Sunday, 14 March 2010

A tide of thoughts

I met a really nice dog at orienteering this morning. His name is Dude and he’s a mixed-breed, SPCA special. A lovely face; he looks a bit like a fox.

My friend’s dog died on Thursday night – poisoning is suspected. She is understandably heartbroken and it will take some time for the all-consuming sadness to pass. Now more than a month since I buried ‘my’ kitty, Karel, I still miss his company; and I always say hi when I walk past the place where I buried him in the garden. Our relationships with pets fascinates me. Dare I say that many people have a need in their life for an animal companion, despite human friendships and partnerships. Indeed, where we have human relationships, we still feel a need for animal companions; but often when we have animal companions we don’t feel the need, as much, for human relationships.

I’ve been through a number of toll gates recently, encountering very friendly toll-gate attendants (women). A delight.

I’m busy reading ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver – almost finished. She and her family moved to their out-of-town farm to spend a year eating locally and mainly from their own garden. She brings up good points about local eating – as in eating only foods that are in season and produced in your region. Consider the amount of food flying around the World so that we can have bananas, avos and other fresh produce all year. Major carbon footprint. She also discusses the theme of supporting farmer’s markets (local produce); the satisfaction of being able to feed yourself; the insipid taste of mass produced fruits and veg grown for their size, shape, colour and shelf-life rather than flavour versus heirloom varieties and the range thereof; and how food (production, preservation, cooking and eating) brings families together. This all revolves around the topic of “Do you know where your food comes from?” and how so many of the foods we eat contain ingredients we can’t even pronounce. In short, I like. Obviously easier in theory than practice but something I’d like to work towards.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian crisis brought home how easily an ‘apocalypse’ can happen – and not only a natural disaster. On a smaller scale (actually, these examples would be a bigger scale without tremors and after shocks), consider how screwed we are without electricity, refuse removal and water coming out of taps. Remove electricity and we have cooking and heating (in winter) issues – aside from not being able to run lights, computers, refrigerators, traffic control, petrol pumps and every other modern convenience and necessity. Take away refuse removal and we have serious health issues. Cut-off water and we have are compromised in terms of drinking, cooking, showering, laundry and, most importantly, sewerage. If you live in a house, you can dig a hole and poop in your garden; but if you live in an apartment block? Again, major sanitation issues. Living in cities we actually exist on a fine line because failure in any one of these three systems can bring down the house.

Time and again, when passing through rural settlements in races, like at Swazi Xtreme, I think how fortunate the people are in that they’re essentially self-sufficient. They have crops, animals, water supply and houses. Many people who have flocked to the cities still have their ‘holiday’ homes in the rural areas, which they return to for their annual vacation and over holiday periods. They can just return there should disaster strike (though I fear they'd probably stay in the cities awaiting assistance). Me? I’d probably join the rest of the looters to grab what non-perishable edibles I can before fleeing the city for a spot I’ve seen out running where I’m fairly certain I can get water year-round. and hopefully I can grab enough food to keep me going while I wait for my veggies to grow. Best I stock up on seeds now...

As the bulk of the World’s population moves into cities, aid services become all the more important. At the drop of a hat (the hat under discussion being earthquake, flooding, volcanic eruption, tsunami, hurricane, viral infection) aid organisations need to get food and water to people; we’ve ‘evolved’ to a state where most people cannot survive without shops. I think it is frightening.

It is becoming rare to mingle socially with people and not to participate in discussions around the ‘state of our country’, especially with buffoons in the upper ranks constantly making headlines for bad deeds more than good (in fact, I fail to think of (m)any good deeds). I’m a regular talk radio listener so I hear the news like 50-million times a day; and it is 99% all bad. Then again, bad news sells better than good, so it is hardly surprising. I also have little inclination for mountain-out-of-molehill sensationalist news. I regularly turn off discussions because the constant complaining – about everything from potholes to electricity, to service delivery and the antics of drunkards, morons and polygamists is actually of little interest to me – especially after I’ve heard the same story a few times. Dare I say that I am resigned to things being as they are and not being surprised at deterioration nor expecting any improvement... Complaining is contagious and ongoing negativity breeds discontent and resentment.

I do believe that we should report potholes and street lights that are not working, pick-up the litter in front of your house and trim the lawn on the pavement, be part of your residents association (and not only after you’ve been hijacked/burgled) and make friends with your neighbours. And always, always go and vote.

My neighbours have an almost-ten-year old daughter, Mimi. They moved here in early January. She’s a lovely little girl and it is a pleasure to spend time with her. We have all kinds of interesting discussions when she comes to visit, which is sometimes after school or on weekends. She has been coming with me to orienteering and today she completed her third novice course and received her first certificate. I do the courses with her, explaining what to look for, instructing on how to orientate her map with her compass and pointing out significant features along the way. It will be a while before she can go out on her own.

Last Sunday I chatted to one of the moms about Mimi and children’s orienteering; her children orienteer and she is involved in the Young Orienteers Challenge programme. I don’t have much practise with children so I don’t know what is normal. Evidently it is normal for children to pay little attention to the map, instead scanning the area for a glimpse of their next control, which is often visible from a distance on novice courses. When she spots the control Mimi says, “I’ve found it!” and heads that way. I tell her she has ‘seen’ it, not ‘found’ it. There is a difference. I’ve explained how the map tells her where the control is and that she won’t always be able to spot the control from afar. According to Leila, this is common behaviour, which I’ve also seen adults do (they’ll grid search rather than focusing on the map, going back to a point of certainty and trying again). Children are also fixated on the stamps, badges and post-run lollipop. The good thing about this is that it makes them keen to return and complete courses. So, it is a great system.

Today, Mimi’s third event, we had a good 'run' and we made a breakthrough – two of them. Mimi is getting the hang of orientating her map to North using her compass – and keeping it that way as she moves and changes direction; and she’s getting a feel for distance. En route to the last control we spotted another within 50m of the previous one. She saw it, pointed it out but said that it couldn’t be ours. I asked her why she thought so. “It is too close,” she replied. She got a high-five for that correct answer. Last week she would have gone to it to check; this time she didn’t even veer in its direction.

I’m also surprised at Mimi’s ‘lack’ of fitness. She plays netball at school but hasn’t had much exposure to running. And, to be honest, I have no idea what ‘normal’ children can and can’t do because the ‘O’ children that I see regularly are hardly normal. They’ve been brought up in an active environment and running around an orienteering course is second nature. Mimi is running-tired by halfway on the one-point-something kilometre novice course. This will improve as we do more events. At the moment we do a bit of walking and running.

I’ve told Mimi that tiredness is a state of mind (the same thing I tell adults). And it seems I'm not the only one to think so. Here’s a lovely comment from Alec Alvierinos’ daughter Ruth, a regular sprint ARer. This comment was passed on to me by her dad.

“After a 35Km UGE AR when Ruth was just eight-years old she told me the following: ‘When I was really tired and could not go any more I pretended I was a horse and the rider was telling me to go!’”

This girl is going to go far.

Last week, driving back from orienteering, Mimi and I were chatting about the event and things we’ve been doing. She has heard me speaking about running, orienteering, mountain biking, paddling and general racing. She also sees me come home dirty after events. So she asks why I don’t speak about girl-things. My response: “But these are girl things! Girls can do any sports they want to, not just netball or tennis”. I find it very sad that school exposure is limited to sports-for-girls and sports-for-boys. Media is also to blame with next to zero female sports role models (maybe only one or two I can think of in SA) and everything else male-orientated; football, rugby, golf… [aside: we do chat about Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp and other girly gossip – this reference was sports related]

Also this week I asked her whether she and her friends skip or play games during lunchtime. “No,” she replies. “We just sit and eat our sandwiches”. This is not true for all schools, where children do play active games during their lunch break, but I do find it sad because it reeks of inactivity and physical inhibition.

I have a low tolerance for slow walking, like on pavements (adults, school children), in malls and in stores, where staff move unbelievably slowly from one point to the next whether five meters or 40. Add slopping feet sounds to this (I inherited the latter pet-hate from my mom). The way you walk - and the pace at which you walk - says something about you; your enthusiasm, your personality, your motivation. I have an overwhelming desire to clap my hands and shout, “Move it, move it”. I don’t. But I want to. We have amazing bodies built to move efficiently and swiftly. Walking slowly is body neglect, according to ‘Lisa’s Laws of Motion’.

I'm knitting my dad a scarf. Mimi came to me a few weeks ago looking for help with her knitting - something she's doing just 'cos, not for school. It was so much fun that I decided to 'knit something' - I made for the internet.

Every winter my dad wears a scarf I knitted for him about 15 years ago. Last year I asked him to get rid of it because it really looks terrible after too many years of wear. But he likes it. He refused saying that he'd only toss it out if I knitted him one to replace it. I searched online and found a really nice pattern using knit and purl stitches, the two basic stalwarts of knitting. I got wool and needles from a local haberdashery. I am having so much fun that I'm 3/4 done.
My mom has found a pattern that she likes, which I'll do after my dad's; and I've found a pattern that I like, which I'll attempt after that. The one I like demands greater technical skills (see pic) - like those dropped stitches that make 'holes' (eyelets) and other fancy stitches. It will be fun to learn these after so many years of not knitting.

While I have no inclination to ever knit a sweater, scarves are quick and easy. Knitted children's toys also catch my attention (my gran used to knit little people). Toys are fun to make and more fun to give away.

My great aunt (my mom's aunt) taught me to knit when I was about six, using two different coloured knitting needles. In late primary school I would occasionally babysit my mom's friend's children. I taught them to knit in the same way. And now I'm teaching Mimi (she's keen to try patterns now that she's seen my scarf). Knitting is a super skill and hobby that is rapidly being lost. Guys can knit too.

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