Monday, July 23, 2012

Alrite - my new site

I now have a new official writing site. Please visit me at
I do not think I will not be writing this blog again - all my new writing will be on the "Alrite" site.
Thanks for all the support over the time that this blog was active!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


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


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.