Another Brick In The Wall

Just in case you thought otherwise, I don’t spend all my time cogitating about the demise of my veggies, playing bridge and gallivanting around on yachts. For my sins, I also volunteer as a teacher at, and fundraise for, the local, no-fee paying farm school at Curry’s Post.

The teaching part is challenging, mainly because the children don’t speak English and, I’m ashamed to say, my isiZulu is very basic. However, I am a qualified preschool teacher, with experience teaching 5-year olds (now called grade r) and running the University of Natal preschool for many years, during which time we developed and ran training programmes for rural preschool teachers. In the early 1980’s I also volunteered as an English teacher at a rural school in Zululand for two years. So teaching, you could say, is in my blood.

Every Thursday Thandi (our domestic worker) and I spend the morning supervising a group of 4-year olds. The grade r class has mixed ages (4- and 5-year olds together), so we give the littlies some one-on-one attention while the older children get on with their school readiness lessons. Every so often I wonder why the hell I’m giving myself more stuff to do, but when one of the children climbs onto my lap with a book wanting to be read to, or slips his / her hand into mine when we’re playing a game, it tends to make it all worthwhile. Occasionally the grade r teacher is absent and we get the entire grade r class for the morning. Then my littlies become quite proprietary, giving the older ones the lowdown on what they can and cannot do. And when we get together to sing action songs, they participate with such gusto as if to show the older children how it’s done.


Fundraising is a different story. It was never my favourite activity when I worked in the NGO sector but of course it was a critical part of the work. In 1983, after living in rural Zululand for a couple of years, I returned to Durban and found a job with an NGO called the Career Information Centre. Living in a rural area and teaching in a rural school had opened my eyes to the huge structural inequalities that existed in South Africa. I didn’t want to go back to teaching in a segregated preschool but rather I wanted to try to make a contribution to education through the non-racial civil society sector. CIC had been started by an organisation called Women for Peaceful Change to make vocational guidance available to disadvantaged kids and it was my job to start a resource centre and develop relevant careers guidance materials for schools. Later, it became part of my job to raise funds for the Resource Centre and a mobile unit that we took out to rural schools.


In 1989, when Kiera was 3 years old, she attended the University of Natal preschool, which was run by a committee of university staff, and was very much non-racial. Later that year they advertised for a principal, I applied and got the job. It wasn’t long before we started working with community based organisations that wanted to establish preschools. Again, this required fundraising.

Kiera's preschool end-of -year concert

Kiera’s preschool end-of -year concert

Although the dependency aspect and pressures of fundraising stressed me out, I did enjoy meeting the representatives of the various donor organisations who would visit from time to time to see how their money was being spent. We all shared the same goal – working towards a more just society, and many hours would be spent solving South Africa’s problems together. Donor agencies from all over the world were eager to get a foothold in the country but in 1994, when SA had its first democratic elections, the funds started to dry up. And NGOs started going under one by one. Our work with preschools in rural communities ground to a miserable halt and I was racked with guilt for having let so many people down. A few years later I made one of the more difficult decisions in my life, which was to leave the preschool. I was disillusioned and absolutely worn out (unknown to me at the time, I was severely anaemic). Maybe if I hadn’t been so run down, I would not have left – I still have dreams about the school as unfinished business.

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I accepted the fundraising portfolio after joining the Curry’s Post Educational Trust last year. I still feel anxious about letting people down, but perhaps it’s time to put the past and my resultant fear of failure behind me.

Earlier this year I submitted a funding proposal to the N3 Toll Concession to establish a Science Centre at the school. Whereas most science and maths outreach programmes focus on high school interventions, we hope that by making a Science Centre available in a primary school, it will facilitate the experiential learning of a variety of math, science and technology subjects from Grade R to Grade 7. And encourage critical thinking, analytical problem solving and curiosity; skills that will serve children well in all spheres of life. I was naturally thrilled when the funds were approved and the Science Centre installed. I have just submitted my second proposal to N3TC for funding for next year and this time we are asking for funds for a Science Centre Support Programme which, if approved, will occupy quite a bit of my time.


the new science centre

Kiera, in the meantime, is working for a non-profit organisation in Washington DC which runs economic development programmes in Niger and Burkina Faso (she has just recently returned from a 2-week trip to Niger). She’s been able to give me quite a lot of help with my proposals – it’s quite weird getting a donor’s perspective from her. Strange how things turn out!

Discussions held with the N3TC Corporate Social Responsibility rep and preparing the proposals has rekindled my passion for education and community development and I’m getting excited about the work I’m doing. Perhaps its time to try and make a difference again.

For those of you interested in education there was an article in the Sunday Times (8 November 2015) with the heading: “While the rich get education, SA’s poor get just “schooling”. It was written by Nic Spaull who is a contributor to the South African Child Gauge 2015 (Children’s Institute, UCT). It seems that things haven’t changed much since those days when I taught at Mboza Combined Primary!

He writes:

If you can afford to send your child to a former Model C or a private school, there is no question about it, you do. I am willing to bet that there is not a single MP who sends their child to a no-fee school in our country. Not one. It is an unspoken truth that no-fee paying schools are for the poor and “good” schools are for the rich.

To put this into context, no-fee paying schools make up the vast majority of schools in South Africa …. and almost all of them are dysfunctional, because they do not impart the knowledge, skills and values needed to succeed in life.

I completely agree that a system where access to quality schooling is almost exclusively a function of parental wealth (in other words our current system) is unjust and must change. But purely from a numbers perspective, we simply have to find ways of improving the quality of 88% of schools that are free.

After 21 years of democratic rule, most black children still receive an education that condemns them to the underclass of South African society, where poverty and unemployment are the norm. This substandard education does not develop their capabilities or expand their economic opportunities: instead, it denies them dignified employment and undermines their sense of self-worth.

In short, poor school performance in South Africa reinforces social inequality: children inherit the social station of their parents, irrespective of their own motivation or ability.






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Don’t you just love Rod’s sailor suit in this video?! (The song was a number 1 hit in the UK in September 1975.) 

First of all, thank you to everyone who has asked after Buddy. He is much improved although still not 100%. The other evening when we took the dogs walkies, he managed to flush a hare out of the long grass. We screamed at him to stop running because he is not supposed to exert himself and, if truth be told, should not have been walkies in the first place. Usually he would have ignored our commands but after a half-hearted attempt to give chase, he gave up of his own accord. That little bit of exercise set him back a bit and now we are trying to keep him more subdued, which is no mean feat. All I can say is that he is a totally indulged puppy.


On Tuesday last week we woke up to snow on the Berg. If that wasn’t surprising enough, we had a bloody frost on Wednesday morning (4th November). All our our pumpkin, squash and marrows and some potatoes growing in the field, where it is a bit more exposed than the allotment, were frosted. Two days before the frost, I had planted out heritage sweet potato slips that a friend of mine had picked up for me from Livingseeds  in Jo’burg. It’s too early to tell if they will recover.

snow on the Berg (3rd November)

snow on the Berg (3rd November)

What with a drought and a heat wave sweeping the country, followed by snow and frost, it’s not easy being a gardener. A more philosophical approach to life certainly comes in handy in times like these.  I’ve quoted Charles Dudley Warner before but this comment from his book My Summer in a Garden is such a gem, I can’t resist repeating it:

The principal value of a (vegetable) garden is not understood. It is not to give the possessor vegetables and fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market-gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy, and the higher virtues, – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation.

Ah well, he doesn’t mention perseverance but persevere we do.

It also helps to get away from it all for a bit. There’s truth in the saying a change is as good as a holiday, or in the words of the waitress at the El Morocco tearoom in Balham – “it does you good to have a fling occasionally” (Balham – Gateway to the South)

Last weekend I found myself sailing offshore in Durban. When I went to university in 1975, I knew very few other students there. My boyfriend at the time (Derrick) worked as an electrician and I wasn’t particularly friendly with any of the girls from school who had gone to uni with me. Freshers’ Week was quite daunting with no mates to hang about with so, when I came across the friendly bunch from the University of Natal Yacht Club (UNYC) trying to recruit new members, I signed up in the hope that it would help me to meet people and make friends on campus. As a schoolgirl I would often spend weekends hanging about the yacht mole, drooling over the yachts moored there.









Derrick and I at the Durban Yacht Mole (1974)

Yachts were symbols of freedom to me and I had visions of sailing off into the blue yonder when I finished my studies. So, although I had never been on a yacht, I was genuinely interested in learning how to sail.

Apart from sailing in the harbour and off Vetchies, the club also organised sailing weekends at Midmar Dam and Richard’s Bay. And of course there were lots of non-sailing activities as well. It was a whirlwind of sailing and partying and as I became more involved in the yacht club and making new friends, so Derrick and I drifted amicably apart. I gained many good friends during those halcyon days and, thanks to Facebook, some of those friendships have been rekindled. I also fell in and out of love rather frequently. Eventually and inevitably, when I was in my second year, my heart was broken and I decided to leave the club in order to regroup. It was however, at a yachtie’s house party a year later that I met Peter (who has never sailed) and the rest, as they say, is history!

The first person I made friends with at UNYC was Richard, a friendly and gregarious chap who was a first year like me and had joined the club at the same time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post (yacht club swing), one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done is trapeze sailing and it was usually Richard who took me out in the Fireball and let me go out in the trapeze. Suspended parallel above the water, flying over the waves, spray in my face and screaming at the top of my lungs from the sheer joy of it is one of my all-time favourite memories.

So when I got an invitation out of the blue from Richard to go sailing on his yacht with some of the other old UNYC members, whom I haven’t seen since university days (including Richard), I was delighted. And a tad anxious. Well, it’s been almost 40 years for god’s sake since some of us last clapped eyes on each other. We were in our prime then (although, I must admit, my hair did leave a lot to be desired).


I needn’t have worried. We had a glorious sail and caught up the years with lots of “remember whens” and “whatever happened to so-and-so”.  Afterwards, Warren very generously invited us all back to his home for an impromptu braai and the reminiscing continued. It was quite simply a perfect day.

the motley crew (November 2015) on board Richard's yacht Caversham Caprice. From left to right: Richard, James, Cathy, Warren and Tim in front

the motley crew (November 2015) on board Richard’s yacht Caversham Caprice.
From left to right: Richard, James, me, Warren and Tim in front


a hazy view of the Durban beachfront with Moses Mabhida Stadium on the right

a hazy view of the Durban beachfront with Moses Mabhida Stadium on the right

this scene makes me feel quite nostalgic

this scene makes me feel quite nostalgic

The next day as I headed back home I again marvelled at the ease with which we were able to relate to one another, after years of not having been in touch. Perhaps that comes from having shared a seminal moment in our lives, not only our student days but also our UNYC days. How lucky and privileged we were to have had those opportunities.

Adam and me on board Red Amber (Richard's Bay 1976)

Adam and me on board Red Amber (Richard’s Bay 1976)

James on board Red Amber (1976)

James on board Red Amber (1976)







Red Amber crew

Red Amber crew. From left to right: James, me, Adam, Noel (in front of Adam), Tim and Greg in front. Richard was taking the photo.

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Who You Are


Our dog Buddy has been so sick, literally at death’s door, and it could have been avoided – which is a terrible thing, not only to admit to, but to live with. He has ehrlichiosis, which is a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks, the signs and symptoms of which usually appear within a week or two of a tick bite. Buddy and Layla were both due their preventative Bravecto tick muti on the 1st of October. Peter bought the tablets and I completely forgot to give it to them; 7 days later Buddy was very ill. The vet first diagnosed biliary and treated him accordingly. He seemed to get better and then, a week later, had a relapse. He was so weak that he had to be put on a drip; a battery of tests then indicated that he had ehrlichiosis. Poor Buddy (and poor us I might add – vets bills are not cheap); his symptoms included fever, rapid breathing, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Unfortunately the medication he was given did not help to bring his temperature down and he also developed a stiff neck and blindness in one eye, so back to the vet he went. X-rays showed that a spinal disc he injured in August may have become infected and caused inflammation of the meninges. He was given cortisone and a second lot of very strong antibiotics that gets through bone but is not ideal for young dogs as it affects the cartilage. So he is not allowed to exercise while he is on it and has to take a supplement to counteract its affect on cartilage. Oy vey!

It has been devastating – our rambunctious puppy has been reduced to a shivering, and I would imagine, very scared wreck of a dog. Peter and I are also fairly shattered. I know it doesn’t help to beat oneself up with the “if onlys” – but beat oneself up one does. Neither Pete nor I have been sleeping very well while all this is going on. Every morning we half expect to find a corpse in the house and that doesn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep. So the other morning I woke up at 2 am with everything I ever did wrong as a mother going through my mind. Why is it that in the early hours of the morning every problem our children have ever had is my fault? Of course, in the cold light of day it’s clear that the blame is always Peters!

Because I couldn’t sleep I moved into the spare room (so as not to disturb Peter) and started reading a memoir by Lynn Darling called Out of the Woods. I identified with her story – when her only child leaves home to go to Bowdoin College, she decides to relocate from New York City to a cabin in the woods in Vermont to “find herself”. (I mention the name of the college so that I can boast of having visited it with Kiera and James last year when we went to Maine. James’ sister Maggie went to college there and we stopped en route from Portland to Boothbay Harbor to have a look around – it’s a beautiful campus – and have yet another fantastic lobster lunch in a diner in Brunswick). Suffering from empty nest syndrome, Darling retreats to the woods to find a sense of direction in her life. I was so tired when I got to the end that I can’t remember if she ever did find it.

Be that as it may, I particularly enjoyed her perspective on aging.

You are young, and a light blinks on. A light that blinds you and dazzles you and makes you suddenly visible to yourself and to others. To men. You become something different in the light but you get used to it. And then, just as suddenly, the light goes out. And though you hated the glare, you grope for the switch.

She also quotes Doris Lessing:

You only begin to discover the difference between what you really are, your real self and your appearance when you get a bit older. A whole dimension of life suddenly slides away and you realise that what in fact you’ve been using to get attention has been what you look like ….. it’s a biological thing. It’s totally and absolutely impersonal. It really is a most salutary and fascinating thing to go through, shedding it all. Growing old is really extraordinarily interesting.

Earlier this year, when I had perioral dermatitis, I was advised by a dermatologist to get rid of all my expensive, cosmetic house toiletries (“snake oil” she called them) and just use a mild cleansing lotion (Cetaphil) and moisturising cream (Nutraderm) on my face. No toners, exfoliating creams, anti-aging serums or face masks – just wash and moisturise. I was also warned against using any foundation, blusher or powder on my face. Now I have never been one to use a lot of makeup but there is no denying it can improve one’s appearance if applied correctly. But the way I use makeup has changed as I’ve got older; when I was young, makeup was a fun thing that I played with, however when the light of youth went out, makeup became more of a mask to hide behind.

The daily cosmetic painting and repainting of identity seemed to create a psychic disconnect between who a woman was and who she needed to be in her dissatisfaction with herself.

Bob Shacochis (The Woman Who Lost Her Soul)

It’s also a fact of life that there is a correlation between aging, deteriorating eyesight and a shaky hand. I have always had a dread of being one of those “more mature” women with wonky, pencilled in eyebrows, smudged mascara and lipstick that has veered off the tracks – not to mention foundation clarted on like Polyfilla. Anyhow I am finding my new beauty routine, or lack thereof, rather liberating. And it has prompted me to start paying more attention to my appearance and how it reflects my real self. At the same time I’m aware that there’s a fine line between letting go altogether and hanging on for dear life (or groping desperately for the switch).  I hope I can strike a balance somewhere in between.

Recently we joined friends, Ann, Bill and Loretta, for lunch at Weenen Game Reserve, just under an hour’s drive north of here. It’s staggering how marked the change in vegetation is when you leave the Highveld and enter the Lowveld. There’s a point in the N3 where you round a corner heading towards Wagendrift Dam on the left and Estcourt on the right and suddenly the relatively lush and gentle Midlands countryside gives way to harsh, arid thornveld. And the drought becomes very evident. We had a wonderful braai under the acacias and a leisurely drive around the park before heading home, our spirits somewhat lifted by the short sojourn in the bush and the company of friends.

Weenen Game Reserve

Weenen Game Reserve

view of the Bushman's River valley just outside Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal

view of the Lowveld  just outside Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal







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Growin’ in the Wind – Spring 2015

So we’re in October now and still haven’t had any decent rain. Everything is terribly dry but fortunately our springs are still flowing so we haven’t had any water shortages, yet.

Despite no rain, we’ve got quite a lot of veggies coming on in the field and in the allotment. In the field there are potatoes (including heritage potatoes from Livingseeds), onions, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet melons and all kinds of squash.

In the allotment there are artichokes, asparagus, carrots, beetroot, Swiss chard, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks, lettuce and cucumber. And this year I’m growing more herbs and salad stuff in pots in the courtyard – we’ve got mint, thyme, sage, parsley, celery, coriander, marjoram, chervil, sorrel, tomatoes and peppers.

Now that they are growing closer to the house, I’ve been using more herbs when I cook and also in salads. Tonight I’ve picked a bunch of sage and we’re going to have butternut ravioli (fresh from Woolies) with brown butter and sage sauce for dinner. This is such a simple but very yummy sauce:

  • Melt 100 g butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Cook until melted then add a handful of sage leaves to the pan. Cook butter and sage leaves, swirling pan often, for 4-5 minutes or until sage leaves are crisp and butter has turned a deep nut-brown colour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I can’t believe the amount of strawberries that we are harvesting. I had already frozen a tray of strawberries that I picked last week when Kho brought in another batch, weighing nearly 3 kg. What to do with them all? So far I’ve made strawberry vinegar and ice-cream. And the rest I’ve frozen. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at making jam with the next batch.

best ever strawberry harvest

best ever strawberry harvest


spring veggies

spring veggies ( those are Livingseeds micro-greens in the bottom right corner – absolutely delicious in salads and stir fries)

spring flowers

spring flowers

spring herbs - clockwise from top left: coriander, thyme, sage and mint

spring herbs – clockwise from top left: coriander, thyme, sage and mint

spring chicken, aka Esmeralda

spring chicken, aka Esmeralda

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Good Lovin’


I have been laid low this past week by a rather severe case of bronchitis and it’s my own bloody stupid fault because I should have dealt with the problem sooner. I’ve been wheezing for months now – probably an allergic reaction to having a new puppy in the house. I’ve also been getting very tired and a bit overwhelmed by life and I put it down to my not breathing properly. Of course I didn’t think that my immune system might be taking strain. So when Peter got a throat infection and passed the bug on to me, it went straight to my lungs. These bugs sure know how to suss out your weak spots! Usually, when I feel a cold coming on (it starts with a scratchy, burning feeling at the back of my throat) I dose myself with vitamin c and Dr. Schüssler’s tissue salts. More often than not my immune system then kicks in and fights the baddies. Not so this time. This time I needed to see the doctor who prescribed a shitload of meds; antibiotics the size of bullets, probiotics to counter the antibiotics, prednisone, decongestants and cough syrup. And I’ve been using a nebuliser 3 times a day with a cocktail of bronchodilators and corticosteroids. It worries me that I’m putting so many chemicals in my body, or more specifically into my lungs, and I do find it ironic that I am prepared to do this but not use chemicals on my veggies.

Recently I watched a brilliant movie called Symphony of the Soil (thanks Kiera for giving me the heads up on that). I’m a firm believer in growing things without the use of chemicals but I’ve never bothered to learn much about the biology of the soil. The movie beautifully illustrates:

the elaborate relationships and mutuality between soil, water, the atmosphere, plants and animals. The film also examines our human relationship with soil, the use and misuse of soil in agriculture, deforestation and development, and the latest scientific research on soil’s key role in ameliorating the most challenging environmental issues of our time. Symphony of the Soil ……. highlights possibilities of healthy soil creating healthy plants creating healthy humans living on a healthy planet.

Symphony of the Soil

We make, and buy in, a lot of compost. All our veggie beds are raised and topped with compost so the soil is never dug over. We have a worm farm and use the worm wee to feed the veggies. We practise crop rotation and companion planting. We don’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides. So I think, by and large, we are looking after the soil pretty darn well. But the movie has made me rethink our policy on weeds. There is a scene shot in a potato field where weeds have been left to grow among the potato plants. The farmer explains that weeds do not compete for nutrients, which is what I’ve always believed. Far from it in fact and this is explained through plant and soil biology; good bacteria in the soil are attracted to the food given off by the roots of the weeds and these are, in turn, beneficial to the crop in preventing disease. The farmer then digs up a potato plant to demonstrate how healthy it is and his dog comes strolling into the frame and lies down on top of the potato plant. The farmer laughs and says something to the effect of that being the end of the potato lesson. It was not only a cute scene but, for me, it summed up what is a healthy relationship with the land. In permaculture, weeds are cut, not pulled out, and a tea is made from the leaves to feed back to the soil. The argument being that nature always tries to establish a balance and that the weeds are there for reason. So in future I’m going to pay more attention to the soil and the weeds growing in it. Nature is a constant reminder that:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

John Muir

The day after watching the movie I visited the Garden Show (held every year at the Royal Show Grounds in Pietermaritzburg) and made a beeline for the Livingseeds stand. They sell heirloom and open pollinated vegetable seed online and have also just started shipping seedlings. I’ve never bought from them before because our postal service here is very unreliable and to courier stuff is mighty expensive. However I’ve met a woman who is also passionate about growing vegetables organically and we have plans to set up a seed group in the area so that we can order in bulk, save on delivery costs and swop seeds. We went a bit crazy with our seed purchases – as well as veg seed, I bought a lot of seed for microgreens and sprouts, which I love to use in salads and stir fries.

All this focus on healthy soil, healthy seeds and healthy food reminded me that I should be looking after my body naturally too. Once again part of the problem is not paying attention. Perhaps if I had dealt with my wheezy chest when it first started it wouldn’t have developed into bronchitis. Anyway, I unearthed my well-thumbed copy of The Fragrant Pharmacy, A complete guide to Aromatherapy & Essential Oils by Valerie Ann Worwood, stocked up on some new oils and concocted a lovely massage oil to treat bronchitis.

One of the side effects of the medication that I’ve been taking is insomnia. However, after using the essential oils, I not only slept like a log but woke up with a much clearer head and chest. This is Worwood’s Bronchitis Synergistic Oil (great for both breathing and sleeping problems):

  • Cinnamon    2 drops
  • Nutmeg        2 drops (I couldn’t find this oil)
  • Ginger          2 drops
  • Red thyme    10 drops (I used plain thyme oil)
  • Eucalyptus    10 drops
  • Benzoin       4 drops

Diluted in 30 ml carrier oil (I used Jojoba)

Worwood also recommends a drink, apparently popular in Switzerland in the treatment of bronchitis. Dilute 1 drop of eucalyptus oil in a little brandy then add it to a cup of hot water to which you have added some honey and lemon. I may give that a bash later.

amandla abesifazane (power to the women): September 24th is Heritage Day in South Africa - we celebrated it with a braai at Linga Lapa

amandla abesifazane (power to the women): September 24th is Heritage Day in South Africa – we celebrated it with a braai at Linga Lapa


Our swallows returned home on the 1st of October, the same day we had a hail storm. Fortunately nothing was damaged; the stones were quite small but they did come down in a torrent and we lost quite a bit of the blossom on our fruit trees.

Our swallows returned home on the 1st of October, the same day we had a hail storm. Fortunately nothing was damaged; the stones were quite small but they did come down in a torrent and we lost quite a bit of the blossom on our fruit trees.

this Hamerkop caught a very fat platanna frog from our pond

this Hamerkop caught a very fat platanna frog from our pond

the cause of all my problems making himself comfortable

the cause of all my problems making himself comfortable



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Heart of Gold

When I was a teenager growing up in Port Elizabeth, our house was one of the places (the other being Al’s cabin) where my friends and I liked to congregate. My parents did not employ a domestic worker so the unused staff accommodation which adjoined the garage was converted into a den. I decorated the room with posters and magazine pictures (and the odd pilfered road sign) and my parents contributed their old record player and a few bits and pieces of furniture. It became known as “The Room” and that was where the gang (aka “the Central Dorks”) hung out when they visited.  And, as I recall, my parents never set foot in the place – which was really just as well! When I look back on those days, it seems as if life was just one long jol.

The Room, early 1970's

The Room, early 1970’s

some of the gang

some of the gang








Watch out for poison, it's a gas! This my "back room" in Durban.

Watch out for poison, it’s a gas! This my “back room” in Durban a few years later.

When Peter and I moved into our first house, in Durban’s Shuter Road, it also became a popular gathering place. We seemed to have a steady stream of people visiting and staying with us and it often happened that a small get-together would spontaneously burst into a full-blown party. We didn’t so much entertain in those days, as provide a springboard for some great shindigs.

some of the lads at one of the Shuter Road parties (Peter on the left)

some of the lads at one of the Shuter Road parties (Peter on the left)

In 1987 we moved to Morningside and by then Pete and I were both working in the NGO sector. The steady stream of visitors continued but life became a little more earnest. The visitors were mostly overseas donors or colleagues from other NGOs and although the parties continued (we lived a kind of work hard, play hard lifestyle) intense, and often heated, political discussions around the dining room table became more frequent.

Then it all seemed to fizzle out; the foreign houseguests, the wild parties and the raucous debates. And so our grand entertaining days came to an end and were replaced with less frequent, more sedate, intimate lunch / dinner parties. The kind where no-one has a point to prove and you can wear your slippers if you want to. And we share these occasions with people that we’ve known for years; friends with whom we simply pick up where we left off, no matter how long the gap has been since we last saw each other. We all know each other’s history and share similar worldviews and we know we won’t be judged, no matter how badly we behave!

Morningside Road dinner party

Morningside Road dinner party

Of course, since we moved to the country we get to spend even less time with friends and lately I’ve been missing the kind of conversation that goes on around a dining room table after a couple of glasses of wine. So I plucked up the courage to invite two couples that we don’t know very well at all, as well as another couple that we are friends with, to a lunch party. I was anxious about how this was going to work. Would there be awkward silences? Would they look down their noses at our modest home? Would I get drunk and start singing “Don’t Stop Me Now”?

I really needn’t have worried. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. It is always interesting to hear where others have come from and how they got here and to discover we even have things in common (like being fans of Neil Young). So my confidence in people being essentially kind, as well as my hostessing abilities, has been restored, and I’m actually looking forward to doing a bit more of this entertaining lark in the future.

This is me, tired and shagged out after a long squawk in the garden!

I worked my butt off getting the garden ready for an outdoor, spring lunch party. On the day it was so cold we had a fire and ate indoors. This is me relaxing after a long squawk in the garden.


brace yourself Sheila, I'm coming in!

brace yourself Sheila, I’m coming in!

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Paperback Writer

I love reading a book that leaves me feeling like I have a strong affinity with the author or the main character. Some might say that empathy has never been one of my strong points so perhaps literature enables me to feel this connection with people that I otherwise find rather difficult to do in real life.

My first recollection of feeling empathy with a fictional character was when I was in primary school in Port Elizabeth and my mother would take me once a month to the North End public library. It was not as beautiful as the main library in town but it was still a charming old building with high arched windows, wooden shelves going all the way up to the ceiling, narrow windy staircases and wrought iron balustraded walkways. I loved the smell of wood and books and the quiet of the place. It was here I discovered Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. There were about 8 books in the series and by the time I had finished one, I would be desperate to get to the next. I so loved Anne Shirley that I was devastated when she passed a remark about a girl called Kathleen – something along the lines of her being pleased that her name was spelt with a K because spelt with a C, the name is so smug. I was cut to the quick, as my name is Cathleen, spelt with a C. I have to admit things were never quite the same between Anne and me after that!

Later, J.D. Salinger introduced me to the wonderful Glass family and Franny, in particular. Although Buddy Glass is my favourite Salinger character, I wanted Franny and Zooey as friends. Often during difficult times, I turned to my “bible” Franny and Zooey for comfort, even taking it with me when I went in to hospital to have Kiera. My GP, Walter Savage, who delivered both my children, spotted the little book on my bedside table. “Don’t you think it’s time to move on?” he said!

There are authors who, after reading their books, I feel like I know personally and in fact, on a few occasions have even come close to writing to them to express my admiration and affection. Paul Theroux, Isabel Allende and Barbara Kingsolver are three that come to mind at different times in my life. And now I have another, Helen Macdonald, thanks to my friend Chris who very kindly sent me a copy of Macdonald’s book H is for Hawk. I’ve just finished it and I really didn’t want it to come to an end. If I’m reading something light, I usually read it in one go – almost to get it over with so that I can find out who dunnit. With H is for Hawk, I savoured it for as long as I could, like sucking on a sweet for ages before it dissolves. She writes so beautifully that you have to read every word, sometimes repeatedly, like this sentence, which I find so incredibly moving:

We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost.

Every time I read that it means something else to me.

I came across this quote today on Brain Pickings:

It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

I think Helen Macdonald not only makes herself clear to herself but she helps us see ourselves more clearly too. If I had a tribe, she would definitely be part of it and I wish I could invite her for dinner.

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