White Elephants, a Boat and a Bike

We’ve all bought some things we end up never using or using only a couple of times and then putting it away somewhere never to be touched again like an Ab Cruncher or some too-good-to-be-true gadget that’s supposed to chop all your vegetables in no time that was advertised on TV and we got sucked into buying it but it just ends up taking up space in our houses, stuck somewhere in a forgotten cupboard, or bought something expensive without our spouse’s prior knowledge (probably most likely because they wouldn’t have agreed with it in the first place).

When my husband started taking triathlons seriously and started doing more than just the occasional event and then decided to do a full ironman event, it happened gradually because he still did as much running as before but just started adding some swimming and cycling to his regime. As a result – and because he already owned a good road bike – a single major capital outlay for new gear wasn’t required which was just as well since some of these items come with a hefty price tag. New bits and pieces were slowly introduced but after completing his first full ironman event, he started making some noises about needing a time-trial bike because apparently he was “the only one out there that didn’t have one”, but that was sadly out of the question (and the budget). So it came as much of a surprise to me one day when a friend of ours happened to look at my man’s bike and innocuously commented: “When did you get those new wheels”? My husband’s reaction was quite entertaining, from hoping I hadn’t heard to trying to change the subject very quickly but none of it worked. I wanted to know too! I really didn’t see much difference between the new wheels and the old ones (they all go round and round) but apparently the new ones can shave a few minutes off the 7-hour bike-leg in an ironman.

Anyway, at least it wasn’t a new bike that had surreptitiously appeared – I would have noticed that, just for the record – unlike many years ago while we were living in Stellenbosch (South Africa), and my man took up mountain biking with a friend of his. The bike suddenly appeared at home one day and was immediately justified as having been paid for by a refund we’d received from our private medical fund. Fair enough, the money was spent on something that will improve fitness and overall health while he’s having fun at the same time. No problem there. Bearing in mind that the mountains surrounding the town of Stellenbosch require some skill if you’re negotiating them on a mountain bike I was quite happy for him to go, trusting his friend’s judgement on safety. Until the day he decided to go for a ride with a different friend who is about 15 years his junior.

All was well (in my mind) until Ironman phoned me and said that he’d fallen off his bike and his friend was taking him to the doctor just as a precaution. He assured me that it was nothing serious and that he was just being cautious by having it checked out, so I wasn’t overly concerned. Next thing, a nurse at the Stellenbosch Medi-Clinic (hospital) phoned me and said: “Just letting you know that your husband is here but he’s not able to come to the phone right now”. That was it. Nothing else. I completely freaked out, not knowing what could possibly be wrong that he’s so badly injured that he’s not even able to come to the phone. All sorts of possible scenarios flashed in front of my eyes and I spent the next hour or so working myself up into a complete state. By the time he finally phoned me again I was quite beside myself and when he said that he was ok, he’d just broken his collar bone, I lost it and cried out: “Why do you have to get hurt to enjoy yourself?!!” Suffice to say it wasn’t the sympathetic reaction he was hoping for. For the next few weeks it was like having another baby in the house because he wasn’t able to do much for himself and we never got another refund from our private medical fund after that.

All was quiet on the surreptitious purchase-front for a few years until we moved to Dubai and Ironman moved there three months before the kids and I did because of my work commitments and also simply the logistics of doing a move like that in a hurry, and when we finally arrived in Dubai he’d already found and rented a brand-new very spacious, beautiful villa and acquired some necessary living essentials (cutlery and crockery), and furniture such as a bed, an oversized TV and a massage chair since our furniture would only arrive per sea-container later. The massage chair was presented to me first since it was for me – such a thoughtful gesture – and the TV as an afterthought. (He probably realised I’d need something to relax me such as the massage chair after seeing the huge TV.) Who would need any other furniture if you have a bed, massive TV and a massage chair anyway?

And so, some years later and living in Perth by that time, my husband had organised a weekend in Sydney for myself and a girlfriend since neither of us had been there before and we had a lovely weekend away being tourists and enjoying the sights and sounds of Sydney. There was a surprise waiting for me when I got back home though – Ironman had gone out and bought a family sized kayak while I was away. (We owned no other kayaks at that point and had never done it as a family either, so seeing the Titanic-sized canoe in our garage came as quite a surprise, not to mention the price). It was bought with the best of intentions though, and with big plans of family outings together enjoying the great outdoors, which we did a few times. The only problem was that life became filled with other commitments and we ended up using it about once a year and at the time our kids were quite young so it was easy to fit a family of five plus picnic food in the kayak, but eight years on we don’t all fit in it together anymore!

The kids enjoying the kayak in Walpole in 2010

The kids enjoying the kayak in Walpole in 2010

Then somewhere along the line I’d got a bee in my bonnet about getting a table tennis table for the kids. Something to get them outside doing a fun activity. Ironman eventually relented – he kept saying that it will end up being a white elephant – and we used a voucher we’d received to buy it. It’s been used a fair bit since then and still gets used, but it has also gone through periods of standing quite untouched and then I would again be reminded of the “white elephant” I’d insisted we get. At least it’s not as big a white elephant as what our outdoor setting would have become had we kept my man’s latest addition to it that he made without consulting me first – a table top patio heater. We’d had a great stand-alone (gas) patio heater before which sadly had done it’s time and couldn’t be revived and my husband decided to go out and buy a new one, but he came home with a different type. The new one had to stand on top of the table, right slap bang in the middle of it so when you sit at the table you can’t make eye contact with the person sitting opposite you without getting a crick in your neck, you’d lose a lot of space on the table and you’d never be able to use a table cloth either. It was just not going to work for our set-up but he insisted that it would; a bit of a stand-off ensued which caused me to have a little episode. We eventually reached a compromise – I sold the new table top elephant and we bought a new stand-alone heater in the same style as the old one.

Life is always full of surprises though, it’s just a question of when the next one will appear…

2 thoughts on “White Elephants, a Boat and a Bike

  1. And how I laughed.

    My husband buys me electrical tools for my birthday. The kind he likes. Last year “I” received a petrol-hungry chain saw. We do own a farm when we are not expats, and the chain saw does come handy when collecting firewood, but I never operate it as it is HUGE.

    It’s my birthday in a few days…I wonder what he needs…

    Liked by 1 person

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