Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Writing Memoir

I have signed up for a course on writing memoirs. This is something I would not have done if Jane had not recommended it. She has been on one of Dawn's courses and was impressed with the beneficial effect on her writing. Certainly Dawn Garisch is a fine writer. I would say especially of autographical works. Much of her poetry, also is superb. I found the only novel of her's that I have tried to read, too depressing and abandoned it half-way. But then I have become fussier in my reading as I have got older. I am prepared to wade through heavy unpalatable prose if I am in search of information, but when I read for entertainment, I expect to be entertained. I don't want to be harrowed, and I don't want to be bored. That is why I avoid "confessional" poetry or for that matter "confessional" prose. If the blurb talks about "brave battles against addiction" or "coming to terms with childhood abuse," I put the book back on the shelf. Not that I think that such stories should not be written, It is just that I have just heard too many of them. I am not into the baring of one's soul. I do not like to do so myself and although I can listen sympathetically to another's troubles, reading the unpleasant details of fractured lives makes me uncomfortable. With this in mind I find myself a little apprehensive about the forthcoming course. A while ago I wrote down some childhood memories for my children and grandchildren. Silke, who edited it, wanted me to be much more "personal". She didn't think my family would be interested in my father's career as a teacher, or where my mother did her shopping or what we used to grow in the garden. She wanted more drama and more emotion. These I was unable to supply. Now, although my childhood was calm and bland, I have had plenty of drama not to mention trauma in my life. I just don't particularly like writing about it. I hope not too much of the "confessional" will be expected of me.

Friday, December 26, 2014

American Writing

I have just finished a very good book. 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout. The blurb on the cover describes it as a novel, but it is really a series of short pieces all set in the same small American town and all featuring the character Olive Kitteridge, sometimes as the protagonist and sometimes as a minor character in the story. The writing is very accomplished, understated, but crisp and clear. The characters, especially Olive herself, come alive. Without ever descending into sentimentality, the author lays skillfully before us the intimate details of their lives, so that we can feel their joys, their sorrows and their pain. Although, having lived in a small town most of my life, much of what the writer tells us is familiar, I was also struck by the differences. Americans may speak the same language, but their surroundings and experiences are not the same. The central characters all appeared to me to be very self-centered and introspective, but perhaps that was only because their particular attitudes and the concerns that were most important in their lives were not the same as mine would have been. The little town in Maine in which the stories are set, is not at all like a town in this country, however well the author makes us think we know it. If I were to go to a town like that in America I know I would find it strange and exotic. I would be a foreigner, not knowing what I ought to do or what would be expected of me. . In the same way, when I took an on-line course in American Modern poetry, I came up against these differences. I was often made aware of my foreignness. There was so much taken granted in the way of background knowledge and common experience. Things that would have been familiar to any American student were new and strange to me. This added immensely to the interest of the course,but also caused difficulties sometimes. I was not surprised to find after looking up the marks I had been assigned, that I had failed'Mod-Po' (as the course was called). I thoroughly enjoyed studying the poems and doing the assignments and did contemplate trying again, but on the whole decided against repeating the course. But having been given a taste of American poetry I shall now definitely be reading more of it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

Time speeds up you get older. I have been in this place for five years now. I can hardly believe it. It seems just the other day that I moved in. When I was young, five years was a long time. The four years I spent at university seemed very much longer than the five years I have been living at Evergreen. There are various theories why this should be. I have seen more than one theory featured in "Brain-pickings"(that delightful collection of writings I receive weekly by e-mail) I like theories, especially ones that it is impossible to prove. The latest one I have thought up is this.: As you get older you slow down, Everything takes you up to twice as long, from getting dressed in the morning to the weekly shopping. This means that in each day fewer tasks are completed. Looking back on the day, it is emptier and naturally seems shorter. Your memory also is not as good. So as well as having fewer incidents to remember, more of these incidents will have been forgotten. Then there is also a lot of repetition in your memories. You may have spent several holidays at the same resort and done the same things each time, you may have worked at the same job for several years, and of course, when you have retired, one day is very like another, so although day by day time may even seem to drag by, in retrospect days pass quickly because remembering them takes so little time. But I see I meant to write about Christmas. I wasn't looking forward to it, because it seemed it would be an anticlimax after such an eventful year. Most of my family are now far away and only Luke and Danielle were to have Christmas dinner with me. I was very unenthusiastic about Christmas preparations, but once I started with the cooking of ham and turkey and the wrapping of presents, I began to enjoy myself and in the end had a lovely time with my two delightful grandchildren. We were going to go to Midnight Mass, but decided in the end that we were too tired and Luke and I went to the 8.30 service instead. I am so glad we did. A number of Malawians from the off-shoot Malawian church in Vrygrond had hired a bus to bring them to All Saints and the church was quite full in spite of there having been two other Christmas services. The Christmas service was joyful, as always and it was a bonus to have the Malawian Youth choir to sing two carols for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The end of the year

This has been a wonderful year for me. During this year, I celebrated my eightieth birthday, published my second book of poems, traveled with my daughter Eleanor to Namibia, and also to the Eastern Cape and had all three daughters together with me for the first time in years. How many years? It could be at least twenty.
Other highlights Being invited to read poems at the McGregor Poetry Festival. Having two poems chosen for the Carapace 100 (the bumper issue) Having poems published in the Sol Plaatje anthology. My little Jack Russell(actually Luke's dog) winning the trophy for the best Toy dog at the Boland Regional trials. Being the featured Poet at Off the Wall at Observatory and at Scarborough (reading to a lovely audience of friends) Christmas and New Year will be different this year. Only Granddaughter Danielle and Grandson Luke will be in Cape Town However much satisfaction there has been in looking back on 2014, there is still a sense of anticlimax. But who knows what 2015 may hold.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

McGregor Poetry Festival

This last Weekend I attended the second McGregor Poetry Festival. I loved it. The weather was good,the scenery spectacular, the events exciting, the food delicious and the company delightful. Hugh, Julia and I drove up to McGregor together I had been invited last year, but this was a first for Hugh and Julia. Graham Dukas, Kerry Hammerton and I from Finuala's Workshop as well as Finuala herself and her daughter Beatie, had been invited to read and Hugh was to run an Off-the-Wall type open-mic event. All of us, I am sure, as well as the others from Finuala's class who came to support us, thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I felt that my presentation went down well especially on the Friday night(I read during two dinners at a guesthouse or what I suppose is called a boutique hotel) Hugh's event proved very popular.There were so many eager wanna-be poets that there was time for only one poem per person. All the poems I heard were interesting and some were very good. My only personal gripe about the festival is that there are just too many events. It was difficult to choose. I don't know which I would have eliminated. Originally I would have thought that perhaps there were too many locals taking part, but I enjoyed the local events I went to and of course these are just the ones that are be sure to be well attended. I went to two events where two poets shared the floor. Perhaps this is the answer. An hour is a long time for one person to be talking. It works very well to have two (or even more) poets sharing a slot if they have something in common or when the style of one complements that of the other. Graham and Finuala, for instance, combined well. The open mic sessions on the other hand could be longer. It is aspirant writers who attend Literary festivals after all.

Getting to McGregor

"Let's take my car, " I said. "It's more reliable." These words would come back to haunt me. My little Hyundai looks new and is in fact only two years old. In its short life it has given no trouble whatsoever. I had checked the tyres and fitted a new one and had filled up with petrol. I was quite sure that would be enough in the way of preparation. I was wrong! We set off, Hugh,Julia and I on Friday morning. The departure was slightly delayed by the loss of Hugh's wallet. He had it with him at a restaurant the night before, but that morning it was nowhere to be found. Hugh and JUlia arrived at Evergreen Muizenberg stressed and shaky from anxiety and loss of sleep. My dog-sitter, the ever-reliable Carline had already arrived so we could get going without delay. Without delay did I say? Not really. Gairo my part-time domestic worker had first to be persuaded to leave some of the clothes unironed and get into my car so she could be dropped off at Lavender Hill and this took quite a few minutes, as she was not keen on having her routine interfered with. And then, before we could leave Cape Town itself, we also had to make a detour to Green Point to leave Julia's car with her daughter Jessica. That was not all. Just as we were about to leave, there was a phone call from my grandson to ask me to pay his gardener because he wouldn't be able to get home in time to do so. So we had to make another detour, this time via Diep Rivier We drove in convoy to Luke's house and got there without mishap. Then with Julia in my car to help with directions and give moral support, we were soon cruising down the M3 towards Green Point. Somehow in concentrating on following Hugh in the car ahead, I managed more than once to get into the wrong lane. much cursing and hooting ensuing. However this caused only minor uneasiness, no serious road rage or arrests for traffic violations. After leaving the other car, Hugh took over the driving, much to our relief, and we sailed out of the CBD and onto the N1. Here we met with incredible delays. We crawled all the way to Belville. It seemed to take hours. We were convinced that there had been an accident, but the hold-up was due to nothing but minor roadworks. Perhaps it was this long slow period in low gear that exasperated the battery and made it collapse. Who knows? After that everything seemed to be going swimmingly.The engine purred, the weather was perfect and Du toit's Kloof was as stunningly beautiful as ever. And so to Worcester. there we stopped to buy a burger, which only took a few minutes. We got back to the car to find that in the interim, it had died. The battery was totally flat. There was no garage nearby, but we found a dilapidated taxi, which from its appearance, seemed to have been involved in all the recent taxi wars. The driver, together with four friends, came to our rescue with a pair of jumper leads and the car sprang to life again. By a wonderful stroke of providence, Julia had a brother in Worcester who owned a firm that sold car parts. He examined the car, got it going again and tested the battery which he pronounced healthy. "It should be charged by the time you get to McGregor," he said. Well, we did get to McGregor, but the battery was still flat. I wasn't going to let its moribund state spoil my weekend so I cadged lifts and walked throughout the weekend and after a good deal of devout prayer, we left on Sunday afternoon, determined to keep the engine running and not to stop until we reached Cape Town. And that is what we did. We reached Disa Towers, where we could find both Julia's daughter and her car. By this time the battery of my car was so flat that the headlights wouldn't come on, so we left the poor little Hyundai and went home in the other car. The AA fetched it later on and took it to the agents and now it is well again. PS. Hugh's wallet was found at the bottom of a backpack.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Writing Stories

In the last year or so I have concentrated so much on poetry and this has paid off,I suppose. I have certainly been more successful as a poet than as a short story writer. Besides having published two collections, I have been published in Carapace quite often. I didn't realise what an accomplishment that was until I read in the latest Carapace that the editorial staff receive as many as 80 to 100 poems every two months. But I was given a short story to write for my U3A group homework and this has been a lot of fun. I must do it more often. It is being without an audience or rather a readership for short stories that puts me off. My grandchildren used to read my children's stories, but are now too old for them. At one time I went every week to Paul Mason's writing group, where we did a lot of story-writing.I miss the weekly sessions with Paul and the "girls" I see that the last post on this blog was about the trip to the West Coast Park. This trip was most fruitful as far as writing was concerned. Out of it has come a poem and a short story as well as the post on the blog. Appropos of the trip, I was amazed to read in the last Rescom minutes that one of the residents who went on the trip complained that there were no flowers to be seen. It is true that we have seen more fields of daisies on a previous trips, but I can only think that the poor old thing's eyesight must be really failing. No flowers? My collection of photographs tells otherwise.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Busy week

Last week there was no time for writing; I had too many commitments. By Sunday night I was quite exhausted. And yet looking at my diary, it didn't seem so full. How was I able to hold down a job and also do things like visit friends, play squash and train dogs as I used to do when I was younger? One slows down so much as one ages. I suppose it is a blessing. Life might seem very dull and empty otherwise. However last week was certainly not dull and empty. It included a trip to Hermanus to see the whales, another to the West Coast National Park to see the Spring flowers, a visit to the Boomslang walkway at Kirstenbosch, a birthday party, a Dog Agility Trial and a rock concert. I also went on my usual Wednesday fynbos walk, had my grandson Darryl come to visit and attended the weekly Off- the Wall. poetry reading. More than enough excitement for an eighty-year-old! I have learnt a valuable lesson this week. It is not advisable for me to go on a tour organised by Village Management. I do not have the right temperament for outings for the aged. Or perhaps for any organised outings. I only get into trouble. I made myself most unpopular on this particular outing. What I did was to go off for a walk while we were waiting for our lunch orders to arrive. There was a big crowd at the restaurant and I knew we would have a long wait. It just didn't occur to me that members of our party would become impatient and would decide to leave without their food. I had a pleasant stroll. I found a bird hide where I saw dozens of lovely pink flamingos, black-backed stilts, and lapwings. I met a delightful couple who lent me their binoculars. When I thought the kitchen had been given enough time to prepare our lunches I walked back, only to find our party all sitting in the bus, champing at the bit except for two loyal friends who were rushing about frantically calling my name. I suppose I was lucky they hadn't decided to leave without me. I was in disgrace.
Beware of poets on excursions Don't take a poet on Senior's tour not even an old poet Poets are not the same as other folk. They want to stop and look at lilies when it's time for tea. They like to stare at sunsets when it's cocktail hour They compose odes at lunch. When no one else is missing and all are just where they should be, the poets can't be found because they have wandered off like Wordsworth's clouds in search of pelicans or perhaps of rainbows. So now if you should board a bus to travel to a place where tourists like to go, make sure that hidden underneath the rugs and picnic baskets, the folding chairs and vacuum flasks, there aren't any poets

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kissing balloons

On Monday I went into hospital, the Kingsbury Hospital to be exact, for what I have learnt to call a "procedure". I am not sure whether this word replaces the word  "operation" or whether it is something different, perhaps it takes less time and effort, or costs less or doesn't involve a long stay in bed.
Actually, referring to the paper I had to take in with me, I underwent six procedures altogether: two Iliac stenting, one placing of an aortic catheter and three sel angios( whatever they may be.) In two days I have learnt so many new words!

What I have experienced, is to be present at a miracle of medical expertise and modern technology.  It was all done under local anaesthetic so I was conscious throughout and could follow what was happening more or less, although I couldn't quite understand all of it.  As far as I could make, out this is what was done.  Two balloons on the end of two long wires were introduced into my leg arteries (one for each leg). These were called the "kissing balloons" They were then guided up from the groin into the belly until they met at the confluence of the blood vessels. here they presumably kissed and also somehow placed two stents and a catheter in place, before parting and returning to base as it were.

The amazing thing is that all this hardly hurt at all and that after a night lying flat in bed, I cold go home. And what is even better, it no longer hurts when I walk.

I must also mention that I was most impressed with the level of care in the hospital. I won't complain about the cost of medical aid  again.

Kissing balloons

Spring is in the air.
In the hospital foyer two young lovers, waiting for the lift,
hold hands.
Outside the window of the ward,
doves bill and coo.
On the roof across the way,
two hadedas rub their curved beaks together.
And in the operating theatre, two balloons
travel up my arteries until they meet, kiss
and seal their union with a pair of rings.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Namibia Poems


I didn’t know a desert ever
could be so desolate
or a wasteland ever 
be so bare.
The road runs on and on
smooth straight and black
across a pale and pinkish emptiness.
In the distance yellow humps
of dunes rise up
and blue hills edge
a sun-bleached sky.


Driving across the plain we see
how sun on the dry grass makes it glow.
Scattered around are sparse green thorny bushes.
In one of them a leopard is hiding,  
a spotty face between the speckled leaves.

All day we’re overwhelmed by sightings,
huge herds of wildebeest and oryx
fat, stripy zebra, tall giraffe and lots
of little springbuck

At evening while we’re sitting,
silent by the water-hole,
a group of thirsty antelopes
is forced to move
because an elephant platoon
has come here, marching, slow
along the wide, well-trodden path
to have a splash and slurp
before the sun goes down.


Bits of the old German town remain
between the blatant modern buildings.
All is clean and friendly,with
a Continental look and
a Teutonic tidiness.
And nearby there are saltpans
pink and white, flamboyant with

Monday, July 28, 2014

Harvey Tile Holiday

{In Zambia my daughter Eleanor sees this sign on a school: "A roof without Harvey Tiles is like a school without teachers. There will be illiteracy. and on a police station : " A roof without Harvey tiles is like a country without police. There will be lawlessness] The family ponders on these words]

 It's early morning in Swakopmund.
Cold mist sinks down upon the sea.
A desert lies bleak and menacing behind us.
"A roof without Harvey tiles is like dawn without sun" says my son-in-law Andreas
"There will be chill and desolation."

We travel north on a black salt road.
Sand stretches pale and pink on either side.
Liquid cools in flasks and sandwich edges curl.
"A roof without Harvey Tiles is like tea without cake" says my granddaughter, Isabel.
"There will be tastelessness."

In Etosha the grass glows yellow in the sun.
A pale sky floats above muddy pools.
We sit in silence with binoculars.
"A roof without Harvey Tiles is like a water-hole without game." says my daughter, Eleanor.
"There will be boredom."

But then the springbok, zebra, kudu all arrive
and later floodlit families of elephants with slurping trunks
and later still, a hyena;s speckled head is seen
reflected in the water.

And when I fly home far too soon --
"A roof without Harvey Tiles is like an old woman without her family," I say.
"There will be boredom, tastelessness, chill and desolation."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Namibian Holiday

Now that I have been back home for a few days, I think I have recovered enough to write about my holiday. It was good, too good. Now everything seems dull and flat. it doesn't help that I got used to being part of a family again, so my little flat seems very empty and lonely, now. To counteract this sterile self pity, I shall try to record some of the highlights: the sights, scenes and activities of my two weeks in Namibia.

I have downloaded an awful lot of pictures, even after sorting them out and deleting the worst of them, they fill large file. I shall chose a few and write about each and in this way try to capture the essence of my Namibian holiday.

Walvis Bay:
a surprisingly large town in an enormous expanse of nothingness. Our plane was the only one arriving at the little airport, so it was hard to understand why it had to be parked miles away from the airport building necessitating a long trudge across the tarmac carrying hand luggage,(in my case, mercifully,only a handbag.)
Eleanor, Andreas and Isabel all came there to meet me. They took me to a restaurant in Walvis Bay for lunch and then for a stroll along the front to see the lagoon's flamingoes, all bright pink in the sun. Flamingoes allow you to get close enough to admire their weird beauty, their long elegant necks, their slow-striding graceful pink legs and their big beaks like shovels, but move away before you can get your camera focused.
This photo of these lovely birds in flight is not as clear as I would have wished, but is the best I could do.
A lovely clean seaside town, everything neat and tidy, with a distinctive continental flavour, although modern architecture is infiltrating the traditional buildings.  Ordinary South African supermarkets can be found between the old nineteenth century German  houses.

The one pictured, once belonged to Andreas's mother's family and is just round the corner from where she lives now. There was time for only one night there, because Elanor and Andreas wanted to take me to Etosha and those next three days were the only bookings available.
It was a long drive though the most desolate country I have ever seen. I couldn't believe any desert could be quite so desert-like. It has it's own beauty, but I would find it hard to get used to. Slowly the dry emptiness gave way to thornscrub and savannah and there were even some animals to be seen, notably warthog. They seem to like to forage at the sides of the road. We spent the night at a lodge outside the reserve. We were cheated of a Namibian sunset, by having to have our sun-downers on the wrong side of the dining hall, but the accommodation was comfortable and the breakfast adequate. We reached the gate to the reserve quite early and had time to look around before checking in to Okaukuejo camp. A feature of this camp is its tower which I climbed while Eleanor and Andreas checked in, not knowing that we would all be climbing it later. Going up all those steps twice caused my calves to be stiff and painful for days.

The view from the top was very good. Unfortunately my camera was not able to record adequately the spectacular sunset we experienced there.

We spent the next night at Halali camp. Both camps were well appointed( I think that is what one is supposed to say about satisfactory accommodation ) and pleasant to stay at. The best feature at both was the access to waterholes. Places were provided where you could sit and watch the animals coming to drink. At these we saw an amazing variety of game especially in the evenings. (The pools were floodlit at night which made late viewing possible.) We were lucky enough to see a hyena come down to drink. I wasn't able to photograph him, but I could see him very clearly as he bent his spotty head down to the water.

The most exciting sighting for me was the leopard we saw hiding in a thorn tree very close to the road. Difficult to spot unless you knew exactly where to look, but his face clearly to be seen peering through the leaves.  But also, I was thrilled to see two young lions, their faces bloodied from a recent kill, making their was towards a nearby water hole. And of course there were the zebras, fat and stripy, hundreds of them, and the buck, hundreds of them too, and best of all the elephants at the water holes.
Here are just a few of the photos I took.

We went back to Swakopmund, after making a detour to see a huge meteor, shiny and heavy and not star-like at all. While we were at Swakopmund we spent a day in the desert.  The others in the party slid down huge dunes on surfboards. I just watched from afar and enjoyed the scenery. This part of the desert is so empty and so beautiful.

But, even here where you would expect no life at all, there are birds. I think this one is a banded plover.

Now it is all over. It's sad to be back, but I have had fun compiling this blog.

Wasn't this a great holiday?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Poetry Afternoon

Melanie, the manager is initiating a poetry afternoon for the residents. I suppose, as the poet in our midst, it has been organised more or less in my honour. I shall be expected to read something from my new collection Others will read old favourites.  I hope not too many selections from Junior school curricula.  I learnt so many off by heart in my youth and I find most of them only too familiar and often rather painful to listen to. Allan has promised to read an old ballad in dialect which will make a nice change. I am a literary snob, I know. I must try my best to be appreciative. I really do want to foster the love of poetry and this is where it starts. There is not much hope of changing people's tastes, but perhaps I could introduce some of the really good modern poetry which I have been learning about recently

I should not be so scornful. My superior attitude is not based on a wide knowledge of poetic literature. Quite the contrary. I hardly read a line of poetry after I left school. Only after starting to write the stuff myself and joining Finuala's workshop group did I read anything written after the first years of the last century.

Lately I have been attending Hugh's Poetry School. He has not only taught us  about the proper use of simile and metaphor, but has introduced us to several different forms and got us to try our hands at some of them.
So far we have studied sonnets, villanelles and haikus( I missed that lesson I am glad to say- I just can't manage the form at all, although I can see the value of the discipline of having to distill one's thoughts into a few syllables) The latest form was the pantoum. I have come across this before. Eugenie is very fond of pantoums. Until now I have thought writing them a futile exercise. However when I tried to write a short form of pantoum and gave myself the added problem of writing it in rhyming couplets, I was quite pleased with the result.

After spending quite a lot of time on these exercises I have come to the conclusion that certain subjects require certain kinds of poetry. One can't imagine the poem 'One Art" for instance being written in any form other than a Villanelle and the thoughts expressed in "Westminster Bridge" could only have been conveyed   in a sonnet.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Sunday

For once, Easter Sunday was a beautiful sunny day. The little church of All Saints was full. The Youth band played cheerful choruses, the Sunday School sung Jabulani. Toddlers ran up and down the aisles. Baby Mercedes gave us all a big smile as she was baptised. The sermon was short and we all got Easter eggs. Young and old celebrating Christ's Resurrection. The best Easter Sunday Ever.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Feeding the poor

A post on Facebook showed pictures of large and elaborate churches and a starving man with the comment: "We just can't afford to feed this man" I am not quite sure what the purpose of the post was. It seems to imply that an opulent Church cares nothing for the poor and hungry. As in so many generalisations, there is some truth in this. Of course Christians should do more. As long as there are starving people in this world, we should be out there feeding them. I know that I for one am not doing as much as I could. Jesus told us, "Give to those who ask you and don't turn from those who would borrow from you."  I sometimes flatter myself that I try to do this, but then I ignore the beggar at my car window and forget to take my contribution to the Church Food Basket on Sunday. I am not supporting charities like School feeding schemes because I have been too lazy to arrange to do so.   There are always good excuses for one's meanness. I give the example of a woman I knew who lived on the street and got a good meal every day at one or other church in her neighbourhood so she could spend her entire disability allowance on drink and I use this to justify not helping one of our parishioners to make sandwiches for the homeless people who hang around Muizenberg.  Because one's giving may be abused, does not absolve one from giving.

But the picture of the Church as being opulent and luxurious is not very accurate. Some churches may be, but none of those I have ever been involved in. Church finances seem to teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and the clergy are expected to exist on incomes that most of us would consider quite inadequate. I don't know how they manage. We should be thanking God every day for their dedication and devotion.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Going to Poetry School

I haven't written anything for quite a long time. I suppose it must be because I have been too busy with Hugh's Poetry School. This regular Wednesday morning session has been very interesting and informative besides being most enjoyable. But it has also been challenging. We have been exposed to different kinds and  forms of poetry and then set the task of writing poems in the specific genres.  I have never been fond of using any formal structure in my poetry, but the discipline of writing something as rigidly defined as a sonnet has, I know, been very good for me. I have, to date, written three sonnets.  I battled over each one for days. But, to my surprise, when we turned to villanelles I found I could churn them out at the drop of a ballpoint. Here is my latest:

The companion
There is someone always following me
I’m sure, I’m sure, there’s someone there.
but when I turn, there’s nothing I can see

In the soft rustle of the dry leaves of a tree
and in the sighing grasses I can hear
there’s someone always following me

Sometimes walking alone beside the sea,
the splashing of his feet tells me he is near,
but when I turn there’s nothing I can see.

However fast I run I cannot flee
I try to hide away, but everywhere
I go there’s someone following me

That sound like the faint buzzing of a bee
I know he’s breathing at my back.  I fear
to turn, although there’s nothing I can see.

What can he mean by it? And who is he ?
What does he want? Why does he care?
He never speaks; he only follows me
and when I turn there’s nothing I can see

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

God and the tooth fairy

"I believe in God like I believe in the tooth fairy" That is what somebody said recently and this made me think about the silly stories we tell children. In my family, it wasn't a fairy that rewarded a child for losing a tooth, but a mouse.  I'm afraid that our house-mice were rather unreliable tooth collectors and often forgot to exchange them for sixpences(the going rate then). Four children, very close in age lost teeth so frequently. My kids soon lost faith in the ritual of placing a tooth in a shoe under the bed.  I wasn't sorry. Although this kind of thing was expected of parents, I never really liked telling lies to my children, even lies as white as those about mice and teeth or about Father Christmas. I know that as a child I was relieved to find that it was my dear kind Dad that put presents by my bed on Christmas eve and not a scary old man who climbed down chimneys like a burglar. I didn't mind mice, I thought them harmless and rather cute, but I never liked fairies. They were too much like mosquitoes. I was determined not to believe in them. I am glad I was never introduced to the idea of a tooth fairy. A mouse exchanging money for a tooth was much easier to believe in. My children had all seen mice. Infestations of rodents were common in houses in Zambia. One could understand a mouse liking a tooth to gnaw on like a dog gnaws on a bone, but what would a fairy want with a tooth?
Where did the idea of a tooth fairy come from? Is it an American invention? Did they arise spontaneously there or were they brought over the Atlantic from one or other Old Country. (something for me to Google?) For that matter where does the idea of fairies come from? The fairy story is a very old tradition in Europe, but what gave rise to it? I know that there are people who are sure they exist and swear that they have seen them. Ruby Reeves, an artist who lived near us in George had fairies living in her garden. She would visit them and talk to them often. She wrote about them and painted many beautiful pictures of them. My daughter, Dorothy, said she had also seen them there when she and a friend went to Ruby's house. But my daughter was schizophrenic and suffered from other delusions too.

I can't remember if I ever told my grandson about the tooth mouse. I am sure I didn't ever mention fairies. But I suppose even such a sceptical child as he, believed in Santa Claus too when he was very young or at least pretended to. For all my children, the belief in this unsavoury old guy died out early, but the custom of hanging up stockings lasted until late adolescence. Why don't we all do that? Keep the Christmas stockings and leave Santa out of it. Isn't it better for children to know that what we tell them is true, or at least as close to truth as we are able to get.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A sad summer

In the last few months there has been so much sadness. I suppose, living in a retirement complex, just one step removed from an old age home I should expect it.  After all it is the period of our last years that we spend here, but it does seem that a particular angel has been unusually busy. Since September at least five inmates, (actually I should call them residents) have died. I was able to avoid some of the memorials,( I find what are called "celebrations of the life of..." particularly harrowing) but felt obliged to attend Beryl's "celebration."  Then my dear friend, Helen, died suddenly. It was hard for me to get over her loss. Just the week before she died I had been to see her. She seemed in good health only a bit frail. We had laughed and joked just as we always did, so it was a great shock to me. The very next month, I had to attend two memorials on the same day. Annette's in the afternoon and Livinia's that evening. I was very fond of Annette, but it is Livinia that I miss more. I would see her every Sunday, at Capricorn Pick n Pay, picking up Malawian congregants for church. Then battling her way from her car, up the road to the church door, a short journey which took her several minutes, the stroke she had suffered had disabled her so much. After the service, she would always had out the sandwiches that she had made to the homeless people who would be sitting by the side of the road, waiting..

In December the whole country mourned Madiba's death.  I had hoped that 2014 would be a happier year, but it is only the second week and there has been dreadful news of floods and other disasters. Yesterday, saddest of all, my dear friend, Joanne's husband died unexpectedly. All the other deaths have been of old people(in their eighties or nineties), one mourns, but quickly comes to terms with the loss. It is something one is somewhat prepared for,  but he was only fifty two. My heart goes out to her and her children. Her son is quite a young boy, the daughters still at home. I wish I could do or say something to make their burden a little lighter. I can only pray for them. My faith and my relationship with the Lord has helped me though the bad times, like Mike's illness and death and the crises with Dorothy. It must be so hard for those without faith. People always tell you that time heals, but I know from experience, that there are some losses that one never gets over. After time the pain dulls, but it never goes away.

Something Geoff and Ann told me has upset me too. Their granddaughter, Francesca, developed anorexia. Apparently her condition was so bad that she had to be hospitalised. Ann said they were afraid that her life was in danger. What a dreadful disease it is. Like being addicted to a lethal drug, or possessed by an evil spirit. It is so hard for parents, who often blame themselves and are also often blamed by others too.
Well, I think I have gloomed and doomed enough. It is time I went to bed.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I am a poet myself, at least I call myself a poet, so why do I find so much poetry difficult to read. I have just down-loaded "Ariel" by Sylvia Plath onto my kindle(Kobo actually, I must be accurate about such things) and have been battling through it for the last hour or so. I don't deny that some of the lines speak to me. Some are upsetting; cause shock or even pain. Some are quite beautiful in their lyrical quality, but, on the whole, the meaning behind them eludes me. Surely this ought not be so. You would think that knowledge of the process of producing a poem would make it easier to tease out the meaning of a piece of verse. Of course it is true that I have never actually learnt to study poetry, or if I have, it was at school and so long ago that I have forgotten all about it. To the truly literary, no doubt, the meaning of Plath's lines is perfectly clear. It is rather bruising to my ego to find that to me many of her poems are quite obscure and that I have no idea what they are about at all.

A friend once told me that she likes to find something mysterious in a poem, that she enjoys puzzling out hidden meanings. I understand what she means, but I am afraid that what I write is somewhat shallow. There are no interesting hidden depths.When I write, what you see is what you get. That is why I was surprised to hear that my publisher has been asked for permission to include one of my poems in a school textbook. Of course I was pleased and flattered, but rather puzzled. What could they possibly want to do with it? -- analyse it? You might as well analyse a recipe for spaghetti.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Anti-bacterial soaps

I have just read in a post on Facebook, that antibacterial soaps have been temporarily banned in the USA. This is great news. I wish they could be banned all over the world - permanently. Bacteria, like all living creatures should be treated with kindness and respect. They may have a bad name, but actually very few of them cause us any harm.  (Probably less than 0.001%).  The rest are totally innocuous and some are even beneficial.  Of course you do often need to remove an excess of these little bugs from certain places, like the palms of your hands or the surface of your chopping board or  dinner plate. In that case, just sponge them away gently with mild soap and water, don't poison them with harsh, harmful chemicals (which do no good to your skin or to the environment,)  and then rinse them down the nearest drain so they may end their days usefully, helping to clean up effluent and make it safe enough to be discharged into streams and rivers.( Sewage works depend on bacteria to do this job.) It has been scientifically proved that plain soap and water is just as effective as most antibacterial agents and there is very little benefit in using expensive chemicals. In fact it may actually be harmful.