thoughtsfromthepanda

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

Archive for the tag “Vivienne Fouche”

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking up the hill in your absence

My dearest dad

You’ve been gone for about 36 hours now and we are all still getting used to your final, definitive physical absence.

This morning I walked the children to school.

The way back, as you know, presents a slight incline. I’m sure that clever engineering mind of yours would easily have been able to tell my less mathematical mind exactly what the gradient is.

All I can tell you is that walking back up that little hill to the house suddenly seemed like climbing a mountain.

But life goes on, doesn’t it? And we have to do the things that we have to do. Sometimes we just have to get on with it, while being as kind to ourselves and others as we can.

You and my mom taught me that.

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

So I stopped a few times en route and looked at the view of the nearby Melville koppie under a beautiful clear blue early-summer sky.

Melville koppie

I felt the cool breeze on my skin and I even stopped to smell some lavender in a neighbour’s garden. I thought of you every step of the way.

For now, it is enough just to see your face in a patch of clear blue sky when I need to keep on moving forward.

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Dear God, we’re OUT of sherry!

It has been such a week on the homework front. With both children, it seemed like the homework load was just spiralling off into semi-unmanageable territory.

On a daily basis it has been h-e-a-v-y. I kid you not – daily.

 

H

E

A

V

Y

We are talking projects to run with, both big and small.

boys projects August 2015

We are talking weekly tests and the need to crack the revision whip for Liam, who is blessed with enough brain cells that he has already mastered the fine art of ‘coasting’, and now needs to have this habit corrected.

We are talking newsletters from the school that need to be read and forms that need to be returned: Matthew, following in his big brother’s footsteps, has made the Under 8 hockey team and while this is a cause of celebration, Well done sweetheart! it comes with a lot of info to p-r-o-c-e-s-s. Maps. Indemnity forms. General information.

Argh.

 

A

R

G

H

 

Sometimes it all just seems a bit much, especially at the end of a long day.

Last night we got home well after dark and had to do a lot of cutting up of cardboard and sticking of pictures. In short, we had to make up a set of cards for a memory game as part of Liam’s English curriculum. And Matthew had a speech to practise: ‘My life as a mosquito’ (yes, really).

And this was all over and above the homework that they’d already completed during the afternoon – but you see, Mom, aka moi, is the ‘speech expert’ and the ‘projects expert’, and fair enough: I do, mostly, enjoy these lateral moments of advanced learning.

 

Mostly.

But not so much last night.

 

It was fast approaching 8:30pm and I was wearily aware that I had not had a break since getting up many, many hours before. It was the third heavy homework night in a row. It was all just getting a bit much. Luckily, there is always Frasier to fall back on in a crisis, and so we did.

In our house, we love watching the Frasier series. We have every episode from season 1 to 11. And even though Frasier and his brother Niles and all the rest of the gang have been off air now for over a decade, in our house the humour still rules. It’s just so clever and the boys have grown up on it. (Winnie the Pooh who? Just kidding.)

 

So we put the cardboard away with the intention of finishing the mini-project in the morning (which we did).

And we put on Frasier once the boys were both bathed and ready to pop into bed.

And we watched an episode from one of the later seasons, and we laughed and we restored our energy.

 

frasier niles

 

The extract below shows why I like watching Frasier so much – this particular line just kills me every time!

 

Frasier: My show today was a fiasco. For the second day in a row,

we had virtually no callers. It’s getting harder and harder

to blame it on Roz.

Martin: Well, maybe you fixed everybody.

Frasier: Oh wait, there was one caller. My date for Saturday night

called to cancel because I am not her type. Oh, and guess

what? Her honesty was not refreshing.

 

Frasier picks up a bottle. It is empty.

 

Frasier: Dear God, we’re out of sherry. Insult… [placing the bottle

         down] made injury.

 

He goes to the kitchen. Martin follows.

 

(a little later in the episode)

 

Frasier opens the door to Niles.

Frasier: Niles.

Niles: Oh, Frasier, I have had… the worst day imaginable. I need a

sherry.

Frasier: Brace yourself.

Niles: [noticing the empty bottle] You always think it’s going to

happen to someone else…

 

 

And there’s the point. Sometimes bad days do happen to good people.

And when you are out of sherry, as I have been for some years now actually, wine is a marvellous plan B.

 

But if any of my friends would like to buy me sherry again at any point, I seem to recall that I liked that expensive stuff from the UK that came in that beautiful blue bottle… #JustSaying

 

 

 

 

Finding the joy

I realised recently that I need to find joy again, in and of myself. Joy that is just mine.

So here are some of my suggestions: To me, from me.

  • Take small moments of rest when you can.
  • Listen to music (always fun – sometimes my little Panda positively rocks the road in traffic!).
  • Enjoy the purring of a cat (or two at the same time, or even three or four, when you live in our house).
  • Write more (doing it right now).
  • Paint more. Pick UP that paintbrush and mix those paints!

painting

  • Follow your creative ideas.
  • Read (this is an easy win, but oh so effective).
  • Take time out with friends (you know who you are).
  • Play with your dogs. Nobody does the ‘happy dance’ like Sasha, and nobody creeps onto a lap quite so well as Nickelback.

Happy dance

  • Cook meals with meaning.
  • Read to Liam and Matthew (we need a new series after the Narnia Chronicles now).
  • Walk in the park – with or without dogs.

In the park

  • Fix my bicycle and start cycling again.
  • Enjoy chocolate and wine. Two of life’s great pleasures…
  • Remember the restorative power of a facial!
  • Make more effort with fashion, girlfriend.
  • Don’t forget about movies, DVDs and the theatre. God bless the Minions… (and their creators)

minions T Rex

  • Embrace technology more and remind yourself that you are actually better than you give yourself credit for.

 

And sometimes… Just Be.

 

Just.

Be.

 

 

I eavesdropped on your photos

My dearest mom

Today I found myself unexpectedly eavesdropping on your photos.

It was so good to go back in time. Do you know there are photos on there that you still have to print out from 2010? (Yes, yes, I know you are busy. A truer word was never spoken.)

The reason I was snooping inside your digital memories is, of course, because I’ve been using your camera on an ad hoc basis lately for my work: partly because my own gave up the ghost long ago, and partly because I currently own a smartphone with an un-smart camera.

In the process of borrowing your camera on a semi-regular basis these past few months I have been, er, keeping it between assignments. And, of course, quite rightly you wanted it back.

So today I had a spare couple of hours to turn on my laptop and start processing. Firstly, I sorted all my work photos from the happy family photos on your camera’s memory. Then I gaily deleted my work photos, which I don’t need any more. And then I started looking at the family photos, and found myself on an unexpected trip down memory lane for the next two hours.

In vivid technicolour (mostly un-blurred), I remembered previous birthdays for Liam and Matthew.

I remembered previous Christmases when we were all together as a family: you, me, dad, Frank and Liam and Matthew.

I saw some of the photos from the time you and dad went over to visit Lorna and Domenico in Italy and celebrate dad’s 70th birthday.

 

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

I remembered times when dad could still walk and talk; when the scourge of his motor neurone disease had not yet manifested and brought with it this overwhelming sorrow for us all.

When we still had so much joy on those family occasions.

And so I eavesdropped on your photos.

I ended up copying all of them. Going through them was utterly marvellous. It reminded me that life is a process; that there are some things that can be changed and others that must be accepted and made the best of; that sometimes we discover our true strength only in the fires and the burning of unavoidable bone-deep sorrow.

And yet, at the same time, I refuse to give up on the flames of happiness and hope for the future. I just can’t. It‘s not in me to let the darkness overcome the light. I’m quite pedantic about it, really.

Vivienne and dad wedding

I find myself so grateful for all the happy times we have had – as well as for the strength and courage and sheer (sometimes bloody-minded) tenacity my Scottish heritage has bequeathed me. It’s been a most surprising gift.

I know the less-diluted happy times will come again in full strength, albeit in a different form and with different players taking centre stage or different roles.

I plan to be there.

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PS Just one tiny confession: I deleted an image from your camera – just one, from almost 500. I simply had to. I knew I’d picked up quite a few extra pounds back in 2011/2012, but it was really quite unbearable to imagine this particular photo being around for posterity. It’s called editing.

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