Monday, December 20, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

2010 - my year in review - by Nick van der Leek

Everett Hitch: Life has a way of making the foreseeable that which never happens... and the unforeseeable that which your life becomes. 

I can't say I have any complaints about how 2010 unfolded.  I started out living in Johannesburg, I visited Australia, and after a wild ride there I settled down in Port Elizabeth under less than ideal circumstances.  I made the most of my stay in some ways.  I learnt to surf.  I visited all the major private game reserves in the Eastern Cape.  I arranged vehicles sponsored by GM and drove all the way up to the Kruger Park [never been there before] and a few weeks after that 5000km+ journey I headed up another dusty alley I'd never visited before - the R63 via Carnarvon, Williston and Springbok all the way up to Namibia. That trip was 4000km+

During 2010 I published handfuls of articles in major magazines like Getaway, Bicycling and Financial Mail.  I also managed to get my foot in the door of more specialised publications like City Press, Brainstorm, Triathlete SA, FHM and Men's Health [the latter two articles will be published in early 2011].  I met Mr. South Africa [Denver Burns] and interviewed the likes of Johan Botha, Raynard Tissink, Cameron van der Burgh and James Cunnama.  One of the more memorable photo shoots was with University of Miami swimmer [and one of the infamous Orange Girls from the Fifa World Cup] Roxy Meyer on the beach at Wilderness mid-year.

The sporting side was less stellar.  The 70.3 I did in East London was a disaster, to put it mildly.  I have to blame either dehydration or overtraining in the last 10 days prior to the race.  I aimed to remedy this in Australia, and I did with measured success.  I managed a reasonable 5:30 hour race, off my best time but good considering I spent the previous 2-3 weeks either preparing to travel to Australia or actually doing it.  After that training in PE took a dive thanks to the endless bickering and fires I had to put out.  More on that in a minute.

Australia was an incredible adventure, but not everything went according to plan.  After just over a week I lost my credit card and driver's license [following a car rental agency inexplicably refusing to rent me a vehicle, despite 2 others having no reservations giving me a vehicle in the week before in both Perth and Adelaide.]  The shock and inconvenience of a plan going awry somehow contributed to my loss of these vital forms of identification and financing - even so I did the 70.3 the very next day and somehow kept the ship sailing. Sleep deprivation was a big problem in Australia, due to the heat and the time zone difference with SA.  During my time in Australia I asked for help from my family in South Africa [trying to figure how to quickly reissue a new card] and it was really disappointing how they let me down.  It made me realise I am on my own wherever I am.  It also taught me to accept my circumstances and try to make the most of them.

The Australia adventure was interesting preparation for the ordeal that still lay ahead of me.  Living in Port Elizabeth, in Summerstrand right on the beachfront, was a tempting offer, but within days it was obvious that it was going to be a nightmare.  I'd been invited by a woman 40 years older than my girlfriend at the time, and she either mistook the AIDS test I took when I arrived as signs that I wanted to get involved with her, or else believed at almost 60 years of age she could still hack it as a girlfriend to someone in his thirties.  In short, I had to suffer 7 months of jealousy, spite, threats, moodiness and lies - and despite the reassurances that got me to sell up most of my life in Johannesburg and move to PE, the toxic slime I was staying with resorted to increasingly mischievous and dishonest attempts to badger and bully me to FORCE me to make an early exit.

If she had approached me like a mature adult we could have agreed on an exit, just so long as I could prepare an alternative and have the savings to cope with the concomitant expenses.  Of course the idea to expel me from my home always came with hardly a moment's notice. On at least two occasions she recruited small armies to intimidate me into leaving [imagine 7 people, including police, barging in to your space at the same time, unannounced, all united in screaming at you and trying to kick you out at a moment's notice while one of them gets to work changing the locks.  Have you ever heard anything so outrageous?].

The smallest thing would set her off - an unwashed pot, or going to a movie with a friend.  But overall, the 7 months in PE were a good investment in my writing.  I wasn't able to cross every t and dot every i, but I was able to pay more attention to the craft of writing and as a result I scored a few home runs. But my body suffered.  Because of fear and uncertainty I tended to work harder, and was not predisposed to play, much less physical exercise.  I ballooned in weight, bulging to almost the heaviest levels I've ever been.  Yes, a typical sign for me of deep seated unhappiness.  Of course just as soon as I saw a way clear of domestic drama and hag-based hysteria, I would try to get myself training only for some new emergency, some fire to be set off at home.

It was only after I was forcibly removed [locks changed while I was in court dealing with bogus accusations - you have to ask if the accusations were real why wasn't she in court to prosecute her own case] that I realised how awful, and inhibiting the past 7 months had really been.  I had been cut off from virtually having any friends, I almost never went out and even less did something for fun.  In any event, I somehow lucked out - a friend helped me arrange a temporary dive to store my stuff at very short notice.  The peculiar thing was that within a day of being out of that dump in Astoria Court, I felt happier.  Now my space wasn't overshadowed by someone else's constant irrational moods.  The freedom and the new faces that followed was a wonderful elixir.

I finished the year off on a high note, travelling through the Cape winelands with my brother and another photographer, and those scenes really left an indelible mark.  Researching my great grandfather taught me a lot about a man I thought I knew, and also myself.  It also pushed the constant and heavy and unreasonable unpleasantness that had been my lot for months far away from me - a real mercy in itself.

Although I am reluctant to leave PE for the simple reason that since 2006 I have lived in 4 different cities and moved house 10 times, I am trying to embrace the change and - importantly - learn not to suffer the fools that invariably spill across one's road. One of my priorities is to find stability but this is possible whether one stays in one place or not.  Of course staying in one place helps, especially regarding forming new friendships and networks, and getting into an effective routine. The pain and humiliation I have felt in the last time is really the shortcomings, the deceit, the shallowness and the lack of character of other people, so I am not really troubled by it.  If anyone ought to feel ashamed it certainly isn't me.  I am determined though, going forward into 2011, to react and reason less with these sorts of imbeciles and instead, rather cut my losses and remain focused on my own goals.  Time, after all, is precious. 

I am happy that looking towards another new start in Cape Town I am faced with a better platform than the one I started with in Port Elizabeth.  I am not sick as I prepare to leave this time round. I will be staying within a stone's throw of a very good friend that I have known for at least a decade.  I am not going to be a schmuck ever again entering into verbal agreements - either for photography work or for any other arrangements better served with a contract.  The temptation for most people appears too great to steal, con or deceive with what they can get away with.  Sad but true I'm afraid.

Finally, I have some very big ideas that I am ready to set in motion for 2011.  I'm glad that I have developed and can now continue this business of freelance writing, that I can drag myself by the coattails of my own talent and find and share fresh inspiration wherever it is.  In the last weeks of 2010 I have completed 5 triathlons in the past 6 weeks, and two more remain.  I hope to maintain this standard of physical activity and engagement with the world, and hopefully soon regain the conditioning I enjoyed earlier this year.  It is good to make mistakes and to meet inappropriate people.  It teaches you to recognise them in the future.  Onwards and upwards!

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