WHAT YOU DO WHEN THE ODDS ARE STACKED AGAINST YOU | when the odds are stacked against you


This morning instead of turning on the radio and listening to all the doom and gloom, I made a decision to lie in bed and think about the people who have had difficult issues to deal with in their lives and managed against all odds to come up trumps.

When you have your back against the wall you feel you have nowhere to turn. What you decide now can turn your life around #whatyoudowhentheoddsarestackagainstyou is entirely in your hands.


How many of you remember the song “Give Me the Good News” sung by Crocodile Harris? How I wish they would play it more often as what we hear when we turn on the radio is so depressing.


How often don’t we hear about job shortages or people being laid off from work?

We hear of our young people leaving school and not being able to find employment.

They often don’t have the money for College or University and need to work to help support their families. Not all young people are able to take a year off to find themselves. Or as they now call it, taking a gap year.

Listening to the news can be so very depressing and I have decided that I have the choice to be depressed every morning or come up with solutions. So today I am going to tell you about someone very close to me who overcame all odds.


You may have read in posts I have written before, that we moved around very often during our childhood, so much in fact that when I listen to the song about having been to all the places in America sung by one of my favorite people to listen to, Johnny Cash, it immediately brings back memories of my childhood. We went to 8 different schools in South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

It wasn’t surprising then that some problems we had, either with learning or health, weren’t picked up. I was dyslexic to a certain degree but far worse, Gaye was profoundly deaf, she lipread and this was not picked up until she was an adult living in England.

Gaye was what I would term, a free spirit.

We have always been very close and often she and I would go across from our house where there grew enormous beautiful gum trees and we would sit up against one of these and discuss what we were going to do when we grew up.

It always included travel and we had great ideas of being fire wardens in the forests in Canada. Such big dreamers, we were back then.

Gaye left school the year before me and went to Pietermaritzburg to study to be a nursing sister.

MOTHER’S NIGHTMARE#off,on,her,travels

Then off she went on her travels, much to my Mother’s horror as all Gaye took was a rucksack, sleeping bag, and a few clothes and she hitchhiked all the way up to Zambia. On her own.

This was in the early 1960s, long before mobile phones had been dreamed of and phones were few and far between. It could be weeks or months before we had any contact with Gaye during this time.

She slept wherever she could find a safe place to lay her head. Would hop onto a passing bus whenever she could but they were few and far between. The buses she went on are nothing like the buses in the U.K.

Mostly she just walked. Through the bush. Along the dusty strip roads. This is a journey of 1 728,2 km. (that is the distance by road).#qualified,nursing,sister

Eventually, Gaye found her way to Blantyre in Zambia where she found work nursing an elderly gentleman. She also met the man she would marry, Peter. He was the local Health Inspector there at the time but had come over from England as he also liked to travel.

Gaye left Blantyre as the elderly gentleman she worked for wanted to return to England so she took him back to his home country. She worked over in England for a while, where she worked in a pub, they called her the white girl from Africa. returning to South Africa to attend my wedding in July 1965.

She and Peter were married a year or so later and settled down in Durban where they had their four children.

Their children were born very close together, 4 in 5 years. Gaye had them at home with a midwife.

She decided to teach yoga in the mornings so that she would be home for the children in the afternoons.

When the eldest child was about 11, Gaye and Peter decided it was time for them to live in England. It was very sad for the family in South Africa to see them go but Peter is an only child and he felt that his Mother needed him to be closer to her.

They sailed along the East Coast on a Cargo boat. Gaye homeschooled (or should I say boat schooled) them. Being the only passengers on the boat, the crew were wonderful to them. This was an amazing adventure for them all.


At each stop along the coast, they would all pile off and go on a dig while the unloading and loading of goods were taking place. Gaye and Peter were very interested in archaeology. (Two of their children did an archaeology degree before choosing what they wanted to study as a career choice.)


Gaye was a qualified nursing sister and midwife, having trained at Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg.Kwa-Zulu Natal.

When living in England however and having four children to care for she decided to do a degree in English Literature which she obtained with honors, and ended up lecturing.

She was also very involved in lecturing about Jane Austen and ran the Jane Austen Society in Litchfield. It was from there that she organized “Jane Austen” tours and visited the houses in which Jane Austen had lived.


On a number of occasions also lectured in America.

She was also an author.


It was only when they were in England that it was discerned that Gaye was profoundly deaf. It was amazing to the audiologist that she had coped so well all those years. She has to wear hearing aids in both ears and when they are out, she cannot hear a thing.

This has never stopped her from doing anything she put her mind to.

Whilst on holiday over here with us in South Africa, Gaye collapsed. It was only a day before they were leaving to go back to England. I took her to my General Practitioner and he advised her to see a doctor as soon as she returned to England.

This she did and it was found that she had cancer in the side of her face and into her jaw. This was a dreadful shock to us all and she had to undergo radiotherapy for quite some time.

She was also found to have Paget’s Disease, which is a cancer-related disease, where bony growths form on your bones. This is extremely painful and in extreme cases, these growths need to be surgically removed.


While she was going through all this she had a business to run as had started a business in Rare and Antique Books and also did a course in bookbinding.

She would go all over the country buying and selling.

Around this time she also sorted out the library at Sissinghurst.

Sadly, my darling clever sister developed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease which she has had now for at least 15 or 16 years and is now in a home.

It wasn’t long before she moved into the home that she and Peter were still involved in helping feed needy people every Sunday in their local Methodist Church Hall.

Peter is now a volunteer at the Home where Gaye is being cared for.

When I think back on her life and all she achieved with her hearing disability, being a cancer survivor, Coping with the changes having Alzheimer’s Disease presents. it does make me wonder how she did it all. Against all these odds.


This all got me thinking of solutions for those people without work and how they can turn their lives around, by changing their thinking.

In South Africa, and perhaps in many other countries, people have come up with all kinds of ways to raise money when it is needed.

One of the ways here is to start a Stokvel.

This is where a group of people, close friends, and relatives usually, decide to each put an amount into a kitty, and then they each have a turn to receive the entire amount. This happens every month thus enabling them to have a certain worthwhile amount.

For all the school leavers without jobs, it would be a great idea to put this into improving your education and earning on the side. These young people are usually tech-savvy so learning on Wealthy Affiliate would be perfect for them.

There are also Community-run courses which people can attend and which are free or cost very little.

When a solution presents itself – take it. Learn as much as you can to improve your abilities.


I began writing this post many months ago but decided at that time not to publish it.

It is with great sadness that I must tell you that my beloved sister Gaye died and was buried on 8th May, in Lichfield, Somerset, England.

Jill Alexa

Jill of all Trades. Master of Many. Too busy to die.


  1. Jill,

    Your sister sounds absolutely amazing! I am sure you were so proud of her. Thank you for sharing such as interesting adventure with us. She certainly was persistent, hard working and strong. I can’t imagine walking and hitch hiking that far alone and then going on to do so much.

    • Hi Jessica, Thanks so much for your lovely comments. So sorry it has taken me a while to reply. I have been in bed with flu and then had a visitor for a week from out of town.

  2. Hello Jill, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I must thank you for sharing such a great story as today is really hard to fight when odds are against you. We really should learn to be persistent and never give up because that is the only way we can succeed.

    • Hi Daniel, Thank you for reading my post and for commenting on it. As you say, persistence is the key to success. It is not always easy to remain motivated but the rewards of hanging in there and getting done, what is required, are great.

      Wishing you all the best,


  3. We all think we have it tough at times. I know that I personally am having a hard time in my job now with relentless pressures and targets to hit as well as battling with back pain. Sometimes I need to just take a step back and remind myself that others have it much worse and are coping much better than me.

    Your sister sounds like just such a person. She had so many challenges and faced up to them with immense bravery. I am sorry to hear the sad news of her passing but thank you for sharing her story

    • Hi David, I am so sorry to hear you are having a tough time right now and hope that you will be able to sort get through it and gain strength from the experience. Back pain can really bring one down. 

      Thank you for reading my post about my beloved sister, Gaye and great comments.

      I wish you healing for your back and also that you find fulfillment in your job. Meeting targets can be so stressful.

      Kind regards,


  4. Your sister was an amazing woman.  I wonder where folks find the strength to go on, sometimes, when they have to cope with a serious disability.  Often we become exceptional in the process. What we see, by following stories of people such as you sister, is that we often don’t even realize the inner strength we have that can help us overcome obstacles.  These people who are so incredible just soldier on, no matter what life hands them.

    You know, you pointed out something that often bothers me.  Why is it that the only thing often considered newsworthy is tragedy or bad news.  No wonder it is so hard to keep a positive attitude when everything you read is negative.  I have quit reading newspapers.  Unfortunately, it’s on my computer, too, but I can limit how much of that I get.

    • Hi Fran, How true it is that we are bombarded with bad news and forget how many wonderful and courageous people there are getting on with their lives. 

      My sister was such a pleasure to be with as she had ways of challenging my thoughts about so many things. She was so bright, witty and kind. It was truly a blessing to have her in my life and she will always be in my heart.

      All the best,


  5. A very moving tribute to your brilliant and courageous sister, though I see you didn’t mean for it to be a eulogy when you began writing it. I’m so glad you did, because she is a beautiful example to us all that nobody has to be a victim – no matter how high the odds are stacked against you. Victimhood is a choice.

    And now, it’s our turn to pick up the torch your sister, Gaye, hands down to the rest of us. Will we stop dreaming our big dreams because we’ve heard the words “no” or “you can’t” one too many times? Or will we, like she did, receive each circumstance as an opportunity, an adventure to explore and develop in, and to rise to our best selves?

    I am so grateful that you, in the midst of your loss and grief, were willing to share her story with the rest of us. She truly lived an inspired life. May you continue to lead others with your wonderful writing to consider a higher standard – one she so beautifully exemplified. 

    Keep passing it on.

    • Hi Joyce, Thank you for the really beautiful comments on this post. You brought me to tears. 

      My sister was indeed one of the most inspiring people and a joy to be around. It was a privilege to share her wonderful journey with you.

      Kind regards,


  6. This is an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing.  You are totally right, these are the kinds of things that should be on the news, encouraging people to never give up on their dreams.  Your sisters story is truly inspiring and I feel should be made into a book.  

    • Hi Jenny, Many thanks for this lovely comment.  Gaye was such a wonderful, kind, loving and eccentric person. Her life was filled with an amazing variety of successes and yes, I agree, should be written as a book.

      Kind regards,


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