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MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND #8 (article first published : 2006-01-30)

I’ve always been a water-baby in that I was at home in water from the age of about two or three and to this day (just turned 59 this year) I can happily spend up to four hours at a stretch cooling off, be it in the sea itself, a tidal pool or a sweet-water one, as my Dutch friend Louisa terms a normal swimming-pool. Just this morning, down at my local pool, I made a new friend. Tom came over to my bench (in the shade) to enquire how it could be I have such a great suntan yet he’s never observed me sitting in the sun.

Well, I’ve never liked the strong sun in Durban’s hot summer beating down on my head (used to be a migraine sufferer – but, touch wood, haven’t had one of those awful things in almost seven years now) so once I’ve had my swim, replete with peaked cap and sunglasses, not to mention Factor 100, it’s a book-in-the-shade for me. We fell into conversation and had an enjoyable hour swapping anecdotes where we sent ourselves up over embarrassing moments we’ve each had in the past, and much laughter ensued. He walked me to my car and as I drove the short distance home I began reminiscing about the fact that I seem to have been blessed by a firm friendship with one person or another for each decade of my life – and, amazingly – we’re STILL in touch with one another.

When in Primary School it was Gail Peters who was my first close friend. After school we’d often take a dip in her rain-tank (a sort of mini swimming pool) before starting on our homework together, and when that was done we’d dress up and imitate the film stars of the day as we play-acted for the remainder of the afternoon. To this day she writes me from overseas enquiring if I’m still such a water-baby. It was she who introduced me to the Methodist Guild in my teen years as well, and there I met up with dozens of fine folk of around my own age, and went on many fun weekend campouts under the leadership of the most marvellous minister (with a most delicious Irish accent), namely the Rev George Irvine.

In the latter part of my High School education I met up with Jenny Pearce, and she and I came up with a bright idea, to form “Club 51”, having been given permission to hold a monthly “session” where we danced the night away in the Durban Deep Recreation Hall. Soon the reputation of these fun evenings spread far and wide, and pupils from three surrounding schools would join in, necessitating the formation of a parents’ committee and the issuing of membership cards and, eventually, as we began charging a small entrance fee, we were able to engage many a top band of the day to play for us. This enormous fun continued for a good three to four years.

During my early twenties I made firm friends with two very special young females of around my own age when I took up residence at Rhodes House in Johannesburg, a residential club for young working ladies and it was these two, Penny and Sheila, who introduced me to the joy of listening to folk singing around the corner at a coffee-bar called The Troubadour, which led to a sort of “instant conversion” to this genre of music, resulting in us spending six nights out of seven in that establishment for almost four years. I’m still in touch with both these friends almost 40 years later, though I live in KwaZulu-Natal and they’re in Johannesburg (Gauteng), and we often reminisce in our letters and phone calls of the most wonderful memories of those happy times.

In my thirties I met up with a real madcap, a lady with a most engaging personality who could charm the birds out of the trees on the wettest of days (and especially those of the male species!). Bridget’s daughter was at school with mine at Maris Stella Convent in Durban, and once we’d discovered that all four of us found the sensation of being in the sea the greatest delight on earth that’s exactly how we spent a good five years of our weekends – water-babies all!

My early forties brought me yet another water-based friendship which has lasted close on twenty years – Louisa, the aforementioned Dutch lady, almost 25 years older than I, but VERY contemporary, most attractive and wise, who is still a mentor and mother-figure to me, and the one who kept asking me from the time we first met, at the Rachel Finlayson Pool on the Durban beach-front, (in the kindest of ways) whether I wouldn’t feel a lot better if I went on a little diet and instead of feeling fat I could feel virtuous! She is absolutely delighted at my recent weight loss and resulting zest for life after a serious depression last year, and we still lunch occasionally for a catch-up session – but no longer do I indulge in chips with my fish or a dessert to finish!.

In my fifties, dear Ros, of such generous spirit and a very kind soul who is Librarian at the school next door to my home, has been my most loving friend and has introduced me to a circle of similar fine companions, teachers from Livingstone School. My greatest delight these days is when school hols come round – ‘cause that’s when we all set off to a tidal pool with a picnic lunch and have a lot of laughs while we enjoy fun-in-the-sun-and-sea-water. My parents were, I know, a little disappointed when I myself decided against going into the teaching profession, as they’d imagined I’d do, but I like to think that now they’re looking down from above with BIG smiles at the company I’m keeping due to the friendship I’m enjoying with these new acquaintances.

But my VERY dearest friend is Lesley, now resident in Canada (after a very adventurous spell in the Arctic), who was my next-door neighbour for the first 13 years of my life. Indeed, it was she who actually SAVED my life, in a manner of speaking, when I rang her up in the middle of my depression last year telling her I’d spent HOURS on the Internet researching suicide (yup, that’s how bad things were, pain-wise, all because of a weak willpower!) and it was she who BEGGED me to get onto an anti-depressant, (she was at the time running a health clinic in a very remote region), patiently explaining that I needed to look on it as one would handle a broken leg – i.e. recognise the necessity for a crutch< /i> until the pain lessened and the healing began. That advice has stood me in good stead and, with each kilogram that falls away due to my new lifestyle of healthy eating, the sense of joie de vivre is expanding at a rate of knots.

Coming back now full circle to the new friendship formed this very day, (for Tom and I parted yesterday with the promise of further tales to be swapped after the next morning’s swim) well, who knows WHAT the future may now hold in store as the BIG-SIX-O approaches? I’m not in any way looking for a relationship but perhaps this might just be the beginning of yet one more Firm Friendship, since we really did seem to immediately be on the same wavelength! - Bev Pulé




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