Update and Comments – 2021 November No 1

What is there to say when one has completely lost track of time and only now comes to the realisation that months have flown by since my last post on this Blog! At least I can say that, although I seem to have lost track of time, I haven’t quite lost the plot …..entirely. That, though, is a moot point and open to discussion!

Here we are once again with the prospect of weeks of crazy, frantic over-spending just because we have Christmas, and all the extra purchases which that usually entails, in about four weeks’ time. Every year seems to spin out of control at a faster and faster rate, but that doesn’t mean that we are ready for the customary celebrations sooner than we were in years gone by. It’s best to take the bull by the horns and just try to relax somewhat and enjoy the fact that we have survived another year and are here to tell the tale of another Christmas season.

Having spent the first 14 years of my life in the Northern hemisphere, I still find it hard to feel in a truly festive mood in an often swelteringly hot climate. Mind you, there have been some South African Christmases where winter clothing has been a necessity due to unseasonable chilly snaps. This year might just be another one of those cool Christmases. However, I still tend to think that a snowy landscape, Christmas carollers singing at the front door, chocolate decorations on the Christmas tree, and frost on the windowpanes would be a welcome surprise at Christmas time.

Moans and groans aside, it is still the children who make Christmas the magical time that it can be. The threat of the Pixie on the roof watching out for naughty behaviour is the best thing ever. I remember making up this phenomenon many years ago, and I should have actually patented the idea. All of a sudden, many years later, every supermarket has an “Elf on the Shelf” toy on display for frustrated parents to buy in order to terrorise their children into behaving well for the weeks before the Big Day!

Anyway, a few weeks ago I decided that, after surviving one of the most difficult and challenging years ever, I was going to get my very ancient artificial tree, still with a few years’ life left in its branches, decorated and ready ahead of the usual date of 1 December. I felt that it would be a good idea to try to enjoy that warm, festive ambience, created by a pretty Christmas tree for a bit longer than in years gone by.

Well, I have been as good as my word. The tree is looking stunningly beautiful, if I say so myself! There are so many memories connected with all the ornaments as some of them are handmade and others actually came from Harrods and Selfridges in London. There are fat, little pigs sporting tutus, wooden characters on skis, toboggans, or dressed as soldiers, brass angels playing harps and trumpets, glass animals, as well as loads of delicate-coloured baubles … and the list goes on. Chinese, battery-operated, flashing, coloured Christmas tree lights add the final touch. After all, what better way to nurture our inner child than making an effort at Christmastime.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Midlife Crises

All of a sudden you realise just how fast the years can pass you by without you barely noticing. One day you are writing final school exams and planning your future and, before you blink, you are wondering just where the time has gone. Looking back can be a positive thing to do, but more often than not it brings with it a feeling of loss and sometimes deep despair and disappointment.

Every stage of life has its good points and its bad ones. We all remember times during our childhood and teenage years when we may have had unhappy events which possibly contributed towards the way in which we subsequently handled our adulthood. Parents divorcing or perhaps even having died are always catastrophic things for children to handle, and the resultant sadness can manifest itself in long-term personality issues. Feeling that you may have somehow contributed to this traumatic situation can sometimes result in feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth. Nowadays, it is customary for victims of any kind of trauma to be offered counselling, but this wasn’t the norm in the past.

So, most of us just muddle along as we grow up and try to cope with those day to day challenges which life tends to throw at us, despite any childhood problems with which we may have had to deal. Then, suddenly as the years go by, life tilts a bit more than usual and we have to face the fact that our offspring are now grown up and often living far away and our own surviving parents are elderly and frail and may need help. As we recognise the longevity of so many of our family members and acquaintances, it can cause us to start to panic regarding our own future and how we are going to survive financially.Midlife Crises 2 350x227

We know for a fact that, in the western world specifically, the estimated life span of both men and women has increased dramatically over the past century. It is not uncommon these days for people to celebrate their 100th birthday whereas it used to be a wonderful achievement to be hale and hearty at 80! Insurance companies and investment specialists have jumped on the bandwagon and are hammering away at the fact that young adults need to start facing the possibility of having many retirement years for which they need to make timeous adequate provision.  At the same time there is world-wide unemployment and retrenchment, so this is not always viable. More and more people are becoming their own boss and no longer is there the enforced contribution to a pension or annuity fund. If you are battling to survive in your own business, putting money away for old age may be something which is sadly neglected.

2020 with all the challenges that Covid 19 has forced us to face hasn’t made it any easier to cope with all the above factors, but there is light at the end of the tunnel in many cases. There is absolutely no reason to retire totally from doing what you enjoy doing as long as you are still capable and relatively healthy. Many people have achieved or continued to achieve greatness in their latter years. To name just a few, the first to come to mind is the world renowned Sir David Attenborough who, at 93, has recently completed a very intense documentary pertaining to the damage that we humans have caused to our planet. The British actress, Dame Maggie Smith is still being cast in acting roles despite her advanced years as are others such as Dame Judi Dench. Let us never forget the music industry with the likes of Cliff Richard, Elton John and the ageless Mick Jagger and the Rolling stones. A critical factor is to try to remain positive, despite the changes which are inevitable as one ages.

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It is a tragedy to allow all the knowledge that is gleaned throughout life to be wasted. Becoming a mentor to younger people, either through actually giving talks or lectures face to face or online (more so now due to the Covid crisis), or writing a book or articles to assist students could be a way to avoid feeling redundant. It’s never too late to start a new career either. One just needs to take that brave step and give it a go. You may surprise yourself to find that a hobby you hardly had time for in the past, is now capable of becoming a vibrant and profitable business. Try to avoid the potential mistake of asking others for advice, as they will probably thwart your dreams before you even start – people often enjoy the prospect of you failing, as it makes their lives appear so much better and they probably lack your courage to do something different.  Just go out and do it, and you may amaze yourself (as well as them) with your success!

Good Luck and enjoy the journey!

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we often
might win, by fearing to attempt” – William Shakespeare.

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