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The kindness of strangers

Updated: Mar 19, 2019

Big boys don’t cry. Especially not big, macho, laugh-in-the-face-of-broken-bones, bike-riding boys like me. But it’s damn difficult to keep your composure when blessed with simple acts of human kindness. Today it has often felt as if I’ve been within a squeeze of an arm of total, unashamed grateful weeping - like Kate Winslet collecting an Oscar. Only taller (and uglier).

I’ve always loved the way motorcycles have introduced me to wonderful people. This past week has done it again and I haven’t even been riding... because I’m in hospital, after crashing.

If you’re after the gory details, sorry. I’m not going to talk about the crash - beyond saying it left me with a punctured lung, many broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and three broken toes. And on the other side of the globe to home.

I was lucky to be with good people when I crashed, who got me to the nearest hospital. From there I was moved to a bigger one, better able to deal with my injuries. But the guys had a schedule and Top Gear rules apply: if you can’t keep up, you’re left behind. Which is fine. I’m a big boy, remember?

And since then it’s been the people who have made this one of the most strangely uplifting weeks of my life.

We’ve all heard stories of unsympathetic A&E staff in the UK. “Wouldn’t happened in a car,” one Swansea sister sniffed at Bike editor Jonners, after he highsided in a long-track race (“No, because in a car, I wouldn’t have been allowed in a motorbike race,” he pointed out). I remember the horror on the faces of the nurses when I turned up in bike kit to visit MFG on the ward from which I’d been discharged just weeks earlier - as if getting back on a motorcycle somehow betrayed all the work they’d done to patch me up.

I’ve found none of that in South Africa. Nobody is judgmental, because my injuries happen to have occurred on two wheels. Everyone has been kind, patient and sympathetic.

But some people have gone further. Especially the wonderful physios. Seeing I had a rash on my nose (where I’d had an allergic reaction to a plaster) F650GS-riding Jason nipped to the drug store and bought me some cream for it.

As my only footwear is flip flops (unsuitable for wearing with my broken-foot boot) the wonderful Nancy persuaded her friend Tertius to bring a selection of trainers from his sports shop to the ward, to get me safely shod. And today - a gesture that almost had me welling up - she dropped by to give me a proper double espresso... just because she remembered me casually mentioning that (horrible bean-grinding snob that I am) I couldn’t drink the hospital instant coffee.

And then there’s the irrepressible, inspirational Derek (Tuffy to his friends). A South London boy who came to SA for one year in 1969 and is still here, “a dead man walking” with cancer - and with more energy and good humour at 82 than I can usually muster at 49. Within half an hour of being discharged today he was back on the ward, giving me a bottle of shower gel before dashing off to meet his daughter.

A week ago, I’d never met any of these people, yet they’ve treated me with such simple, unhesitating kindness that I’m humbled. I hope I get a chance to repay their kindness before I go home.

There aren’t many upsides to falling off a motorbike, but it’s wonderful to be reminded that there still good, kind generous people out there. It makes me certain the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime will provide loads of opportunities to meet more kind, wonderful, interesting strangers - who may become true friends. And it reminds me to be more relaxed and kind and generous, like them, whenever I can.

Spiritual enlightenment? That‘s not what I expected to take away from falling off a bike. But that’s the true beauty of the kindness of strangers: you unexpectedly receive what you need most, whether that’s coffee, shower gel or a life lesson.

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