thoughtsfromthepanda

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

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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

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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!

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

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

 

The Working Mother’s SnapShot

On contact lenses and early encounters with the occult

(Ed’s note: this blog post was written in September/October 2015 but life got in the way of my posting it before. Here it is now.)

At the end of a rather strange work day recently, I couldn’t even say, “Well, this day was a total waste of make-up!”

I didn’t apply make-up because of my new-ish contact lenses. I haven’t applied make-up for a couple of weeks now, and this is because, while I wait to get my new spectacles, I haven’t yet found the mascara that is compatible with my lenses. I’m sure it’s out there, but I haven’t yet found it.

While I wait for my lovely new spectacles with their flattering tortoise-shell frames, I am, according to my optometrist’s assistant, apparently legally blind when it comes to driving without vision aids, and so I’ve had to resort to wearing the lenses in the interim.

contact lenses 1

I am not a natural contact lens wearer. Well, I ask you very sincerely: is anybody?

I mean, they really are foreign bodies in one’s eyes. If you don’t clean them correctly, they come with an abundance of health hazards in the small print, which I won’t go into right now, save to say that apparently if you swim or shower while wearing lenses, you open yourself up thereafter to microscopic life forms invading your eyeballs like a new planet to be conquered, and you might (seriously) ultimately require medical attention to permanently vanquish these tiny invaders.

 

contact lenses 2

Eye infections are soooo not a good look on anyone.

For me, however, the greatest health hazard right now is the fact that I’m regularly putting my lenses onto my eyeballs inside out, thereby still rendering me legally blind for driving, at least in the relevant eye. (Thus far I have, at least, only got it wrong at the same time in 50% of my eyes.)

If you’ve never had the required misfortune of sticking contact lenses onto your eyeballs in order to see better, you can stop sniggering right now and take the Contact Lens Challenge, meaning ‘Wear Them For A Day – I Dare You’.

contact lenses 3

Once you have – in a truly professional manner – stuck these fiendishly clever but fiendishly hard-to-live-with devices onto your eyeballs correctly, endured a working day with them in your eyes and then taken them safely out again at night time (without losing even one), you can then snigger once more at the fact that I keep putting them onto my eyeballs inside out.

Till then, trust me. In my opinion they remain foreign bodies in one’s eyes.

On the morning in question, I spent ten minutes inserting the foreign bodies so I could drive (legally) to work. I was only allowed this luxury of time after I’d first spent over an hour chasing both my children out of the house to school like a cowgirl driving cattle to a branding event – I can’t truthfully say it was fun for anyone.

 

cowgirl

 

Anyway, after ten minutes of struggling with the dratted lenses, it was therefore somewhat annoying when I realised halfway to work that the right eye was not ‘settling’. I chose to pull over just outside my favourite en route bakery, where I first removed the offending lens in the car, and thereafter limped into the bakery and bought myself some lovely treats for the day to improve my mood.

The bakery employees, who know me quite well, looked at me strangely when I conducted the entire business transaction with one hand over one eye, but hey, that was the least of my worries.

Soon after I got to the office, I mustered all my courage to the sticking place and marched purposefully into the Ladies to stick the damned thing into my eye the right way around for once and for all. I then promptly lost it somewhere over the sink. (The contact lens, not the eye.)

Temporarily flattened by this new and unexpected development, I sat on my haunches outside one of the loos for about five minutes, feeling somewhat defeated and debating whether or not to plead illness (‘Temporary 50% Blindness’ seemed like a good diagnosis) and go home for the day to a waiting bed and cosy duvet. Fortunately no one else came into the Ladies during my short yet animated negotiation with myself, because I imagine it would have looked rather strange.

Mordor contact lens

Finally I got up and wandered back into work, sighing inwardly and reminding myself of the old mantra, ‘This too shall pass.’ Not being one to keep my trials and tribulations entirely to myself (sharing, as they do say, is caring) I soon got a couple of offers from friendly, better-sighted colleagues to help me look for the lens. Unbelievably someone very quickly found it! On the tap…

Later that day, after the lens had been allowed to sterilise again for a while, I won the battle and got my vision back 100%. It was a sweet victory.

contact lenses 4

Finally I was able to carry on working without the ongoing threat of a migraine. However, this particular work day was never meant to be the world’s most productive.

I had to leave the office early after the concerned phone call from the school clarifying that the Grade Fours had all been hysterical around lunch time, and the teachers had sprung into damage-control mode. Apparently some child had discovered an online version of a Ouija board-inspired game using two pencils, paper and an over-ripe imagination. That was not a fun phone call for any parent to experience, although I do commend the school’s handling of the situation.

Fortunately, I was at least able to see with both eyes during my hurried drive out of Sandton to collect my little boy earlier than usual and make sure that my (sometimes overly-stoic but always very sensitive) 10-year-old was all right.

What’s that you say? ‘Online Ouija board-inspired game?’

Sigh.

Apparently some silly game has been doing the You Tube/social media rounds during 2015, and it naturally came to our shores in due course. The ‘#CharlieCharlieChallenge’ involves crossing two pencils over each other at right angles, writing down ‘Yes/No/Yes/No’ in four squares around the pencils, and then asking some questions to an alleged manifestation of the spirit world, who may or may not appear at the time of being summonsed.

yes no

Apparently the spirit is Mexican and named Charlie, although I wouldn’t have guessed Charlie as being a particularly Mexican name, would you? (Carlos springs more easily to mind. Or Juan.)

Anyway, when the pencil moves, brought inevitably into play by the forces of gravity, friction and no doubt fear, the children get hysterical. The big thing about it, for me, is that it’s out there on You Tube and has its own hash tag. No wonder it’s doing the rounds. My little boy did have a nightmare that night but not since (although he does want the passage light on outside his door again at night, which I thought we’d grown out of). I think it is all under control, at least until the next occult hashtag starts doing the rounds.

I was thinking later that evening how parents today have social media and the internet to contend with in combatting unpleasant events like bullying and the spread of childish nonsense. I wondered nostalgically if it would have been easier to be a parent during the sixties. Being a hippy and going to San Francisco and wearing flowers in my hair was once a major ambition of mine, you see.

Haight Ashbury

But then I remembered that the sixties went down in history as officially bringing the world sex, drugs and rock and roll, as well as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as teenage icons. So perhaps my jury remains out on the issue of parenting in the 1960s versus the 21st century. On the other hand, at least back then John Lennon never had to stick contact lenses in his eyes…

Now there’s something to make me consider my verdict.

 

John Lennon

 

Going to the gypsy fair

My boys are slightly annoyed with me at the moment. I recently changed the CD in the Panda when they weren’t looking, which caused a certain amount of consternation.

For now, it’s au revoir American rock, in the form of Journey and Steve Perry’s famously-ranging tones…

steve perry journey

 

…and hello to Irish rock and soul band Hothouse Flowers and the heartfelt vocals of Liam Ó Maonlaí. Life is about change and variety after all, is it not?

Liam Hothouseflowers

 

I tried to tell this to my children, politely and diplomatically, but they weren’t impressed. My response was to be greeted by two very mulish little faces. Ah well, they’re only ten and eight, and to their great credit they really do like the music of Journey.

When diplomacy didn’t work I simply reminded them that it is, actually, Mom’s taxi. Therefore, Mom’s music rules, she has final veto powers and she will turn bear-ish if pushed too far.

polar bear

(I know – I’ll tell Liam that this new lead singer shares his name! Maybe that will impress him.)

Anyway, that was a short while ago. We’ve since had a few instances when the CD was sneakily changed back to Journey when I wasn’t looking, but we managed to keep these at ‘instance’ level and not ‘international incident’ level.

So now the boys are starting to thaw just a little, having finally permitted themselves to discover a couple of tracks that they actually like.

My own current favourite Hothouse Flowers track, during my drives in my Panda, beckons sweetly and enticingly of running away from current responsibilities:

bareback horse

Blazing eyes, bareback horses
And a redhead smile
I’m tempted strongly, strongly tempted
By the call of the wild

Going to the gypsy fair
I’m gonna find some freedom there
I wanna dance ’til I don’t care
At the gypsy fair.

Because, you know, sometimes a girl just likes to dream of a brief hiatus with no responsibilities for a while. However, that’s not on the cards just yet, and so I will look for other inspiration from my desk area at the office, where I have an image stuck up that reminds me to ‘Look up, get up and never give up’.

But I think I could be allowed to permit myself one heartfelt sigh before I get back to work. And then I’ll put my nose once more to the grindstone, with just one proviso: every now and then, I plan to look out of the window and dream of the time when I will be free to go to the gypsy fair.

And I will dance till I don’t care.

dancing gypsy

 

My father’s voice

A eulogy for Ralph Gray

 

My dearest dad

Daddy.

We are still trying to process your absence. I have told the awful news a few times over now; I have kissed your peaceful sleeping face and watched my dear mother, your beloved wife of so many years, cry over your still form in anguish because you left her; and still I can’t quite believe it.

Right now, I can’t really think of a life without you in it.

And yet, I think you were fading from us for a long time; slipping mentally and spiritually into shadow realms where we could not always follow. Peaceful realms, I like to think. You always looked peaceful when you opened your eyes again this past short while – as though you’d been in pleasant, restful places.

a_patch_of_sky

The last three years have been so hard – on all of us and most especially on you. You fought to stay with us for so long, doing your best to fight off a terrible enemy that ravaged your own body from within, just for a little more time with us all.

Now I am going to start remembering you as you used to be, before the disease took hold. I am going to start erasing, or at least subduing, the memories of my dad who could no longer move or talk, and had to communicate with hand gestures and facial expressions.

I am going to wave the magic wand of memory back to a time when your body was still as active as your mind; when you jogged down the driveway to open the gate to visitors; when you worked in the garden to bring us organic vegetables, or climbed a ladder to clean the leaves from the gutters, all the time wearing that funny hat to – ostensibly – protect your face from the sun.

Dad bday 2011

In my mind’s eye you are again that stocky man with broad shoulders who kept busy around the garden until finally you allowed yourself to relax when the work was all done. The Scotsman who enjoyed a temperate measure of Bells in the evening or maybe a can of Guinness; the man who read poetry at quiet moments; the family man who loved to tell stories and jokes and chortled with laughter all the way through the telling.

I loved it when you told jokes. They were always long and complicated, and you so frequently messed up the punchline – that was the best part!

V and dad Christmas 2011

My earliest memories of you, when I was very small, encompass bedtime stories and you trying to save a baby bird that fell out of the nest. Later on there was a time when you untangled a heron from some fishing line at a local dam. Whenever I see a heron flying majestically overhead I always think of you. I also think of how I loved to hear you say ‘heron’ – with a double ‘rr’ in there and a bit of a Scottish ‘burr’ (brei) on the ‘r’ sound.

Herrr-rrrrrron.

great blue heron in flight

I wish I could hear you say it again. Together with words like ‘loch’ and ‘poetry’, which you rolled around your tongue and pronounced as ‘locch’ and ‘poi-ye-tree’. It was very poi-ye-tik, I always thought.

Your eternal Scottishness sometimes entered conversations at unexpected moments and in unforeseen ways. In my teens, you amazed me once by requesting that I play a song from ‘Dew-rrrrran Dew-rrrran’ on my brand new boom-box. I couldn’t get away with the fact that you even knew who Duran Duran were – let alone that you actually liked any of their songs!

Duran Duran

Another time, when I’d recently discovered a Scottish rock band called Runrig and you’d apparently been listening to my music again, you gleefully referred to the lead singer as ‘that Teuchter (choochter) from the highlands, but he haaaaas a guid voice’.

Donny Munro

Apparently the word ‘teuchter’, said by a lowland Scot about a highland Scot, has implications of being a bit of an unsophisticated roughneck. I remember you chortling when you called him a teuchter. Sometimes mornings before we went to school and work were quite entertaining.

And who of us around the table that family dinner could ever forgot the immortal time you demanded of your own wife and teenage daughters, with huge exasperation, “Cahn yoo lott no onder-stond me?” The answer was gales of laughter and a pithy ‘no dad – at that precise moment we couldn’t’. I think you were asking someone to pass the salt, or something fairly mundane like that.

And then there is the “No-aht the caap! No-aht the caap!” memory (‘not the cap’). It turned out that you’d been holding out on your teenage daughters when they went through a brief stage of requesting some of your Bells to put in their coffee, together with some cream, for an occasional little treat in the evenings. When we were writing exams, you understand, and were stressed.

Lorna and I were deliberately mis-informed, for quite some time, that the standard unit of measurement for making the Scotch version of an Irish coffee was the cap of the whiskey bottle. Which is not actually a lot of whiskey. This went on until the night that we offered to make you, too, one of our special coffees. When you realised that you were about to be short-changed on the amount of Bells in your coffee cup, it seemed that a mild panic set in and the truth came out. Thereafter the true unit of measurement for Scotch was revealed to us for all time.
glass of Bells

Of course, your accent got put to good use when it came time to read the immortal words of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns. Around the world, people sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ every new year, but in real life, only you, my dad, could spout Scotland’s most famous son, Robert Burns (Rabbie Burns) without a book in front of him. Chapter and verse – you used to pull it out of the air.

So here is one for my mom. I’m not going to try the accent.

 

A red, red rose

By Robert Burns

red rose inkwell

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

 

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

 

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

Though it were ten thousand mile.

 

I’m going to end with another poem, this one from John Keats. I think it was one of my dad’s favourites. I won’t read the whole three verses, just the first one, because this verse especially reminds me of how much my dad enjoyed working in his vegetable garden. Mostly. The digging, of course, wasn’t so much fun.

 

Ode to Autumn (verse one)

John Keats

season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness

Close-bosom friend of the maturing son

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more

And still more, later flowers for the bees

Until they think warm days will never cease

For Summer has o-er-brimmed their clammy cells.

 

 

Goodbye, Ralph Gray.

Or shall I say ‘Au revoir’ and ‘Arrivederci’?

 

You were a truly special man. We were so lucky to have you in our lives.

With much love…. Always.

Linda and Ralph young

 

 

 

 

 

 

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