Showing posts from 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.


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 w…

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 qu…

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.

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 anyw…

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.


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

climbing molehills

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?

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.

happy birthday to "the Arch!"

"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 …

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 fortu…

derring do

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 pat…

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.

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 …

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!

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?

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 braa…

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 a…

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 …

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 l…

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&#…

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.

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…

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 Nigeri…

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!

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 suspe…

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 …