90. Safety vest.

We have a neighbour across the road who is almost painfully shy and reserved. We run into him often, and always greet him with a wave or a flash of the eyebrows, but in all the years we’ve lived here, we have never said more than two words to each other.

I don’t have a problem with this. I’ve never taken to the sort of enforced bonhomie we all feel compelled to express with people who are often in our orbit but not actually our friends. Quiet neighbours suit me, and besides, if he turns out to be a serial killer, I can deliver the required lines to the visiting press with real conviction; “He was such a quiet man. Never caused any problems.”

It's always the last one you would suspect.

It’s always the last one you would suspect.

But the other day, I was gripped by an almost overwhelming urge to throw a tomato at him. He had, I hasten to point out, done absolutely nothing wrong, and had not annoyed me on any level. He just really, really needed to be hit with a particularly juicy, slightly soft tomato. I will cheerfully confess that my motives did not show me in a good light, and that I should, perhaps, seek out some form of counselling, but I didn’t actually do it, so no harm, no foul. We were out of tomatoes.

So what did this quiet, unassuming little man do to provoke such a mean-spirited response? He fixed his driveway. He laid down a fresh slab of concrete where his driveway meets the road. This is not, in itself, a provocative thing to do. Some might even say that it is perfectly harmless. And they would be right. But that’s not all he did. You see, in order to fix his driveway, he put on one of those natty little yellow safety vests with a reflective silver strip. We live in a quiet cul-de-sac.

It almost feels like we live in a quiet little English village.

It almost feels like we live in a quiet little English village.

I don’t know why it is that I respond to certain types of behaviour this way. Wearing a reflective vest when you’re working in the road is a very sensible thing to do. It’s responsible, and safety conscious, and should be encouraged. But it points to a particular mind-set that always has me reaching for some over-ripe fruit.

It’s just too careful. It worries me. He sat down one day and thought “Right. I need to fix my driveway. I’ll do it at three o’clock on Saturday. I’m going to need 72 concrete pavers, 18 kilograms of river sand, 3 50kg bags of cement, a broad-brimmed hat, and a reflective safety vest.”

I bet he only squeezes his toothpaste tube from the bottom, so that the stripes are still in place when he uses the last, perfectly pea-sized drop. And I bet he always remembers to put the lid back on, and never has to use a knife to hack off the concrete hard lump that blocks the tube when you don’t. I bet he never runs out of toilet paper, and has to dig into the family supply of paper napkins. I bet his keys are hung up carefully on a hook as he comes into his house, and never has to run around like a maniac in the cold, grey light of a winter morning, digging under the cushions on his couch and digging yesterday’s pants out of the washing machine to check the pockets.

Normal people's toothpaste.

Normal people’s toothpaste.

He needs, in other words, that tomato. He needs a ripe, juicy reminder from the sky to remind him that life is richer when it’s filled with little surprises. He needs it to remind him that you can be as careful as you like; that you can plan your day with criminally insane levels of care, but once in a while, hey, tomatoes. I just wanted to help him.

Or that’s what I’m telling myself. I may, just may, be feeling just a little bitter. Because while he was busy fixing his driveway, I was doing a little DIY myself. I was doing some tiling. I did not plan my little project with military precision. While he assembled his perfectly measured piles of bricks, and sand, and cement, I got “some” tiles and “some” tile adhesive. And a couple of beers so that I could survey the fruits of my labour that evening while enjoying some ice-cold frothy goodness. And then I set to work.

Or rather, I had to drive back out to the hardware shop to buy a bucket. Then I set to work. For an hour or so. Then I went back out to get some more tile adhesive. And then I reached the edge, and had to nip out to get a tile cutter. After a fifteen minute search for my keys. And every time I went out, there he was, all smug and superior in his wide brimmed hat and his natty little safety vest. Nobody likes a show-off.

Well howdy, neighbour!

Well howdy, neighbour!

But that’s not the whole reason I became fixated on his safety vest. South African are not, on the whole, a particularly safety conscious lot. I smile every time I buy a power tool and see, emblazoned on the side of the box, those little pictures that say “Warning! Safety goggles must be worn at all times while operating!” I have never, not even once, seen a South African in safety goggles.

Things are, of course, different when it comes to people who work for construction companies and the like, because there are health and safety rules, but no South African who whips out a chainsaw to cut some dead branches off a tree in the garden is ever going to whip out a hard-hat at the same time. It just wouldn’t occur to us. You can buy hard-hats down at the hardware store, but those are just there so that people can make these.

And he has safety glasses on, too!

And he has safety glasses on, too!

I’m not pretending that this approach is clever or rugged or brimming with rock-jawed manliness. It’s actually pretty stupid. It is, as they say, all fun and games until someone loses an eye. It’s just the way things are done round here. The stupid way.

And I did my tiling the stupid way. While safety-vest guy stood back, hands on hips, with a satisfied look on his untanned face, and admired his neatly squared off handiwork, I staggered inside as the sun went down, to find that I had forgotten to put my beers in the fridge. I went to bed disgusted, but woke up the next day feeling ready and inspired. Time to do the grouting.

Or rather time to nip off to the shops again since I’d forgotten to buy any grout. I paused on the way back in to sneer at the boring perfection of my neighbour’s driveway. And then I set to work. I checked up the instructions on how to mix the grout, and there, as always, was the little picture. It was a hand with a line through it. “Warning!” it said “Do not allow to come into contact with unprotected skin!” Ha!

They only put that there to avoid frivolous lawsuits.

They only put that there to avoid frivolous lawsuits.

How are you supposed to make those cool little furrows between the tiles with gloves on? It’s just cement. What could go wrong? Two hours later I was weeping quietly to myself. I had sanded three neat little holes into the ends of my fingers, into which the grout had seeped as a quiet little reminder of what “caustic” means.

I fought through the pain and finished the grouting, but not the weeping. Every time I touch anything, the holes in my fingers give me a sharp little reminder that the whole outside layer of skin on my right hand is busy peeling off, like a grotesquely misshapen snake shedding its skin.

Typing this post has made me sad.

Typing this post has made me sad.

But fear not. I have learned my lesson. In future, I’m going to be more careful. I’m going to plan things out. I’m going to be ready. And the opportunity is coming soon. Safety-vest guy was outside surveying his gate this afternoon. It looks like he’s planning to paint it. Little does he know he’s dealing with the new me. I’m never running out of tomatoes again.



58 thoughts on “90. Safety vest.

  1. narf77 says:

    I watched an African Top Gear special last night…not once did I see safety glasses or top hats or even steel cap boots. I think your neighbour is in the minority.

  2. albertine says:

    Neighbours? Are there neighbours? I have students on one side and a Polish single mum on the other. I’m not well-organised, but maybe I’m going to receive a tomato-blessing any day now.

    You know when the students have done their washing because the delightful aromo of fabric softener wafts through the entire neighbourhood. The Polish lady (who works every hour there is in a local coffee shop) never ever visits her garden/underbrush/hayfield. Maybe she is the Sleeping Beauty and a handsome Prince will come and hack his way through the rose bushes. One day. Or maybe I will jump the wall and do some guerrilla pruning. One day.

  3. Perhaps you should have had a safety vest, but gloves?? Who in his right mind uses gloves?! LOL Sorry for your pain, but thanks for writing another great post. 😉

  4. I have one neighbour who wears green overalls when he washes his car/drive/caravan or trims his hedge. My other neighbour parks his caravan using a natty remote control.

    I need to move house. 🙂

    PS Great blog!

    • 23thorns says:

      And I need a remote controlled caravan! How fast does it go? Can you operate it from the inside? Why has no-one brought this to my attention? Long weekends will never be the same again!

  5. kokkieh says:

    Erm…in paragraph 7 (yes, I counted) you described me. But I wasn’t working on my driveway yesterday 😉 And my dad actually wears safety goggles, but only when using a grinder.

    But to restore your faith in your countrymen, today I passed a guy having car trouble on the N1. He was lying under his trailer with his legs almost (but not quite) extending over the yellow line. His car’s hazards wasn’t on and he had neither an emergency triangle or a reflective vest (I have one of each under the seat in each car).

    • 23thorns says:

      You’re the second paragraph counter! I’m beginning to feel a little unnerved. It’s amazing how often you see those guys on the side of the road- you would think that if you’re lying under the trailer anyway, sticking your legs out the other side would not be a hugely complicated concept…

  6. I almost always make a list and check it twice because I have to haul the 3-year-old dictator to the store with me. Once is enough to drive me mad.
    And your wife is spot on with regards to your fingers. Did you use the macro setting on your camera?

    • 23thorns says:

      Ha! I’m no amateur when it comes to photography. I took that shot with my tablet. One hand was holding the tablet, and the other was busy, so I used my nose to push the button and achieve the seldom seen but awesome “ET phone home” effect.

  7. Yes but if you weren’t scatterbrained you wouldn’t be a good writer. That’s what I’d tell myself anyway.

    Maybe he is actually BURYING A BODY. Reckon he’s trying to throw you off the scent…you should look in the back garden at night.

  8. A.J. Goode says:

    Our neighbors are like that, too! Last week, I saw them working in their flower bed while wearing some kind of beekeeper’s hats with netting to protect their faces from misquitoes. Wish I’d had access to a few tomatoes.

  9. mariekeates says:

    We actually had a neighbour who turned out to be a serial killer (ok, I’m exaggerating, he murdered one defenceless old lady) and you know what, he was a quiet careful lad, too quiet and careful, we always knew he was destined to be a serial killer. I’d watch that neighbour if I were you. 🙂

  10. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Oh please, make it a good squishy one from a short distance. Old beetroot “dropped accidentally” on concrete is almost impossible to remove. One of our friends, a good handyman, has a perfectly clean garage (including the floor) and a marked board with ALL his tools on it and he always knows where they are. He also doesn’t like any kind of pet “because they shed hairs”. When his children were young the inside of his car was always clean…. For some reason all this makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up,

    • 23thorns says:

      We had a family friend who visited us from the coast. When we accepted his offer of a bit of biltong before unpacking, he whipped out a three dimensional floor plan of his boot.

  11. liz2you says:

    There are sad people like this in the world. DIY is meant to be fun! We stand in B&Q hardware, have you got everything, yes he says. Last job is still waiting for the end knobs on the stair rail, but it works! Safety vest probably doesn’t drink either; maybe tomato juice!! Liz

  12. Darling Husband,
    Your fingers look very peculiar in that photo and it has little to do with the fact that the first few layers are sloughing off.
    Dear World Wide Web,
    His fingers are not actually that peculiar.

  13. Hank. says:

    OK, seriously–is that hair growing from the palms of your hand? I mean, if so, that’s fine and everything, but shouldn’t all that hand fur protect your hands a bit better? Just sayin’.

    P.S. Your neighbor was paving over the spot he buried his equally quiet mother.

  14. Spy Garden says:

    HAHAHHAHAHahahahah hahaha

  15. choppy123 says:

    How about throwing a tomato into his wet cement :P, my neighbour is the same when he cuts his lawn, when he worked his job was OH&S, so perhaps that is why, but when he cut his lawn, out come the safety boots, wide brimmed sun hat, safety glasses, overalls that cover him all over and thick gloves, a little bit over the top if you ask me, whereas my hubby cuts our lawn, with trainers on and usually a tee shirt and shorts, oh but he does wear sunnies 🙂

  16. Ashana M says:

    I’m afraid the moral of the story is that there is a time when being safety-vest guy means you have way more time for drinking beer with your feet up and the telly on. And there are other times when being safety-vest guy is just boring. I suspect you will disregard that possible moral. 🙂

  17. MicheleMariePoetry says:

    LOL! Made me laugh…

  18. syrbal says:

    We are a by guess and by golly crew here….a tomato and the thing we use to toss tennis balls for the dog, I say!

    • 23thorns says:

      If you Have a machine for throwing balls to the dog, you’re sailing dangerously close to being in the careful planning crowd!

      • syrbal says:

        LOL, no not a machine—one of those re-do things of the ancient spear-throwers; an elongated plastic arm with a cup at the end for the tennis ball instead of the spear.

        Like the spear thrower, it extends the toss; greatly necessary to help wear out a hyperactive pet!

      • 23thorns says:

        I feel curiously let down. I was enjoying the vision of you driving along to the park while holding the dog’s lead out of the window so he could run alongside, and then setting up an easy chair and one of those tennis ball cannons.

      • syrbal says:

        I admit, that does sound like more fun!

  19. Lyn says:

    Oh dear, I’m hiding behind the door just in case you’ve bought those tomatoes, because paragraph #7 describes me almost perfectly – well, except you’d have to substitute “he” for “she.” Yes, sadly, I am one of those annoying people who plan things (most of the time) 😀

  20. Please, please tell me a puddy tat left pawprints in his fresh concrete…

  21. sisteranan says:

    In Hungary, they pave over the rocks, and then put up signs saying ‘Watch Out For The Rocks.’ I feel i would be very at home there.
    Thank you for making me laugh out loud again. My kids think i’m looking at pornography.

  22. johnjroberts says:

    Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.

    —-Tom Robbins

  23. Ijassdie says:

    Great post.. Honest and good 🙂

  24. This post made me giggle! 🙂 xxoo

  25. sheenmeem says:

    Sorry, like your neighbor’s way of doing work. I wish I was that methodic. Poor chap he doesn’t know what he is getting into?

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