Thursday, December 1, 2011

Herbs

I have just been given a bag of freshly picked organic sweet basil. It smells like summer. The first basil culinary delight we indulged in was a Caprese salad. Tomatoes and basil, the perfect combination to grow together, and to eat together.

I do not have a herb garden at the moment, probably for the first time in years. We move so much, but my terra-cotta pots make the journey with us, and are normally planted out with lavender, rosemary. thyme, mint and basil (come summer).
Not so this time.
My pots stand empty and strung with cobwebs on the back stairs.

Still, I can take pleasure in others' gardens, and always have anyway.
I remember my Pakistani neighbours, in shalwar kameez beneath warm black winter coats, standing out at the beginning of a chilly English summer, tilling their small rectangular patch in front of their terraced house.  
Coriander seed, that's what they planted, just beneath the sand, waiting for just a little sun, to burst up and out in leafy, fragrant greenness. They picked the fresh leaves, and I would sample it later, in delicious platters of aromatic curry, generously brought to my door. The seeds they gathered, to be planted out the next year, and some they dried, to see them through the winter months.

Herbs have been important to me for as long as I can really remember. In the South Africa of my youth herbal knowledge, for the most part, extended to parsley in the kitchen, and lavender in the garden. My mother grew lavender, and I used it to make 'Lavender Water”, in my Grandmothers cast off  '4711' bottles, which I adored.  

There were always all the indigenous herbs though, their secret magic and mystery shared by less and less, and relegated, for the most part, to rows of Lennons Boereraad on the dingy shelves of a country store, serving only those who could afford no other medical attention.

All that is changing, more and more.
Here in Knysna, I take my various woes to a Herbal Practitioner, who, in high heeled wedges, and with a flick of sun bleached hair, mixes up my potions in the exclusive part of town. They all taste vile, as, to my mind, real medicine should.

My organic basil comes from the vegetable gardens with a view up at the Epilepsy Centre.
I recall, in its heady fragrance, my best and most extensive herb garden, grown, years ago, just outside PE at a similar centre.
I had sixty two herbs there, some small seedlings having been transported in back seed trays, on my lap, on a midnight flight from Cape Town to PE.
I was keen, and young. My enthusiasm drove my team of two large men, given to me by Ebba Booth, a somewhat awesome German lady, who ruled Lake Farm at that time, with a cigarette in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
My two helpers were in my charge, and I worked them hard, myself armed only with the obligatory cigarettes and coffee. I overdid it on numerous occasions, and one of them would chase me menacingly with a raised spade or pitchfork, whilst the other huffed and grunted threateningly, to put me in my place.

I left Lake Farm just as the garden really bloomed, and it was a comfort, at the time, to know it continued growing without me. I don't think it remains today, there has been building, and no one ever loved it well, like I did.

Still, other herb gardens have been grown and left since then.
I've always known they have the capacity to heal and cure, and just never really took enough time to study them fully.

Now, with my present age upon me, I am looking to them and their secret ways again.

And those pots are calling me.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Bus Ride

I have just been on a long bus ride.
I rode one way by day and one way by night.
Part of me had been looking forward to it, the reward being friends waiting on the other side. The other part of me is travel weary, and even one travel bag is too much for me. I am earth bound these days, and my footsteps are heavy.

I had a couple of good thick books for company , and a bottle of water. As it turned out I had a television as well, relentlessly turning out Morality Plays, like in the Middle Ages. I  tried to zone out and read, or look out the window, but television is intrusive by nature and penetrated my consciousness. And so I watched segments from my seat.
I was tempted to tell the girl in front of me that I am not, because she might not have been aware of the fact, a double amputee. I still have both my legs and they are extra long ones. I sighed instead and groaned, I think, but she still lay back in her seat,  as far as she could, leaving me in a perfect position to see the mousy brown roots of her auburn hair. I could have rested my book on her middle parting, and, in fact, it was difficult not to.

I was the only person reading on the entire bus. Books have definitely gone out of fashion. Cell phones are  in, and with a little or a big screen, they provided enthralling reading and general entertainment for everyone around me, for the six hour duration of my trip.
I felt completely put out.
My reading material didn't help I suppose.
It dealt with Womans' Troubles, and I did try to get excited about  the virtues of 'the Dark Goddess', the reclaiming of the 'Crone' and the 'Wild Woman Within', but it was hard. The moral tone of the films being shown, just added further to my feelings of conflict.
The story on the screen of Jesus, as a waiter in some diner on an American back road, in the middle of a hurricane, didn't help in any way either. There He was, Jesus, doling out toasted sandwiches and advice on how to avoid Hell, all with a beautific smile, and an apron.
No,it didn't help, not in any way at all.

I was traveling my own highway towards my 49th birthday, due to be celebrated in two days time, and the countryside (I have traveled that road too many times) somehow held no interest for me. Change  was blowing through me, and  I was restless, trapped between a reclining seat and a television set.

A young boy got on and sat next to me in Swellendam. He was unkempt, but I am a chatty passenger, which is probably, to some, the most dreaded kind. Anyway I ascertained by and by that he was at a 'special' school and was having a birthday the same day as me. He had been quick to tell me about his ADHD problems and how he was two grades behind where he should be.
I think I went on a bit too much about the awful school system and how I feel about education and learning and incorrect judgments being made on children. I wanted to tell him, basically, that he was wonderfully good enough, no matter what, but I got lost in the telling of it, I think.
I hope I redeemed myself by eventually saying something like, 'we all get where we need to go in the end anyway'...or something like that.
I hope so, and I got to my destination eventually too, and to the embrace of my friends.

The return trip was by night and I took the very front seat with a wide spread of window. I tried to fill both seats with my books and bag and water bottle, but I had to eventually give the seat next to me up. A rather large lad took it in the end and I spoke to him as well, even though I didn't really want to. I realized that I am a bit of a compulsive talker.

He got out at every stop to smoke with loads of others. I looked down at them all,standing in a loose ring, stamping their feet in the cold and conspiratorially sharing cigarettes. I would have liked to join them, that happy band of disparate people, united in their comradely addiction, hugging themselves and flicking ash around.

I don't get out the bus if I can help it.
I like the neon glow of petrol stations at night, with their gleaming  metal motor vehicles, pausing for thought during a long journey. I like the idea of junk food on a journey too, but, like smoking, I don't do it anymore, and could hardly endure the returned lad and his brown paper bag of chips and a burger.

My little birthday boy was not on the return bus, although  we had parted with the cheerful assumption that we would see each other on our return.
I was sorry.
I had joked and told him that we would both be a year older when we saw each other again.
I was sorry I had missed him, but more than glad to get home.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Call back the past


I have always loved history.
In fact, I loved it so much that I chose it as a third 'learning' subject for matric – and the truth was, of cause, far from the history books of South Africa in those days.
I know that there remains a gap between what is truth and what isn't, when it comes to History.
Nevertheless, the past still holds, for me, an allure, which the present, simply does not.

I have always been intensely enamoured with the Victorians, the Edwardians, the Georgians, and their Poetry and Literature. I have a penchant for those in this group of people who lived, or at least desired to live, outside the frontiers of the conventions of the day.
I day dreamed my way into some of their bohemian lives. As a young woman, I sometimes wore coloured stockings, and eventually a bob, and Victorian shawls and brooches, like some D H Lawrence heroine.
I have always allowed all sorts of characters from the past , to crowd out my reality, at will.

The truth is, I suppose, that I don't much like 2011.
Its too lonely for one thing, with the technology of the day masquerading as closeness, but in fact bringing distance of global proportions.
I long for long letters, and languid days of company and conversation. I long for the time before telephones and emails, and definitely for the time before the dreaded cellphone, which has become the intrusive soundtrack of humanity, with its beeps and buzzes and bizarre tunes.
Still, with no time machine at hand I must, it is the only way, seek solace in film and books and old maps and photographs.

Here in Knysna I've been reading books about the old life. From my wide white wooden verandah I look out at the lagoon and try and imagine it all.
The mysterious George Rex, in his day, with his misty imagined past (who really knows the truth), had this whole beautiful stretch of blue and green world as his idyllic playground. There was no other European here for a while, until the ships came sailing , braving the devastating sand bar, to tie themselves to an island, that would later be claimed by a family of blonde, Nordic Thesens.

I do try and imagine it all – the winding road to George, through dense forests bursting with elephants, in which lived communities of forest dwellers, that hardly ever saw the sun.
Such a different world!

The approach of summer makes me long for old Africa anyway.
I dream of tents and living simply, with a river running passed our camp, and the heat crackling with cricket sounds, just beyond the tree line.
I remember the smell of canvas in the coolness of the night, and the starry sky appearing again, as if it hadn't been there all the time, in the city.

I'm reading a book about Denys Finch Hatton – the real person, not Robert Redford.
What a world there was then, for adventurous types. Sure, he came from a privileged class, but there was a window of wonder at that time, and he and his friends, just caught the end of an Africa, which was vanishing at the hands of the Colonialists.

Denys, they say, had a great love for Africa, and planes, and bohemian women. He, said Beryl Markham, invented charm and so, luckily, could indulge all three, although with loves like that, one was surely going to kill him.

It's just that the world seemed to be so much more interesting then. Maybe because so much was as yet undiscovered, in a technological sense, and the very naivety of those past heroes pushed them on.

I probably just need to go camping again.
I remember us loading our old Cruiser, with tents and boxes, and taking to the road less travelled. We used to open the windows and let the dust blow in and over us.
We left behind houses, and our normal restricted life, which by necessity held us in.

In the past, there definitely were fewer boundaries, and border posts, keeping people out, keeping people in.
The world, it seems to me, used to be a more tolerant place, for a restless spirit like mine, although the price of loneliness, intrinsic to rootlessness, no doubt still had to be paid.

For now, I'll pace the verandah.



Friday, October 21, 2011

Karate Kid

My daughter is going on a camp this weekend. L and I don't think it sounds like a lot of fun - more like an army boot camp. She's looking forward to it, it's her first Karate Camp or Gasshuku, to be correct.
I must say that's one of the things I like most about the Martial Arts - the words. To me they are good ' beat them up and spit them out' words.
Which is quite fitting, really.
.
The location holds promise, being on the site of the Sedgefield lagoon, and there is the possibility of her achieving her first grading on the white sands of the beach in the back ground.
But its going to be hard work.
As it is her classes are two and a half hours long, twice a week. I hope she enjoys it and comes home with a spanking new yellow belt.

I have dabbled in the Mystic Eastern Martial Arts myself a little, at odd times in my life. I remember trying out some Yoga positions in the Family Room of my childhood home. I got a book out from the library. I was always interested in just about anything, and made little personal studies of all sorts of things. The contortions and extraordinary achievements of those elastic Yogi men are something astonishing to behold, and to read about.

Well, you need a little guidance when it comes to Yoga.
I tried to stand on my head during the course of my first lonely lesson, and dislodged some delicate fluid balance in my ears. I was deaf and dizzy for a while after that.
Balance, I now know, is a fragile but deeply essential thing.

People who do Yoga age incredibly well, in my experience. They have supple and lithe bodies right into their eighties. At a rather stiff nearly fifty, it seems to be a worthwhile goal to aspire to.
And yet, as with many other things in my life - I just don't get down to it.

In Cape Town years ago I did Tai Chi for a while. It was marvellous. I went with a friend.
A Great Master visited our very junior class once, and I tried to make sense of his, no doubt, very wise words. Probably a whole lot was lost in translation, but my thoughts did wander off a little, and  I'm sure I missed the important bits.
Nevertheless I didn't let that put me off, and I did persever for a while longer. I was also very inspired  by those wonderful images of Eastern people in business suits, on their way to work, doing Tai Chi in a park somewhere, with their brief cases placed patiently beside them.

Now that, it seems to me, is balance.
If you have to wear a suit, and catch a commuter train, and live in crowded Tokyo, in a high rise apartment, to pause under a tree to do some slow mo moves, must make it all somewhat more bearable.

My daughter hated me when I practiced 'The Form' at home. She was very little and she cried.
I think it was the detached and far away look in my eyes. I was outside, next to a bush in our Plumstead garden.
Images of hippies in 'Hair' were being played out in my head.
The theme tune was 'The Age of Aquarius' - there was a flower in my hair...
My daughter has always hated that 'hippie' thing.
She would do 'Tai Chi' quite happily in a business suit..

Maybe I should try Tai Chi again.
It strikes me as being a nice slow place to start.
At least my daughter should be more supportive now.
We call her our Lethal Weapon.

.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ferraris

We heard a helicopter first and L and I ventured out onto our wide white verandah. The helicopter whirled close, with a cameraman leaning out and forward. We know him as a friend and thought he was maybe waving, but probably not. Those moments are not for multi tasking, but only for focus.

Still, that drew us out further. L remembered reading something about Ferraris gathering, and travelling, from place to place. It was all very hush hush, as befits such a show of immense wealth in this land of ours. But hush hush, Ferraris are not, and wandering down the Knysna hill we live in, the roar of their engines rose up to greet us.

Despite myself, the growl of an engine does get to me. Not quite like L, granted, as a watcher of Grand Priz with a memory for every combination of XZ L or G behind a cars name, he is in a different class.
Like Ferraris.
They aren't really cars anymore.
Sure, they have four wheels and ride on roads, but there the similarity ends.
Icons, works of art, a showpiece of immense wealth, a toy....all 45 of them stood,edgy but still, like wild stallions.
Over R100 000 000,00 worth of them.

We wandered amongst them, low and gleaming, parked at the Shell Garage, and L was engrossed, cell phone held high.
Their redness reminded me of shiny, glossy, lipsticked mouths.
Sensual, sexy, slinky, are just some of their characteristics. Their low roar and sheer animal-like energy takes your breath away.

Who owns these things?
Well, there they were, mingling with each other, besporting red Ferrari peaks.
Shame, L had one once from the factory in Italy. Even that he has lost lately.
To be honest, they do seem untouchable, these riders of  red steeds, and I am not someone who stands in awe readily.
What was there to say anyway?

That was a few days ago.
Yesterday was very different.
I visited the Epilepsy Centre and met some other folks there.
They came right into my space at a moments notice. Blue was their colour mostly. Overall colours.
So today I have been thinking about balance and how all man is created equal.
Not a new thought.

It just struck me how a thin black layer of kevlar , aluminium and steel provides such a impenetrable shield.
No need for hand holding there.

I felt the hands from yesterday though for hours after.
The addictive thing about being with vulnerable people, is the knowledge of how me, standing next to them, just balances some kind of scale.
And I am not even a powerful person.
The frailty of a person who could be thrown down and taken to the land of fits and tremors is not for the faint hearted.

I just know the manner in which I would  rather be whisked off, from 0 to 100km/h in 4 seconds, in a zig zag of red like a lightening flash.
If I could have choice, that is .


Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's in a name

Sometimes weeks of my life run to a theme, some thought that dominates, some idea that pops up again and again. I don't choose it particularly. It chooses me.
Lately its been Names.
Not that names have not featured in my life before now, naturally.

For example, I have a little dog called Teaspoon.
Her name played a big part in us acquiring her. She was featured in an advert stuck on the door of the Superette in Kommetjie. Her owner made other claims about her, apart from her name. She was meant to be a bomb disposal expert, for instance. And some other things besides. When we met her, scuttling into the yard under the wooden fence, well, she wasn't even cute.
Her name was everything.
We kept her.
Over the years she has grown into it, the extraordinaryness of her name. That, and her oversized ears, and her bad manners where little children are concerned, or older men, or anyone who comes near my husband. Shes grown into having a  penchant for a mohair blanket (or any blanket for that matter), and never grown out of a deep hatred for the car.
I might even make the claim that her name saved her, absolutely.

I've been reading two books about a child with the unusual name of Turtle. She held on and would not let go, like a certain kind of Turtle, who only releases its grip when  the thunder claps. The idea is that if you hold on tight enough, you will be safe against most things.
Her name saved her too, in a sense.

Personally I have never felt the need to change my own name. I might have been forgiven for wanting too. There were always far too many of us. I was never, by way of example, the only one in my class. Not ever, right up to matric.
This phenomenon continued into University, and then, strangely, stopped. I think after that they all changed their names.
True, I have been given other names, in friendship, in intimacy, by lovers, haters, teasers, children, parents and those who feel fondness for me, generally.
Somewhere within the bigger picture of things, my name must be saving me too, one day at a time, because this name is mine, somehow unique, even within a large cloud of others.
Like a snowdrop.

Lately, over the last few weeks, I have met quite a few folk with rare and unusual names. Names that have made me smile. Names that have made me wonder.
These names, filed in a list at the soup kitchen I help out at, have attached themselves to waifs and strays, either by choice, or accident, or maybe, by another.
At first glance they appear to be a group of men in serious need of saving. But then, apart from a tatty set of random garments, their name, is just about the only thing they have.
The job of saving then, is probably done.

So, as I learn their names slowly, week by week, I greet each one with the weight a name deserves. They look at me clear eyed and me at them, and as all do not have English as a mother tongue, I wonder if they even understood, when first they heard their own name, the deeper meaning.
Well, it doesn't matter anymore, that much is surely true.

The day at the soup kitchen begins and, with a tub of samp and stew in hand, I await Johnny and his glorious surname, Be Good, with his snazzy red shoes, to give me his lopsided smile.
There is one man whose name I hesitate to call out, when his meal is ready-  Banana - echoing around the church yard.
General's name is perfectly apt as he is large and black, but also unemployed and hungry.
There is sweet Breakfast who comes round often, although we serve him closer to Lunch...
And there are some others, with rare and beautiful names, who I am only getting to know.
But my favourite of all, has to be that of a man, with a bowed and humble head, who seriously told me that he has but one name only, and that is Splash, and there it was, written down.

I have always liked to give names to things, or even change them. I changed my husbands name when we first got close, to a veriation of his name no one else used. Now I use only a letter, L, in referrence to him. As he got bigger to me, his name got smaller.
We seem to make the things we love as diminutive as we can.

Or maybe we reduce the names of those things, that to us, are big and beautiful and terribly important, to hardly any sound at all, maybe just a breath, a sigh - like the Ancient Hebrews, who didn't mention the  name of G--  at all.



Saturday, October 1, 2011

Diets and Barbie

I grew up with a mother who was constantly on one sort of diet or another. The Grapefruit Diet, the Drinking Mans Diet, The Egg Diet, Weight Watchers and Weigh Less...
She did them all.

Now in her seventies, she is finally perfectly slender, and will be for ever more. One diabetes scare did that.
Scare tactics, it seems, work.
I remember my mother having two wardrobes. A fat wardrobe, and a thin one. She yo-yoed between the two. Or she did, until Prudence. Prudence was our maid when I was in my teens. My mother managed, rather miraculously, to remain in a thin phase during her tenure with us.
Prudence was not, you might say, thin.
She was also, to put it mildly, a superlative cook.
Food in our house underwent a transformation under Prudence's reign. We had eaten  vaguely grey cuisine before her.  The live- in lady who raised me cooked for us during that time. Her name was Sarah and she came from a different culture, one devoid of spice, colour or flavour.
We knew no better. What she cooked, we ate.
Prudence changed all that .

She also changed my mother's wardrobe, by removing the fat range of clothing all together. We found the evidence in the postbox. There was a wad of photographs of Prudence waiting with the mail one day. Pictures of Prudence modeling my mothers fat summer selection, albeit with the ensembles looking somewhat tighter all round. It seems the maid next door had second thoughts about sharing the spoils of my mothers dieting, and she gave the game away

Prudence was duly fired. I regretted the change that brought to our menu. More than that, I regretted, bitterly, the discovery that Prudence had also liberated all my collection of Barbies from the suitcases they were stored in, recently relocated, to the top of my cupboard.

I adored Barbie. For years and years Barbie and her collection of friends and outfits were the only desire of my heart. They were all I ever wanted for birthday presents, Christmas presents, and any other monies gathered in between.
Long before 'Friends' was ever a hit TV show, Barbie and her buddies lived out their perfect world in their special suitcase , carefully packed and stored, as a child, beneath my bed.

My sister was my favourite Barbie playmate. Only she had the same ideas for  the complicated sagas, romances, tragedys, soap operas and thrillers  we wrote for them.
These adventures would drag out, day after day for the entire six week Summer Holiday. They were played out in Roller Skate Sports Cars, and Biscuit Tin Boats, all around and in the swimming pool in the yard.
I think I played my last game when I was thirteen, although I would not admit that for years.

So Fat Brown Prudence stole  Skinny Blonde Barbie, and Perfect White Woman Barbie ended up in some Port Elizabeth township, in  the Seventies

I'm not sure what that says really, but I myself have disproved many of the anti - Barbie theories.
I have never aspired to be a kind of Barbie, with a body shape that some say is not humanly possible. I grew into a very tall, long limbed, long haired, bespeckled adolescent, whose favourite attire was straight jeans, veldskoens and cheese cloth tops. I have never owned a pair of stilettos in my life, or worn anything even close to the colour Barbie Pink.
So much for that then.

And then I hit the forties.
Suddenly the kilograms that I had previously effortlessly shed, stubbornly  refused to shift.
I find myself having to diet.
There has been no health scare yet, for me, but there might be
.
So, with Spring in the air, I phoned my mother for a few dieting tips. She was happily eager to give them to me. I think, in a way, she had been waiting for the moment.
Nature over nurture every time.

I need to set a goal for myself.
An After model, to go with the present Before one.
Somewhere between Prudence and Barbie -  like a real South African.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sort of Spring

In some ways this is the worst time of year.
Waiting for Summer.

I took my daughter shopping on Saturday. I had noticed that she was looking particularly bedraggled. It was probably not really her, as such. Everything looks that way to me at this time of year.
The soggy sad shivering end of a season that simply will not die.

But died is what most of her jeans have done, with splits in the knees and her skinny's suffering from winter weight gain. And  then there are those tired winter woolies that keep on having to be pulled out from the back of the cupboard because, oh dear, its chilly again.

I conned myself into Spring. For a day. For a shopping spree. The shops, in case you haven't noticed, are bursting with Springiness. They made me feel the same. For a short time.

I am a very bad shopper. My daughter, is worse. She was grumpy by the time she had sloped off to the changing rooms for the first time only, heavily laden. I was grumpy by the time she came out. I got grumpier as I was forced to stand in the narrow changing room passageway, as she tossed clothes at me from inside the cubicle. I was denied entry. Her body, which was created in my womb, has now become a High Priority Secret.

This is strange to me. I have always been quite free and easy about bodies, perfect or not, with their wobbly bits holding not that much fascination, one way or the other. Bodies are bodies. Maybe its the nurse in me, or maybe the artist, or maybe I have just forgotten what its like to be thirteen.
More than likely. I have forgotten a lot. Like what it feels like, to try on one garment after another in a tiny space, with a mirror that reduces ones bodily proportions to those of a vertically challenged circus person that people might pay to see..

For many years now I have used the same trolley for my clothes as I do for my mince and veg.
Mostly my wardrobe is made up of the type of garments that have labels in Small Medium or Large, or Extra Large, for that matter. Trying on is really not necessary. The rest of my collection has simply 'happened' via jumble sales and other people's delightful cast offs.

So, you understand, my daughter really hasn't had a shopping role model.
In other words, its really not her fault.
She hated it, but we emerged with a couple of items. I think the most joy both of us had was finding some really 'cool' stuff for her brother who, at 17, has less interest in shopping than he does in shower gel, and that is saying something.

I blame the time of 'Sort of Spring' that we are in.
I eye my sheepskin boots with something akin to nausea most mornings, sliding them on with a 'not again' sort of sigh. I cannot believe that at the end of last Autumn I felt excited about boots.

How I long for slip slops, sun hats and loose cotton tops.
Of cause my daughter cannot yet wear the clothes she begrudgingly bought. We are having a cold spell again, and those purple 'chubbies' are back out in full force.
Who can blame her?

Pass the blanket.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Soup

One day this week I helped out in a soup kitchen. 
The kind folk here at the Methodist Church in Knysna dispense containers of soup to over a hundred hungry people, every Tuesday and Thursday. And there are a few other soup kitchens too, in other parts of town.

I was quite sick that day, and as a result experienced it all through a feverish haze.
Still, I have dispensed soup before, and when L picked me up, and took me home, to fall headlong into my sick bed, the memories tumbled around my head before I slept.

Times spent in such different realities to my own linger on in my mind, anyway, like some dream or hallucination.
Memories of spaces and shadows falling into grotesque shapes, under bridges, under foggy, dim, street lights, late at night, came back to me in my delirius sleep. 
I remembered other times spent with people who live on the street, who gather in dark corners, mostly out of sight, with some security only lent by a concrete wall or a reinforced pillar, holding up a highway, way up above.

Those in need of soup, to be sipped, slowly, into a body not much used to food, can be found in these sorts of places. 
We joined them, a twenty something me and a couple of others, under the P E freeways, a long time ago.
Port Elizabeth had a docklands like no other South African city. It was bounded by a row of strip joints and sleazy nightclubs in old warehouses, which let out into the underbelly of the freeway network. 
It was a labyrinth of concrete pylons, holding up highways going no where - a world of cold cement and tar-kept back from the sea, by chicken wire fences, and a row of faceless buildings,with the waves  so near you could smell them crashing in the cold air curling round.

I remember fire lit faces with toothless smiles.
The people gathered under the bridges, warming themselves around those fires, mostly smelt incredibly bad. I, then not much accustomed to them, recoiled a little. But, I had a friend who brought her small, three year old daughter with her, and she let those dimly lit women dandle her, which they loved to do, and stroke her little smooth head, and she was not a bit afraid. 
And so, I let my hand be held, by one lady, who, still somewhat drunk, wanted to sing me a song, in exchange for my offered, polystyrene cup of soup. 
Everything changed for me after that.

Similar hands took soup from me again on Tuesday. Hands with long nails, ingrained with grime. Thin wrists emerging from stiff cuffs, ringed round with dirt. Grey hair tangled into dreadlocks, hanging down alongside thin, crusty and lined faces. 
They sat on the wall in the sun, and waited for their number or their name to be called, graciously accepting soup and samp, from my hand to theirs. I had had no part in the expense or preparation of the soup, and wondered at myself,  in between helping to wash containers, dry up, dispense, receive, smile, chat briefly, lapsing into my words used for those unknown to me, 'love', 'sweetheart', ' my dear'...

That turn of phrase, resident now in my speech, found its way there during my time in England. It has settled into my vocabulary, comfortably, cheek by jowl with 'skat', 'liefie' and other all encompassing terms that cover a wide variety of folk, and roll, effortlessly off my tongue.

I used those comfort words first, when working with the Homeless in Guildford, Surrey.
There, in that lap of luxurious Southern England, I spent some time, distributing soup and sandwiches. The Homeless there, when unable to make use of the various shelters, also gather in similar dark corners. 
We found them, in the icy winter, by breaking through the barracades of back, boarded up windows in a multitude of 'squats' - a dark warren of connected terraced houses, abandoned and derelict.

Finding our way in,  in the freezing dark, was the stuff of clothes, jeans and arms, being hooked on nails and shattered pieces of wood. It was clambering up, over, through, crumbling, tumbling, falling down stairs stuff, and missing a pothole and losing your foothold in the ripped up floorboards, and following a thin beam from a headtorch lamplight stuff  - at least that is how I remember it.

The people we found were wrapped round in a blanket and still and stiff with cold and alcohol and drugs. I am not sure how welcome our sudden, bursting upon them  presence was, really. 
But stumble over them we did.
And they mostly sat up and took the Sainsbury sandwiches from us -  yesterdays fare-  but quite exotic with  tasty chicken tikka, or prawn cocktail fillings, inbetween two soya seed, sourdough or rye layers of slightly curling bread.

They, the forced to rise for us, recipients of our worthy gifts, were grateful for the most part. Mad for the rest. 
One man, I remember, jumped at us, and swiped at us with a plank of skirting board, like a raging demon in the dark. We beat a hasty retreat and I panicked that I would not find my way out, but I did, and tumbled out, back into the dark, tangle weed garden. Quite safe.

I will, I think, be back at the soup kitchen, this Tuesday. 
Being older, and more cynical about myself, I do wander why I do it. 
Without thinking too long and deep,  my more philosophical side might present an argument about balance or justice or just doing good.
But probably its just because I like it. 
Just because I like to do it. 
Feed people.

And I like them, those of  the stripped away gaze, and the open eyes, of the stale sweat smell, and the stench of alcohol and dirt. I like the held out hand, the bad toothed smile.
Maybe it is a kind of love. 
I surely hope so. Then it is something more than like, and sense or understanding is not necessary. 
No answer. No solution to be found.
Just a cup, from hand to hand.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ballet


The Ballet came to Knysna.
An old friend bought me and my daughter each a ticket. Turned out she bought a load of tickets and on the day we all followed her, splendid as she is with grey plait and jaunty hat, to take our front row seats, amongst the other ballet dames, with grey coiffed hair and legs crossed neatly at the ankles, in the Knysna NG Kerk Hall.

Ballet is not new to me, although seeing it so close up is not something my daughter takes for granted.
My sister did ballet for years. We started out together as little girls, me dropping out early and moving sideways to the more heavy handed (or footed) tap. Even the satisfying clickity clacks bored me pretty quickly and I moved out yet again. I found my niche in drama as siblings tend to unconsciously give space to each other , leaving my sister to the delights, and there are many, of ballet.

The most impressive things about ballet, to me as a child, were the concerts. Concerts and costumes. I remember my mother hunting down seamstresses and fumbling, panic stricken, with paper templates and dress patterns. A sewer and a maker of anything creative my mother was not. She was a secretary and an earthbound gardener. She still is.

Ballet teachers are a different breed. My memories of them are of tiny flexible feet, fluttery fingers,  and feathery beehive hairdos. They are eternally cast, for me, against a backdrop of church halls and rows of little girls with buns, clattering around and thumping jumping, spinning and falling.

The soundtrack is one of piano playing, by a retired ballet dancer, looking up and over all from behind her spectacles, while the teacher loudly shouts out single words - in French - pliƩ, pirouette - and first position, second position, third...
It was all fascinating for a very young me, sitting on the church chairs at the back with my mother and other mothers, fretful over the next concert and the whispered expense of it all, the bother...
But it always came together in the end. Temple Bell costumes, Thailand style, scratchy I thought, and stiff, with a large headdress which my sister wore without a murmur of complaint. She only vomited a lot, as I recall. Excitement did that to her, always. And so, she glided out from the wings, in tutus, Polish Mazerka peasant dresses or as a Temple Bell pretty pale beneath all that make up on a totally empty stomach, with my mother praying silently that she would not faint.

As it turns out Ballerinas and empty stomachs seem to go together.
You have to be light.
There's a lot of leaping and jumping and catching that goes on. I saw that close up in Knysna the other day. The dancers were right on top of us all. I loved being so close up. Its so much nicer than looking down or up to a performance on a stage. I did that often in the P E Opera House, growing up, where we regularly went to see Capab Productions and Phyllis Spira. Once two men stood up in long black coats and threw single stemmed roses at her feet. I was awestruck by that, feeling, for a moment quite transported to London or Paris, forgetting the limited charms of the Opera House, with its tiny stage and musty dimly lit foyer.

My sister danced on that Opera House stage later, many times, when she got older. I did moon over the star dressing room, the tutus all squashed together on a rail, the strange turned out feet and the delicate but hollow thunk thunk ballerinas make rushing about in points.
I tried to be very small backstage, so as to be smiled upon by a totally transformed face, now sporting eyelashes as long as a birds feather.

Oh, the magic of it all!
The magic of the dance does linger. I dreamt of the Knysna visitors that night.
I remembered
the hooks and eyes holding the extraordinary tutus of lace feathers sequins satins brocade and gossamer floating tightly together
the delightful lycra bottoms of the men
quivering fingers and gently perspiring foreheads
glossy lipstick smiles exactly tilted necks arms elbows knees ankles toes
lifts and legs and tight holds releases spins stops..

There is always an element of imperfection to any live performance, a crackle on the soundtrack, a piece of loose cellotape, a slipped strap, a feather fluttering down, a wiff of cigarette smoke from a fleeting flying figure...
the illusion slips
I enjoy the little girls, who run onto the sheets of floor covering laid down specially for the dancers, once they have skipped finally behind the velvet curtain. At their age no imperfections can be seen.

And me, I was transported.
Probably by their awesome commitment almost more than anything else. Their work. Their striving and attaining perfection in their craft. Their ability to transport me, in lifts and tilts, and to be so balanced...

I remembered other church halls.
Thanks Fi.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pizza

Last night we ordered takeaway pizza.
We wanted to treat our children, and so, while they tucked in I watched them, and realized that pizza has always been part of their lives, something they know.

Not so for me.
Archie comics arrived at my childhood house in mysterious ways. I don't remember ever buying any. Comics were frowned upon in my house, where good literature was always highly praised and encouraged. But it was in the pages detailing the antics of Veronica, Betty and Jughead that I first encountered these strange, platelike, floppy, edible things called pizza, which I pronounced piz - za, without the obligatory, inserted T.
 They were a mystery in the then South Africa, alongside 'Sea Monkeys' and that empowering ingredient that transformed the guy on the back page advert, who never had sand kicked in his face again.
 If you know what I mean, then you know.

That was then.
 And me, growing up in a suburban house, set like an island in a sea of mown grass in P E, glimpsed the bigger world as best I could.

There was one big exception to the comic rule in our house.
Every Friday the British mail arrived, and we would stop, on our way home from school to fetch our magazines from CNA ( as long as there had not been a workers strike in Britain). We bought chocolates too, and home at last, shed our uniforms for an afternoon, bare legs hanging over the side of the sofa, of reading.
Chocolate melting on my tongue on a carefree afternoon still fills me with guilt free pleasure. No homework, no sport, just the antics of 'Patty's World' in 'Pink' magazine, and posters of David Bowie and David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers to drool over in 'Jackie' with my sister.
My mother paged backwards and forward through her 'Womens Weekly', which educated me  all about the Royal Family, and 'Mills and Boon' romance. We always had 'Look and Learn' thrown in for good measure, no doubt to assuage my mothers guilt of all the frivolity
.
Everything was always depicting the wrong season, winter in summer, summer in winter, and the special enclosed gifts never arrived. I don't think I ever heard a song or saw a moving image of any of the pop stars on the posters, which my sister and I stuck up on our bedroom walls.

When I first arrived in London later, fully grown , and surfaced from the tube somewhere near Trafalgar Square it was all so familiar. The train out from London through the suburbs, clattering between the backyards of the terraced houses was as known and loved as chocolate on my tongue.
 It took years before the reality of its strangeness overtook me, my deep Africanness surfacing and totally swamping every other thing.

Then, memories of lying ill as a child and listening, against my mothers wishes, but she was at work, and it was just me and my nanny Sarah then, at home, to Springbok radio all morning, would come back to me.
I balanced the leather encased transistor radio on my stomach and it was so close to my face that I was reflected as in a mirror in the silver metal lines across the speaker. I stared into my own eyes staring back at me and listened to 'Under the Jacaranda Tree' and other stories so gripping to me then, that I would often have to fake an extra day of illness so as not to miss the next installment.

I fell under the spell of serials in England much later, when the dreary dark afternoons kept me housebound with my baby and I had only the telly for company. The Australian soaps in the afternoon filled the screen with sun and sea and funny accents.
 But my downfall really, were the British series, when, on my little snowflaky screen I followed the antics of all the 'East Enders', and, with chocolate in hand, and baby sleeping, it was the British mail all over again.

My love of magazines was born then I suppose.
The black and white 'penny horribles' Sarah read in her room, and the Afrikaans radio dramas in the afternoon she listened to whilst ironing, were out of bounds for me. Mom came home then, and I picked up my real book, probably a classic, maybe Wuthering Heights - again.
I loved them passionately too, its true.

But, what sweet memories.
 Archie comics, being read with my damp swimming pool hair dripping and making the print run, whilst lying on a towel in the sun.
Those British mags being poured over too, by other far away girls, who were, I thought, like me,  but were really oh so different. They had 'fellas' and 'discos' and called their sisters 'our Kate' and wore their hair loose to school, and their ties pulled down.
And food like pizza was being eaten, and people all went to the 'pub' .

None were like me, lying in a sick bed, with no TV yet , but only a transistor radio for company, and a nanny called Sarah, who came in from hanging out the washing, to pull my bed straight, and plait my hair back very, very tightly.

And if I was very good, she would  make me french toast with  Worcester Sauce, and bring it to me , on a tray.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fevers

Its been the time of  fevers in our house for the last couple of weeks. No doubt its linked to the time of year, a new school, new viruses.

I took my thirteen year old daughter into my bed the other night, like my mother did before me. L had to sleep on the sofa, or her bed. He opted for the sofa, her bed being one large knot of blankets and sheets. We extricated her from the tangle like from the tendrils of some tropical plant. Her fever was so high she was hot to the touch. I watched over her all night, whilst she tossed and turned and muttered strange delirious strings of poetic words.

I was a very feverish child myself. I think I ran a fever with every virus I had. I also had illnesses like tick bite fever, hepatitis and my sister the deadly encephalitis. My mother tended us both faithfully, folding cloths soaked in vinegar and laying them across our brows.

 Some illnesses I came home for, having left some lover who proved unable to tend to me. My mother changed my soaked sheets and pajamas as faithfully as if I was still a young child.
 I sailed the seas of my fevers like a drunken sailor, muttering muddled thoughts through parched and thirsty lips. Indeed, the days after a fever feel like those of a man who still has his sea legs on dry land, with a rolling gait and a far away horizon in his sights.

Rudolph Steiner has a thing or two to say about fevers I believe.
 I spent some time at a Waldorf School, my son in the Nursery and me in an office. The fantasy world of washed through purple and lilacs and pinks coloured both our worlds willingly. No nightmares there I found, only a dreaminess, and a welcome escape from the harsh reality of the divorce we were enduring at the time.

I think my son had some fevers then, And I, comforted by some dear women, almost 'brides of Steiner' I fondly remember, rode those fevers with him. The Waldorf world has no fear of fevers. They are seen as necessary times of travel, of journeys almost, to the other side. Times when 'we can truly be ourselves.'
And, when they, the fevers pass, we awake afresh to a new, bright day, alive with possibilities.
 I do remember that feeling.

In those Waldorf days I was wracked with pain mostly, emotional, spiritual and physical. My body was bent double often then, with the passing of  agonizing gall stones, so 'galled' was I with an individual, I suppose. Our bodies do, it seems patently clear, mirror our minds and our emotions.

So, very healthy now, my thoughts have turned to illness.
 I watch my husbands eyes grow bleary and red rimmed, watery, his pupils like two swimming fish in bowls, when he is sick and tired. Those fish flash their tails at me, like warning flags of approaching  illness. Stress does it too.
 He hardly remembers having a fever - only I do, nursing him once through the high temperatures of pneumonia, when he made the transition from bachelorhood to me and mine. That was a long bridge to cross.

No doubt my daughter has made it over some high suspended crossing with this latest illness of hers. It is a time of change for her in body, mind, place and face. I remember her as a baby, emerging from fevers to reach another milestone. She took a sudden step, uttered a clear loud word, slept through or tossed a bottle aside for a sippy cup.
And never looked back.

In my nursing days I held many a hand whilst feverish eyes flickered and bodies shook and sweated and fought that within which needed to be dealt with. I felt I might have steadied them as they made some crossing.
.
I left some folk after a fever. Some left me before.
All I know is something changes with a fever.
Something new begins.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Broken

I read an explanation of the word SHALOM once. It was, 'nothing broken, nothing missing.'
I always remember that, when interpreting it the more common way, Peace.

I watched 'Eat, Pray , Love,' again the other day. There is a scene with the Elizabeth character, in Italy. She is with her somewhat frightening, brusque and honest new Italian landlady. The lady is outspoken, and decidedly disapproving of Elizabeth when she says softly that , No, she has no husband, that she is, in fact,  divorced. After a few more broken English questions to her about her divorce, Elizabeth quietly admits, 'We broke it..'

We broke it.
Any divorced person knows that there are few things in life as broken as a divorce. Shattered, messy, scattered,destroyed..done.

I love it when scenes in films get played backwards. When, for example, a child dives back up, from the deep water, up, up, through the air, back up to the diving board.
Or, when the many shattered shards of a piece of precious porcelain gather themselves together from their watery puddle on the floor, and gather that puddle back into their belly, and then, reformed now, as a pretty painted jug, they travel upward through the air, to be clenched again (obviously not well enough, not tightly enough) into some delicate ladies hand.

I wish some things had never been broken.
At nearly fifty I wonder if it could have been possible to keep more things whole, in one piece.
I watched something on YOU tube that explained (quantum physics, I believe) that there is a theory that everything started out the size of one (maybe green) pea.

There was a Princess once who knew the power of one tiny pea.

I rather like the thought of a play backwards of the moment of creation, of all of us and the cities and the seas and the planets all zooming inward and squeezing down to fit in, cosily all inside each other....

To me God IS the Big Bang.
Or maybe He is the Pea.

He is a lot of other things too.

But the most comforting thing to me right now, as I survey, from a great height, another broken scattering on the floor of my life is...
That He is surely SHALOM, or one small pea, containing all the pieces.
Healed and whole.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Commitment

 I have been away from home for a long time. Five weeks. To me, that is a long time. Long enough that when I opened the door of my home and walked inside, and sniffed the air, it smelled different, not like me/us any more.

The cups and plates and cushions and other things were in different places and spaces and it felt like someone elses' house. It took me a while to settle back in.

Still, I was happy to be home. Very happy. My dogs were happy, one thinner, one fatter. They were both strangely subdued. And so was I.
It took me a few days to make one decision. And this was it.
Time to commit.

Commitment and I have a long history.
The thing is - I seem to do it. But actually I don't.

One of the first things we did when back in the Garden Route was to take a young nineteen year old Dutch boy bungy jumping.
He wanted to do it. He booked a jump as early in the morning as he could. He hesitated only because he did not understand the instructions to jump. They were in Afrikaans. And there was music playing. Loudly. Even we could hear it, from the viewing station across the gorge. He was on the curve of the arch beneath the bridge. The highest bungy jump in the world.
I suppose they play the music to help the jumper. Similar music is played in clubs in Amsterdam. Here it beat out along the fynbos covered ravine running beneath the bridge and out towards the river sky sea.

When he jumped I screamed. He, was silent. He said he was aware of the air rushing passed his ears. Silent.
That's commitment.
You make a decision and you do it.
No turning back.

I have moved over fifty two times since I was eighteen. I think that might be a world record.
My children have moved about fifteen times. They are grumpy about it - but I am not very sympathetic, really. I tend to hold the view that not moving and staying in one place is only the accepted thing because most Western people do it.

So I tell my children that they could have been the children of:
- the touareg (my daughter retorts that at least the tent would have stayed the same - and all your friends travel with you.. and the desert is the same just about, wherever you go...)
- yachties (same argument more or less, the same boat, the same sea...)
- the maasai, who have no respect for borders, but only for lions, and own nothing but a stick and some pretty impressive beadwork ( the retort to this, from my son, is that the masai have sold their souls for wristwatches and photograph money and would probably live in a house in a security complex these days, if they could..)
- circus people (a friend pointed out that maybe, to them, we ARE circus people..now theres a thought - the juggling, tightrope walking, performing dogs, clowning....hhmmm)

But even circus people settle down eventually. Retire- to some caravan in a field where they let the grass grow up around its wheels. And yachties possibly throw the anchor one last time, or move into an upside down boat that they make into a home, maybe, complete with chimney. I'm not sure about the tuoareg, or the maasai, but their lifestyles are endangered and the lure of the west is getting to them too.
Which leaves us.

Moving is tiring, and the temptation to follow our noses over the next hill or beyond the next bend in the road is loosing its appeal.

Bungy jumping is expensive, but worth it I am told.
So here goes.
Lets stay!