Life Lessons

Claire Newton fridge magnetsTo know my fridge is to know me!

Anyone who knows me well, knows my fridge magnets…so I decided it would be fun to include them on my website. You will get to know me personally through my magnets, and the lessons I have learnt on my travels.

It is the lessons I have learnt, and the wisdom I have gained from life, that I bring to bear in my approach to my life and my work. I share some of these with you now.

Enjoy my stories....there are more to come!

The brightly coloured “Galo de Barcelos” (Rooster of Barcelos) is one of the most common emblems of Portugal. The legend, from the 15th century, tells the story of a dead rooster's miraculous intervention in proving the innocence of a man who had been falsely accused and sentenced to death.

The story, in all its many variations, symbolizes faith, justice and good luck or honesty, integrity, trust and honour and it is these values that permeate through the generations regardless of which version of the story you adhere to.

The life lesson here is that universal values persist no matter how they are symbolized in stories or legends.

Brussels in Belgium has one of the world’s most famous statues – the Manneken Pis a small naked boy peeing in the water fountain.

As far as statues go, the Manneken Pis barely features. At only 61cm/2ft in height it is really tiny, and yet the Manneken Pis is a major tourist attraction. It is as much a landmark in Brussels as Big Ben is in London and the Statue of Liberty in America.

The life lesson here is that it is not always size that counts – small everyday things can be just as significant.

California in the USA, is portrayed as the land of summer sunshine, with its beaches, fruit trees, vineyards and fun in the sun. So when I was due to visit California one June I bought new summer clothes suitable for the hot weather I was expecting.

My first day out in Los Angeles, however, had me rushing back from the beach to change into jeans and a sweater because I was uncomfortably chilly. I never wore my new summer clothes in California at all because compared to the summer climate in Durban that I was used to, California was not really hot. I had not looked up a temperature table for the cities I would be visiting, when I assumed it would be hot in California.

The life lesson here is to never to assume you understand the meaning of ‘relative’ words like hot, cold, early and late. Check them out – ask questions and try to get objective measures. What is extremely hot for one person may be chilly for another, and what is ‘early’ for someone may be ‘late’ for someone else. 

When visiting Mkuze Game Reserve in South Africa, I spent a few hours sitting with a friend in one of the hides overlooking a small waterhole. It was amazing to sit there listening to the birds and the sounds of the bush and to watch various animals come to drink. Most of the animals would emerge from the trees, walk down to the water’s edge and drink in one smooth movement. But not the big male giraffe. Time and time again he prepared to bend low to drink, only to quickly stand up again alarmed by some sound or movement.  I watched fascinated as he tried over and over again to drink, never feeling quite safe enough to make himself vulnerable to do so. After about half an hour I felt quite desperate for him and rejoiced when he finally bent down fully and got a drink.

The lesson here is that feeling safe is critically important to all beings. Without it we cannot thrive. A feeling of safety is essential to us and to our ability to perform. The greater the feeling of safety, the more we can take risks. and the more we can develop as individuals.

Whenever I visit Cape Town I like to visit what many consider to be the most beautiful garden in Africa – the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, on the slopes of Table Mountain. It is one of the most highly acclaimed botanical gardens in the world.

Reading a plaque one day, I was astounded to learn that it was started with the vision of just one man – Harold Pearson – a botanist who saw the need for a botanic garden in Cape Town in 1903 and set about achieving that goal.

It was 8 years before he found the place – the government owned Kirstenbosch Estate – where he wanted to establish the garden and another 2 before the land was set aside for this purpose. The garden began as nothing more than a neglected, overgrown farm with a ruined homestead, thickets of weeds and extensive plantations of alien plants. There were many difficulties to overcome – the topography was challenging for gardening, funds were severely lacking and the First World War happened leaving only one gardener. The worst blow was the untimely death of Harold Pearson himself in 1916. His dream, however, survived.

The beautiful garden we have today is of course due to many factors – the dream that started it all, the commitment and dedication of the staff during the early years, and the substantial support of the Botanical Society and its members over the years. Ultimately though, it was the vision and dream of just one man!

The lesson learned here is that if you dream and pursue that dream you can achieve mighty things.

My mother and I recently stayed at Thendele, one of the KZN Wildlife Resorts in the Drakensberg. Although there are signs everywhere asking guests not to feed the wildlife, it was quickly evident that this was happening.

The baboons were well aware that there was food to be had from the guests. I was caught unawares when an enormous baboon nonchalantly strolled up to me sitting in front of the open sliding-door to the cottage. I warily watched him walk around the corner and was relieved when he disappeared. Moments later he cunningly doubled back, rushed past me into the cottage, grabbed a bag of books and ran off. I chased him and found him sitting at the back of the cottage trying to eat a bird book! After some yelling and waving on my part, the baboon abandoned the book, jumped up on the roof and casually watched me while I retrieved the scattered books. It was a moment of high drama!  The ripped book makes us laugh now, but the tragedy of the situation is not lost on us – when tourists feed the baboons, the baboons become a nuisance, eventually become dangerous and have to be shot.

The lesson here is to obey the rules. 
Doing the right thing is incredibly important. It affects the future. Little choices that we make can have big consequences.

Saint-Tropez is easily one of the most recognizable names on the French Riviera – and conjures up images of champagne-fuelled yacht parties on millionaire moorings and star-studded beaches. Well known for its hedonistic reputation, beaches and nightlife, the town attracted the international ‘jet set’ in the 1960s, and remains a jet-set favourite.

You'd never know it judging by the glitz and the glamour, but having spent a fair amount of time moored in the port of Saint-Tropez while working on luxury yachts, I realized that all kinds of chaos goes on behind the scenes. The early hours of the morning, when the jet-set have retired to bed, finds delivery vans speeding through the narrow streets, marketeers setting up their stalls, deckhands washing down the yachts and street workers scrubbing down the streets to remove the vomit of drunken partygoers. Very unglamorous and even rather sordid!

The life lesson I learned is not to be fooled by a life of glamour and wealth. The serene swan appears to glide effortlessly across the water, but underneath it is paddling furiously. So too, much hard work and effort goes on to create a veneer of glitz and glamour. 

Earlier this year I visited the Cape and spent time with a dear friend. Every day we did something different, but because we loved Stellenbosch so much we went back there many times. We ate in fabulous cafés and restaurants, we met interesting people, we popped in and out of wonderful shops and bought a variety of things that caught our fancy – artisan bread, a bone china tea set, a pretty scarf. We were delighted with the variety and diversity of our explorations.

The lesson here is to appreciate what is in your own backyard. In Stellenbosch I was made very aware that we were enjoying what millions of international tourists are drawn to annually – the sheer beauty of this land, its rich culture and heritage, and the warmth and hospitality of our fellow citizens. The rest of the world comes to enjoy the offerings that are already available to us.

While travelling through America I spent a day at Disneyland in California. It was my first visit to any of the Disney parks and I was of course blown away by the sheer grandeur and variety of activities on offer. I did as much as I could in the time available and had an absolute ball!

What took me most by surprise, however, was the fact that there were more adults than children at Disneyland. It was like a giant playground for adults – with everybody laughing, racing around and getting involved. I had never before experienced such activity and so much energy expended by so many adults in one place.

The lesson I learned is that at heart we are a playful species and play is just as important to our wellbeing as good nutrition; as George Bernard Shaw said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

While based in Cannes, working on a privately owned luxury yacht, I was asked by the Captain of another yacht if I would help him bring his yacht back from San Remo, just over the French border in Italy. His own crew were all on leave and he desperately needed someone to assist. As it was to be my day off and it sounded like hard work, I was reluctant to help, but I also realised that if I said no he would be hard pushed to find anyone else so I agreed.

The Captain and I set off at dawn on the designated day and took the train to San Remo.  We sailed back to Cannes in perfect weather conditions and I had nothing to do except sit back and enjoy the trip. On arrival in Cannes I was well paid for my time and still had some of my day off to enjoy. It turned out to be the easiest day’s work I have ever done!

The lesson here is that when you have the chance to do something for someone else, with no expectation of reward, seize the opportunity. One can never anticipate the good fortune that can come out of an act of goodwill.