Monday, March 19, 2007

A lesson in dignity……

dignity noun 1 stateliness, seriousness and formality of manner and appearance. 2 goodness and nobility of character. 3 calmness and self-control. – From chambers on line.

I met Alan on a Thursday night in March. He had lost the key to his motorcycle. He had lost it after competing in a local swim-run competition. We couldn’t find it in the dark. SWMBO and I offered him a lift home to get the spare he thought he kept in a box.

During the course of the search it seemed that Alan wasn’t the sharpest knife in the draw. Suspicions were confirmed during the ride home, the guy really wasn’t too bright. Never the less the conversation reminded me of a thing or two. Alan was in his thirties and he worked for a contractor the serviced Auckland city. He was part of the cleansing crew, he cleaned toilets, emptied bins, swept streets. He is part of an invisible army that keeps the posh bits of Auckland clean and halfway decent. He was a little sad because that race was probably his last one and he wasn’t going to go to the awards dinner at NZ$75 a ticket. On further questioning it became clear why.

Alan works 55hours a week he works split shifts six until midday and then four until late. He works Saturdays and gets Thursdays off. In order to race he has to get cover from his mates from time to time. Not surprisingly he struggles to train. He gets paid the minimum wage, and as far as we can work out he takes home a bit more than a PhD scholarship student (NZ$25k). He has a new wife to support. She is an invalid who got her benefit cut when she married. She gets to work a few hours a week cleaning in a workshop and at a local nursery. They are both looking forward to going away for their first anniversary.

Alan seems a happy enough bloke and quite reasonable with it, he didn’t complain once about his life. His circumstances became clear in a conversation about training and racing.

I am told it is a point of pride in New Zealand that "the Prime Minister gets to stand with the rest of us in the queue at the fish and chip shop". Sounds a bit hollow if some folks in the queue can only afford some to buy chips.

I really truly hope he and his wife have a good time. I also hope his bike is okay.

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