April 20, 2016 § 1 Comment

There’s a man I’ve known all my life who has a miniature train set. And I understand that it’s quite a rare one: something to do with the size of the tracks.

When I was a child, every now and then I could cajole this man, a beloved family member, into taking the train set out. It wasn’t mounted on a board, you see. It was on a high shelf in his bedroom cupboard, carefully packed in its original box, each tiny component in its place.

Slowly, carefully we would take out the parts – the houses with their flower boxes, the stickled rails, the minutely detailed steam trains and the village cars, including a couple of picture-perfect mini Volkswagen Beetles – my favourite. And if I asked very nicely, the man would do more than just open the boxes. He would set up a makeshift village on a table, connect the wires to the battery and in an instant that tiny tableau would come to life. The miniature houses had real lights that switched on and off, and as the trains ticked around the tracks, it felt as if I was witnessing actual magic.

That train set is simultaneously one of my happiest childhood memories, and one of my saddest. Because the man is still alive – albeit in his seventies – and that train set is still carefully packed away in its box on the top shelf of a cupboard somewhere.

So many of us have those train sets – dreams we’ve packed away on a high shelf. Dreams we keep wrapped and packaged and away from sticky fingers and suffocating dust.

We never make space for them in the garage. We don’t build them the beautiful scenery they deserve. We keep waiting for the right time – when we have more time, when we have more space, when we’ve done this or completed that. And so they lie there, abandoned on the top shelf of our bedroom cupboards, and they only see the light of day when a child – our inner child, probably – tugs at our sleeve and asks to see them again, reminds us that they’re still there.

Perhaps that man was worried he didn’t have the skills to sculpt a sun-drenched valley for the houses, or to build a tunnel for the train. Perhaps it just felt like too much work – it’s easier to think, “I really must take out my train set and build a place for it to run,” than it is to mix up the papier mâché and clean up the inevitable mess afterwards. Perhaps he thought that after all the effort of building he might find the train set wasn’t as much fun to play with after all. That it might not be worth the effort. Perhaps he didn’t want his trains to get damaged – if they overshot their capabilities and fell to the floor.

Or maybe, just maybe, building that scenery would’ve brought him more joy than he could ever have imagined.

Because you don’t know unless you make the space, until you take the trains out of the box, until you risk sticky fingers and chipped paintwork and tears of frustration. And perhaps you can find a million reasons why that box is still in the cupboard. Maybe you’re saving yourself a whole lot of heartbreak, a whole lot of disappointment, a whole lot of work.

But there’s just as much chance you’re robbing yourself of a whole lot of other things too: joy, contentment, happiness, fun. Maybe taking that box down from the shelf for good will be one of the best decisions you ever make.

And how will you know, if you don’t try?



Car wash

April 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

I don’t know when I stopped washing my car myself, but the last time I remember doing it regularly was when I first moved to Johannesburg in the early 1990s. It was mostly an economic decision, but I enjoyed the weekly routine of splashing and scrubbing and drying and buffing.

Somewhere along the way, though, I stopped. My financial circumstances  improved, and washing my car became the responsibility of my gardener or the car wash down the road.

Twenty-five years later, I find myself in a new place. I’m back to having to save money where I can, but I also find myself wanting to live more slowly, more consciously, more deliberately.

I’ve outsourced too much of my life, handed too much of it over to others to take care of. 

And really, there’s something very satisfying about jobs like washing the car. . It’s a simple, menial task, with a bit of a workout built in, and When it’s done, I’m not only proud of my gleaming car

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