Thursday, April 10, 2014

April bytes.

On the first, forgetting completely about April fools, I popped in for some sushi on my way home. The waiter brought me a large plate of the tiniest maki I have ever seen, some paper-thin slices of sashimi... served with a huge lettuce leaf. We looked at each other and then I caught the chef's eye and we all burst out laughing. The regular stuff arrived a minute later.
My day was made.

Back at the ranch, the birds are eating me out of house and home. Twice a mourning dove has wandered through the kitchen, down the passage and into the lounge to come and fetch me. Up until now, they've ignored the fruit I have offered. They look at me a little accusingly, as if to say: did you not KNOW
that we prefer Golden Delicious? 

A litre of nectar goes down those tiny gullets every week. Six cups of seeds a day. The early birds get the peanut butter.

Upon my travels, looking for odds and ends, I went into a rattan furniture warehouse and spied this! They are making a coach for an African Cinderella.

And then, last night, I came upon a poem by Robert Frost.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Playing solitaire under a lucky star.

I have an early memory of playing beneath some looming shasta daisies in our Eastern Cape garden - I must have been four or five, and my mother saying to her friend: such a funny little girl - she's always happy to amuse herself.

Some crying was allowed on the night that he left, but after that, I slipped easily into solitary habits: things that are self-indulgent, selfish even, when someone else is with you. Working in the garden in my pyjamas, feeling the loamy soil between my toes. Having a long bubble bath in the afternoon - soaking muddy knees, then back into pyjamas. A bowl of rice and avocado pear for supper, spoon in one hand/pencil in the other - drawing while I eat. Reading until three in the morning. Waking sprawled over the entire bed.

In eight days time, I will be surrounded by people for six days of every week. I will miss this time of quietude.

There are endless things to do in an autumn garden.
My small friend, the lizard under the tomato plants, has moved now to better cover in the parsley jungle.
He has lost a piece of his tail (Hadeda! says the long-legged man from a hotel room in Beverly Hills), but I think he'll be okay.

As the weather turns, the tomatoes ripen hesitantly and are blighted by rain. These are the tomatoes of my childhood - misshapen, fragrant, thick-skinned and covered in a fine, peach-like fuzz. Time to make chutney for winter meals by the fireside. I am alone but not lonely. Letters arrive, and messages from foreign places. I have true-hearted friends. I have my grandmother's knife, Aida's kitchen scale, old family recipes. And I am safe in this cocoon - this thoughtfully spun place that belongs to a tall man.
He is far, far away, but only in miles.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hemingway was here.

From the plane window, early that morning, I saw the Bosphorus for the first time. We flew over it, so low that I could see into the small fishing boats. People waking and taking care of their morning rituals. Small pots of water boiling... lanterns burning and mist on the water. Red tail lights streaming over the Galata Bridge.

Later that day, I had my first freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. And I wandered around ancient small streets, up and down.

Towards the end of September, 1922, the twenty-three-year-old Ernest Hemingway spent a month in Istanbul. He was there to write about the war, but his recollections of life in Beyoglu still ring eerily true. He was yet to write a novel.

We were staying at the Pera Palas, mere steps away from Hemingway's haunt - the Buyuk Londres.
Our burgundy clad doorman sniffed and pointed a white gloved finger in the opposite direction. He offered me an umbrella and wanted to know: But why, Bayan?

Posing as lovers looking for a place to stay, we convinced the moustachioed proprietor to take us up to a room - the one where the Golden Horn can be glimpsed through peach coloured lace curtains.

On each landing, there is an old painted metal trousseau chest. Downstairs we peeked into the Orient Bar, lush with bird cages and plants. Yes, Hemingway drank his whiskey there...

Istanbul, where a you can ask a rabbit to choose your fortune, where people still hang garlic over doorways to fend off evil, where the muezzin calls and everything stops.

I thought I would have been back there by now.

Tomorrow night my tall man leaves for a very long time. We both have mountains of work ahead of us. Call me a coward, but I just can't face taking him to the airport and coming back to the house alone. I'd rather stand at the gate and wave.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Blood is thicker.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have had a happy childhood. My father did not. His parents were separated when he was very young. He didn't speak much of his father, but one day he showed me some small scars on his arms and legs. Cigarette burns, he said - from when he did something or other that made his father angry.

His mother found that she couldn't take care of him and his younger brother Albert on her own, so she sent my dad to live with his grandparents. They took him in grudgingly. From what I gathered, they were very poor and old and in no way warm and loving. But fortunately there was no more physical abuse. He told us about the dung and peach pit floor in the kitchen and having to walk barefoot to school, even in winter. Again, luckily, my father was bright and able to skip some years in school, so that he applied for a bursary and started studying medicine in Cape Town when he was sixteen. Another saga follows - one of heartbreak and betrayal. But in the end, he found my mother, presented her with his four children and himself, and she said yes.
It was a great love.

My father lost contact with his brother for many years, but by the time I was born, they had found each other again and spoke regularly. I remember going to Potchefstroom to visit Uncle Albert and Auntie Katie. The jacarandas were in full bloom everywhere and their house was wonderful. So different to our own - it had a museum of curiosity feel to it. Glass cases full of interesting things to look at: Boer war memorabilia and tartans and thistles, as we are descended from the highland clan of Lamont. I think he gave us the Lamont crest which hung in our house for ever and ever. A Dexter hand, coupled at the wrist. Ne Parcus nec Spernas.  Neither Spare, nor Dispose.

Albert Turner passed away this week. In this old photograph, he looks so much like my father. My sister and I had our own private nickname for Uncle Bert... we were big Magnum PI fans.

RIP Uncle Higgy-baby.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hello darkness my old friend.

I remember regular power cuts in the Eastern Cape as a small child. My mother was always prepared - lamps, cooked food. It was exciting going to bed with a candle, not having to bath. That feeling lingers a little with the blackouts we've been having here over the past few days. I'll never forget walking through the quiet streets of Tamboerskloof some years ago and looking up at the apartment blocks with candles burning in the windows. No street lights, no music. Just the soft yellow glow and the murmuring of voices.

On Eskom's website you can look up the rolling blackout schedule for your suburb or village. I type in Fish Hoek and it charitably suggests, for two separate days: load shedding will occur between 06h30-22h30.
"Wet coal" they say. This is Africa you know.
The magic eight ball knows all.

Maybe if I was the one with the chest freezer full of ice cream for a commercial in the morning I'd be more upset. The city seems so far away here. Only forty minutes if there's no traffic, but I have to steel myself when I need to go there - plan ahead, pack a special bag.

Where I lived before, on the third and fourth floors of a city bowl apartment block, there were hardly any insects.
Birds sang in the trees, but I never saw them.
Here I have a partner in insomnia - the owl between one and four. There is a palm tree brimful of jabbering starlings and there are bats at dusk. Rock pigeons duckwalk down the hip to look at me hanging up the washing. I see their comical pink feet through the sheer roof sheets of the lean-to. They cock their heads and look at me with a beady eye, always hopeful for more chico mix under the tree. Hadedas poke holes in the potted plants with their long beaks. When I go out the back door, they look up at me - affronted that I dare to intrude. Goggas! Spiders, crickets and bugs everywhere. Caterpillars turn a deaf ear to the shriek of a woman - they scorn garlic spray and nibble green tomatoes. (Cameo appearance by striped lizard.)

What I thought was an electrical fault - the driveway gate repeatedly opening by itself - turns out to be the work of geckos on the circuit board.

"And if the world went to hell in a handbasket - as it seemed to be doing - you could say good bye to everyone and retreat to your land, hunkering down and living off it."
- Jeanette Walls, Half Broke Horses

Monday, March 3, 2014

The bare bones.

When I started writing here in February of 2010, I didn't even have the tiniest inkling of how it would change my life. It has brought kindred spirits together, seemingly out of the blue. It has brought encouragement from far-flung corners of the world, humour and delight.

For that I thank you.

My plan was that I would write about the boot sale in Milnerton, and the incredible things I've found there over the years. It would be a once-weekly report of what I had bought, with photographs.
But, as with all things in life, it slowly evolved into something else entirely.
It is a place where I feel free to be myself and it is a constant in an inconsistent world.

I still go to the boot sale regularly, and another thing that has become dear to my heart are the dogs I meet there. This is Mr Bones, taking a little break from the mayhem.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The devil raises his head.

When you hear "Supermarket Shoot", your heart sinks. Because you know you will work through the night. We started at six one evening and finished the next morning at 10. It was all about unpacking shelves so that we could fill them with our own very special cheese... but then of course, re-packing the shelves so that the supermarket could function again in the morning. Lots of continuity pictures. This is a mere drop in a bucket:

Then the little vignettes on the side: a woman upsets a huge pyramid of oranges. We reset. Monofilament? Check. She sends them flying again. They roll under the shelves. A particular sense of unreality sets in at about four in the morning. Especially as dinner is served (or is it lunch?) and it consists of chicken and rice and vegetables and salad and pavlova for dessert.
Would you like fanta or sprite with that?

My friend Marie has written a heart-shaking post over at 66 Square Feet. Words that hammer through you.
So succinctly she writes:
"But humans have what nothing else does. Choice. That should be a longer word. Long enough to encompass the chaos, suffering, pain that result from poor choices, easy choices, thoughtless choices, deliberate choices."

Sometimes everything around me feels so tenuous. I know what it's like when things fall apart. And this old world reminds me over and over that there is no forever.

Yes. The small moments of beauty are exquisite.
A tomato is green in the morning and by midday it is blushing.
The young boy carefully removes a thorn from the soft part of my foot. He looks at me and says: Ow!

An old friend from far away writes: you are beautiful.
And, for a moment, I am.

The choices people make, seemingly without batting an eyelid. Believe me, I've made some doozies. It's not like you can repack the same oranges and do another take. All you can do is try to pack them better next time.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


January passed in a blur of commercials. There was the Japanese car... the comical bank robbery scenario, the hotdog van in the ghetto, the Russian woman pushing an empty pram, etcetera.

Then there was some kind of instant cappuccino. The packs guy frothing up cup after undrinkable cup... a beach hut, a rooftop, a beautiful architect-designed house hanging off a clifftop overlooking the city - so filthy I spent most of the morning cleaning it. Fans queueing to buy tickets to a concert, the Eurotrash beach bar, a record store... a coltish young couple on silk sheets.
And so on.
3 o'clock wake-up calls and leaving home in the ante meridian light.

Oh TVC: land of momentous minutiae.

I was feeling ever so lacklustre. As luck would have it, we managed to steal a week and hightailed it up the West Coast road.
Bless this old world, not so far away, where time is slow
and life's a snap.

I felt bad for forgetting to bring something special for the francolins, as they have a special place in my heart. (Just look at those feathers arranged like flower petals!)
 Nevertheless, they devoured everything we gave them - carrot, pepper, papaya, nectarine, lettuce, butternut peelings, avocado, tomato.
They will eat from your hand if you're patient.

A tortoise wandered into the yard one morning to drink some water. He submerged himself in the water dish until, worried for him, I set out some watermelon. He attacked it voraciously, eating skin and flesh alike. Eventually, he ambled off, smiling. The mousebirds came next, and the bulbuls. They followed their sticky feast with a bath in the dust. I understand why people become bird watchers. Small feathered comedians...

A puff adder lay peacefully beside the house the entire time. Even so, I wasn't brave enough to approach him. The photograph was taken by a very tall man.

We combed the beaches, we paddled the waters and we walked the marshes. The vegetation is a sweep of colour: pale acid green, coppery red, deep purple and everything inbetween. Tiny pinpricks of lilac flowers. We saw blue swallows playing a game: fly into the wind, hover with wings a-whir, then succumb and let the wind swoop you away. Over and over again.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Love apple.

I've been meaning to write a story. It's about two lovers who fall under a spell. At night, she goes to bed alone. Then, in the morning, she wakes to find him there - fast asleep in a shaft of sunlight. He looks so beautiful, she wishes she could wake him. She kisses his shoulder, he smiles a small smile, but doesn't open his eyes.

Later, he wakes alone, the bed still warm beside him, a hollow in the pillow. He can smell her skin, but she's gone. He arrives home late at night and there she is - fast asleep - her arms flung above her head...

Our lives are very much like that right now. We are both caught up in the world of commercials. It's soul destroying work. There are no layers of beauty, not much respect, but damn... the money's good.

In the garden, life burgeons. It swells, it explodes.
All it wants is water.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A hole, in the shape of you.

How do you comfort someone who has lost half of their sky? The love of their life was there one day and gone the next. There was no warning, no ache or pain.

Vincent van Gogh, 1882

Life goes on, people say. But when you are grieving, it's the world that goes on. Your own life grinds to a painful halt. Long after people have stopped offering help or comfort, you are still retreating behind a door to weep.

How can you tell them that even though time makes things easier, you will still be reminded of someone every day, that sometimes, even after years, the missing is just as bad.

You can remind them to eat. You can say: keep your body strong. Yes, eat root vegetables - they will keep you anchored.
You can say: crying is good for you.
You can say: take it a day at a time, or an hour even.

But you can read all of that on any old website.

Rest in Peace R.H.