Have you ever told a friend that you love them?

I grew up in a working class Yorkshire family where hugging and saying how much you love each other was more or less frowned upon. My wife’s family are worse, try to hug them and they freeze, it’s like hugging a hat stand. It’s not that they don’t love you, it’s just that telling you they do or giving you a hug is for daft buggers.

I have come to realize the power of the words ‘I love you’.

A while back, I underwent a medical procedure that required full anesthetic. Before I drifted off, my wife held my hand and told me she loved me, which isn’t out of the ordinary as we often say it to each other.

Then a friend leaned over and said, ‘I love you, Gary.’

I was startled and muttered clumsily ‘I love you too.’

Why startled? Because my friend is a woman.

Being told I was loved by someone other than my wife brought down a wall behind which I have hidden since childhood. By telling me she loved me, based on a deep and caring friendship and not sex or illicit romance, she set me free.

Why do we find it easier to tell our pets that we love them than our friends?  And heaven forbid that one of those friends is of the same sex.

Telling someone you love them is totally liberating, and I no longer shy away from saying the words. When I drop my friend at the airport to catch a flight, I tell her I love her. If she is having problems in her life, we tell her we love her.

Three simple words ‘I-love-you’ dripped like water into a meandering stream that gathers strength to become a river on its way to the sea.

The power is only in the words if you mean what you say. Betrayal is in the words if you don’t.

 

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WAS I SCAMMED IN PARIS?

My wife and I were walking over the Pont d’léna, which is the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Seine opposite the Eiffel Tower. We were holding hands, as we often do, when a young woman walking towards us stopped about a yard away, bent down and picked up a gold ring. “Oh my god,” she said, gazing at the ring in the palm of her hand.

She was now right in front of us and we had to stop.

“Someone must have dropped it,” she said franticly looking around. She pointed to a tiny hallmark. “It’s gold! How sad that someone has lost their wedding ring. Look.”

She offered me the ring and, like a fool, I took it. Sure enough, there was a hallmark stamped on the inside. I made to give it back but she refused to accept it.

By now, alarm bells were ringing, but I own up, the girl was incredibly attractive and a wonderful actor, her timing was impeccable and her concern for whoever had lost the ring was OSCAR quality. Then there was her beautiful smile.

Again I tried to give back the ring, and again she refused. “I don’t need a ring,” she whispered. “I have no one, I’m alone and a ring like this must go to someone who is in love. And I can tell that you two are very much in love.

She looked and my wife’s hand and noticed her wedding ring. Then she raised my left hand in hers, “You don’t have a ring, you must have it,” she said. “Please, you must take it, it will make me happy and will bring you so much good luck.

I smiled and again said no, I can’t accept it. “Take it to the police and if you don’t want to do that, sell it,” I said.

“No, no, I cannot. I am a Croatian refugee and I am illegal in the country. I have no papers, no passport. They will arrest me. Please, please say you will keep the ring, it will make me so happy. Keep it and it will bring blessings on us both.” A gentle and now oh-so-sad smile played on her lips and she walked away.

She had gone six paces when she stopped and turned. “Do you have a little money to give me for food?” she said.

“Take the gold ring and sell it,” I said again.”

“That will never be possible. The ring now belongs to you both.”

And I knew she was right.

I dug into my pocket and pulled out six euros and put them into her hand.

“I see you have two more euros there,” she said. “Please, a little more.”

She pocketed the money and with a warm smile brought both hands together in front of her face in the Buddhist Anjali Mudra. She gave a little bow and waited.

I returned the gesture and she turned and melted into the crowd.

As I write, the ring twinkles on a shelf above my desk.

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Brass or gold?

Scam or something with a deeper meaning?

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN CONFRONTED BY A BEGGAR?

I found myself in this situation yesterday and it started quite a commotion.

First, a little background. I live on an island devastated by a 200mph hurricane. Hundreds, if not thousands of families are still without roofs on their homes. The tourist-based economy is in serious trouble and won’t recover for a couple of years, unemployment is high, crime on the increase and we are going into what we call the low season when traditionally there are fewer jobs and less money around. On the Dutch side of the island, there is no benefit system.

The following happened when I walked out of a car parts store and into a man of indeterminate age dressed in rags.  He was filthy, he stank, he was shoeless, his feet were calloused and most of his toenails gone. He hit me with a lie and then asked for 75 cents.

Our lives couldn’t be more different. I’m employed, happily married, keep myself clean, sleep in a bed at night under a solid if somewhat shaken roof, occasionally eat in restaurants and enjoy a drink. We have electricity, running water, Internet.

The man never came close, he wasn’t threatening, he asked for 75 cents. I gave him a dollar.

That’s when the sales clerk stormed out of the parts store. She started haranguing the beggar and then turned her ire on me.

I pushed the dollar bill into the beggar’s hand and told him he best leave. He shuffled off as the sales lady shouted at him never to return.

“You shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t encourage them. We don’t want his sort here,” she told me angrily. “You know what he’ll spend that dollar on, don’t you?”

“Probably,” I said, “but now it’s his money to do with as he likes. Why would I take that freedom from him, he’s lost everything else. Look at him, look at the state he’s in.”

“He made the choice to live like that and you aren’t helping him at all.”

I pointed to myself and then pointed at her. “Look at us,” I said. I just spent money in your store on something I probably don’t need and you are angry because I gave a beggar a dollar.

Her voice softened. “You could have bought him some bread,” she said.

“Mm …”

She smiled for the first time and looked down at the ground.

The door opened and another member of the sales staff stepped out, this one a big guy.

“She’s right, you know. You really shouldn’t do it, it doesn’t help them.”

“Come on, I said, don’t gang up on me, I’m just trying to be charitable here.”

The woman put her arm around my shoulder. “I know, love, I know.”

So, how do you deal with beggars? Was I right in doing what I did?

Answers below, please.

Keelhauled

We launched the boat last Friday and put it on our mooring in Nettle Bay, French St. Martin. She’s been undergoing repairs for three years, three months, after she was damaged by hurricane Gonzalo. We use our 11ft Boston Whaler as a tender, but the hurricane stripped the beach outside our apartment block of sand and dumped it all just off shore. Depending on the state of the tide, that means we have to drag the Whaler through the shallows before it will float and we can lower the outboard. The shallows are uneven and there are deep holes all over the place. Also there’s lots of debris such as twisted zinc sheets from the roofs, bits of railings and chunks of boats half buried in the sand. These are really difficult to see in low light, and this was in the evening. I managed to drag the Whaler through the shallows but needed to pull it sideways towards me to clear a really shallow patch. As I walked backwards, I tripped over a twisted pipe on the bottom and began to fall backwards. My instinct was to hold onto the Whaler and pull myself upright, but just then the Whaler slipped off the sandbank and came at me in a rush, knocking me off my feet and backwards into a deep hole. I went right under and my legs came up under the back of the Whaler, which was covered in barnacles. The Whaler went over me and the blood began to flow. Fortunately there are no Great Whites in the lagoon. My wife and a friend helped me out of the water. On the plus side, my iPhone, in its waterproof case, was fine. My mp3 player was not so lucky. I showered, bathed the wounds in Dettol solution, put on fresh clothes and relaunched the Whaler, carefully. The next morning, when I came ashore, we got a good look at the physical damage and my wife went into nurse mode with dressings and antibiotic cream. Eight days have passed and only one, a deep gouge not a cut, is causing a little concern. That injury, and one on a toe, will leave me with a couple of permanent scars to add to the rest. In effect, I keelhauled myself! 🙂

Shaggy Dog Stories Part 2 – Deep Throat

In part 1 of our Hurricane Irma shaggy dog stories, I described how our temporary charge Jesse, a large Golden Doodle, and I almost ended up in jail. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse …

There are many reasons why I am not a dog person and one reason is that dogs love to eat garbage and the more rotten the garbage, the more they seem to like it. I have seen dogs eat some revolting stuff and watched as their owners then let them lick their faces. What!

Compared to an island mutt, the famed coconut retrievers, a Golden Doodle appears refined, posh, however, Jesse is an expert at finding and eating rotten garbage, and following hurricane’s Irma and Maria, there was certainly plenty of it to go at.

The rather delicate Jesse might love garbage but garbage certainly doesn’t love Jesse, it makes her vomit and have diarrhea. Lovely, when you have to clean it up while trying not to empty the contents of your own stomach, which Jesse would immediately love to gobble down as dessert.

Of all the garbage she loves to eat, rotten meat, preferably on the bone, is Jesse’s all-time favorite. She can sniff out moldy bones from ten yards away. Over the time we looked after her and walked her on a leash, I studied her body language and recognized the signs when she’d caught scent of a delightful morsel of rancid crap.

In the early days, she would run, nose down, jaws open, and scoop her target off the ground and immediately start crunching.

Now the last thing you need while dealing with the devastation wrought by a 200mph hurricane is a sick dog. For a start, my Jeep had been destroyed and even if I could find a vet, I had no means of getting her there. A Golden Doodle has powerful jaws and forcing them apart to fish out crap isn’t easy. To make things worse, Jesse has been known to snap at you if she’s not getting her own way.

We had several battles over the garbage in her mouth, I won a few but not all.

And then the wily Jesse changed her tactics. Instead of charging at her target, she’d slip into doggy stealth mode, totally ignoring the garbage until it was at her feet and then, like lightning, snapping it up.

Winning food fights meant my hands were covered in slobber, but what’s a bit of slobber between man and man’s best friend.

It was our habit to give Jesse her last walk of the day at around nine o’clock at night. She was happy with this and ambled along sniffing here and there and occasionally stopping to water the plants. The first part of the walk took us across the parking lot, then down a narrow path through the garden to the edge of the lagoon where the path turned a corner and followed the water’s edge.

Perhaps I was gazing at the moon and stars for as we rounded the corner Jesse lunged for the base of a small bush, pulling me off my feet, and came up with half a rotten chicken, which dangled from either side of her mouth.

This was Jesse’s biggest prize ever! The stinking emperor of rotten garbage, the ultimate vomit-inducing, sweetest, biggest, juiciest most rancid chunk of decaying, puss dripping, germ infested, bacteria-ridden, putrefying slop in St. Martin and it was all hers!

Her eyes glowed with pride like hot coals in the dark. She drooled.

I dropped the leash and clamped my hands around the chicken where it hung from the sides of her mouth and gave an upwards heave. The rotten carcass split leaving me with a piece in each hand, which I threw into the lagoon. In the meantime, Jesse began to crunch.

Just then a van, lights ablaze, roared out of the parking lot, down the narrow path, bounced  across the flowerbeds and came to a slewing stop inches from my legs.

The doors of the van flew open and out leapt two armed gendarmes, a man the size of a house, and a woman waving a baton.

What they saw was a crazy man trying to rip the tongue out of the mouth of a big white dog.

They started to shout.

I had managed to wrap my hand around the chicken, which was now halfway down Jesse’s throat. In her excitement, she bit down, hard. With my free hand, I tried to force her jaws open, which only made her more determined. I was shouting, the gendarmes were shouting, my wife was shouting, and if Jesse’s mouth hadn’t been full of decomposed chicken and both my poor hands, she’d have been shouting too. The gendarmes demanded to know what was going on and what I was doing to that poor dog. But every time I turned to explain, Jesse chomped harder.

Another round of shouting. For a brief second Jesse relax her jaws and, with a mighty heave, I pulled out the stinking chicken and shoved it towards the gendarmes who rapidly backed away.

Having lost the game, Jesse nonchalantly squatted and peed on the grass.

The rancid chicken did the explaining for us and, laughing, the gendarmes climbed back into their van and backed over the flowerbeds, leaving deep ruts and doing as much damage as hurricane Irma.

Jesse and I remain the best of friends. I still wrestle rotten food out of her mouth, only now I check for Gendarmes before diving in.

 

SHAGGY DOG STORY PART 1

Hurricane Irma has thrown up a lot of stories. Here’s one about a dog.

Some folks are dog people, you know, dogs are everything and can do no wrong. It’s fair to say that my wife and I are not dog people and by that I don’t mean that we hate dogs, just some of them. There is one dog in particular that we really like. Jesse is a Golden Doodle that belongs to a friend and so it was that Jesse just happened to be staying with us when Hurricane Irma came to call.

Now Jesse is a cool dog and during the storm, when she hunkered down in the shower room with my wife, me and our two cats, she was totally calm. Which is good because Jesse is a big dog and having her bounce off the walls of the shower room like a demented bell clapper would have done nothing for morale not to mention the cats who would certainly have gone into full Ninja mode.

Unlike a cat with a small appetite and a litterbox in which to poo, a big dog generates quite a bit of waste and after the storm passed, and although the inside of the apartment looked like someone had tossed a hand grenade into a dumpster, a steaming pile of excrement on the living room floor was to be avoided.

Allegedly, there were armed gangs of looters on the prowl at night, which isn’t good news when a big dog needs to go outside to dump

The island was under 24 hour curfew.

I’d managed to sneak the dog out a couple of times during the day when she’d gratefully answered the call, and she was doing really well until three o’clock one morning when legs crossed she came sidewinding across the room and woke me up, making it obvious that last evening’s dinner was about to reappear on the living room floor.

The night was still, black and deathly quiet after the gunfire of early evening. I looked out from our third floor balcony at what was left of the roofs opposite, their twisted rafters stark against the night sky like shattered angels’ wings in a forgotten grave yard.

Shadows piled upon shadows. In the debris nothing moved.

Jesse began to whimper. The sensible thing was to get her to poop on a sheet of newspaper or just follow her around and go with the necessary cleanup.

Instead, we headed for the door.

I grabbed the flare gun, which normally lives on the boat, and checked the 12 gauge cartridge. Not a distress flare but this time a rubber bullet. Pushing the gun down my belt, Dirty Gary and his attack hound Jesse headed for the door.

My wife wasn’t happy but a dog has to do what a dog has to do.

Down three flights of stairs in stygian darkness. Not a sound but my whispered breath and a relieved panting from the end of the leash ahead.

Outside, the oppressive heat of the apartment melted, washed away by the chill night air. It was liberating.

Jesse did her business, her tongue lolling contentedly.

I stood on the salt-burned grass and Jesse sat at my side. In the total blackness of an island devoid of artificial light, we gazed at the stars dusting the sky from horizon to horizon. A precious moment of beauty against a backdrop of devastation rudely interrupted by a shiver of fear.

We were breaking curfew and there were people around who could do us harm. The sensible thing was to return to the safety of our locked apartment as fast as possible.

All my life I have pushed things, tested things, fought against fear of the unknown.

I pushed now and decided to take a walk.

Across the parking lot and over the remains of the wall knocked flat by 200 mph winds and an eight-foot tidal surge we went, stepping into a surreal world that up to a few days ago was the main Marigot road.

To left and right lay bent and twisted alien forms silent in their destruction. Again I felt the cold ripple of fear and below it something more disturbing, the first shiver of excitement.

We had made it this far, let’s go a little further.

Together we walked the road like something from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse novel only I wasn’t walking through an apocalyptic world holding the hand of my young son, I was holding the leash of our friend’s Golden Doodle.

After a hundred yards my nerves tingled and alarm bells rang in my head. It was time to heed the warnings.

We turned and hurried towards the same piece of broken wall that would lead us back to the safety of our apartment.

That’s when Jesse decided to lay down.

I didn’t hear the vehicle as it coasted up behind us. A beast without lights that suddenly came on and held us in their powerful beams like two rabbits on a country road.

My heart slammed into my ribs. My mind screamed run. Dragging a dog that has decided to lay down in the middle of the road is not conducive to a sprint start.

This happened in a Nano second and all I could think was please don’t hurt the dog, she’s not mine and our friend will never forgive me.

I heard the car doors open.

My hand edged towards the butt of the flare gun and I made ready to turn around … when the flashing blue lights came on and four very angry, heavily armed gendarmes, cursing man and dog in a torrent of French, made it quite clear we were going to jail for breaking curfew and putting our lives at risk.

After much shouting and gesticulating, and having scared us half to death, they settled for escorting us back to our apartment all the while cussing and muttering in a mix of English and French, “Mon Dieu, next time, next time.”

Secretly, I think they were dog people.

Note: This wasn’t the last time that Jesse and I had a run in with the Gendarmes. There was more to come.

On Patrol, Hurricane Irma, September 11, French St Martin

Fifteen soldiers from the southern division of the marine parachute infantry guard the pharmacy, which is due to open for an hour. One soldier takes cover behind the wall of a three-sided concrete structure designed to hold a wheelie bin and sets up a machine gun on a tripod. He aims the gun along the road and pressing his eye to the telescopic sight makes a small adjustment. Nodding to an officer, he stands back and wipes the sweat from the rim of his red beret. Two floors above, snipers take up position. They too sight their guns along the road in the direction from which they believe trouble is most likely to come.

The pharmacy fails to open and the small crowd who have braved the heat stuff their sweat-stained prescriptions back into their pockets and wander off.

The soldiers cross the road and patrol through the ruined gardens and shattered buildings of our apartment complex. One of them digs a small bunch of coconuts out of the rubble and using his commando knife slices off the top. He digs the point through the white flesh and drinks deeply of the milk, passes it to his mates, and goes to work on another nut.

The soldiers’ gear is impressive: full battledress, combat boots, camouflage pants and combat jacket with too many pockets to count, flak jacket, cross belts and waist belts dripping with equipment – pistols, radios, cameras, knives, machetes, first aid pouch, satchels and holders. Each man carries a small machine gun hanging from a canvas sling across his chest. One carries the machine gun and tripod, another, the long sniper’s rifle with scope. Polished cap badges flash in the tropical midday sun. The poor bastards must be melting.

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