Present Tense: The Art of Imperfect Giving

This blog has been strangely silent for many months, its muzzle buried in its paws. The reason? It was on sabbatical.

I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless incessant barking

What’s in Store?

‘Sabbatical’, is one of those well-bandied terms, that cast a veneer of professionalism over an otherwise less salubrious truth. It is not dissimilar to the word ‘Retreat’, which nowadays stands for a company piss-up after a day tinkering with a yoga strap in order to better connect with your colleagues.  Not far behind it, lurks ‘Inappropriate’ – a word that hides such a multitude of other meanings as to deserve a post in its own right. Little Johnny whacking his mother with a stick is not inappropriate, it’s bloody outrageous but ‘inappropriate’ determines a moral high ground – endowing the speaker with a sense of unassailable and dispassionate objectivity.

Still, for some, sabbaticals are the genuine article, like for an old friend who found university too dull to complete, started his own company and sold it for millions. Linked In tells me he has been on sabbatical for a good two years.  The content of his Facebook page confirms it – with a string of leisurely images of Paul, copy-pasted and beaming, beside various world leaders. This is the same friend who only made it to our wedding because he won a late-night game of poker, allowing him to catch the first flight to Italy and materialize minutes before I walked down the aisle – my stockings gamely relinquishing their grip on my thighs.

But in my case, the sabbatical was induced by a misdirected fragment of marital attention in the form of a cartoon from the New Yorker. The cartoon, which has been sitting on my desk for two years, pictures two dogs (Labradors) conversing. One confides: “I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless incessant barking.” This, rather like the shotgun of a local farmer, had the effect of quelling any appetite I might have had to yap into the virtual night-time.

It is more than likely that the purchase of the card was intended to quell a rising sense of guilt at having bought yet another pair of Parisian shoes with beautifully sculpted toes, hand punched contours and a delicate hand-buffed finish. As a present it beat the iPhone case from Charles de Gaulle airport, ripped from its plastic housing amidst a downpour on our way to school pick-up. That was my 39th birthday.  Presents and present giving is a not big thing amongst my in-laws.  Presents are typically handed over the roof of a car at Schiphol airport and consist of clutches of clothes hangers, thermal undergarments or whole assemblies of fingerless gloves – in the era before they became useful as smart phone accessories. However the most famous instance of all, is the present my unfortunate brother-in-law received for his 21st.

jan van der Does de Willebois 21st birthday present

A Distant Promise

Whilst his peers at St Andrews were celebrating their coming of age as the happy recipients of their first VW Golf GTI, Jan was told with the beaming enthusiasm and earnestness of the do-gooder, that he was the happy recipient of a boat.  The boat, however, came with some genuine baggage. In fact it came complete with a Senegalese fisherman by the name of Babu with wandering hands. The boat was also thousands of miles away on the coast of the Casamance but the future was bright, as bright as the West African sun, and as soon as Babu had paid off the price of the boat, Jan could hope to be the happy venture capitalist behind a pile of dried shark fin. Until then he had a miniature of the boat to float around in the bath.

Apart from the lop-sided model clogged with soap, little materialized from this arrangement except for one brief outing during a survivalist holiday in the family mud hut. Babu, perhaps keen to be rid of his creditors, encouraged Jan and myself (pregnant as it turned out) to swim in the surrounding shark infested waters. Jan pointed out with a certain amount of sense, that if he typically fished for shark then was there not a risk of shark in the water? With a wave of the hand that was not engaged in caressing a young female breast, Babu reassured us that the current was going the other way. We swam gamely on until a giant jellyfish drifted by, at which point, feeling enough was enough, we lugged ourselves back over the side and spent several hot hours attempting to avert our eyes from spectacular caper going on at the stern. The entire episode sent me into a heavy fever for which the pith of boiled baobab was deemed the only answer, and administered with as much enthusiasm for local wisdom as the time-sharing boat deal.

We are all familiar with the dull and moralizing ‘Be careful what you wish for’ – my daughter read just such a nauseatingly moralizing book last week – but there are cases in which one is perfectly blameless.  Ill-thought present giving is a liability whether it takes the form of a wafer thin card with a bunch of talking dogs or a twenty-foot boat complete with wanderlust crew. It can lead you into shark-infested waters, or land you, beached and parched for words.

It is time to move from Past Tense to Present Perfect. With one great woof, I’m back… until Christmas at least.

THIS BLOG NEEDS YOU: A book is not a book without a reader – a blog without readers is a slog. Please comment or share. YOUR WORDS ARE GREATLY APPRECIATED.

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About InkQuillibrium

Writing for life.
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