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A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Friday, 20 November 2015

R.I.P. FRANCISZEK KIEPIEL, 12.02.1921 - 17.11.2015


On Tuesday this week, two mighty warriors fell.  The first was the legendary New Zealand rugby winger, Jonah Lomu.  The other was the legendary husband, father, uncle, brother, bee-keeper, golfing companion and friend, Franciszek (Frank) Kiepiel.  With some exceptions, the two did not have much in common.  Lomu was a giant of a man, 6ft 6" and weighing 120kg.  Frank was nearly a foot shorter and 50kg lighter.  Lomu lived for rugby whilst Frank despised it, thinking it was a barbaric and stupid game.  Tragically this particular gene was passed on to his daughter, Kazalette.  Jonah Lomu died at the tender age of 40.  Frank outlasted him by 54 years.

Those differences aside, there were some similarities.  Off the field, Lomu’s friends and adversaries alike described him as incredibly humble and a wonderful human being.  For the 35 years that he has known Frank, this son-in-law would, amongst other things, unhesitatingly describe him as incredibly humble and a wonderful human being.  Jonah Lomu would sweep aside with disdainful apparently inhuman strength all who would try to prevent him from scoring tries.  He was unstoppable.  Frank was similarly unstoppable when pursuing a goal, but he did it by sweeping up with him all who might object, persuading them to share in his enthusiasm and determination.  The only meaningful and occasionally successful resistance he ever met came from my equally wonderful mother-in-law, Joan.

Frank’s life story is nothing short of heroic and astounding.  Time doesn’t permit its full re-telling right now and indeed most of the information about the torrid time he spent in a Siberian labour camp during WW II and his trek by foot from that camp through Kazakhstan, Afghanistan to Iran after the Russians joined the allies and freed him and his colleagues have for the most part gone to the grave with him. However, occasionally over a beer (or some more sinister drink with Polish origins), Frank would let slip some of the horrors that he had experienced. 

After reaching Baghdad on foot he somehow made his way to New Delhi and then caught a ship from India which took him around the Cape of Good Hope, a place he noted as a future home.  He arrived in England and joined the Polish RAF to complete his contribution to the war effort.  Then, in a village called North Muskham in the English Midlands, whilst learning English from a local volunteer, his teacher’s pretty young daughter hit on him. Although she knew no Polish and Frank could only speak about two words of English at the time, Joan must have done a pretty good job in chatting him up. Whatever they managed to convey to each other started a love affair which lasted more than 70 years.  Despite the language and cultural barriers, somehow this extraordinary relationship was kindled, caught fire and culminated in an epic congflagration which had no prospect of ever fizzling out. 

Julian was born in England and the family then migrated to South Africa where Kazalette was born 13 years later.  After arriving in South Africa, joined the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Allen Wilson Shellhole - MOTHS), that noble organisation which supports the soldiers who have fought in the Great Wars, which became a big part of his life.  Frank later started a road construction business. Some of you may not know it, but virtually every road on which you have ever driven in northern, central or southern rural Kwazulu Natal was constructed by Frank.  He had an astounding engineering brain.  No gadget, widget, machine or vehicle could last long without Frank effecting some sort of improvement or long lasting repair.  Even the likes of golf equipment manufacturers like Titleist, TaylorMade and Ping could have saved millions of dollars in R&D costs had they only looked in Frank’s golfbag.  There was barely a club that didn’t have a modification: a piece filed off here, some lead soldered on there, square hand grips designed with metal reinforcing bars and so on.  He never quite managed to tweak one putter he liked sufficiently, collecting a mere 14 of them in his quest for the perfect putt. Admittedly, when he invented or repaired something, aesthetics were not a particularly high priority, with almost everything being finished off with a signature coat of his beloved red anti-oxidising paint.

His generosity knew no bounds and was closely allied to his love and care for the people around him and his ability to see the bigger picture.  This was no better illustrated than by his gift to Joan on an anniversary or birthday some years ago She received a grass-cutting tractor on which she could ride around in the garden.  As with any woman receiving the gift of her dreams, Joan was incredibly grateful and seemed to understand the bigger picture (which was presumably that she would not then have to push a lawnmower around the garden).

Every time his impecunious son-in-law arrived at the farm outside Pietermaritzburg to visit his daughter in a student’s car of dubious reliability, Frank would immediately refill the tank, usually replace the tyres and effect any other necessary running repairs.  For many years I thought this was symptomatic of his generosity, but eventually realised that the bigger purpose was presumably to ensure that his daughter’s ride did not get stuck at the side of the road.

Frank was a wonderful and loyal friend to all who knew him, with his only foible being his occasional need to try and poison people with a toxic bottle of Polish Spiritus drawn from his freezer, a disturbing and on-going habit of mis-directed hospitality shared by all of his countrymen. On the eve of the 1981 rowing Intervarsity and Natal Champs he set about poisoning my rowing crew in this manner. Resistance was futile. However, in the context of the bigger picture, his behaviour facilitated a very good night’s sleep for all of us and somehow our wicked head-aches spurred us on to great heights and famous victories that weekend.

 Frank was incredibly resilient, enjoying more lives than a cat, having endured a near fatal car accident, aortic aneurism, quadruple bypass, prostate cancer, a stroke and numerous other medical bullets which he managed to duck each time. His resilience was always, I suspect, to ensure that he would not have to leave his beloved Joan. 

Emerging from all of his hardship, he was classically a self-made man who doted on his family both in South Africa and Poland and especially his children and grandchildren. 

Frank, whilst the legend of your extraordinary life may not have been as widespread as that of Jonah Lomu, you were a hero, a legend and a precious human being to all who knew you. You were well-loved and will be sorely missed.  Go well.  Hamba kahle! Rest in peace.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


In the wake of Friday's terrible #Paris #attacks, perhaps now would be a good time to talk about the judging game we all manage to play. Yesterday I read an angry, but excellent letter on Facebook, ostensibly from an aggrieved #Moslem, addressed to the (now dead) terrorists and expressing his anticipation of the negative social consequences for himself and his family hereafter and damning the terrorists for tarring all Moslems with the brush of terrorist evil.

The thought occurred to me, ironically on the day of the attacks, that there was something to be said about the way in which we tend to brand and judge people by race, religion, nationality and so on and the separation that this approach causes. I was thinking at the time in race terms in South Africa, but as it happened Life delivered a more compelling wake-up that evening, Friday 13th November.

To say that I am dismayed about the Paris attacks doesn't start to express my revulsion and outrage. There is a part of our common humanity which cannot help but tap into the horror and fear experienced by the Parisians and feel immense empathy with what they are going through. And not once: the good people of Paris have been subjected to a number of terror attacks, not least of which was the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year. I can't begin to guess what the wider psyche is in Paris right now, but I imagine it's not the fun, cultured, curious, majestic, jet-setting and sought-after destination and residence of old.

And who is to blame? Well, it's the Moslems of course, or the Syrians, so they must all be inherently bad, if not mad. When we have a burglary, or a murder locally here in South Africa and a black person is involved, all Blacks suddenly become dangerous thieves and murderers to be feared, or at least potentially so. Simply because we have a hopeless President who has surrounded himself with equally hopeless sycophants, many Whites hold the judgment that the  ills of the country are because it was handed over to Blacks who are incapable of holding public office. When a white person still holds a senior position in the police, or business, it becomes all Whites who are responsible for continued oppression, for the economic downturn, possibly for the drought as well and definitely for apartheid, which fostered all of these ills in the first place.

The funny thing, however, is that I have some wonderful friends, acquaintances and colleagues who are Moslems, Buddhists, Arabs, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Indians, Nigerians, Kenyans and the rest. I would trust my life with any of them and am grateful to have them in my Life. 'Ah yes', some will say, 'but they're the exceptions. The rest are no good.'  I don't know any Syrians, but they suffer like the rest of us and share our common humanity. They want the violence as little as you and I. Why else would they be fleeing from their homeland? Judging others against the poor behaviour of a few of their peers cuts us off from our own humanity,

What if we could all look at every human being for the first time, no matter his or her race, colour or creed, and simply see the inherent good? What if we could assume everyone to be equal, to share the same wants, needs, feelings, love and basic integrity and treat them in that manner? What if we could simply allow everyone to be innocent rather than judge them guilty because of who they are. If you must judge, at least give everyone the benefit of any doubt you may have and don't start judging them until they actually show a side which is inherently evil? What if we could be less suspicious and more trusting? 

Call me naive, but I can't help thinking that that approach might just reduce the levels of separateness and antagonism that our judgmental minds foster in the world. It might just reduce  attacks such as Paris, New York, London, Madrid, Beirut, Mumbai and, and.... Just saying.

Saturday, 7 November 2015


I heard a great quote the other day: "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room." Which of course got me to thinking about how I would know if I'm the smartest person in any particular room and which rooms I tend to hang out in.

I suppose what doesn't really help is thinking generally that I'm not the smartest person in the room, but of course I cannot know until I've checked out everyone in the room and concluded that no one has anything to teach me, which in itself has a faint smell of arrogance. I guess the answer is to start with the presumption that everyone brings some sort of life experience or learning and perhaps there's always something to be learned, even if it's how not to be. The danger of believing you're the smartest person in the room is that you end up writing everyone else off.

Be that as it may, I love the idea of seeking out people with more experience, more knowledge, more insights and particularly more grey matter which is thoughtfully and productively used.  The moment you think there's no more learning to be had is the moment your life goes into stagnation mode. 

By analogy, John Demartini says if you want to be a millionaire, hang out with other millionaires. If you want to be a billionaire, same principle. If you are happy to be a hundred-aire, hang out with other hundred-aires. Although billionaires may not necessarily be the smartest people in the room, chances are they know something at least about how to make lots of money. There is something empowering about understanding how other people do their lives and it gives us an opportunity to learn how to achieve great things, or how to be mediocre, or creepy, or inspiring or whatever is on offer, depending on our discernment.

I guess you also need to define what "smart" means for you. Is it the people who have made the most money, the ones with the highest IQ (or perhaps the highest EQ), the ones with lots of letters after their names, those who seem to have their relationships altogether, the healthiest ones, the people who are pursuing a committed spiritual path or simply those who who make you laugh? Or all of the above?

For me, the smartest people in the room are those who both inspire me, but still manage to remain humble in their brilliance. It's as simple as that, but if I'm not hanging out with those people, I guess that makes me the dumbest person in the room anyway.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


Our personal energy is a limited resource. Like our own power utility, #Eskom, we only have a certain amount of personal energy. If we over-use it in one area, we will run out of it in another. A friend of mine, @AnnMcMaster, calls it personal #load-shedding.

I see people time and again spending their energy on being angry, or trying to please unappreciative other people, or insisting on being right when actually it doesn't matter at all, other than to their egos, or hanging onto their resentments for dear life, because it's the only way they feel better about the wrong they think they have suffered at the hands of the object of their resentment. These all drain energy, and plenty of it.

But guess what? If the energy has been used up being something less than our most noble selves, there isn't enough left to be truly our highest and best selves. If you are using up energy fighting, resenting or sulking, where will you find the energy to love yourself or indeed anyone else with all your heart, or the energy to be truly creative, or to bring your best part to a relationship, or to put all of yourself behind your career, a project or anything else that matters to you?

I can think of a couple of times in my own life when I have goofed badly and then spent hours, days, weeks, months expending energy on beating myself up. Whilst I was doing that I didn't then have sufficient energy reserves to bring all of myself to my relationship, to look after my health properly or to keep responding proactively to everything else that Life was presenting to me. The result: a downward spiral of under-performance in most areas, except of course in the self-pity area.

The question then is: where do you expend your energy? Is it in the furtherance of creating something more or bigger with your life, or is it in furtherance of looking after your ego and dealing with things which ultimately don't matter? 

Explore what truly matters in your life and put your energy there. You'll be so glad you did.