One evening while in Naples, Italy, Tim, a fellow crewmate, and I decided to go out for dinner. We chose a tiny restaurant on the edge of a little harbour filled with colourful fishing boats. The tables were laid with white linen cloths and napkins, the evening was warm and still, and the lights twinkled on the water - it was a fabulous setting for an alfresco meal.
Halfway through the meal, while enjoying the atmosphere, good conversation and the great food and wine, Tim put his knife and fork down on his plate. He did this in such a way as to show that he had not yet finished his meal – or so he thought! The waiter, however, came up to our table and whisked Tim’s plate away. Tim was annoyed to say the least, and it was only after much upset and gesticulating that he finally got his meal back.The waiter was also upset and went off muttering, soon returning with the maitre’d who could speak some English. He explained to us that while in England, the way Tim had put his knife and fork down indicated he was not finished his meal, in Naples it showed that he wasfinished, and the waiter was thus only doing what was expected of him. Tim and I were fascinated at this complete contrast in table etiquette. We had had no idea.
Don’t ever assume that your own customs are the way of the world. Take time to find out about the customs of other places so as not to cause offence. (Ask open-ended questions so that you can find out about things you don’t know you don’t know!)
While on a wilderness trail in Umfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa, I took a bath in a pool of water surrounded by reeds and indigenous grasses, while watching the sunset. The water was cold, but so refreshing after the hot, dusty day. My music was the symphony of the animals and insects. The fragrance, the intoxicating blend of the many scents of the wild, blown gently towards me by the breeze. It was glorious and I enjoyed it far more than any bubble bath with champagne in a 5-star hotel.
Superb, inspiring experiences don’t have to be sophisticated or cost money. Pleasure can be found in the most humble situations and places.
Lucca, in Italy, is the birthplace of Puccini, so during Opera season there are concerts every week. One evening, I invited Steve, the Captain of the neighbouring yacht, as well as Duncan, an engineer from another yacht, to join me at a concert. Both were very reluctant, saying they didn’t think they would enjoy it. But they did go and…they loved it! Steve enjoyed it so much he continued to go every week after I had left Italy, and Opera is now his ‘thing’.
Never say no to an invitation - unless you already have another commitment. You don’t know what pleasures and opportunities it may bring or what doors may be opened to you.
While the shopping malls in Nice, France are magnificent to look at and wander through, and offer everything money can buy, they have no character. Shopping there was interesting, but soulless. I was alone and really felt it.
In the local open market in
Money can’t buy soul. Sometimes we get so caught up making a living that we forget how to make a life! Take time to step back and put things into perspective.
While I was working on a yacht in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, I met a wonderful South African woman sailor, Meme Grant, who one day said she would take me across the bay to the local shopping market. She came to pick me up in a little rubber dinghy, greeted me and told me to “jump in.” As the level of the deck of the yacht was a lot higher than the rubber dinghy in the water, I was horrified! However, I didn’t want to appear stupid and incompetent, so I took a deep breath and jumped. Of course, I nearly capsized the both of us! Meme was furious and shouted at me: “Don’t you know that you never jump into a dinghy?” I explained that I had never been in a dinghy before, so I had no idea. Meme, being the great teacher that she is, immediately calmed down and gave me my first lesson in dinghy skills. I learnt that when Meme said "jump in" she meant, “very carefully get into the dinghy so as not to capsize us”. I heard: “don’t waste time mucking about - literally jump.”
Don’t always assume another person will understand what you are talking about. Be clear and communicate the message you intend to communicate.
On the first yacht I worked on, we spent a month at the yacht Club in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. We were the biggest yacht there, and the owner’s wife was very proud of this fact, boasting about it at the club to the other yacht owners. However, when we sailed to Seychelles and moored at a marina on the island of Mahe’, we were one of the smallest yachts. When she saw this, she said in a very small voice, “but we look so small, you can hardly even see us”. She was devastated.
There will always be those who are better – and worse - off than you. Don’t be too arrogant or too depressed about either.
My mother and I were in the UK at the time of the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland. As we both dearly wanted to see it, I decided to take my mother as a birthday treat. However, when I began enquiring about purchasing tickets, I was told repeatedly by friends and family that if we hadn’t booked our seats at least a year ago, we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting in. I was shattered by this news, but decided to keep trying. I eventually found out who to phone, made the call and got tickets with no problem at all. We went to the Tattoo and loved it.
Don’t let what other people say stop you from pursuing your dream. Do what it takes to make it happen. Listen to your own wisdom and trust yourself – others don’t necessarily know more than you.
While wandering through the ruins at Ephesus, in Turkey, I came across the crumbling statue of the Goddess of Victory and saw that her name was “Nike”. I was stunned as I realised one of the most well-known brand names used today comes from ancient times.
New ideas are not always what is required. Recognising and using the wisdom of the past is sometimes all it takes to enjoy great success.
In Gibraltar, I witnessed an accident where a child was fooling around, fell off a wall and landed on his head. He became completely hysterical. It transpired, much later, that his distress was not from the pain of the fall, but from his belief – based on a film he had seen where a similar incident had occurred – that he was going to die from his injury. The parents tried to soothe the boy but soon grew annoyed with his continuous crying. Finally they became angry demanding that he stop crying. They did not actually ask him why he was so upset, they just assumed it was from the pain of the fall. They therefore didn’t understand what the problem was, and were unable to calm their child down.
Listen to what your children have to say. Respect that they have their own thoughts and ideas.
During my travels in North America, I travelled across the border into Canada. One of the cities I visited was Montreal, where I was struck by the beauty of the architecture. What made this city special, however, was that while it was obviously a bustling metropolis with the mandatory high rise buildings, glass, steel and concrete, these modern structures were often found next to beautiful old buildings, dating back to the city’s early days. And instead of jarring, old and new existed in perfect harmony, creating a unique skyline which captured both the proud past and exiciting future of this amazing city.
The life lesson here is that we don’t always have to get rid the old to make way for the new. There can be space for both – be it buildings, ideas or people – to live in harmony with, and complement, each other.