Be brave

I am a wuss. I loved rollerblading when I was a teenager, but only did it in a calm and controlled manner, just in case of a bad fall leading to broken bones. I have a phobia of broken bones. I would climb trees, but not too high. I would swim in the sea at Durban, but not too deep, due to the small risk of being eaten by a great white shark. I even played Monopoly against my siblings, despite the 99% chance of it ending in a combination of yelling, crying and fisticuffs.

I like having fun, once I have done a quick risk-analysis in my head.

I’m a bit like that geeky bloke on last year’s Apprentice.

I am definitely not brave. So having people tell me that I am, these last few months, has been difficult to accept. After all, I didn’t volunteer to have cancer in place of someone else or anything.  I am just keeping going; not in an adventurous way but in a boring, everyday way. I am not fishing for compliments, it’s the truth.

I do admire actual brave people. Not necessarily the winners, the ones who get the gold medal and all the attention. Sometimes them, but more often the ones who had a lot to overcome just to get to the start line, never mind the finish. The ones who were told it was impossible. They were too old, too young, too poor, too stupid. They did it anyway. Proper heroes.

People like the ones who do Parkrun even though they know they will be right at the back, far behind everyone else. Still running while all the ‘proper’ runners have gone home. Good for the proper runners and all that, but even gooder for the ones who will never get medals and praise but turn up week after week anyway.

I may not be a winner. I may not be brave. But I do turn up, and I think that really, that’s the most important thing.  Except in Monopoly: then it really is very important to win at all costs.


My back yard

We moved into the house in Oribi Road when I was about 11. There was a badly-dug small pool with far too much chlorine in it. After we moved in, Dad soon turned it into a beautiful well-made larger version. I loved that pool. Summer lasts about 10 months in Pietermaritzburg so we really appreciated it. It got up to about 40 degrees Celsius at the height of Summer. On those days we couldn’t stay outside too long, even in the pool.

As far as I remember, there were two trees in the yard. One was an orange, and one a mixture of lemon and orange – literally two types of tree were grafted together. I guess you could call it a lorange or oramon. We sometimes made fresh orange juice with the fruit but needed to add loads of sugar to make it drinkable.

Around the back of the old servants’ rooms (two small bedrooms and a not-very-nice toilet block) was where Dad had his vegetable patch. He grew all sorts there, and very successfully too.

Sometimes when Dad was gardening, he would come across small snakes. He would chop their heads off with a spade (there are many poisonous kinds in South Africa). I liked to play with the smooth dead bodies. They were pretty cool. When my brother and I played hobos in the garden, I would light a fire and burn the bodies. Or anything else that was to hand. Sometimes marshmallows.

When we first moved in, the servants’ block was filled with junk and random furniture, and we used it as a den. My cousins would come round and we’d play armies in there. Being the oldest of the group, I was leader or co-leader most of the time.

When we got lovebirds, they lived in a large aviary along the far wall (furthest from the house.) They needed to be far away because they were so loud. We also kept guinea pigs in the yard, much closer to the house. I loved my guineas. The cats would sit on top of their run and keep a close watch. But if we took the pigs out and showed them to the cats, the felines would scarper. Most amusing.

We had three cats and a small naughty dog called Thomas. He belonged to my brother but adored Mom.

There was a gate outside the old servant’s quarters toilet block. You could climb to the top of it and then carefully position yourself on top of the outside wall (about 7 foot high). From there you had a great view over the neighbourhood. All houses are single-storey, so you don’t usually overlook your neighbours. The neighbours on one side had lots of lush vegetation, so you couldn’t see much anyway. But you could see surprisingly far. The neighbours on the other side had a huge pool and two large unhappy dogs who I never saw being walked or petted. I felt sorry for them – they were obviously seen only as guard dogs and not pets. They barked a lot.

I spent a lot of happy times in that garden. In the evening it was lovely to just go and sit in it and look at the stars. You could hear the crickets at night. I missed them when I moved to the UK.

When it rained, it did a proper job. You would get drenched in seconds. It didn’t rain often, so I enjoyed standing outside and feeling the warm drops pummelling my skin.

The thunderstorms were amazing. We would count between the lightning and thunder to work out if it was moving towards us. We felt so small and vulnerable against the might of creation. It was liberating. The thunder shook the windows and sometimes lead to a power cut. All the torches and candles would come out.

Our pool