thoughtsfromthepanda

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

Archive for the tag “Vivienne”

B is for Busy… also for ‘I’m Back!’

I’ve been away.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

January 2017

 

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

 

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

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

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

One, two, three… cue anguished cries.

Pause.

OH COME ON!

Thank you, that’s better.

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

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

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

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

With love and hugs from your mom

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

 

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

Xx

So let’s update the record a bit.

 

All about Being Busy

Here we go: back to mid-2015

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fame at last

 

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

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

 

August projects – ah, there you are, Mattie!

 

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

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

 

Here is Matthew waiting for his sushi…

 

And Liam also. So happy! Yay! Sushi!

 

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

 

Hmmmm. Is it Liam or is it Doc Martin?

 

Can you spot the real Doc Martin?

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Spot the Vincent cat… always where the action is!

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Discussing the new rules…

Matthew likes to dance while he plays pool

 

Liam does not dance during such times; not Good Form

This will be good for geometry studies later on

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

Matthew hidden under the blow-up dolphin

 

Liam hidden under the blow-up shark

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

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

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

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

 

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

And on a lighter note… over to my mother

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

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

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

joost-memorial

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

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

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

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

celeb-twins-haha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

doc-martin-437138

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

“So what was the name of the programme?”

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

My mother smirked some more.

The Julius Malema Show!” she replied, gleefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

849x493q70violence-eff-parliament

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

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

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

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

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

 

PS

But thanks, mom. You made my day!

xxx

Memories of MND: Goodbye, Joost van der Westhuizen

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

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

madiba

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

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

joost-mnd

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

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

amor-on-stage

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

joost-wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Joost.

joost

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

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

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

 

 

I grieve – one year on

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

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

grief-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

heron-fly-past

 

I grieve – Peter Gabriel 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life was good.

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

Painting-frame

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

My beautiful little Bunny-Beanzzz.

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

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

1

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

She turned my new flat into my new home.

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

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

2

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

My Nenya.

7

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

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

5

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

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

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

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

Bunny-Beanzzz (just because).

8

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

Vincent 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vincent 2

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

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

My Vincent.

Vincent 3

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

My Vincent.

Felix catfood

 

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

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

My Vincent.

Vincent 4

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

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

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

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

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

Nenya and Vincent 1

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

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

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

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

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

Nenya and Vincent

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

 

 

Thank you:

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

Thank you!

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.

Flower-sky-clouds-sunshine-mood-485x728

Precedent setting

“Mommy,” said Matthew, gracing me with his most winning smile and then flinging his arms affectionately around me, “Can I please have a three-day birthday this year also? Like Liam did? Pleeeeeeeaaase?”

He was, of course, harking back to what had turned out to be our three-day birthday celebrations for his big brother a few months before. I noted with some interest that Matthew was also admirably demonstrating his solid grasp of the concept of ‘setting a precedent’.

Considering that he was turning only seven, I thought this was quite sussed. Not entirely unique – I think all children who are over three and have siblings pretty much get the concept. It lurks under the umbrella of general fairness, usually prefaced with remarks like, “Well, he/she has already got an XYZ and so I think you should buy me one also otherwise it’s not faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrr.”

My real reason for being amused at Matthew’s understanding of precedent-setting lay mainly in how he’d presented his request.

Frank and I have long been aware of Matthew’s uncanny ability to turn on the cuteness factor when he wants to get his own way. We believe he went to a charm school for babies when we weren’t looking.

 

Matthew sunglasses

We have no idea where he gets it from but when he wants to be, he is a winning flirt. This includes flirting, as may be required, with his parents.

Under the circumstances, we had no option but to acquiesce. It did seem only fair. We were slightly disadvantaged in accommodating Matthew in that Liam’s birthday had fallen this year on a public holiday, and I’d then been obliged to take two days leave from work straight after that because it was school holidays. And thus had occurred the ‘three-day birthday’.

So, in the absence of a convenient public holiday for our second-born, we started a few days early with Matthew. The weekend before his birthday we went to Bambanani to spend his birthday voucher. Once again the children ate spare ribs (not an everyday treat).

So all good.

Then came his actual birthday on a normal weekday, and cupcakes went to the school to be shared out among classmates and teachers. Presents, of course, were also given out in the morning before school, the big one being the PSP. We didn’t really have an option here: Liam had been given a PSP four months previously and there was no way that this particular gift could NOT be repeated for Matthew.

Happiness is… both your children engrossed in their portable electronic games while their parents get to read books/chat/catch up with chores/watch favourite TV programmes without being interrupted by the sound of piping voices from the small beings in the house.

And then, on the Friday afternoon after his birthday, Matthew, big brother and some of his friends went to play battle games. After putting on a cool jacket over the child’s normal clothes, the aim is to shoot laser guns at each other in a dark maze-like place that I personally find to be claustrophobic and frightening, but then I’m a girl so I suppose I have an excuse. (Apparently this game has been around for years and years but I missed it because I was perennially reading.)

WorldDominator and DeathStar

Code names like ‘Armageddon’, ‘World Dominator’ and ‘Death Star’ (well, something along those lines) are given out and you can watch the children climb up the rankings of the games on screens outside the Battle Zone. The birthday package includes three games in total, each lasting 15 minutes. Besides a brief scare during which Matthew skidded and fell onto his laser gun while running gleefully out of the second session because he was so pleased with his performance, all was, thankfully, incident-free.

incident free

After the Battle Zone, eight happy small boys plus assorted parents and family members then moved on to a nearby restaurant for the pizza and birthday cake part of the birthday celebration.

This included handing out a small gift for each child in the form of a brilliantly simply flying object resembling early helicopter dynamics, apparently based on a long-ago Da Vinci invention.

Well, actually, this particular theory is absolute surmise on my part, but the 21st century’s ability to borrow from the past in the name of reinventing the wheel never ceases to amaze me. Just look at how legwarmers and clogs occasionally pop up again, albeit briefly, and don’t get me started on the bubble skirt (and really – who would EVER have predicted that?).

So in between munching on pizza, pasta and birthday cake, a happy time was held by all children while they played with their unidentified Da Vinci-esque objects in a safe place outside.

birthday cake Matthew

And so the birthday party officially ended shortly afterwards, and I was very grateful that the next day was Saturday and I could have a bit of a lie-in and relax, in the sure knowledge that all parental birthday duties were now over – and, moreover, fairly executed.

“Mommy,” said Matthew early the next morning, when I was still waking up, “you know how I’m having a three-day birthday this year like Liam did? I still have one more day to go…”

He said this while flashing me his most winning smile, and while I was still a bit vulnerable and not quite compos mentos.

“Okay, my love,” I said absentmindedly.

“…Wait a minute!” shouted my brain synapses as they finally started firing on all cylinders again. “Oy! We have actually fulfilled the mandate here!”

So nice try, little man. I am NOT setting a precedent for a four-day birthday celebration next year.

Unless it begins with mine.

 

 

 

Accident prone? It’s in the genes…

Dear Teacher Thea,

Just a little note to let you know that yesterday we went to a friend’s house for a braai and there was an accident involving Liam, a wooden bat and our friend’s child’s nose. The pleasant afternoon ended very abruptly in lots of blood and crying and a sudden visit to the hospital. Liam was very upset and I just wanted you to know in case he is out of sorts today.

…And so it begins. This mother of boy children braces herself and, with a mental shake, prepares for the inevitable physicality and impulsiveness that apparently comes with a boy child’s life.

As well as two boys, currently aged seven and five, our family also includes a Dobermann. A hound of the female persuasion, our darling Sasha is a big galumph. She is a klutz of the first water. There is nothing graceful about her in motion over short stretches. However, it’s a different story when she is running long-distance through the park, when the Dobermann’s heritage, which apparently includes greyhound bloodlines, then comes to the fore. At those moments, she is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, somewhere over there in the green yonder.

However, when Sasha is not running through the park, but instead through our house, she is a big galumph who skids around on our wooden floors and the occasional loose rug like a ping-pong ball forever unleashed inside a gravity-less scientific chamber. She is a soulmate to my firstborn. They were made to be mates.

Sasha doing ‘the happy dance’

Oh, but I see hard lessons ahead!

We had the hardest of hard lessons on Sunday already. My little man, as my dear friend and fellow boy-mom exclaimed upon hearing the story, is in no way a malicious child and anyone who knows him would know immediately that it was an accident (and for this kind endorsement I thank you most sincerely, dear Z). But he is an impulsive young soul and it will be a torment to him for some time to come that the ill-fated bat was launched from his hand.

He is also a very strong young man, and for his age a very big little boy. Combining my husband’s tall genes with his grandfather’s stocky tendencies, he was fitting comfortably into clothes for a nine-year-old when he had just turned seven. He has always been really big for his age – a baby giant even when he was a baby.

Little Liam – the biggest in his first ever pre-school class

Now add an impulsive, dreamy, accident-prone personality into this physical mix and you can see why I am fretting. After all, he lost his first tooth the day before his fifth birthday – root included – because he fell off a windowsill and cracked his jaw onto a chest of drawers below. (Oh, how we mourned that tooth and its premature departure for the next two and a half years…) And who does he get the impulsive dreaminess and accidental tendencies from?

Yes, indeed, that would be me.

His mother.

The same person who once briefly took up skydiving and flew into a large bluegum tree on her second jump.

I will maintain forever that the Potchefstroom fire brigade did very commendable work that weekend, although I do think that bringing along two fire engines and erecting two ladders was arguably not entirely necessary and that possibly they were just using my predicament for some unusual technical practice. I shall also not mention the ‘reserve ride’ that took place on my twelfth jump, other than to say that the reserve parachute was set to be released automatically anyway and I am quite proud that I actually pulled the cutaway myself. It was, of course, a pity about the hard landing but no bones were broken, after all, and spectacular bruises are inevitable when one’s eventual arrival back on terra firma includes three unintended forward somersaults.

Pause.

Thinks.

Note to self: we will need to steer Liam away from skydiving, rugby and possibly horses. And perhaps mountain bikes and hockey and cricket and…

Yes, I can see straight away that I have got a great strategy going here – not.

Oh dear.

I think perhaps I am not ready to be a boy-mom.

Yes, yes, I know I’ve had seven-plus years of it to date, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready yet. I think I need a little more practice.

Perhaps we can wrap Liam up in cotton wool for a couple of years and I can practise being a boy-mom on his younger brother, Matthew, who seems to have inherited his father’s more careful attitude towards life and a pre-disposition towards being soulmates with the cat – a far more precise and careful animal than the Dobermann.

My friend Vincent

Pause.

Thinks.

Note to self: that would be the same Matthew who’s had his right big toenail torn off twice already in two separate accidents – the second time on his fifth birthday. (What is it about fifth birthdays in our house?!!) And that would also be the same Matthew who hero-worships his big brother and is forever getting banged up running around after him trying to keep up, yes?

Yes.

So no, that doesn’t seem to be a strategy either.

What to do… what to d…

Pause.

To sweep up broken coffee mug shards and mop up coffee from aforementioned coffee mug, which broke when I placed it carefully in mid-air instead of on the table while mentally proofing the early paragraphs of this blog post without looking at where I was placing said coffee mug.

Yes, it would indeed seem to be in the genes.

Case closed, and karate lessons here we come. Apparently karate helps to instill discipline, self control and an awareness of one’s body in space – what more could a boy-mom ask for!

Pause.

Thinks.

I wonder if they take Dobermanns?

(extract from) The siren song

When I was very young and all the lessons lay before me, I revered the music makers as god-like creatures from another planet. Each week, with fanatical devotion, my friends and I would buy the magazines that printed interviews, photos and song-words, and from these and top-40 radio we were informed, entertained and guided.

The music makers fed our emotions. They said:

This is good, or

That is bad, and

we believed them, and were mystified if we didn’t understand. We wondered then what they heard that we were deaf to.

The music makers are

male

female

tall

short

mostly thin

often long-haired

bald maybe

bearded

clean-shaven

old, young or somewhere in between

smartly-dressed

scruffy

drugged-out

drug-free

usually friendly, and

always opinionated.

In other words, music makers come in various guises, but there is always some mark that sets them apart. I always thought it was something in the eyes. If you look closely, and in the right light of course, you will see a different sort of soul shining through.

Different. There’s the thing. Different how? Different why? And do we envy the music makers, or pity them for this mark that sets them apart?

This depends. When they soar through the heights, we envy and adore. When they fall, we are mocking, scornful or sad, depending on our own innate generosity.

I shared my life once with a music maker. I put words to his music and spiritually, for a while, we were twins.

A genius with the guitar, he had a voice like honeyed smoke, with that bad boy allure any good girl worth her salt wants to tame. His hair was long and said ‘So what?’ to the rest of the world, and I really liked that – later. In the early moments of seeing him though, he had no street cred for me at all except in his soaring fingers, because he was stuck in a raucous pub doing bad covers for the drunken Friday night masses. Wasting his considerable talents being the background notes to a bottle blonde who fancied she could sing, he was disillusioned with life and hungry for something new. We met at the bar counter while the blonde was strutting her stuff without him in the misguided belief she was doing the song unplugged.

He smiled at me, and in the dim light at that particular moment I saw in his eyes the shadow of the mark. Noting the ‘So what?’ hair, my gloom lifted and I smiled back. He asked me then if I was enjoying the music – careless, unspectacular small talk. It irked me because I suddenly and instinctively knew he had much better conversation to share. I looked away briefly to order another red wine, and looked back. Red wine always makes me very truthful and sometimes a bit stroppy, especially when it’s a common-or-garden box wine as this particular glass was, and I decided not to get bogged down in small talk because it was boring and predictable and I really couldn’t be bothered any more.

So I replied truthfully: “No, not really.  It’s a pity you’re doing this commercial crap, covering other people’s songs, because I noticed you can actually play.”

His eyebrows shot up just as the barman returned and slid a red wine towards me and a whisky towards the music man.

“Put her drink on my tab,” said the music man, and the barman nodded and moved away.

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

My husband found an old photo of himself the other day. He was – I’m guessing – about 26 at the time, and, I thought, absolutely gorgeous.

In the photo – which is sepia-coloured, to add to its nostalgic charm – he has long blonde hair with a bandanna tied around it. He’s wearing a flowing shirt and, around his neck, an amulet on a rope. He looks like someone straight out of the sixties.

As I initially digested the photo, remembering the Frank I’d first met – though not the Frank I’d first dated, because by then he’d cut his hair – I wished for a brief intense moment that he’d still looked like that when he and I were first sharing our lives.

In my younger years I was often a sucker for a man with long hair. I think it’s my yearning-for-the-sixties thing. I’ve always liked the idea of the flower power movement and that tipping point when the western world, for a short while, was less materialistic and young adults yearned for peace on a global scale.

(Note to cynics: no. It’s not about the sex and drugs, though I’ll surely subscribe to the rock and roll.)

I was lucky enough to work in California for a few months. I had my 27th birthday there. When I visited San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district (‘The Haight’) and walked the beautiful Golden Gate bridge, I felt that I should have been surrounded by long-haired ‘gentle people’ in flowing shirts and bell-bottomed jeans, strumming guitars and reminding me to wear flowers in my hair.

“If you’re going to San Francisco 

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

If you’re going to San Francisco 

You’re gonna meet some gentle people there…”

I heard the theme music everywhere I walked, and as a souvenir of my ‘California dreaming’ I got my belly button pierced in Haight Ashbury when I’d finished my temporary three-month job. Then I hopped on a Greyhound and travelled around the country for a few amazing weeks before finally going home to South Africa and the end of my American sabbatical.

I didn’t know it then but I was going home to a future that would include a gentle man who, in his early twenties, had sung and played the guitar in a pub. This was also the time he was growing out his hair and, with it, some of his memories of the war in which for two years he’d been a reluctant teenaged conscript.

We met years later and of course began sharing some of our stories – a necessary part of early dating, I think, before a new couple starts making their own memories together. But it’s crossed my mind on more than one occasion to be jealous that we didn’t know each other earlier in our lives.

I have wished that I knew the Frank with long hair.

I have wished that he knew me for more years with the body that was mine in my youth.

I have wished that we both knew each other when the wrinkles were fewer and the cynicism less.

When the background notes to life were more about music and less about money worries. When there seemed to be more time for fun.

I have been jealous of the women in his life who had those younger, less troubled, more energetic moments with him. I have mentally wished away the men I wasted my time on before he came. I have wished that we’d had our children together sooner. I’ve told him all of this. His response?

“I was too full of kak when I was younger,” he told me. “I would have ruined it with my issues.”

Yes, but that long hair.

That unlined face.

That untroubled gaze.

The music in your fingers that you release only seldom, now.

“And you,” I have told him mournfully, “could have known me with a better body for more years than you did!”

And he has reminded me that he knew the body that grew our two children. Which is logic that you simply cannot argue with, damn it. (Although the slimming efforts do continue unabated.)

And so I am okay with not knowing – and loving – the Frank who had the long hair.

Instead, I got the man who grew more gentle.

I think we must go to San Francisco together one day. I will wear a flower in my hair, and find a bandanna for his as we walk across the Golden Gate bridge. It doesn’t even matter if it’s short hair and not long.

And I think most people who see us will get it, and smile.

Post Navigation