Friday, May 27, 2011

Winter Castles

I can't make up my mind whether I like Winter, or not.
I think it depends on the duration. And the depth of cold.
England was too much of both. So was the Langkloof - and with no central heating!
Still, there is much to enjoy in a month or two of mild chill.
Stripy socks. Hats. Fires. Mohair blankets. Bredies and Pies and Soups. Boots. Books in bed.

And a winter beach.
Last weekend I bullied my two children into leaving the comfort of their books and face book and all screens in general to venture out with me and L into the icy outdoors.
The drive out was a miserable one, but I remained unfazed by our two gloomy backseat passengers.
The final idea had been L's, when he said something like -if we were tourists what would we do?.
And so we headed off to Noetzie.

We had both been there years and years before.
I did not remember the turn off being through an informal settlement. No doubt it had not been. These places almost suddenly appear. The road sides were lined by structures that had truly embraced the term 'lean to'. Lean too far and they would topple their bright turquoise, purple, red selves right into our path. They cheerfully teetered into the banks of nasturtium leaves, whilst the children outside their toppling houses waved. We waved back and proceeded on.

Down the gravel road we drove, leaving all behind us until it was all trees only on either side. And then we entered the Pezula Estate zone, of mansions perched in fynbos behind electric fencing, with soulless sheets of glass eyes staring with a lonely gaze down towards the sea.
We passed on, and our passengers cheered up, and we remembered other trips down gravel roads, dragging tents and gear to isolated spaces, and it felt a little like that again.

The parking lot was not quite deserted. L and I both know crime stories that have  happened at Noetzie, but we both said nothing. Deserted places in South Africa always cause us to hitch our senses up a notch, pull out our  antennae, as it were,  and become a lert, in the African sense.
We met two fishermen on the steep path down. They were tired and armed with long rods and knapsacks. We greeted them, and they us.
I relaxed a little on the descent of bricked path. That had not been there before, and was built no doubt, by Pezula who have privatized a section.
A castle.

By way of explanation we told our two children (bright eyes now, with the assault of sea air and pungent fynbos, and the shiver of steep cliff to our left) that the castles built at Noetzie beach were a kind of folly. I forget the story, or history of it all, but the fact is - someone one or some people built six stone castles down there on the sand sometime last century - simply, I suppose, because they could.

By the time we made the final descent of 132 steps to the sand the children were ahead of us, and we were warm. L and I followed the bend of river around the corner and peered up at the castles and peered down to the sea, and ended up perched on an abandoned lifesavers chair - to keep watch. The children, meanwhile, with sticks in hand, followed steep tantalizing pathways up between stone walls and hanging vines, to wave to us, after a while, from blind, glassless windows in the very top, decaying castle.

They came back eventually, to say that apart from some graffiti about heroin the castle was absolutely clean and tidy, as far as abandoned buildings go. Only a rich kid shooting up then, took shelter once, it would appear. No shack dweller, wandering down the dirt track, past the shut away Pezula houses, came upon, and decided, on a cold day, to set up home in a castle by the sea. No dirty rascal making a bid for being King of the Castle.
It would be too lonely down there. There is a  desolate lack of company - only a colony of seagulls gathered together on the icy sand, and two back birds with spread and drying wings on the foamy waters edge. No Ubuntu. No community in Castle land.

Even I was glad of two smart figures with large cameras glimpsed behind the buttresses of Pezulas private luxury castle. And there were one or two other tourist strays coming down with clicking cameras.
The ascent was harder work and my heart beat alarmingly. No fear now though, the spirit of adventure had caught up with us by then

We were a cheery lot on our return, and threw all final caution to the wind  at the Knysna Heads, where we drank wine and ate pizza on the way home.

Tourists we remained, until the end.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Some people tell naughty children that the police will come and get them, if they are not good. No one ever told me that. But I heard it.  I still do.

Good cop, bad cop has become an accepted turn of phrase.
It is a reality of life anyway, on which it just, well, depends, I suppose.

The police  have been there, in my life, always. In fact, they are one of my earliest memories. I remember waking in the middle of the night to the sound of them hammering on the door of the servants quarters in the yard. The door of the woman who worked for my parents. Real fear gripped me as I heard their loud voices demanding that she open the door.
 I loved her. I was little, and she was like a mother to me.
 I heard my father open the bathroom window and talk to them, and then shut the window and tell my mother softly that they were checking passes. My mothers ghostly form drifted into the room I shared with my sister, and touched us both and whispered  to us to go back to sleep.

I remember the police vans  of the time, with the brown fingers of the men in the back wound around and gripping the wire mesh. I was not sure that I could trust them for myself, but I was told I could.

At university and in the communal houses of my early adulthood I knew the sound of the security police kicking open a door and bursting in. In their uniform of tight jeans, running shoes, leather jackets and moustaches, in the Eastern Cape, I knew some of them by name.  Their faces had shouted into mine a couple of times.
I would be lying to say I was not afraid , but being young then, and white, I had felt invincible.

Not so, anymore.
L has been hijacked too many times. Once with a gun to his head, and the trigger pulled, but the stolen, mismatched bullets stuck in the chamber. That drove him to a solitary life on the Crocodile river, with an old land rover and a long drive back to Jozi.
Another was with AK47's in a barrackaded schoolyard .
There was another one, but the details get confused after a while. That drove him back to the Fairest Cape.
The point is, we have not, not been touched by crime

So, last week I did not march into the police station because we  do not understand the issues around crime. I served on the Community Police Forum in the Langkloof precisely because I try - to understand the issues, that is.
I marched into the police station because, a short while earlier my son - my seventeen year old, tall and lanky son, with a new cell phone, a bank card, a snazzy purple asthma pump and no doubt a wad of crumpled tissues(rhinitus) , in his pocket  - had come riding home on his very good bicycle, with his beanie on his head - visibly shaken.

The two policemen who stopped him now know the exact contents of his pockets - because they made him empty them. They know how good his bike is because they checked it over. They know the colour, curl, length and height of his hair because they pulled his beanie off and checked it out as well...

I have been told that they -  asked where he had been, whether he had been using, what he was doing there (on the streets of Sedgefield), whose bank card he had  ,how his asthma pump worked (he had to demonstrate),whose bike it was -  because they can and will stop, search, and make a young man spread his arms on the bonnet of their vehicle and pat him down, wherever and whenever they like.

I took the complaint as far as my son would let me, which wasn't very far.
He is not very happy.
To him the police are far from being friends.
I understand the feeling.
I thought those days were over.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Every Mother has her Day

This morning I woke up thinking I had heard my Mothers voice.
I experienced a moment of confusion, like when a dream crosses over into reality and voices escape from inside to outside, for a moment.

She is not here, where I am, but is alive, and living in a city far away.
This morning her voice brought me intense comfort. Like when I was a little girl, and I would awake to her, and reach out my arms , with eyes still shut.

Every week I phone her, and even though our roles are beginning to reverse, the roles of carer and being cared for, she can still be, for me, a warm voice of comfort.

A lot of our lives have been lived over the phone. That way our voices could be any age, and I forget that my face is becoming more and more her face and I am aging. And I forget that she is getting old.

There were many years when we lived on separate continents. Years when most of what we said was conveyed in letters ( mine since returned to me, a big bundle tied with string – I can't recall where they are even now.)

Phone calls were for Christmas and birthdays. There were a few years of New Years Eve calls, when I was still young and it was a tipsy delight to phone all and sundry at two in the morning for a slurred 'Auld Land Syne'.

Our lives intersected at times back here at home and we connected, mostly in quaint towns but also busy cities. I was always a faithful visitor – dutiful, perhaps making up for the grey hairs she claims I gave her, which I have now.

I gave her plenty of scares I guess, by disappearing on yachts for weeks on end and doing other dares that she probably guessed at, but didn't know.
So, when Mothers Day comes round, like it did a while ago, I phone, of cause, and I do miss her.

She and I have had our lonely spells, hers by staying, and me by going, but we are grateful for the phone. Its not that we have always been the best of friends, but her imprint is so strong on me that , wiping away the mist on the mirror, I cannot avoid her.

I can only hope that my voice will be a soothing balm (it must be the right time of day, you understand...not too late, when the weariness of the day has taken its toll.), for my daughter in her life. It does not stand to reason of any sort, because, there has been hurt, and fear, and doubt, along the way.

A voice can be like a refrain, or a familiar song, that takes you back in time, to moments well lived, and loved.
I live in Sedgefield, and my mother in Cape Town – and I miss taking her out to a special lunch on a special day. I would like to think that these days it is more me giving and her receiving. But, no, it is probably not yet quite that.
Some say that you only truly grow up when your parents are no more.
I am still a very needy me , sometimes, and I do not yet feel fully grown.

All this, settles down on me right now, as we plan my daughters first trip to England.
She goes without me. Already we have our skype conversations planned. She is the wrong age to confess to much anxiety or to express that she will miss me too very very much, as I would want her to.

I realize that I am the one staying, for the first time now, while she will go.
Many a call was made home by me, from chilly England, to my mother, sitting sunny by the pool, with a smokey braai in the background, that I could almost taste with the memory of it.

With skype I'll get to see my daughter, and hear her, and that will be for better or for worse.
I'm not ready for any role swopping – but it seems it happens, ready or not.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

A right Royal affair

Of cause I watched the wedding.

There were many complaints from those who claim to be  anti- Royal, and some whinging on about money being wasted and how inappropriate it all is in this day and age...

I remember similar comments about the World Cup and the money being spent by our poor nation to host such an event. I explained in an e-mail to a friend in Britain that a party is important sometimes. A moment in  time in which to forget the tough times, the violence, the disillusionment, the discord - and join together and at least believe, for a month or more that we all love each other and are united as South Africans.
It was a great moment.
It seems the same may be true of Britain, and I for one sat in my African living room and  thoroughly enjoyed it all.

Life is too serious at the best of times, and lately I really believe in the Power of the Party.
And I try to still believe in weddings. I've had two, and the only Royal thing about both was probably the jelly and the icing.

The first one was the most in contrast to the Royal one witnessed in London the other day - and with all its political correctness and lack of spending it still didn't last.
So, theres no guarantee..

I bought the dress for that cross racial/ cultural wedding in a pre-democracy South Africa in a Surf shop the day before the wedding. It was plain white viscose and I wore purple shoes. My parents bought me flowers and the groom was jazzy in dreads and an Indian waistcoat!
The black community I worked in was bused in and my dress was later stained by the blue dye in the icing of the slab cakes we cut into hundreds of squares for the children whom I carried around the reception. Only immediate family from my side were present, due to my choice of groom, and all in all it was rather a gloomy affair.
 There was no dancing, just eat and drink, and our Azapo and other friends, who thought they were 'communists' would not enter the church, but languished outside until it was all over. I do remember a young 'comrade' wrote us rather a nice poem which he recited mid floor whilst the cake and cokes were consumed.
We were idealists, thats for sure, and probably more than a  little self-righteous.

That marriage, like many similar ones of the time in South Africa, ended in tears and confusion and disillusionment. So, I don't hold 'doing what appears to be the right thing' in such high regard any more. Its alright, you understand, but me and my second husband swung round more to the 'Carpe Diem ' maxim, I suppose.

That second marriage was just about 100% a gift from friends. We fell into it after two years of living together, probably more so that my children could legitimately say Daddy, and some misled idea of religion. It was a day of fun in the sun played to a Van Morrison soundtrack with friends outside under the Oaks. We ate Nandos from a trailer and tent and there were no speeches, no table settings, and was similar to the first in that I carried around children again (this time my own) and very little money was spent.
Still, the dream of marriage is one that brings a tear to even a jaundiced eye.

Maybe Wills and Kate want to have kids, and being Royal they need to be on the right side of the blanket. Or maybe it was more. Married they certainly, in a sense, already were.

It was also a gift I suppose, to them, by tax payers money, and then in turn another gift to all of us, the satellite viewers. Deep in our psyche is the desire of the mystical union, expressed in different ways, in different cultures.

In the end money has nothing to do with it.
 Its all a dream. A hope. A fantasy.
 Long may it last.