Life is full of challenges, face them with fortitude

Let me make an observation.

You’re an intelligent human being, witty, urbane, full of life, great fashion sense and an enquiring mind, your very presence here speaks volumes about your good taste.

But if you’re a member of the human race, and I assume you are because using a keyboard or a mouse requires an opposable thumb (if you’re a raccoon or a bush baby, welcome, I’m not speciast, every hit counts), then at some point of your life you’ve been faced by challenges.

These challenges can be faced in different ways, depression, an upbeat attitude, hiding in the closet, setting fire to the cat, but the point is that no matter how bad the situation is it’s not going away without some form of corrective action.

Any psychologist will tell you that many of the actions we take in dealing with stress or pain are just variations of avoidance, or ‘running away’.

What would happen to you if this avoidance behaviour just wasn’t an option, what would you do if you were faced with an eventuality that was just too terrible to contemplate? If your life was shattered beyond any hope of redemption?

What would happen if you quite literally couldn’t run away?

Well here’s the story of a man I would love to meet, someone who has the heart of a lion.

Peng Shuilin is 78cms high. He was born in Hunan Province, China.

78cms High, think about that. You would immediately conclude that he was a dwarf, a condition that brings with it challenges that many of us simply wouldn’t understand. But the reality is that Peng’s life is so far beyond the challenges of dwarfism, is so mind numbingly tragic that most people’s imagination cannot grasp what this man has had to overcome.

This is Peng Shuilin.

In 1995, in Shenzhen, a freight truck sliced his body in half. His lower body and legs were beyond repair. Surgeons sewed up his torso. Peng,  37, spent nearly two years in hospital in Shenzhen, Southern China, undergoing a series of operations to re-route nearly every major organ or system inside his body.

He kept exercising his arms, building up strength, washing his face and brushing his teeth.

He lived, he grabbed life by the throat and lived, not as a cripple, but as a man determined to squeeze every last drop of existence from his time on this planet.

Now Peng Shulin has astounded doctors by learning to walk again after a decade.

Considering Peng’s plight, doctors at the China Rehabilitation Research Centre in Beijing devised an ingenious way to allow him to walk on his own, creating a sophisticated egg cup-like casing to hold his body, with two bionic legs attached.

RGO is a recipicating gait orthosis, attached to a prosthetic socket bucket. There is a cable attached to both legs so when one goes forward, the other goes backwards.

Peng Shuilin has opened his own bargain supermarket, called the Half Man Half Price Store. The inspirational 37-year-old has become a businessman and is used as a role model for other amputees.

At just 2ft 7ins tall, he moves around in a wheelchair giving lectures on recovery from disability. His attitude is amazing, he doesn’t complain. He had good care, but his secret is cheerfulness. Nothing ever gets him down.

I would never belittle the suffering that many of us go through during the course of this great adventure that is life. All we can hope for is the courage to face our own individual challenges and keep our self respect intact. We owe it to each other to recognise bravery where it exists, and lend a helping hand when and where we see others begin to slide into that terrible and frightening landscape of despair that is fast becoming a reality of modern life.

Life is full of joy, sadness, beauty and love. Take great happiness in the rising of the sun, raise your hands to the sky at the coming of spring, welcome the passing of the seasons, wait for the rain, grow, learn.

Never give up.

(Thanks to Snopes)

Give the underwolf a fair go

Now here’s the thing. I’ve just switched off the light in my daughters bedroom after a communal reading of Little Red Riding Hood, the Disney version. She was satisfied with the plot, the characterisations, the beginning and the end.

Everyone in the story has their place, they fulfill the narrative in a way that gives a warm and fluffy feeling to the reader (and the audience, if they’re seven years old). But I have a nagging feeling that this is not what the original authors intended. It seems a bit pat; everyone lives happily ever after, except the wolf.

This bothers me. I think it’s because I always root for the underdog. I watch Americans play soccer, Belgians play water polo, the English play, well whatever it is that they invented but can’t seem to keep up with and I think, hold on why don’t we give the underdogs at least a fighting chance? Back to fantasy and a scenario that would actually be plausible (aside from the English thinking that they’re ever going to win the Soccer World Cup again). In the world of the Brothers Grimm it seems that someone is getting the shitty end of the stick.

Firstly have you ever thought of what Little Red Riding Hood would have looked like? She’s entrusted with carrying a basket of goodies to her ailing Gran. This suggests someone who is trustworthy and takes her responsibilities fairly seriously, in other words, someone like this…

Now, who could blame the wolf…

I would think that the story would end happily ever after, especially if the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood meet each other in the forest and strike up a friendship.

Full throttle and damn the woodsmen

At least no one gets their head chopped off in my version, and Gran gets rescued by a buff woodsman with his chopper  in hand. Know what I mean?

Why Granny, let me put my chopper down and massage that knot right out of your shoulder

Everyone lives happily ever after, in my world.

But it won’t last.

Little Red Riding Hood gets Rabies and starts foaming at the mouth and is confined to her little palace of pleasure. The woodsman cuts his hand off while stocking the cottage up for a long winter of naughty fun with a senior citizen and spends the rest of his days lecturing lumberjacks on the importance of safety in a woodland environment. Mom goes after her slut of a daughter and the local council passes a law regarding beastiality with forest dwellers, Howls fill the night.

A blond woman is brought up on charges relating to theft. A group of Brown Bears is sued for bodily harm when a young lady steals their porridge.

A group of Ursines is brought up on charges of GBH, (Grevious Bear Hustling) when they encourage people to go down to the woods today, their picnic baskets are confiscated.

And you’re faced with an entrance fee and fines for frolicking in the fynbos.

Why can’t anything be simple?

Sleep well, and remember we should all have the opportunity to live happilly ever after.

Just leave the bears alone OK. Those furry mother f%^%Kers can’t be trusted.

It all started so well.

Hang on to your teddy bears because you might be asked to be a character witness.

I like a little tongue…

In my ongoing efforts to find the absolute worse images that the Internets have to offer I think I might just have hit the jackpot.

Unlike Photoshopped images of washed up psuedo monsters from the depths this one is real, so you have no excuse not to lose sleep.

Without further ado I would like to present you with…

This cute little fellow is Cymothoa exigua, more commonly known as the tongue-eating louse

I’d like to think that we can cue the Vincent Price laugh from the end of Thriller right now.

The Cymothoa exigua, more commonly known as the tongue-eating louse is a parasitic crustacean. The isopod enters through the gills of the fish and attaches itself to the base of the fish’s tongue. Using its claws, the louse extracts blood from the tongue, gradually causing it to atrophy from lack of blood. Then, the parasite replaces the fish’s tongue by attaching itself to the muscles of the exposed tongue stub. The fish uses the louse just like it would naturally use its tongue! This is the only instance where a parasite functionally replaces a lost organ (thanks featuredcreature.com).

I think that the worse thing about this is the fact that it lives in the fishes mouth and acts as a substitute tongue, that’s just aweful.

In the words of my daughter “this is a creepy, creepy creature, yuk”.

Oh no. In keeping with my propensity for not leaving well enough alone I’ve now given myself nightmares by entering the word ‘Isopod’ into my favourite search engine. I’d rather have my tongue digested than have this snuggle up to me in the middle of the night.

Deep Sea Giant Isopod – up to 2.5 feet long

Let me know if you’ve heard of anything from the natural world that you think might be worthy of inclusion in Steve’s House of Horrors.

Sleep well.

I didn’t know this had happened…

It just goes to show you that what was news decades ago fades from the popular psyche incredibly quickly.

In 1975, at the height of the cold war the USA and the USSR got together and performed a miracle.

Those of you who have followed this blog know that I’m comfortable with flights of fancy, but I stumbled across this while surfing the NASA website and I was amazed, this was literally a real flight of fancy. At a time when the world seemed poised at the brink of nuclear lunacy these two superpowers got together and did something that seems amazing.

After years of preparation they used two completely different spacecraft to come together above the Earth in harmony, the President of the United Sates that point was Gerald Ford and some Russian President (it’s late and the sources seem as coy as a Friday night virgin on exactly who was in charge of the Soviet Union at this point, and my interest in this subject matter only goes so far, humph).

The Apollo orbitor – the bit on the nose has been designed to interface with the Soyuz spacecraft

I need to do some more investigation, but the question has to be; why did this even happen? These were two empires that were opposed to each other in every way, socially, politically and in fundamentals of imperial ambition. What happened, and possibly more importantly why does this brief liaison in space foreshadow a warming of a relationship between these two cold war superpowers and what went wrong?

This warming soon cooled when more hard line politicians like Reagan took office. Of course Reagan took charge after the American public was at a low point due to the shenanigans of Nixon, but still, if this cooperation could happen even in the midst of the cold war, something must have changed in the basic American mindset.

The Soyuz spacecraft that prepared to welcome Americans

As I write this I realise that I’m being naive, there were massive social and political changes that happened during the curatorship of three different American Presidents, as well as changes that were tearing apart the Russion social and political environment. It just seems to me that an event like this linkup should have presented the world with an opportunity for detante, one that would not be repeated for decades.

Deke Slayton (left) with Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov in the Soyuz spacecraft

Anyway, it just seems to be an opportunity lost.

I was interested in the facts at the beginning of this post, but after researching the name of the Russian President at the the time of the launch and the attitude of the American public towards this unprecedented cooperation between the two countries, I’ve realised that I’ve got too much time on my hands and that the world would have been a more interesting place had the Cuban Missile Crisis come to more exciting conclusion.

I mean new CIA files have revealed that there were already 100’s of missiles aimed at the US when the crisis was unfolding… Oh look a a squarill. a squaral, a squ..

No, to bed I think and let this be a lesson to you. Never start out on a blog post without thinking it through completely. If you do then you will inevitably find that you.

Night.

Rage

This is going to be a difficult post.

I have the utmost respect for people who go into areas where the people in the streets are downtrodden, where water, health, sanitation and food are luxuries, rather than human rights.

Anyone with access to cable television or the Internets will be aware that existence for those in the third world can be a bitter and cruel struggle.

However, if you want to make the world a better place for people you’d better be sure that those people want a more fulfilling way of life and that they’re not more comfortable with barbarity.

The world has just lost another crusader for the priveledges (not rights) that many of us take forgranted.

A news report today:

Risking their lives to help disadvantaged Afghans became almost a norm for Tom and Libby Little.

“We raised our three daughters through what was, at times, just hell,” Libby Little said. “A hundred rockets a day was a good day.”

Family members lived underground to avoid bombings, she said. Yet they stayed out of a love for the people and a passion for providing eye care for the needy.

But violence prevailed on Thursday.

Tom Little, a New York optometrist, was among 10 people killed by gunmen in Badakhshan, a remote northeastern region of the country. The mostly foreign members of a medical team were robbed and shot one-by-one on a remote road. Their bodies were transferred to Kabul early Sunday, authorities said.

I can understand the motivation of a man to make a difference, there are after all Judeo / Christian ideals that make us who we are.

We would like the world to be a better place and there are amongst us who would put their lives on the line to enable the downtrodden to achieve a better quality of life.

The problem is that in many of these countries a cultural / religious imperative has made violence a way of life. Whether it be an adherence to a displaced sense of honour, a misogynistic attitude or an absolute adherence to a moral and legalistic code prescribed by a holy book, the result seems to be the same; violence and horror.

Where is the outrage, the outright condemnation of the purpetrators of this sick and twisted act?

Hunt them down and make them the victims of their own barbarity. It has been said that when you sink to the level of your enemy you may fall pray to their own depravity. If these people want to sink to a level of the mud pit, then get down and dirty.

I usually apologise for any overtly political statements I make on this blog, not this time.

These are animals, put them down.

S


Is this the future?

Living as I do on the Southern tip of Africa I’m continuelly amazed at how lucky I am.

Aside from idiot political appointees and the screams from the left and right of the political sphere, I am spared from other ulcer inducing panics, including the vagaries of Mother Nature, at least to a large extent.

As the weeks tick down to out first summer rains, I look forward to clean air, sparkling sunsets and a resurgance of the green grass and foliage that blankets Johannesburg during our blessesd summer months.

Springtime elsewhere seems to be a bit, well, terrifying.

I’ve heard about sweltering heatwaves in Athens, moisture levels that would enable a goldfish to walk downtown and invasions of bugs that would make David Attenborough rethink his contract with the BBC, but come on.

I mean look at this:

Moscow, Russia (CNN) — The Moscow skyline of the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral vanished Friday as a blanket of thick, noxious smoke shrouded the metropolis, leaving many of the city’s 10 million residents with sore throats and burning eyes.

The acrid smoke, from thousands of square miles of wildfires, drove carbon monoxide levels in Moscow five times higher than what is considered safe, the Russian Health Ministry said.

Residents were encouraged to stay indoors. Many who did not could be seen wearing masks as they walked outdoors.

We simply don’t have this in Johannesburg. Alright, you might have some excitable and twitchy young men with knives trying to redistribute your wealth for the betterment of their own bank accounts, but they’re the only people wearing masks.

When the time comes that we have to go outdoors wearing headgear that prevents us from actively choking on the atmosphere then perhaps we should start to ponder on the effect we’re having on the planet.

Beijing. Do you actually want to live in a city like this?

I cannot believe I’m going to say this, but here goes… Switch off your lights, try public transport, car pool, talk to your kids about the environment.

I fly fish and if I see  another yuppie throw a butt into the bush at the side of a stream I won’t be held responsible for my own actions. Take heed, a 9 foot graphite rod to the side of the head often offends, but followed up by a carefully selected collection of dry flies it will hurt like the dickens.

Go outdoors, take a breath of fresh air, it might be your last chance, becuase if we don’t do something about how we interact with our planet we’re going to be walking around in SCUBA gear soon.

And don’t throw your cigarette butts out of the car, OK.

Unless you’re at a BP garage, they seem to thrive on panic.

Cough*

Until next time.

Back in the day…

My memory is clear. Growing up in a flat (apartment) in Sea Point, Cape Town, 504 Wavecrest, phone number 495415.

Not the actual view from our balcony, but this must have been from a neighbouring apartment in Wavecrest

Just down the outside corridor that ran around the building was Jean, the coloured (mixed race) Maid (domestic worker) to whom I used to run every now and again in order to meet her in her servants quarters (the old South Africa, remember) to enjoy the smell of food cooked over a Paraffin stove, sitting on a bed propped up on bricks to stop “the bad little things, you know, what the Black people (her Ouma and Oupa) talked about; the Tokalosh” from climbing up the legs of the bed and carrying her off into the dark for who knows what neferious purposes.  I loved that place, the smell, always redolent of cooking and Sunlight Soap, rooms right against each other where the conversations echoed and laughter and tears were always shared.

This one of the iconic smells of South Africa

A place where the the dinner call from home always tore me away into the waiting smile of Ma and Dr Sam (my Grandparents) and the three sisters (my mother and her siblings). A smell of another dinner cooked with love and an evening filled with quiet conversation and gentile Black and White Scotch whiskey, mixed with soda.

If there was ever an extra light version then the only thing that Dr Sam would have used it for was to drop it off the balcony onto the heads of the Salvation Army Major who conducted the band that appeared in the courtyard once a year. I once ran away to join the army (Salvation) at age 6. Remind me to tell you about that.

While the flat slept, a sneaked tomato sauce sandwich and to bed with always a happy thought of what the next day would bring.

Waking up in the morning and running barefoot down to the beach, the tar of the pavement burning under my 7 year old feet and the concrete of the gutters cool when the heat got too much, skipping from heat to cool and wondering what the beach would bring each day.

Each morning and afternoon was an adventure, a day full of possibility that consisted of wandering around the beach front where the discovery of a coke bottle would bring the reward of 10c when handed in to the neighbourhood cafe (corner shop) and the knowledge that two (what can you get for 15c these days?) of these treasures would allow for the delicious tang of either a Banana Boy ice lolley or a Granadilla Boy sold by the man on the strand, who would announce his presence with a ringing of a hand held bell and the cry of ‘ice cream, ice cream, who wants an ice cream?’.

The joy of peering down into a cool icebox mounted on a three wheel bicycle and begging for just a piece of dry ice and the vendors smile (sometimes, at other times you distracted his attention and tried to cadge a piece) as you cuddled this in your hand, then making your way back down the stone stairs to the beach is one that I will never forget. To tip that small piece of sheer icy hot coldness into a rock pool and watching the bubbles boil to the surface is one that I will always keep in my treasure chest of memories.

And then to home as the African sun began to paint the sky with colours, the reds, yellows, pinks and purples that would make a master painter long for his brushes. The journey would not be complete without stubbing your big toe and taking the skin completely off. Taking the lift with its welcoming buttons, pressing 5 and hearing the machines in the basement coming to life and lifting you with a slight jerk towards the only place in the world which meant love and safety and laughter and people who meant everything in the whole world, a place where parquet flooring meant home, a place where bringing home a pail full of live beach guppies, freshly caught was greeted with dismay and the admonition that “they’ll die if they’re not in the sea, they need to breath salt water”. The crushing realisation that small fish will simply not bath with you without tragic consequences.

Tears and being helped out of the bath by loving hands and the assurance that the small friends have been helped back to the sea.

When you start to get older you begin the long journey towards childhood memories. The experiences you had become more and more vivid. Just one of those nights I suppose. Remind me to tell you about the red headed girl at the edge of the Sea Point Salt Swimming Pool.

This is a meme that I will return to (not even my family knows that I remember this).

Good night and sleep well.

PS: If any of the copy in this recollection seems racist, it is not my intention, this was the environment I grew up in, no apologies, what was, was. Times have changed for the better.