10,000 steps

Now that I am at the stage of my life where I can faintly discern the skeleton figure holding a scythe in the distance, I have started thinking about where I would like my ashes to be laid to rest. My daughter told me she was going to keep them in an urn in her house. I can’t think of anywhere worse to end up than being cooped up in an urn on a shelf, gathering dust, so I had to start thinking of more palatable alternatives that I could foist onto my family.

My initial idea was to have my ashes scattered in our garden. Then I recalled disposing of my father-in-law’s ashes in their lovely rose garden in the village of Marlow in England, only to find some years later that the new owners of the house had converted the rose garden into a boring lawn. In any case, the thought of ending up in a garden eventually owned by total strangers does not appeal.

Having considered the matter further, I decided my ashes should be taken out to sea and scattered at the Devil’s Cauldron in the ocean at Hermanus, a small coastal village in South Africa where I had spent many happy holidays with my family as a child. The Devil’s Cauldron is a group of small rocks jutting out of the sea. Through all the twists and turns in my life over the years, this was a constant familiar sight to me since early childhood. One of the first things that I do whenever I visit Hermanus is to stand on the cliff and gaze at the Devil’s Cauldron.

099 Hermanus 5 - The Devil's Boiling Pot

The Devil’s Cauldron, Hermanus

A while ago I met up with my old aunt, Mara, who lives in Hermanus. She is a born again Christian who is well aware of the fact that I am an infidel. When I told her of my wish to have my ashes scattered at the Devil’s Cauldron, Mara looked me straight in the eye and declared, “Yes, that would be right!”

But recently I changed my mind again when I came to realise what bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and expense I would burden my family with if I insisted on the Devil’s Cauldron as my final abode. I was still trying to resolve the matter of my ashes in my mind when I met my friend Alan the Wandering Philosopher earlier this week on my daily walk along the Diamond Creek.

*

My obsession with walking 10,000 steps per day started fourteen years ago, when I was working at Moreland City Council in Melbourne. Our CEO had decided to encourage the members of the corporate management team to adopt a healthier lifestyle by walking 10,000 steps each day. He gave us each a step counter to wear on our belts so we could monitor our number of daily steps. At that time my job was all consuming. I spent most of my time sitting in meetings or in front of a computer at my desk. Due to work pressures I normally worked through my lunch hour and rarely ventured outside.

The first three days I wore the step counter I barely made it to 2,000 steps each day. Horrified by this result I started going for walks at lunchtimes and after dinner. I also began to park my car at the far end of the car park at the supermarket, instead of as close to the entrance as possible. Over a year or so I gradually changed my habits and increased my number of steps until I averaged 10,000 steps per day.

My wife calls me obsessive and I am not denying she has a point. “I’m just popping outside for a few minutes,” I would say after dinner.

She would roll her eyes and ask, “Still a few steps short of the 10,000 for the day then, are you?”

To which I would reply something like, “Yep, I still have another 327 steps to go. I’ll be back soon.”

When she remarks on my obsessive bent I tell her, in my own defence: “At least my obsessions are healthy ones. I could have been obsessed with chasing other women, or with getting drunk, so don’t complain.”

As part of my daily routine I walk along the Diamond Creek footpath every day. There is a spot just past the crest of an incline, before a long sweep in the path towards the west, where the local Council has done some repair works to the footpath. There is a cross-lying strain-relief groove across the path and the colour of the path changes there to a lighter shade of grey, where a section of the path has been replaced. It is exactly 4,800 steps from the car park to this point. It is here that I turn around each day after carefully stepping over the groove, in the knowledge I would make up the rest of my daily 10,000 steps by going to the supermarket and through normal other daily activity.

Alan the Wandering Philosopher, whom I often run into on my morning walk, knows all about my obsession. He texted me recently:

“I was walking along the creek path this morning. When I reached the exact spot at the path where you always turn around on your walk I couldn’t help wondering whether obsession might not be nine tenths of the law.”

“Closer to 99% in my case”, I texted back.

Earlier this week I ran into him again along the creek path and we walked together. When we got to the spot where I always turn back, he joked, “Make sure you step right across the groove before you turn back, eh.”

Suddenly a light bulb flashed inside my head.

“You know what? I think I’m going to ask my family to scatter my ashes right here after I’ve carked it.”

To which he replied: “Good idea! Just make sure they know to scatter them on the far side of the groove.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

Obsession Wrecked

The Maker

After fifty years of work, Jack’s retirement finally came. He was an old fashioned pattern maker, a skilled trade involving forming timber into intricate shapes.

It was detailed work, suiting his personality. Given a project he would examine the drawings in minute detail, selecting the timber carefully, then cutting and shaping, his plane and spokeshave coaxing lumps of timber into finely tuned patterns. This obsession with detail earned him the reputation as the finest craftsman in the shop.

Upon retirement, he was at a loss. Work had kept his mind busy and days full. He missed working with timber in a complex way. He was bored. Most days he wandered down the street to buy the paper, then spent the day pottering aimlessly around.

But one day, he noticed a model sailing ship in the window of the second hand shop. An old three masted galleon. Picking the hull up, he observed the balance of the solid timber. Carefully examining the model, he noted the fine detail in the construction, the smoothly shaped hull, the high masts held upright by miniature stays, the rope ladders leading up to the crow’s nest. The top deck structure had been painstakingly chiselled and carved and glued, there was a tiny moveable rudder, and the sails could be adjusted with waxen thread. The tiny cannons poking from the sides had been hand fashioned.

Knowing how to shape and join timber, he recognised the model as the work of a fellow artisan. Suddenly he realised the solution to his boredom.

He hurried home to his shed and made a start. He knew that some firms sold model kits, but this was beneath him. He preferred to do things for himself. He wanted something to challenge his mind and skilled hands. His shed was full of suitable timber and tools. By visiting the local library and city hobby shops, he finally found the suitable plans.

The daily routine became established. Each morning he was at his shed, cup of tea in hand, lighting the small corner stove, laying out his tools, and deciding which part to fashion. The hull was easy; he had smoothed timber all his life. For the deck structures he used his sharpest chisels and fret saws. The long slender gunnels were precisely carved to meet the curve of the hull. Stairways, he slowly chiselled out in one piece. He carefully bored out portholes, and carved the cannons in fine detail. He deftly fitted the tiny rudder into its axle and swung it from side to site.

His greatest challenge was fashioning the sails and rigging. The design was a complex three masted galleon. His hands felt clumsy learning the new skill of working with linen and thread. He bought tiny parts, special waxed thread for shrouds and ladders, minute metal rings to bind to the masts, parchment cloth for sails, tiny pulleys, plus many more. He also had to learn how to sew. He persevered, learning how to tie tiny clove hitch knots with sharp tweezers and hooked needles, how to cut, shape and stiffen the sails.

Eventually, the masterpiece was complete. He gently placed it on the mantelpiece.

Where it sat for years, a proud talking point, until one day it was no longer there.

Epilogue One – The Finder.

Was Jack real?

I don’t know. He was conjured from somewhere in my mind. I suspect that he is an example of what I imagine the personality of a complex model maker may be. That is, the obsessive need to complete something complicated in a painstaking way. To prove to ourselves that we are capable of successfully undertaking a project in great detail. My Jack certainly felt a compelling need for something in his life after years of purposeful work.

Then again, maybe Jack was just an old sailor who missed the sea and ships.         However, one thing I know. Such a boat existed, because I am the man who found it.

I was walking the dog along the creek when I noticed a curious object. It was a model sailing ship, largely intact but broken. It had been thrown down the bank. My feeling was one of sadness. Clearly a complicated model, it must have taken countless hours of patient construction. Such a work deserved a final resting place better than a smelly Eltham creek.

It was still there a week later, unclaimed, unwanted, unloved and lonely. I obsessed about it. Who had made it? Who had discarded it? Why? Was this person dead?

I decided to save it, restore it, to make it float as it should.

 

Epilogue Two – The Fixer

It was indeed a finely crafted piece, exactly as Jack may have done. But a wreck it was, with the sails hopelessly tangled, a mast snapped off, and the ropes entwined like jungle vines. But it had a certain quaint appeal; I imagined it proudly sailing around the fishpond. Two masts and sails were able to be salvaged and it looked reasonably respectable and seaworthy. Google advised, by the red cross and lion on the sail that it was a replica of an English naval galleon from the 16th century.

However it was designed for a mantelpiece, not a pond. Having no keel, it toppled sideways when launched, due to the weight of the high masts. I was not deterred, solving the problem by screwing a long bolt into the hull as a counter weight. But it still tipped over.

Determined to make the thing float upright, I inserted another bolt, then another, until it finally stayed upright. Unfortunately, the weight of three long metal bolts, together with the minimal buoyancy of the hard wooden hull, contrived to draw my ship down to Davey Jones’ Locker, so it floated with the deck below the water line. But at least it floated.

The boat stayed there for a fortnight while I pondered for a solution, finally coming up with a design of a long and light weighted keel, to act as a counterweight.

Alas, more failure. When I picked up the boat to action this renewal stage, it fell apart in my hand. The weeks in water had dissolved the glue. The rear section was adrift, the deck structures floated away, the gunnels and any other part involving glue also went floating, and the rear mast fell out. Shipwrecked. I imagined Jack having a throaty chuckle.

My boat is now in dry dock, propped up alongside the pond. Waiting for the day when I have the patience to glue pieces together with fine quality waterproof glue, coat the hull with marine grade paint, install my magic keel, and launch it.

I just wish Jack could be there to see.