dangerous Doug

Ejo #21 – Dangerous Doug Narrowly Avoids Death (By Shopping Trolley)

This month’s ejo is a relatively short one as David and I have been travelling (yes again!) – this time to Spain for three weeks.  I’ll be writing a bit about that in a future ejo but in the meantime, if you are interested in checking out my new photographic series, titled “The Balconies Of Madrid”, you can do so here: The Balconies Of Madrid.

 

In other news, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve been chatting to my friend and colleague, Doug, about another of his interesting “life experiences”.  When he was living in the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah several years ago, he would often drive into Dubai to do his weekly grocery shop, as the supermarkets here are larger and better stocked.  One hot summer morning, about ten years ago, he made the 20 minute commute to the Carrefour supermarket at Deira City Centre Mall – shopping list in hand, ready to stock up for the coming week.

 

He shopped up a storm, filling his shopping trolley with groceries.  Walking past the fish section, he noticed that they had a really good discount on fresh salmon – his favourite!!!  He jumped at the chance to buy a whole (three foot long) salmon as, even though he loved it, he rarely bought it since it was usually so expensive.  He was very excited at the prospect of several salmon dinners, and smiled contentedly as the fishmonger cut up the fish into 25 steaks, wrapping the whole lot up in paper.

 

After picking up a few more items, he made his way to the register and paid for his shopping, pushing his fully laden trolley out of the supermarket into the busy mall.  Now, Doug assures me that in those days, in Dubai, you could take a trolley onto a step escalator – there were no poles barring the way.  So he did what he always did, which was push the trolley onto the down escalator, holding the front of the trolley up.  Usually this worked.  But for some reason his trolley was fuller and heavier than usual and he was having a bit of trouble holding it up (maybe it was the extra 5kgs of salmon?).  No problem, he thought, and very carefully lowered the front of the trolley down until it rested on the step below – which was quite a steep angle but made it much easier to hold.  Problem solved.

 

He made the journey to the bottom of the escalator without incident.  However (and you were kinda hoping there’d be a ‘however’, weren’t you?), when he got to the bottom, before he had a chance to lift up the front of the shopping cart, it jammed in the lip of the escalator and got stuck.  The escalator, of course, kept moving.  Somehow, in attempting to lift the heavy trolley up and over the lip, Doug lost his balance and fell down, and before he knew it he was carried under the trolley by the force of the forward movement.  In a split second he was trapped under the trolley with the metal bar pushing up against his neck – unable to push the trolley up and over his body and inexorably being dragged forward by the moving escalator.  He saw his life flash before his eyes.

 

Luckily for Doug (and for us all, really), a guy who had been about to step onto the other escalator going up, noticed that Doug was about to meet his maker and jumped over the partition onto the other side.  He lifted the trolley up, freeing both it and Doug from almost certain death (or at least serious injury).  Our friend was unceremoniously dumped in a quivering heap with several of his groceries at the bottom of the escalator.  By Doug’s estimation, if the guy had been another two seconds it may have been too late.

 

He profusely (and sheepishly) thanked the good Samaritan and, quickly gathering up his strewn groceries, got the hell out of there to avoid any more unwanted attention.  His whole body was shaking with adrenalin as he pushed the trolley to his little Astra and unloaded the shopping into the boot.  He carefully drove home, still quivering and thanking his lucky stars for his narrow escape.  He couldn’t help running the scenario in his mind, over and over again – thinking of just how close he had come to perhaps dying under a supermarket trolley in a crowded mall.

 

When he got home he tried to shake the whole thing off and, even though it was just after lunchtime he poured himself a soothing glass of scotch to help calm his nerves.  He’d just had a near-death experience after all.  It was medicinal.  Anyway, he spent the rest of the day relaxing and taking it easy.

 

The next day Doug was rostered to work an afternoon shift, so after lunch he went down to his car to head over to the airport.   Approaching the car park he noticed a foul smelling odour, but thought nothing of it.  It was the middle of summer after all and sometimes the heat makes things pretty stinky.  As he got closer to his car, however, the stench became more and more unbearable.  And when he opened his car door and sat inside, he slowly came to the realisation that the smell was coming from inside the vehicle.  He got out and opened the boot after it finally dawned on him that, in his shaken state the day before, he had neglected to unload his groceries from the car.  What he could smell was the decaying funk of five kilograms of putrid salmon that had been left in the car for close to a day and a half.  And not just the salmon, but fruit and vegetables, milk, cheese and yoghurt.  Everything perishable had gone terribly, terribly off in the 40°C (104°F) heat.  Doug threw the rancid contents of his boot away and drove to work, gagging the whole way.  In fact it took close to a week of driving with the windows down to get rid of the smell (and it never really totally disappeared).

 

Two weeks later, Doug went back to the mall only to find that barrier poles had been placed in front of the escalators to prevent trolleys being pushed onto them.  Doug reckons some security guard had seen his incident on CCTV and initiated the safety measure.  Not that he would have been in a hurry to repeat his performance anyway, but it was probably a very good idea!

Ejo #19 – Dangerous Doug and The Elephant Skin Jacket

So, finally, after being distracted by a few other topics, I’m ready to bring you another installment of my friend Doug’s adventures in life.  As evidenced by his bee cultivation as a teen, it is quite clear that Doug has always been in possession of an enterprising
nature.  So when it was time for him to finance his first solo vacation out of Zimbabwe at the tender age of 23 you can rest assured that his strategy to raise funds was strange and unique.

Allow me to set the scene.  Way back in 1978, Zimbabwe (which was still called Rhodesia back then) was experiencing a lengthy
period of political instability and civil unrest which had resulted in the United Nations declaring economic sanctions against the country.  This rendered the Rhodesian Dollar worthless on the global market.  Which meant that if you wanted to go on an overseas holiday, as Doug did, you had to exchange money before you left (no-one would buy your Rhodesian dollars outside the
country, you see).  That sounds all fine and dandy but in fact the government had capped the foreign currency exchange allowance to a maximum of GBP180 per person.  Simply put, you could only buy up to GBP180 at a time, to fund overseas travel.

Even back in 1978 this wasn’t a great deal of money.  And it certainly wasn’t enough to bankroll the 75 day tour of the UK, Austria, Germany and the Greek Islands that Doug had planned.  He wasn’t worried though – he had (of course) a trick up his sleeve.  A common way to make some extra money for travel was to take items not readily available elsewhere with you on your vacation, and then sell them, pocketing the foreign currency and making a little extra spending money.  At the time, the most money was to be made selling products made of elephant hide (I KNOW!!!), and in particular elephant skin briefcases.  They were unique and small enough to carry on board a plane.  The going rate for one of these briefcases in London was GBP100 and it only cost the equivalent of GBP50 to make, so it was an easy way to double your money.

So, Doug went along to a well known leather product warehouse with the intention of buying one or two of the elephant skin briefcases to sell in London and augment his travel budget.  He walked straight up to the briefcase section of the warehouse and started looking at them, but after a moment his attention began to wander onto all the other products available in the shop.  Aside from the specialty elephant hide products, there were also things made from regular leather: wallets, belts, bags, shoes and jackets.  Doug looked at the elephant skins hanging from the ceiling.  Then he looked back at the jackets.  Elephant skins.  Jackets.
And it was at this moment that Doug had, what he describes as, a “brainwave”.  Yes indeed!  For if an elephant skin briefcase could go for GBP100, imagine how much money he could get for an elephant skin jacket!!

It was a lightbulb moment for him and he wasted no time making the suggestion to the vendor who looked at him like he was crazy.  He insisted that he wanted a jacket made from elephant skin, even after the vendor warned him that it wouldn’t be soft, like cowhide, and it definitely wouldn’t be comfortable.  Doug was not to be swayed.  He envisioned this mystical jacket inspiring a bidding war on the “Golden Mile of Tailoring”  – Savile Row in Mayfair, London.  He also envisioned his wallet bulging with extra pounds for his holiday.  No, he’d made his mind up – he wanted an elephant skin jacket, and he would have it.

And so, the tailor measured him up, asking what colour he’d like the leather dyed.  Doug shook his head.  No dye.  He wanted it natural.  After all, what would be the point of an elephant skin jacket if you couldn’t see it was made of elephant skin?  That’s just how Doug rolls.  He did agree to at least have the hide shaved before the jacket was constructed (elephants are hirsute creatures, you know)!  After all, no-one would want to buy a hairy elephant skin jacket!  So, with his measurements taken and a price agreed upon, Doug left the warehouse with instructions to return in one month to collect his bespoke jacket.

A month later, with only a few days left before his flight to London, Doug returned to the warehouse and the first thing he saw upon entering was his elephant skin jacket hanging up on the wall.  He noticed it straight away because the arms of the jacket were sticking straight out horizontally.  As you can imagine, elephant hide is very thick, and when it is tanned it becomes very stiff indeed.  Doug asked to try the jacket on, thinking that a few wears would soften the leather so that the arms wouldn’t be so stiff.  But what he found was that the hide was SO stiff that he could barely keep his arms down without a great deal of effort.  If he relaxed, the arms would simply start to rise up at his sides.  He couldn’t even bend the elbows.  Still, he thought after examining the jacket, the craftsmanship was of the highest quality and he was sure the leather would eventually soften and relax.  So he paid
the tailor the agreed price of 750 Rhodesian Dollars (the equivalent of about GBP375 – two month’s salary at the time), thinking he could easily make twice that on Bond Street in London.  The fact that the jacket literally stayed upright on the floor with no support did nothing to deter him.  And so off he went with his new threads!!

Over the next few days Doug wore the jacket around the house, trying to break in the leather.  Suffice to say the leather did not break in and was just as stiff on the day of his flight as it was the day he bought it.  There was no way he could fold it to pack it away in his luggage and so he was forced to wear it to the airport where, because his arms were sticking straight out, he drew many
curious glances.  Once on the plane, of course he had to remove the jacket as he couldn’t really sit for ten hours without bending his elbows.  All the passengers around him simply stared as he awkwardly took the jacket off and attempted to fit it, stiff as cardboard as it was, into the overhead locker.

Anyway, the jacket (and Doug) survived the flight and after settling into London (he was staying in a share house with some friends that worked on oil rigs), Doug took his prize possession down to Bond Street to see what he could get for it.  He decided against wearing it because, in his words, he realised that he looked like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

The first tailor he stopped at simply stared at the jacket, before shooing him away.  The second tailor laughed, before doing the same thing.  The third took the time to admire the quality workmanship and detailing, but still wasn’t interested in buying it.  Doug’s dream of a bidding war was dissolving before his very eyes.  He spent the next two days walking up and down Bond Street with a stiff, dun grey, elephant skin jacket under his arm going into every tailor shop trying to get some money for it.  To no avail.
The only thing he did succeed in doing was attracting the attention of the local constabulary, who stopped him to ask what on earth he was doing.  After checking his documents and determining he wasn’t in fact up to any mischief, they let him go on his way (probably stifling a chuckle, I dare say).  But Doug’s spirit had been broken.  He dropped the price of the jacket – first to GBP175 and then down to GBP75.  Still, though they all agreed it was a marvellous specimen of clothing, no-one wanted to buy it.  He was stuck with it for the rest of his European holiday.

The night before he was due to fly out of London, one of his oil rig buddies offered to take it off his hands.  At that point, Doug was desperate and so he took the GBP50 offered for it.  He later found out that his friend had taken the jacket apart and had it made into elephant skin wallets, making a tidy profit.

As a footnote, there is apparently, deep in storage somewhere in England, a Polaroid photograph of Doug wearing his elephant skin coat.  I promise you that if I ever get my hands on a copy I’ll forward it onto all of you.

Ejo #15 – Doug’s Bee Story

So, back by popular demand is my friend and colleague Doug.  The man whose entire life is one big adventure (or misadventure, depending on how you view the world).  When Doug was a young lad of 14 growing up in Zimbabwe he had a dream of owning his own beehive and cultivating honey to make some extra cash – at the time he was only receiving 50¢ a week in pocket money.  He was determined though, and after six months of saving every single cent, he had enough money to buy the equipment he would need – wood to make the hive, beeswax to attract the bees, and proper protective equipment (bee veil, wide-brimmed hat, goat skin gloves and overalls) to cover his entire body from head to toe.

He made the hive and waited for the bees to come.  He waited and he waited.  Some bee scouts came and looked around but unfortunately showed no real interest.  One day Doug’s 29 year old brother-in-law, Ginge, came over and asked about the hive.  When he heard that it wasn’t going so well, he felt bad for Doug and suggested that they go find a wild bee hive and ‘borrow’ some bees from it.

Doug got excited, as he knew of a wild bee hive under a large boulder about a ten minute drive from home.  Ginge, being considerably older and appearing very knowledgeable about bees, naturally took control of the operation.  He told Doug that they would need to cut off the piece of honeycomb that had the Queen Bee on it.  The other bees would naturally try to protect her, and when they had enough bees on the honeycomb they would gently place it in the bucket, put the lid on and transport the bees to Doug’s hive.  Simple.  They agreed to be partners and, though Doug wasn’t all that happy about it, he accepted a 49/51 split.  After all, Ginge owned a car, which was a necessary part of the plan.

The next day was very hot and sunny.  Doug excitedly put on his bee suit, donned the goat skin gloves to protect his hands and thick rubber boots to protect his feet.  Ginge took one look at him when he arrived and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting on the bee suit,” replied Doug.

“No, I’m wearing the suit,” said Ginge. 

“But it’s my suit,” protested Doug.

“No it isn’t.  We’re partners, so it’s OUR suit,” declared Ginge, “and I have 51% share in the business, so I outvote you.  I’ll be wearing the suit.”

“Well, what am I going to wear?” asked Doug.

“I think you’ll be alright with your jeans and sneakers.  Just go and get some gardening gloves and wear a couple of thick jumpers and you should be fine.”

“Can I wear the rubber boots at least,” pleaded Doug.

“No there’s no need, bees can’t fly down.  They always fly up, so your feet will be safe.  I’ll wear the boots.”

So Doug put on his mother’s cotton gardening gloves and three thick jumpers as advised by his brother-in-law.  He looked at Ginge who had put on the proper bee outfit and asked if he could at least have the wide-brimmed bee hat with the sewn-in gauze veil.  Ginge shook his head no, but suggested they make their own hat and veil for Doug to wear.  They looked around, and found his Mum’s round, white, wedding hat which was decorated with a pretty lace veil.  Doug was concerned that the hat lacked a brim and that the lace was only 6 inches long – barely long enough to tuck into the neck of one of his sweaters.  Ginge reassured him, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine”.

So they set off into the sweltering midday heat, Doug feeling a bit faint from wearing three woollen jumpers and a wedding veil.  They drove to the spot where the hive was, and as they walked towards the boulder they could hear the cacophony of a great number of African bees swarming under the rock.  When they got there Doug suggested that Ginge put his hand under the rock and break off a piece of the hive seeing as he was the one wearing the protective suit. 

Ginge took one look and said, “You do it, I’ll go get the car started,” before hightailing it back to the car.  Left alone, Doug didn’t want to waste an opportunity to build up his beehive so he knelt down in front of the rock crevice, put his hand into the hole, grabbed some honeycomb, shoved it into the bucket and within 10 seconds was completely covered in thousands of bees.  He had the presence of mind to put the lid on the bucket and walk carefully back to the car feeling himself being stung everywhere (but particularly around his ankles).

When he got back to the car, Ginge took one look at him covered with bees and quickly wound up the windows and locked the car doors.  Doug knocked on the window and begged for him to open the door.  Ginge shook his head, no. 

Doug started to panic and yelled, “OPEN THE DOOR!!!”

“No, the bees will get in the car,” shouted Ginge.  “Get onto the bonnet and I’ll drive you down the road and you can brush them off.”

So Doug dropped the bucket, climbed on top of the bonnet and they drove down the road at 50 kph, with him covered in bees and clinging on to the bonnet for dear life.  Eventually most of the bees fell off so Ginge stopped the car and allowed Doug to get in (though he freaked out about the dozen or so bees that still managed to get in the vehicle – and don’t forget he was still wearing the bee suit and was fully protected).

When they got back to Doug’s house Ginge asked him if he’d been stung and Doug showed him his ankles which had over a hundred stings between them.  “I thought you said bees don’t fly down,” accused Doug.

“Oh… well, I guess they do,” was Ginge’s response.  Poor Doug.  But then Ginge said, “I’ll tell you what, you can wear the rubber boots when we go back”.  Doug nearly fell over from shock but, when he realised Ginge was being serious, he flat out refused.  Those bees had been mad as hell.  He wasn’t going.

“Yes we are, I’m the controlling partner and I say we’re going back,” ordered Ginge.

Being the self-confessed ‘skinny little runt’ that he was, Doug backed down.  He took off his sneakers in agony and slipped on the rubber boots before his feet swelled too much.  They headed back down the road and on the way Doug begged Ginge to be allowed to wear the professional hat and veil.  But nope, Ginge wasn’t giving it up, “You didn’t need it the first time, so you won’t need it this time”.  For some reason Doug idolised his brother-in-law, so even though he really didn’t want to continue on this suicide mission he went along with it anyway.

When they got to the bees, this time Ginge didn’t even get out of the car.  He sent Doug off by himself.  And when he got to the boulder the bees were already riled up and attacked him before he could even put his hand in the crevice.  Running back to the car, he didn’t even bother trying to get in – he knew that the doors would be locked.  He jumped on the bonnet and again they sped down the street to get rid of the bees.  An African man riding a bicycle in the opposite direction was laughing so hard at the sight of a 14 year old boy on top of a speeding car, wearing a frilly, white wedding hat and veil completely covered in bees that he fell off his bike.

When they got home Ginge once again asked Doug if he’d been stung.  It would appear that he had – in all the mayhem, the veil had come loose and he’d been stung in the eyes, nose, ears, mouth and neck.  He had about 50 stings on his face, which started swelling to twice its normal size.  His feet were so swollen by now that the boots had to be cut off with shears.  He couldn’t walk and had to be carried around.  Ginge got scared and finally did something logical.  He took Doug to the hospital, where he spent the next three days recovering.

Eventually Doug did attract bees to his hive, and his dream of producing honey became a reality.  Ginge was so impressed with the result he made Doug construct a hive for him too.  A year later, Doug was at Ginge’s house when they decided to go and collect some honey.  They waited until the sun went down and Ginge once again suited up in Doug’s protective gear (seriously).  This time though, he had a better plan for what Doug should wear.  Ginge and Doug’s sister had recently bought a new mattress and Ginge produced the thick, plastic mattress bag that it had been wrapped in.  He told Doug to put the mattress bag over his head and body, and as it was much larger than him, the bottom of it would drag along the ground – protecting him from bees flying up!  He was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt but he knew there was no way on earth the bees could get through that plastic so he felt pretty confident this time.

So in the darkness they walked to the hive, at the bottom of the garden and, as Doug was the bee expert, Ginge told him to take off the lid to the hive so they could see if there was any honey.  Of course it was slightly difficult to do this as they hadn’t cut out arm holes in the mattress bag (otherwise, of course, bees would be able to get in) so he had to do it through the thick plastic.  Another problem was that it was a warm evening, and the plastic bag had no ventilation so it was starting to fog up, meaning that he couldn’t really see very well out of it.  Nonetheless Doug did what he was told and took the lid off, causing the bees to become enraged and aggressive.  At the first sight of the bees swarming out Ginge shouted, “RUN!,” turned on his heel and started running back to the house.

Doug realised that he should probably get the hell out of there too.  Covered from head to toe in thick, fogged up plastic, he turned around and started running back to the house, trying not to trip over the bottom of the mattress bag.  Through the condensation he saw an odd thing – Ginge wasn’t running in a straight line but, rather, he was zig zagging across the garden.  A moment later, Doug found out why.  Ginge had neglected to tell him that his gardener had spent the day digging deep holes to plant trees.  Doug discovered this fact only after landing in one of the holes, head first with his exposed legs straight up in the air.  The bees knew what to do.  They attacked Doug up and down his flailing legs – and seeing as he was wearing such short shorts they took extra care to sting him most vigorously in the groin area.

After this incident, Doug finally saw the light and fired Ginge, taking back 100% ownership of this honey business.  In fact he made pretty good money from it, enough to buy his first car.  I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that Ginge never saw a single cent.