Keeping Up with the Jones’s

March 2010:  . . . 3 years 6 months on

I taught mathematics to Ian Jones at some stage and Quinton was there a few years later. Their Mom, Annette, was a teaching colleague around those years, too. That’s how we got to know the Jones’s and enjoyed many dinner parties with them. Tennis on Sundays at their home in Mill Park Road, followed by a braai, was a popular past time for a number of the Grey staff members of that era. (I recall the Reelers, the Scholtz’s, the Stapletons, the Cunninghams, the Kews . . .)  

Annette, together with Lissa Dyer and Jane Woodin, other moms of the time, were responsible for the flower arrangements at our wedding. I remember picking roses at the Maske’s farm in Addo, with a sickly hangover after my bachelor’s party and in 40 degree heat, very similar to the heat conditions that we are currently experiencing in Port Elizabeth. I was “not well” at that time, too!

In later years, Annette and I crossed paths again, this time when we collaborated in the field of training and development.

Every so often, I get the phone call from Annette to invite me to coffee, which often turns into breakfast. Along the way she picks up Liz Findlay, whom I have known from SETA days. Liz and her husband Richard are involved with that monster of South African skills development, the Sectoral Education and Training Authorities, and we have spent many frustrating and humorous times together. The Sun City conference of 300 delegates comes to mind – we were 400 mouths at meal times and 200 hands voting at plenary sessions! Liz is also the mother of GarethTjasink, whom we met when he had just completed the first series of the TV reality show South African Survivor.

Annette, Liz and I have become the coffee shop fundi’s. It’s amazing to see how many Port Elizabethans (and I’m sure many people in most urban settlements worldwide) are at coffee shops on any one morning. A thriving industry has built up around the very ordinary cup of coffee! Vovo Telo, in Central, is my personal favourite, but the rate at which coffee shops open in PE, a whole lifetime will be required to visit them all!

Because of the heat wave this week (30C degrees at noon today), the outside stoep at Vovo Telo is out of the question. Air-conditioning is an essential, and so we settle for the Greenacres Shopping Mall and the Mugg and Bean.

The coffee is good and the On the Go breakfast is tasty. However, the conversation is downright depressing today. It’s all about my visit to the occupational health practitioner yesterday, the state of education and the stress of dealing with government in its various departments, be it the SETA or Home Affairs. This seems to be the general trend in most South African conversations of the moment. The subject of emigration raises its head yet again.

The Last Resort, a book by Douglas Rogers, provides for one of the few laughs. It’s about a white-owned smallholding that operated as a Backpackers’ Inn in then Rhodesia and that has turned into a brothel and dagga plantation for government ministers in now Zimbabwe! It’s ironically one of the few pieces of agricultural land still white-owned in Zimbabwe. Another laugh comes from the recent visit of President Zuma to Britain that has provided the email of the morning, depicting a pregnant Queen Elizabeth II with a title “Zuma – a job well done!”

Life in South Africa (and I guess in many places around the world) is hectic and stressful. There’s the economic climate to worry about, the drought, the problematic and erratic electricity supply, the corruption, the failing roads and health and education services, the security situation, rampant crime, the HIV/AIDS pandemic … the list continues!

And all of us, in dealing with these issues and whilst getting on with our daily activities and managing our hectic lives, cross paths with people in need – for whatever reason, but often because of illness, death, disability or some other related similar circumstances. Many of us, and I include me, often use the phrase “I’m thinking of you!” when we meet such people. Often, it’s left at just that. By the time the person disappears out of sight, so does the thinking!

Annette has been the exception. She has translated the thinking into doing, and her visits and coffee trips provide a highlight in what becomes a very lonely and boring world for an ill person. It’s a common thread that I have detected in the lives of other ill people that I have met over the last three years – how best to find meaning in a frenzied world that rushes past you without often even noticing you.

We are all surrounded by people who are grappling with challenges that life has thrown at them. Often, the smile on their face belies the hurt below the surface.  Annette’s practical concern challenges all of us – when last did we do something for such a person. Or do we also just take the easy way out and “think of them”?

 Let’s keep up with the Jones’s TODAY!

(Thanks to my cousin-in-law Maryse Peach)

A husband opened his wife’s underwear drawer and picked up a silk paper wrapped package:
‘This’, – he said – ‘isn’t any ordinary package.’

He unwrapped the box and stared at both the silk paper and the box.
‘She got this the first time we went to New York, 8 or 9 years ago. She has never put it on , was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is it.’ He got near the bed and placed the gift box next to the other clothing he was taking to the funeral house – his wife had just died.
And then he said to me:
‘Never save something for a special occasion. Every day in your life is a special occasion’.

I still think those words changed my life…

Now I read more and clean less.
I sit on the porch without worrying about anything.
I spend more time with my family, and less at work.
I understood that life should be a source of experience to be lived up to, not survived through.
I no longer keep anything.
I use crystal glasses every day…
I’ll wear new clothes to go to the supermarket, if I feel like it.
I don’t save my special perfume for special occasions, I use it whenever I want to.
The words ‘Someday….’ and ‘ One Day…’ are fading away from my dictionary.
If it’s worth seeing, listening or doing, I want to see, listen or do it now…
I don’t know what my friend’s wife would have done if she knew she wouldn’t be there the next morning, this nobody can tell. I think she might have called her relatives and closest friends.
She might call old friends to make peace over past quarrels.
I’d like to think she would go out for Chinese, her favourite food.
It’s these small things that I would regret not doing, if I knew my time had come..
Each day, each hour, each minute, is special.
Live for today, for tomorrow is promised to no-one.

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