Thursday, June 15, 2017


While we had a storm here, a storm which was not nearly as bad as we had been led to expect, Knysna was burning. It is one of the worst tragedies I have ever known. Twenty years or so ago I used to know Knysna well. We would visit often. We had many friends there. We would take the train and spend an hour or so. there whenever we had visitors. We would go there for squash matches or meetings of one sort or another, or just for an outing. I did a lot of work in the surrounding forests when I was employed at Saasveld. Forestry Research station.  This was a beautiful little town. now it seems to have been quite destroyed. Hundreds of houses burnt, hectares of forest and plantation gone for ever.
 Of course, the drought and the windstorms were very largely to blame for the excessive destruction, but if the Forestry Department had functioned as it did when I worked there, I am sure the fires could have been contained before they did so much damage. In those days, there were towers in strategic positions which were manned day and night and fires could be quickly spotted. Then there were many more permanently-employed forestry workers. Most of these were trained in fire-fighting, so there was a large pool of  fire-fighters to be called on when needed. Now most of the plantations are privately owned and the owners find it more cost-effective to out-source labour and employ temporary workers, and this has increased the risk of destructive fires.

I remember Willem, the forestry worker who had been seconded to the lSaasveld laboratory when I was in charge of it. He was such nice happy soul and such a  good reliable guy. He was known for being the first to volunteer when there was a call for help in putting out a fire. "Always the first to jump on the lorry," the foreman told me. I thought of him when I read of the 67 year-old fire-fighter who died of burns and smoke inhalation. That old man must have been somebody like Willem. I wrote this for him.


“You again!” they said.
“Always the first to jump on the lorry.”
“Why don’t you give it a break? they said
“Why don’t you leave it to the younger guys?”
“Stay home this time,” they said.

“Don’t you remember the heat and the dirt?
Ash, soot and sweat on your hands and your face
the smell of charred hair and blistering skin,
and the small, burnt animals on the forest floor.
It’s a nasty job,” they said

“Don’t you remember how a blaze from the ground
can flicker up tree-trunks  and fly to the sky?
Don’t you remember how sparks shower down,
and how smoke sears your eyes and grabs at your breath.
“Aren’t you afraid?” they said

“But they need me there,” he said

"Tales for Real Girls"

I have just  been reading on Facebook, a promotion for a book about women who have excelled in various fields. The purpose of this book (written by feminist women) is to be an alternative to stories like Cinderella where a girl is helped by a fairy to marry a prince. It is intended to give girls confidence.and make them feel that they are just a worthy and  competent as boys.T his seems a laudable aim, but one thing worried me.:the statement that girls should be encouraged to believe that they could be anything they wanted to be. Now this is such a blatant lie.! There is nothing wrong in encouraging children to aim high, but to tell them that they con succeed at anything they want to is just to set them up for disappointment. All children should be helped to develop  their special talents, but to encourage them to believe that they have abilities that they lack or to allow them to be blind to their limitations is just to be cruel and make them feel dreadfully guilty when they fail. It is bad enough that boys are pushed to dominate and excel at all costs, why put these pressures on girls too?

I am glad to have been born a girl and to have been born in the middle years of the last century. when girls were taught cooking and sewing and were expected to become  wives and mothers rather than astronauts or physicists. I had a mother and aunts who had shone academically and had done well in their respective careers, but I was not put under the sort of pressure to excel that the boys I knew experienced. I was allowed to be myself, I was allowed to be ordinary. I am sure a lot of girls feel this way. Of course we should be grateful for the stalwart women who have opened greater possibilities for us,enormously increasing our choices of career, but how nice to be able to believe that we don't  have to work long boring hours or battle our way up  corporate ladders the way men have to do to be accepted.