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.

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.