arrives, things will be looking a little brighter. It seems that it is only countries like New Zealand and Australia who have been affected very little by Covid 19, whilst the rest of us are soldiering on and hoping for brighter days ahead. Well, hope doesn’t cost anything, but if you are suffering from severe depression then hope can be a pipe dream.

My wish at this time is that all those people who are at the end of their tether reach out to the organizations who are available when life seems worthless and that they find a listener who has empathy and the ability to assist them and prevent a disaster. After all, tomorrow is another day, and sometimes there really is light at the end of a very dark tunnel – as long as hope survives.

“I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what
I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one
were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom
of a deep
dark well, utterly helpless.” – Vincent Van Gogh 

Update and Comments: 18 April 2020 – Lockdown!

Lockdown

I heard the best ever reaction to our lockdown, from my 6 year old grandson. When he was told by his mother that our president had extended the period for our isolation, he apparently was absolutely thrilled, “Oh, great! I love lockdown. I wish we could always have lockdown!” The reason for this euphoria is all due to his parents devoting hours and hours (whilst they still have had to try to work from home) finding exciting and unusual ways to entertain two boys of 6 (going on 7) and 2 (going on 3)years of age.

I imagine that when this is all over, and we are able to return to some semblance of normality, the parents of these two children will breathe a united sigh of relief as they will probably be far less exhausted being back in their respective work environments than they are in their own homes right now. Everything from finger painting, building Lego, making a fort using their bunk beds as well as outdoor furniture, having an indoor obstacle course created for them, bouncing as a family on the trampoline, chasing around the garden, making muffins ….the list goes on and on. They are very lucky to be living in a home where there are parents who are able to give them this kind of attention and also where the fear of having no food to eat is not part of the equation.

At the other end of the continuum are the millions of poor families who suffer so badly whenever anything unexpected takes place. Whether this is bad weather, illness, a collapse in the economy resulting in job losses or, as is the current situation, a previously unknown epidemic, they are the ones who need to be remembered and helped wherever possible. Unfortunately, where a country has an almost collapsed economy the plight of millions of people becomes a bigger problem than the epidemic itself.  It is, however, heartening to hear of the extremely generous donations being made by people such as Nicky and Oppenheimer – R1 billion; Mary Oppenheimer and daughters  – R1 billion;  the Rupert family and Remgro Ltd. – R1 billion; the Motsepe family and associated businesses – R1 billion, as well as R1.5 billion donated by Naspers, part of which will go towards the Solidarity Response Fund established by the government to help limit the lockdown’s impact on the economy and those who are living in poverty.

As is so often the case, there are normal individuals who have put their hands in their pockets to give whatever they are able to afford, as well as giving time to assist where they can, for example sewing masks for local hospitals.   Radio stations have come on board together with big companies in trying to help those suffering the most but only time will tell just how bad the outbreak is going to be and how quickly all the informal workers as well as the self-employed can start working once again and avoid an even greater disaster than the pandemic itself.

The whole world is reeling from the shock of this epidemic and all we can do is to try to remain positive and to keep in touch with others who may be in isolation and alone. A phone call to say that you are thinking about them may make a big difference in their lives at this challenging time, just knowing that someone cares.

Wash your hands, sanitize, wear that mask if you go out, and more than that let’s all try to enjoy the day we have today and hope that tomorrow is here for us all and finds us well and still sane!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

Updates and Comments2 472x265

Update and Comments: 20 March 2020

Confusion reigns

We all believe that we are invincible and that anything which is happening in another part of the world is not going to affect us in any way. How wrong can we be, as this Corona Virus (Covid-19) virus is proving to us all. The fact that we are able, through all the technological advances at our finger tips, to follow the lives of fellow humans all over the globe, can cause mass panic and fear amongst us and this is becoming more and more evident as the number of diagnosed cases increases.

Somehow, we have all been led to believe that the government and its policies will look after us when disaster strikes. We forget that every one of these so called “leaders” are just mere mortals like the rest of us. They have a tremendous task, when unforeseen events occur, to try to convince the population at large that they, the so-called people in charge, are aware of the problems and are in a position to offer solutions.  I suppose this is their way of attempting to prevent us all from going stark staring mad due to fear and panic. The trouble is that they are often spouting promises with little actual facts at their fingertips as to how to solve the problem at hand.

All one is hearing right now is how shelves in retail stores are stripped of items such as toilet rolls and hand sanitizer! For goodness sake, what happened to good old soap and water? It is a sad fact of life however that for many people in South Africa, as well as many other parts of the world, the availability of running water is a pipe dream (rather an unthinking pun, for which I sincerely apologise!) and those same people are not in a financial position to purchase expensive hand sanitizers. When you live in a crowded environment and have to queue up to use communal toilets, I hardly think you can afford to buy economy packs of 2 ply loo paper either. So, the more clued up you are about health and safety, sometimes the more idiotically you behave. One would have thought that, if you can afford to bulk buy in order to protect yourself, you would be in a reasonably good financial position which should surely be linked to a certain level of education and/or intelligence? Apparently not, if all the hooliganism surrounding the purchasing of toilet paper is to be taken seriously.

Whilst I may appear to be flippant about this pandemic, it is certainly not the case. One is constantly second guessing just how to carry on when making a living is all important. Being surrounded by others who are losing their jobs, having functions cancelled upon which their livelihood depends is very distressing, and it’s not easy to remain positive right now. We have abundant challenges world-wide every single day, even without the threat of coming down with the virus, but we just have to try to band together (from a distance, and after sanitizing our hands!) and offer emotional support if possible. Doesn’t the old adage say that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger? Well, we can only hope that this proves to be the case right now.

As I am writing this, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and all is well in my little neck of the woods. The gate, which was hit by lightening a month ago has finally been repaired, my flat tyre on my indispensable little Hyundai i10 has been fixed, and I managed to get my doctor to issue a repeat of my prescription without having to spend time sitting in a waiting room which was jam packed with coughing and sick looking individuals.

So, all is well in this neck of the woods for the time being at least. Hope all who read this missive are taking the right precautions, and if you are quarantined, read all those books which you have been stockpiling for that elusive day when you have some time on your hands.

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

Updates and Comments2 472x265

Update and Comments: 3 February 2020

Never Just Another Day !

Every day is a clean slate in many ways, and you just never know what you are likely to experience. Sometimes you tend to feel battered and bruised, especially when you are let down by friends and family who somehow just don’t do what you would have expected them to do. The only way to cope with these disappointments is to always try to remember that, no matter how much we think we know another person, everyone has their own unique agenda, and way of going about life.  It is somewhat egocentric to think that somebody else is actually capable of even knowing how you feel and what you expect from them. The upside is that life is rarely dull and boring when you are in contact with other members of the human race. That having been said, even one’s four- legged family members are often a complete enigma and can be full of surprises – not always what you would have anticipated or even considered when they came into your life.  That is another story entirely.

If you are, like me, a person who has always been labelled as talkative (at least one junior school report stated, “Judith would do better to listen more, and talk less!”) then it can really be a big advantage once you leave the restrictive school environment. When it comes to getting to know other people then it really is far easier if one tends to be more of an extrovert than an introvert. The years should have taught us to use our ears twice as much as our mouths, and then the interaction with new acquaintances is likely to yield some amazing facts. Nothing is more rewarding than finding that you connect really comfortably with someone you just happened to meet along life’s way, purely by starting a conversation.

There is always likely to be something which any two people have in common, be it age, culture, career, one’s children, pets or even just being in the same place at the same time. So often you stand in a queue waiting to be served and the person in front of you may seem quite unfriendly, judging by their demeanour. However, just a word about the weather or a comment regarding the products you have purchased, may result in a total change of mood and you find you have a very pleasant interaction until it is your turn to be served. Poking fun at yourself is also an ice breaker and it is good if we are able to take ourselves less seriously than we may have done when we were younger.

The reason for this piece of writing is due to my having had a really great experience last week. Walking through a local shopping centre, I happened to find myself passing a woman who was working on her laptop whilst having a cup of coffee. I couldn’t resist just making a comment regarding never being able to get away from one’s work. She responded immediately and it was very refreshing to discover that we had quite a similar outlook on life despite a difference in age as well as culture.  When I left I just felt that I needed to give her my business card, purely so she would have my mobile number as well as my e-mail address. A few days later I was absolutely thrilled to receive a short message from her saying how much she had enjoyed our conversation. I will definitely be keeping in touch with her as, seeing what it is that she does for a living, opens up many areas of common interest which would make for great future conversations.

So, my words of wisdom, for what they are worth, are that the best way to handle each day with all its potential challenges and stresses is to go out there and face the world and expect the unexpected! With a bit of luck, whatever the day may bring, as long as you have the right state of mind, you will experience more positives than negatives which should leave you feeling satisfied when evening comes and you finally drift off into the Land of Nod.

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect
– Oscar Wilde

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

Updates and Comments2 472x265

Assuming – can make an ass of you and me!

In the fast- paced world in which we live, it is so easy to miss important cues when dealing with other people. We also often tend to overlook a situation where another person is having a hard time because it might just be too uncomfortable for us to acknowledge their need. Assuming that the front which someone projects to the world at large is a true reflection of their life is a common mistake which we all make at one time or another.  Sometimes all that it takes to really learn about someone is to listen attentively to them, not to constantly interrupt, and to show that you are interested. It isn’t always possible to do anything physical to help improve matters, but one can offer comfort in many ways. A statement which I read recently really struck home. “You will be remembered, not for what you did, but how you made people feel”. If we could all follow this advice, the world could be a much less challenging place in which to live.

“Assumptions are made, and most assumptions are wrong!
– Albert Einstein

Nothing is more satisfying than having someone tell you that, just because you gave up some of your valuable time to listen to them, and perhaps offered some worthwhile advice, they feel so much better after having spoken to you.  You never know just how much showing that you care about another person, can affect their future. We all need recognition and it isn’t always forthcoming. Regardless of the kind of family to which we belong, we are often unconsciously competing with other family members for feelings of self-worth, and emotional reward. Where young people are concerned, this situation commonly flows over into the school environment and, later in life, the workplace as well. In fact, in modern society at least, competing has become a way of life and the frightening fact is that it seems to start almost from the cradle with over zealous parents comparing their offspring with those of their friends and relatives. Social media has the rather negative ability to exacerbate the entire situation.

To take oneself out of the equation in our interaction with others, is something which does not come naturally to most of us. After all, who doesn’t love to hear the sound of their own voice? This in itself can be a problem when we are dealing with other people. Everyone wants to be heard, but I don’t believe that many of us really like the kind of person who has verbal diarrhoea and always tries to dominate the conversation. We need to remember the old adage that we were born with two ears and only one mouth, therefore we should be listening twice as much as talking. Not always easy to remember, but certainly worth a try! You can only truly listen to what is being said if you learn to force yourself to stop preparing your own contribution to the conversation whilst the other person is still speaking.

Several years of Lifeline counselling, using the Carl Rogers method, cemented for me the importance of allowing the person needing help to formulate their own way of moving forward. This is a non- invasive form of counselling whereby the counsellor does not direct the form of action which the person being counselled should take. It is a safe method which allows people to take control of how they will try to change their own set of circumstances. Just by their feelings and concerns being fed back to them by the counsellor, a person is often able to see their way forward.

In our day to day interactions with other people, it may be very enlightening to take the time to ask them a little about themselves. Very often those people who seem to be fully in control of every area of their lives, are the ones who are actually battling with inner demons and feelings of inadequacy. We have the proverbial hats which we wear in various situations and, after all, we are all members of the human race (there are always those who somehow don’t seem to fit into that category, but let’s leave them alone for now!)and we share doubts and fears which plague us all from time to time.

Just knowing that someone cares and is interested in you can be a life saver when things are going pear shaped, and there seems to be no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  Yes, we all know that things  change over time but, in the here and now, to have someone who bothers enough to lend an ear to your concerns may make all the difference and enable you to carry on despite the struggles with which you are faced.  A late friend of mine who offered counselling for many years used to say, over and over again, “There are no throw away people”. We should bear this in mind when we are dealing with one another and be there when needed if we possibly can. By not assuming that what we see on the outside is the same as on the inside where our fellow beings are concerned, we may be able to make a positive contribution to their lives in ways of which we may never be aware.

“Your assumptions are your window on the world.
Scrub them off
every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”
– Isaac Asimov 

Resignation

Dear Michael and Jane

It is with a great deal of regret and sadness that I am sending you this letter. We have been housemates now for roughly 4 years and I have got to the stage where, to coin a much used phrase, enough is enough. I am quitting as from today.

For all these years I have had your safety and needs at the forefront of my mind. I have never been able to do all the things that I really wanted to do, but only what you allowed. So many rules to obey and when I disobeyed them I was made to feel like an absolute loser, and you often threatened to get rid of me. Do you have any idea at all how that made me feel? You often made the comment that I looked upset, and maybe a bit guilty? Well, I actually did often feel hurt by your words and rough treatment of me, but all I was able to do was convey my feelings with my body language without saying a single word in my own defence.

You have been able to go out for expensive meals and have trips to the theatre whenever you felt like it, knowing that I was looking after your fancy house with all its precious antiques. I never ever broke a single item, and everything was always in perfect condition when you got home. You rarely even bothered thanking me for my loyalty, let alone having to stay awake until late at night until you both stumbled in, often reeking of alcohol. I must say that I was very glad when, several months ago, after your last run in with the traffic police, that you started using Uber to go out in the evenings. I used to worry as to what would happen to me should you be involved in a serious accident and not come home. I know it sounds very selfish, but we have been very much dependent on each other these past 4 years or so.

Anyway, as I said just now, enough is enough and I am leaving. At this stage I have not made up my mind exactly how I am going to move on with my life, but running away seems to be the best option. I am going to wait until I have had my breakfast tomorrow and, when you open the gate to bring in the rubbish bin, I am going to make a dash for it. I have made good friends with the woman who runs the local doggy grooming parlour, and she and her workers are very fond of me. I know that they will help me to find another job. They are sure to be prepared to give me a good recommendation, should it be required. They have always been suspicious of the way you two have treated me – almost like a poor, mentally deficient relative.

So, come what may, this letter is to tell you that you both need to look at your selfish behaviour and, before it is too late, make serious changes. Even at this stage things could be improved, but it’s all up to you. I have done my best to be hard working and honest, and I have never attacked you or made a mess in the house. I have been faithful, loving and courteous to your ghastly relatives with their ill-bred brats. I so often wanted to nip their overweight backsides, and really had to force myself to be well controlled when they visited you. You can be very grateful that I didn’t savage either of you two either, and believe me there have been many times when I would willingly have taken a big chunk out of you both. Especially when you sit on the couch, watching a rugby match, drinking beer and munching away on delicious biltong and offering me not a single solitary piece. Greedy devils that you are!

Well, you will find this letter once I have left, and hopefully you will come to your senses, see just what you have lost, and perhaps we can come to some or other amicable arrangement for the future. However, this is all up to you – the ball is totally in your court! Maybe you could consider buying me a couple of new ones if I do agree to any new terms and conditions which I feel may improve my life should I return to your home.

Anyway, you may find me at the parlour, unless I have already found a new home.

Regards

Mickey the Mutt

Resignation 2 350x233

The Unexpected

PART 1.

The advert had read: “2 bed-roomed flat in well maintained complex. Sea view. Within walking distance of shops and other amenities. Immediate occupation.” Just what she was looking for, provided the rental was within her budget.

As it turned out, the price had been right and here she was, two weeks later, surrounded by boxes and feeling on the verge of hysteria. Gill had been thrilled when she’d viewed the place, but that had been in the evening when the lighting had been dim and cosy. Now, in full mid-morning sunlight she had the feeling that she might just have made a very big mistake. How could she have signed a 12 month lease for a dump like this! She felt the tears springing to her eyes, and struggled to pull herself together. A cup of coffee might help to improve her mood, but in her current frame of mind, maybe something a lot stronger might be more to the point!

Standing on the balcony, sipping the steaming mug of coffee (wine would have to wait until much later!) she tried to relax. Yes, she could see the sea way over there in the distance, and the flat was within walking distance of the shops and a large medical centre and was on a bus route. The problem was the flat itself. The paintwork was filthy, the carpets a grubby nondescript colour and, judging by the state of the bathroom, the building was at least 50 years old. The landlord had told her that she was free to decorate if she felt inclined, as he himself had no intention of ever moving into the flat as he now lived in another city.

Having finished her coffee, Gill braced herself before re-entering the living room. The furniture had been plonked down by the removal men and, apart from the heavy items such as the fridge, needed to be re-arranged. Where to start, that was the question. Why had she refused everyone’s offer of help? Sometimes her insistence on being self-sufficient was to her own detriment.  She had been determined to show everyone that she could cope very well on her own, and now she was already regretting being so hard headed. Her best friend, Margie, had often told her that she shouldn’t be so stubborn, and that people deserved the opportunity to help their friends. Gill knew she was right, but at 29 she felt it necessary to be as independent as possible.

Next birthday would herald in the 30’s and that was a very sobering thought. Some of Gill’s friends were already married for the second time, and yet she was still alone and rapidly heading for a place on the proverbial shelf. She had never been short of male company and on several occasions she had honestly believed that she had met Mr. Right.  Luckily for her, she had discovered on each occasion, before any plans were made for that trip down the aisle, that Mr. Right was in fact Mr. very Wrong indeed.

The decision to move from her sister and brother-in-law’s garden cottage had been made for many reasons. Firstly, moving into town meant far less time spent travelling to and from the office. Then there was the chaos which prevailed at her sister’s home. With 4 children all under the age of 8, 5 dogs, numerous cats as well as an African Grey parrot which all day long alternated between barking like a dog, imitating the car alarms and occasionally letting rip with some very choice profanities, life was far from relaxing. The cottage was attached to the main house so there was very little privacy at all. Yes, it was most definitely time to move out before she got taken away kicking and screaming by men in white coats!

Janet, Gill’s sister, was made for domesticity and the noise which prevailed constantly in her home seemed to go totally unnoticed. How Peter, her husband, could also remain so calm and collected surrounded by such total mayhem had always puzzled Gill. Different strokes for different folks!

Finally, Janet was always making rather snide remarks regarding Gill’s single life-style. It could have been a case of sour grapes due to Gill having only herself to consider and being able to afford trips abroad every couple of years. Sibling rivalry had always played its role when the girls were younger, with Gill being the prettier of the two and far more academically inclined than her sister. It seemed sad that this should have continued into adulthood but it was what it was. Gill had always been a very willing aunt to the children and was ready to look after the entire menagerie for days at a time to allow Janet and Peter to have the odd break.  Although it was appreciated, Gill still got the feeling that there was a great deal of envy where her single life was concerned. On her part, she would have been very happy to tie the knot if the right person had come along. If it happened then so be it, but at this moment in time, moving into her own flat was the most important thing.

PART 2.

Dragging her thoughts back to the present, Gill armed herself with a bucket of hot, soapy water and a scrubbing brush. There was no way on earth that she could consider unpacking anything without first cleaning the grimy paintwork on the doors and walls. Somewhere around lunchtime she was startled by the ringing of her doorbell. She wasn’t expecting anyone to call in today so she peered through the spy hole to see who was outside.  Standing there was a dark-haired man carrying a florist’s bouquet. She opened the door in surprise – it wasn’t her birthday and her friends didn’t even know the number of her new flat. So, who could be sending her flowers? The man smiled at her and thrust the beautiful colourful arrangement into her arms. “Enjoy your day ma’am” he said before turning and hurrying back the way he had come.

“Excuse me, but….”, too late! He had already disappeared around the corner leaving a bewildered Gill holding the flowers and feeling totally confused. She went back inside, closing the front door behind her before opening the greeting card attached to the flowers. Funny, but didn’t one usually have to sign for receiving flowers? The message on the card didn’t make any sense to Gill either. “Couldn’t believe my eyes. Welcome to Hilton Heights. D”. She would have thought the flowers were meant for someone else, except for the fact that she had just moved into Hilton Heights that very day. Who on earth was “D”?

She watered the arrangement and placed it on the dining room table in amongst boxes of books and crockery. How on earth would she ever find out who had sent her the flowers? Oh, well, better get back to work. She switched on her small (rather out of date, but still very functional) portable radio for company, and carried on with the cleaning and sorting out. This continued for the rest of the day and by the time the furniture in the flat was relatively liveable Gill was absolutely exhausted. She would leave hanging the curtains until tomorrow as no-one could see into her apartment and she was way too tired to carry on any longer.

The thought of going out to eat supper was out of the question and she was about to hunt for a tin of something in her box of groceries which she could heat up in the microwave, when the doorbell rang once again. This time it was a teenager from a local pizza takeaway branch. When she said she hadn’t ordered anything he told her that it had already been paid for and no, it wasn’t a mistake. The address which he had been given was definitely flat No. 21. He wasn’t able to tell her who had placed the order, just that there was nothing to pay. Gill composed herself enough to give the youngster a generous tip before collapsing onto the couch to enjoy the unexpected and very welcome meal. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before and she could be forgiven for starting to think that she was hallucinating from overwork and low blood sugar level. She made a mental note to phone some of her friends when she had a spare moment to see whether anyone had any idea as to what was going on. Could the landlord be feeling guilty about the state of his flat and be trying to clear his conscience by sending her some moving-in gifts?

PART 3.

The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully, and it was with a sense of relief that Gill arrived at the office on Monday morning. She was tired of cleaning and unpacking but the flat was slowly beginning to feel like home. She felt more optimistic about its potential now that her furniture was in place and her new curtains had been hung up. Altogether, it really looked very attractive and even the carpets weren’t as bad as at first sight. Once her trendy scatter rugs were in place you really didn’t notice their condition at all. She was determined to spend the next few weekends armed with a paintbrush and adding some subtle colour to the walls and doorframes.

No-one admitted responsibility for the flowers or the pizza, and her friends and colleagues teased her about her secret admirer. She wasn’t convinced though and suspected that her friend, Margie in accounts, had something to do with it all. Nothing unexpected happened all day, but her boss was ever more exasperating than normal. He was due to fly to Singapore the following week, so had mountains of correspondence for Gill to handle. He was a man who tended to become excitable and impatient every time he needed to go overseas on business. Gill suspected that he would be happier pottering around his garden at home rather than sitting around a boardroom table. He had once divulged the fact that he had been forced by circumstances to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and become a third generation accountant, but would have loved to have studied horticulture.

Margie popped her head around the door of Gill’s office to remind her about the dinner party she had planned for Friday evening. She said that it wasn’t necessary for Gill to bring a partner with her as there was a friend she wanted to introduce her to.  This happened on a regular basis and Gill found this whole “let’s find you a husband” routine to be getting rather tedious. However, the offer to help with any future painting and the promise of a phone number of a reliable and affordable carpet cleaning company was very well received. Gill was aching all over from the weekend’s labours and this time was only too willing to accept the offer of help. The sooner the flat was completely the way she wanted it, the sooner she could start inviting her friends to come over for drinks.

The week flew by. She’d almost worn her fingers to stumps with all the extra typing and it was a miracle that Mr. Hyslop hadn’t been strangled and thrown out of the 9th storey window. It was late on Friday afternoon that she gave any thought to the unknown person who her friend wanted her to meet. Margie was living with her long-time fiancé, Jacques, and the wedding was being planned for December. She couldn’t bear the thought that Gill was still unattached and was always on the look-out for prospective partners for her. So far none of them had been Gill’s type at all. They belonged to two clubs – Nerds Anonymous and Divorce Survivors. She was tired of listening to discussions of The Latest developments in IT, Healthy Living, Maintenance Payments and Life Without the kids.

When Gill arrived home, she found a note pinned to her front door telling he that there was an item of mail for her at the caretaker’s flat. She had only met the caretaker and his wife on two occasions before and they could have stepped right out of the pages of a Roald Dahl book. She wouldn’t like to cross swords with either of them. Not a particularly pleasant middle-aged couple at all. They had made it quite clear that they disapproved of loud music, noisy children, and late-night partying. As she knocked on their door she made a silent resolution to throw the biggest, noisiest, mind-blowing party the night before she moved out of this building one day in the distant future. Mr. Smit opened the door and nodded when he saw Gill on the doorstep. Studying the ground in front of her, he muttered something about a parcel having been delivered for her whilst she was at work, and that he had signed for it on her behalf. He shoved it into her hand and, before she could thank him, he had already closed the door. “I’d better make sure I never lock myself out of my flat”, thought Gill, “Waking him up late at night could be a fate worse than death”. The parcel in her hand was wrapped in brown paper and was addressed in black capital letters. There was no postmark that she could see, so she had absolutely no idea from where it had come.

Once inside her flat she tore off the wrapping and found herself looking at the glossy hard cover of a book entitled, “Do it Yourself Home Decorating”. The pages seemed to be full of quick, up to the minute ideas on turning even the most depressing room into an eye-catching work of art. Just the kind of book Gill loved. She searched for some clue as to the identity of the sender. On the inside cover were the words, “Happy decorating. Best wishes, D”. Who on earth was “D”? Was it the same person who had sent her flowers, and most probably the pizza, and now this book? She’d known several Daves, a Danny and even a Dimitri over the years, but her most recent boyfriend had been Michael and the only D in his life was his regular Detoxification programme!

PART 4.

Glancing at the clock she realised that she’d have to hurry up if she were to arrive at Margie’s by 7.30p.m. She had just enough time to shower and wash and dry her hair. Fortunately, her current hairstyle was a chin-length bob which was quick and easy to style.  By 7p.m. she was looking good in a black mini dress and high heels which showed off her long, tanned legs to perfection. A quick spray of her favourite French perfume and she was ready to go. She could change her name to Speedy Gonzales at this rate!

As she arrived at the home of Margie and Jacques, she noticed a brand new red BMW parked in the driveway. Must belong to the mysterious new man, she thought. Well, at least this one had excellent taste in cars. One of Margie’s hopefuls had driven a bright yellow beach buggy covered in graffiti.

The dogs started to bark before Gill reached the front door, and Margie opened it and welcomed her with a hug.  “You look fantastic, Gill, and you smell deliciously expensive!”  As she shepherded Gill into the lounge, Jacques came across the room to kiss her on both cheeks. Trust Margie to find a charming Frenchman after all those years of French lessons and Cordon Bleu cookery classes.

The owner of the BMW had got to his feet as Gill entered the room. He was of medium height with slightly receding dark hair. “Gill, this is Chris Stewart. Chris, Gill McKenzie”. The stranger smiled at her as he shook her hand, and Gill wasn’t disappointed by his looks at all. Although he couldn’t be described as handsome as his nose was too big and his smile rather lop-sided, he was definitely attractive in a rugged way. Somehow he looked out of place in his suit and tie and Gill got the feeling that he would be happier in jeans and a sweater. It turned out that he worked with Jacques and had recently moved to Durban from Johannesburg.

It was just the four of them for dinner that evening and it turned out to be comfortable and relaxing. This in itself was a relief for Gill and she was able to unwind and be her usual witty self. She soon discovered that Chris had travelled a great deal like herself, and photography was his passion. He dreamt of starting his own photographic business one day and leaving behind the constant stress which his current job within a large pharmaceutical company created all the time.

“I’ll see you tomorrow at nine, Gill”, promised Margie as Gill prepared to leave. She popped her head through the open driver’s window to whisper in her friend’s ear, “Isn’t he gorgeous, Gill? I’m sure he’s attracted to you”. Gill ignored the comment and thanked Margie again for a wonderful evening. She waved to Jacques and Chris who were standing in the doorway, and reversed her little hatch-back down the driveway. Driving home she let her mind wander over the evening. She wondered if she would hear from Chris again. If Margie had anything to do with it, she probably would. It was odd, but she felt as though she knew him although they had never met before. He had fitted in so well with her friends that it was hard to believe that this was the first evening they had all spent together.

True to her word, Margie arrived promptly at 9a.m. the following morning. She was carrying a large plastic bag containing a pair of blue overalls which Jacques used for working on his car. After a cup of coffee the girls got to work. It was actually good fun painting together and amazing just how quickly the time went by. Before they knew it, it was mid-afternoon and they decided they had better break for a bite to eat. They took time to admire their handiwork. The bathroom was totally transformed. Amazing what a fresh coat of paint could do to the walls, pelmet and door. No more dreary grey-white walls and chipped door frames. Instead it was now lemon walls and a turquoise door and pelmet. With some new towels and a bath mat it would be perfect.

They took two fold-up stools out on to the balcony and sat munching on thick sandwiches which they had hastily prepared together in the kitchen. These were washed down with glasses of chilled white wine. Remarkable just how quickly one’s stamina could be revived with the correct kind of sustenance!

“I think you made the right decision taking this flat, Gill”, mused Margie. “It’s so nice and close to town and that sea view is very relaxing. Once the decorating’s finished you won’t want to move out”.

“After all this hard work, I’m here to stay”, replied Gill. The thought of moving again was anything but appealing. “Do you think I’ll ever hear from Chris again, Margie?”, asked Gill  rather hesitantly.

“Well, he couldn’t stop talking about you after you’d left last night”, Margie said. “He said something strange though, which has been worrying me since he left. He mentioned the fact that you lived in Hilton Heights, and neither Jacques nor I had told him. Did you mention it to him?”

“I spoke about my move, but I didn’t mention the name of the flats, as far as I can remember. Maybe he’s a bit of a mind reader!”

The question continued to puzzle the friends, but they soon forgot about it once they were again immersed in their decorating. They decided to call it a day at 6.30pm as Jacques would have returned from playing golf, and Margie thought it was time she went home. She’d had more than her fair share of brush-wielding aerobics for one day. A hot bath was needed before she expired totally!

PART 5.

Once Gill was alone again, she felt like having a relaxing evening watching some television and having a nice hot cup of coffee but suddenly realised that she had run out of milk. She decided to pop down to the café on the corner and spoil herself with a bar of well-earned chocolate as well, before showering and settling down for the night. She glanced at herself in the mirror in the bathroom before grabbing her purse. Yellow and blue speckles of paint were sprinkled in her hair as well as on her arms and face and tee shirt. She wasn’t too bothered as there was little chance of her bumping into anyone she might know, as she hadn’t met very many people in the last couple of days since moving in. She slammed the flat door shut behind her, only to realize that she’d left her keys inside. Horrors, how on earth could she get back inside? Other than spending the night curled up on the doormat, she really didn’t have much of a choice. She might as well go to the café for the milk before bracing herself to ask the indomitable caretakers to help her with their master key.

She ran down the stairs to the ground floor instead of taking the lift and as she raced out of the entrance she almost collided with someone on his way into the building. He dropped the packages he was carrying and almost over balanced. Gill, mortified, started to apologize profusely, when she looked up and realized that the person she’d almost knocked over was, in fact, Chris. She couldn’t believe it. The funny thing was that he didn’t seem at all surprised to see her. He laughed as she started to say how sorry she was for her recklessness, and helped him to pick up his packages. She told him how she’s foolishly locked herself out of her flat. He said that breaking and entering was just one of his many talents and he was pretty sure that they wouldn’t need to call on the assistance of the intimidating Smits.

The milk forgotten, Gill allowed Chris to accompany her back to her locked front door. Putting his parcels down, he looked around and spotted a small open window to the right of the front door. By reaching down and across he was able to grab hold of the keys which were still hanging in the keyhole. Carefully, he lifted them out and with an exuberant “Voila!, he gave them to her with a flourish.

Leading the way inside, Gill explained. “Please excuse the way I look, but I’ve been painting all day. Would you like a drink, Chris? Beer, wine, tea, coffee – oh heck, I forgot that I was on my way to buy some milk when I locked myself out. That’s where I was running to when I collided with you.

“A glass of wine would be great, thanks”. He smiled at Gill, “I think I’d better explain a few things Gill. Firstly last night was amazing and I was going to give you a ring early next week to try to arrange to see you again”.

“But what are you doing in this building, Chris?”, asked a very puzzled Gill.

“My brother, Mike, lives upstairs from you, and I brought him a few groceries as he’s got a bad dose of Man flu and is wife’s away on business until Wednesday.

Gill handed him a glass of wine and they sat down in the lounge. Chris suddenly blurted out, “I’ve got a confession to make Gill”, he admitted looking rather embarrassed. “Jacques showed me their engagement photos a while ago and there was one of you which interested me. He told me a bit about you and that you were unattached. He said he’d get Margie to arrange something and then, a few days later, while I was standing at Mike’s window looking down into the courtyard, I saw you coming out from speaking to the caretaker. It had to be you or an identical twin sister.

I asked Mike to find out from the caretaker whether or not you were moving in, and what your name was. He seems to get on all right with the old misery and got all the info I needed. There was no way I could just knock on your door and introduce myself – Margie had already planned the dinner anyway – so I got my brother to drop off the flowers. As for the pizza – I’d ordered one for Mike and I thought you might enjoy one after all the unpacking.”

“This is so crazy”, laughed Gill. “And I suppose Margie also told you that I’m dying to do a course in interior decorating as well, didn’t she?”

“She did let it slip”, grinned Chris, “And when I found that book on sale last week I thought you might like to have it”.

“But what does the “D” stand for, if your name really is Chris?”, mused Gill. “Determined, daft or demented – whichever you think best describes me! Actually, my first name is Damian, but I have preferred to use my middle name since leaving school”, he said with a grin.

“I’d better take these groceries up to Mike so that he can have some dinner. Poor guy is really feeling sorry for himself and never copes well when his wife has to go away. Being sick doesn’t help matters either! How about you and I going out for a quick bite to eat when I get back down from seeing him?”

Hurriedly showering, the only thought in Gill’s mind was the saying “In life expect the unexpected”!