Who Cares Anyway?

Who Cares Anyway?
By Frans Nel

Caring is something that doesn’t cost a cent yet can make all the difference to the way we interact with people and customers and the impression we leave them with.

Last year I had a slight lapse in sanity (again!) and decided to tackle some home improvements on my little place – little as in you can watch while your eggs boil on the stove and have a shower at the same time! Now anyone who has taken on a similar DIY task, no matter how small and insignificant the task may seem, will know that such a decision should not be made lightly. I looked at it as a weekend job (yeah right!) that would increase the value of my investment enormously (yeah right!) and would make living there a whole lot more comfortable (again, yeah right!).

To not take you through the whole experience and leave you saying things like, “So sorry to hear of your misfortune, you should have just got professionals to do it,” I will rather tell you about one incident that has stuck with me, one of the few I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing that reinforces the rare quality of caring.

On the 31st of December (I know, you may be asking what I was thinking working on Old Year’s day/New Year’s Eve, but as I said, it was a lapse in sanity), I decided that the newly tiled bathroom could now get its finishing touches back – put up the towel racks, hooks, cupboards and those baskets that hold everything in the shower one may ever need in the event of nuclear fallout (you can never be too prepared!)

I got hold of my newly acquired power drill, my spirit level and tape measure, and a pencil I retrieved from my daughter’s school bag that had been in the back of her cupboard since the start of the school break, more than a month before. I thought I would start by putting up the mirror cupboard above the basin so that I could see myself nicking my face in triplicate with my triple blade razor.

Now just for the record, this was the very same cupboard going up in the very same place it had been before, so the task was by no means a challenging one. Once I had carefully marked the holes with my daughters HB pencil and made sure the little bubble in the level was nicely between those little lines, I picked up that pinnacle of masculinity, the power drill. Yeah baby, bring on the power tools! I carefully selected the non-hammer function of the drill (I had tried the hammer setting once on tiles, only once) and made a little indentation on the tile where the first mark was. I then proceeded to the other mark and made another little indentation. Beautiful! I again checked the level with my spirit level and sure enough, it was perfectly level.

Now I proceeded to make the hole through the tiles so that I could put up my mirror cupboard and save some of my blood for the Blood Donor days. As I revved up the power drill, and started through the tile, it sailed through like a knife through butter, and as soon as it entered the brick and mortar, a gush of water spewed out like those statues in Italy with the little boy having a pee in the pond. I instinctively pulled out the drill – power tools and water should never be used together (I tried that once, only once,) and stuck my thumb over the gushing hole, not before getting soaked by the powerful stream of hot water. Yes, I had struck the hot water pipe in the wall that was bringing hot water from the water heater upstairs, down to the taps for the basin.

As I said before, this cupboard was going back in the exact same place as it had been before the TDIYI had been started. (Try Doing It Yourself Idiot). Why I hit the water pipe this time round is still a mystery to me. I now had the drill in one hand and my thumb over the hole. The water was hot, as I mentioned, and this now started cooking my thumb. Instinct and pain made me release my finger, another blast of near boiling water squirted in my face. Thumb back on the hole in desperation, as visions of my place floating down from number 74 to number 79 went through my head.

Eventually, without another human sole in sight, or earshot, I let go and ran for the water mains, to save my little place from becoming the second swimming pool in our complex. On further inspection of my handiwork, I saw the devastation I had caused. A neat drill hole right through the middle of the copper pipe.

Putting by badly bruised ego in my pocket, I called Mandela (the plumber, not the more famous one that Walked to Freedom here in South Africa,) that had done some of the plumbing work, and informed him of my dilemma. He said not to worry; he will be there in the next hour, tool bag in tow, to come sort out the problem. Sure enough, Mandela came as promised, took one look and set about fixing what I had so masterfully done. Chipping the tile out and the brick and mortar till he found the leak, and quickly brazed a new sleeve over the hole in the pipe. He turned the main water supply back on and voila! We were back in business!

He asked if I could give him a ride back to where the taxis were, as they had stopped making detours into the neighborhoods, due to it being close to party time to see in the New Year. I took him almost all the way to his house as a sign of my eternal gratitude and we said our goodbyes and wishes for a happier new year. I got back to my place and decided to pack away the tools and call it a day – who needs the stress on New Year’s Eve anyway? It took every towel in my linen cupboard to soak up the paddling pool. While I was doing this I noticed a trickle of water running down the tiles. Hoping I was dreaming, I wiped the wall dry and waited. Sure enough, there it was again. I picked up the phone reluctant to take Mandela away from his festivities. He answered promptly and after explaining the situation, he said he would be there as soon as he could find a taxi but that it would be quicker, if I came and fetched him.

Back in my car and off to his home. I found Mandela standing by the traffic lights, bag over his shoulder, waving to me to stop. Back at my home, he checked it and set about fixing the small problem that had crept in. Back in the car and back at his party, we said our goodbyes again and I wished him well and thanked him profusely, this time parting with some cash to aid in his festivities.

Ok, you would think (or hope) that the story ends there but lo and behold, I got back and there was that trickle again! By now it was dark and the fireworks could be heard signaling the near start of 2012. I wondered if I could push my luck a third time. I called and Mandela answered from what I could hear in the background was a swinging party. Again, without a thought, he said I should fetch him and he was now going to make sure this little copper pipe never leaks again.

At my house he asked if I had any alcohol just so that he doesn’t lose his party buzz completely, but sadly as a teetotaler I didn’t have anything stronger than half a bottle of red wine I use for cooking. He said that he would rather not drink wine; he’s not that kind of guy. I remembered my son had one of those tiny bottles of Jack Daniels that he had used for when he had toothache a few weeks before (that was his story, who was I to question this 20 year old?)

His face lit up and he set about pouring little capfuls and knocking them back with great satisfaction. He then proceeded to cut out the whole offending piece of copper pipe this time, and replaced it. But before quickly jumping back in the car for his ride back to his party, he suggested waiting to see if the work had been successful. We sat in the dining room and chatted while he sipped on his tot of Jack Daniels, waiting to see if the third time would indeed be the lucky one. After a while he went and did an inspection, and sure enough we were back in business, no leak!

I dropped Mandela right outside his party place and returned home, thinking about what a wonderful example Mandela was of someone who cares. He cared not only for me but probably more importantly he cared about his work. He never for one moment wanted to leave the impression that his level of work was in question. To come out on New Year’s eve, not once but three times to keep his reputation intact was more important to him than a few drinks with a bunch of mates. He could just as easily have asked me to wait a day or two until his hangover had subsided, to come and fix the problem. I wouldn’t have blamed him for a minute. But instead, he cared enough about me, my impression of him and his work more than he did about the time of year.

It turns out that caring doesn’t cost anything, all it takes is effort. And as Seth Godin often says, like most things worth doing, it’s not easy. It’s rare. Which is precisely what makes it so valuable. Mandela, by my reckoning, is as nice a guy and as memorable as the more famous one that made the Long Walk to Freedom.

Frans Nel is a Christian living in sunny South Africa and loves any opportunity to be able to smile and make people smile each day. Frans says in whatever you do, you have the choice to be positive or see things through a lens that is tainted. He chooses to be positive. He is a divorced father & has two kids and tries to live a life filled with love and laughter. He loves writing, painting, cooking and music. His true wish is for more people to look for the good in each other as a starting point, rather than looking for reasons to distrust and judge. He feels deep down we all really just want to be loved and understood.

You can contact Frans on fransn@cib.co.za


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