Wednesday, 29 December 2010

the beauty of language

My friend Riekie has recently started a blog. It is written in her usual poetic style, full of idioms and metaphors and, typically, has me laughing out loud.

It is the story of a Parktown prawn... a cockroach, which is not quite as big as the model in this picture.

But almost...

It is written in Afrikaans, as Google helpfully informs me. What I found really interesting was the totally unexpected poetry of the translation. Thanks to Riekie and Google I have a whole new vocabulary.

Who could fail to respond to "hurt your heart to a shrink". I know just what that feels like.

And this!
"I have temporarily set sail eternal. shamelessly chose to reality exchange for the safe darkness of nowhere."

Pure poetry!

Riekie's blog is here

Do yourself a favour and read it.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010


This time of year always feels like it is filled with anticipation. It must be the combined energy of so many of us planning new beginnings, new projects and filled with new determination that this year will be different.

Sometimes all it takes is a glimpse to inspire us to new heights.

When we were in Rome last month, the one thing that I wanted to see more than anything was a keyhole in a door that gave a view of the Vatican.
We trudged up a rather steep hill in the pouring rain to take a peek, and for me it was absolutely worth it. I had expected it to be special, but I didn't expect it would take my breath away. We stayed long enough to see it after dark too, and the vision of the dome of the Vatican lit up, framed by the dark arch of trees is something I will never forget.

We tried taking pictures, but as you can see they just didn't do it justice. I suspect the ones you can find on the web were taken from inside the door.

What I didn't realise at the time was that we were looking at three countries... that would have made it even more exciting!

You can read more about it here.

Monday, 27 December 2010

whole again!

How come no one tells you, when you are young and pregnant, that once your children are born you will never, ever be a whole person again unless you know they are safe and happy?

How come no one ever tells you, when your sons are young and noisy and fighting and a bit smelly (and every second word is Muuuum!) that you will reach a stage when they are their own men, and far away and you'll long with every fibre of your being for just one more day of noise and being totally needed?

How come no one ever tells you that once your boys become men, life will never be the same again? That you will never, ever know them in the way that you once did? That even though you talk almost every day, part of their lives will be censored rather than shared? (and that you know that is the way it should be)

How come no one ever tells you that you will feel so proud of what your boys are doing (both of them) that you feel like your heart will burst? And that no matter what happens, you'll never quite lose the mother tiger that moved into your soul the day they were born, ready to do battle on their behalf at the slightest provocation.

What brought on this maudlin introspection?

Simon is writing some great music and doing what he was born to do and I am sure that 2011 will be his best year yet. You can hear his music here (although most of my favourites aren't there).

Ben is somewhere in the Antarctic ocean, working on Gojira. You can see him in this video, mostly holding ropes.(in the lighter jersey, first seen at around 39 seconds here)

And today, I felt whole again because I had the chance to chat to him on Facebook. Just a few words, but they made all the difference.

shadow season

It was a strange Christmas.

Usually Greg and I  have a house full of family and friends, lots of laughter and lots of love.

This year, the love was still there but the family and friends were not.

They are scattered all over the world and I miss them like crazy. I feel disconnected and a bit lost.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

mind's eye

Greg has just got home from spending a couple of days with some very sad people. People who have lost hope. People who have traded joy and love and laughter for stilted formality and a grey and sterile existence.

It is so frustrating and debilitating to be with people like that and I want to scream in anger and grief at the thought of what life must be like for them.

I have lived with depression and loss and pain and I know what it is to feel the loneliness that gnaws away at your soul, but I have always had that (sometimes tiny) spark of hope that makes me believe that things can, and will be better.

They don't seem to have even that... all they are left with is the mind-numbing sameness that comes when you are existing rather than living.

The picture above is of Greg on the station in Rome as we waited to catch a train to Venice a couple of weeks ago. I love the thakka, thakka thakka of the arrivals and departure boards, and that exciting feeling that "we could just go anywhere".

We speak no Italian, and working out which train to catch and how to buy the tickets was a bit of a challenge. But it didn't matter... if we were on the wrong train we could change course and get the right one.
And without meaning to sound like we have all the answers I think that attitude is part of the reason that we see life as an adventure, whereas the people that Greg just visited just don't seem to see it like that.

I wish I could take them with me send them to Florence, where maybe their souls would learn to sing. (Because they are so miserable, to be honest I'd rather send them than take them and be dragged down by their negativity).

Maybe, if the art in the galleries and churches did not smash through the crust of despair, they would wake up if they saw the work of the street artists.

Work of such exquisite beauty, laid over a dusty, oily road.

And maybe ... just maybe... if they saw it a day later, washed away by the rain, they would realise that we must make the most of every precious moment while embracing life with open hands... ready to let go of the things of the past.

Prepared to start afresh, kitted out for the next step on the big adventure. And more than that... more than being ready, to actually start putting one foot in front of the other and finding their way to somewhere altogether new and wonderful.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

not scared

Sometimes I need a reminder...

The things that look big and scary may just need a bop on the nose to bring them down to size.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Sometimes I wonder how it is that I can stay alive when so much of my heart seems to live outside of my body, attached inextricably to those I love

Sunday, 17 October 2010

climbing molehills

significantly, this is one of the pictures I used in the publication

Today I finished a huge project which has been dragging on for almost a year...

It was a wonderful project, with inspiring stories to write about incredible people and uplifting initiatives. I wrote about it here, when I first started. So the problem certainly wasn't with the project itself. 

Some of the delays were out of my control, but for the last month or two the delays have been in my hands, and mostly because I had built it up into this huge mountain of work that I didn't have time to finish.

It took an ultimatum to get my bum into gear, and what a relief it is. I feel like a weight has been lifted, not just from my shoulders but from my psyche.

Isn't it amazing how we are often our own worst enemies?
Isn't it amazing what power our minds have to control our lives and our thoughts.

Makes me wonder what else I have built up into a mountain?

What else is shackling me when I should be soaring?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

being a grown up

I have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of work to do before Monday

Seriously... I have A LOT of work to get finished unless I want to risk getting jumped on by hordes of irate German clients (well ... one, but it feels like hordes) and a rather formidable woman (I suspect just on the outside) who lives in China.

I'm feeling quite motivated to get the work done... having two separately scary clients has that effect.

But it is Saturday, and there is a little girl in the corner of my mind who wants to go out and play.

But, I'll be good and sit in my office and look longingly at the gorgeously cheerful wooden fish my son Ben brought me back from Mozambique. It reminds me that there is life and freedom outside of the work time... and it may not be too long to wait before I can experience both of them.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

happy birthday to "the Arch!"

tenacity and hope in the most unhospitable of places
"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ"

 I often think of Ghandi's famous words (even if it is not completely clear that it was actually he who said them) and use them as a measure and a reminder for the way that I try to live my life.

I use them as a measure for other people too. For me, professing to be a Christian means that you have voluntarily set the bar that measures your behaviour, your reactions and the way that you live your life, every moment of the day. (Even when no one is watching).

It is a particular joy to come across an individual who actually practices what he preaches. Someone who, like Paul, could say "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ".

For me,  Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who turns 79 today, epitomises that example

He is the elder statesman of South Africa and has been described as the conscience of our nation, but he is more than that. He is a man who epitomises a life well lived. He is a man of courage who is filled with compassion and empathy.

I remember the first time I met him. He had just been elected as Archbishop of Cape Town and had moved into the famous Bishop's Court residence which came as part of the package with his new status. It was a very big deal for many people: not only was he the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, but he was living in a traditionally white, very wealthy area.

I was about 26 years old, with two small sons, and was involved with the End Conscription Campaign that was trying to prevent the conscription by the Nationalist government of white boys to fight against their own countrymen. I don't remember all the details, but one of the events we organised was an outing for children from one of the townships outside Cape Town to Bishops Court.

There were groups of children in their underwear (most didn't own bathing costumes) jumping in and out of the pool. There were other groups, bewilderedly trying to play the "non competitive games" we felt were so important (it doesn't work... children always want to win!). I was packing brown paper lunch bags (all exactly the same, in the spirit of equality and non competitiveness) with a couple of other women. It was only when the Arch came up and gave the woman next to me a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek, that I realised that I had been chatting to Leah Tutu as we worked.

He was filled with the glee that is so much part of his life. He was giggling about the fact that his neighbours had been concerned about him "busing in people from the townships" and here we were, with bussload or two of children, having fun and working together and getting a taste of what a non-racial society could be.

I saw him many times after that, at prayer vigils in the St George's Cathedral crypt, leading marches, filled with grief at funerals and (on television) filled with excitement and hope as Mandela was released and it looked like our dream of a non racial society - his Rainbow Nation - would become a reality.

I saw the television footage of him, breaking down in tears at the Truth Commission as he could no longer bear the desperate stories of man's inhumanity to man.

But in spite of all that he has seen and heard and lived through, he remains what a true Christian should be: courageous, honest, true, compassionate and filled with joy and hope.

Today he officially retires from public life, but he will certainly remain in my heart - and many others - as an example of a principled man and someone who has truly followed the example of Christ.

I wish Ghandi was still around to meet him!

Want to see Tutu meet Tutu, the ZaNews puppet? go here

And there is a wonderful interview in Time with the bishop. I particularly loved this quote:

Looking back over your career, what have you learned?
As human beings we have the most extraordinary capacity for evil. We can perpetrate some of the most horrendous atrocities. That would be awful if that was the end of the story. But, exhilaratingly, people also have an incredible capacity for good. People who should have been consumed by anger and bitterness and lust for revenge have shown in so many instances a remarkable magnanimity, a nobility of spirit. That's the chief lesson I have learned. That in spite of all the horror of injustice and oppression, and the sense that those who perpetrate evil tend to appear invincible, the texture of our universe is one where there is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail. In the end, the perpetrators of injustice or oppression, the ones who strut the stage of the world often seemingly unbeatable — there is no doubt at all that they will bite the dust. (Laughs) Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!"

Read more:,8599,2023562,00.html#ixzz11fRTTmsm

Friday, 1 October 2010

of extremes

Next week, October 9 - 13 is National Nutrition Week in South Africa.

I help the Peninsula School Feeding Scheme to get the word out about the wonderful work thay do by writing a couple of press releases for them. I've written about therm before but is certainly worth mentioning them again, especially this week.

Children, like these at a school in Delft outside Cape Town, rely on the PSFA for what is often their only meal of the day. They are just a few of the 233 000 children in 633 schools in the Western Cape who would come to school hungry if it was not for the work this organisation does, coupled with a subsidy from the Department of Education.

October is also the month that includes World Food Day on the 16th, and National Obesity Week from the 15th to 19th.

South Africa has recently gained the dubious honour of being the third fattest nation in the world, and Cape Town has been declared the fattest city in the country. And yet, these children and hundreds who are not as fortunate, can be fed every day for just R370 a year. (about US$30)

If you want to help, call the PSFA office at (021) 447 6020, email or visit for details.

derring do

Not such a random picture... sometimes all it takes is the confidence to let go and be free

Derring do: Daring or reckless action.
Misinterpretation of earlier derrynge do
misprint of Late Middle English dorryng do, daring to do,

When I read Julie's latest post, moments of perfect clarity: in which she doesn't dare, it really resonated with me. I can identify so strongly with her wondering whether to live off her own creativity or to stay tied to the (often false) security of a job.

But sometimes all it takes is a bit of derring do. A leap of faith that you can succeed, and if you don't, at least you will have tried. A bit of action, that is not always as reckless as the definition may imply.

I remember when I started my own business. It was a jump in the dark, but I did have a bit of a push. The person I had been working for (and who I still respect immensly) had started making unreasonable work demands. The end result was that I sued him (successfully!) and was left with the option of returning to work as a journalist for a daily newspaper or finding a new path for myself.

Starting out on your own is scary. I had worked as a freelance writer before, but I never really regarded it as a proper job, and I always drifted back to the safety of the newspaper, with its fairly regular hours and a guaranteed pay cheque at the end of each month. I think I hold the record for the number of times that I resigned from Independent Newspapers (including when it was still called the Argus Company) ... eight times!

Admittedly twice were because I had babies and there was no such thing as maternity leave then. 

I remember resigning for the second time from the Pretoria News. The then-deputy editor Dennis Cruywagen (who had been a close friend for over a decade) gave me back my resignation letter, saying "Take out all the stuff about why you are leaving. Just say 'I resign' because you might want to rejoin the company!" He was right, and I did, twice more (so far).

I think the difference this time, is that I defined the move as something more than just "going freelancing". I told myself I was starting a business, and I have referred to Of Course Media as "my company" ever since.
And the difference is clear. I am not the only one that takes me more seriously!

Julie's post, and the comments that follow it, made me think about the kind of person that starts out on their own. I remember phoning a colleague after I started my business and excitedly telling him "Vernon, I'm working for myself now!"
His response? "You always were!"

I think that's so true. I was never a corporate drone, and often kicked against the company rules. I always tried to see if there was a "better" way of doing things (even though management never saw things the same way as me!). But perhaps, most importantly, even if we work for a company, we still work for ourselves. We still get up in the morning and do our work as well as possible. We still make decisions and choices about attitude and how we present ourselves to others.

So, now both Greg and I work for Of Course Media (Greg is a pastor too, but that comes with no salary, no financial reward). There is no guaranteed income every month (although I do have a couple of retainers at the moment).

But was there ever really a guarantee before? I think that working for a company gives one a false sense of security. You are still just one pay cheque away from unemployment, as many people learned during this last recession.

And the name of our company reminds us every day... of course you can!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

meeting free zone

I've had a week without meetings and it has been total bliss.

Not driving into Cape Town means that I may not have seen views like this...

and, even in a meeting free week, there hasn't even been time for this...

But I have managed to get to a stage where the work left to do is not quite so overwhelming as it was, and that can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

wooden structures

We may have lost the lapa ( I wrote about it here and here ) and the palm trees were cut down, but we have been left with a wonderful treasure trove of wood that Greg has been using to build all sorts of cool structures in our garden.

Next to the washing line is the beginning of a wall that Greg is building with the palm tree pieces. I love the way it curves around the avocado tree that I grew from a pip. I think it is important that you notice that tree. It is one of my biggest achievements ... my thumbs are decidedly not green but somehow this tree has survived a couple of transplants and a scorching Moorreesburg summer and is still growing.

Next are a screen that Greg built in front of the pool pump and the walls he built to hide the door of the outside toilet. It would have originally been the only toilet in the house, but thankfully we have one inside now. I'm always a bit wary of all the spiders who live out there, and I always hated it if the door was left open so that people driving past could see the actual toilet... I think sometimes I channel my Victorian grandmother. And as you can see, there are still lots of poles and latte (not coffee... thin poles) lying around, so I expect many more creative structures to be springing up in the future. 

And these are the screens Greg built so that the outside shower that we installed last year is not completely visible from the road.

The garden is a work in progress, and it is really exciting to see how it develops. It is such a change from the bare clay and millions of termites that we had when we moved here seven years ago. We are learning what works and what doesn't. We are discovering what plants will grow in our unforgiving climate and we are turning a house into a home.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Square insanity

It is official.

I have lost my head.

I am knitting a gazillion squares in blues and greens and greys and purples, to make a blanket for our bed.
I started a similar project about a year ago but then decided it was a stupid idea and gave away all the squares I had made.

But this time I am only using colours in the palette I have chosen (the other one was too full of bright reds and yellows) so I think it has a better chance of success.

And I am using left over wool from other projects, some that other people have given me, so there is a memory in each one which is nice.

Anyone want to add a square or two, or send me some wool? They'd be greatly appreciated!

Monday, 27 September 2010

balm for my soul

It is probably time for a change of pace ... a move from what some would say are the "socialist delusions" of my last post.
But I am still harping on in my mind about what it means to be a South African, now at this moment, in this place. So, be warned,  I'll probably come back to it again.

In the meantime, here is one of the songs that sings to my African soul. Thanks to Helen Brain (whose blog is listed in my blog list) for reminding me.

Now... tell me that doesn't soothe all your troubles away?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

heritage day

Yesterday was Heritage Day in South Africa.

It is a day where we are intended to celebrate our individual and common heritage, and while I think it is a great idea (public holidays are always a great idea!) I must admit that it doesn't quite work for me in the South Africa of 2010, where bigotry and suspicion of "the other" are more common that a pride in a common heritage.

Many of the people I know identify most strongly with their tribe. Others define themselves by their language group, and I can understand that. My literary heritage is almost all English. I love so much about England: the weather, the landscape, the architecture, the history (which I know as well as South African history).
But, that said, I am not British and aren't likely to ever get a British passport.

Many of the things that traditionally (and very one-dimensionally) define a South African don't resonate with me. I don't watch rugby or cricket, don't drink beer, very seldom eat braai (barbecue) and have never had a brandy and coke. I don't feel a strong affinity with most of the people I see around me.

I know for sure that I am African... the continent with its harsh beauty sings to my soul ... but most of the time I feel more strongly about the continent than I do about the small corner where I live.

But, in spite of that, we'll continue to fly the South African flag outside our front door (and not only because it annoys the neighbours ... ) We put it up during the World Cup when everyone was flying the flag, and decided it would be wrong to take it down just because the football fans had gone home.

For so many years, being a white South African meant that you were a pariah. It was not something that I could proclaim with pride, and my skin still crawls when I see people harking back to the "good old days" of unwarranted privilege and flying the old South African flag. I still hate the fact that people from here and abroad make assumptions about my attitudes based on my skin colour. I despair when certain sectors of the "new" South Africa claim the struggle as their own, as if no one else ever contributed or gave their lives because they, too, believed in freedom. For me, the flag of South Africa, with its "welcoming arms", is a symbol of what we all went through to get to where we are today.

It is my profound hope that one day, all South Africans will be able to feel a sense of belonging, and that Heritage Day will be a meaningful time of mutual respect for all of us.

This graffiti on a door in Woodstock, Cape Town, really sums up for me how far we have strayed from the ideals of the Freedom Charter
I hope that one day, we will live according to the Freedom Charter (a document that was never intended to be the property of just one political group) which was signed in June 1955 and still resonates today.

We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
  • That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;
  • That our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;
  • That our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;
  • That only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;
  • And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter;
  • And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.
The People Shall Govern!
  • Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;
  • All people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country;
  • The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;
  • All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.
All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights!
  • There shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races;
  • All people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs;
  • All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride;
  • The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime;
  • All apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside.
The People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth!
  • The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;
  • The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;
  • All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people;
  • All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.
The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!
  • Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger;
  • The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers;
  • Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;
  • All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose;
  • People shall not be robbed of their cattle, and forced labour and farm prisons shall be abolished.
All Shall be Equal Before the Law!
  • No-one shall be imprisoned, deported or restricted without a fair trial;
  • No-one shall be condemned by the order of any Government official;
  • The courts shall be representative of all the people;
  • Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance;
  • The police force and army shall be open to all on an equal basis and shall be the helpers and protectors of the people;
  • All laws which discriminate on grounds of race, colour or belief shall be repealed.All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights!
  • The law shall guarantee to all their right to speak, to organise, to meet together, to publish, to preach, to worship and to educate their children;
  • The privacy of the house from police raids shall be protected by law;
  • All shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad;
  • Pass Laws, permits and all other laws restricting these freedoms shall be abolished.
There Shall be Work and Security!
  • All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers;
  • The state shall recognise the right and duty of all to work, and to draw full unemployment benefits;
  • Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work;
  • There shall be a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers;
  • Miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work;
  • Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.
The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!
  • The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life;
  • All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;
  • The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;
  • Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;
  • Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;
  • Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;
  • Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;
  • The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.
There Shall be Houses, Security and Comfort!
  • All people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security;
  • Unused housing space shall be made available to the people;
  • Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no-one shall go hungry;
  • A preventive health scheme shall be run by the state;
  • Free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children;
  • Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres;
  • The aged, the orphans, the disabled and the sick shall be cared for by the state.
Rest, leisure and recreation shall be the right of all:
  • Fenced locations and ghettoes shall be abolished, and laws which break up families shall be repealed.
There Shall be Peace and Friendship!
  • South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations;
  • South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation - not war;
  • Peace and friendship amongst all our people shall be secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all;
  • The people of the protectorates Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland  (Botswana) and Swaziland shall be free to decide for themselves their own future;
  • The right of all peoples of Africa to independence and self-government shall be recognised, and shall be the basis of close co-operation.
Let all people who love their people and their country now say, as we say here:

These freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives. Until we have won our liberty.

Friday, 24 September 2010

living the quiet life

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business  
and to work with your hands...  
 1 Thessalonians 4:11

I love that scripture. For me, it embodies the kind of life I would love to live.

But it remains an ideal.

The environment where I live and work is quiet, and most mornings I am woken by the sound of birdsong. That's just before some idiot, somewhere in this town lets his damn car alarm off, for at least 1/2 an hour every morning at 6am. I keep planning to drive around and find him, but that means actually getting up and dressed before 6am, which is seriously unlikely to ever happen.

Mind your own business.... hmmm. Sounds good. But what happens when you are a journalist and "your own business" is the business of others? I prefer to interpret this as "don't gossip" which is generally much easier for me to live by.

I wonder if working with your hands includes working on the computer, because that seems to be all the handwork I have time to do at the moment.

But one day! One day I will be living somewhere wild (by the sea, in a forest under a mountain... and yes, I do mean all three) which I have bought due to (by then) being a best selling author. 

Then I'll be quiet, mind my own business and spend my days making pots, painting landscapes and making apple pies.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Judging is a no-no

This post is quite difficult to write, because I don't quite know how to express what I am feeling.

I want to tell you about the man who joined our congregation at church this Sunday, but the more I think about it, the more I get myself tied into knots about how best to describe the experience of meeting him.

Nono is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (now there is a misnomer!). He has left his wife and 11 year old daughter behind in the Congo (not the DRC) and has come to South Africa to see if he can start a new life, one with more stability, and he plans to send for his family as soon as he is settled.

He is in Moorreesburg at the moment because the N7 highway that passes our town is being repaired and he is working with the road team. I'm not sure what it is he is doing, but I hope he is one of the guys who is waving a flag to warn the traffic rather than one of the people working with hot tar or the strange fabric stuff that they seem to be sticking over the potholes.

I am always saddened by the plight of the refugees to South Africa. Not only are they met with the usual racism that this country still exhibits daily (and it is not just black against white, many Afrikaaners hate the English and there is inter-tribal racism too) but he also has to deal with the xenophobic attitude of people who he says "are immediately able to tell the difference between a South African black and someone from outside the borders".

Almost without exception, the refugees are the cream of their countries. They are the ones who are determined not to sit back and accept the status quo. They are the ones who are prepared to sacrifice to make a good life for their families. They are the ones who have looked into the abyss and are determined not to get sucked in.

And, in South Africa, they are looked down on by so many. Someone confided in Greg recently that he was "getting over his racism", but was not prepared to invite "them" into his house. That's fair enough, and I admire his honesty. Change doesn't happen in an instant. Or even in 16 years.

What I can't accept is the way people are judged and belittled. It comes down to a simple choice: am I going to treat this person as my neighbour, as a fellow human being, as someone who deserves the same level of respect as I want for myself? If you can't answer yes to those questions, maybe you need to be asking some hard questions about yourself and your attitude.

Like, what exactly is it that makes you think that you are superior to the flag waver on the side of the road, as you pass them by at the roadblock? Does the job a person is doing make them less worthy of respect?

Would you feel differently if you knew something about them?

Would your opinion change if you were involved in an accident on the N7 this week and the first person on the scene to help you was Nono, the lowly roadworker who is doing what he can to send money back to his family while he waits to take the exam that will recognise his qualifications and experience and allow him to continue practising as a medical doctor?

Monday, 20 September 2010

passing time

I woke up today to the realisation that in less than two months we will be in Italy, on our holiday to soak in the art and culture of a country which has filled my dreams ever since my brother went there when I was about 12.

(It is worth noting, though, that many countries fill my dreams... Russia, Morocco, Alaska (yes, I know, not a country), Patagonia ...)

And now I am in that strange limbo of not quite looking forward to the trip yet, because all the things that are still to be done before we go are filling my mind.

Life would be so much easier if it didn't involve working for a living.

This rather spendid figure is part of a monument in Torino that I saw when I was there with the World Federation of Science Journalists earlier this year.

Most of our time was spent working and getting to know what we had agreed to do for the next two years, so there was only one evening set aside for a bit of sightseeing.

There was time for a group picture, though getting us together was a bit like herding butterflies.
I'm fully expecting to see many more moody vistas like this one when we go, and I admit to feeling some trepidation about what I am going to wear, seeing as South African winter clothes aren't exactly warm and most of mine don't fit me any more anyway seeing as I am 15kg lighter than I was at the beginning of last winter.

And, of course, our shops are in full summer swing... not a warm thing to be found!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

standing room only

When I was a little girl, I was a sci fi freak. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, and some of the stories I read then have remained with me ever since.

I was so convinced that the things I read about would be reality by the time I grew up that I sometimes feel an almost disconnected feeling ... like I am one of the survivors of some planetary disaster, and have memories of what the world used to be like.

I thought that we would have space travel for everybody, not just the super rich. In fact, I fully expected to be living on another planet.

I thought we would have instant access portals that we would step into if we wanted to get from one place to another. Kind of "beam me up Scotty" without the need for Scotty. A bit like the flues in Harry Potter, I suppose. 

I certainly didn't think that I'd still be here, feet mostly on the ground, looking into a future of standing-room only aeroplanes.

These pictures are of Italian company Aviointeriors' new aircraft 'standing seat' which has 46cm of legroom, instead of the current economy class average of 60cm. They were taken at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in California a few days ago. you can see more pics here

Are they serious? Imagine this on a long-haul flight! And imagine how much more it will emphasise the disparity between the fatcats in first class and the rest of us in economy...

But it is not all pie in the sky...

Some things in my future have come true ... this is a photo of me in my office in Moorreesburg, South Africa,  taken by my colleague Akin in Abuja, Nigeria. I was being projected onto the wall, thanks to the wonders of skype video (and no thanks at all to the Nigerian consulate in Joburg) I seem to be making a point about something. I hope it was interesting!

Friday, 17 September 2010

just breathe...

On days like this, it is a good idea to take the time to breathe and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

And to remember that there are sometimes surprises in the most mundane of occurances.

This orchid is a Cattleyas. It was named in 1824 after William Cattley, a London plant importer. He had been intrigued by the packaging material that had been used for some other plants he had imported from South America. He decided to try to grow it, and this, the "corsage orchid" was the result.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The last day of the palms

So, how about this. Two posts in as many days after a hiatus of how long?

Is it symbolic that on the day that I woke up at 2.30am to get to the airport and go to Joburg to not get my Nigerian visa, our five seventy year old palm trees were cut down?

One of the trees had begun to lean a little alarmingly. You can see it on the left of the three trees in front of the house.

You know how it is... we had a couple of vague discussions about whether the palm had moved, and the feeling of disquiet grew into a certainty and a conviction that we would have to do something about it.

Then our neighbours put up one of those exceptionally ugly vibracrete walls, (you can see it on the left of our gate in the second pic, and yes I know it doesn't look so bad in that picture).

Where we live, vibracrete walls are described as "mooi netjies" which in theory means "nice and neat" but actually means "ugly and devoid of character".

The inordinate pride that he obviously felt for the defacement of his property and ours made us think again about the palm trees. I mean, if one fell down and broke the wall my joy at its demise would be tempered by the horror of having to pay for a new one.

(And please don't get the idea that I don't like our neighbours. I think they are great people. I just don't like the wall. Robert Frost's neighbour was wrong.  )

And pay is what we would have had to do.
I had insisted that Greg phone our insurance company (Standard Bank, because until the mortgage is paid they actually own our house) and tell them that we were worried about the tree.

I absolutely insisted.

So he did.

"Thank you for telling us" said the person on the other end of the phone. "Because you have let us know, we are removing the tree from your policy and will not be covering any damage if it falls."

They confirmed, in response to Greg's horrified query, that even if the tree fell while he was still on the phone to them they would not pay a cent. (insert phrase that calls parentage of bank, insurance company and all its staff into question, here).

So, we had no choice but to do two things: change insurance companies (remember they were the ones that also didn't pay for the lapa) and cut down the trees.

Our house looks like a man after a haircut... kind of clean and slightly sheepish.

Greg has been a total hero, carting away the huge piles of palm leaves to the municipal dump. I think this was trip number 12!

We're keeping the trunks for now ... thay may be turned into a wall or a path, and even a couple of outdoor stools.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

hanging around

I spent yesterday hanging on a wall in a hotel room in Abuja, Nigeria (remembering, I hope, not to pick my nose or do anything else that shouldn't be done in public). And after a quick dash into town to interview someone on the totally scintillating topic of medical aid tarrif increases, I expect to do the same thing tomorrow.

This week was one that I have been looking forward to for a long time. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of five mentors for science journalists in English-speaking Africa as part of the World Federation of Science Journalists SjCOOP programme. This week we were to get the chance to meet face to face with the mentees that we will be working with for the next two years.

Sadly, for me, that didn't happen. Its a long story, the ending of which is best explained by Extranjera here. She was an island of sanity in the Nigerian consulate in Johannesburg where I spent one of the longest and most frustrating days of my life. Sadly the public face of Nigeria ... in Johannesburg at least ... is nothing like the totally amazing people that I have met from that country. Even more sadly, I suspect that the main reason that my visa was not granted (in spite of very senior government officials demanding that my visa be issued) is that I refused to pay the R2500 bribe that the visa company said the consulate officials wanted to process my documents.

So I am not in Nigeria, and I have been interested in the almost equal numbers of my friends and acquintances who have either said I should have paid, or who have supported me for not doing so. Perhaps naively, I thought that if I went to the offices I would be able to persuade them that they should give me the visa. After all, I had an official letter of invitation from the Nigerian Health Ministry. But no... that letter was what caused a nasty little man to yell at me from behind the (presumably bullet proof) glass that I was committing fraud because I "held the letter in my hand" when it belonged to their ministry. He then told me to go away and print the letter out again and bring it back, and totally failed to see that by doing so I would be holding it in my hand all over again.

And that was just the beginning of a day where the kindness and desparation of the people on my side of the counter was the polar opposite of the callous inhumanitiy of the "people" on the other. But read Extranjera's account. It is funnier than I can be. I just feel tired and despairing because of the way that a handful of people are screwing up our continent. And it works both ways: I am told by my Nigerian friends that the South African embassy there is a total nightmare to deal with too.

So why was I hanging on a wall? Because of the wonders of Skype video conferencing, I was able to see and be seen - projected onto the wall -  and to get a view of the people I will be working with for the next two years. It wasn't the same as actually being there, but it was a very good second best.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

wound up or run down?

I saw this old time clock at a printer I visited today.I wish today's time recorders looked as beautiful.

A closer look at the clock face did make me realise that the good old days may not have been as good as nostalgia would lead us to believe ...

Wound up or run down...that sounds like the story of my life!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

portraits of unknown soldiers

I've found myself totally fascinated by the Independent's unseen photographs of British soldiers in the first world war.

These are men and , very often, boys who were photographed by an unknown French photographer shortly before the battle of the Somme that claimed over 1 000 000 lives. I realise that the chances are that all the men in the photographs are dead now anyway, but how many of them had their lives cut short just days after they posed for the photos?

I have spent far too many hours, looking at their faces and into their eyes and wondering if I can see some hint of what was to come.

This boy looks too young to have a mustache, and his eyes look like he has already seen too much to bear.

There are over 400 photographs, and most of the people they depict are unknown.You can see them here and here

This one is the only photograph that includes a black soldier.

This boy looks like he was finding it hard to stand still. See how his feet are invisible in the photograph? I suspect that may be because he was moving them around. Many of them are standing next to a chair. I'm not sure what the significance of that was. To give scale? To symbolise that they were away from loved ones?
My grandfather on my father's side took part in the war, on the side of the allies and I suspect I may have had relations on my mother's side who were fighting for the Germans, but no stories of the war have come down through the generations. I think for many of the men who survived, talking about their experiences just wasn't an option.

Monday, 24 May 2010

just a list of whys

Why do people who want to make horrible hateful posts on Facebook pages or news stories almost always use pseudonoms? What kind of person has such strong opinions that they feel compelled to share, but are too afraid to say who they are?

Why is it that even the graveyards of Moorreesburg (and, I'm sure, many other places) reflect the disparity and inequalities in our society? The solid, granite-entombed citizens at the top of the hill and piles of sand and wooden crosses further down. If you look closely, you'll see that the flowers on this grave are inside water-filled, upturned cooldrink bottles. Ingenious.

We were at Moorreesburg's graveyard so that Greg could bury Margaret, one of Cape Town's homeless whose sister lives here. What was really heartening was the fact that two official government Social Welfare cars brought people who had known her and worked with her to the service.

What on earth made the designers of this hotel on Cape Town's Orange St think it was a good idea to put a kitchy gold couch in the lift?

Especially as the lift only feeds three floors! Seriously, not even time to sit down.

Why don't I get to spend more quality time with my sons? Why is life so often a rush? Why doesn't someone realise how incredibly talented Simon is (including himself?). Why can't I bottle happiness and contentment and give it out in copius quantities to the people I love (and the ones I don't... it would make even them into better people)?