Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Writing in the New Year

I started to write something about writing projects for next year. I hadn't been inspired to do much. I hadn't heard of any exciting incidents that I wanted to record. I only thought of writing a nativity play for next year which would be more suited to All Saints sunday School. One in which this year's animal masks could be used, but which would have a simpler message, more action and minimal dialogue. It should also have more scope for the introduction of carols, particularly the carols everybody knows.  I think I should consult with Eleanor Ely, and the other teachers. I am used to writing plays to fit the cast available. This is the nature of Church plays. The playwright needs to be willing to change the dialogue, the number and gender of actors and even the direction of the action at any time up until the dress rehearsal.( an possibly even after)

One interesting incident, however, has presented possibilities for at least the beginning of a short story. That is the extraordinary event on Christmas Eve in Kidd's Beach.  On the afternoon of the 24th we had gone down to the village to find out about Christmas Services at the little Angican Church. Shirley was willing to lend me her car to get me there. There was nothing on the notice board by the church door, and nothing about services, that I could see from peering though the front windows, that was pinned to any board in the entrance. We phoned a friend who told us that she thought that there was Midnight Mass at eleven thirty and a morning service at half-past eight. I plumped for the morning one, because I didn't fancy driving down the pot-holed farm road at night. In the event Shirley relented and kindly offered to drive me to church on Christmas mornin anyway.

The afternoon was hot and humid. Rain seemed to be in the offing and indeed, we were woken by a violent thunderstorm in the night. When I got to church, it was to see the whole large front window falling to pieces, glass all over the porch and a part of a windowframe protruding throuch the church ceiling. Everyone was ushered in through the vestry and we all huddled in the front pews,out of the way of shards of window pane and wooden splinters that were continuing to drop down into the western part of the Nave.

In the middle of Midnight Mass, just before the lighting of the Christmas Candle, the church had been struck by lightning. It must have been a bit like Pentecost with the fire and the rushing wind, but possibly noisier, because there would have been thunder as well.I wasn't able to find out whether there was any attempt to go on with the service, but think it probable that at that point eveyone rushed out by the side door and went home.
How glad I was that I had decided to go to the morning service!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Carols at the Marina

I have just enjoyed a wonderful evening of carols at Marina da Gama with my friends from the writing group, Geri and Esme.  I believe this is an annual event. Families from all over the Marina came by car, on foot, or by boat to the venue, a grassy bank by a footbridge that joins two sections of the Marina.

We were welcomed by a piper in full regalia plying his bagpipes on the bridge. The skirling echoing off the water. Everyone set up chairs, laid out rugs and unpacked their picnic suppers. Then the band
under the bridge started playing and we all joined in the singing of the old favourites. Our party had only one song sheet between the five of us. It didn't matter because I knew all the tunes and most of the words.  Ironically, I was put to shame by my Jewish companions, who knew the carols better than I did!
The moon looked down on us through a halo of cloud as we ended the evening with the lovely "Silent Night" and as we walked back to our cars over the bridge we saw a small fleet of paddle boats, their light reflected in the still surface of the lake as they made their way home, breathtakingly lovely, a magic moment.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Social Pain

I have just been reading an article from Brain-pickings (posted on Facebook) about the essential connectedness of humans. One point it makes is that what it calls "social pain" (i.e. the loss of a loved one or the failure of an endeavour) is felt in essentially the same way as physical pain, but we look upon it very differently. As they point out if we have a broken leg or something similar we are not told "to just get over it" . This is something that I must have understood intuitively, because I am disturbed by the present day attitude to grief.  Sorrow has become socially unacceptable. We are not allowed to mourn. We may mention our physical pains, but not our emotional ones. So many people I come across are taking anti-depressants. Surely it is natural to be unhappy sometimes. Life is not a perpetual bed of roses. Shouldn't we accept this fact instead of trying to run away from it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Yesterday I was at the Blue Route Mall, driving slowly along the road behind the building which leads to the undercover parking. All at once, in front of me, was a big red balloon bowling along the road in the most extraordinary way. It was as if it had a life of its own. It would bounce a few times, roll a little and then leap up into the air (waist high or more). Coming back to earth, it would continue on its way: bounce, bounce, bounce, roll, leap, roll, bounce, bounce.  I have never seen anything like it. As it came to a corner, I saw there was a lorry blocking the way. The lorry was trying to back into a driveway and was half way across the road. I had to stop and I expected the balloon to be brought to a standstill too. But no. As though on purpose, it veered to the right and passing the lorry, carried on along the road out of sight. A few seconds later, the road was clear and I was able to continue. I looked for the balloon, but there was no round, red object to be seen, only a starling, flying up in front of my car, flashed its scarlet wings at me. It was as though the balloon had changed into a bird? Did this really happen or was it a hallucination?  

The Hound of Heaven

One of the exercises given to us in our U3A  writing group was trying to find new words with their definitions. I went to word a day on Google and got the word  "Amaranth". This word was not new to me. I was not sure but seemed to remember that I had come across it reading Francis Thompson's Hound of Heaven. so I Googled that as well. I was in for a treat! I found I was able to hear this poem read by Richard Burton - surely the only actor who could do justice to the richness of Thompson's poetry.  I have read this poem often with its  wonderful message of grace and redemption, but I was moved as never before.

And yes the word 'amaranth' or rather 'amaranthine' does appear.
' ... a weed albeit an amaranthine weed, suffering no flower but its own to mount'

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Spring seems to be a bad time for old people. I had just come back from a wake for a resident of Evergreen that I was very fond of, to be confronted with an E-mail telling me of the death of another good friend, Livinia. I knew her well. I used to see her every Sunday when we picked up people from Capricorn to take to church. She had been unwell for a few weeks. I had visited her a few times and had intended to go to see her last week, but put it off.  I am inclined to do this. I don't think I am very good at visiting the sick. There is a group of volunteers at Evergreen who do this regularly and do I admire them. I find it a rather depressing chore, but now so many of my friends are frail and housebound I really ought to make more of an effort. I know it is appreciated. I have been told so often enough. Perhaps I should put aside a day every week for this purpose. Of course not a whole day, rather and hour or two in the morning or afternoon. It should be easy enough. My diary may be full of engagements of one sort or another, but almost none of them are urgent.


After a very interesting talk by Mike Nicol about his latest crime novel Of Cops and Robbers, a small group of us  had a poetry study session led by Jim Phelps. The poem chosen (by Jim) was a poem by Seamus Heaney  I think it was called The Follower.  It was about the poet as a child following his father as he ploughed. a field. We were not told the name of the author until after the discussion. The idea was for each of us to say what the poem meant to us without being influenced by knowing anything about its provenance.  I enjoyed the discussion, but felt it went on a bit long. After all, the poem was short, its description of the ploughman and his work  quite clear and the message of the poem plainly stated.  Perhaps I am too impatient and too frivolous for discussions like this. I have often regretted not having studied literature more seriously and not taken tertiary level courses in literature, but perhaps if I am so easily bored, it was just as well I didn't.

At the end of the session, Pam said something about wanting to discuss Evolution. (Darwinian I presume) My immediate reaction was "count me out!" I didn't actually say so. Surely the conflict of religion and Darwin's theory has been done to death. I don't think I can bear listening to the tired old arguments again. Only the very "Bible Belt" type sects want to get rid of the learning and teaching of the theory.  At the way-out Christian School I taught at for a short time, Evolution (in the biological sense) was not mentioned and presumably was taboo in class. Luckily I did not have to teach Biology, but I was tackled by a pupil's mother(she was also on the staff) who didn't like me telling her daughter that the earth went round the sun or that the measurement of velocity was relative. She said it contradicted what was written in the Bible(I have still to discover what Bible verses she was referring to, but I take her word for it. Texts can always be found to corroborate the most strange of prejudices.) I was amazed. I never expected controversy over Newton's laws.  I thought that particular argument was confined to Galileo's time.

I see the idea of Natural Selection, not as a tenet of belief, but as a useful tool for studying the variation in plants and animals just as Newtonian physics is useful for the study of the motion of bodies. Mostly these theories work, but there are circumstances in which they don't.  I think it is ridiculous that anyone thinks that one has to choose between one's Faith and the way one studies Biology.  I also think that we have to accept that there is much in this wonderful Universe that we will never understand and it is arrogant of us to believe otherwise.
 As a post script, I have found quite a few nice poems about Evolution. particularly some by Thomas Hardy. I did write down links, but have mislaid the paper I wrote them on. I shall have to Google them again.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On being a writer
If I have the affrontery to call myself a writer, then I must do a lot more writing.  I have become very lazy about this. Just because I don't have anyone reading my writings, shouldn't mean that I should give up the practice. I deceive myself by  making the excuse that I am concentrating on poetry, but the truth is that most of the time I just go back to one or two poems and fiddle with them. I did actually finish the mystery story that gave me so much trouble. I might at some time or other end it off properly. In other words give it a more satisfactory ending. But I got so bored with the characters and as  I got to dislike them more and more they became less and less likeable. I feel sorry for them now. They deserved better. In the beginning they had so much promise. Their company gave me so much pleasure. It is my own fault that I fell out of love with them. I did not take enough trouble with them, did not delve enough into their pasts nor give them enough direction to make sufficient futures for themselves.  Now the summer holidays are just round the corner and there will be no dog training and no U3A activities, I must find another (hopefully) worthwhile project. Perhaps I could write about my life in Zambia. The family were quite interested in my memoir about growing up in Wellington. They might enjoy reading about camping in the bush. The prospect doesn't thrill me, but once I get started I might get more enthusiastic. 

Of course I should also be working on another collection of poems. There are just not quite enough  that are worth publishing. It is light verse that is required, but lately I have been feeling so depressed
that it is no wonder that my jokes are not funny and my verse falls as flat as the souffles I never was able to bake sucessfully.

Maybe in both cases I am not following the recipe properly. Perhaps I should heed the advice of experts i.e. Read more, write more and go for long, long walks. On the other hand in my present state of mind it might be better to forget about light verse and try to write about pain and grief. There is certainly enough of it about at the moment. Spring seems to be a bad time for old people. Many of my friends have been taken ill, others are losing their minds. In Evergreen two residents have died recently. Saddest of all, my dear friend Helen died suddenly last week.  I quite like gloom in poems, but unfortunately I am not known for gloom. Gloom is not what is expected of me. 

It might be a good idea to abandon poetry for a while or two or even altogether.  Next year I shall be eighty, a good time to retire.
a good age to retire

Friday, September 20, 2013


Last Friday I went with a group from Evergreen to the West Coast Nature Reserve. the weather was not ideal. There was too much cloud. But all the same it was very worthwhile. There were lots of flowers. I took dozens of photos. Melanie had asked me to let her have some. Unfortunately what I took were not what she wanted. There were only three of people.  It turns out that she didn't want pictures of the park that we visited or the flowers that we went to see, but pictures of Evergreen residents visiting the park and looking at the flowers. I should have known better because I realised during the course of the trip, that no one else on the bus was really interested in wild flowers. What they wanted to do on the outing, was admire the scenery ( which they expected to include some brightly coloured fields of daisies) from a distance and have lunch at a good restaurant.  There was some annoyance when it was discovered that this last had not been arranged.

The trip was well worthwhile for me in spite of the weather and I think the others on the bus enjoyed it too. We were a jolly crowd and those who had not brought sandwiches, didn't complain that the stall in the reserve only sold hot dogs and hamburgers. The bonus for all of us was the wildlife.  We saw wildebees, springbok, eland and zebra in the park, some of them quite close to the road. The wildebees were leaping about and chasing one another, (affected by the joys of Spring). I tried to catch them on camera but they were all too quick for me, except for one old one, standing by himself, too staid to indulge in such youthful behaviour.  On the way home, we passed a private game park and were surprised to see two giraffe. One came and posed at the fence.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Having become a literary groupie in my old age, I am a great fan of this modern phenomenon, the Literary Festival. Festivals of all sorts, Wine festivals,  Arts festivals etc. have been with us for a long time, but book festivals are comparatively new.  The Cape Town Book Fair, once the highlight of the literary year, has been overtaken by several much more interesting events like the Franchhoek Literary festival. I think this is still my favourite, though the McGregor Poetry Festival, one I don't think I would have attended if I had not been invited, was excellent - a full and varied programme and most efficiently run. If they hold it again next year I shall definitely be going there.

Yesterday I attended two events at the Open Book Festival. The opening event featured three famous South African Authors.(Brink, Magona and Serote) All three are practised public speakers. They all had important things to say about concerns dear to their hearts and were able to communicate these in an engaging way and hold our attention throughout the allotted time. They gave us plenty of food for thought and I found the session very worthwhile. However, I would have liked more interaction. It was like having three speakers, giving three addresses, one after the other. It would have been more entertaining to have had a discussion between the three, especially if they were to disagree. I think an argument would have been more fun.

The second event was Finding Your Voice and dealt with the question of the teaching of creative writing particularly with regard to the writing of poetry.  This event was very well chaired by Karin Schimke.  She managed to draw out the other three panellists and get them to talk freely and we had varied opinions about the value of University courses. They agreed that writing ability is inborn, but to write well is an art that has to be learnt. They also agreed that teaching this art presents problems. One of the problems is the tendency to be too much influenced towards copying a certain style. They also discussed the problem of steering a course between offering help and stifling inspiration. They had all come across aspirant poets who were devastated by any criticism of their work.
(Personally, though I can understand that it can hurt, I feel that if you offer your work for evaluation you should accept criticism with a good grace. You have done so in order that you can learn how to improve it after all, haven't you?)
Their advice to aspirant poets: -
Aspirant poets need to:
read more, write more, go for long, long walks,
accept rejection with a smile and
never show their newly written work to
family or lovers.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

MY ILLUSTRIOUS ALTHLETIC CAREER On the top of my bookcase, is a little silver figure of a woman running. This trophy, entitled Grootmeester Padhardloop 1997 dates back to the time when, I was living in George and in an effort to get fit and lose some weight, I joined the outfit called Run/Walk for Life. Three times a week we would gather on a school sports field and either run or walk around it, monitoring our speed and our heart rate at each circuit. This doesn’t sound very exciting and it wasn’t, not at first, but when we had attended the requisite number of sessions and completed the requisite number of circuits, we graduated onto the road and this was much more interesting. We used various routes, most of them along shady avenues in pleasant leafy suburbs. Walking alongside someone for five or six kilometres gives plenty of time for conversation and I came to know all the others in our group and made many good friends. From being a dreaded chore, the exercise session became something to look forward to. Our enthusiastic leader, once a Comrades runner himself, encouraged us to enter road races. Most fun runs are open to walkers as well as runners, and some longer events have categories for walkers, who usually have to start after the runners, so as not to get in their way. When I started entering as a walker, I found that walkers were not always welcome, because they were slower and made the event go on too long, but when a Marathon and a half-Marathon are run at the same time, the organisers don’t mind having walkers in the half-marathon, because water points have to be kept going until all the Marathon runners are home anyway. The first half-marathon I entered was exhausting. I thought I would never finish, but after a while I learnt to pace myself and once I had mastered the technique of the race-walkers wiggle, 21 km became, if not exactly a breeze, much easier. After doing a few of these, we walkers began to set our sights on the 37km Big Walk. In the end I was to do this race three times. But what about the trophy? Well, it came about, that a few of us had entered the Saasveld Half- Marathon. This was a rather tough race, but with a delightfully scenic course, through fields, plantations and indigenous forest. When I entered I didn’t know that it wasn’t just another road race, but the Southern Cape Road Running Championship. For Road Running, the age categories are: Junior, Senior, Master and Grandmaster. (Grand master in those days was sixty and over). The winner in each category would be that year’s champ. Our running vests were marked with the appropriate letter. At the start I noticed that there were only two other G’s in the line-up. For most of the race they were both so far ahead that I couldn’t see them. I slogged on at the rear, enjoying the balmy Spring weather, the gurgle of the mountain streams, and the sweet scent of the pine trees along the route. I passed one of the Gs a little way after the half-way mark. Having set out too fast, she was now sitting by the side of the road puffing and panting and suffering from cramping in the calves. I made a perfunctory inquiry as to whether she needed assistance, but she grimly waved me on. About two kilometres before the finish, I came across the other Grandmaster lady, another Walk-for-lifer, and a faster walker than I was. She had found a clump of edible mushrooms by the side of the road and was picking them and stuffing them in her small backpack. “You go on ahead,” she told me. “I don’t mind being second for once.” She was a bit taken aback when she discovered that I was to be crowned Southern Cape Lady Grandmaster Half-marathon Champion, but took it with good grace. I think she won the next year, but after that, the age for Grandmaster was dropped to fifty-five and the competition was much too tough for either of us. Now that my walking is reduced to a slow perambulation round the park, I have the trophy displayed prominently in my sitting-room to impress visitors. I don’t tell them that there were only three of us in the race and that one dropped out and the other stopped to pick mushrooms.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Choosing a Writing Project
I haven't ben using this blog for quite a while. I have been trying to finish the story I started more than a year ago.  I seem to have finally resolved the problems and sorted out a satisfactory ending. Satisfactory, did I say. No, not entirely satisfactory, but good enough to complete the exercise. That is what this piece of writing has been, an exercise, a learning process.  I have written several short stories some of them have even been published.(in litnet and Itch) but anything longer has been much more difficult for me. I started a crime novel, but had to abandon it.  Then when I was attending Paul Mason's group he gave us a "tryptich" of stories to read and suggested we try to produce something similar. (If I remember there were three stories linked by one particular character. The first described an incident in this character's childhood and was written in his voice. The second, an incident in his youth narrated by the same character's wife and the third, a later incident related by the character's daughter. The stories put together were about as long as a short novel.  I chose the theme of Betrayal. I set the first in the seventies in the central character's early adolescence.(verkrampt childhood)  The second would be narrated by a friend and comrade at university and would be set in the eighties (student unrest) and the third narrated by a lover. (struggle)
I never got beyond the first story, which could possibly have stood on its own.Although I was pleased with the beginning, I was less pleased with the ending which was very weak and definitely needed re-writing, but I couldn't think how to improve it.  I abandoned it also.  I did finish a short novel for children. I was fairly satisfied with it, but it got lost when I acquired a new computer. Somehow it hadn't been properly backed up. Now recent technology has caused it to be out of date.  I still have fragments and might reconstruct it.  A fourth story which had a promising beginning was about a teenager with an alcoholic parent. (I had become aware of the fact that publishers like 'Youth Literature' to be full of misery and angst.) This also did not get beyond Chapter 3. 

Perhaps I may return to one or other of these, when I finish the present project, encouraged by the knowledge that I am actually able to  complete a piece of writing longer than 2000 words.
On the other hand I might do as my daughters suggest and write some more chapters of my Memoir. At least I will be sure of an audience even if the readership is confined to my family.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reading my previous posts, I realise that they could all do with more vigorous editing.  Typos and spelling errors abound. My mid-year resolution:  Edit twice at least before posting. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Poetry Festival at McGregor

As a taste of the delights that were on offer, here are some of my favourites from the pens of the participating poets. (short ones to save my typing fingers)

Green House
by Finuala Dowling

I live in a large green house
with my daughter and three dogs.
Also here you my find sister,
certainly brother,
and mother(grand).

No husbaand
and no cat.

People sometimes ask about the cat.

Bus shelter
by Graham Dukas

Standing on the cusp
between walkway and roadway

Prisoner of the waiting moment
a pausing between here

and somewhere else
I am the face of commerce;

Colgate toothpaste, to be exact,
which has me smiling

across the breadth of my bench
and when you are here

shaded from the sun
or kept dry from the rain

mylips hover above your neck
and you have no idea

that when you leave
on the eight-forty-five for town

my smile will be for the memory
of our moment together.

On realising I am in love with you
by Kerry Hamerton

I wanted a man with a tall stride and
berry brown legs.
An adventurer

A long-haired surfer with an earing
and a six-pack
A self-made man.

A millionaire. A bespectacled genius.
I'm sure my ad said ;
'must love dogs'

And I got you.

Evening Stables
by Helen Moffett  (always makes me nostalgic for the time when my children were young, and had ponies)

As dusk settled down, so did the horses
and for a spell, life would hang in
perfect balance; gleam of liquid eyes,
 noses nudging in troughs; one of the
bolder cats trowling from his perch
on a broad back; outside.
the resident owls warming up
for half and hour's counterpoint
of notes soft and deep
as the darkness catching the trees;
inside warmth rising like bread
from my pony's sturdy frame
as I'd lean against his barrel girth;
the toasty smell of oats and molasses
all underpinned by the steady rhythm
of chomping; more soothing, consoling
than any lullaby
perfect balance     

by Shaun Kirk
My pen taps restlessly against tes desk
like water dripping into a basin
thoughts spill an wash
out into an ebbing sea
where they dance in the tide
until theare marooned on empty beaches
I try in vain to pry them from settlement,
torend them into use.
I tug an pull at unbending cords,
burn the skin from my palms,
but they will not yeild to me.
My mortality becomes apparent
as the dust settles around me,
unspoken words dissolve and vanish.

What life is really like
by Beverley Rycroft

You need to toughen up
my father would complain
when I was small.
I ought to take you to see
chickens having their heads
chopped off.
that would teach you
what life is really like

He'd seek me out
when one of his pigeons
crazed for home or
mad with terror from a
roaming hawk
would tumble into the loft
mutilated by
wire or beak.

I was the one made to
clench my palms round
its pumping chest,
to keep it still while
my father's hairy fingers stitched
it's garotted throat
angily to rights again.

You see life is a fight for survival
he'd shout, forgetting
he was not lecturing his students
or giving his inaugural address
You gotta roll with the punches.

I waited and waited for that bitter
roughness to spy me  and circle
in to land
        years and years
of flinching anticipation until
the day I came home from hospital

and my father dressed my wound.

Easing with practised hands
the drip from my bulldozed chest
he renewed the plater in breathing silence
never speaking never
once saying

Life's a bastard
Toughen up

Tin roof
by Kelwyn Sole

Autumn works away like a carpenter
dismantling the promises of spring

our shelters brought so slowly down
it's hard to recollect when each wall

fell, foretell when each corrupt plank
will crumble .  Too lush a green

is the colour that warps away
from the grass to leave a yellow

dull as urine from a spiteful god,
but a reference we are used to.

To go on liveing here, requires a house,
a cat, and an expectation at least

about a future where the eggs
can poach, the cat heave its body

with a thump through the small door
that human hands have sawn for it;

requires a house, preferably of stone,
squatting its grey toad weight on the land

and refusing to budge for anyone

Such houses are no longer built

The Poetry Festival at McGregor

I have just got back from a wonderful weekend at McGregor. This tiny village has managed to host a
most successful festival.  I was most impressed with the organisation and the line-up of interesting events. My only gripe was
that there were so many that it was almost impossible to chose and sometimes the ones I would have particularly like to attend were in the same time-slot on the programme.  But otherwise everything was great. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming,--  the people at the"tuishuis" who were always ready to help, my audiences, who were the best audiences ever, the poets themselves who shared their words and thoughts so generously,  Billy and all the other people at Temenos, and last but not least, my charming and delightful hosts who were kind enough  to share their home with me for the weekend.

I took some pictures while I was there.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Spring may be the best time to view flowers, but there are flowers all year round in the fynbos. I have been trying to make a photographic record of the flowers we see on our weekly "Fynbos Rambles". 
last week and the week before we were at Silvermine.  Here are some of the special flowers we saw:
From top
Erica physoides, Stilbe, Erica urnavirida, Galdiolus maculata.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


If I could paint; if I had been given the gift
of taking images that fall on rods and cones
and with brush and pigment
transfering them to paper, board or canvas,
I would paint a picture of a mountain

Not Table Mountain,
though everybody wants to pin it down
on a photo or a postcard
and hang it on a wall.
I admit:
 it is nice to look at from the other side of the bay,
 useful as something to show visitors,
and invaluable as a navigational aid,
(without it I wouldn't know my way home)
but no, I wouldn't paint Table Mountain.

The mountain I would paint
is this round plum pudding mountain
 that surprises me each morning
with the joyful richness of its colours
as the sun's rays touch
its grey and olive speckled slopes
and its stripy orange cliffs.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I was delighted to have this poem of mine published in Carapace and even more delighted to hear that it had been read on Cape Talk by John Maythem.

Birding Course
I discover a new language
full of chirps and warbles
and learn to read signs of
claw size, beak shape,
length of leg and curve
of wing in flight

Through binocular glass
I pass into another world,
see the heron playing 'statues',
the kingfisher's helicopter hover
and the croquet-hoop necks
and mallet heads of
flamingos at the vlei

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I have fallen in love with flamingos. They are so weird, with their upside-down beaks, their snake-like necks and the quacking noise they make and they are so elegant in the way they walk, like models on a catwalk.  Since they have been coming to forage at Sandvlei, walking the dogs has become a birding expedition and I now go out carrying binoculars as well as dog leads and poo bags.

Banking on the first of the month

Poetry month in United States, Karin says. She also promises to write a poem every day in April. This sounds a good idea. I would like to do likewise. The poem does not have to be a long one. Someone suggests a haiku at the end of each day. Here is mine.
I stood at the bank
in a patient line of clients
for nearly an hour.

Why do we all put up with this appalling service? The tellers are wonderfully efficient and helpful, but there are just not enough of them. When this happened before, I complained, only to be told that they like to encourage customers to use ATMs. They did admit that not all business could be done by a machine, but didn't seem much concerned about clients being inconvenienced.  This branch is spanking new, hugely spacious and beautifully appointed. There are only three counters for tellers, but there is a long row of underutilised automatic banking machines. The rent charged for the offices must be enormous and the cost of the installations must have been very large too. It is as I have always suspected: in the banking industry money and possessions are important and people, whether they are staff or customers don't matter at all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The police constable/ poet in court


 Tell us where you saw the accused.

 At a place where two roads meet, I stood

and pondered on what path my life would take.

Where exactly were you standing?

At the corner, your honour, of Beach road and Main Street.

And when was this?

The sun had long-since dropped behind the mountain peak

and the moon’s rays were painting  a silver path across the bay.

What time exactly?

Seven forty five, your honour

What was the accused doing?

His fingers, stretched like chicken’s claws,

 clutched at the concrete rim, while his scant and spidery legs,

see-sawed, and scrabbled on the  cemented surface.

I beg your pardon?

He was climbing over a wall, your honour.

What did he look like?

All sinisterly draped, dark as night, with features hid in black, concealing, fleece.

Could you repeat that in English?

Sorry, your honour, I meant to say he was wearing a black tracksuit and a balaclava.

And what did you do then?

I called upon the miscreant to render to me an account.


I said “You’re under arrest,” and hand cuffed him.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Flamingos at Sandvlei


I have fallen in love with flamingos. They are so weird with their upside-down beaks, their snake-like necks and the absurd quacking noise they make and at the same time they are so elegant in the way they carry their heads and move through the mud like models on a catwalk. Since they have come to forage at the vlei, dog-walking has become a birding expedition and I now go out burdened with binoculars as well as dogleads and poo bags.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Clouds stained a dirty grey
oppress the looming mountain,
curl round the rocks,
and rumble empty threats of rain.
In the air, a faint scent
of damp ground and,
 a metal taste of lightning.
Leaves shake a little,
cling a bit more tightly to the stem,
but grass, pale and wilting,  
bends down in the wind
to touch the white, dry sand.


At dawn −
an urgent bugle call
notes like trumpet blasts run
up the scale and down again.
It’s some bird – a shrike or hornbill
making leaves shake in the ngwenya tree
A coucal in the hedge
pours liquid music from its beak.   
In the distance a car drones −
early on the narrow country road.
I hear the dogs bark, look out,
 see them chasing
a slithering leguaan into
the disused swimming pool.
Bees bundled in the eaves
resume their swarming.
I can smell coffee brewing, bacon frying.
Everything is up and stirring
pretending to be new

Stories for Children


A pair of Foolish Plovers
Ali Baatjies
Will Weaver
The Carpet Shop
Mouse Tale
The Prince and the Pavement Poodle
The King of the Vlei
Picnic at the Vlei
Christmas Stockings
Lucky Friday
Toby Runs Away
Eagles in the Forest
Mother Goose on the Loose
Curiosity and the Cat
The Story of Sam
To Catch a Rainbow
It is the season of Lent - fasting, discipline, dust and ashes, reminders of mortality, all those unpleasanr things. And it has been a bad time for this country too. A time of horrible shocks: the brutal rape of Anene Booysens, and yesterday, the arrest of our hero, Oscar Pistorius, for murder.  This country is an evil place., a violent place, a dangerous place especially if you are a woman. Why then do I love it so? Why would I not want to live anywhere else?  Am I crazy?

Thinking about this question carefully I come to the following conclusions.
Firstly, I am blessed to live amonst so much beauty. Driving along the coast this morning, I fall in love again with False Bay, the mountains, the beaches the sea, the fynbos, the birdlife. Can anywhere else cpmpare?  But, as Hopkins says about Wales "only the inmate does not correspond".  But is this true? Newpapers paint a picture of corruption and violence, but personally I  find myself surrounded by people who are decent and kind. In fact some of them are good and wonderful people.

Then: Good things are happening all around us, if we only look about us and keep our eyes open to see them.  The general outrage at poor Anene's fate is one. Another is the generosity of ordinary people. Appeals for help for victims of flods and fires are always heeded although these disasters are so very frequent. Another thing that gives me hope is the number of very good articles I have read lately furthering the cause of equality and justice for women. And many of these written by men!

To go back to the subject of Lent. I have been reading what Isiaah says about fasting.  Basically he doesn't think there is much pont in it if you just go on living the way you have been, pursuing your own interests and ignoring the needs of others. Doing without pleasures, giving up one thing or another and making yourself uncomfortable and often irritable and quarrelsome too,( Isiaah points out that this is often the result of doing without food) is not much use if nobody else benefits.
What does he think is pleasing to God?
"the kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear......Then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon.

I am ashamed at how little I do to lessen the darkness around me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How did I manage to lose this blog again? Perhaps I am just impatient and if I had waited after typing in the blog name it would have appeared as it has in the past.

However, I seem to have got here at last and am ready to enter something new.
What is occupying my attention at present is the problem of what to do with what I write.  Of course, like most writers I know, I write for myself first of all.  A story, a poem,  or perhaps a memory, cries out to be written down. (This is what happens quite a lott of the time.) but once committed to paper, you want to share it. Belonging to a writing group is very satisfactory. The others in the group are obliged to read your writings or else to listen to them being read aloud.  The flipside of this is that you are, in turn obliged to read or listen to theirs.  These sessions are very pleasant and were quite suffieint for me for a long time, but then I had a story published on the net and a piece for children published by an NGO.  This was heady stuff. I felt as though a I was becoming a proper author! And then-- to my amazement, after attending regular poetry workshop fo a while, I was approached by a publisher!  Can you imagine! Actually approached! This lead to a little book of poems seeing the light of day and to a few invitations to read at gatherings of like-minded people.   It was scary but great.  I felt like a celebrity. (almost)

Now after several years of writing almost every day, I have quite a large collection of unpublished short stories and  poems.  I have not been entirely unsucessful in placing them. A few poems have been published in journals and a few stories in internet magazines.  I have also given printed copies of my children's stories to my grandchildren and to the grandchilren of friends.  I wondered about puttiingtogether another collection of poems, but I have had second thoughts about this.  I asked my publisher how the book had been selling. She told me that sales had almost covered expenses.  That doesn't sound very wonderful to me. Althoug she sounded positive about publishing another book, I can't see that there is much in it for her.  I think I must be content with belonging to writing groups and attending poetry readings.

Monday, January 21, 2013


This evenng I noticed that my shoulders felt itchy. I rubbed them and some skin peeled off. What's happened to my shoulders? I couldn't make it out. Then I clicked. I haven't been swimming for years and among all the many things I had forgotten, I had forgotten what sunburn does. I must have got sunburnt when I was in a canoe on Sandvlei lagoon. Perhaps forgetting that incident was rather Freudian. I hardly covered myself in glory that day. In fact it was  rather embarrasing.

My friend, Geri had been promising me a canoe ride for some time and last Monday when I gave her a lift back from Writing class she suggested I come and have lunch with her. It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky and just a slight soft breeze to ruffle the water .  Geri took me to a little wooden jetty where a canoe was moored. It was small but solid and stable. She held it still while I scrambled into it. While Geri prepared lunch and set a table out on the patio overlooking the water I set out for a paddle round the vlei. I didn't want to go too far so I went upstream towards a  little bridge instead of taking to the main stream of the river.. I was delighted to find that I had not lost my canoeing skills. The canoe glided smoothly over the water. I watched weaver birds building nests of grass and saw a yellowbilled duck with a family of ducklings only a few metres away from my boat. There were numbers  and numbers of coots  amonst the reeds. I let the canoe drift gently towards the opposite bank of the creek.  I could have stayed there all afternoon, but I didn't want to go too far, so I turned the canoe and started back. Up to then I had been drifting with the current, but now I was paddling against it.  What is more, the wind had got up and was blowing the canoe backwards.  I battled manfully, but made very little progress. In fact I seemed to be going round in circles. My arms were aching and I was tiring fast.  I was never going to make it back to Geri's house. Instead I  just gave up and let the wind carry me to the shore. I was able to guide the canoe onto a slipway where I could get out easily. Then I rang Geri on my cel phone and gave her the sad news. She walked along the road until she located me. We didn't know what to do. We didn't want to leave the boat, but neither of us was strong enough to get it back home.  But Geri was resourceful. She approached two men, I think they were builders on their lunch break, and offered them R10 to take the canoe to her house. They were quite willing. So while they travelled by water, we ran along the road to get there first and wave them to the right jetty.

I really enjoy canoeing, but am going to let Geri get over this escapade before I approach her again. Next time I shall go in the opposite direction so I can let the wind blow me home.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Should writers behave like celebrities

Writers as celebrities.

The latest trend: writers becoming a celebrities of the type and calibre of Madonna or Bieber.  Authors like Rowlings and Junot and the Green brothers, are mobbed at book signings and revered like pop stars.  This kind of hysterical reaction by adoring fans tends to be scorned by the serious "literary' author, but the truth is that the days of the shy retiring genius scribbling in an obscure attic and known only by his or her writings is gone forever. Today self promotion is the name of the game.
Anyone embarking on a literary career would probably do better to take a course in advertising or public speaking rather than a degree in Eng.Lit or Creative Writing. Looking good and talking well is what is needed to sell your product.

Facebook, Twitter etc. are probably to thank for this state of affairs. It is incredible to me how, in my lifetime, first computers and then the Internet has changed the world. Dire profesies about the demise of books and the loss of the ability to read are just not being fulfilled. It seems to me that people are reading and writing more not less. They are just doing it differently and more publicly.  

Being forced to sell oneself  as well as what one writes may be hard on modern authors, but like most readers I find it interesting to get to know the personality behind the books that I enjoy. Getting out in front of one's readership is just something that modern writers have to come to terms with.

I must say, having listened to the recordings of some poets, even famous ones, reading their works, I have thought that the odd lesson in what used to be called "elocution' when I was at school would not have come amiss in their early education.