Friday, 31 July 2009

Mum's Friend, Heather

29th August 2007

I am so grateful to my mum’s friend, Heather who lives about 70 yards up the road which occasions my mother to bestir herself every week-day to walk slowly and shakily up to Heather’s with her stick for elevenses and a chat. Heather does not venture out herself although she is my mother’s junior by 10 years (which makes her a sprightly 78), Instead, Heather’s door is always open and she has the kettle on while stringing her beans, cooking vast pots of food for her two children who still live with her (lucky Heather, thinks my mother) and tending her beautiful garden where everything she touches turns either to green or flowery. There is nothing small about Heather, her hanging baskets explode constantly with masses of flowers, her pots of begonias stand a metre high and orchids and cacti flourish side by side her house. Heather has green fingers, but no textbook botanical knowledge. She gardens by the same instinct with which she feeds her family - everything gets lots of good food and loving attention. Her fish pond is bursts at the seams with fat goldfish who swarm to the top as her shadow falls over them. Eggs which she scooped from under the water lily leaves have turned into hundreds of little fish which she is nurturing in a tank in her lounge. Heather loves to talk about cooking and loves to shop for bargains in the food line. But Heather has been unable to eat herself for many years for she has advanced Crohn’s disease. She doesn’t complain. Heather is the salt of the earth. She makes my mother’s day.

Dad, Scare

August 29th, 2007

Yesterday after taking his blood pressure a couple of times Dad announced that he didn’t feel well and was going to bed early. Mum went into an immediate panic which I found infectious. The last time Dad felt ill, my brother had to rush him to casualty when it was found that he was extremely pale and hardly registered a pulse. I reasoned that in event of an emergency we could just dial 999 or phone the neighbours as I had no idea how to find a hospital. I looked around and saw that my father had a pile of computer manuals on his desk and next to them detailed pages of notes in his tiny handwriting. This because he had managed to shut down his computer and had not been able to start it again. There had also been lots of banging noise in his bedroom that afternoon, as he struggled to mount the frame he had made for his blind. To reassure my mother I told her that I suspected that he was simply overtired and had strained his eyes. I went to check on him and found him sleeping peacefully. Sure enough later that evening he came downstairs and pronounced himself better as his pulse rate had resumed its normal level of 49 beats per minute. He has been especially cheerful today as he found an article in the local paper which featured a couple celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. This renews dad’s hopes of holding onto life as he and mum are only married 66 years. A new challenge to be embraced.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Reward and Punishment

August 28th, 2007

Strong words perhaps to describe the choice between walking, cycling or going by car to fetch the paper, but perhaps seen in a wider context a description of life itself? I chose to walk today to escape the early morning central heating that comes on in my folks house, winter or summer at 6.30 am.. My menopausal blood simply can’t take it whereas my parents’ elderly blood needs the warmth to get their bodies into first gear. There is quite a lot of uphill on the walk to the shop but in my early enthusiasm I can take this in my stride. There is a lady about my age that I normally pass at some point and we exchange a cheery wave: she is on a bicycle and today she went flying down the last hill as I was puffing up it. I was really envious of her obvious enjoyment of the speed and vowed that tomorrow I would borrow my sister-in-law’s bike. Of course, this means that I shall have to push it up this last steep bit, which is a bit of a bother, and then there is a final gradient back up to my parents’ house that is more pleasant to walk. Today I took the short cut up 100 steep steps and a further two hundred across the field next to the church. This cuts out two sides of a triangle(900 steps - I managed to count it today) but it isn’t any quicker as a decent rest is required once you have made it to the top of the steps. There is another short cut indicated by a quaint wooden signpost apparently straight across a field of wheat. ‘Public Footpaths’ are apt to be indicated in this vague fashion - you actually need to have consulted an Ordnance Survey map before you venture into the unknown as there is actually no discernible path. So life is full of choices. It seems to me that there is a price to be paid for nearly all pleasures in life. Perhaps that is how we learn to appreciate things. I am sorry today’s story is such a tiny example. You will just have to extrapolate.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Prince of Tides

Reading this book immediately brought to mind the movie, “Forest Gump” and his shrimping vessel. Although this is an old book and was an unforgettable film (Nick Nolte & Barbara Streisand), some books deserve to be read by each generation. I thank my book club so much for this - we get to read anything anybody recommends from no matter how long ago, so this was my first experience of the book. At almost 700 pages, it is quite a big read - most of it feeling as if it is related from the psychologist’s couch and by about page 400, I felt that it was a bit over-written and I began to skim parts. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating account of a big-time dysfunctional family, living on an island off South Carolina where the father earns his living on a shrimping boat. The narrator has a twin sister, who has tried to commit suicide a few times when the book starts, and an older brother, whose tragic story unfolds slowly right up to the end and keeps the reader in suspense. As small children, they suffer an unpredictably violent father and a mother whose aspirations for social climbing in their small community are so powerful that they overcome any other aspects of her character and poison her relationship with her children. Our hero constantly mentions his love-hate relationship with his mother and she was certainly directly to blame for messing up her children’s lives by asking them to ignore/bury/forget as if they hadn’t happened the terrible dramas that did occur. Most of all, this book affected me because it demonstrates how a person may be totally in love with two different people who relate to different parts or their psyche - at the same time. Inevitably, a choice must be made.

How Daft are we?

It was mid-week and my friend, M, and I were off to the movies. We had chosen the lunchtime show, and were a bit peckish and looking forward to the excitement of sneaking a sandwich past the usher. We both thought better of trying to include a take-away coffee in our handbags. Last time the delicious aroma would have given us away, had we not been the only patrons in the cinema and besides I spilt mine and the contents ruined my handbag. So there we were perusing the pre-packed sandwiches at one of the nicer coffee shops when my eyes alighted on a plain ol’ egg mayonnaise. I immediately coveted it but reluctantly decided I had better choose something else as it was by far the cheapest and I didn’t want my friend to think I was being cheapskate. It was taking M a long time to decide and she eventually confided quietly to me that she really fancied an egg mayonnaise but thought I would think she was being cheapskate! Result: two satisfied customers as we left the shop grinning each with the best of all sandwiches concealed in our bags. As luck would have it, we were again the only ones at a morning show so no-one could be gassed by the eggy smells emanating from the area around our seats.

Dad, Diet Fads

August 27th, 2007

Dad was late getting up today and came downstairs in his pyjamas, much to my mother’s annoyance. He had only got to sleep at 5.00 a.m. he announced, looking pleased with himself - but this was because he had eaten 3 slices of white bread for his tea the previous evening - and he had known this would disagree with him. Dad’s digestion has been a source of constant concern for him over the past 50 years at least and has been only rivalled by his migraine headaches in the amount of time and effort he has put into researching the cause and effects and hopeful cures for his ailments. These have been a severe trial for my mother who has had to put up with my father’s various beliefs e.g. potatoes are to blame, or cheese, or turkey or food additives or yeast or food which is past its ‘best by’ date. Accompanied by this fastidious obsession is my dad’s large appetite which scarcely gels with his permanently skinny frame. The battle of wits continues as my father now believes that milk goes off the minute it is opened and this has resulted in large quantities of perfectly good milk being poured down the sink, which is awful as my mother can only get to the shops once a week when my sister-in-law takes her. If she has put things in the freezer, when they are taken out she has to try to scratch out the original date by scribbling over it before she puts the wrapper in the bin. Still, dad takes everything out of the bin and tries to re-scrutinize the dates. He has an excuse for this as it is his job to sort the re-cycling every week for the different rubbish collections. Luckily, his eyesight is so bad that usually mum can get away with this deception. Perversely, dad hates waste and is just as inclined to eat jam and cheese which has gone mouldy, virtuously scraping off the offending mould with a cloudy eye. I had to throw away a baked bean tin this week, which had about 4 inches of mould on it. Goodness only knows how many spores were flying around inside the fridge. For all that, they do eat a good lunch every day. My mother came downstairs equally ‘out of it’ yesterday as she had taken a sleeping pill late the night before. Nevertheless we had roast beef and perfect Yorkshire puddings as it was Bank Holiday Monday. I think she does it on auto-pilot. She still scoffs at the idea of my cooking for them, partly because of pride and partly because she doesn’t really believe I can cook - even though I am nearly sixty!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


There are no doubt deeply psychological reasons why people hoard things. I am at the moment sitting on a chair on top of a pile of computer manuals circa 1978, as I can barely peer over the edge of my borther’s computer screen if I don’t . He is 6′3″. I can also barely find a path from his study door to the computer desk because of the heaps of outdated stuff on all subjects that my brother just can’t bear to throw away. There is even a fairly new bottle of Heinz tomato sauce squeezed into a gap on a shelf, waiting for his next business trip to HIgh Wykham (the fish and chip shop there has only an inferior kind.) There are several sheds in the garden, similarly piled high with anything from ancient lawnmowers to all kinds of ‘useful’ pieces of wood and every kind of broken tool waiting to be repaired one day. These stand alongside the new ones. The women in our family are mostly not hoarders, especially of clothes. I have finally realised that this is a ploy to dramatically open a nearly empty wardrobe and exclaim, “I have nothing to wear!” so that a sympathetic (and duped) husband will agree to the purchase of new garments. I am not like that - I get fond of my old clothes and tend to wear them until they fall apart. I confess this is a trait I inherit from my father. He has a sixty-year old suit in his cupboard that he got married in. But then it still fits him. My husband buys new clothes occasionally, when bullied, but then declares that they have to “get used to being in my cupboard” before he will wear them. He has a sock drawer with no less than (I hope he blushes!) 85 pairs of socks, of which he only wears 5 because they exactly match his trousers! I kid you not - well, there are another 3 winter pairs which he takes on holiday when we to to the chilly Karoo. All our spare wardrobes are filled with my husband’s old ‘thin’ clothes. I have tried to sneak them off to the charity shop, but he immediately notices any gaps. Things have suddenly changed though since our burglary. I pointed out that the cupboards were so full we didn’t know what had been stolen in the line of clothes. He was so incensed at the thought of a burglar making off with any of his precious (old) stuff that he has finally been co-erced to having a clean-out and a lot of good trousers and shirts have now gone to the needy and we at last have empty space. Of course, no burglar would ever want any of that stuff - but I’m not telling my husband that.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Darkness and Light

I was at my daughter’s house today and she was going around switching off lights in an exasperated fashion, saying that her husband can’t bear anywhere not to be in bright light, including the toilet, whose light he also doesn’t switch off in daytime. She actually has a light, airy house, so there is no real need to put lights on except at night, but she has an exorbitantly huge electricity bill, soon due to be upped a great deal by Eskom in her next account! So she has my sympathy, but so does he. I can’t bear dim light myself and the first thing I do every day, is open all the curtains in my house. I can never understand why some people leave curtains closed all day. Darkness equals for me - depression. There is a good reason why there have statistically always been more suicides in northern climes than in the sunny south! At night, I must have enough light to read small print wherever I am, and I constantly vie with my husband putting lights on and off. He prefers lamplight. Huh! I’ve seen enough films in arty-farty ‘lamplight’ - please read ‘tried to see what was going on in the dark’ for ‘seen’ - to put me off dim lighting. I don’t go to restaurants where, in the romantic candlelight, I can neither read the menu nor see the food I am eating. Am I alone in this?

Postman with Nous

August 25th 2007
As my brother buys lots of stuff on e-bay, parcels arrive at his house all the time. Today I was out in the garden with my mother’s biggest radio set on fairly loud volume, as no-one can hear on this large piece of land, when the postman suddenly appeared at my elbow. He had tried in vain to ring the doorbell (both my elderly parents taking a morning nap surrounded by the Saturday newspapers), but had followed the sound of the radio, bearing a very large parcel (actually a full-size brass trumpet for my small nephew’s birthday) as well as a small padded envelope bearing my name and only the name of the street. Using his brain, he knew that I was staying here (but not my name) and as he knows all the other people on his route, deduced that this might be me. I can never equate my elder son’s reasonable intelligence quotient with his inability to listen or use his common sense (he posted this for me in London, not even c/o my mother’s name!) A quick chat with the postman revealed that he has also established me as “bi” (British/South African) - he knew my accent because his mother lives in S.A. Small world even out here in the country

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Caught Short at the Shops

9th June, 2009

A scatological story today. I had to rush out early this morning and thus missed my daily ‘appointment’ with the smallest room in the house. Some time later I had half my missions accomplished when I was notified of a pressing need. A quick shufty round the local mall’s convenience indicated far too many inhabitants with flimsy stalls open at both the top and bottom. Out of the question. So I dashed off to my car and the next stop, the big hardware store, which has a small facility in the strip mall next door. As it was still early I had high hopes of beating the crowds but these were dashed as I raced in the door, only to find the cleaner in occupation with her trolley loaded high with toilet rolls and cleaning materials, having a relaxed conversation with the security guard at the doorway. Reluctant to turn tail (what would they think?) I was obliged to enter one of the stalls and perform a number one in an agony of embarrassment as there appeared to be a lull in the conversation at the time. There could be no question of a number two. So turning a deaf ear to my bodily needs (this is not quite the correct metaphor but it will have to do), I slunk away and went off to finish my shopping, resigned to the fact that now everything would have to wait until tomorrow. After all, you only get one chance don’t you? It reminds me of our holiday doing the 4 x 4 trail in the Trans-Kalahadi National Park in Botswana. There were no fences between us and the game and we were supposed to manage our personal business with a discreet visit to the bush with a spade - keeping a wary look-out for lions! The result was that my daughter and I were dammed up for the duration, took copious amounts of ‘opening medicine’ when we got to civilisation in Uppington, and left shameful odours in the bathroom of a sweet old family friend that we popped in to visit. Hopefully she will have died before we get there again.

Garden Invader

Considering that I was here in March it is quite daunting to see how high the weeds/thistles/grass have grown - surely a metre - in my mother’s 1/4 acre garden. As she said, you don’t think when you lay out a garden at 75, that you will ever be 88 and can’t manage it yourself. She and my dad did try a lady gardener for a while but they didn’t get on. My mother felt that she shouldn’t be spending her £10 per hour time, trying to rescue a frog from a water pipe and my father was cross that she wouldn’t listen to him regarding the pond motor or rockery layout. So that was that. Since then my young nephew has the job of mowing the expanse of lawn and neither my father nor my mother can make any impression on the rest. Remarkably, my dad has kept a row of runner beans on the go every summer - I just picked about 4 kilos - and there are plums which obligingly battle on. I have had the private thought that I should contact the television programme “Garden Invaders” to enlist their help, but paradoxically, the last time I watched, I get the impression they only help out young able-bodied couples who don’t want to garden at all and get most of their tiny patch covered with ‘decking’ or paving with the odd plant in a pot which must require ‘low maintenance’. The excuse that they both work doesn’t wash with me, so did my parents. The young are just not interested in gardening. They would rather play computer games (witness my 28-year old son.) Mum was quite amenable to the idea of me phoning the programme however - her gardening knowledge is still superb and she would ace all the questions. But my poor dad would be totally unable to help with the physical labour - although, knowing him, he would long to be asked to ‘dig’ something - his favourite activity. and further, my brother would probably strongly disapprove of outsiders meddling on his property. He and my dad share the gene which dictates that “everthing must be done by self because no-one else is capable of doing it properly.” This makes life really difficult when you are old.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Routine Scream

I drove up to fetch the paper this morning, not because I was lazy, or late or unable to walk or for any other reason other than that after 4 days, the prospect of the same walk to the same place at the same time has become a bit or a bore. I can’t go later though because it will be too hot to walk and my mother will fret without her paper at its usual time. Some things are a bit different when you drive though: I see there has been a tractor up the lane - tractor tyre marks on both grass verges and pony pooh both scattered about as well as now embedded in my sister-in-law’s car’s tyres. Ah well, at least the pooh of a herbivore is sweet-smelling. The only hair-raising incident today has been a narrow miss around a bend as a lady in a Jag. came roaring up the other way. Oh, I also now know that with the pedometer attached all day, a 45-minute walk combined with the rest of the day in the house can yield about 9,400 steps. Have to keep up the walk part when I go home to S.A. in conjunction with the diet part - which is the hard part. There is just something about a British jam doughnut that I have not been able to duplicate back home. On the subject of routine though, it is notable that people are split down the middle on this. I have had a couple of friends over the years for whom a daily routine (inflexible) was the security they craved and needed to live their lives. Others, like me, find routine really deadly and do anything they can to avoid it. That for me was the worst thing about having children - routine feeding! Once I thought I would go mad because I suddenly couldn’t face washing my face and cleaning my teeth every morning - although come to think, that was the preface to having to go to a job that I hated. It’s not so bad now. Just feel very guilty that my life is so enjoyable while my poor husband does a 12-hour stretch every day. His job is not routine though.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Staying with my parents cont....

Dad, Carpenter, August 22nd 2007

My dad’s current project is to build himself a frame upon which to mount a blind which will work on the sloping window in his bedroom so that he can see his computer screen a bit better. This really is a relative term as his field of vision is scarcely bigger than a pinhead and at 90 years old he is completely bent over - the result of a lifetime of misusing his back . He also can’t hear. These problems do not defeat him however and pride dictates that he will only ask for help as a last resort. The trick is to listen to his sighs of frustration and not say anything. An offer of help usually results in a point blank denial of need. So yesterday in extremis, I was finally asked to assist. My instructions were to take up a tiny yellow paintbrush, gleaned from a long-forgotten children’s paint box in the depths of his cupboard and to push it through the holes in the two brackets he had made so as to mark on the wall the places for the rawl bolts. My father meanwhile, balanced precariously on the steps holding up his wooden frame against the aperture. A day later it seems that the holes are in the wrong places because the frame is actually warped. Undeterred, (really happy to find an additional challenge!), dad has now taken the frame to pieces again, dipped it in water and wrapped it in a towel. He plans to bend it straight after a few days. More anon.

Manners & Courtesy, August 22nd 2007

I like riding on the top deck of buses when in London but I was appalled to see how much litter and half-eaten food is left under the seats. I was even more appalled to watch an old lady try to get out of her window seat past another lady (about 45) and this person simply would not budge so that the old lady had to literally climb over the other’s parcels and over her knees. What is the world coming to? By contrast, a great journalist and gentleman of the ‘old school’ died this week in England. His name is W.F. Deedes and the week-end Telegraph overflowed with tributes to this great but humble man. Do yourself a favour and look him up. Born in 1913, he was a journalist for no less than 76 years. A friend of Princess Diana, when she died, he drove himself up to London at 3.00 a.m., aged 84 and produced 3,000 words of copy the same night about her. His love for Africa is legendary and his exploits too many for me to enumerate. My dad wrote to him once, complaining about the meaningless use of the expression ‘living in the sticks.’ As Dad pointed out, the correct spelling is Styx and refers to the river of legend across which souls must pass after they die in order to enter the afterlife. He received a courteous letter of apology back and never saw this phrase in the newspaper again. When Lord Deedes died, aged 93, he was still writing copy from a laptop in his bed and to the last his only worry was that he might bore his readers by not being able to report first-hand any more. Apparently, he never did (bore anyone).

Dad’s Pedometer, August 21st 2007

This is only a saying as I don’t think I have a great mind like my dad but we do have things in common. I showed him my blog about ‘Mental Pedometer’ after which he disappeared off to his room, rummaged about in his cupboards for a long time and presented me with an envelope bearing the legend, Pedometer - Free Gift from Kellogs corn flakes. It transpired that since my dad has become too blind and deaf and generally frail to be allowed out, he tries to walk a certain distance a day - from the kitchen to the front door and back, doing a number of circuits which he tries to measure. I know to keep out of the way when I hear his walking stick tapping up and down. One day when he had finished he announced, “I’ve just been to the egg shop!” Further enquiry elicited the information that one of his former walks used to be to an egg farm about 200 metres up the road, He can’t actually use the pedometer himself both because it is very small and his hands are too arthritic to manoeuvre it and also if he did manage to get it onto his waistband, he has to walk bent over so that it would face vertically instead of horizontal and would not make the necessary connection with his hip. It’s no fun getting old.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Notes from Bromsgrove cont.....

Of Pony Pooh and Spiders, August 21st 2007

Walking along an English country lane has its hazards, especially if you are listening to your music. I had to leap into the grass verge several times while on the way to fetch the daily paper as pedestrians are fair game for drivers who, like drivers everywhere, are always in a mad hurry. Once I landed in sopping wet pony pooh which seeped immediately through the holes in my crocs. The lanes are so narrow that canopies of trees form wetly over the road, meeting in the middle and hedgerows are vertical and this August, muddy. Cars must pass each other however, and to this end, the lanes have been widened every now and again. Local manners dictate who reverses and this works well unless drivers are in a bad mood or can’t work out who is nearest to the passing place. Then a glaring match ensues and eventually the weaker spirit backs down and may have to reverse a couple of hundred metres. At my brother’s house, I encountered the biggest spider ever. Surely the size of a tarantula but legs were thinner. I have never seen a spider so big in all my 30 years in South Africa. I shall give that room a wide berth from now on!
I wish it would stop raining.

Last-Minuter, Late for the Ferry, August 21st 2007

On the phone, I asked my brother what books he had taken away for his annual read. He confessed that in the rush to get away he had left them behind and further that he had spent much of the journey down south on his cell phone to his insurance company as he had also forgotten to reinsure the house. Then already pushed for time, the family were diverted away from the M40 as there had been (incredibly) a murder on that stretch of it the day before and police were busy doing the CSI thing. (I personally can vouch for no less than 10 of them combing that piece of road - saw it on the news) They enjoyed the picturesque diversion through Stratford-on-Avon but with increasing anxiety as time marched on. They arrived at the ferry 5 minutes after the gate had closed, to be confronted by a uniformed official who would not allow them through because of their “inflexible cheap tickets!” . However, a further look at their anguished faces and the two boys fighting in the back seat must have melted him somewhat and he made an exception. The irony was that the ferry was in the end 25 minutes late departing and any number of cars were allowed through for the next 20 minutes.

Mental Pedometer, August 21st 2007

I heard that to lose weight you have to walk 10,000 steps a day in combination with whatever diet. So I thought I would count the steps it takes to walk up to the shop and back (3.4 kms.), but found that all that goes on - from birdsong to passing cars and having to duck to avoid being wiped out by the side mirrors of a particularly wide lorry on this narrow country lane - is too distracting. Try as I might, I would get to 130 or even 249 and then forget which hundred I was on, so I gave up. Just don’t have the mental discipline and don’t need it. After all, I have counted steps while on the treadmill at the gym. Just counted for 1 minute and ‘did the Math.’ So I in fact know that I walk 2,300 steps in 20 minutes,that makes 4,600 for my total walk. How on earth do people make up the rest? I couldn’t possibly do all that on the treadmill. The TV at the gym in not that interesting and I don’t know how to load new stuff onto my MP3 player. I have requested the cooking programme because I go at lunchtime when the gym is virtually empty, but they said they can’t get that channel, only sport and CNN, cartoons, pop music and Sky news - on a good day. Not good enough for me. Perhaps I’ll have to get a pedometer out of curiosity just to see if running around doing the housework does it for me. (I suspect not.)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Notes from Bromsgrove

Notes from Bromsgrove 18th August 2007

Safely installed with my elderly parents. Pelting with rain - tomorrow as well. Garden looks as if it has been transplanted from a tropical jungle so don’t envisage much gardening. Brother has phoned from South of France - great weather there. I am working from his computer which has funny lines running across it. Just now it froze and I had to re-boot. (Brother comments that his children told him about this a while ago, but as he doesn’t use this old computer himself……….) Brother organized last year for my e-mails to be forwarded here and I had a page-full, but frustratingly disappeared altogether after re-boot. Last time I came, brother had obligingly left me a car to drive (old Merc.) but had forgotten that the battery was flat. Lengthy instructions over the phone from Canada that time as car battery was underneath very elderly back seat which protested rustily for a long time before yielding to my frail dad’s efforts to lift it. We eventually managed to charge it and I left it running outside the shop when I went to the newsagent to fetch daily papers. The next drama was that we had huge thunderstorms which knocked out all my brother’s (4) computers. Frantic phone calls from Canada - I had to climb into his loft (twice) and trace an intricate web of wires to find some or other box and turn the switch on again. Hope doesn’t happen again. Keeping strict eye on weather!
Sunday Blues, August 19th, 2007

Frustration and adrenaline rushes today. My brother’s elderly PC just won’t cooperate with me and I have to wait for him to phone from his holiday in the South of France when his remote antennae reveal to him that I am having problems. My brother doesn’t do holidays very well and suffers them for the sake of his family. True to form, while they are on the beach, he seeks refuge in the nearest air-conditioned room with his beloved laptop. He did this also when they went camping with the scouts: he ‘got lost’ in the forest but managed to find his way back to his tent and his laptop. He has 4 PCs in his study at home and it is my job to keep an eye on all the flashing lights. Today, I have re-booted my one and have seen reams of computer code coursing down the screen which faded to a stubborn dead black when it had finished and I can’t do anything with it. So I wait. Meanwhile, a damp and humid walk up the hill to the village to fetch the Sunday papers for my parents. ……Much later - my dad noticed my frustration and mentioned that he has a working screen upstairs in his bedroom. Abracadabra! Back online!

Last Minuters, August 20th, 2007

My father and brother share many common personality traits, one of which is leaving everything to the last minute. When my dad worked in London his favourite trick was to jump onto trains as they were moving out of the station. Once he came home with stitches across his forehead, the result of leaping too hastily from a tube train, forgetting his six foot height , and knocking himself out on top of the sliding doors. My brother is more careful of his person, but travels a lot in the course of his work and thus hates to ‘waste’ time in airports and train stations. This story is typical. One day he left his house at 9.30 a.m. - the exact time that his shuttle to London was taking off. So Instead of driving to Birmingham airport, he did a bit of ‘low flying’ down the M40 to Heathrow, parked in the short stay car, sprinted across to the terminal to check in his luggage, back to the car park to move his car to the long-stay and then onto the airport bus to return to his check-in . He caught his plane with 5 minutes to spare. The best was that 3 months later he received an unsolicited refund of £70 for the unused full-fare leg of his journey. This was, in his book, an excellent trip all round!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Special Mom, August 17th 2007

I shall be visiting mum from the coming week-end. My son will drive me up from London and my mother will be anxiously awaiting our arrival so that we can take her to the supermarket to stock up for her sister’s visit next week. My brother is away camping with his family but tells me that a leg of lamb has already been purchased and is in the freezer and I know that mum will want to spend some time at the fresh veg. counter, sorting over the carrots to find those with the most ground on them and greenest tops to ensure that they are the freshest. Not for her the convenience of frozen veg. The hardest thing of her old age has been the necessity to give up her fruit and vegetable garden. She used to love going outside to “pull up a few carrots” and “pick a few beans” for dinner. Still, I know that apple pie and custard will be on the menu, made by her own fair hand. Although I shall peel and cook the veg, I’ve never managed to make the pastry like she can.

Spit ‘n Polish, Barry Ronge, August 17th 2007

When I came to South Africa in 1975, Barry Ronge was just starting his column in the Sunday Times Magazine. I have been a devotee ever since and so was delighted when he chose some of his favourite columns over the years and put them together in this book. I especially liked his comment in the first one : “I am not really into the immigration thing. It’s a costly way to travel, and the idea that there is a place on earth where you can evade corporate greed or the misrule of corrupt officials is an illusion, in the pursuit of which I will not waste my money.” And so he has stayed. All due credit to him! I have never understood the argument that if you disapprove of a corrupt system, the best way to confront it is to leave and find yourself a safe haven somewhere else. I have only been in the UK for two days and the horror stories of burglaries, racial attacks etc. that have affected my own close family are too shocking to want to write about. Only last week, a youngster where my son works was attacked by a gang of yobos and hospitalized for a week….Anyway, Barry’s book is full of funny, ascerbic, witty and apposite looks at life in South Africa – just like the best blogs! Isn’t the following the way we feel when we sit down to blog? “You find yourself turning into a topic kleptomaniac, jotting down phrases from conversations, noting articles of dress and eavesdropping shamelessly to snitch comments from unsuspecting diners, theatergoers, or people behind you in the supermarket queue.” OK, so he moves in different circles from most of us, and he has been ‘blogging’ for 32 years, so it must be quite difficult to meet his weekly deadline (which, mercifully we don’t have).

Spit ‘n Polish cont…, August 17th 2007

I particularly enjoyed these two sections in Barry Ronge’s book, Books, Words & Magazines, and All Things South African. From the former he relates having to stand in front of his class at school to read out the following from a Jane Austen novel, “At 15 appearances were mending. Her complexion improved, she began to curl her hair and long for balls.” Needless to say, no-one in his class had ever heard of the old-fashioned word for a formal dance. As Barry himself certainly had not. “I did not have a privileged childhood. It was not so much a question of being on the wrong side of the tracks as of needing binoculars to even spot the tracks.” Perhaps we should all re-read Jane Austen with a modern eye and get some laughs. The other bits I especially liked were about the plastic shopping bag scandal of 2002, when the government decided we should have to pay for what South Africans regarded as an “inalienable Human Right”, Barry’s hilarious account of trying to get his new plastic driver’s licence (2002) and a fascinating analysis of the differences in pretensions between Johannesburg and Cape Town societies. I was just glad that I don’t have a ‘social circle’ at all.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Flying with Air Namibia

August, 2007....

Sorry, this is a BA plane - couldn't find an Air Namibia one....
I chose to fly to London from Cape Town this way because I love flying and like to prolong the experience – and more to the point it was a lot cheaper this time compared to other offerings. Booking in at 2.00 pm on a week-day is a relaxing experience – airport empty! I felt something like the Queen when she shops at Harrods. Sailing through with time to spare I chatted to a colourful character selling beautiful African art in the duty-free and rambled down to Gate B2. Only one busload of passengers flying to Windhoek: the bus was just starting to rev up when I heard someone call: “Passenger M?” I had only left my ticket on the security desk! Another menopause moment – don’t remember doing that at all when I was hunting for my passport. (Nobody tell my husband ). A hot meal is served on this two-hour flight and very tasty it was. Windhoek airport is a refreshing experience – perhaps two or three other planes max sitting outside the terminal building and a breath-taking view over the desert landscape. OK it is a two-hour wait before the next take-off but I was prepared with last week’s Sunday Times Sudoku (5-in-one) which I only finished on the plane. The down side of this airline is the old-fashioned in-flight entertainment – no individual TV screens and only one movie – Shrek III and for the second time with this airline I had the seat at which nothing worked, not even the reading light. Fortunately there was a spare aisle seat so I was moved by an apologetic hostess and I settled in, resigned to Shrek, which to my surprise had the sound track in German! Thinking that this must be because there is a lot of German spoken in Namibia I was quite entertained for a while by “Shrek, Der Dritte” but this soon palled as I realized my German was too rusty to keep up. I asked the youngster next to me if he could understand it – he explained patiently that Channel 2 was in German, but Channel 1 in English (Duh!) According to my usual habit, I fell asleep in the movie and woke up for the credits at the end, and then was awake for the rest of the night. As no eye masks (or toothpaste) were provided, I felt too bad to put on the reading light so sat in the toilet to read my book. Only 1.30 pm.! A long night. No music channels to my taste. Walked about. Back in my seat eventually, resenting the fact that everyone but me was asleep, I was a little diverted by the plop of the seatbelt alert signal and then delighted to hear the clicking of seatbelts all around. Fellow-suffers after all.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

More on Mum

August 16th, 2007

A couple more things that stand out about my mum….We lived about a mile (1.7 kms.) out of town when I was young and for health reasons (and if my dad had taken the car to work), she and I would walk into town to do the shopping and often walk back. On both journeys I struggled to keep up with her tiny 5’2” figure. Considerably taller, I would often have to trot. I also remember that she went in the evenings (for she had a casual job in the day) for Continental Cookery Classes as well as Flower Arranging and it was a constant trial for her that my dad liked ‘good, old-fashioned dishes’ and had to have apple pie and custard every day of his life. He would regard a quickie like tinned fruit salad and cream as the worst kind of cop-out. He would eat that and then ask where was the real pudding? It was because of this tyranny that I vowed I would never make dessert a regular item on my family’s menu one day which is just as well as my husband only has to look at food to put on weight, whereas my Dad eats like a horse and has always looked like an inmate of a concentration camp. On Sundays, I was sent to Sunday School which I resented a lot as my parents didn’t go to church. At least my dad didn’t. Mum wasn’t a regular church-goer but she went when she needed ‘a good sing’ and if she could get to arrange the flowers. She never liked our ‘modern’ church building though and has been much happier in retirement, occasionally attending the local 12th century church where she now lives, in order to listen to her grandson playing the organ

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Jo'burgers Arrive

30th June, 2009

We’d been on the farm a couple of days in the June holidays when the week-end arrived, and with it, the Jo’burg contingent. They roared up through the mud in my youngest brother-in-law’s latest vehicle - an elderly Landrover, called George, which towed behind it a flat-bed trailer, specially adapted for not one sporty quad bike, but two! This huge beast roared into the yard, splattering us with mud as it skidded to a stop. Before anyone could say hello, my young nephew - now a 15-year-old string bean of 6’2” - unfolded himself from the backseat, flew onto the trailer, donned his helmet, unloaded the first quad bike and disappeared up the ground road into the sunset, shortly followed by his father on the other one. (He did say hello first). I think these townies must get cabin fever up there in the city, especially the youngsters who most of the week can only look longingly at their big toy parked in the garage. The new, glamorous girlfriend (of whose looks and designer clothes we are all desperately envious), now emerged from the front seat, full of stories of the journey, gesticulating all the time with her impossibly long nails, talking all the time and bestowing mega-watt smiles all round as she opened the boot to reveal mountains of provisions for the week-end, crates of wine and beer and all kinds of treats for the children. We looked around for her two designer Yorkies, but were told they had gone to the kennels in deference to the resident farm dogs. They had sometimes stayed with her father but his female bull terrier had suddenly decided that the little male was one of her pups, and her protective attention had been getting too much for him. The story of the day was that George had managed, in spite of his age, to acquire a speeding fine, thereby seriously impressing all the men.

The Power of Powder Blue

30th June, 2008

My husband came home last week, bearing new long-sleeved work shirts of a pale blue colour. Considering that he works in the environment of an oily truck workshop – admittedly in the Admin offices, I find it a strange choice of colour. The last ones they were given (it’s nice at least that they are provided free of charge), were a practical navy blue check, a nice ‘power’ colour to boot. What has occasioned this new change to a namby pamby, wishy-washy appearance? Surely just the need to keep someone employed, whose function is ‘change for the sake of change’. I can see this all-male environment having sheepish expressions on their faces, as they desperately try not to spill their lunch down their shirts or get pen marks on them before the day is half through. They are also quite thick (nice for Joburg but too much for Cape Town’s mild winter) and take longer to iron. And as for that annoying pleat down the back....! Probably someone has imparted some psychological claptrap about the need to have a ‘calming’ effect in the workplace – whether this is aimed at the customers or the staff is point to ponder.
The effect of colour generally though is well known. What impresses me the most is that fast food outlets have deliberately loud, clashing colours, which are designed initially to attract you in, and then to make you so uncomfortable that you leave in a hurry. That’s clever.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Mum, full of Talent

August 14th, 2007

My earliest memories of mum are of her busily engaged in the kitchen either producing delicious meals, cooking up mouth-watering jams or bottling fruit from her garden. She and my dad were both keen gardeners - my dad’s passion being the fruit & veg. and mum’s the flowers. There were always lovely flowers particularly outside the kitchen where she could see them when she was washing up. If she wasn’t in the kitchen she would be in her sewing room upstairs, either knitting school jumpers for us on her machine or sewing everything from full-length coats for me or herself to summer dresses. If not there, she would be knitting intricate patterns in front of the TV at night, never anything plain - too boring. She had a very active and practical mind and couldn’t sit ‘doing nothing’ - this would be a waste of time. While engaged in housework, she would sing with her excellent operatic voice and she loved her classical record collection and today - her videos and DVDs! If she did sit down for a bit, she would attempt the Telegraph crossword - this she still does, aged 88! At Christmas she would get really excited when the family came to visit and even more delicious food would issue from the kitchen. On Christmas Day traditionally, everyone wore their best clothes and I have an image which stays with me of one year how glamorous she looked with hair carefully coiffed and wearing a stunning blue dress with tight sleeves and a wide neck with high heels and her best necklace and earrings. She and my dad did not socialise beyond close family and so these were occasions to be made the most of. Today she still keeps her own house and cooks lunch every day for her and my dad. The stairs are getting a bit much for both of them, but with all their aches and pains, going up and down all day forces them to be active. The reason they are still independent is because they live next door to my brother and his family and so have the security and help they need on hand. I shall be with them by this week-end as my brother is taking his family camping for a couple of weeks during the long summer holidays. I am taking a couple of bits of material and patterns with me and shall see what gardening can be done after all the floods. In between, mum and I will sit and enjoy our favourite TV shows together. Perhaps we’ll watch all mum’s Jane Austen videos again, or Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, or our best - 12 episodes of To the Manor Born. Maybe even a new favourite, Richard Gere’s, Shall We Dance? That’s if one of us can remember how to work the DVD!

Man of Few Words

August 3rd , 2007

Oprah is always good for a conversational topic, so when couples were asked independently to describe their marriage with 5 adjectives, I found this pretty easy to do with minimum thought. I asked my husband to produce his own list and was met with a look of horror and in fact a downright refusal on the grounds that he is ‘not good with words.’ - and also wily enough to know that he might say the wrong thing! As far as relationship vocabulary goes, I have to agree with him (blood out of a stone except when ‘in his cups’) but in the work situation he is relaxed and fluent knowing himself to be on firm ground. Later we were sitting musing about the possible reasons for the two youngest of his siblings to be getting divorced and of course, were very wise with the benefit of hindsight. One must look at someone’s background and childhood we said and of course girls tend to get like their mothers. Did meeting my mother put you off at all, I asked? By the time he met her - said he gloomily - he was too far gone.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Small White Lie

August 1st, 2007

SORRY - no pic to go with this "Error on page" ? ....
I have tried never to lie since I was a teenager and fibbed to my parents. Now that I am adult, I reasoned, I do not have to apologise for my actions and I am a responsible person. I have mostly stuck to this, especially with my husband, except when it was unavoidable so as not to hurt someone’s feelings, “Yes, I love your new hairstyle/dress/colour scheme/curry etc. When I acquired my ADSL, my husband had large misgivings as he is not fond of having to operate a computer keyboard, his typing still being of the ‘hunt and peck’ variety and he has minimal interest in the Internet. To him, our phone bill was already incredibly large (about R450 p.m.) considering that he doesn’t use the house phone at all. I must admit I rather rashly chose the Telkom Closer Plan 4 - and have since realised that I use hardly any of the ‘free’ minutes over a month. Anyway, the phone bill is now around R575 per month - as long as I don’t phone my mother in England or make cell phone calls. However, In the past week, I have twice left empty frying pans on the electric stove on plates that were on ‘high’. I was only alerted only by the smell and of smoke and the haze drifting into my study where I was, need I say, ‘quickly looking something up on the Internet.’ I gazed in disbelief (twice!) at the ruined messes - not a bit of non-stick left, and today I had to go and buy new ones. The thing is not that I bought new pans, but why now? Also that my husband is going to be cross that I again bought cheap ones. I can hardly tell him that it’s because I can’t afford to (keep) replacing expensive ones. No good to suggest that that expensive ones wouldn’t have burnt - they certainly would if they were left on the stove for an hour! I shall have to invent a fib. Luckily, my friend M, has had the same problem - veges for the evening meal boiling dry. Her advice is to take a timer to the study.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Hottest Senior Guy

2nd August, 2007

No, this did not take place in an Old Age Home! My youngest son was awarded this honour last night at his school and although he had lot of fun and has gained a little confidence by the antics he had to engage in on stage, he seemed a bit embarrassed more than anything by his win. This awards evening was arranged by the Matrics - no parents allowed to attend and no prizes, just for fun. As parents, we would have been more impressed by an academic award but there is no chance of this, nevertheless our son has been a prefect this year and seems to have a good heart, just a little slow in realising that he has to pull his socks up to stand a chance of getting into any kind of tertiary education. I am thinking that we must do a little threatening along the lines of ceasing all pocket money as of December and talking of renting out his room! Although the title is good for his ego, being part of a large family means that he is not allowed to develop a big head - a great deal of good-natured teasing goes on, starting with his older brother and sister and backed up by his multitude of male cousins. There was no teasing in my own family when I was young and I have always found it hard to deal with personally (spending hours worrying that the things said were meant in earnest.) I married into this big family though and found that it is a question of sink or swim. I am no good at the repartee though - I never know what to say back, so just grin and bear it. My husband says it was boarding school and the army that taught him to defend himself. One thing I am glad about - we made our son wear braces when he was 12ish with the result that he has a megawatt smile which I am sure contributed to his win. I had a front tooth which stuck out all my teenage years and I was horribly conscious of it. In those days, the National Health did not do anything about it and my parents in common with most British people couldn’t afford to ‘go private’ so generations of Brits walk around today with awful teeth. Just look at “Antiques Road Show”. My husband jokes unkindly that you always know an (older) British person by their teeth. Not any more though. I hope my son’s smile eases his way through life.

Fiftyplussers out for Tea

My best friend, M, is off to the UK again on Friday, this time for her middle daughter’s graduation in Forensic Science. So we all met for a chat at our local mall. I was the last to arrive and sat at one end of the table to help out one of our ladies who I could see was slowly wilting under the weight of the non-stop monologue of the most notorious of our group - one of those people who can only talk, never listen. The thing is, while we used to be able to take 10-minute turns to sit next to her on these occasions, abruptly making excuses to move on when we could take it no longer, now we feel obliged to listen as she has been recently diagnosed with colon cancer and lives alone. Today we were being subjected to a lengthy description of the various colonoscopy bags on the market and how pathetic some were - even at R100 each! We heard tales of waking up in the night having to deal with burst bags - at which some of our number began to turn slightly green and stopped perusing their menus, deciding to forgo any food and just have black coffee instead. Another lady was looking decidedly thin: she had just come back from three months in Dubai where her husband is temporarily stationed. She had been bored and unhappy there - nothing to do except eat and shop. One tourist trip out into the desert was enough, she said. I then noticed the friend next to me feeling her lip. She quietly asked me to see if it was swollen and I saw that it definitely was. This heralded the sudden onset of a bout of urticaria which would mean that within and hour and a half her whole face would be bloated. She showed me a photo on her cell phone. Unrecognisable. She would need to go to the hospital pretty smartly for cortisone and antibiotics. I offered to take her home to her husband but she first gamely drank most of her tea and laughed and joked with us as best she could. She is just recovering from one of many regular treatments for chronic skin cancer on top of her head. She struggled to her feet, battling with a large and unwieldy leg brace, resulting from a knee op a month ago. She has stomach problems too. As we left, I noticed that our garrulous friend was quiet - pausing for thought? As for me, it was one of those days when it was easy to count my blessings.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Best of Blogs

Hi Everyone!
This is just an experimental first post as I find my way around Blogger. I am perhaps going to defect from because of frustrating blocked IPs by our new blogmaster. Blogger seems wonderfully user-friendly, so I am making a start. These posts are wry looks at life for women 'of a certain age' with whom they may resonate. This pic is one of the marvellous views out to sea from the Simonstown area of the Cape Coast, South Africa. More anon.... just seeing if everything works then I shall publish most days, some of my best writing over the past two years in the hope of finding new friends!