If you have read my ‘about’ page, you will have seen that I have created a presentation called ‘Inspiration’, specifically for the Embroiderers’ Guild, the purpose being to highlight some of my more interesting and colourful subjects and, thereby, to encourage members to make a place for nature and wildlife in their work.
Before we set off on holiday, there were a few things at home that were downright annoying, to the point where I got a bit cheesed off. It was one of those times when things never seemed to run smoothly. Our drive has needed pointing for weeks now and with the approach of winter, it’s either too wet or too cold for the lime mortar. The dishwasher packed up just as we had a stream of house guests and a rat ate its way into our old house wall through an air grate, depositing a pile of soil on the patio in the process.
Sometimes, little problems take on greater significance than they should and we need something or someone to bring along a little perspective. Well, that someone came to me in the shape of Doug from Northern Vancouver. Yesterday, we were on a small island called Koh Phak Bia, about an hour by speedboat from Phuket, Thailand and a short hop by long-tailed boat from Kohyaonoi, where we were staying. We went there because it is a national park and we were told there was good snorkelling. Being a national park, I thought, not unreasonably, there might be some wildlife photo opportunities. It was quite a disappointment because the accessible area was tiny and the wildlife consisted of one monitor lizard on land and about six small fish in the severely restricted snorkelling area.
I saw Doug on the beach, carrying his little bag and, from a distance, it looked like he was taking a photograph. As he walked past, he stopped to chat. He was delighted that he’d met someone from England. We mentioned politics very briefly, both sides of the pond, and exchanged travel plans. It was hot sitting there in the mid-day sun. He took a cloth from his bag, wiped his brow and then unscrewed the top from his water bottle and took a drink.
Now you might be asking yourself why I’m telling you this detail. The answer is that Doug has no arms. Instead he has prosthetics which seemed perfectly adequate for most jobs except removing the cap from the water bottle which he did with his teeth, dropping the top neatly into his shirt pocket. Doug lost his arms in an industrial accident when he was working as a student, 50 years ago. Working in a brewery, he was removing something from a machine when the engineer started Doug’s motor by mistake. The mechanism took hold of Doug’s arms, taking them clean off. He is still here on this earth because of two special men and extraordinary coincidences or divine intervention. First, there was a guy nearby who was reading a first aid manual and he was at the page which told about treating blood loss. He stuffed cloths into Doug’s armpits and held them there until they got to hospital. Secondly, the doctor on call had just returned from Vietnam where he was quite used to dealing with such severe trauma. Against the odds, Doug survived.
Doug went on to get married and had two daughters. He and his wife had a log cabin on the slopes of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. On 18th May, 1980, Mount St Helens erupted after an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale. The resulting debris avalanche killed 57 people, destroyed 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway. Doug’s cabin was buried under 350′ of ash. Seven years ago, his wife died from cancer.
Our meeting was cut short when Doug’s mate, Ken, turned up to announce it was time for them to leave. I would have liked to have chatted longer. We didn’t shake hands, partly because I wasn’t sure about the protocol of shaking hands with a prosthetic claw, but we said our farewells and how much we had enjoyed meeting. Doug poked around in his bag to make sure he had everything, picked it up and left.
We left Koh Phak Bia earlier than planned. Our group of six had had enough of exploring the 200 metre beach and looking at the one monitor lizard. It would have been a tad disappointing trip had it not been for a chance meeting with a man with no arms. In the event, I wouldn’t have missed Koh Phak Bia for the world. I was inspired, not by the island, but by the man. Doug lost his arms, his cabin and his wife but he was still smiling, making the most of his circumstances and, through his positive approach to life in general, inspiring others.
Maybe I should slip this story in when I talk to the Embroiderers’s Guild.