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

B is for Busy… Part 3: 2017

A long time ago, 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. And so here is the third part of my catch-up, dedicated to my family, especially my beloved children, Liam and Matthew.

With love

Your mum


[Editor’s note: Not all details of the year are included but it gives us all a good snapshot, especially of some of the significant moments]




We kicked off January 2017 with a drive to Hartebeespoort Dam on a really hot 2 January. We rode up the cable way to the top of the mountain, where we walked around and had a bite to eat, and then went back down and drove around the dam.

The dam was a heart-sore at the time, being very polluted, and with vast areas of the water surface choked under invasive hyacinths. It was another reminder that as a family, we need to continue being as vigilant as possible at home in terms of how we personally use and care for our natural resources.

The rampant, out-of-control hyacinths were a heartsore

The cable way, on the other hand, and all the facilities at the top, were really impressive. Looking out over the Hartebeespoort dam area and the surrounding mountains stretching to the distance is always a treat for the eyes.

A spectacular view from the cableway

The boys enjoyed the still relatively new cable way, although they were rather unimpressed at having to wait in the long queue before we could get into the cable car. To humour me, they sat in the old cable car that’s on display at the bottom. Looking at the old one, I was quite glad that the cars have since been upgraded – the original model does look pretty rickety these days!

The children were not terribly impressed with the long queue


The old cablecars look a bit rickety today…

On a different note, here I am in late February 2017, having just had my nose zapped again. It’s a semi-recurrent bothersome little melanoma, which is even more reason why these days, I happily embrace not being a sun-bunny. Luckily my latest round of treatment wasn’t as painful as the first time, a couple of years previously, when my nose swelled up to twice its normal size and made me look like a very unhappy clown.

Remember the sunblock, everyone, because our southern African sun is not to be trifled with.

A small bothersome recurrent melanoma

In March 2017, the boys and I went back to the Joburg Zoo after our previous visit in December 2016, this time with their dad in tow. So here comes a disclaimer.


I believe that zoos can play a real role in the global conservation of threatened animals, and help to educate sometimes ignorant humans about the other creatures with which we share our planet.

The key principle, of course, is making sure that the animals are treated with respect, understanding and compassion, and sadly there are many zoos in the world that are simply prisons for their poor unfortunate inmates – which is in itself the real crime. Today, I am particularly saddened by the elephant situation at the Johannesburg Zoo, and unsure when I will visit again.

More positively, I do note, however, that besides its breeding programmes, the Johannesburg Zoo has also played a role in recent years in drawing attention to the scourge of poaching. On a previous school trip for Matthew and his classmates, when the children were all still in nursery school, we were introduced to a wounded black rhino that had been injured by poachers and left for dead. The zookeepers were not only healing the poor female rhino in a safe place but were also, in the process, educating young school children in their thousands about the horrors of poaching, and why it is wrong.

And so I’m well aware right now that the presence of zoos in the world is a controversial topic that is too long to unpack and discuss now.

[End disclaimer]

On a lighter note: this particular visit to the zoo saw a version of the age-old nature story playing out in our family also, namely ‘The Young Buck versus the Old Buck’, with Liam and Frank running an impromptu obstacle race up the hill. Time to lace up those running shoes again Frank, to keep ahead of the young ‘uns?!! They are getting bigger and stronger and fitter by the day!

Liam is off to a flying start


Dad is catching up!


Did Frank let Liam win? Hmmm…


We also introduced Frank to the Amazon section, and spent quite a lot of time there. It’s very restful, especially when you are on the right side of the glass from the innocuous looking but deadly piranhas…

Watch out for the piranhas behind you!


Reclining in the Amazon section


Not to be outdone…


Reclining on mom


Also in March 2017, we met a little furry darling who was going to become the next member of our household. There is nothing quite like going to the dentist for a routine appointment and being offered a puppy – or does this happen to everyone?

In this case, the puppy in question was a Rough Collie, aka a Lassie collie, and as you can see it was love at first sight.

It was NEVER going to be easy to say no…!


All because Liam had to have some pre-braces dentistry work done…


We had to wait for our puppy to grow a bit before we could collect her and bring her home, in late April. Having arrived with what was still a fairly short nose, she rapidly started growing her long Collie snout and incredibly thick fur, which we think makes her look like a Womble.


Furry and round with a very long nose – it must be a Womble!


I quite fancied calling her ‘Orinoco’, after the brilliant Wombles children’s books and TV series, but the children permuted ‘Lassie collie’ into ‘Lucy collie’. As Matthew likes to say, if she’d been a boy dog, she would have been a Laddie collie…

Today, she is very busy and lively and brings us all great joy. She bosses our Labrador, Nicky, around all day long and thinks that the three cats are her sheep. She has clearly never heard the expression ‘as difficult as herding cats’ because she never stops trying to pen them into corners of her choice. Occasionally she even succeeds.

Who said herding cats was easy?

And so we will be forever grateful to our beloved dentist, Dr Basil Brook, for bringing this delightful little furball into our home, and if you should ever need a good dentist just give me a call. But please note that the puppies, to date, have been a once-off at his practice.

A baby womble in training

On 28 April 2017, Liam turned 12 and chose to go bum-boarding again at Avalanche.

Liam’s happy place

Frank went bum-boarding too! My mom and I were happy to watch, and drink good coffee on the sidelines.

Matthew having fun with his dad


The ladies in the group stayed off the slopes and drank coffee



Here come some notes about my work now.

From 1 July 2016 till 30 April 2017 I was based in Bryanston, honing my knowledge of the financial services world. But I wasn’t seeing my children enough. I felt that it was time to remedy this, if possible.


Spot the photos of the children on my wall

And so, when a new opportunity arose, I began working from home in May 2017, and I now write mainly in the arenas of technology, engineering and events management. By and large, I seem to have a good mixture of being able to get on with my work at home, sprinkled with just enough client meetings and events to make me brush my hair and get dressed in decent clothes so I don’t look like a ‘skrik’ five days a week.

June 2017: at an occupational health and safety expo for which we write

Just kidding about being a skrik. And it’s great not having peak-hour traffic as a regular part of my life.

Cheers to less peak-hour traffic! November 2017

Working from home, after years in the corporate environment, brought some adjustments initially and its own set of challenges, but the benefits so far are significantly outweighing any odd moments I might have of missing office life.

One of the early challenges involved those occasions when I would run out of data while on a deadline to get an article to a client. Kudos here to Frank for sorting out uncapped wi-fi for us! The children are even more grateful than I am, I think – it’s opened up new access to technology. One must roll with the times (although they will always have a Mother Who Makes Them Read Books).

Thanks for the uncapped wi-fi, dad…

And I am also grateful for my job, which has brought me overall a little more firmly into the 21st century, including being able to say that today I am a tech writer as well as a financial services writer. I can tell you much more about cyber security than I used to, but please don’t ask me too many questions about the networking side of the business. That is very much the domain of the technologically-very-abled, and still brings me its own challenges.

Networking chit-chat? Talk to the hand!

Eventually I also achieved one of my initial work-life aims and started walking my boys to school some days. We were often running down the road more than walking, I must confess, but our collective time-keeping is getting better.

I like walking my young lads down the road to school in the morning, and I think they like it too (even though it’s usually preceded by a few moments of grumbling). It gives us some interesting moments of catch-up time in the middle of everyone’s busy lives.

Sometimes I turn into Momma Bear and yell at inconsiderate drivers who don’t acknowledge the zebra crossing we are attempting to navigate safely, and my children in uniform trying to get to school on foot. I have even been known to bang on the boot of a car whose driver chose to ignore us and roar instead through the four-way stop, in an effort to reach the Melville traffic lights a whole 47 seconds or so sooner than if they’d waited to let the children cross. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car, if you ask me…

Pedestrian rage is something I’m learning to keep under control now (sometimes). I have moments of feeling mortified that my temper got the better of me, which can lead to interesting conversations about Being Considerate And Polite and Respecting Children’s Rights Too But Maybe Mom Shouldn’t Have Banged On The Car Boot And Scared The Bad Driver Like That. At least I admit my wrong-doings to my children. Most of the time.

One thing that was truly awesome during this new work phase was being at home to look after our darling Sasha. When I first started working from home in May 2017, our beloved Dobie Darling was about 11, which is a good age for a biggish dog, and the cancer in her right leg was on its way to announcing itself. In short, Sasha was getting old. Our beautiful girl, who had always regarded herself as being the children’s four-legged Other Mom…

Sasha and baby Liam


Sasha and baby Matthew

…needed a bit of cosseting and pampering at this stage of her old age, including sharing the drives to school and back when we weren’t walking, to give her some mental stimulation. I could never have done this if I was still working in a corporate office.

A bit of doggy mental stimulation while…


…Sasha joins the school run

Now that I was working from home most days, it was wonderful to be able to give Sasha that special care. I used to look up from my laptop and through the French doors, and it was heart-warming to see her comfortable and happy on her cushion just a couple of metres away. That was really a win-win.

Sasha passed away finally on 26 June 2018 (just five days after my birthday). We were with her till the end, and I am so grateful for the extra time I had with her. She was a truly special girl; enormously loved by all of us to the very end.


Let me rewind now to September 2017. We were so very proud of Liam the day he landed up presenting his Eistedfodd speech on live television, on 12 September 2017.

Live on national morning television!


This opportunity arose purely by chance because of Frank’s work. The day before, the SABC-2 Morning Live producers had been discussing the next day’s show and how to focus it on the 40th remembrance of Steve Biko’s death. Frank was in the meeting and mentioned out of interest that Liam’s pending Eisteddfod speech was about Steve Biko – his contribution to South Africa and his tragic death.

The producers thought it would be an excellent idea to bring Liam in – if he was okay with the idea. Our child was nervous at first but agreed. We also got permission from the school in advance. So Liam, then in Grade 6 and aged 12, presented his speech on Steve Biko on Tuesday morning 12 September 2017. He was understandably nervous at appearing on live television, but he came through with flying colours! It was a defining moment.

Frank, Matthew and I were sitting on the other side of the studio and looking at him through a glass window. He looked very small… but he rose to the occasion beautifully. After his speech, the entire studio crew broke into spontaneous applause. Here’s the link to watch it, and some stills below.

Looking smaller than usual…


…but so bravely composed

Late 2017 also saw both of our children going on school tour to KwaZulu-Natal: Liam in grade 6, for the second time; and Matthew’s first school tour, in grade 4. Seeing them off on the Shosholaza Mail train was hard. For the parents.

I seem to recall that both of our children, bursting with excitement, bounced through the gates to the platform without a second glance at their mother and father. Individual cell phones weren’t allowed, which meant that it was a long, strange week, with a remarkably silent house. Luckily the teachers sent through excellent group reports via WhatsApp on a daily basis.

Liam (now with braces) is packed and good to go


Matthew bounces away from his parents towards the train


The WhatsApp reports from the teachers were to prove incredibly necessary when, most unfortunately, the tour’s timing and itinerary coincided with a deadly hurricane that swept through KwaZulu-Natal, forcing some of the activities to be cancelled.

This, however, was the least of the parental worries as reports of casualties in the province started coming through. Fortunately the experienced tour guides and teachers kept our children safe, and their parents updated.

Additionally, our poor Liam also became really ill towards the end with a stomach bug. All in all, I suppose it was a good life experience but I think they were both very glad to come home. Certainly their parents were glad to fetch them from the airport! At least they had a little bit of beach time and experienced both the train there, and the plane back home.

After the tour, the year sprinted towards its end, as time ticked inexorably on. Karate lessons continued, exams were written, Christmas holidays came and went, and 2018 beckoned.

The boys take their karate very seriously

Grade 7 for Liam, and Grade 5 for Matthew, lay just around the corner.


To be continued into 2018…/more in my next blog entry

B is for Busy… Part 2: Reflections on 2016

As I mentioned in my last blog entry: I’ve been away.

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

A long time ago, 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. And I got busy… and we’ve had radio silence for way too long! So here is part 2 of my catch-up, dedicated to my family, especially my beloved children, Liam and Matthew.

With love

Your mum



In comes 2016

As 2016 rolled in, the children, aged 10-coming-11, and 8-and-a-few-months, prepared to enter grades 5 and 3 respectively. We had a quiet new year’s eve and first of January, and went to Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves on the second. Maropeng was a good trip but a long day!

Matthew painting on new year’s day 2016


Liam on new year’s day 2016 – hobbit feet!


Hard men and their hard hats!


In late February 2016 we put up the plaque for my dad, in the Garden of Remembrance at St Charles Catholic Church. We still miss him every day; nobody more than my mom.

The Garden of Remembrance is opposite De La Salle Holy Cross College (DLSHCC) High School, where sometimes you can hear the bagpipes band members practising. I like to think that my dad hears them at those times too. A true Scotsman with a great accent, he always loved the bagpipes.

We miss you every day

In February, Liam and his dad did a great 3D project to create a representation of a frog skeleton. We were all very impressed.

Frog skeleton project

And then the rain came pouring down one night, and the real baby frogs arrived at our back door, having been washed out of a nearby pond (we think). To ensure that they didn’t fry in the sun over the next few days, a rescue operation was required. I wrote about this before, in another blog entry at the time.

The baby frogs – and one baby toad – were really cute. We rescued almost 20 tiny amphibians, in total, and put them into a section of the garden where there was moisture, plants and shade – from which, in the fullness of time, they have ungratefully hopped away on their further travels. But it was fun having froglets while it lasted. From time to time we still come across the big toad that lives at the top of the garden, in a hole in the stairs.

Toadlet and froglet – look closely

In March 2016, Matthew as a Grade 3 pupil took part in the school’s chef competition, and we worked out a really awesome seafood salad. He almost got into the finalists’ section but was marked down because his workstation wasn’t very tidy (some chefs are a little flamboyant when they work), and he also ran out of time to finish the end touches on his presentation.

So he looks a bit sad in the photo, but what he doesn’t realise is that all the judges quietly sidled up to his mother, one by one, and asked her for the recipe… which I think is a perfectly fine accolade.

Vigorously mixing his masterpiece


All the judges asked for this recipe!

March of 2016 was a craft-y month all round – as well as the chef’s competition, Liam invented a new country with mom’s help, and Matthew created pretty artwork for his teacher:

Liam and his mom invented a new country


Matthew painted this for his teacher

At the end of April 2016, Liam celebrated turning 11 by going to Avalanche in Fourways, where some adults learn to ski but a lot more children go bum-boarding. This option is always a birthday hit!



Happiness! (and a missing tooth)


Taking a breather


Here’s a quick shot of Frank and his boys in May, back before he started growing his hair…

At the Ocean Basket

…and me in June. Look carefully and the grey is starting to arrive in my own hair. At the time I thought it was free blonde highlights, silly me.

Free blonde highlights because that’s the way the world works – not!

Late May brought good sports weather. Liam is a brilliant goalie, both in football and hockey, and here he is in grade 5 – playing with the big boys – during a short break from the morning’s seven-a-side tournament.

Talk to the hand (No, mom, not MORE photos!)

Later that day, he saved a goal that made my heart stop, mainly because there was only about a centimetre of air between his teeth and the other child’s boot. Luckily the teeth were fine (later to be encased in braces).

In the end, their team were runners-up, but only on goal difference, so naturally it was a little bitter-sweet for our competitive young man and his team-mates. But that’s life.


The medals were well-deserved

In June 2016 our darling Vincent went to kitty heaven (at the age of 18), where I hope that he very quickly found Nenya, who had died a year before, in 2015 (at the age of 19). I wrote about our two beloved cats in another entry previously, but here are some photos of Vincent to remember him here as well: our little one-eared ‘thuglet’ with the gigantic personality, who was a confirmed cheese and chocolate thief any time he was able.  Dearest little cat…

January 2016


With Matthew


With Liam


The tooth came out when he was happy

For this next section of my blog entry, I would like to introduce the Egg Files. As 2016 ticked on, it became apparent in the middle of the year that I was wrestling with a very difficult work situation. So at odd moments I drew faces on eggs before boiling them, to introduce some moments of silliness and cheer myself up in the mornings. It was quite therapeutic at the time; I can recommend it. Anyone can draw a little face on an egg – trust me!

Mr Grumpy


Mr Surprised


Mr Seriously Fed Up (that must have been a bad morning)


Mr Confused

However, even while I was drawing faces on my eggs in late July 2016, I was still able to count my two greatest blessings, in the form of my children. Here is Matthew, sleeping, and Liam wearing my winter coat. With them in my life, I could fortunately still draw some happy egg faces!

Matthew always looks so young when he sleeps (here aged almost 9)


Liam in my coat reminds me that he was almost as tall as I am, and here he’s only 11


When the children are happy, the world is egg-zactly right!

When Matthew turned 9 at the end of August 2016, his parents gladdened his heart with his first pair of proper headphones and, at his request, a party for a select few friends at the Spur. (He’d also had a Spur party the previous year, 2015, when he turned 8. I guess Matthew likes the Spur.)

Proper skull candy – his father’s child!


The Spur on any given Saturday afternoon is a busy place!

In September 2016, Matthew won the prize for the Grade 3 book day when he dressed up as his favourite character, Asterix. Here is Asterix in all his majestic warrior glory! Be afraid. Be very afraid. Dynamite comes in small packages, as does Asterix himself.


Beware the famous Gallic warrior

In October 2016, Liam discovered Bounce trampoline park, and a new obsession was born. The harder you fall, the higher you bounce, they say, and it’s not a bad way to look at life’s knocks.

Bouncing the blues away

Towards the end of 2016 I started painting again, after having been creatively idle for a period. I began with recycled boxes, which was a thing for a while…

My happy place

…and then I started on an English landscape for Mike and Jane. I got off to a great start and then the enormity of what I was trying to do with this painting stalled all bravery – as well as inspiration – for many months, so that in the end, I completed it only a year later!


The landscape stayed as a work in progress for many months


Here’s the final version, but it looks better in real life

Between September and the end of the year, I revisited my Heart Art to gold effect (see what I did there?)

Navy and gold heart

… I played with some candles for a bit of fun with perspective (perhaps I was motivated by an Eskom black-out at the time?)

Three candles


… and then I created something new – the Working Girls Stiletto pieces. These were inspired by a friend at work who loves her high heels. So I worked on Gladiator Stiletto and Ballet Dancer Stiletto. I think I might need to pursue this one further again; they are fun and interesting to do, and quite pretty I think.

Ballet dancer stiletto


Gladiator stiletto (a lethal weapon in its own right)

And so the end of the year and the next festive season rolled around once more. Christmas 2016 was very happy. We were Joburg-based and it was a peaceful holiday season in a quieter-than-usual city. I always think Johannesburg in late December is a good place to be.

Matthew (9) was still under the firm impression that Santa is real (we still hadn’t broken the news to him); Sisha the cat claimed her usual place under the Christmas tree; the boys and mom went to the zoo after Christmas to see the Amazon section for our first time, and we all (including dad) went to eat at Moyo so that dad could introduce Liam to mopane worms.


Spot the cat


Mom’s happy Christmas…


…Children who read!


Liam and his 3D doodler


Matthew and his Lego


Posing in the Amazon section at the zoo


Tiny blue frog


Liam getting to know a fish


Matthew also with fishes (not to be outdone, or anything)


Dad, Liam and mopane worms (the rest declined)

As 2016 ended and 2017 arrived, Matthew was 9 and Liam was 11, and they were about to enter grades four and six respectively.


To be continued into 2017…/more in my next blog entry

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


“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…!”


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.



But thanks, mom. You made my day!


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.


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.


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.


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…


…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.






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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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


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.


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…”



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.’


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.’


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:)


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.






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.


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.


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.”


“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…


…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.”


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.


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