Life in the Fast Lane with George

George is a Ship Chandler – according to the Oxford Dictionary it is “a dealer in supplies and equipment for ships and boats, and household items such as oil, soap, paint, groceries, engineering and other parts and equipment.”

Kingfisher IMO 9548885 pusher tug boat
Photo Credit: Joost J Bakker

However, what the dictionary fails to tell us is that Ship Chandlers are an unbelievable source of information, wisdom, public relations experts and peacemakers.

When we first started dating, Demas Brothers Ship Chandlers, was supplying a Pusher Tug from South America, that brought much needed wheat into South Africa. The whole process proved to be rather time consuming and laborious as the cargo had to be offloaded by hand. Therefore the Captain and his crew had a so much of spare time; to indulge in the jollification of wine, woman and song.

I was fascinated and intrigued; a whole new and exciting world was waiting to be discovered. This is exactly what my adventurous and curious soul needed.  Meeting new people and learning about ship chandelling.

I always considered myself to be progressive, someone who believed in and fought for freedom and liberation of others, a fully paid up member of the African National Congress, founder member of a Rape Crisis Centre, a member of the Black Sash, thoughtful, kind to a fault and ready for adventures. 

What I had yet to discover was that I was, in many ways, so naïve in the ways of the world.

One of the many things that attracted me to George was that we could talk about all manner of things, for me, this was refreshing, a sense of freedom if you like, my opinion mattered,  an important fact to mention, considering that we sometimes have to contend with men who don’t care about what or how we think or view the world. I hasten to add, some men, not all men are chauvinistic in their behaviour.

In the course of one of our discussions, I mentioned to George that a loose coalition of woman’s groups was discussing the possibility of organising a night march. There had been a spate of violent incidences and rapes cases, we thought it appropriate to “Claim the Night”. In my naiveté I said that we were going to chat to some “women of the night” and invite them to join us, or if they couldn’t join us, then we could certainly march on their behalf.

George was a little bit outraged! No, let me rephrase that he was very, very outraged!

“How dare you claim to know what other people want or need, this is outrageous and presumptuous!” he bellowed.

Not one to back down, I yelled back just as loudly,  that we were going to do this, like it or not!”

George was adamant: “How dare you assume to know what the “ladies of the night want or need, you don’t even know who they are or what they look like!” “Nonsense!” I very stubbornly yelled back.  In my opinion, his behaviour was just so tiresome!

Back and forth we raged…

I’ll show you:” I thought!

Shortly after this rather robust discussion, George contacted me asking me to join him and the Captain of the wheat carrier to dinner at Blackbeard’s Tavern, a wonderful seafood restaurant on Western Road.

The Captain and his lovely companion, Anne, were so charming and friendly. We chatted away happily, talking about this, that and the next thing.

Anne and I talked about our favourite lipstick colours and clothing, the cost of living and the joy of living in our beautiful city, during the course of our conversation she said: “You are such a lovely person, with such a beautiful soul.” I thanked her and said “and so are you, my dear Anne.”

At the end of the evening we gave them a lift back to the ship.

A few days later George asked me to accompany him to Anne’s house, to drop off some alcoholic beverages for the Captain.  I agreed and mentioned that it would be lovely to see her and the Captain again, upon arrival we were invited to stay for a drink and a chat, and then we left to go out to dinner. Driving off I said to George: “Anne is so nice, I really like her, and what does she do for a living?”

My goodness!

The car screeched to a halt!  “What? What did you say?” said George.

“What does she do for a living?” I repeated.

“Oh no, Gail, you are not stupid! Think, think!”

And you want to “claim the night”!

Shocked! I looked at him as said: “you don’t mean, you don’t mean to tell me, No George!”…I started crying.

Not because of who or what Anne was or did for a living. No, I cried because it dawned on me that I was utterly presumptuous, how arrogant of me to think I know what folk want or need. A painful lesson to never assume things or situations.

My “learning about life in the fast lane” didn’t end there, the universe, life, Captain Percy and George had a lot in store for me! I grew up very quickly

As I mentioned our dear friend Captain Percy was, in every sense, a “wine, woman and song,” man. I enjoyed his company; he was fun, kind, very witty, full of life and a loyal friend. Once, some people were a bit rude to me, Percy was outraged, and told them off in no uncertain terms.

One glorious late afternoon, early evening we were invited to join Percy and friends to a braai, at a penthouse, in Central.

Talk about baptism by fire! This was it, fortunately growing up and living in a manse stood me in good stead.

The three of us set off to a block of flats in Central. Percy assured us that the top floor was the penthouse and that it was all above board and safe. However, just one small request, he was expecting a young lady from an escort agency to join him and would we mind waiting in the car until she arrived. The next moment Percy announces: “Oh good, here she comes!”.

And there she was riding down the road on her bicycle. George and I did not dare make eye contact for fear of embarrassing ourselves and our guests. We all piled into the lift, bicycle and all and up we rode to the penthouse.

What we didn’t know was that all the crew members of the vessel along with some very interesting “ladies” had also been invited. I started chatting to a lovely woman who hailed from Durban. She told me about her life, her children and her chosen “profession”. It was an honest, frank and straight forward conversation. She thanked me for listening to her, for being non-judgemental, respectful and kind to her, and then she excused herself, went to George and requested that he take me home. It just so happened that a lovely young African American crew member, the cook, in fact, felt very uncomfortable about the company and the situation, he just did not enjoy being there at all. I asked George to take Damien and I to “It’s Country” (an all-night coffee shop) in Evatt Street, where he and I enjoyed a lovely meal, a few good laughs and chatted about our upbringing, our families, books, music and life. George was able to join us later.

About a week after the Penthouse event, George and I arranged to meet after work at “It’s Country” for a light meal and a chat. Upon my arrival, I noticed that Jenny, the lovely woman I had met and chatted to at the Penthouse was sitting all on her own. I asked her if I could join her.

“No, you can’t” she responded. “Go to the bathroom, I need to chat to you in private”. Painstakingly she told me that she did not want me to be seen with her. “I am a prostitute” she said, to which I responded “so what, you are also a person, a lovely woman. I care about you.” The following discourse made me so sad, she said: “Gail, you are kind and lovely, but by mixing with me, people will look down on you; and I don’t want that. Don’t ever acknowledge me in public again. When I think it is safe I will come and sit with you.”

I learned a valuable lesson from that feisty, honest woman, my friend.

Don’t assume to know how someone feels, or that they even want to be acknowledged as a friend in public. Remember both parties have dignity and a reputation to uphold.

This wasn’t about dealing with like-minded people who share similar values, dreams and desires, no, this was a rite of passage, a reality check, a hard lesson of real life and how it works.

However, I decided a long time ago, not to beat myself up for viewing the world through “rose tinted glasses”, but rather to celebrate the gifts. The positive lesson learned is this: kindness, love and grace always win.

To be continued…

(The names of people have been changed to respect and protect their identity)

Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell

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5 comments

  • i could just picture you as I was reading. So you.

  • Sanette Cavallari

    Thank you Gail for so gently and kindly educating me, like you, I always want to fix the world, and just maybe its not my place at all!

  • Life’s lessons, wow! yep, everyone has their own story to tell. Good one Gail!

  • Michelle

    Joni Mitchell sums it up. Who are we to judge or pass comment on any one. We don’t know their story. Thank you Gail for sharing your insights.