Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

These are two long words for "Gay or Straight?" and "do you think of yourself as male or female?" ?" At church today we were told that these questions are of great interest to the Powers that be in the diocese and are to be the focus of debate. I am not sure quite what this means, but assume we shall be called to meet  and discuss our attitudes to LGTB people.

After hearing Father Stafford's sermon, someone in the congregation suggested to me that I might be interested to meet some gay friends of hers. I didn't want to be discouraging, but I couldn't see much point in such a meeting. I have friends who go in for in dog training, bird- watching,creative writing or poetry. They are my friends because of our shared interests and because they are people I like. Some of these friends are gay. It is just something I accept about them like the colour of their eyes. When I was young my parents numbered several same-sex couples among their friends. So I was aware of differences in sexual orientation from a very early age.

However, I am aware that gay people are often subject to prejudice and discrimination and I am willing to join in any discussions that may be instigated by Father Stafford. To this end I decided to look up the subject on Google. I battled my way through some rather heavy scientific articles and came up with some most interesting nuggets of information.

Firstly it seems that our gender identity and sexual orientation are an integral part of who we are. They are both permanently programmed in the brain while we are in the womb. In other words we are born that way.  There is no evidence that the way we are brought up or our social environment  can influence our gender identity or sexual orientation.

At conception we receive either two X chromosomes or one X and one Y chromosome. The embryo with a Y chromosome will develop male organs and male physical characteristics and the  one with two X chromosomes will develop female sex organs and female physical characteristics.But the story doesn't end there. Hormones are produced in the mother's body which have an effect on the baby's growth. The amount of testosterone during the development of the foetus determines the sexual differentiation of the brain; a testosterone surge causes the brain to become more masculine, a lack of testosterone causes it to become more feminine. So a baby may be born with the body of a boy and the mind of a girl or vice versa.

It has been found that female animals that have been affected by high testosterone behave like males and choose other females as mates and male animals lacking testoterone before birth behave like females.

So nobody chooses to be gay.  Being born that way is  challenging, It is harder for them to  accept themselves, find their place in the world and to find love.  Those of us who were born "straight" are challenged too. Our challenge is to find ways of being more accepting and inclusive of those who are different from ourselves.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A problem with prayer

The Bible reading in church on Sunday was from the Epistle of James. In it he encourages anyone who is ill to inform the church elders so prayers can be said. I was not feeling well enough for Church on Sunday and had to tell a friend who rang in the morning, that I couldn’t give her a lift. She obviously took James seriously and when she got to church  asked the congregation for prayers for my recovery. Unfortunately, this caused a certain amount of consternation because when you are prayed for like this, everyone imagines you are, if not actually on the point of death, at least seriously indisposed. 

My neighbour,  Liz, from two doors away, was at church that morning and heard the prayers. Shocked and concerned , she popped in to see how I was. At that time I was still  groggy and could only sip at the  bush tea she brought me. However, it seems the prayers of All Saints Church are very powerful and by evening I was almost fully recovered. In fact, having not eaten all day, I was rather hungry and so when Val, my next-door neighbour,  rang and invited me to join her in a light meal I  left everything at once  and walked over to her cottage. As I didn’t intend to stay away long, and was going to be so close by, I left the computer on and the door unlocked ( Actually, I never lock my dogs in the house so in case there is a an emergency like a fire  they would be able to escape.)

While I was enjoying a glass of red and a delicious bean bredie,  my almost- next-door-neighbour, Liz , came round again  to see if I was still in the land of the living. She was horrified to find the state of my home. It was  reminiscent of the Marie Celeste: door open, lights on, computer running ,  dogs hiding in the bedroom and the occupant mysteriously missing.. What could have happened? It was already dark. Perhaps I had suddenly had another attack of illness and gone to find help. Perhaps I had gone outside and collapsed and was lying unconscious somewhere. . She consulted her husband, who was on the Residents committee. He agreed something should be done. Security was informed, nurses were called, the supervisor was phoned, all the  staff alerted. Everyone went into action: the house was searched and the grounds scoured, but although I was only a few metres away I was not to be found. Just before Management was about to go to the lengths of informing my next-of-kin, Liz came to check my cottage again, encountered me  getting ready for bed and the search was called off.

I was most touched by the concern shown by friends and by staff, but now, to prevent a similar happening, I have given my cell-phone  number to Security to keep in the office at the gate and I have also given it to as many people I can think of, so I can be located when next I go missing

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Anthony Beale


If I should need to write a novel in a hurry
It would have to be about my ancestor,
Captain Anthony Beale, adventurer and rogue,
slaver, seaman, pioneer. He was
an officer,  but not a gentleman.
The BEIC sent him to St Helena island
soon after it was colonised, his task,
to subdue the rabble that had collected there.
Other governors had failed, but Beale
no stranger to the lash, soon
whipped the ruffians into shape.
There weren’t too many of them anyway.

But then the Dutch attacked,
He tried to chase them off
by rolling rocks down on them from the heights.
The Dutch retreated but returned in force.
He thought it best to flee. He took a ship,
went to Brazil, hired a sloop and set out
to warn all British ships that St Helena
had been captured by the Dutch.
By chance he met some naval ships,
and with their help reclaimed the island for the Crown.
The Company were not amused. They cut his salary;
 demoted him from Governor to storeman.
He took this opportunity to cook the books,
got caught and got the sack,
Now Beale was forced to till the soil and
sell his house, ( I’m sure
it wasn’t  at a loss.)

It wasn’t long before this little isle,
in mid-Atlantic was again the scene
of strife and battle.  Some malcontents,
Beale among them, started an insurrection.
The rebellion was soon put down,
the instigators executed, most of them.
but Beale, although condemned to death,
 contrived to talk his way into a milder sentence,
Instead of being hanged, he would be exiled.
He was never to go back to England.
And that is how our family came to be
settlers and have remained settlers to this day.

(As for Anthony, he came to a sticky end,
poisoned by one of his slaves,
an early victim of  decolonisation.)

This is a not very successful attempt to write a poem about my ancestor Anthony Beale. I found his story in  an account of the  history of St Helena. All the happenings in the early years were meticulously recorded in the records kept by the BEIC. Re-reading the account of the events and writing the poem made me wonder how much it might have affected the history of South Africa, if Anthony Beale had not chanced to meet that British Naval vessel when he was trying to warn ships not to stop at St Helena while he was on his way back to England.

At that time the Dutch East India Company were not very happy with the station they had established at Table Bay. They had found that the harbour was not at all safe. The weather was inclined to be very stormy. There was always the danger of shipwreck when rounding the Cape. The indigenous population were unfriendly; livestock was always being stolen and then fighting would break out.  That is why an expedition was sent to St Helena. The intention was to drive the British out and establish an alternative station there.  Perhaps they even intended to move Van Riebeeck and St Helena. After successfully capturing the island the Dutch force returned to the Cape leaving just a weakened garrison to defend it. They didn't expect to lose it again so soon.  If  the Dutch had established themselves there, it would have had a profound effect on the BEIC. They might have been squeezed out of the Spice trade and lost much of their wealth. It would have had an even more profound effect on development of the Cape Colony. Fewer Dutch ships would have stopped there.  The settlement might have been abandoned. It would certainly not have grown the way it did. The Portuguese might even have taken over in the Cape.

In school, we learnt all about Simon van der Stel, Ryk Tulbagh,Wolrade Woltemade and so on, but nobody is ever taught about Anthony Beale and the naval captain who chased off the Dutch and recaptured St Helena.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Seeing the past differently

Last night I was suffering from a bout of insomnia.  Lying awake, I started to muse on the past. I had been reading a book about a woman teaching young college students and how she became involved in their development towards maturity and independence, This made me think of  the time when I was the same age as those students. I remembered, particularly, the year when I lived in a  flat with three friends I knew from University.  How I looked up to the other girls!  They seemed  so  sophisticated and confident, especially two of them, Shirley and Erica, who were close friends and had known each other from schooldays. They always seemed to know exactly how they wanted everything to be. They always knew what was the latest trend in books, films or pop music. Their clothes were always stylish. The two of them together set the tone and took the lead. They made the rules about meals, shopping, shared expenses,who was invited to our flat etc. etc. The other girl and I simply did what they wanted. Looking back I see that I was treated rather like a younger sibling, someone not quite competent. I wasn't bullied exactly, but my wishes and opinions were not much taken into account.

Now, so many years later, I suddenly perceive the four of us in a different way. I think of the behaviour of the other girls and see them as bossy and self-centred rather than clever and confident, somewhat immature, not particularly so for their age, but certainly more so than I. After leaving University I had found a job, so  I was the only one earning my own living. Though I could always depend on my parents to help me if necessary,  I was, already, almost financially independent. The others were still completing their studies and had well-off parents who paid  all their expenses, I had always had holiday jobs and while studying, did part-time tutoring for pocket money.  I was the one in a stable relationship, was contemplating marriage and was more sexually experienced. I  also came from a very literary family and was better informed and better read than most of my contemporaries. Now looking back I can't understand why I felt at all inferior. I see myself now as the  more grown-up one and the other girls as less mature. How interesting to find that the past is not fixed and that although our memories may not change in themselves they can take on  quite different aspects when we revisit them in old age.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wilderness Weekend

What a lovely interlude. to stay
in a "Bushcamp" that was really a mansion,
surrounded by wild forest, looking down on
a stretched-out golden-sanded beach,

with sons and daughters and grandchildren,
who have come from all over the country,
and even from across the world.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


I have just been reading a newspaper article about a newly appointed academic who is very eager to transform and decolonise her university department. As an ex-colonial, I know I am prejudiced, but I found the article painful to read. Not only was it full of  worn-out socialist cliches, but the writing was very poor too. I thought that the standard of English in the local papers had improved slightly lately, but it seems I was mistaken. However, that is beside the point. What was interesting to me was the rise of anti-colonist sentiment (which in this country means being against colonisation by Whites)  at the same time as immigrants from Africa are flooding into Europe.  Just as, two centuries ago, Europeans escaping poverty and wars in their own countries, settled in Africa, now North Africans and Middle Eastern people try to escape poverty and wars, by settling in Europe. In many countries there has been resistance to this new form of colonisation. Not all Western Governments have been as welcoming to refugees as Angela Morkel's has.  Ironically for a country that was once a great colonial power and whose citizens spread all over the world, there has been a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment in Britain.  Yesterday I read a moving poem explaining how wrong this is and how the influx of migrants enriches the country in which they have chosen to settle. not only financially and culturally, but also by bringing in new ideas. I am sure this is true. but it is also true that they cause changes that are not welcome.

All through the ages, populations have spread from one part of the world to another and a mixing of races and cultures has taken place. Sometimes this has been through conquest sometimes simply by entering and taking over. In some parts of the UK and some parts of France, I believe, natives are  now in the minority. Soon this may be the case all over Europe. Perhaps, instead of trying to eradicate European culture from our universities, we should be preserving it. It may not be around for much longer. It could soon be colonised out of existence.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Vegan Poem

I have just been reading, on Twitter, a poem written by a vegan mother for her daughter. The gist of it was how glad the child should be that what she eats does not harm any animal. I am sure people who refuse to eat any animal products feel good about themselves. (Is it mean of me to think that feeling good and believing that you are better, more moral and more compassionate than other people are their reasons for doing so?) It is true that I sometimes feel bad about enjoying meat when it means an animal has had to die to give me that enjoyment. I do understand and sympathise with those who have opted to become vegetarians. It's a humane and civilised choice, but, on the other hand, were we not created omnivorous and so meant to be predators? Is it not rather presumptuous of us to know better than our Maker?  Vegans who do not use any animal products so as not to exploit animals, are another matter. I do not believe that they have thought through all the consequences of their choices. The mother seems to encourage her child to play with ducks, chickens, cows etc. but not to use the produce from these forms of livestock. That mother was obviously not brought up in the country as I was or she would know that poultry like chickens and ducks if they are regularly well fed and cared for don't seem to mind us collecting their eggs, but they simply hate being played with. They are not pets like cats and dogs. The same goes for cows and sheep who put up with being milked and shorn but are not happy with kids running around in their fields and paddocks. Interestingly, some of the  happiest animals are working animals, like shepherd dogs, and riding horses. In other words animals that are"exploited." Then there is the question of soy milk. Soy milk is a good substitute for those who are allergic to milk protein or are lactose intolerant but not the only possible substitute. If it is locally produced it is probably safe to drink it, although soy does contain phytic acid which reduces the absorption of minerals, and phytoestrogens which should not be taken in large quantities by children, but most soy products are imported so using soy milk instead of cow's milk or eating soy as a meat substitute can put local farmers out of business. Also imported soy is GM and contains glycophosphate which is possibly carcinogenic. So the milk you choose to drink because of your concern for animals may not be as good for you or your child as you think.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Why is it that today I was unable to access my blog? The password that is in my list was rejected. I know that the last time I did any blogging I didn't log in with gmail but this time I had to log in and change my password before I could do any writing. I see that Yolande's name.came up. Perhaps she used the computer for gmail or perhaps for her own blog. Yolande is often here but previously it was only once that I found any interference. Last time she house-sat her sister Bronwyn came with her. I wouldn't be surprised if it was something Bronwyn did that excluded me from my own Blog. I have now reset the password and am able to use this blog again.

The weekend before last, Danielle and I did our long awaited road-trip. It turned out to be a more extensive one than we had planned and we were together in my little car much longer than we had meant to be.
Several kilometres of  road-works made our eastward journey much longer than expected and then trying to avoid said road-works we took the wrong turning and landed up going very far out of our way.'Lots of time to bond" as Danielle pointed out.

It was a very pleasant weekend.  I am not surprised Luke is happy at having relocated to George. From being a rural backwater that all young people fled from as soon as they had left school, it has become a vibrant, rapidly developing hub of commerce and industry with gated complexes and huge shopping malls springing up everywhere. I hardly recognised the place.  It was great being with my old neighbours Kathy and Lesley and also nice seeing the pub "the Blind Pig" that Luke has an interest in and where his beers are sold.

Our journey home included four mountain passes. See the pictures below.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Losing it

Last week was not the best week for me. First, on Monday, I lost a dog lead when taking the dogs for a walk at the vlei. It was one of those special ones with a clasp at each end and not easy to replace. I have lost things there before and was sure I would not see the lead again, but I did tell a few fellow walkers about it, just in case. Then on Tuesday, I completely forgot to go to the Exercise class probably because Gairo, my domestic worker, had swopped her Tuesday workday for Wednesday and this put me out. The next thing to go wrong was a booking for a course at Summer School. My friend Julie had asked me if I would go to a poetry course with her. She was going to do the booking. On Wednesday morning she turned up at my house having been unable to book on her computer. We had no success on mine either so decided to drive up to the University Centre for Extramural Studies and sort out the booking in person. We found the building which houses this Centre without  taking more than three or four wrong turnings, but the drive had taken longer than expected and we had arrived just when most of the staff were on their lunch break. After a battle to find the information we needed and after filling out a very long and involved form, we registered for the course.  Then came the problem of payment. The office that dealt with fees was closed for lunch. I didn't want to stay until after two because Gairo, (the one who had changed her work day ) was waiting to be taken home as she had to  fetch her child from school. Eventually the lady behind the counter was persuaded to accept credit cards.  Then all we had to do was check on venue and time.
"Short Form Poetry? But that's this week not next week. The course started two days ago."
Julie and I were devastated, We could have sworn that the dates were 22nd to 26th not 15th to 19th, How could we have made such a mistake.  We must have been looking at the dates for another course.  We had to cancel at once. What a disaster! But just then the course co-ordinator, who happened to be an old friend,  appeared.
'Why don't you  attend the remaining two, sessions. We'll sort out the fees later."
So that's  what we did.

Wednesday is always a busy day. I had been to a U3A meeting in the morning. The trip up to UCT had taken several hours and I had just enough time to pick up my notes for our Evergreen poetry club meeting which started at three that afternoon. I also had a church meeting at 6 and I just had enough time to feed the dogs before rushing off to that. That is why I only got to the vlei the next day. I was a bit later than usual after the "short form poetry" too. One of my dog walking friends gave me some good news
"Paul has your dog's lead. He's gone home already, but you can get it from him tomorrow."
I knew just who she meant. Everybody living near the vlei knows Paul. He is the one who owns no fewer than six rescue dogs and takes them to the vlei every morning and evening without fail.   I would be sure to see him the next time I walked my dogs. But, somehow,what with one thing and another, I kept on missing Paul. I finally caught up with him.
"Oh no!"he exclaimed.  "I brought the lead with me every day, but finally  I gave up and today I left it at home.  Be sure to come tomorrow and I  will bring it tomorrow"
The next day, I discovered that I had lost my watch. It was one of Gairo's workdays so I asked her to look for it when she was cleaning the house. Unfortunately she failed to find it. It was one of the hottest days this month and I when I got the dogs ready to go for their walk, I realised that the heat of the afternoon had made me think it earlier than it actually was. When I got to the vlei I could see no sign of Paul.
"He must have gone home already," I thought
If only I could have sent him a message, but all that week( I did say it was a bad week, didn't I ) my phone would only send messages in Spanish.
I gave the dogs a quick run and then drove to Paul's house. He has no bell at the gate, so I shouted for him, but there was no reply and no dog barking either.
So it was back to the vlei and sure enough, there was Paul, just about to walk his dogs home. I called out to him and he reluctantly turned back.
"When I didn't see you ,I'm afraid I gave the lead to Hazel" he said. "She lives in the house two houses from the corner."
So I proceeded to a house which I thought was the one he meant.
"No, There is no Hazel here, but I think the chairlady of the Neighbourhood Watch is called Hazel. I'll give you her number."
"Is she a a tall person who has a limp?"
"I don't think so, but I'll try her anyway."
But the chairlady was not there.
I took the number and rang later.
"Have you a dog lead that belongs to me?"
To my amazement , the answer was "Yes" and soon I had my lead back. "Thank you Hazel" Although Hazel was not the Hazel I thought she was. but a quite different Hazel.
However, in spite of everything, there were some good things about last week. The two poetry sessions were really worthwhile, and somehow the fees seem to have been forgotten. The lead did come back and since then I have managed to get someone to fix my phone so it speaks English again.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Modern Poetry

I have not been writing much lately. This is partly because .I have started a course on Modern American Poetry. Not the famous Modpo, but a course run by Illinois university. I don't think it as good as Modpo, but I like the way it does include a number of poems(and poets) that are not part of Modpo. Poms covered so far are of the kind that I can relate to. These all fall in the period that is known as "Modern" and not "Post Modern" and date back to the early 20th century. But I have recently read some poems which were highly praised by prestigious American critics and these I am afraid I cannot relate to at all. It is not just that they are difficult to understand.  Of course I am old-fashioned enough to prefer poems that make sense to me, but I can often enjoy teasing out the meaning from a poem that seems obscure at first reading. I don't really like poems that are made up of numbers of seemingly unrelated images like those of Ashbery's later work., but I can get enjoyment from the vivid description in the word-pictures Ashbery paints. I can also enjoy the music of  many modern poems  though I may not understand what they are about.

I think it was in the New Yorker, (sometimes pages of this journal get sent to me) that I  read about some young American poets who had all received prizes for their poetry. I instituted a Google search and that is when I decided that Twenty-first Century Poetry/Contemporary Poetry/ or perhaps Post-Modern Poetry had past me by. I have experienced various set-backs recently. I was rejected at the MacGregor festival.The new on-line literary journal, the name of which I can never remember, informed me that the poems I had submitted were not of a high enough standard and the poem I thought had been accepted by the journal, Stanzas was not included in its latest issue. I read these prizewinning poems carefully several times, but I could make neither head nor tail of any of them.  It was not just a case of a series of unrelated statements or unrelated images, they seemed to me to be just a number of unrelated words set haphazard on a page. I read them aloud because I have found many poems come to life only when read aloud. Some of Gertrude Stein's work which looks at first glance like the "word-salad" of a schizophrenic, trips delightfully off the tongue and makes its own kind of sense when you hear it. But this was not the case with this poetry. It is true that American speech has its own  cadences and rhythm so perhaps I am missing something by reading the poems in my clipped South African English, but I don't think it is that. It must be I who is not in tune with the literature of the New Century. Perhaps I should consider retirement. At Eighty-three it is not surprising to find oneself a has-been.