thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

B is for Busy… also for ‘I’m Back!’

I’ve been away.

I’ve Been a Bad Blogger (Because I’ve Been very Busy)

A long time ago (or so it seems), I started this blog initially to record family events, so there would be a record of some of life’s significant moments, especially considering how fast children grow up. These next few photos show in a quick snapshot how quickly they’ve grown, from a few randomly selected Januaries.

 

Liam (grade 3) and Matthew (grade 1), first day of school, January 2014

 

Liam (grade 5) and Matthew (grade 3), first day of school, January 2016

 

January 2017

 

School begins, January 2018 – Liam now wearing the coveted grade 7 blazer, Matthew in grade 5

 

After starting out as a mommy blogger, my recording of life’s significant moments morphed a bit and extended itself into the inclusion of other things. Inspiration and energy struck quite randomly sometimes, including an early entry when I flexed my blogging muscles on my enduring fascination with sharks (still so much to say on that note! but I’ll contain my enthusiasm, at least for now).

The point was, though, that I enjoyed writing my blog and putting down my thoughts – which sometimes struck me quite out of the blue. It was so lovely to have a platform on which I wasn’t asked to present ‘the precis version’ – and for those of my friends who need to be hanging their heads in shame here, you know who you are… (she said, sternly)

And so the anguished cry goes up: “Where have you been?”

One, two, three… cue anguished cries.

Pause.

OH COME ON!

Thank you, that’s better.

I realised that I just got busy. But this is a shameful excuse for someone with a blog.

And I have new things to say now, which shouldn’t be surprising to those who know me…

But being the neat freak that I am (which again shouldn’t be surprising to those who know me), I can’t post new thoughts until I’ve taken care of some two years or so of silence – dead air, in radio terms.

So here is the longest blog entry I’ve ever written, broken into three or maybe four parts (I don’t know yet quite how long it will be!) and dedicated to my family, especially my beloved children, Liam and Matthew, who grow taller and smarter and nicer and cuter every time I turn around.

With love and hugs from your mom

…who loves you more than the sun, moon and stars…

 

…even when life is Busier than she would like it to be.

Xx

So let’s update the record a bit.

 

All about Being Busy

Here we go: back to mid-2015

I last wrote a blog entry in February 2017, but even before that I hadn’t been posting as much as I wanted to anyway. I’m now going to post lots of photos to remind me and mine of some interesting, significant and even just slightly obscure moments that took place in the past. Just because I can. It’s my blog, after all.

Speaking of obscure: that first time your child sneaks your mobile phone to quietly take a selfie can be really funny. Here are Liam and Matthew, then in grade 4 and 2 respectively, in some totally odd selfie moments in my car in July and August 2017. I wasn’t there at the time – possibly chatting to my mom after the early-evening pick-up from her house – and so was most surprised to find these later. (There were many more, but here are three of the good ones) As you can see, Liam is the ringleader and Matthew pops up from a safe position in the background. This is quite a good visual metaphor for how they operate in general, actually…

 

Stealing mom’s camera – Liam is trying to work out how to do this, and Matthew’s little face pops up in the background

 

Now Liam is trying to get clever, and Matthew is amused

 

I’ve chosen to post this one specifically to embarrass them when they each turn 21…

 

This next photo shows the time I won the till-slip competition at our local Pick n Pay. A R1,000 grocery voucher is never to be sneezed at! Here are the children and I up on the wall of the Northcliff corner PnP in August 2015. Wow, that seems a long time ago… Liam and Matthew were then aged ten and just turned eight. We’d been going through some tough times, so the unexpected financial gift was really welcome.

Fame at last

 

August 2015 was a projects month. Liam was involved in creating a grade 4 project on electricity, which his dad helped him with, while I helped with the artwork. In a separate grade 2 project, Matthew sold soda floats, and here again we had fun with the poster. I’d only recently discovered the joys of metallic acrylic paint, so we used it as much as we possibly could, as you might notice.

August projects – Matthew is still so small that he forgets sometimes about the need to show his face in a photo while showcasing his artwork

 

August projects – ah, there you are, Mattie!

 

This blog story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention our visits to our local Ocean Basket, where we love to enjoy sushi and chats. Liam and Matthew – my little sophisticates – have enjoyed sushi and been able to use chopsticks pretty well since they were quite small. The waitresses at our local Ocean Basket adore them.

It’s been one of my children’s favourite restaurants for a while now – sometimes it has even beaten the local Spur into second place! When we go there, we catch up with each other in a way that is easier sometimes than at home, and laugh a lot, especially if Liam is doing one of his famous Doc Martin impersonations. (As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, in our house we are big fans of the British TV series starring the good but very grumpy doctor.)

 

Here is Matthew waiting for his sushi…

 

And Liam also. So happy! Yay! Sushi!

 

I’m just posting this second pic of Matthew waiting for sushi because I think he looks adorable in it. I am a mommy blogger after all!

 

Hmmmm. Is it Liam or is it Doc Martin?

 

Can you spot the real Doc Martin?

 

Here’s an amusing photo (well, I think so): It’s December 2015 and if you look very closely you can spot my car in the work car park, back when I was based in Sandton. This was my favourite parking spot – even though there was a vicious wind that blew through the area in winter – because it was a bit away from everyone else and close to the stairwell. Here you can see the famous Panda – after which my blog is named – flanked by slightly bigger cars.

She really is very small and dainty, my Panda. I do love her. The only thing that would easily replace her in my affections is a vintage convertible MG, in British racing green.

The famous Panda, just a tiny bit smaller than the other cars

This same December (2015) was the year the children’s TV arrived for Christmas, and Santa Claus, aided by his elves Jean and Anthony who were visiting from Australia, brought a ‘voucher’ so we could go away for a couple of days. The boys also received a blow-up shark and dolphin for pool time, and new masks and snorkels (clever Santa). The voucher was just for the three of us, as Frank unfortunately was needed elsewhere. I wanted to take the boys away for a short break, because it was also the first Christmas after my dad’s death on 28 October 2015, and we were all still a bit raw.

Liam, then aged 10, was aware of the real identity of Santa Claus this year – he came and asked me a direct question that needed a direct answer – but Matthew (8) remained deep in the Santa Zone. And so that December, Liam enjoyed being a Big Kid and sent me knowing looks every time Santa’s name came up in conversation…

 

Christmas Eve December 2015 with Vincent the cat, and a Christmas Bear (Matthew is wondering when Santa will arrive)

The next day, the new TV for their bedroom had arrived – they’re still a little overwhelmed here

Happy children getting used to their new stuff – no longer quite so overwhelmed

Spot the Vincent cat… always where the action is!

And then soon after Christmas it was time to go away for a couple of days, and play and relax.

 

It was a nice pool, and just behind them is a jacuzzi, which was a real hit

 

Mom is just parking off and taking the required selfie to prove that she was there

Watching the children play pool was amusing. Liam takes it very seriously and Matthew slightly less so, which I suppose is also a reflection of their attitudes towards life in general. To be honest, they make up their own pool rules quite a lot (which also involves a bit of discussion at ad hoc moments).

Good shot! Or was it? It depends on the rules…

Discussing the new rules…

Matthew likes to dance while he plays pool

 

Liam does not dance during such times; not Good Form

This will be good for geometry studies later on

It was a lovely break and I was a little sad to go home. But 2016 was beckoning, so we loaded up the Panda and headed home.

Matthew hidden under the blow-up dolphin

 

Liam hidden under the blow-up shark

This time around, the dolphin and the shark were out of the Christmas packaging that they’d arrived in at the hotel, so packing the car was interesting. My Panda really is very small…

But she takes us to different places on minimal petrol and turns on a dime. I can also park her in places that don’t look like a parking space to drivers of bigger vehicles – I really do love her!

And I also do some of my best thinking in her when I’m on my own, while my children and I have had some amazing chats in her while we’ve been en route around town.

I guess this blog – sporadic as it is sometimes – would likely not exist without my Panda. So hurray for her! She gave me a vehicle to write from. See what I did there?

 

To be continued into 2016…/more in my next blog entry

And on a lighter note… over to my mother

There was some big news going on in South Africa last week (6 to 10 February 2017). We are, as some people have said in the media, a ‘noisy democracy’.

In sport and popular culture circles, there was the death of Springbok rugby hero Joost van der Westhuizen on Monday after his six-year fight against Motor Neuron Disease, and then the build-up to his memorial service and provincial official funeral at Loftus Versveld Rugby Stadium on Friday.

South Africans around the world were invited to wear the green and gold Springbok colours in his memory, and depending on where you were, where you worked and even where your children went to school, I think the call was quite well heeded.

joost-memorial

In the political arena, there was the annual State of the Nation (SONA) address in Parliament in Cape Town by the country’s president on Thursday night. The State of the Nation tables a programme of action for the year and accounts for progress in the commitments made the previous February.

The fact that the Presidency announced the deployment of 441 soldiers in Cape Town during this time to ‘help police maintain law and order’ during the opening of parliament caused a great deal of anger. It brought everyone’s attention right back to the scenes in Parliament during the 2015 State of the Nation address that made the famously robust debates of the British Parliament (which I like watching from time to time) look like a kindergarten jelly-and-ice-cream party in comparison. So the general consensus was that our president was running a bit scared again this year as SONA approached.

And somewhere in the middle of all this, in the financial services sector, South Africa’s biggest – and previously only – stock exchange, the JSE, lost an appeal it had lodged with the Financial Services Board around issues it had raised against the granting of a licence to a new competitor.

Oh yes, and on the international news front, don’t get me started on the separate announcements by first Beyonce and JZ, and then Amal and George, about their pregnancies with twins, all right? I’ll just let the internet deal with that one.

celeb-twins-haha

And so when Friday finally arrived, I greeted it with an enormous sense of relief. I felt just a little tired.

We all went to work on Friday morning, of course, in the sad yet not surprised knowledge that the previous night’s SONA had again turned into an absolute farce, with scenes of violence erupting and communications being cut from time to time (real déju vu there). Let me hand over this part of the musings to Marianne Merten of the Daily Maverick, who writes, in admirably crisp prose:

“Parliament Violence Channel: EFF violently ejected from #SONA2017, DA walks out

It was a mess. Despite the ring of steel in and around Parliament for President Jacob Zuma’s 2017 State of the Nation, ugly brutal scenes inside building unfolded, again. EFF MPs were evicted by force by men and women dressed in white shirts, same as in 2015. The pursuit continued by police in body armour, riot shields and helmets in the precinct outside, but was short-lived. The DA walked out of the House. This was a re-run of the SONAs past and yet another ugly display of force in the people’s house.

…Inside the House, Zuma was told to start – “Finally” he said before his inimitable brief giggle.”

And so it was, once again, a farce of a Parliamentary affair in South Africa. I’m not sure, myself, what the official SONA speech actually said. I really haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet. I mean, in the context of the above, does it actually matter what our esteemed pres actually said? I mean, he began his speech with his ‘inimitable brief giggle’, after all.

So by the time it came Friday evening, I was mentally and emotionally tired. Where, I wondered, was the joy? It was all getting a bit heavy.

I left work a little earlier than usual and went to fetch my children from my mom. I hadn’t seen her for a few days, as the children’s dad had been doing the evening parenting run this week while I was on the morning school-run shift. So my mom and I sat down at the dining room table for a short while, and I prepared myself for a nice little catch up of her week.

“I found myself watching something quite good on television last night,” said my mother, with a little glint in her eye.

“Oh yes?” I said with interest. My mother has never lost touch with her Scottish roots, so I waited to hear about a new BBC or iTV offering, and hoped that I wasn’t going to hear about re-runs of Victoria or Doc Martin – both of which I really enjoyed, the first time around, but I’m looking for something new from the Brits now.

Unless, I thought hopefully, my mother was about to tell me that there was a new series of Doc Martin just arrived? I do love his grumpy outlook on life and his social ineptness. I have days when I aspire to master his breathtaking rudeness.

doc-martin-437138

“Yes,” said my mother with a little smirk, clearly enjoying herself. “It made a nice change from my book to watch a bit of TV in the evening again.”

“So what was the name of the programme?”

(Was it or was it not a new series of Doc Martin!)

My mother smirked some more.

The Julius Malema Show!” she replied, gleefully.

This was just a little off-centre and I found myself racking my brains for a nano-second while I thought how progressive the Brits were getting with their entertainment programming. Then my brain caught up a little bit and I found myself saying, rather eruditely under the circumstances, “Er… what?”

“Well,” said my mother, “I thought I would try watching SABC2 for a change and it turned out to be quite good!”

I really was lost way out in left field by now, and so could only reply, rather lost for words, “But you never watch SABC programming – you’re always on British stuff.”

(Yeah, yeah, I know. I was being a bit thick. It had been a long day and a longer week.)

My mother finally relented, this time with a downright cheeky laugh.

“I wanted to see what was going to happen with that State of the Nation Address,” she replied merrily, “and so I tuned into SABC2 to see if he would start his speech on time. And of course he didn’t!”

“Oh,” she continued brightly, in a way that reminded me suddenly of her irreverent Celtic heritage, “it was really rather good. They all started out arguing, and there was lots of usage of the F-word…”

Here she rather startlingly illustrated the point by suddenly raising her middle finger at me from across the dining room table. My mother NEVER waves her middle finger at anyone, and nor does she EVER say the F-word.

“… and lots of shouting, and the speaker trying to restore order by saying, ‘Honourable Malema! Honourable Malema!’ and then finally the police or the army were there disguised as waiters, and fists were flying and more name calling and eff-ing and blind-ing, and from time to time the communications were cut, and Julius Malema and his EFF, all in their red outfits, were roughed up and escorted out, and then the DA walked out too in protest…!”

849x493q70violence-eff-parliament

I was quite spellbound. My mother is normally a very good citizen who applauds law and order.

“…and so, all in all, you missed a right good punch-up!” she concluded brightly.

I think I lasted about ten seconds before I found myself weeping with laughter with my head down on the table. I had never quite heard the State of the Nation shenanigans described like this before.

“Of course,” she continued on a more sombre note, “what DOES the rest of the world think about us when they watch it on TV?”

I truly have no real answer for that one. I can only hope that the term ‘noisy democracy’ passes muster for a while longer. Otherwise we must just call it The Julius Malema Show next year, in advance.

 

PS

But thanks, mom. You made my day!

xxx

Memories of MND: Goodbye, Joost van der Westhuizen

I couldn’t let the final passing of South African rugby hero Joost van der Westhuizen, after his six-year battle with Motor Neuron Disease (MND), go by without putting down a few thoughts.

Joost was part of the Springbok rugby team that won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and – with the input and support of our late, great then-President Nelson Mandela – at least temporarily helped to unify a nation.

madiba

Joost died on Monday this week, 6 February 2017, and since then I’ve had troubling memories of my own late dad’s suffering, with the same disease, rise to the surface of my mind at unexpected times.

And make no mistake: Motor Neuron Disease is a disease of true suffering, especially at the end.

joost-mnd

I am glad that today I saw and heard the eulogy given at the memorial service by his wife, Amor. (Technically I suppose you could call her his ‘estranged’ wife, but what does it really matter at times like these?)

She spoke in front of dignitaries who included members of the 1995 SA Rugby World Cup winning squad, South Africa’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, and Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby‚ who flew out from Dublin to attend the memorial service.

amor-on-stage

I thought that Amor was brave and dignified. She managed to say her goodbye to Joost at Loftus Versveld Rugby Stadium without breaking down. And she was honest in her admission that once, she and her husband had been in a fairytale romance…

joost-wedding

…which had then hit some serious bumps along the way. The scandals and the trying times are out there for all to search for and read and point fingers, if they want to.

However, Amor rose above that and thanked her late husband for the priceless gift of their two children, and for his fighting spirit and the memories of the good times.

They never did get around to divorcing, Amor and Joost, and whatever their reasons were for not legally finalising the death of their marriage, does it really matter?

What matters for me is that there was deep love, once, and there were two children created who had all this enduring love then poured into them.

And so now I wish the children and Amor, and all Joost’s other close family members, strength through this time, and finally peace.

For me, my father has been gone after his own battle with Motor Neuron Disease for 15 months already and I continue to miss him, at times, with an ache that is sometimes like a physical stab in the heart.

If I ever become a millionaire I will make it my quest to support today’s research into Motor Neuron Disease, to try to rid the planet of this scourge in the way that, once, we as human beings managed to eradicate smallpox.

Rest in peace, Joost.

joost

http://www.iol.co.za/sport/rugby/joost-believed-he-would-beat-the-disease-

7696858http://www.iol.co.za/sport/rugby/zuma-declares-provincial-funeral-for-joost-

7696476http://www.heraldlive.co.za/news/2017/02/09/95-heroes-carry-joosts-casket/

 

 

I grieve – one year on

I have been out of sorts all day today, and in fact all week.

I’ve been anticipating the first anniversary of my beloved father’s death.

grief-2

My dad died on 28 October 2015. It was a Wednesday. It was  probably the most dreadful Wednesday of my life. I will never forget the call when I was still at work one year ago saying, “Come. Now.”

By the date, then, the anniversary is the 28th, but by the day of the week it is Wednesday – today, the 26th.

Maybe it’s just me but I often do an anniversary (good or bad) twice – by the actual date, and by the day of the week.

So here, on the day-of-the-week anniversary, is a song of grief.

I post it for my dad, for my mom, for my sister. I post it for his grandchildren, for his daughters’ life partners, for all those who loved him and were loved by him.

I have believed all year that my father’s benevolent spirit brushes over me from time to time – usually when I’m least expecting it, and sometimes when I most need it – in the form of herons flying overhead.

I see herons quite a lot, actually, and I live in Johannesburg.

(Not many people whom I interact with in my home town seem to notice herons flying majestically above us quite the way I do.)

I saw two of them earlier this week, and they made me smile.

Thanks for the herons, my dad. It was a good week to send them. We miss you, so much.

But I know that you are flying free now, and it comforts me.

heron-fly-past

 

I grieve – Peter Gabriel 

(Ed’s note: if you access the song via the link above, you will see I have deliberately chosen a version that pays homage to the victims of 9/11)

It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
Nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It’s just the way that you would tied in
Now there’s no-one home

I grieve for you
You leave me
So hard to move on
Still loving what’s gone
They say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks is the empty, empty page
While the final rattle rocks its empty, empty cage
And I can’t handle this 
I grieve for you
You leave me
Let it out and move on
Missing what’s gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on

Bunny-Beanzzz and Thuglet: Our beloved four-legged friends

Not quite 20 years ago, I became a homeowner for the first time. Quite suddenly and relatively unexpectedly, a conversation with two friends (here’s looking at you, Ziska and Suki!) took a wayward turn that led rapidly to my becoming the brand-new owner of my first property.

I could blame the lovely red wine we were drinking at the time, but in my heart I knew I was ready for a new phase of my life.

I was young, independent, single and quite energetic. It was a little nerve-wracking to realise that a significant portion of my monthly salary would now be tied up in a one-bedroomed flat, but I felt enormously empowered.

My new place offered me close proximity to my job, the gym, the local supermarket and a nearby park to cycle around. In my down time, I had plenty of space inside to comfortably read, paint and write, as well as try out new recipes to inflict on my mostly-amenable friends.

Life was good.

When I first moved in, my new home was still quite sparsely furnished – for example I possessed only two mugs at first, so more than one visitor and we had to take turns having coffee – and it required a little work and some furnishings to make it cosy and feel like home. I quickly decided that it urgently required a cat.

Painting-frame

And so two months in, I went to the SPCA looking for a kitten. Luckily for me, she was there waiting for me.

My beautiful little Bunny-Beanzzz.

Of course, that wasn’t her name at the time. Even I know that is a little eccentric.

I was introduced to a lively, plump ball of mostly-grey fluff with big yellow-brown eyes. She was like a Persian kitten but without the squished nose. I thought she was absolutely beautiful, and it was love at first sight.

1

From the moment I picked her up and took her away from the SPCA, she was my brand-new baby, hardly any trouble at all. She ate well, she slept well and she knew exactly what to do with her litter tray and a small saucer of milk. Like all good babies, she had a healthy pair of lungs with which to communicate her needs when she was hungry or looking for affection. When I came home from work she greeted me with loving purrs.

She turned my new flat into my new home.

After some thought, I named her ‘Nenya’, for no real reason except that I’m a Tolkien fan, and this was the beautiful and other-worldly name of the Elven Ring of Power. I thought my new kitten was beautiful and unique, and so, in The Lord of the Rings, is Nenya on the finger of the Elven Queen. I liked the sound of the name and the way it rolled off the tongue.

And so she became my Nenya, and she grew quickly into her name.

2

My Nenya grew from a little, endearingly plump kitten, who sometimes fell over when she groomed herself, into a beautiful medium-sized cat with long soft fur who did not walk but chose, instead, to perfect a graceful waggle. I swear, there are super-models out there today who could have learned a thing or two about a runway walk just from watching my Nenya leave the room.

My Nenya.

7

She brought me hours of joy. She would lie with me or on me when I was reading. She kept me company when I typed up my short stories in the middle of the night. She cuddled into the crook of my body when I was in bed feeling lonely and unloved.

She was my faithful little companion who made the lonely times bearable and the cosy times better. And as time went by, she acquired a few more names.

5

Fluffy-Buns (for that famous walk-away).

Princess Puff (all cats are regal when they want to be, but my little madam almost never took off her crown).

Bunny (for the way that when I held her on her back in my arms – sometimes protesting but mostly purring – her hind legs and feet were so fluffy that they looked like a rabbit’s feet).

Nenny-Buns (a combination of Nenya and her big bunny feet and her fluffy buns).

Bunny-Beanzzz (just because).

8

Make no mistake, my Nenya could be a diva sometimes. I think she was probably happiest when it was just her and me. If I left her for longer than she approved of, she gave me the cold shoulder. And she didn’t speak to me for an entire three weeks after I introduced her to a four-week-old, one-eared, black and white furry orphan who came to share our space and be named ‘Vincent’.

Vincent 1

That was when Nenya had been an Only Cat for about a year, and it all changed overnight because my sister Lorna did a marvellous PR job and sold me on the story of his unfortunate start in life. (But truth be told I was a goner from the moment she said over the phone, A friend of mine found a litter of abandoned kittens near a river…)

However, as time went by, Nenya learned to adapt – mostly – to the way that her space had been invaded. In the end, she and Vincent were actually to become great friends (preferably when no one was looking).

Well, she had to. Vincent quite simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was just that sort of personality: quite chatty, in his own squeaky way, and extremely persistent. He never learned to actually miaow – probably because he had no cat-mother from such a young age.

Hello! He said in his kitten-ish way to The Diva, when he first met her. I had a horrible experience with a rat chewing off most of my right ear, but I’ve been rescued now. I’m very glad to meet you! My new human seems very nice. She even fed me some milk through a little bottle. Are you happy here? How long have you been here? Do you like it here? What’s the deal with that big scary ginger cat I heard sniffing at the door? Shall we be friends?

Huh! sniffed The Diva, and waggled off with her famous walk-away. Not Yet. You Have Invaded My Space. Go Away I’m Bigger Than You. Huh.

None deterred, Vincent set out to make himself at home. Very persistent, our little man was. And he acquired a few nicknames of his own, also.

Vincent 2

For one, I called him The Thuglet. Because he wanted so badly to be a big bad thuggy-cat, but he was always too small (and too good natured, actually). As he grew bigger he started to tease Nenya unmercifully, like a naughty little brother (although on a cold winter’s night you could catch them curled up together, having made peace at the end of the day).

You. Are. A. Thuglet! I would shout at him in exasperation, after he’d been teasing her again. In answer he would give me a challenging stare and then stalk off, snickering, with a satisfied flick of his tail.

My Vincent.

Vincent 3

My friend Anne called him Felix, because she said he looked just like the Felix-kitty on the packets of the cat food brand of that name. (It’s true. He did. Just with a bit less ears.) He had Anne wound around his little claw. One Hello! How are you? squeak from Vincent to Anne and she was putty in his paws. Hello Felix! she would say when she came to visit. (I stopped reminding her that his name was actually Vincent. Nicknames mean you are loved.)

My Vincent.

Felix catfood

 

And finally I called him Lee-tle Man, which was to prove kind of embarrassing at times when teenage Vincent was exploring around my complex at night and I wanted him to come in and be safe from the big ginger thuggy-cat. I used to stand outside my back door with all the lights off (so no one could see me against a light source) and call, rather sheepishly into the night air, in the highest and most cajoling tones I could muster, Leeeeeeee-tle Man! Leeeeeeeeeeeeee-tle Maaaaaaaaaaan! Come inside now…. Leeeeeeeeeee-tle Man….

Eventually, when I was about to give up and close the front door, he would grace me with his presence and I promise you he was laughing at me. Some cats just know.

My Vincent.

Vincent 4

And so, in Nenya and Vincent, I acquired two remarkable cats who were to become my faithful little companions for a long, long time. By the time they met Frank, their fate was sealed: Only Cats no more. In total, during their lifetimes, they were to share their home variously with two adults, two parrots (Gadget and Miss Wings), three dogs (Frodo, Sasha and Nickelback), two children (Liam and Matthew) and a few more cats (Sisha, Feisty and Mischief), who all took up residence after them. They tolerated these changes with remarkable good humour. Well, truthfully speaking, Vincent did. Nenya was always a bit of a Diva, bless her little fluffy buns.

She did grow to like Liam and Matthew, however, basically because they refused to take no for an answer and chose early on to love her into submission. It’s hard to stay aloof when a child continues to ignore all your outraged protests and insists on picking you up and cuddling you, while telling you over and over again how beautiful you are.

So Nenya tolerated Matthew and Liam and even agreed to purr sometimes and sleep on their beds. Just, you know, to be gracious.

Vincent, on the other hand, always liked people, of all sizes and ages. The children were carrying him around like an animated Teddybear-Cat almost from the moment they could both stagger around on two legs in what just passed for walking. He really was the most good-natured little Thuglet. Very quirky. You could feed him cheese and biscuits and he would be your devoted slave for a long, long time. Or at least until the cheese and biscuits ran out. And heaven help you if there was chocolate around… Blood (yours) would be shed if you weren’t quick enough.

And so Nenya and Vincent lived in our home and our collective hearts and from the moment that they moved in with me during my single days, to the moment they both said goodbye to this earth as part of a much bigger extended family, they were loved. Enormously and justifiably loved.

Nenya and Vincent 1

I won’t go into great detail but I will just say, with Nenya gone since September 2015 and Vincent about ten days ago (June 2016), that they both succumbed to kidney failure at the very respectable cat ages of 19 (Nenya) and 18 (Vincent). About nine months apart.

When we got the terrible news of their illnesses, we medicated them for as long as was kind, and we planned their exits carefully so they could leave us as painlessly as possible when all the signs showed that the time had come.

As a family, we wept. Thankfully, and in contrast, our little kit-cats purred all the way to the end, both of them. I know they were both peaceful when their courageous little bodies finally gave up the ghosts. I know because I was there, holding them safely, and I felt their spirits depart and their earthly bodies give up something ethereal and precious.

We will bury their ashes under the Frodo-tree in our garden.

Goodbye, Bunny-Beanzzz. Goodbye, Lee-tle Man. We loved you both so much. We will miss you for a long, long time.

Nenya and Vincent

In saying goodbye to Nenya and Vincent, I realised a while ago that I have also said goodbye to a significant part of my youth. But I am so grateful – and so fortunate – to have had them both in my life for so long. It was my real privilege to call them my beloved cats.

 

 

Thank you:

A special mention to our amazing vets, Drs Anton Ortlepp and Jenni Been of the Northcliff Veterinary Hospital, for looking after Nenya and Vincent – and all our other animals – from the moment they joined the family. We couldn’t ask for better care for our beloved animals…

Thank you!

Poetry for my dad

quote-if-poetry-comes-not-as-naturally-as-the-leaves-to-a-tree-it-had-better-not-come-at-all-john-keats-307338

I was buzzing along quite nicely in the Panda recently when I thought of my late father. For no particular reason I can think of, I suddenly remembered a poem I’d written when I’d finished my studies and was taking a ‘gap year plus’ in the UK, starting off in Scotland where I was born.

I really loved Scotland, although I never became fully acclimatised to its cold weather. But I did love the friendliness of its people and their ‘Never say die’ attitudes, and I was mesmerised by the beauty of the Scottish landscape. It spoke to my soul.

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I found myself composing a poem about it one day while I was travelling through the rural countryside. I wrote the poem in sonnet form because the format of the great poets of the past seemed somehow fitting. Many years later, back in South Africa, I shared this poem with my dad by writing it down for him (in my best handwriting) at the front of a book I’d given him for Christmas. He was really appreciative.

My dad, Ralph Gray, was always a great fan of poetry, with a particular enjoyment of the great English poets of yesteryear – Keats, Blake, Milton, Coleridge, Tennyson, Thomas Gray, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron – as well as Shakespeare of course, and also a few Irish and Scottish poets including WB Yeats and naturally Robert Burns. With all due respect, I don’t think he was necessarily as enamoured of American poets, though he did quote Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken every now and then. I think it spoke to him.

We used to chat about poetry sometimes and I remember him, quite often, pulling a few lines from his favourite poets out of the air and sprinkling the conversation with them. This generally led to some interesting moments, which makes me smile when I look back now.

In my mind’s eye I can see him, taking a brief break from whatever he was doing to enter, instead, the higher realms of beautiful language and take a short time-out from life’s obligations. Happily, of course, it made me take a short time-out also.

For example, when winter started to bite, I would wait for my dad to quote the first four lines from Thomas Gray’s The Eve of St Agnes, rolling his Scottish accent around the words with a certain glee:

“St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold…”

 

mountainharedavidwalker

When my dad was feeling frivolous, it was the turn of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, usually accompanied by a philosophical discussion about The Person From Porlock who interrupted the whole thing:

 

‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.’

Xanadu

And when my father was feeling a bit more sombre about life, it was the turn of the misguided sailor who went against seafaring traditions and killed the albatross which had brought luck on the journey, thereby bringing fatal and appalling circumstances to all those on board ship with him. Here is Coleridge again, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

 

‘It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

 

‘… And a good south wind sprung up behind;

The Albatross did follow,

And every day, for food or play,

Came to the mariner’s hollo!

 

…’God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the albatross.’

The-Rime-of-The-Ancient-M-001

As I look back on this snapshot of beautiful words that my dad so loved, I do miss him.

We all do, those of us who knew and loved him.

 

I think you would go far, today, to find someone as knowledgeable about that section of English poetry as my father (outside the academic world of course).

 

But more than knowledge, my dad felt the beauty of these words penned by those long-ago poets. And in his love of words, he bequeathed something amazing to his two daughters, who today also love words and their power, beauty and potential: to inform, make things happen and touch people.

 

As I mentioned earlier, my dad would occasionally quote Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, and as I read Frost’s closing lines now, it reminds me to keep an open, adventurous and enquiring mind. And perhaps in that way, my late dad and his poetic moments passed on to me and my sister a true heritage.

 

From ‘The Road Not Taken’:

 

‘I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.’

the road not taken

 

(And here now is the poem that I wrote those many years ago and which my dad so liked:)

Heritage

We came to look with strangers’ eyes

And found the land but stranger still

Cattle roamed deserted hills

Beneath the overhanging skies

And evergreen the legacy.

Purple heather, running streams,

The sole, wild realm – or so it seems –

Of mountains brooding, quietly.

Stuff of dreams or yet cliché

Dependent on the heart and will

Dependent on the thirsty mind

For while you pass oblivious by

The strangers, drinking deep their fill

Reclaim the birthright left behind.

 

This entry is for Linda and Ralph Gray, to acknowledge my great good luck which had them meeting each other a few decades back and ultimately giving me my Scottish heritage. And also for my sister Lorna, whose use of language is the purest and most cogent that I know.

xxxx

 

 

 

 

In my next life I shall be a world-famous pop star or actress

I decided, during my drive to work in the Panda earlier this week, that I was doing something wrong.

Why, you may ask?

Well, it’s simple, really.

I work hard at my job: I strive constantly to improve my general knowledge and my writing skills. I keep a tidy and functioning house for my family’s comfort levels. I support my children with their general school work, their projects and their sporting interests (and here, of course, I must acknowledge my children’s grandmother and their father, who also play significant roles with homework and sporting interests: I can’t take all the credit).

But on an almost daily basis, I seem at the moment to be more stressed and tired than I would like to be. One of the major issues, I think, is trying to make time for me.

me-time

So yes, I am painting again, which was one of my recently stated ambitions.

Yes, I am writing my books again. (Note to publishers: #JustSaying.)

I always find time to read: it’s ingrained.

And yes, I just recently got back onto my bike to once again feel the joy that comes with riding downhill with the wind in your hair. (Okay, okay, I’ll get another helmet. Bike riding in Joburg sans a helmet is, granted, not a good idea.)

But sometimes I have to do these Me-Time things till midnight and beyond (not the bike, of course) just to fit some more of my own personal joy into the day. Which is tiring, to say the least.

“So what, exactly, am I not doing right?” I mused, as I negotiated my beloved Panda through the green, leafy streets of Parkhurst while heading inexorably towards that mecca of Africa’s business landscape, the golden, shiny towers of Sandton.

sandton-city-shopping

And then it struck me while I was still en route.

When my pre-earthly self was up and out there in the nebulous spiritual-world’s ether, some time before I was born, and the Creator Being was handing out gifts to all us spirit beings before we came down to our earthly lives, I think I stuck up my hand for the wrong things. (At least the wrong things for a life with abundant Me-Time.)

Oxygen Volume 14

Instead of asking for long, pretty hair that might or might not be blonde on any given day like, say, Jennifer Aniston; or legs that start under the armpits and bee-stung lips like Jen’s once-arch rival, the skinnier half of Brangelina; or the world’s sassiest booty to flash in gold lamé hotpants like Kylie Minogue, I stuck up my hand for other things.

In other words, I didn’t choose the options that would have allowed me to still have my (beloved) children as well as be sitting with millions in the bank so that I could pick and choose my work projects.

“No, no!” quoth my ethereal spirit self earnestly at the time. “I don’t want bee-stung lips or legs that start under my armpits or hair that seems to do exactly what I tell it to do, ALL the time. Although granted, it is tempting…

jennifer-aniston 1

“But no…That doesn’t seem to be quite the me I’m planning to be. I think I’m going to be more one of those ‘behind the camera’ people, you know: not one of those red carpet types. I mean, the pressure to be beautiful all the time, right?”

“What about the booty, then?” said the Creator Being, kindly. “You and your family are going to end up in Africa at some or other point, you know. Might help you when you are shopping for Levis, because the time will come when Levis is going to bring out that particular brand of jeans that suits curves.”

“Hmmm. Okay, maybe that’s a good idea, thanks,” replied my ethereal self. “But not too much on the booty, okay?”

I think the Creator Being ignored me on that front, but then I think He/She also foresaw the rise (and rear-end spread) of the Kardashians…

KimK butt

…Jennifer Lopez, Nicky Minaj and that incredibly fake blonde who’s married to Ice-T, forget her name right now but Chanel springs to mind (?), so today I’m kind of okay with it.

“So what DO you want, then?” said the Creator Being, with a pointed look at the time. “Your future parents are waiting for you. It’s nearly time to go. Tick tock…!”

“What’s on offer?” I stalled.

“Well,” said the Creator Being, “I think I should put you down for the misunderstood art of procrastination, because you seem to be doing that one quite well already. And being a bit pedantic and fussy about your options, I mean ‘extremely meticulous’, for the same reason.”

“Huh.”

“I can also offer you a spot of brains, a fairly decent claim to a face and body that won’t curdle milk, a great work ethic and a strong dash of kindness towards your fellow man. Oh, and a love of animals also, except for scorpions, snakes, slugs, snails and spiders. I’m saving that misunderstood section of my creation for the sometimes equally misunderstood Weirdy Beardies…

JB

…who are going to make programmes for NatGeo Wild and other environmental shows, if that’s okay with you?”

“That’s fine, thank you. I think I already don’t like scorpions, snakes, slugs, snails and spiders, so no worries. So what’s the overall picture then?”

“Well,” said the Creator Being, “here’s the overall package. You will, essentially, be kind to people of all ages as well as most animals, you will be good with words, you will look okay on a bad day and perfectly acceptable on a good one, you will have a great work ethic and a bum that comfortably fills your Levis, whether you like it or not. And in due course, your mothering instincts will be fulfilled by having two boys one day, to love and cherish and share with them your love of animals and words.”

creator God

“Will I be wealthy?”

The Creator Being checked His/Her notes. “I can’t promise that it’s on the cards, although it’s not impossible with the mix we’ve agreed on. But I’m afraid I must warn you that most of the really big money goes to the girls that have always-pretty hair, legs that start under their armpits, bee-stung lips and a booty that looks great in hotpants.”

The Creator Being then gave me a sneak preview of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Spinning Around’, which of course is the reason she introduced those gold lamé hotpants to the world in the first place.

Gold lame hotpants

“But that’s not fair!” gasped my ethereal pre-earthly-body self. “The lyrics are rubbish! The song is just an excuse to waggle her booty around!”

The Creator Being looked a bit annoyed. “Agreed re the song lyrics, but you must admit the tune is catchy,” He/She retorted. “And you must also admit that that booty is a work of art! But we are getting side-tracked…

“Now listen here, time is ticking… are we agreed on the final parameters of your earthly bodily self? Because it really is time for you to head off to earth now, where you will promptly forget all about this conversation until some time in your future when you are driving a silver grey Fiat Panda en route to work. And then, in any case, you will most likely think that you just imagined it all, or that you need to make enquiries about stress medication.”

“I guess that’s fine… thank you, O Great Creator Being, I can see you’ve put some thought into this.”
He/She smiled kindly.

“Have fun on earth and don’t forget about the Me-Time when the children are getting bigger. You can find ways. And don’t worry about the money, if it doesn’t come in supreme abundance. It’s not everything, you know.”

the-universe-carina-nebula

And then I imagine that we must have said goodbye, because I don’t remember much else until I was about three or four, when we lived in Port Elizabeth for a while and I shared our garden with a pet tortoise, and from then on memories and life started moving forward.

So now here I am today: a bit tired and stressed and not yet abundantly blessed by the Money Fairy, but I guess that’s okay. I have many other blessings to be thankful for.

Although here is just one last, random thought.

Perhaps, if I keep on cycling regularly and cut way, way down on the carbs, I could eventually go and look for some lamé hotpants the same size as Kylie’s.

Just in case she becomes ill with a gastro bug some day while filming her latest video, conveniently around the corner from where I hang out, and suddenly needs a body double. That could be worth some decent moolah, even just for a couple of days?

Not to mention… fun!

MAIN--Kylie-Minogue-Bottom again

Cherishing the frogs

In my last blog, I wrote about ‘the joy of frogs’ and I said I thought it was our collective duty to cherish them when they crossed our paths.

Well, nature took me at my word and threw down the challenge. We’ve had tiny frogs crossing our family path this week, in relative abundance. I’m not sure where they came from but I think they might have been washed into our property from a neighbour’s garden higher up the hill.

Two nights ago, there was a tremendous thunderstorm in our area and in the morning, Matthew’s sharp eyes spotted some tiny frogs jumping around the tiled pathway behind our kitchen. When I say tiny, I mean they were about the size of my pinkie fingernail (that’s Liam’s hand in the photo, by the way, but it’s still a good reference, as his hands are now about the same size as mine).

tiny frog and Liam's hand

So Liam and I got into the act. Matthew disappeared to do other things because he doesn’t really like ‘tiny creatures’ right now. But that’s okay. He’ll get there.

Anyway, Liam and I went about catching froglets so that we could transfer them to a section of the garden where they would have moisture, plants and soil instead of sunshine, tiles and no protection, which would, of course, inevitably have fried them and made us very sad.

Liam and baby frog

All told, we transported almost 20 little frogs to this section of the garden, which is secluded from our dogs and cats. In the process, we also rescued a tiny toad, which Matthew had spotted lying on its back looking very poorly. It had been flipped over, somehow, and on the smooth tiled surface been unable to right itself.

So we righted it, and we transplanted it. If you look very carefully at the picture you can see the ‘toadlet’ on the leaf and you can see that it’s about double the size of the froglet.

tiny frog and baby toad

And I’m happy to tell you that when I tried to coax the little toad onto the leaf before I put it carefully into the catchment container, it puffed itself up very crossly. This, I believe, is a toad-ish protection mechanism, so I was delighted that it seemed to be recovering quite well from its upside-down ordeal.

Anyway, we transplanted between 16 and 20 froglets into our ‘secret garden’, in the end. I don’t expect them all to stay there forever, and I know that some of them will escape as fast as they can, and possibly come to grief sooner rather than later, but we just wanted to give them a fighting chance while they were so small.

So we cherished our frogs, in our garden, and it felt good.

 

The joy of frogs

We’ve had a pretty dry, hot summer here in Joburg and so, somewhat unusually for us sun lovers, the rain – when it fell – was almost uniformly welcomed, rather than receiving its more normal reaction of mutterings, grumbles and epithets.

It really has been quite unbelievably hot at times, so the cooling rains made us feel as though we could all breathe again.

I was driving back from work recently during a really brilliant rain storm and I chose to take a scenic detour past one of the city’s big parks, which fortunately for me is on one of my possible routes home. To my great delight, the frogs from the park had come out in force from their usual hiding places, so I spent a particular section of the road driving carefully in the gloom to make sure I drove around and not over them.

frog sitting in road

They don’t have much road sense, frogs. Luckily it’s usually a fairly quiet road.

I thought they looked so sweet sitting in the puddles soaking up the water. At that moment, it seemed that every fibre of their little froggy beings was devoted to staying plonked on their haunches looking up at the falling raindrops, as if to say, “We love you! Where have you been?”

frogs in rain

I was similarly thrilled when I was at home one night during another recent downpour and I suddenly saw, through a window, our resident froggy shuffling along in a dignified manner just outside. So I went out into the darkness to say hello and get a closer look at him (well, in my head it’s a him), and again I watched the joy that frogs display when the rains bucket down all over their bodies.

I understand that the presence of frogs tends to be a good barometer of an environment’s overall health, so as a family we’ve always been thrilled to find evidence of a frog or two in our garden. On an infamous occasion a few years ago, Frank even scolded our then-tenant for getting in the frog’s way and inadvertently scaring it: “K! Don’t hurt my frog!”

As our young tenant had got an enormous fright herself when the silly frog unexpectedly jumped up on her leg in the gloom of a summer dusk, she was not impressed at playing second fiddle to an amphibian. But she did laugh at the incident a bit later (when her adrenaline levels were back to normal).

On a more serious note, I am always saddened when I read about frogs dying en mass in different parts of the world due to factors like pollution, vanishing habitats, alien predators and strange microbial illnesses. While I don’t necessarily want to pick up a frog and pet it…

tiny frog on finger

…in the same way that I don’t necessarily want to stroke a Great White shark on the snout, I like the idea of the presence of frogs in our world (and Great Whites in our oceans: I don’t want one in our local public swimming pool, thanks very much).

 

These gutsy amphibians are so varied, for starters: we get little delicate tree frogs and big ponderous bull frogs; sombre-coloured grey and brown frogs versus multi-coloured frogs that are tinged with blue, yellow or red; and frogs that actually lay nests for their tadpoles in trees.

blue frog

Frogs and toads have been around for such a long time on the planet that I think it’s our collective duty to cherish them when they do come out to say hello.

frogs crossing sign

I would really hate to think that one day in the future, my children might look around in a rainstorm in a park for the frogs that should be jumping all around their legs, and say, into a deafening absence, “We love you! Where have you gone?”

frog peaking water

 

Surviving 2015: dreams, plans, action

Painting-frame

When I look back on the past year, I initially think of it as having been a year of loss.

Among other things, it was the year our family lost my beloved father to the ultimate finality of his death, after more than three years of his terrible illness that affected us all.

As a precursor to his passing, it was also the year in which I lost my darling ‘First Cat’, Nenya, to old age (she was 19).

Our beautiful ‘Fluffy Buns’ was the surrogate child of my single days, and so when she breathed her last breath in my arms – at least peacefully and painlessly – it felt as though part of my youth was disappearing as well.

Nenya and Vincent

I also lost an important painting – that I’d brought into being some years ago, when I was younger and seemed to have more time for creativity – to a freak fire. While I am immensely grateful that no one was injured, it was nonetheless a blow: a loss of something I’d once created with love and commitment over many hours. The painting was also the foundation image for the cover of my unpublished book of short stories, so it seemed, symbolically, as though the universe really was conspiring against my dreams and aspirations.

painting fire

All told, this past year also seemed like a time when I had largely lost Me.

And yet, when I weigh it all up thoughtfully and reflectively, this past year was not only about loss.

There is finding in here too, including the unwavering presence of some truly amazing friends and family, and discovering unexplored stores of strength in myself (sometimes cleverly disguised as sheer unmitigated cussedness, which I like to blame on my Celtic heritage). I also started painting again, for the first time in a long time: on a small scale, quite literally, but it reaffirmed the possibility of joy.

heart painting

Mostly, though, I found that I was able to keep dreams in my life, together with an ongoing belief in silver linings, however imperfect or even flawed the dreaming might have been at the time.

I can’t look into a crystal ball and see what lies in store. But, while older and definitely – I trust! – wiser, I still have some dreams in my head. And some plans, laced with the silver linings of hope.

So it’s onward into the new year, with a focus on the alchemy of turning dreams into plans into action.

Perhaps starting with finally publishing my book. Now that – and some decent sales of course – would be alchemy indeed. And really: why not?

 

cover-page-001

 

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