Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A friend in need and a friend indeed.

A good friend from my university days in the mid-1970s sent me an e-mail message yesterday, having lost my address some two years ago; but as he's a sort of office "pack rat" and never gets rid of anything, he managed to find me again on his computer system. He's a scientist, having studied physics, and has spent most of his working life in road contruction and transport projects for the British government. He originates from the north east of England, Newcastle ("new-kasl", as it should be pronounced) to be precise, and fell in love with London and the south east of England, especially the suburbs of Surrey. Having caught up with me he then sent me on a little box of surprises about how his life had been recently. What we see of our lives often makes us unhappy about the choices we made and make. This friend has always been open with his telling of how life has been good, but also how it has dealt him its woes, especially with work, sport, and women. His love life warrants a novel. As he writes in his latest messages, he only manages to find love with women who are already married (not a good situation) and gets rejected by the others.

We take a lot of things for granted, especially the good things we encounter and the good people we meet (Bob Marley said it better: "Good friends we had and good friends we lost, along the way"). But friendships really get ditched too easily.

My friend is a scientist, but not all of science is an open book to him. People who work with computers, especially those who know how they really work, are savvy about all things Internet-ish, right? Wrong. Most people know the difference between the Internet and things you can do on the Internet, right? Wrong. An article I read over the weekend talked about how many people do not know that e-mail and the Internet are completely different things. Let's not even get into what you can do with a Blackberry, and how it sends messages and has no cables.

So, I was more than a little shocked when my friend wrote "You are all technical ! I regret I am making a point of being the only man left on the planet without a computer. I have no idea what a 'blog' is and I certainly would never know one if it passed me. As for 'Facebook', well that's way beyond me. I have no mobile phone, no fax machine and no home computer. M15 will never be able to track me down." I know that I am no geek. I figured out a long time ago that to get so-called labour-saving devices to do their job, you often needed to expend a good amout of labour to understand them, at least initially. After that you could probably surf on the basic knowledge you had acquired. I was forced to understand a lot more about "IP addresses" and "routers" and "modems" and "switch boxes" through getting companies to set up cable TV in my house and then trying to get wireless Internet access working at home. Then, in my last assignment, I had to understand how the machines that provided the "server" facilities worked so that if the engineer could not fly in to help fix it, my junior economist and I could have a good attempt; we drew the line at climbing on the roof to fix the satellite dish. So, there he is, a qualified scientist, but determined to stay on the road-less-travelled by science.

I don't really know if I should applaud him or commiserate. But I will encourage him to open himself up to some of the developments of the past 30 years.

He feels he has let himself down, and sees this as part of a set of bad decisions he has made in life. "I am in despair at how I have wasted my own years and it would never do for me to look back on the good decisions other people made that I did not. I paid a brutal price for my poor degree and yet I worked so hard, I wish now I had done a Civil Engineering degree and I could have worked overseas for awhile in the Middle East." The money might have come from going to Dubai or wherever, but would he really be any happier with where he ended up?

When we were at university, we spent many hours playing squash, especially when exam and study pressures rose. I was new to the sport, only starting at university, but I was a good athlete, and had a great coach (a former five time world champion), who helped get lots of the basics right. My friend had played before, and we had many great, sweaty tussles on court (metaphorically speaking, not like Oliver Reed and Alan Bates in "Women in Love"). Squash was his real love and has been his pillar through many hard times, at work, in love, and so on. But even here, he feels that time just passed him by. He wrote:

"I play on the county veterans squash team (that's over 50s). Now, it's a ranking as low as you can get. This is the third team and I am at number '5'. Over at a local club the other afternoon I faced a big bull of a man and I was sure this match would be a 'steal'. No! Like the other 8 matches I have played over 2 years, he machine gunned me in 3 sets. I did win 3 points. I just wanted to get away back home. I looked up at my pals in the gallery and it was like a scene from 'Gladiator'. I just cannot win any vets matches. I also played at the fabulous RAC club in Epsom last month. This 'old boy ' rolled up late, and I thought this match will be a breeze. But again, I was bullet ridden. I had more holes in me than an Iraqi taxi. He of course was an old champion of the 1970s. Gutted and humiliated we all came away, all of us but one defeated. I just keep playing because if I stop squash I will have nothing in life."

I don't agree with him and said so many times before when a similar set of events occurred. But, I understand that it's hard to have defeat or set-backs face you regularly and feel good about yourself.

But he offered some bright spots:

"In March I went off on my first holiday in 10 years. I was skiing with some pals from the squash club. We stayed in France a place called Samoen, at the chalet owned by my family doctor (the benefit of living in a small knit town). I thought I would give it a try and I booked up tuition when I arrived. I had the time of my life. After Day 3 I was flying. I was whizzing down slopes like Box Hill here. No fear. My legs and joints were black and blue at the finish of it all but I had the time of my life. It was fabulous."

So, he is not afraid to try new things and to get some success quickly transforms his outlook on life.

He mentions that he has a trip coming to a part of London where he used to work, Liverpool Street-Broadgate (near the famous train station), where there will be a glass walled exhibition court for a world class squash tournament. A club friend bought the tickets and asked him along. He will go, reluctantly, because it's also the place where his career in a sense got derailed; he had good days there but made another "wrong choice" in his career. He used to see trips to London as an adventure. I remember well the awe he often had when we visited different places, which for him had just been names representing the high, the mighty, the good and the great. People from the harsh mining and shipbuilding areas of the north east of England could only gasp at the thought of ever seeing them.

He also just won tickets in the Wimbledon lottery draw for ladies finals day. As he muses, "Just think, I could be sitting a few feet away from lovely lean Sharapova in July. Oh heaven." She is single so maybe love will blossom amongst the strawberries and cream. I'll accentuate the positive for him. My friend also plays tennis so I hope he is honing up those skills so that the little Geordie Sharapovs can get lessons from Dad when Mum is touring.

My friend's life has been a bit complex, not more so than many others, but that has weighed on him. What I have always liked about him, and in fact all of the people I call friends, is that when he finds me he has no hesitation in laying himself bare, even though years have passed since words crossed between us. The apologies about not having been in touch for years is not necessary as far as I am concerned. In fact, it should be that I send a complement for having bothered to seek and seek again.

I would love to say more about my friend and identify him but given that he does not even know about this medium for writing and sharing thoughts and opinions, I will spare him that. He did say "publish and be damned", though.

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