Update and Comments: 13 January 2020

Stuck between a rock and a hard place and the New Year has hardly started!

I believe that one’s home can be a very dangerous place to be. Yesterday could have resulted in my demise, if truth be known. With the semi-long-haired German Shepherd spending several hours having a much overdue grooming session at our local dog parlour, it seemed a good time to get rid of all the dust behind all the kitchen appliances. This is a job which is impossible to do when dear Kelly is around as she sees any form of housework as an invitation to become a total monster. She barks aggressively at brooms, vacuum cleaners, spray bottles, dusters, in fact anything that remotely resembles a cleaning tool and does her level best to destroy the item in question.  I am beginning to think that she is the reincarnation of a previously badly treated maid.

Anyway, back to the potential disaster whilst cleaning. I pulled out the washing machine as well as the dishwasher. Both of these appliances must have originally been installed by someone who had zero idea of the necessity of cleaning behind them once they had been installed. The hoses on both machines have to be secured in the exit points in the wall tiles with Prestik! If they are just pushed into the holes in the tiles, then the water pressure, when the machines are in operation, is capable of making the hoses shoot out of the wall, and the resultant gush of water will flood the kitchen. Therefore, the need for blocking the holes and securing the hoses with Prestik.

I managed to squeeze between the two pulled out machines and, sitting under the countertop, with great difficulty managed to stuff a large amount of the Prestik into both outlet holes after pushing the hoses in as far as they would go. Now came the dangerous part – how on earth to squeeze back out from under the kitchen counter with both machines partially blocking my exit. Getting in under the counter hadn’t been difficult, but now to get up from a squashed, sitting position, and to extricate myself (fortunately I am not a particularly big person) was ample cause for hyperventilation and the start of a panic attack!! Crazy how getting into a situation is one thing, but getting out of it is quite another. Being alone at the time, it was rather nerve wracking to say the least. Anyway, I had to take a very deep breath and relax, then squirm my way to a semi standing position, grab the edge of the kitchen counter and ease my way out.  I cannot over emphasise the relief of being upright once again and made sure I didn’t put my back out whilst pushing the afore-mentioned appliances back into their respective spots.

If it had been later in the day, I think a nice glass of wine might have been in order, but not at 10am! I am beginning to believe that one should have an insurance policy to cover any unforeseen eventualities whilst cleaning one’s home.  Anyhow, I am still here in body (the mind is always a debatable entity)  to continue blogging into 2020!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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Birth Announcement – Futuristic

It is with great pleasure that my wife and I are letting you all know that our beautiful new baby has arrived. The birth was eco-friendly, albeit two weeks later than we had expected, as no drugs were involved, and the child came into the world in an inflatable paddling pool made of bamboo which we put outside on the front lawn.  The water we used to fill the pool came from the many litres which we had harvested in recycled plastic buckets during the very heavy rainfalls of the past few weeks. There were a few leaves and some other bits and pieces floating in the water, but then babies need to build up their resistance as soon as possible, I believe. Melody, my tough as nails wife, recovered instantly and, after we had cut the baby’s chord, and wrapped it in a yellow blanket, got out of the paddling pool, showered, and made dinner. She is amazing to say the very least.

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The name we have chosen for the new arrival is Green Cherub. We will let the child decide as to whether they would prefer to grow up either male or female or transgender, so we will be dressing it (not using a gender at all until the child has decided) in gender neutral clothes and colours until the time that we know whether we have a daughter or a son. We are sure you will understand, after all we are living in modern, non-stereotypical times and we feel very strongly about saving our planet. As new parents we hope to be able to do our best in assisting in reducing the carbon footprint.

Melody plans on breastfeeding the new arrival until it is time for nursery school – probably about 4 years from now. We both believe in having as much input as possible in the early years with very little outside interaction with people who have no regard for things that we hold dear such as veganism or serious recycling. Once the child is old enough to mix with other children, we will choose a nursery school with great care. If needs be, Melody is considering starting her own school so that she can hand pick the kind of children with whom our child will mix. There is still plenty of time for us to make final decisions on the child’s education but, one thing is certain, this child will be taught Mandarin along with English as soon as it is starting to talk. One has to be objective and look at the future and how China seems to be encroaching in every area of life.

If you would like to send a gift for the new baby, it would be really appreciated if you would consider making a donation to Green Peace in lieu of baby gifts. We will not be using any manufactured perfumed baby products as well as nappies of any kind. The disposables are creating havoc in landfills and then the old-style terry towelling ones need chemicals to keep them spotlessly clean. Therefore, we have decided to go au naturelle and just mop up as nature takes its course.

I can hear Melody calling me to come and help bath the new arrival, so I hope that you will be happy for us and understand if we seem to be hibernating for the next few years. We do not use social media as a means of keeping in touch, so it will be very occasionally that you have any updates on what is happening in this neck of the woods, but if you are nearby, please do not hesitate to call in to see us. We will always be on hand to offer you a healthy drink or a homemade rusk.

Kind regards

Harry, Melody, and Green Cherub

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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 

Update and Comments: 6 December 2019

I seem to do nothing except make excuses and apologies for my lack of writing every time that I manage to sit down and start bashing away on my keyboard. However, this time around I am laying the blame totally at the feet of that always unseen, and criminally inclined creature with whom I have had dealings before, the very dislikeable time thief. He lurks out there somewhere and, when there is just so much to be done, and so many ends to be tied up, he wields his evil magic, and steals precious hours, and even sometimes days! In this case, and I know that I am not alone in my belief that 2019 did not have the usual numbers of days, weeks or months, he really surpassed himself! I say “he”, but the culprit could just as easily be a “she” or even an “it”. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope that 2020 and the start of a brand new decade sees the creature retiring or expiring completely. I need 365 days – oh bonus! 2020 is a leap year and we get that extra day in February! Now all that is required is for each day to have 24 hours with not a minute being stolen, hidden or removed in any other fashion. Too much life to be lived and words to be written.

I hope that you, my readers, are coping successfully with the end of year wind-down (often extremely hot in the southern hemisphere), and chilly festive preparations (in the northern regions) and may we all look forward to the end of a particularly challenging 2019  (for most of us here in South Africa at any rate, and possibly elsewhere too) and a bright new 2020!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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The Joy of Teddy Bears

The Teddy Bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, who was a keen hunter. He was out on a hunting trip one day when he came across a bear who would have been an easy target for shooting. The president took pity on the animal and refused to harm him. This resulted in a cartoon being drawn showing this event and, consequently, a toymaker took the initiative to produce a soft toy to mark the occasion, and called it Teddy’s Bear (Teddy being the nickname for President Roosevelt). The toy soon became so popular that everyone wanted to have a teddy bear of their own.

What would childhood memories be without a favourite teddy bear. Years ago we lived in Italy when our eldest son was 2 years old. He had left behind all that was familiar to him including grandparents, most of his toys and not least of all, his spaniel, Suzie. It must have been a very confusing time for the poor little boy who was only just starting to speak English. Suddenly he was in an environment where children were revered and a lot of attention was lavished on him, but practically every word spoken was in Italian. We didn’t realise initially just how much living in a foreign country was affecting him.

One Saturday afternoon we were in the toy department of one of Milan’s largest departmental store where there was an entire wall dedicated to teddy bears of every conceivable size and form ranging from the tiniest to almost adult human dimensions. We told our little boy to pick a teddy for himself. He toddled over to the bears and picked up one which was almost the same size as himself and started chatting non-stop to this newfound toy. At last there was someone who listened and seemed to understand his baby talk. The bear was purchased and named Arturo, as he was, after all, an Italian bear.

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Arturo and friends

Now, many years after the arrival of dear old Arturo, he has become part and parcel of our family history. He is still around, although not quite as sprightly as in his heyday, but still wears a very snazzy knitted Italian outfit.

It is customary in South Africa, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, that where there is childhood trauma, teddy bears are given to the affected children to help ease the pain that they are currently enduring. The fact that teddies are usually fairly soft and chubby makes them easy to cuddle and research has shown that when children are given a choice of dolls, they will usually choose ones which are rounded and cuddly looking. Having a favourite teddy to take to bed at night has been a comforting factor in the lives of many children in various parts of the world for a long time.

Teddy Bears come in many styles and varied price tags. If they were made a long time ago and are jointed (arms and legs and head which can be moved into different positions), and especially if they were made by a respected toymaker, they could fetch a very high price on auction. A hand made and jointed bear made from mohair, would be far more valuable than a bear which is not jointed and was mass produced in a factory using a manmade material such as nylon. By the same token, if a bear was owned by a famous person, then it could also have a high selling price attached to it regardless of the kind of bear it might be.

Let us not forget some of the bears who, over the years, have become household names. Among these are Winnie the Pooh, made famous by A.A. Milne,  Rupert the Bear (still going strong and appearing in cartoon form in certain newspapers, after decades of wearing the same yellow check trousers and red jacket) and the delightful Peruvian bear who was found lost and bewildered at Paddington station in London.  He has even become a renowned movie star in his own right!

For most of us, the value of the teddy bears which we remember from our childhood days has far more to do with the memories connected to them than their potential re-sale value. One of the first bears that grandparents gave to one of our children was named Growly Bear. Not only was he jointed, but when turned onto his tummy he growled quite fiercely.  Somehow, he disappeared over time, and sadly he might have proved to be valuable by now, if only we knew where he has been hiding all these years! Perhaps he attended a Teddy Bear’s picnic and forgot how to find his way home!

Fortunately, despite today’s children being techno savvy from an early age, some things just don’t change and a love of teddy bears seems to be one of them. May the humble teddy remain as popular  with future generations of children as has been the case since President Theodore Roosevelt saved the life of that fortunate brown bear so many years ago.

 

Family Dynamics

No matter how one likes to believe that every child within a family is treated in exactly the same way by its parents, this is often not the case. The actual position of the child within the group of siblings as well as parental influence can be a determining factor in the way in which that child is going to develop. Much research has been done by those who claim to be professionals in their field regarding the only child, the first-born child, the middle child, the youngest child etc. etc. There are those who maintain that the first-born child is going to achieve more and be more independent than his siblings. The fact that the first born has to make his way out there in the big bad world without the help of an older sibling, is quite possibly a factor which could account for these findings.

The first born is the child who often has the undivided attention of doting parents who take loads of photographs, keep copious notes regarding his milestones, and lavish an enormous amount of attention on him. (I am using him as opposed to him/her, purely to prevent the reading of this article becoming tedious and not as a gender-based preference).  He might also be the child who is often the first grandchild in the family, and therefore may also receive a great deal of spoiling from grandparents as well as aunts and uncles.

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By the time baby number two makes his appearance, the parents have already made sure that his arrival is not going to interfere with the well being of child number one. Therefore, the second baby is expected to slot into the family with as little disruption as a new baby is capable of. Ha ha ha, this is where the fairy tale may have a slightly different ending! Sometimes the only reason that families have a second child is due to the first child having been an easy one to raise, with no major hiccups along the way. This may be the universe doing its best to ensure the survival of the human race! Very often parents have been quoted as saying that if baby number two had been baby number one, then the reproduction factory would have closed down immediately.

From the above observations, we already have an inkling of what the future might hold. The second child may be treated differently from the first due to either the parents’ frustration at having to cope with a more challenging individual, who differs entirely from their first born, or even from a feeling of failure or despair by not knowing how to handle the challenges presented by this newcomer to the family circle. Whatever the reason, life will never be the same again.

The amount of photographs taken of baby number two and the notes on his developmental stages might be far fewer than his older sibling, and this in itself could potentially pose a problem regarding feelings of inferiority in later life. I have recently been told by two separate families, who each have two girls, that the second daughter in both cases has never forgiven the parents for the fact that they were not the first born! This resentment towards their older sister has continued into their thirties.

To complicate matters even further, there is also that scenario where a third child arrives on the scene, sometimes because the first two are the same sex and the parents hoped that they might be able to change the recipe. If they succeed, then very often this third child becomes something of a celebrity, and one or other of the parents makes it obvious to all and sundry just how delightful it is to have pink baby clothes instead of blue, and dolls instead of motor cars in the house or vice versa. (I am not touching on the current trend of some children being treated as sexless by their parents until perceived to be old enough to make their own decision on whether to be a boy or a girl!)

Now, we see the middle child syndrome raising its ugly head. I actually knew of a Swiss woman whose brother and his family lived in South Africa, who was the middle child in their family. When she came here to visit them, she refused to sit in the middle seat on the aeroplane as she complained that she had always been the “sandwich child” and wasn’t prepared to allow this to happen anymore. Makes one wonder just when the reality kicks in of being sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling. What happens when a pregnancy results in triplets? Now that could be an interesting subject to pursue.

At a later stage I would like to go into more detail regarding the dynamics within families and recount some scenarios which I have personally come across over the years, as well as mentioning some well documented cases which might be of interest to you, my reader. Meantime, you might enjoy starting to look around you at families that you know and find the position of the children within them to be quite enlightening if not altogether entertaining.

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Behind Closed Doors

It is quite common for potential buyers to ask an estate agent the reason for the property being on the market. If an agent knows certain information which could cause a potential buyer to change their mind about putting in an offer, then it would be a case of ethics as to whether or not anything negative was disclosed.

On this particular day, the agent, Matthew, was delighted to find a young couple who raved about all the unusual features of the property, which had been on the market for several months and needed quite a lot of fixing up. It had belonged to an old man who had failed to maintain it due to his age as well as failing health. The agent had heard some very disturbing rumours from colleagues as well as from some of the neighbours, who had nosily come over to see the inside of the house when it was on show one Sunday afternoon.

The young couple were having a second viewing of the home after having visited the previous Sunday’s Show house. They had gone home after the first visit to do some sums to find out whether they could afford the transfer costs, even though they knew that they qualified for a mortgage for almost the full asking price of the property. The agent felt very confident that he would have a signed offer very soon due to the enthusiastic comments which both the husband and wife had been making whilst taking their time to wander from room to room. They could see the potential for doing some minor alterations and were able to visualise the house once it had been given a fresh coat of paint and the tiles in the kitchen and both bathrooms replaced. They were not worried about the olde worlde look of some of the features as they were keen on collecting antiques and this house would suit them and their taste in décor very well.

Then the moment the agent always dreaded arrived and Liz, the wife asked, “We love it, but is there anything we should know about the house’s history?” The agent looked down at the notes on his clipboard and silently debated as to just how much of the gossip he had heard could safely be revealed without jeopardising a possible sale. He was not willing to say more than was absolutely  necessary. “The house has been in the same family since it was built just after the Second World War. The current owner is the son of the original owner and the only reason he is selling is so that he could move closer to his son and his wife. His health is poor and they were worried that something might happen to him if he carried on living here on his own. His own wife died about 20 years ago and he should perhaps have considered moving before he became ill. Unfortunately people often try to hang on as long as possible before they admit to the fact that they are slowing down as they get older.”

After the agent had finished talking to both Liz and her husband Greg, they wandered outside again to have another look at the garden which, in its heyday had been the pride and joy of the owner’s late wife. Sadly, it now looked rather overgrown and neglected, but the upside was the many and varied trees, bushes and flower beds which, once neatened up, would save a new buyer a fortune.

Just as Matthew had predicted, the couple were very keen to put in an offer on the house, and even though it was quite a lot lower than the asking price, he knew that with a bit of negotiation on his part, the seller would accept it. Being very experienced in his field, he had asked all the relevant questions and was satisfied that there was an excellent chance of this couple being able to afford the house, as well as having savings to cover all the legal costs. Once the paperwork was completed, he shook hands with both the husband and his wife, and promised to present the offer before the end of the day. He would phone them as soon as he had an answer for them and would try to encourage the seller to accept their offer, due to the length of time that the house had been on the market and currently standing empty.  He shook hands with them and promised to give them the best possible service until the house was transferred into their names.

As the couple drove away Matthew felt a slight discomfort when he thought about the rumours which he had overheard from the neighbours, regarding the present owner’s wife having been found hanging by her dressing gown cord from one of the cross beams in the lounge. Apparently no foul play had been suspected but, there were those who believed that she had been driven to taking her own life due to her husband having forced her to make extra money by having to entertain a variety of male visitors in the back bedroom every evening for many years whilst the children were away at boarding school, and later at university.  It was all rumours, but the neighbours had been rather quick to mention all the different cars which arrived at the house every evening on the hour every hour, Monday to Friday, from 7pm to midnight all those years ago.

No-one ever  proved that any of the above was in fact true after the poor woman committed suicide, but it was said that she was extremely quiet, never chatted to any of the neighbours, and always looked physically exhausted despite being made up to the nines whenever anyone caught a glimpse of her. Oh well, some rumours are exactly that – just rumours.

Matthew shrugged off any feelings of guilt that he might have harboured for not having disclosed the suicide to the couple. None of the neighbours had actually repeated any of the gossip to him personally.  He had just happened to overhear a few of them chatting amongst themselves when they had been nosey enough to pop in when the house had been on show. So, nothing having been discussed with him, he could say in all honesty that he had no knowledge about this at all. Now, off to the local pub to have that well-earned pint. Oh, hang on – not a clever idea at all! He took out his mobile phone and immediately made the call to tell the seller’s son that he would like to come over straight away as he finally had a very good offer on his father’s house. The celebratory pint in the pub would have to wait until the deal was signed and sealed!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
– Theodore Roosevelt (American President)