I’ve realised that I have begun to accumulate memories. Not in the normal slapdash file-this-away-for-future-reference or yeah-that-was-a-great-vacation kind of way. I have started to consciously hoard them, pebbles of time that randomly drop into the limpid pools of my memory and cause ripples that rock my existence against its berth.
I can’t say when this began. I have always been a thinker. I’ve always considered the moment, instead of actually being in it. I reflect on things, perhaps more than I should, my mind worrying at them ceaselessly like a tongue at a broken tooth. I consider thinking to be important and I arrogantly pride myself in doing a lot of of it. Yet, my thoughts often stray, wandering off course like slightly bemused middle-aged tourists, leaving behind them a vague sense of unease that something important has been ignored, an important thought unthunk (yes, I make up words when the mood takes me).
My life has always been a mad rush towards something. Complete that degree. Build that career. Be a millionaire at 30. Make something of yourself. Ha! But lately, my thinking has taken on a new urgency. An urgent desire to stop rushing towards some distant goal or away from some unpleasant memory. Perhaps I finally understand what Ferris Bueller meant when he solemnly narrated, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.”
It’s as if I have finally started to understand how fleeting life is. And how much of it passes in a blur unless you reach out and grab a handful of it, a keepsake to remember happy times by when the wee hours of a sleepless night make you feel small and lost and pointless. Or when you awake from a dream so tinged with a terrible, sweet sadness that your tears burn their way out from under your eyelids, and streak red-hot melancholy across your cheeks.
I have begun to fear death. Not because it is The Great Unknown, but because I picture myself scrabbling for memories that are precious and meaningful and comforting and instead, grabbing handfuls of empty days that yawn unendingly into a staccato blur that depicts a dreary existence. Work. Worry. Arguments. Disappointment. Disregarded feelings. Selfishness. Anger. Pettiness.
I don’t play the “This is my funeral, see all the mourners” game. I’m too scared to. What if my passing is nothing more than a minor glitch in the proceedings to those I care about? What if their grief is a dutiful display enacted for the sake of appearances? “Let’s get this over with people, we’ve got lives to live, mourn the dead, chop chop, toute de suite, right, moving along, who is going to put flowers on the grave next week?”
Or worse, what if their overriding feelings are those of guilty relief, a “good riddance, you nasty asshole!”? Human beings are selfish creatures.
“Me, me, me. Look at me, Ma! Be proud of me, look at what I can do!”
We so easily hog another’s limelight, pushing to the front of the stage to ensure that no one misses our contributions, our sterling character, our “menschness”. Yet, we frequently overlook another’s feelings, declining to give a pat on the back or a hug or a smile that could have perked up someone’s mood. Something that they could fondly recall when they hear of our departure to that great Rodeo in the sky.
We all want to be missed and treasured and remembered fondly when the Void takes us. But ah, life is too busy, too urgent, too demanding to worry about that now, isn’t it? Plenty of time to make memories dear, get out of the way now, Daddy has things to do.
It’s late. Tomorrow, in the bright light of day I’ll probably read these lines and cringe at the sense of drama that they convey, the pretentious display of existential angst. And I’ll surreptitiously slide their message behind a façade of “busyness” as I draw myself up and face another day of hustle, hustle, hustle, holler for a dollar, no change for a whimper, sir!
The boy pulled the scraps of the blanket around him as he huddled on the sidewalk, his gaze never wavering from the happy little tableau behind the window. A mom, dad and a little girl sat under the warm glow of the diner’s lighting, all animated faces and gesturing hands. It was cold, but the breeze barely raised goosebumps on his bare legs. He was used to this. His grubby hands worried at the ragged ears of the small teddy bear he was holding onto tightly as he stared. He hid the bear whenever any of the other street kids were around but he loved it, fiercely. It was a tenuous link to another reality, one that he seemed to remember being part of.
The mother behind the window leaned over, licked a finger deftly as only a mother can do, and wiped a smidgen of mayonnaise from the little girl’s cheek. The girl giggled, squirming away from her mother’s touch while the father smiled at them benevolently. The boy licked his lips. He had lost count of the number of meals he had missed. Not counting the scraps he had managed to scavenge from the trash in the alleys behind the fast food joints and restaurants that lined this downtown street. He was lucky if one of the other street urchins didn’t get to the trash bins before him. Or worse, one of the mean hobos that hung out behind the building depot. They’d stick a broken bottle in your face as quick as look at you. Quicker, if they thought you had food on you.
There was no camaraderie on the streets, as was so often romanticised by authors sitting on plush leather chairs in warm rooms behind the glowing screens of their MacBooks. Life was harsh out here. If you were the altruistic kind, you didn’t last long. Give another your food or shelter and you were labeled a daft bugger, easy to be taken advantage of. Charity was seldom given and expected even less. At least from your street cronies. Charity existed only in the realm of the other world, the one where people didn’t have to concern themselves with where they were going to get enough calories to carry them through the day.
You fought for everything, from a place in the queue when some do-gooders were handing out watery soup to a half carton of soured milk tossed on the dumpster behind the 7-11 on Crenshaw street. If someone handed you anything, you treated it with suspicion and them with hostility. Trusting too easily was a mistake you only made once. And sometimes the penalty was harsh enough to ensure that you didn’t get another chance to learn.
The boy had learned this only a few weeks ago, standing amongst the scattered lines of people who were staring at the small form lying behind a line of yellow crime scene tape. He knew what the face would look like if the bundle had been turned over. It had been an ornery little ginger from the ‘burbs. Beaten once too often by the gnarled hands of his drunkard father, an auto mechanic who treated machines the same way as he treated his family. Roughly, and with an almost indifferent hatred. His son had run away to a “better” life on the streets after one vicious beating too many. Thin, weaselly features, mouth permanently puckered as if ready to bite, he was quickly assimilated into the alternate world of the homeless where you became almost invisible to the rest of the world. At least, until he came between a predator and its prize. Or perhaps, became its prize.
Only your peers seemed to look “at” you and recognise you. If you were homeless, you seemed to move through the world as if separated from the “real world” by a thin veil of privilege. You no longer had the right to linger on a street corner without being prodded and interrogated, cautioned to “move along now if you don’t want any trouble”. People avoided your gaze, as if meeting it could transfer the Plague from you to them instantly.
“God forbid, what if he wants something from me!? Wants money to go spend on glue, most probably. Dirty little bugger! Probably hasn’t seen soap and water in weeks!”
The boy was certain that the ginger would have made the same choice again without hesitation. Even a freedom as bitter as being able to starve or freeze wherever you wish seemed better than the repeated abuse at the hands of your “loved ones”. At least you lived life on your own terms, as wretched as they were. Everyone on the streets had a story to tell. As varied as the beginning of each story might be, the turning point was always the same. Betrayal. Whether by a loved one or society, betrayal was the thread that seemed to wind throughout every single one of the wretched’s tales.
No one knew or seemed to care what had happened to the little ginger. The burly cops stood around smoking and cracking jokes while they waited for the coroner’s van to come and fetch the bundle of rags. A blight on their neighbourhood sidewalk, something to be disposed of quickly, before it was noticed. The street people stood with downcast eyes whenever a cop seemed to look in their direction. It didn’t pay to get noticed around here. Not unless you had the backup of a valid drivers licence and a fixed address to haul out of your pocket.
”Thank you sir, I’m sorry to have taken up your time, but I had to ask. You know, routine.”
“Yes officer, of course I understand. One can’t be too careful, am I right? You betcha I am.”
The family in the diner had just ordered dessert. They paged through the large menus in front of them, oblivious of the plates half filled with food that was being ferried away by the busk boys. The boy looked at the plates thoughtfully, his mouth salivating at the sight of the ketchup slathered over the fries. He remembered the taste of ketchup well. In fact, he had once dined on several sachets of ketchup and mustard that he had discovered in a trash can, discarded by someone who had gorged themselves on a Big Mac with extra fries. Nothing to put it on but hey, you made do with what you had. He had even tried one of the sachets of vinegar but it made his throat close and his eyes water. There were some things you just couldn’t convince your stomach to accept, no matter how hungry you were.
The father had swooped the little girl into his arms, holding her high above his head and pretending to throw her in the air. The boy imagined that he could hear her squeals of delight, the mother’s exhortations to “be careful, what if you drop her, Richard!?” The boy’s eyes, hooded against the glare of happiness, blinked rapidly. He had a vague memory of being held aloft like that by his half-brother but he didn’t think it was with a similarly playful intent.
He watched as the father called for the bill and paid, hardly glancing at the total that could probably have fed the boy and four of his peers for a week. The mother bustled around, scolding and imploring the others in turn to get their things together so that they could leave. The boy watched them from under his eyelids as they left the diner, waddling heavily, towards a family sedan parked at the curb. The little girl batted at her father’s face as he secured her in the car seat, the mother giving unwanted advice while he did so, grimacing with either effort or irritation. He finally settled into his seat, the dashboard lights casting a warm orange glow onto his face and that of his wife. Safely cocooned in the vehicle of their privilege, but oblivious to it.
As they drove off into the darkness that was settling on the city, the brake lights of the vehicle flicked on and off, winking out one final time as they turned the corner two blocks down.
The boy rose from where he was sitting, like an old man, limbs seemingly testing each movement before they creaked into action. He tucked the ragged bear into the tie that served as his belt before he started walking in the direction of the overpass under which he would sleep.
It was going to be another long, cold night.
I’m sitting down to write this because, if I don’t, I fear that I may never write another word.
Firing up my MacBook and opening WordPress felt like returning to a house that I had left vacant for a year while swanning about Europe. Dust. Cobwebs. Musty smells and a faint, lingering scent of the pine gel I had used to scrub down the counters before I closed the door behind me for, what almost became, the last time. But despite this, it still felt like ‘home’.
What prompted my return was reading a blog post from someone I follow. A guy who is a “real” writer, even though he pretends not to see himself as one . He has this uncanny ability to put mundane thoughts into words in such a way that they draw you in, even when he is simply throwing out random thoughts about his day. Self deprecating but brutally honest about himself, his life and his pathology. He first followed my blog more than a year ago. I still got excited about things like that back then. When I had read a few of his posts, I had to follow back. I mean, perhaps we could swop out ideas, exchanging meaningful letters like a modern day Hemingway and Pound that scholars would pore over, years later, to decipher our greatness. Since then I have skipped over the blog notifications from his WordPress familiar that appeared in my inbox, more often than not. Occasionally, my eyes would skim the first few paragraphs and suddenly, before I knew it, I’d have read the entire post.
It happened again this morning. I clicked on the notification (because I hate unacknowledged notifications, part of my own pathology) and before I knew it, I was reading the whole damn post. Even while I was reading, my inner monologue was haranguing me. “You should give up this writing idea. THIS is what writing looks like, buddy and yours doesn’t come close. Read it and weep, baby!” It was like a weekend warrior panting along a stretch of paved walkway in Central Park, so proud of his athletic ability until he is overtaken by a New York Marathon athlete doing a warmup.
I am familiar with this feeling. Too familiar. Whenever I read a well-written piece of writing, I feel the sour bile of envy rising at the back of my throat along with the doubt. Could I have written something like this? Why hadn’t I? If I took my writing seriously and actually put something “out there”, would people take the time to read it? Is it glaringly obvious to people that English is my second language? I’m not brave enough to seriously consider and answer these questions. Not now, anyway. I am trying too many things for the first time, wracked with self-doubt and worry that I won’t be able to do all the things I set out to do and yet too stubborn not to give it that goddamned good ole college try.
Call me Icarus, baby, come fly with me if you’re brave enough.
So I’ll shelve these thoughts on one of the dusty racks that line the walls in my mind. Along with half-forgotten memories of “could haves” and “should haves” which I didn’t.
Yes, this is a good spot.
Between that job offer I declined because I thought I didn’t have the skills and the memory of dad telling me I shouldn’t try because I’m going to fuck it up anyway. Push it to the back, that’s it. Perfect!
Hey, I may see you around. It may only be in another year from now. Or perhaps this weekend if the spirit (or beer) moves me. You never know your luck in a big city, as my grandmother always used to say.
You really don’t.
Dave has perfectly expressed the sadness of Pratchett devotees at the passing of our favourite author in his latest blog post.
There is a ritual in my home. Every night when dinner is served, my constant companion is opened to the last page read, and placed opposite me at the table. Food and a Pratchett novel? Must be dinner time.
All noises are off – phones on silent, laptops paused: dinner is my alone time with Terry.
This is the time I immerse myself in the Mutiverse where the Discworld rests on the backs of four elephants standing on the meteor-pockmarked carapace of Great A’Tuin, the astrochelonian.
It is the time when the faint two-dimensional reality I exist in fades away and the deeper, more real Prachettian reality I live for comes into focus.
“At first, there was nothing…which exploded.” Terry’s manifestation in my life was much like these words he wrote describing the beginning of time and the universe. It seems that life and reading were colourless, meaningless and…
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Or in my case, “Tempus fuggit”. This festive season, I felt “old” for the first time in my life.
Thanks to a visit from a friend who kindly left all his beers as well as a particular nasty virus when he left, I spent 8 of my ten days in Port Elizabeth in bed, coughing my lungs out and lunging at maroon dragons and fending off giant spiders in fevered fantasies. I coughed and sweated until I was as weak as a newborn, my own legs refusing to carrying me. I had been really sick before, but not like this. Usually, I can almost sense my body fighting the infection, rallying white blood cells and hosting antivirus conventions with the fervour of vegan atheists at a Crossfit convention.
Not this time though.
I felt frail. Really frail. And it scared me. Where was my rock solid constitution of my youth? Where was the vim and vigour of my younger days? Why am I sounding as if I am a decrepit old man!?
Time ravages us all but we react to it differently. Some slump quite easily into the role of couch potato. Others try to fend it off with plastic surgery or loads of makeup but fail to focus on cultivating the healthy habits required to actually feel younger. Others such as [hopefully!] myself, realise that they can no longer bludgeon their bodies with all night parties and indiscriminate eating and drinking and adopt a healthier lifestyle. I have therefor decided that I need to cultivate better habits.
I have always been intrigued by our habits and how they need to complement the goals we set for ourselves. If you think about it, no goal is attainable without consistent actions (habits).
Want to be a famous [or at least a published] writer? Make a habit of writing a set amount of words every day.
Want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s little brother? Make a habit of training several times a week on a regular basis.
I could go on but you get the idea. The attainment of goals cannot be divorced from regular and consistent actions. These actions are essentially our habits.
Therefor it follows that, if we wish to achieve a goal, we need to establish and maintain certain habits. Common wisdom would have it that we can form a new habit or lose a bad one in roughly 21 days, provided that we consistently practise the habit during that period. I don’t think that the timeframe is as clearcut as all that but it is close enough for government work. From my own experience, getting up at 5am to go for a run comes a lot easier on day 20 than on day 1 of a training cycle. It is almost as if it becomes such an ingrained part of our daily routine that our resistance to the idea of doing it all but disappears.
I like this idea. Imagine if we could effortlessly eat the right foods and train when we are supposed to without having to exercise willpower [which is a finite resource incidentally]. How different could your life be in a year or 5 years from now if you acquired a healthy habit or discarded a bad one? And all of this, effortlessly, apart from the initial commitment to consciously performing the action for 3 weeks.
From my past experiments I have discovered that I respond well to visual feedback. I love the visual impact of a row of ticks that indicate how well I have incorporated a specific habit into my routine. There are several apps for people like me that allow you to track your habits visually and give you feedback on your progress. Other people may just be able to knuckle down and Do It!. Whatever your preference, why not give it a shot? Why not choose a single habit to implement this year and make it a part of your daily routine for the next 3 weeks?
This isn’t a New Years Resolution. I don’t believe in those. I have failed to stick to too many of them. This is a committed choice to make a small change to my life and to keep doing a specific action until it becomes ingrained. So for the next 3 weeks, I will be making one small action a part of my daily routine until I am so used to doing it that I don’t even need to think about it.
Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Why don’t you give it a shot and see what happens? You may just surprise yourself and those close to you with the results. And if this post has inspired you to try, and it works for you, let me know. I’d love to hear about your successes!
All the best for 2015!
It’s that time of year again. The time when I review the past year and berate myself for what I did not achieve. So, in that time-honoured tradition, with The Counting Crows playing on my music centre and a cold beer at my elbow I’m scratching at the scabs of the last 12 months. It is difficult to ignore the sense of deja vu that envelops me every single time I do this. There is never a sense of excitement about celebrating my achievements. No self-congratulatory pat on the back for making it through another revolution of a little blue planet around the Sun.
Instead it becomes a litany of self-flagellation worthy of any puritanical religion dead set on purging its followers of the Deadly Sin of Pride. “You suck as a dad!” “Why didn’t you finish writing that short story you’ve been working on for months?” “You totally screwed up your savings strategy this year, idiot!” “Your habits really suck, ya know that!?” “Hang that painting FFS!?” I’m sitting here, trying to figure out why I do this. If I tried, I’m pretty sure I could come up with some achievements (insignificant as they might be) if I gave it enough thought.
For instance, I have survived another year as a consultant. Barely. This seems like quite a feat when I consider how scared I was to resign from an extremely well paid job more than two years ago with not a single client. I successfully completed a database design project which would normally have required the combined efforts of at least two or three developers. I have established a reputation as a developer who delivers high quality work on time every time. I am in a successful, loving relationship with a beautiful woman who understands me better than anyone ever has. My relationship with my daughter is stronger than ever despite some rocky experiences over the past months. I have good friends, people whom I treasure and who [hopefully] treasures me.
All good things. Yet, this kind of self-examination inevitably becomes self-critical to the extreme and focuses on my failures. I have to marvel at how ingrained this self loathing is. I hear it in my internal dialogue on a daily basis. I feel it in the discomfort that envelops me when anyone gives me a sincere compliment. I see it in the way I downplay my career achievements on my CV. From what I see in the people around me, I am not the only one to do this. But why would we!?
Self-esteem is determined by several factors. The way people perceive us but, more importantly, how they communicate how they perceive us is a big one. Our social status and societal role is another. Personal successes or failures and our reaction to them. Even how far we fall short of being the person the media portrays we should be has an impact.
Let’s pause for a second. Do you believe this Happy Crappy!? A societal stereotype imposed on us by two-dimensional media makes us like or dislike ourselves? What the actual fuck, people? If I drive that car, wear those clothes and wear that cologne, people (and presumably I, myself) will admire and like me. And the people who drive this agenda? The very ones who stand to make money out of whatever baubles and trinkets we “need” to feel good about ourselves. “Seems legit!”, as people on Twitter love to say. No wonder we have confused and rebellious teenagers with nose rings and portly 30-somethings with middle-age angst!
Ah, but the Big Daddy of the Self-esteem Sweepstakes iiiiiiiiisssssssss…
Your mind. Thats it. Now, I know how hard it is to accept this. We hate the idea of “having to fix ourselves”. Surely there must be a pill or a life hack or SOMETHING that will make us feel better about ourselves. Dayhum, even that BMW is starting to look like just the thing right about now, hey!? But the truth is that, unless we retrain our mind to think about ourselves in a positive way, nothing is going to change.
Time for a quick disclaimer: While I have a graduate degree in psychology and two thirds of a postgraduate psychology degree, I in no way consider myself qualified to give psychotherapy or life coaching. What I say should make sense to you, common or otherwise. Test everything I say. If it doesn’t, just ignore it and don’t try this at home, okay?
So the easiest way to improve our self-esteem is to change the way we think about ourselves. Easier said than done, right? But actually, it is said, if not easily. Every little piece of internal dialogue is an opportunity to change the way we think about ourselves. What do you think about while you’re brushing your teeth on autopilot every morning? If you’re anything like me you’re probably mulling over the stuff you didn’t get done yesterday and should do today. A splash of “Don’t mess it up this time, dickhead!” and a dash of “Do better!” added into the mix for good measure. But what if you used these few minutes to center yourself and give yourself a mental pep talk? Sounds silly, I know. But what do managers and coaches do with their teams before a particularly difficult project or game? Exactly this, right? And what if it works?
I have decided to postpone my review of the past year by a week. During that week, I am going to focus on having only positive internal dialogue. The moment I detect any negativity, I will bring the mental conversation back on track by thinking of something I did really well. In a week’s time, I will do my annual review again. And who knows, it may just be a more pleasant experience than last year or any of the years before.
I am going to stop being so hard on myself. And I wish you would too.
Fair warning: This post is as self-indulgent as they come. I’m recalling a part of my life during which I experienced some of the best and worst times of my life.
So where was I? Oh yes, my brother and nephew were doing their level best to get me to admit that I wanted to ride again. And I was doing my best to convince them (and myself) that I wasn’t planning to ride again. I worked way too long hours so I wouldn’t have much time to ride, I didn’t have the money right then to buy one, I hadn’t properly recovered from my previous accident blah blah blah.
Yet, the more the two of them visited me with their bikes, the more I started noticing the way their faces were flushed with excitement and pleasure when they dismounted and removed their helmets. I started listening when they recounted a narrow escape on a technical piece of a route or how much better their machine was running after its service. So I suppose it was inevitable really that I could cave. In fact, I think I had known that I would all along. And when it finally happened, it was true love all over again.
She was a brand-new grey 2010 fully specced BMW R1200GS Adventure with a full set of panniers and top box. On the day I took delivery at Zambezi Motorrad, the sun beamed down on me as if it approved of my decision. She had been fully PD’ed and she shone so brightly in the sun that it made my eyes water slightly to look at her directly. I named her Helga and mounted her. As I inserted the key into her ignition, thumbed the starter switch and heard her engine rumble into life beneath me, my overriding thought was that my world had righted itself magically, in the space of a few seconds.
Our first trip was to my brother’s farm in Limpopo and I spent every minute of the ride running her in as if I were on a racetrack. This meant riding at revs as low as 1500RPM for a minute, then up through the rev range before throttling down again and repeating the cycle almost endlessly. My nephew who accompanied me just have been out of his mind with frustration but my approach worked beautifully. Until the day I sold her, no GSA or GS for that matter could match her acceleration or top speed. She was perfectly run in.
So began a two year relationship that saw Helga and I navigate huge parts of South Africa on every conceivable kind of terrain. We raced on smooth tar, her wheels singing a high-pitched whine as we swept around bends and accelerated out of corners. We chose our path carefully through boulders the size of a small car in the middle of the bush in 40+ degree summer heat. We wiggled our way through sand so thick, my boot would sink up to my ankle in it when I dismounted. We slipped and slided through muddy clay as dark as a demon’s heart while the heavens poured an entire reservoir of rain down on us. There was nowhere Helga and I wouldn’t venture.
Those two years strengthened the bond between my brother, my nephew and I more than I could ever have imagined. Each of us seldom rode without at least one of the other two. We bought bluetooth communication systems so that we could scream our exhilaration and excitement into each others’ ears as we raced down a mountain pass at breakneck speed or negotiated a particularly scary patch of gravel. Sometimes, we just philosophised on subjects as diverse as the landscapes we navigated as we covered mile after mile of tar road on our way somewhere.
As Helga’s odometer counted the kilometres travelled, something else became more noticeable. I found it easier to cope with the stress of being group finance director for an international NGO. My job claimed between 10 and 14 hours every single weekday and at least another 10 on weekends when Pixie wasn’t with me. Before I started riding I was hanging onto my sanity by the skin of my teeth. The demands it made on me was insane, in retrospect. But once I started riding it seemed as if I could handle any curve ball my job or life threw at me with ease. So many bikers I’ve spoken to over the years have confirmed this same experience.
I experienced the brotherhood of bikers again. It is rare that you see bikers on an open stretch of road pass each other without greeting. No true biker will pass another biker whose steed had broken down. It just isn’t done. The camaraderie and cheer of bikers are unparalleled and the group cohesion of a group negotiating rough terrain is amazing. Everyone helps out when a bike gets bogged down in mud or stuck in thick sand, offering advice and sometimes a heave of the shoulder or two to get it going again.
It was epic.
And then, on July 3, 2012 I was on the way back from Bilene in Mozambique where I had said goodbye to a group of bikers traveling through several African countries to distribute mosquito nets. I was unable to do the trip due to work commitments but I had wanted to share in part of it so I traveled up to Bilene and then turned back on my own while they continued their tour. I negotiated the same terrain as the group had on the way up but this time on my own. No one to help me push the bike through thick sand or to help navigate the myriads of dirt roads or fix a puncture.
I made it to the Mozambique-South Africa border in good time where I was met by a winding snake of vehicles waiting to pass. I made use of a runner and within 15 minutes Helga was once again growling under me as I rode toward Nelspruit where I topped up my fuel tank for the last leg home. The road was exceptionally busy as it was the InnieBos music festival and drivers were speeding to get home. I had hoped to get home before dark but it overtook me just before Witbank. And at around 18:30 on a chilly winters evening, the entire wheel of an oncoming trailer separated from a venter trailer, crossed the highway median and slammed into the front of my bike with the impact of a cannonball.
I can still recall the moment of impact, the way it swept my bike out from under me, a moment of being airborne before being slammed down onto the unforgiving tar, feeling the bones in my right hand splinter so badly that later, the surgeon told me that when he made the first incision to repair it, the bones fell apart like pieces of a puzzle. Tumbling over and over like a rag doll, my helmet banging against the tar with every revolution. Then many seconds of friction and intense fiery pain as I slid along the tar road next to the bike, sparks from its frame showering me. Cars zooming past me without seeming to even slow. The left sleeve of my biking jacket unclipping at the cuff and riding up my arm and my elbow being chewed away by the tarmac.
Then stillness and the whoosh of cars still rushing past me while I am lying in the left lane of the highway, saved only by the gentleman behind me who kept his vehicle between me and the oncoming traffic. He saved my life. I crawled out of the road, cringing every time my broken hand or decimated elbow made contact with the ground. My first thought was for my bike a few metres away from me, still idling. “I have to cut the engine!” my mind screamed at me. The worst thing for a Boxer engine is to be running on its side without proper oil circulation. I made it to the bike and cut the switch.
Things started happening rapidly. The man who had saved me from being crushed by cars helped me sit against a road barrier while he called people from my phone. Some other motorist stopped to have a quick look at me bleeding all over the road before driving off again. Time slowed as we waited for the ambulance. It arrived over an hour later from the hospital about 12km away. Two fellow bikers stopped because they saw a biker down and felt that they couldn’t pass without assisting. I didn’t know it then but one of them would become one of my best friends. His name was Klip. A towering giant of 6”4 and 120Kg which made even me feel small at 6”1 and 100Kg.
Once the ambulance arrived, he saw that I was not receiving the proper care as they dropped me twice before they even managed to put me inside the ambulance and carelessly swung my injured right hand about as they had only noticed my bleeding left arm. This stranger, who had not even been properly introduced to me, decided to accompany me in the ambulance to the hospital while his friend followed us in their bakkie. He told the two “medics” to “mind their own business and get us to the hospital ASAP!” while he tended to me as best he could.
Klip and Kobus stayed with me as I was processed through the hospital’s admissions process. They waited while X-rays were taken and I was being stitched up and put in a cast. They accompanied me as I was moved to my ward. Despite my repeated assurance that I was alright they stayed with me until I succumbed to the morphine and slept. It was just after midnight. When I awoke around midday, I found Klip sitting next to my bed. He had brought me his cellphone charger “in case my phone battery was flat and I needed to talk to my family” and he and Kobus had walked along the scene of the crash, collecting all the items from my backpack which had been strewn along the road. He brought me a set of his clothes and continued to visit me several times a week for the month of my hospital stay even though he lived about 80km away. Does this make the concept of “Biking Brotherhood” a little clearer to you non-riders? We are still best mates today. Not strange, is it?
It took me three months to recover enough for my life to return to normal. My bike was repaired and I rode again, the first time with some trepidation but I felt I had to. If I didn’t force myself to ride, I feared that I would never be brave enough to try again. It was scary but, with every ride, the joy and exhilaration returned a little more. It took a little time but, before long, things were back to normal.
Fast forward a year or so and I decided to resign from my position as FD to become a freelance database developer and consultant. Being risk averse was the sensible thing to do and so, after much thought and with much sadness, I decided to sell Helga. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret it. Not a day goes by that I don’t crave the rush of the wind and the sense of speed. Over time the shock and pain of the accident has dimmed to the point where it doesn’t haunt me every day. I will never forget it but I will also never relinquish the memories of the happiness that biking has brought me.
This may seem strange to someone who hasn’t ridden. On the one hand, the possibility of crippling pain or being maimed, on the other, the euphoric feel of speed on two wheels. And the speed almost always wins. I smiled when I saw this quote some time ago:
“Respect the person who has seen the dark side of motorcycling and lived.”
I cannot wait to ride again.