Island Blog 136 Brave Heart

 

Popz and Poppy

 

 

In life there are times when something huge happens whilst I am somewhere else.  I might feel a chilly hand on my neck, or the sensation of it, without having a clue why.  Later, sometimes much later, I might discover that, at just that time, this huge something was going on with a loved one.

Last Friday I caught the noontide train down to Glasgow.  I was supposed to be visiting a girlfriend but she called in sick and, as I was packed and arranged-up, I decided to go and see my sister instead.  The train was overly packed with not enough seats for all, or, only just, and only just is no fun when half the inmates bear heavy loads they cannot lift onto the overhead racks.  Nobody can.  In fact, as they ease off the shoulder straps and shrug a massive rucksack into the gravitational pull, I am amazed it doesn’t go right through the carriage floor.  And that was just one of the many.  The rest of us with less baggage, clasp it to ourselves on our narrow seats and decide to wait until the stock rolls before flicking our eyes around for a more acceptable resting place.

This is when a furry-voiced announcement slinks out from the speakers.  Something about a bus being laid on for those who can’t fit on board.  We look at each other eyes rolling.  Way too late, they say.  Way too late and, besides, we are now all fankled up in rucksack webbing, too many legs, big shoes and well-fed travellers to move anything other than our eyeballs.  It crosses my mind to suggest that the man who sold us all those tickets a few moments ago might consider counting them up next time, a fairly logical plan and one that might decide the bus option before we struggle aboard and meld into one living creature. We are all hot now and a bit grumpy and those lads just up ahead have obviously been on the sauce for a while now, their voices cutting sharply into the mumbled air.

The weekend was lovely and the journey home a very different kettle of fish.  We all had room, we travellers with less baggage, dotting ourselves throughout the train, pulling open our ziplock lunches, to munch contentedly, elbows out.   I thought everything was calm in my world, because, as far as I was concerned, it was.  But, there was a chill at my neck, like cold fingers and yet all the windows were closed.  I pulled out a cardigan and wrapped it round me, but the chill remained.  Back home, a huge drama was beginning to unfold, the facts of which I now have, and will tell, as best an absentee can, through the eyes and experience of my old China.

The boat had landed the passengers back on the pontoon and Popz had taken Poppy up to the grass for a pee, as usual, returning to the boat to clean up and take her back to her mooring, way out in the bay.  It’s about 500 yards.  Once the mooring line was secured, the crew and skipper set to cleaning and tidying, turning off electrics and engines and checking the heads for all those forbidden things people think can disappear down a tiny pipe.  This cleaning process can take a while.  Popz was aware Poppy wasn’t with him, but, then, she often joined the crew whilst they worked, so he wasn’t concerned as they all clambered into the dingy.  They presumed she had jumped back off the boat at the pontoon and that they would find her, as before, sitting waiting for their return.

No sign. Concern is now rising.  They asked everyone, looked everywhere, called and whistled.  Perhaps someone had taken her?

They turned again for Sula Bheag, crossing, once more, the distance through the waves.  Searched everywhere, above, below, inside and out.  Nothing.

Back to the shore.  Time is passing now.  Up the street, into the town, asking everyone, Have you seen a little brown dog?

At the harbour, some kind people with boats cast them off and set to, searching the expanse of water for this little brown dog.

Once more Popz and the crew returned to Sula Bheag, although by now hope was dwindling.  No human being could survive this long in the icy water and it was obvious she must have slipped overboard.  Then, as they fired up the outboard to return for the last time to the shore, Popz noticed some gulls circling, looking like they were looking down at something, way out in the bay.

And they were.  Upside down, four legs above the surface, plus her nose, but barely, was Poppy, all but given up the fight.  As Popz grabbed her, the flea collar snapped and she began to sink.  In desperation, he lunged for her, and caught her before she became part of the darkness.  She was almost dead, her breathing just now and again, frothing salty bubbles from her mouth, but, nevertheless, alive.  A crew member drove like the wind down to the vet, with Popz cradling a defeated Poppy on his lap, wrapping her round to bring back some warmth.  The vet held out little hope.  Salt damage to lungs and kidneys, shock, cold, hypothermia, the oil and muck in the harbour, all threatened to take her out, and he decided to keep her overnight to monitor her progress.

The next morning we phoned, and he said he couldn’t believe the change.  Sitting up, weakened but alive, our little girl had decided not to die.  Although we had to wait a couple of days to be sure the salt hadn’t destroyed her inner workings, we can now say she is a miracle.  Thinner, yes, and not eating much yet, but bouncy and bright-eyed and we are filled with thanks, to the crew and their hearts, to those who took their boats out, to the callers and well-wishers, to the vets.

She may have gone overboard, and you may think ‘careless’ but life happens whilst we make other plans and we can all remember times we didn’t pay enough attention.  But, now here’s the thing.  If the old seadog didn’t have the instinct that he does have, then those gulls might have got their lunch after all.

 

 

Island Blog 129 Out of Africa

African woman

 

 

In Africa I was more likely to find wildlife than wifi.   Of course, there were odd times, in a bar perhaps in town or in a friend’s spanking new office block, but mostly, the only form of contact with anyone at all, was with a handshake, a wide smile and an exchange of words, a state of being I rather like, even if I did, out of habit, reach for my phone if ever we stopped for coffee.

This new office block, with its wide light rooms and wrap around views across Capetown, is already a business hub.  Inventive and creative thinking, interior design and spatial understanding brings together anyone with a business to run and no desk to run it from.  Hot Desks are affordable and genius, because, not only do you get your own space, wifi connection, etc, but you also get to work in a bustling energetic atmosphere among other creators, all of whom are more than happy to network over coffee or a beer.

At every robot (traffic lights) there may be 3 lanes of vehicles.  I look across at those parked beside us in our little silver car (Maggie) and can hardly see the tops of the buckies (four-wheel drives) without craning. Inside these sit the well-upholstered Africaaners, their windows tight shut for the aircon to work.   On the other side, a people carrier taxi, all windows open, pumps out music, the black passengers grinning and bopping on their way to or from work.  The second we stop, the street sellers move in, weaving their way among the cars, holding their merchandise, such as beaded animals, children’s wooden puzzles, mobiles, jewelery, long-legged birds fashioned from plastic bags, woven sunhats and the Big Issue. The sellers are clean and proud, in the main, the turbanned women flashing sparkly smiles, the men making eye contact.  Not begging but business.  We don’t buy because we can find exactly what they are selling on the high street or at the market, even though they did assure us it was all their own work. It could also cause a cafuffle if the lights changed in the middle of negotiations, for there are always negotiations.  The asking price is set high, the rest is barter.

I found the beggars, when we did meet them in town, and you always meet them in town, most distressing to observe.  I always wanted to give something, but, had I done so, I would still be there in Market Square with not a penny left to my name.  Once you give to one, others move in, many of them children, and all of them thin as rakes.  Those who live in Capetown are not cold hearted, but they have grown a thicker skin.  They will consider employing anyone who turns up, who cleans up, who decides to move up in life, but they will not easily support those who choose doorways to sleep in and some lethal coctail as nourishment.

I thought much about that.  If someone has lost whatever they had, which may not have been much, it might not take long for that loss to turn into an acceptable way to live.  I imagine self-confidence and respect dissolve pretty quickquick when your only chance of food is by raiding bins on collection day.  I watched a man walk down the street doing just that and talking away to himself. He was oblivious to me, beyond stepping off the pavement to avoid a collision, and his eyes were bloodshot and empty.  I pulled my bag closer and felt vulnerable and overdressed and frightfully well spoken and, well, guilty.  We were heading out of town for a few nights on the coast, with food and wine and a rented beach hut to wrap around us and all he had to look forward to was another long street of wheelie bins and the possibility of Thai curry leftovers in polystyrene. And a doorway to sleep in.

Then (for life always sends a balance to help out) I met young black people with a zeal in their bellies. Not priveleged and living in one of the townships –  mile upon mile of tin roofs and dust floors, but still determined to find new quality for their lives, waiting at tables, working on the dustcart, cleaning, odd-jobbing, and so much more.  ‘If anyone wants it, the work is here’, I was told more than once.  This is a country where labour is abundant and cheap.  Wages are low, work is hard, but these people have a joy about them, a laughter that may well not come from a place of comfort.  It’s more an attitude than a result of how life treats them.  In other words, it comes first, that smile, that easy laugh.

We saw the maids arriving at the big smart Africaaner homes every morning around 7am.  Dressed in black with brilliant white aprons, they trudged up the hills from the noisy taxi that brought them out of the townships, talking and laughing together.  They always looked up for a greeting and always responded with friendship.  Their hours, from 7.30 to whenever they were done cleaning, looking after children and cooking, might earn them £8 at the far end of a day that expects a woman to do every domestic job required.  Then they walked back to the taxi rank, back to the townships to their own families to begin all over again, every single day.  When I talked with one maid, she told me she was happy to work.  Work, she said, is important.  No work, no importance. She look at me, astonished when I told her I had worked as a maid for a time.  Why?  she asked me.  ‘You don’t have maids in Scotland?’  As if cleaning was not for my shiny white hands. I fumbled about for an answer that didn’t sound like ‘well, I needed the money.’  She would have fainted clean away, had she known the wage I was paid for doing far less than is expected of her. And then she smiled the widest smile and then she laughed a laugh that made her bangles jingle and shook her head in amazement and amusement at the very thought of the ‘Ma’ cleaning a house, even her own.  Then she gathered up a huge pile of washing and left me wondering at my priveleged life and how often I forget to remember that it is just that.

Island Blog 5

Did I tell you I cook and clean for Old Harry?

Well, I am now, and I do.

The job sort of came to me.  I wasn’t looking for work, but Old Harry has looked after me and my family for over 35 years, doing odd jobs and bringing those little bits and pieces to us when we were without them.  A short length of roofing felt, perhaps, or a special size of bicycle screw, or a bit of wire fencing to block up a hole in the fence.

Well, since his old wife died, he has had to fend for himself in a kitchen he never knew existed.  He did outdoors and she did indoors and that was that for a whole lifetime.  So, Old Harry found someone to cook meals for him, freeze them and deliver once a week.  There was a bit of washing, a bit of cleaning too.  When one cook left him, he came to tell me and I said, quite without thinking, I’ll do it Harry.  For you.

And I do.

This morning I was supposed to go over with supplies, clean washing and my rubber gloves for the cleanup which is never much as Old Harry was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the war and still lives that way.  But, it was raining again, cats and dogs so I knew Harry, whose work is all outside, remember, would be stuck at home and not wanting a merry little cleaner like me moving him around whilst I cleaned.  So, I stayed home and cooked extra meals for him instead, which is timely as we are off to see our new grand-daughter in London on Wednesday and I will be away for ten days helping out.  I will still keep up my blog, though, so no worries there.

I’m bushed now, though.  Time for a walk in the Fairy Woods.  I’ll tell you what I find tomorrow.