Jaaaa Boet!

Ja Boet!

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Monday 19 November 2012: 6 years 2 months on …

Physical: Advantage CBD / Mental: Deuce

On Saturday evening we attended a show in a 700-seater marquee at Grey called “Boet and Swaer” (Brother and Brother-in-Law). It’s a parody on South African life told through the eyes and in the accent of of two farmers from the Albany / Grahamstown area.

The show was preceded by the International rugby match between Scotland and the Springboks at Murrayfield in Edinburgh (which we won), followed by a dance ably discoed by Charlie T of AlgoaFM’s  DMB Morning Show and interspersed by a well-stocked Castle Corner.

Four years ago in 2008, I was at Murrayfield watching that game (which we won) with Barryvan der Vyfer, and his son and neighbour. I also bumped into MikeCarswell there who was head of Meriway House at Grey in my first year of teaching in 1984. I also attended the Old GreyDinner in London the following week. (This year’s dinner is scheduled for this coming Thursday evening – a gathering in central London for all the Old Grey’s who (tragically) now live in the UK.)

Two years ago in 2010, I was at OliverTamboInternationalAirport in Johannesburg watching that game on TV (which we lost) with friend AndrewJonker and his business associate. They were on their way to do business in Europe and I was on my way to watch the England / Springbok game at Twickenham the following Saturday (which we won), visit MikeCarswell in Dublin and to attend the Old GreyDinner in London.

Anyway, back to the show. It’s a good laugh at ourselves as “Souties, Dutchmen and Dlamini” South Africans and we need to be able to laugh like that sometimes. All the F words – after Ficksburg,  the floods and fires, farm and factory unrest, the Police Force and force, the Farlam Commission, the financial impropriety and woes of the President and his multi-million rand private house(s) and the falling rand of the last few weeks, we especially need to laugh – and we don’t need to use that F-Word to do that!

It’s been a long haul from Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in the Free State, through Julius Malema in Limpopo to Marikana in the Northwest, the farm violence in the Western Cape, Nkandla in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, the floods in the Eastern Cape, the President’s penis and E-tolling in Gauteng and on to Mangaung next month in the Free State.

Sometimes in Life it’s necessary to halt, take a long pause and ponder the options and way forward. Sometimes it’s necessary to take one’s head out of the sand, take action and to get involved.  

As Boet says, it’s in those moments (which the audience thinks are scripted but when you actually just run out of words and don’t know what to say and just ponder about what’s to come) when, like now, that you just say:

“Jaaaaaa,  Boet!”     (Yesssss, Brother!)

The Story

Tuesday 24 May: 4 years 8 months on … DEUCE!

I started blogging in October 2009.

It was a way of communicating my activities and my state of health to my friends and family. The word “blog” comes from the contraction of the two words “web” and “log”. A blog is simply a “web log” of one’s activities – a sort of electronic diary available for all to read.

So my writing of blogs had two goals: one was to be a diary of my last days on this earth; the other to raise awareness about my illness, corticalbasal degeneration (CBD), a form of motor neurone disease and a virtually unknown syndrome when I became ill now four years and eight months ago.

In the beginning, the blogs flowed fast and furiously. My brain’s ability to work with figures was replaced with a new-found ability to write prose. I have written some 160 blogs to date, and they have been read online by more than 22 000 “hits”.

In the last month or so, the writing has not been so easy or so regular. My ability to type has been severely restricted, and I have been making use of voice recognition software to assist me. However, I now find that my cognitive abilities are also declining, and it is not always easy to put into writing what is going round in my head! My ability to get around and to do the so many things that I have written about in the past has also become more restricted.

So, the last few weeks have become even more challenging. However, it is even more important now to stay busy and to keep my mind occupied as much as possible.

That’s easier said than done: my hands are affected and so manual work is difficult; my short-term memory and concentration is affected and so reading and movies are problematic; my ability to multi-task and order is affected, so organising things are not easy. (The Gilbert and Sullivan production of OKLAHOMA last week tested my skills in that regard and I think I have now met my match!) Even my ability to sit has become a problem – the spasms that I get down my left side become more pronounced when I sit for a while.

It has however allowed me more time just to relax and to watch TV – normally CNN or Sky News. It has opened a whole new world for me – and what a world and global village we live in!

I have written before about living in moving times!

Over the last period of time, I have witnessed the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan and the tsunami in Japan. I know no-one in Japan but I have a sister in New Zealand.

Then there have been the floods, the droughts, the fires and the tornadoes. Just yesterday, we saw the death and devastation in Joplin, Missouri, USA caused by a tornado that is reported to have killed more people than any other before it. Our family was in Joplin in 2001 when we visited the USA, and my American “family” live close by in Cassville and at Table Rock Lake, Missouri.

There has been the Arab Spring – the uprisings in the north of on our own continent. First, there was Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya and Syria and all the other smaller Middle Eastern countries. There is the whole Israeli / Palestinian challenge that has raised its head once again – and, as I write, the Israeli Prime Minister is addressing the American Congress, in a room that I have visited in the House in Washington DC.

There were the northern hemisphere winter snowstorms and the Ash Cloud this time last year from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull that disrupted life around the globe. Just one year later, we have that volcanic ash cloud problem all over again – almost de je vu.

The upheavals of the world remind me of the challenges that we face in our personal lives. They come at regular intervals to us all, and they provide the rungs that raise us higher and the stepping stones that make us stronger.

But, as in our personal lives, we also experience the pleasant things in our world.

Recently, we spent much time watching the Royal Wedding. I was in London in June 1981, just before Charles married Diana. The hype then, as now, was unbelievable. 

Then there was the recent visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland – a country much like our own in that it has had its fair share of problems and challenges. I had the pleasure of visiting Dublin in November last year, and it surprised me that I had visited that City before the Queen (I wondered if she may have ever gone there before – incognito?!)

The history of Ireland is so very similar to that of South Africa. And the peace that they now experience there, ratified in their Good Friday Agreement signed on Good Friday, 10 April 1998, can in part be ascribed to our own lessons learnt that led to the birth of the New South Africa on 27 April 1994. (Our own elections last week were testimony of the peace that we now enjoy.)

I enjoyed tracing the Queen’s steps through Dublin as she visited many of the places that I had the privilege of visiting last year: the Garden of Remembrance, Croke Park, Dublin Castle, the Liffey River, and, of course, the home of “The Black Stuff”, the Guiness Brewhouse! Her steps in the summer were, of course, very different to mine in the heavy snowfalls of last December.

And, I have enjoyed watching the President of the United States, Barack Obama, visiting Ireland (and tasting the Black Stuff) and London. And, indeed, even as he can trace his roots to Ireland, I can trace my roots to Ireland (on my maternal grandmother’s side) and to Wookey Hole, Somerset, England (on my paternal grandfather’s side).

When our family visited Buckingham Palace in 2001, Sean (then 9 years old and clinging to those famous railings that surround the Palace) asked why SHE needed such a large house. Well, tonight as the Queen entertains 171 guests to dinner (with 2000 knives and 5 wine glasses per person!) I can now see why SHE needs it!

Ten years later, our pleasant things: we celebrated Sean’s nineteenth birthday last week; we saw, on Tuesday, the production Oklahoma (where I went to school in 1975) and yesterday, I made an amazing discovery.

The ongoing spasms that I have been getting, especially when seated, appear to come from the fact that the gluts in my left buttock have atrophied. When I sit, I am either affecting the circulation or a nerve. And, if there is no weight on my left bum, then there are no spasms! How best to sort this out will be the challenge of the next week … the story continues.

Bridge on the River Kromme

Tuesday 22 March 2011: 4 years 6 months on … ADVANTAGE ED

Of late, I need more and more sleep.

I used to go to bed late and wake up early. It was a habit I learnt as a student at Stellenbosch University.  Now I go to bed early and wake up late. And no sooner have I got up in the morning than I need to go and have an afternoon nap.

All this means that I have less time to do what needs to be done. And there is still so much to do!

Some days, like Monday, when I woke up I felt as if I haven’t had any sleep at all. The rest of the day becomes a write-off! Some days, like Friday, was also a complete write-off. But that was self-inflicted!

Thursday was St Patrick’s Day. JD Visser, who was primarius of Helshoogte Residence at Stellenbosch many years after me, has just moved to Port Elizabeth. So we celebrated St Paddy’s together at the Keg and Swan. The mood was festive, the black Guiness flowed thanks to the specials, and we both ended up on Friday morning with a Guiness Top Hat and a Guiness hangover! Thank goodness, unlike JD, I didn’t have work to go to and could sleep in late and blame it on the CBD! (After having experienced Dublin in December, I could only imagine what Temple Bar in Dublin must be like on St Paddy’s Day!)

Because Monday was a public holiday – Human Rights Day – we also had a long weekend to recover. Sean and I drove down to St Francis Bay on Friday afternoon early, and later we were joined by Pera, her Mom, Phillip and Oscar Biggs, a school mate of Phil’s.

The autumn weather is always magnificent. This weekend has been exceptional. Lovely warm, windless days and cool evenings have been dished up for us – ideal weather for long walks along the beach, swimming, boating and braaing. And for Phil and Oscar, after the runs and paddles (preparing for rugby season) there are hours of “Ad Maths” – both do advanced mathematics and they have to prepare for a test this week.  I have decided to call them Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton! They have left a paper trail across the dining room table – thank goodness the weather is so good that meals are taken out on the deck, and we don’t have to disturb the maths lessons!

The family returned to Port Elizabeth on Monday afternoon in time for Sean to attend his Old Grey Rugby practice. I stayed until Tuesday, finishing off a few chores and hoping to write. But, the weariness gets the better of me and I spend more time sleeping.

On the way back to PE, I stopped over in Jeffery’s Bay to meet Robin Morris. Robin has listened to our radio programme and sent me a copy of his book “I See Therefore I Am I Think”. Its cover says “Why are we here…Who are we…Where are we going…And what happens when we get there…?”

I look forward to reading this book, and I think it will take me a while. But for the present, I have just finished “Miracle on the River Kwai” by Ernest Gordon. It kept me busy during the weekend and gave me a whole new insight into World War 2 fought against the Japanese in the jungles of the East.

It also gave me a whole new insight into the human spirit, adversity, overcoming adversity and living life – making the most of the hand that we have been dealt! I tried to get a copy of the movie Bridge on the River Kwai – just to get some more perspective. The lady at the video shop thought I was insane asking for such an old movie! Anyway, I’m sure I’ll find it somewhere at some or other cheap second rate video rental shop!

Well, so much for long weekend, reading, resting and relaxing … for the first time in a long while I just didn’t get to the computer to write.

Tonight, I will be attending a meeting of the HIgh School’s new Club 300. More next week …

Life’s A Beach

Tuesday 8 March 4 years 6 months on … GAME ED

Yesterday, I spent most of the day with the electricians. A while back, our house must have been struck by lightning and since then we have had ongoing problems with the electrics. The house has been something like my body – the circuitry has just not been working properly leading to all kinds of strange effects!

First the plugs in the kitchen weren’t working and that was sorted out. Then the washing machine kept tripping the earth leakage. And then, the other morning, I showered in the boys’ shower and discovered that when I touched the taps I was feeling a light electrical shock in my fingers! So the electrician was called back again (I think they thought I was really mentally ill because they could not feel it and their gadgets did not register any current!) Anyway, they replaced the element in the geyser and did some earthing work in the roof. The tingling feeling disappeared.

But, lo and behold, when I showered the next morning, it was there again! So back they came yesterday and spent the day with their gadgets, meters, wires and electrical brains. By the time they left late yesterday afternoon – problem solved! – I was quite tired just from providing my input in what the problem could possibly be. So I had a lie down from 5pm to 7pm – then had supper, and then slept from 21h30 through to ten this morning! I don’t think I have ever slept so much and yet, the tiredness doesn’t appear to go away. It appears that my body needs more and more rest and I need more and more sleep.

I was woken up by the electrician to find out if everything was in order. Well, I was still in bed and hadn’t even showered yet! So I got up with difficulty and headed off to the shower – this time, no tingling! But after a while I also realised that there was no hot water! After all the work they had forgotten to switch on the geyser!

But, thank goodness, today it was HOT! It was really HOT! In fact, at 14h00 the thermometer in my car said it was 38 degrees C outside.

So I decided to go to the beach for a walk (Dr Doidge firmly believes that brisk walking rejuvenates brain cells, and walking had certainly been good for me in Ireland and England).

So walking has been added to my list of activities. Yesterday morning I walked the golf course. Today it was the beach.

What a beautiful day: not a breath of wind and this incredible heat. I started at Hobie Pier and walked to Pollock Beach and back.  Then had a swim – the water was quite cold but refreshing! It was great getting out of the house and the exercise did me good – both physically and mentally. So much so, that when I got home I had another swim in the pool and then headed off to the gym for a thirty minute cycle and a ten minute run on the treadmill. I really need to do this more often. I know it will go a long way in keeping the happy hormones going and making me more positive.

Tonight, we are experiencing yet another electrical storm. Please lightning don’t strike the house again because I’m still fighting with the Bank about the last claim! I don’t choose for the lightning to strike our house but somehow they (being that unfriendly lady in their call centre who only answers after 15 minutes and many computer-generated questions later!) think I do, and now they call me a storm risk and want me to pay exorbitant excesses on my claim. Anyway, I thought that’s the meaning of the word insurance and the reason why one takes it out – for when the storms of life hit you. It’s sometimes more difficult dealing with the Bank (their invisible call centre wherever it may be with unfriendly people who don’t talk English!) than it is dealing with my CBD!  They really have strange Standards! I wonder if I can deduct the cost of my phone calls from the bank charges they charge me?

Anyway, I am really moeg tonight … must be all the exercise. So it’s time to sign off, have my nightly pills, read my Faith for Daily Living, and then have another look at that Insurance policy fine print (and don’t forget to thank God – and Spec-Savers –  for my new specs – it really makes it easier to read that fine print, but pity it doesn’t make it easier to understand it, too!)

 

Health-Meter

Cognitive Excellent===================Average============================Poor
Memory (Short) ***********************************
Executive function *************************************
Spelling *****************************
Figures ****************************************
  Physical functions
Left hand/arm *******************************************************
Left leg/foot *******************************************
Right hand/arm **********************************
Right leg/foot *
Lungs *******
Swallowing *
Spasms –left side *************************************
Spasms –right side *

Red stars = Deterioration / Green stars = Improvement from previous week

We Live in Moving Times

We Live in Moving Times

Saturday 5 March 4 years 6 months on … ADVANTAGE ED

So much has happened lately that it has often been difficult to find time to document all the events. To crown it all, there have been my personal battles with the CBD and myself, the medication and the side-effects and my ongoing tiredness that have often just kept me away from writing. And, then sometimes, my memory just leaves me in the lurch – and things that I have been doing for years on the computer just suddenly evade me. “Now how do I make capital letter …?”

The last two weeks have seen considerable movement health-wise to the positive side. I seem to have found the right balance with the medication – at least for now!

But talking about moving things – there has been a string of occurrences worldwide over the last few months that need mention. The world seems to have gone mad!

We have witnessed snow storms all over the Northern Hemisphere that brought movement to a halt on numerous occasions. I was lucky to get out of Dublin just at the right time early in December – thousands others were not so fortunate.

There have been numerous floods in South America, Australia, South Africa – torrents of water moving everything in its way, including people and property, on its path to the sea. (And yet, ironically, we here in the Eastern Cape still buckle under the ravishing effects of a prolonged drought. The only movement here is that downward movement in our reservoirs, and if we don’t get rain soon, there is only sufficient water to see us through to the end of this year!)

Large fires have moved through areas of California and Australia destroying homes and hectares of land and vegetation.

Popular movement in the political world has seen life-long leaders, despots and dictators moved out from their positions of power, abuse and absolute authority. First there was Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya and a number of other North African and Arab states. This movement continues daily and one can only wonder when it will spread to Zimbabwe and where it will stop.

Of course, all this political movement in the oil-rich lands of the world has led to an incredible upward movement in the price of petrol with warnings that we could see prices double if this political turmoil is not contained soon.

And this political turmoil leads to the millions of African refugees moving into our country that has great difficulty in sustaining itself and our own population! And, as we see a continuing downward movement in our own security, education, health services and infrastructure, we also see so many of our countrymen, friends and family continue moving to other parts of the world.

Therefore, when we witness the wrath of the earth itself, shaking and moving in the form of earthquakes especially in Christchurch, New Zealand this past week, it strikes home because it involves and touches those nearest and dearest to us. Luckily, my sister, sister-in-law and cousins were not directly affected, but Sean’s school mate Curtly Diesel who left for Christchurch just weeks ago to stooge there, was having lunch but three blocks away from the devastated city centre and the Christchurch Cathedral that we saw so often on TV news here! Luckily, physically, he was not hurt. Mentally, it takes a while to recover from the violent movement of what we consider our solid foundations.

I still remember the physical and mental effects of the 7-odd Richter scale earthquake that moved the earth and woke us up at 10h29 on 29 September 1969 in the Western Cape (and we were in The Strand some 150 km from the epicentre of that earthquake at Ceres and Tulbagh.)       

Movement in the fields of medical science was the topic of a talk by Dr Norman Doidge that I attended last week. He researches the brain and has written a book about neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain and its cells to adapt, recover and renew. There were so many things that I could relate to that are so particular to my illness and my experiences – my left hand that worked so well whilst my rand arm was in a sling after I fell and broke my elbow; my left paralysed fingers that will automatically “kick in” when I play the piano; the walking in London and Dublin that rejuvenated me! I have included links to his website on my web page www.edlunnon.co.za.  

Unfortunately, I had to discontinue my discussion with him because I had been invited to a book launch by Belinda Walton at Collegiate High and was running late. (I wanted to go as I knew her brothers Adrian and Andrew from school days and spent many hours teaching Adrian extra maths in the hostel.)

Belinda was severely injured in a car accident 15 years ago and, despite the odds against her, has made the most amazing strides on her continuing road to recovery.  She has written a book BELINDA that details her journey of the last fifteen years. What courage! What determination! What resolve!

That gathering was possibly the most moving experience of recent times. There are so many of her feelings and situation as a handicapped person that I am starting to understand. I certainly have come to realise that we and our children are not exposed or properly educated on interacting with disabled people.

It takes situations such as Belinda’s to bring home the reality to me (and to many people) just how fortunate one is. As you look around you, there are always people in so much greater distress and need than yourself. It came as a wake-up call to me to realize just how fortunate I am! Belinda’s youth and life were taken away in the prime of her years – I have been so fortunate to have lived (and still do to a large extent) a very full and rewarding life.

Such as Sunday that saw us back at the Sundays River for the swimming of the Redhouse River Mile. The organisers have moved the Redhouse River Mile to Sundays River.  We used to have a sort of annual gathering braai at the Colliers at Redhouse on the day of the Mile, but that has all changed now that they have moved the swim to the Sundays River – supposedly because of the high bacterial levels in the Swartkops River.

John and Wendy Clarke loaned us their boat and we spent a lovely day in magnificent weather  – picnicking on the river bank and watching the thousands of people moving up with the incoming tide and swimming that mile – not for the faint-hearted! A seething mass of moving people …

And this weekend, the family moved in different directions – Pera was asked to speak to a mothers’ conference about MOTHERING. So off she went to some or other game farm for the weekend; Sean has joined the NSRI so he had to do weekend duties at the PE Harbour; Phillip was going to friends.

Well, that left me … so I decided to move off to St Francis Bay. It’s always good for the soul just to relax at the river, meet up with friends and acquaintances like Len, Barry, Charles and Julie, Pat and Louis … and visit the Porthole, Legends and the Trat! The pizzas are still very good!

And, of course, at this time of the year there is not much movement in the laid-back village other than the water in the canals that moves up and down with the tides. So, I get to finish reading BELINDA, bearing in mind that reading is becoming more and more difficult for me. I have to read each page a few times before it sinks in, and with this book, I also have to stop regularly to wipe away the tears …

We surely live in moving times …

 

Health-Meter

Cognitive Excellent===================Average============================Poor
Memory (Short) ************************************
Executive function *************************************
Spelling *****************************
Figures ****************************************
  Physical functions
Left hand/arm *******************************************************
Left leg/foot *******************************************
Right hand/arm **********************************
Right leg/foot *
Lungs *******
Swallowing *
Spasms –left side *************************************
Spasms –right side *

Red stars = Deterioration / Green stars = Improvement from previous week

That’s COOL!

Tuesday 25 January 2011: 4 years 4 months on …

Yesterday, I went for my annual checkup (report back?) to the neurologist. I will disuss that later, because right now I am very excited and very humbled.

I have always said that the more you give in this life,the more you get back. And today has been no exception.

Lance du Plessis – my host at AlgoaFM for “ED is in wEd”, and the star of the show! – often jokes about the fact that the CBD has taken away my ability to feel the cold (as it has my sense of smell and taste).

Temperatures below freezing were my saving grace when I recently visited England and Ireland (read ED is in EnglanD and ED is in irElanD). I can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt and not feel the cold. Sean and Phillip even bought me a thermometer last year so that I could read the temperature and dress accordingly!

(Howver, I have to be careful because eventually the progression of this disease will lead to my dying from pneumonia. Right now, I am battling to get rid of a lung infection, and the antibiotics seem to be helping!)

 But the heat catches me. It washes me out and makes me extremely weary. I battled with the humidity and heat last week, and after leaving the AlgoaFM Studio, I stopped in at Cool Projects at 286 Walmer Boulevard to disuss the practicalities of an air-conditioner.

On Friday, Lindsay Caine, the sales rep, came to see me. We discussed the requirements, the practicalities, the positioning and the cost. Eventually, with a family discussion we decided that the main bedroom would be the appropriate place, as that would become my “home” as the CBD winds its wieldy way, and restricts my movements.

Today, Lindsay phoned me to inform me that her boss, Victor Pretorius, and Cool Projects, together with AlgoaFM, had agreed to sponsor the provision and the installation of an air-conditioning unit in our main bedroom!

How’s that for being Cool?

I am excited, I am grateful, I am thankful, I am so very humbled.

LG – Life’s Good 

 

Stop Worrying
(Luke 12:22-34)
25“That’s why I’m telling you to stop worrying about your life—what you will eat or what you will drink[k]—or about your body—what you will wear. Life is more than food, isn’t it, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant or harvest or gather food into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are more valuable than they are, aren’t you? 27Can any of you add a single hour to the length of your life[l] by worrying? 28And why do you worry about clothes? Consider the lilies in the field and how they grow. They don’t work or spin yarn, 29but I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. 30Now if that is the way God clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and thrown into an oven tomorrow, won’t he clothe you much better—you who have little faith?266
31“So don’t ever worry by saying, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32because it is the gentiles who are eager for all those things. Surely your heavenly Father knows that you need all of them! 33But first be concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness,[m] and all of these things will be provided for you as well. 34So never worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And So, this is Christmas …

Thursday 23 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …

Season's Greetings!

I have never been a “Festive Season” person. I could quite easily escape the madness of this period and go from early December into late January!

This will be the 55th Festive Season that I will celebrate and the 5th one since I became ill in 2006. As I look back over the years, I have celebrated  Christmas and New Year’s with family, friends, strangers and stragglers. We have eaten our main meal as supper on Christmas Eve and as Christmas Day Lunch and as Christmas Day Supper.

There have been celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere traditions and in the more practical Southern Hemisphere protocol. We have done it the European style and the African style. We have eaten ‘hot’ food and ‘cold’ food – turkey and braai.

We have done it on the beach, in hotels, restaurants and at our home and at your home. We have done it with Grannies and parents, with laws and in-laws, with mine and yours, sometimes on an alternate basis and sometimes, we get it all messed up, and do it on a sequential basis.

We have done it in the heat of the summer and I have done it in the cold of the winter, in the southern hemisphere and in the northern hemisphere, under the blazing sun and in the ice cold snow.

I have done it in North America (in Oklahoma and New York) and in South Africa (in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and, ironically, in Natal).

We have done it –sometimes – peacefully, and – often – with much argument, stress and unhappiness. I don’t think that we are unique in this regard!

Some do it out of habit, some out of conviction, and some don’t know why they do it!

Some, I remember with much affection, such as the only white Christmas in 1976 in Sulphur, Oklahoma, with the Seips and the Whitleys (my American “parents”); others I would rather forget, such as New Year’s Eve on Times Square in New York City in 1987/88; and some I just have forgotten!

But, in the final analysis, it’s the time of the year when we celebrate New Beginnings: a New Year and a new Dispensation for Mankind when Jesus, the Son of God, was born in Bethlehem, in order that we may have New Life.

How we deal with this time of the year is the same way as we deal with Life and its events at any time of the year. It is our own doing and our choice – it lies in our hands, our hearts and in our minds. 

I am reminded that one event, such as the massive snowfalls in Europe at this time, can have two very different consequences: on the one hand, there are the beautiful, peaceful snow scenes, the fun of snowmen and snowballs, children all wrapped up playing in the snow, people tobogganing and sledging and skiing and ice skating; and on the other hand, the chaotic scenes of the massive disruption of road, air and rail services, accidents, death and destruction.

Likewise, how we deal with this event of the “Festive Season”, can lead to one of two very different consequences:  one of unhappiness, depression, argument, loneliness; or one of peace, happiness, joy, serenity and fulfilment.

It is of our making.

My hope and prayers, this festive Season, is that I, and you, will have the ability to look and learn from the excitement and joy and glee of the children around us at this time. That we will find ourselves at the Manger of the Baby in Bethlehem, that we will learn from Him to live our lives in peace, humility, serenity, humbleness, giving and service to our fellow human beings.

That I may say, Father, take this cup from me, but not my will, but Yours, be done.

I wish all my readers, friends and family, wherever they may be on this Good Earth, a very special, happy and contented Christmas in 2010, and a New Year in 2011 that may be richly filled with God’s many blessings.

Heading South – Going Home

A Change is as Good as a Holiday (Part 5)

Sunday 19 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …

(As I write this, the snow once again pours down onto Europe and disrupts traffic all over again!)

Saturday 4 December – Sunday 5 December 2010

Saying goodbye has never been my strong point. I usually choke up – and then don’t say the things that I intended to say or should have said. And, over the last four years, this has been even more so. I sometimes think that people must think that I am extremely rude because I don’t say goodbye properly!

The truth is that despite talking to myself beforehand and getting myself ‘strong’ for the occasion, I am still not able to control the waterworks! And then, I just rush off, and let the water flow out of sight …

 This time was no different.

When the taxi arrived to fetch me at 11h00, just minutes after being booked, I said my brief goodbyes to Grace, Jake and Mike, almost as if I was just going down the road to do the morning shopping. But the tears started rolling, and did so almost all the way to the airport. The taxi driver chatted away, talking about everything from the FIFA World Cup to the 90 billion Euro bailout that Ireland had just received from the European Union and the IMF. All he got in return were curt one-word responses and the occasional muted sniff! Strange African fella, he must have thought!

At the airport, I asked to leave on an earlier flight – not because I wanted to get out of the place, but because missing my flight to Johannesburg at Heathrow would have complicated matters for me. Their was a brief window of opportunity for flights to leave Dublin – the snow had stopped, but it was forecast that the fog would roll in from the northwest and more snow was inevitable!

I spent my last Euro coins on a packet of chips, and then watched them spraying the ice off the wings and fuselage of the plane that would carry me back over the Irish Sea to London Heathrow – Flight EI 168 scheduled to take off at 14h10.

I saw the fog rolling in from the west. I was right in the front, seat 2A, at the window and by the time we started moving, the airport was shrouded in a blanket of fog. There had been so many stories of people getting on and off planes because of cancelled flights, that I became anxious that the plane should become airborne.

 Luckily, the flight was only slightly delayed because, once again, we had been requested to delay our arrival at LHR in order to fit into their time slots. But, up we went, through the grey pea-soup fog, and then, as we banked and turned eastward, almost like Someone opening the curtains, there below me lay the Emerald Isle. As far as the eye could see, it looked like a giant quilt blanket – white squares of snow surrounded by dark leafless trees. It was the most awesome sight, and will remain with me as my parting gift after a most special week.

 Slightly late, at half three, we landed at Heathrow. My bag had been checked through to Johannesburg, and Flight SA237 was only due for boarding at 20h05 and to leave at 21h05. So I used the time to explore the aged Terminal 1 (the original Heathrow, due for demolition and rebuilding over the next 10 years). SAA and Aer Lingus use terminal 1 and I was specifically booked like that in order to cut down on my moving around unnecessarily at Heathrow.

I found a free internet kiosk and proceeded to catch up on emails and Facebook. Then, a trip to the toilet almost ended in disaster. Travelling alone always means that such a trip entails having to carry all your belongings with you.

I put everything down on the floor, and picked it all up when I left. Or so I thought! After about fifteen minutes of browsing through WH Smith, I suddenly realised that my cell phone was missing. I rushed back to the toilet and there lay my Blackberry on the floor, just where I had left it! This was definitely not Africa! (As it was, all I lost in the two weeks was one of my gloves at Twickenham, so, despite my concerns, my mind had worked well for me over the fortnight.)

Seat 39G was on the aisle, and I had open seats next to me, which looked promising for a good night’s rest heading back over Africa. But during supper – chicken or beef yet again! – I got chatting to a young guy, Jared Golden, across the aisle.  He is from Cape Town (went to school at Herzlia) and works as an analyst in the financial economic applications (FEA) team at Barrie and Hibbert  in Edinburgh. He was headed home for the holidays.

“My broader FEA activities include quarterly real-world model calibrations, contributing to research and development regarding modelling and calibration and improving calibration tools. I provide support for various Barrie & Hibbert products (software and scenario sets, etc.) and services (reporting, consultancy, etc.), which includes providing financial modelling assistance to clients, advising on calibrations and providing assistance on economic interpretation of model output.”

Well, we chatted to such an extent that the woman in front of us complained that we were making too much noise, and so he came to sit next to me. We chatted almost until breakfast time at 05h00 (GMT – now 07h00 SAST), and so little sleep was had.

Landing at Oliver Tambo was ten minutes early, but because of that, they had not organised the gateway in time. (Welcome home!)

Once the door opened, I got through customs quickly – no stopping of anyone! – and headed off to terminal B to meet Graeme and Belinda for breakfast. A short catch-up and chat and then it was off to Port Elizabeth, flight SA417 due for departure at 13h05. Before then, welcome home yet again: at the last moment, we were moved from the advertised boarding gate to another, and then, when I checked in, I was asked to stand to one side before boarding. No reason was given, and I muttered whilst everyone else boarded.

Right at the end, I was told that I had been upgraded to First Class (from 15D to 2C!) and so, I arrived home in style (even had lunch served in china plates with proper cutlery – but still chicken or beef!), and was the first passenger off the plane in Port Elizabeth.

[Lesson #5 , for me, is ‘DON’T MUTTER WHEN THINGS APPEAR TO GO WRONG – YOU MAY JUST END UP IN A BETTER SITUATION THAN YOU ORGINALLY ANTICIPATED! THE CLASSIC LESSON: EVERY DARK CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING!]

So, two weeks after leaving Port Elizabeth Airport, on Sunday 5 December, Boeing 737 Flight SAA 417 from Johannesburg touched down at that same airfield, right on time at 14h45. The wind was howling at 60kph and the temperature was 24 degrees.

I bounded across the concourse, no tears, no limp, mind clear and holding my heavy duty Levi jacket in my right hand and my travel bag in my weaker left hand!

Pera and Phillip had come to fetch me. As I waited for my suitcase to come off the carousel, I pondered about the two weeks and the wonderful privilege that I had just experienced.

My sincerest thanks and appreciation go to all those people who I have mentioned in these blogs “A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A HOLIDAY” for having made this memorable trip possible.

To Grace Carswell, I shall remember our all too brief conversations in your beautiful new kitchen and home, with great fondness. Your Irish food was magnificent, and your hospitality was superb. I wish you and Mike Godspeed as you continue on your life’s trip with your wonderful young family of Jake and Chloe.

To Mike, a mere ‘thank you’ seems so insufficient. Who would have thought, when we first met in 1984 at Grey High School, me the teacher and hostel master, you the pupil, the Head of House, the Senior Student Officer and the 1st Team rugby player that, twenty six years later, we would meet up in Dublin, Ireland, thanks to your friendship and generosity?

You have given this (not so old) man two very special weeks in his life and the most wonderful memories.

I hope that, one day, you will put up a picture of me with all those famous people that grace your practice walls! At least then, a part of me will remain in Ireland.

Another lesson I have learnt this fortnight from the Greatest Teacher of all, is that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ST Francis of Assisi said “For it is in giving that we receive”.  As Christmas 2010 approaches rapidly this week, may we all learn this great lesson of Life.

Upon arrival in Dublin, the customs officer had asked me what my purpose was in Ireland. I responded “holiday”. We all have a purpose upon our arrival on this planet Earth but I don’t think it’s a holiday! At this Christmas time, I pray that we each may find our purpose, and achieve that purpose, in the time that we are given to spend here and to explore our planet and temporary home.

 

“And if there’s going to be a Life hereafter, and, somehow, I know, there’s bound to be

I will ask my God to let me have my Heaven in that Isle of Green across the Irish Sea… “

As the daylight fades, the twilight approaches and the shadows grow longer. But the shadows have not yet overtaken me.  My body grows wearier, my mind begins to falter and my ability to do the little, normal everyday tasks becomes increasingly affected. I am becoming increasingly frustrated.

Gloaming is defined in the dictionary as that time after sunset and before dark. It is that time when the shadows get longer and longer and then disappear completely. It’s not completely dark yet, but there are no more shadows. Gloaming separates day from night and from the new Dawn.

Please forgive me for the times when I ask that my gloaming period should be short. 

Forgive me when I ask my God to allow me to leave this earth on an earlier flight, not because I want to leave this beautiful place that offers so much, but because I look forward to that day in Paradise when I will, once again, be able to do those everyday tasks and be free of the weariness and discomfort.

 It is often at the end of a busy day, in the twilight and gloaming period, that one experiences the most peaceful and beautiful and memorable times, and sees the most majestic, almost-painted, sunsets and seas and skies. (Just go and sit at Sunset Rocks at Cape St Francis at sunset.)

My trip to England and Ireland has been just that!

I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who made this Twilight Trip possible.    

 

Ta Athru chomh maith le Saoire (Cuid 4)

ED is in IrElanD

Ed Is in Eirinn

Ta athru chomh maith le saoire (Cuid 4)

A Change is as Good as a Holiday (Part 4)

Friday 17 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …

Sunday, 28 November 2010 – Saturday, 4 December 2010

Sunday morning was packing up and heading off for Heathrow Airport at 10h30 to meet up with Mike and Grace Carswell, and our very short flight of 55 minutes over the Irish Sea to Dublin. But flights into Dublin were delayed (we would see why later!) and we only left LHR shortly after 15h00.

Mark and Janet Stanborough dropped me off at Heathrow and when I checked in, there was no record of my booking. Mike had flown over to London for the Old Grey dinner and when I called him, he and Grace were on their way to the airport. He gave me a new reference number and so I tried to book in a second time. This time, the flight had not opened for checking in yet as a result of the delays. We decided to have breakfast instead.

Third time lucky got me checked in. The Stanboroughs left and I headed off through customs. This time, it was far more thorough than the previous time in Johannesburg. Shoes off, belt off, wallet out, cell phone out, but still the machine kept beeping.

Eventually, it proved to be a paper clip in my shirt pocket. I had put my Euros (for Ireland) in my top pocket and a paper clip was holding them together! Paper clip dumped and Euros into wallet got me through the check point and into the holding and shopping area for flights to the Republic of Ireland.

Grace and Mike arrived, and we waited with hundreds others for flights to Ireland – some had been there since early morning.  Mike knew a number of people heading back and he introduced me to some, including “Louis”, Alan Lewis who had refereed the rugby game between the All Blacks and Wales in Cardiff the previous evening.

When Aer Lingus Flight EI 163 to Dublin eventually took off, we headed west and north. I was at the window and was able to see the white snow covered hills and mountains of Wales. Then the Irish Sea and then the east coast of Ireland and the city of Dublin. Mike gave me a running commentary of the coastline and pointed out his home suburb of Blackrock and other landmarks.

Failte go dti Baile Atha Cliath (Welcome to Dublin) – the name Dublin is derived from the Irish name Dubh Linn, meaning “black pool”.

As far as the eye could see, the Emerald Isle was not green, but snow white!

It had evidently started snowing in Dublin on the previous Friday evening. Mike commented that in his twenty years in Ireland, he had never seen so much snow in Dublin in November. Little did we know what still lay ahead of us weather-wise!

As a SA passport holder (and no visa required for the Republic of Ireland, I moved through a different queue to Mike at customs. No stopping to search me this time, but the officer asked for the purpose of my visit and when I would be leaving.

“Holiday”, I said, and he graciously offered me, and wrote into my passport, more time in Ireland than was needed. It almost became necessary to have that extra time, as we would find out later.  

Mike specialises in treating sports injuries and counts many famous Irish sports people amongst his clients. The numerous photographs that decorate his practice’s walls are ample testament to this, and a google of his name on the internet provides further evidence of the high esteem that he is held in Dublin.

Louis – Alan Lewis – was Mike’s first patient on Monday morning. He had asked me to come and chat to him. So after crashing into bed on Sunday evening, I dragged myself into the treatment room at 7h30 on Monday morning. Whilst he lay on the table, being pushed and prodded by Mike, and in between the ooo’s and the aaaa’s and some other choice words, Louis and I had a conversation of sorts! (Later in the week, I also had the privilege of meeting Irish rugby players Johnny Sextant and Leo Cullen.)

This week was different to the last in that I was staying in one place and was going to be a tourist on my first visit to Dublin.

Dublin is a city of some 1,5 million people and is on the east coast of Ireland at the mouth of the Liffey River which flows from west to east through the city. Similar to London and the Thames, the city lies north and south of the Liffey.

I was in Blackrock (An Charraig Dhubh), a suburb on the south coast. A train service, the DART – (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), runs along the coast from the northern suburbs, through the centre city and then down the coast through the southern suburbs. (For those who are familiar with Cape Town, it’s a similar set up to the rail service that serves Cape Town and goes down the Cape Peninsula coastline through Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town.)

A walk of about a kilometre through the downtown area of Blackrock got me to the station, right next to the sea. There is a massive tidal difference between high and low tides – the water would either be lapping up to the wall right next to the railway line, or else a vast expanse of sand (covered in snow in areas) would meet the eye.

From Blackrock station, it was a mere ride of some twenty minutes north through six stations (including Lansdowne Road (Bothar Lansdun) station which is under and serves the new Aviva rugby stadium) to the seventh station Tara Street in the city centre.

From there it’s a short walk westwards along the south bank of the Liffey to O’Connell Street, the widest and the “main road” of Dublin that runs north-south through the city. I started my sightseeing there – but as more and more snow came down, I opted for a green bus tour that took me on a circular trip through the city. It gave me a good overall perspective and of, course, there are always the interesting titbits given by the tour guide in the most beautiful of Irish accents.

 As the week progressed, the snow continued falling – it moved from the most snow in November to the most snow ever! First it came from the northeast on the weather system blasting its coldness from the Arctic, then it came from the northwest blasting even more coldness from Iceland and Greenland. The temperature moved between a low of -11C and a high of 0C.

As the beautiful fresh white crunchy snow lands on the frozen ground, the bottom layers of snow become ice. The conditions become treacherous underfoot, cars and buses stop moving, the train system slows down and stops on occasion and walking – sliding! – becomes an art. Some of the main routes are kept open by throwing salt on the snow. Soon, the salt reserves dwindle and they have to mix grit with the salt to make the supplies last longer. The roads start looking like a giant black slush puppy.

The city is grid locked with vehicular traffic. The airport shuts down. The joke of maybe not getting out on Saturday starts looking like a reality! But that’s Saturday – don’t worry about things that may never happen!

In the meantime, I am determined to see as much as possible. So with snow flakes pounding my face and taking careful steps to avoid slipping on the ice, I manage to see (all) and visit (some)of the sights, amongst many others:

The Millenium spire, the GPO, Trinity College, Molly Malone’s statue, Oscar Wilde’s house and memorial, the Georgian homes, St  Stephen’s Green, the National Gallery and Museum, the City Hall, Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral, St Catherine’s Church, the Guiness Storehouse, Wellington Monument, Phoenix Park, Kilmainham Gaol, Grafton Street, Dvblinia (Viking/Medieval Exhibition), Aras An Uachtarain (the official residence of the President of Ireland), Teach Laighean(Leinster House) – the building housing the Oireachtas, the national parliament of Ireland.

Each of these places has a unique story and place in Irish history and society. It interested me how many parallels there are between our own country and Ireland. And so many wars fought (all against England, except one – a civil war between the Irish themselves!).

Something like 45% of the Irish population is under 25 years old – so many Irish have emigrated over the years that they consider their people as one of their biggest export commodities! Then, of course, there’s the other export commodity, Guiness, Ireland’s No 1 Tourist attraction. The Storehouse is the highest point of any visit to Dublin, both figuratively and literally, as Gravity, the Guiness Storehouse Bar in the sky is the highest point in Dublin City and has the most amazing view of the city.

 This commodity also proved useful when the walking got too much and respite from the elements was required in one of the oh so many pubs that grace the Irish landscape. And no better place than Temple Bar which is the home to Dublin’s cultural quarter and touristy pubs.

With the friendliest of people, duo’s singing Irish music, Irish stew, hot fires and cold Guiness – this surely was close to being in heaven! One afternoon, I got stuck with Emile Phelan, a plumber from Jersey who was visiting his Mom in Dublin. We had many “just another” – just the one for the road home! It became a long and winding and slippery road!

 No wonder in the folksong Galway Bay, the singer croons

And if there’s going to be a life hereafter

And somehow I know there’s bound to be

I will ask my Lord to let me make my Heaven

In that Isle of Green across the Irish Sea!

I can just imagine the festivities of Dublin and Temple Bar when the weather is more favourable!

One day, after spending some time acquainting myself with the Blackrock village, I took the DART train south to its furthest point at the coastal village of Greystones, and also stopped off at Dun Laoghaire(pronounced Dun Lary). There are some magnificent coastal scenes along this route, and I can imagine that these must be extremely busy areas come the summer months.

And talking of pronounciation – you will have noticed above that Ireland is a bilingual country and most everything is tagged in both Irish (first) and English. I tried time and again to understand the announcements made on the train, but I’m afraid it was often not easy on my newcomer’s ear!

Besides the weather, I also had to deal with a cellphone that did not work and the lack of internet connectivity. I felt quite isolated from the rest of the world. The technicians could not get to the house to deliver a new modem, and as for the cellphone – well, despite spending time with Vodacom in Port Elizabeth before I left to ensure international roaming, my phone would not work in Ireland. (I had deliberately gone to see them as I had similar problems when I went to the USA in March 2007).

I spent some hours at various Dublin Vodafone outlets, but to no avail. The last one I went to put a call through to Vodacom enquiries in SA, but after listening to ‘Scatterlings of Africa’ for almost 45 minutes and no reply, I gave them up as a bad job! (No wonder, I thought, we have become scatterlings of Africa when a multibillion conglomerate can’t even answer its phones!)

(On returning to SA, I called their head office (a few times!) to complain. Well, still not much more luck other than being thanked for bringing the problem to their attention and advising me that, despite their previous advice to both Pera and me, they did not have a roaming agreement in Ireland that would allow my contract package to work there!)

Despite the communications problems, I was still able to do our weekly AlgoaFM radio show (via landline) with Lance du PLessis from my bed in Dublin on the Wednesday morning – it was billed as ‘ED is in bED’!

Too soon, the week was coming to an end. On Friday evening, Mike, his brother-in-law Barry and I went to the local pub in Blackrock to say our last goodbyes to each other and to that Irish institution of pubs and Guiness. (A pack of Guiness that I bought at the supermarket for home use was left on the outside porch because it was colder there than in the fridge!)

The snow continued till Friday, the airport re-opened, and I was taxied there early Saturday morning in order to get back to Heathrow on an earlier flight before the weather turned foul again.

 It was time to say Beannacht and Sian a fhagail – goodbye and farewell – and to begin the journey southwards home.

Lesson #4, for me, was “Despite obstacles in Life, you can still have a darn good time!”