For What It’s Worth

I have a reputation for burying my head in the sand and where better to do it than on a smallholding in the beautiful KwaZulu-Natal Midlands? That’s not to say I don’t care about what’s going on, I do – deeply, but politics is just not my thang. That said, every now and then I do venture up into the stratosphere and have a look around. And for what it’s worth, these are some of my thoughts on what I see.

I was an avid fan of the Handmaid’s Tale season 1. Based on the novel written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian future and “explores themes of women in subjugation in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women attempt to gain individualism and independence” (Wikipedia).

Season 1 ends basically where the novel ends but without the epilogue.

I eagerly awaited season 2. The writers apparently had help from Atwood in creating season 2 but I just don’t feel her presence. For me, season 2 has lost all the subtlety that made season 1 so riveting. It’s such a blatant political statement on the rise of fascism and I find the overall message so brutal and in your face, that I just can’t watch it. Yes, it needs to be said, and if you have the stomach for it, it needs to be watched but I can’t do it – it’s that ostrich mentality of mine!

Perhaps the difference is that Atwood was writing about an imaginary future and the show’s writers are seeing that future as the present.

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Food Glorious Food

For a while now I’ve been concerned about my overall lack of routine and, more specifically, my non-existent mealtime regime. It started going downhill when I relocated to the country and lived on my own for few years. I felt so liberated not having to accommodate anyone else’s needs that my routine went completely out the window, with mealtimes suffering the most, becoming erratic and sporadic. I seldom bothered with meal planning, simply eating whatever was to hand whenever I felt hungry – lots of baked beans on toast. When Peter joined me here, the situation improved somewhat but I still couldn’t get into a daily rhythm. And then, when we had to prepare lunch every day for my mum (who complained about every meal), I just lost interest in cooking. Not that I got skinny because of it, mind you; I was just eating really badly and piling on the weight.

After 40 years of marriage, Pete and my eating habits are still so very different. He likes to eat first thing in the morning so that he can take his multitude of tablets! I can’t eat before 10 am and usually by then I’ve had at least 4 cups of tea and feel too full for breakfast. I often don’t bother with lunch whereas Peter will fix himself something to eat (he always seems to be in the kitchen, leaving a tell tale trail of breadcrumbs on the counter and eating the leftovers in the fridge which I had my eye on for dinner – drives me bloody crazy!). Come supper time, I’m so hungry I tend to shovel the food in and overeat. And since it’s winter and we’re going to bed earlier, all that food is giving me massive indigestion at night.

So, I’m trying to establish a routine which includes a daily breakfast before 10 am but after 8 am, a main meal at lunch time and a light meal for dinner.

Some of the light dinner ideas include omelettes, scrambled eggs, frittata, soup, pizza (frozen base but fresh toppings), Welsh rarebit, toasted sandwiches and kedgeree.

Kedgeree always reminds me of Peter’s professor when he was a lecturer at the University of Natal. One evening we were invited to the professor’s house for dinner. The occasion was to meet a visiting lecturer from Oxford, Stan Trapido, and his author wife, Barbara. She had just published her first novel Brother of the More Famous Jack, which I had read and loved, so for once I was excited to attend one of these academic functions. I don’t really remember much of the evening other than the meal that we were given, which was kedgeree. Unfortunately someone had grossly under catered and all we got was a measly spoonful of rice mixture and a slice of tomato each. In my mind’s eye I can still see the professor toasting his honoured guests while we all sat around the dining room table, transfixed by the small bowl of kedgeree in the middle.

This is an easy peasy recipe adapted from an Antony Worral Thompson recipe:

Smoked Trout / Haddock Kedgeree

(serves 4)


  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 T curry paste / powder
  • 1 cup basmati rice, cooked
  • 200g hot-smoked trout / (I use poached haddock if trout is not available)
  • Chopped parsley and chives
  • 2 T Greek yoghurt
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Freshly ground salt and black pepper
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  1. Heat oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and fry the onion over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes until softened.
  2. Add the curry paste / powder, stir to combine and gently cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook for a further 2 minutes, then flake in the trout / haddock and add the herbs and yoghurt. Stir to combine and heat through gently to prevent the pieces of fish from falling apart.
  3. Season to taste with the lemon juice, salt and pepper, fold in the eggs and serve.

Egg dishes tend to make a light meal. However, our chickens have been playing up and not laying as bountifully as they used to. After months of no eggs Kho found, hidden in the tall grass at the back of the chicken run, a couple of hollows in the soil and in them, some 35 eggs! Since we uncovered their hiding place, the hens have stubbornly refused to lay more than one a day.










One of my favourite egg dishes is frittata. This is one of the first I ever made – a Seville Tortilla – from a scrapbook of recipes I collected when I was in high school. I see that it serves 4 and costs about 55p!

Since then I have tried many different recipes. The trick is to master the method and then vary it according to what ingredients one has to hand. I like it with cooked potato, spinach (or some green) and cherry tomatoes. Really, you can add whatever you fancy – cooked courgette, sautéed mushrooms, cooked asparagus, prosciutto / salami / chorizo, goat’s cheese, marinated artichokes, marinated peppers, caramelised onions ……..



  • 6 large eggs
  • 100 g baby spinach leaves / kale / bok choy roughly chopped
  • A handful of cherry / roma tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cooked potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • A mixture of chopped fresh herbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan (or cheddar)
  • 1 T oil

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork. Stir through the spinach (greens), tomatoes, potatoes and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a 23 cm non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Swirl the pan to coat with oil. Pour in the egg mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 12-15 minutes, tilting the pan so that the egg runs to the sides of the pan. The bottom should be firm and the top a little runny. Sprinkle with the cheese and place under a preheated grill for just long enough to set the top.

A good frittata should be firm but moist. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, sliced into wedges.

And finally, a soup to warm the cockles of one’s heart – an amalgam of soup recipes but based on one in Quiet Food.

Smooth Butternut, Sweet Potato, Ginger and Orange Soup

(Serves 4)


  • 500 g butternut squash and sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 15 ml oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 cm piece of ginger, grated
  • 5 ml black mustard seed
  • Pinch of crushed chilli
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
  • Juice of one orange
  • Coriander microgreens / sliced spring onions to garnish

Heat the oil in your favourite soup pan and fry the mustard seeds until they start popping. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for 2 more minutes, stirring. Now add the butternut, sweet potato cubes and stock and simmer until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove from the heat and with the help of a hand blender or food processor cream the soup. Return to the heat, add the orange juice and adjust the seasoning. Garnish and enjoy.

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What A Wonderful World

4 years ago, I decided to include a regular “photo-essay” type post on my blog featuring photos which weren’t essentially of flowers or vegetables (which, by the way, I usually include in Growin’ in the Wind posts). I called it What a Wonderful World and I hoped that my photos would tell the story when words eluded me. At the time I said that I thought it really is a wonderful world, that there is always beauty even in the worst moments. Have to say though that I’ve sort of lost sight of that sentiment lately. Feeling so helpless to ease my mother’s unhappiness and her wanting so desperately to die has dimmed the light somewhat and I’ve allowed myself to slump into a kind of a fog, just like her. Instead of seeing the beauty, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the gloom. As a result I’ve been hiding out in my warm, cosy bedroom and watching way too much telly.

Perhaps all that sense of darkness was in keeping with the lead up to the shortest day of the year here in the southern hemisphere. However, since the winter solstice has just been and gone and it is, after all, a celebration of light, I feel that the time has arrived to start focussing on the rebirth of the Sun and not its demise (which is rather ironic since I’m not going to experience a summer sun this year). And the reason for that is worth celebrating.

I’m going to be a grandmother – talk about silver linings! Kiera and James are expecting their first child in October and already I’m planning some major changes in my life, starting with me missing Spring and Summer here and experiencing three Autumns and Winters in a row. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures! I’ll be away from home for 5 months and am feeling slightly apprehensive about that – I have visions of hacking my way through the garden with a celemba (machete) to get to the house after a spring and summer of neglect – but am very excited to be part of this wonderful event.

So I’ve started seeing the beauty again – it really is a wonderful, albeit funny, old world. Or as my dad always used to say, “It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken”!

exciting times

a sounder of warthog visiting the old folk at Amber Valley

as well as a dazzle of zebra

Yes, you’ve guessed it – I’ve been brushing up on my collective nouns since our trip to Nambiti.

just another spectacular sunset

our garden shed resident

late afternoon walkies

me and my shadow

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” (Albert Camus)

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Cold Little Heart

8 years ago I swopped half a century of city life for a new start in the country. I had grown disenchanted with the life I was living and when Alex left home to go to university in the Cape, I decided it was time for me to make a move too. I was fortunate to have the smallholding near Nottingham Road as a place to escape to as I began the process of “finding myself” again.

What I had not seen coming was how much the empty nest syndrome would affect me and the year that followed my move to the farm (as we somewhat pretentiously call our smallholding) was a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows. I started writing about my experiences as a means to make sense of it all and eventually this turned into my blog.

When I first started my blog, a long and close friendship had just ended. I felt manipulated and hurt by this person and was tempted to give vent to my feelings via my blog. Not a good idea – not long after voicing these feelings I deleted some of what I had written because it had been written while I was still reeling from the betrayal and wasn’t yet able to be objective. I resolved then to rather stick to the Thumperian principle of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” But, as we all know, life is messy and people are not always nice. I would like to write about such things but I’ve discovered that it’s not so easy to do without coming across all bitter and twisted, especially when it involves someone close to you. Emotions get in the way and it’s hard to remain detached. It’s a lot easier to keep quiet and pretend that life is all hurrah and jolly hockey sticks.

I’ve always enjoyed reading a well-written memoir; we can learn so much from other people’s lives. I’ve just read actor Alan Cumming’s memoir Not My Fathers Son in which he exposes his fraught relationship with his father. I think he writes about it beautifully, no sense of anger or vindictiveness, just a need to make sense of it. As A Peek at Life has evolved, it has become a kind of serialised memoir of my own. But I’m aware that I’ve left out huge chunks of my life, the messy bits that I’m not ready to go public with and that includes family dynamics.

I’ve mentioned before that writing is my breathing space. “I write to understand as much as to be understood” (Elie Wiesel).  So recently, when I felt utterly let down by someone, I decided to write about it, not for publishing but for my own edification. And as I wrote a wonderful thing happened, I had an epiphany. I realised that it’s not about what other people do to you, it’s about how you respond and the choices you make. In fact, what caused the problem in the first place is that someone got hurt, blamed someone else for it and let the resentment fester. The resulting bitterness has clouded judgement, destroyed family relationships and broken hearts, irretrievably. And who benefits in the end? No-one. Bitterness can make a heart cold and small, leaving no warmth for any one but yourself.

People let us down, we let others down; sometimes intentionally but mostly through miscommunication. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and we just want people to be something they are not. So I’ve come to believe that best course of action in cases like these is to let it go. If there is nothing left holding you together, if you know beyond doubt that you are better off without this person in your life, take a deep breath and let it go.

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go

so comes love

~ e. e. cummings ~

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Jaya shiva shankara*

What a crazy month April was. It started with us moving my mum out of her wee house and into the Amber Valley care centre in nearby Howick. It was a distressing experience for all of us, which was hardly surprising given that she had lived with us, in Durban and on the farm, for close on 30 years. However, she managed to rally and the transition went better than expected – the hardest part really was getting her out of the cottage and into the car. After much fannying about, Kho, bless him, just picked her up and plonked her on the car seat, much to everyone’s astonishment! As we made our way up the driveway and onto the farm road, she said her goodbyes to her wee house and the farm and acknowledged that she was not likely to come this way again. It was, as you can imagine, quite an emotional moment.

Since moving, the transformation of Edna’s state of mind has been nothing short of amazing. She no longer spends all her time in bed and even enjoys being taken in a wheelchair for walks around the grounds. Gone is the agoraphobia and incessant complaining. It has once again become a pleasure visiting her; during the past 6 months I dreaded seeing her so much that I used to dose myself on Rescue before I did! But now I can finally relax and enjoy this time with her. Occasionally she’s still a bit delusional but we think this is more a case of how she, as a reclusive person, handles being around others and having them invade her space. The last time we visited, she regaled us with stories about how the carers and other residents all speak German and are plotting the rise of Nazism in Howick. Although she does believe this, she did have a twinkle in her eye as she confided her conspiracy theories to us. What a relief to see the sparkle come back, albeit a bit wackier than usual!

And what a weight off our shoulders; it’s definitely improved our quality of life – we have so much more freedom to come and go as we please without the constant niggle of worry about whether my mum was being cared for. This was hugely apparent and much appreciated during Kiera and James’ recent 3-week visit to South Africa. I haven’t felt so at ease in a long time.

April provided us with the most glorious autumnal weather as we spent time relaxing at the farm as well as travelling about KwaZulu- Natal. The first thing we did was to make a beeline for one of our favourite places, Nambiti, a private game reserve near Ladysmith. This time we stayed in unbridled luxury at Umzolozolo Lodge which is built on the highest point in Nambiti, giving us the most spectacular views from our chalets.

Umzolozolo lodge on the hill and sunrise from our balcony

Our game guide, Raymond, made the game drives an absolute pleasure and for the first time I didn’t freak out when we got close to lion and elephant. For years I’ve been terrified of close encounters with these animals but this time I felt quite comfortable and found the whole experience very enlightening. I also felt rejuvenated; months of worrying about my mum and all the guilt about the negative feelings I was having towards her simply fell away. If ever your soul needs replenishing, the African bush is a good place to head for.

Nambiti sunrises, game drive with Raymond and vultures on the pylons

Another place to head for is the hills and since we have the mighty Drakensberg on our doorstep, that’s where we went, staying in a timeshare resort in Champagne Valley. Some of us felt the need to walk in the mountains, while others felt quite content simply looking at them. A short hike in the Monks Cowl reserve reminded me that I’m not very good on uphills! On our last day in the ‘Berg, our friends, Ann and Bill, who are fortunate enough to live in this beautiful valley, took us for lunch at one of their favourite restaurants, Champagne Bistro. We shared a platter of tasty treats, which I can well recommend, as well as the very nice red ale from the brewery next door. We all loved being in the mountains, enjoying the great outdoors and the special energy generated by these magnificent peaks.

the Drakensberg and Mount Champagne resort

And on the subject of energy, Kiera and I spent her last weekend in SA attending a yoga retreat at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, while Peter and James went off to Southbroom on the KZN south coast to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of Peter’s younger brother, Richard, and his wife, Debbie. This was an incredibly precious time for me – Kiera and I have not spent any length of time alone since my trip to China nearly 10 years ago when the two of us spent a happy few days in Xiamen together. So this was very special. And the lovely couple running the retreat were our teachers when we first started yoga in Durban all those years ago when Kiera was still at school and later at uni, stirring up many fond memories of the times we spent at the Jivananda Centre in Durban North. The yoga, chi kung, meditation, as well as the healthy, wholesome food and serenity of the place was just what we both needed and we left with mind, body and soul suitably retuned.

Autumn at the BRC

Kiera and I joined Peter and James briefly in the lovely seaside hamlet of Southbroom, in time to enjoy Richard’s legendary calamari and prawn braai, catch up with Peter’s older brother, Billy, and his wife, Sharon, and to dip toes in the sea before heading home for the last few days of Kiera and James’ visit.

A week has passed since the painful goodbyes and everything feels slightly different; the house is quieter without our visitors, my mother’s house stands empty – her garden neglected and overgrown, even the dogs are subdued. But as the leaves gather under the Liquidambars and I reflect on April’s comings and goings, I am reminded of the need to keep moving forward. Autumn into winter, slowing down the pace but preparing all the time for spring. Must get those broad beans in, prepare the beds with compost and mulch, cut tracers for firebreaks ……. and plan my next trip to America.

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. (Martin Luther King Jr)

* I love a good sing-along and one evening at the BRC, Kiera and I joined in a Sanskrit sing-along, otherwise known as a kirtan. It was great fun and Jaya Shiva Shankara was one of the chants we learnt.



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100 years

Omigod I love my mother. She has always been such a character and a really good woman. She’s entertained many of our friends and family with her take on life and sense of humour. I remember a friend of mine telling her that she was getting married for the second time. “Why on earth would you want to do that?” my mother asked. “Just think of all the socks you’ll have to wash and all the meals you’ll have to cook, it’s just not worth it. Rather get yourself a wife!” (By the way, that marriage didn’t last longer than 6 months). For a woman who never finished school, she was quite capable of holding her own in any conversation, she kept up-to-date with current affairs and showed an interest in what others had to say. And she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind even if she knew it was not what you wanted to hear.

She was an amazing grandmother to Kiera and Alex and would’ve been to the other grandchildren as well, if she had been allowed to be. Unfortunately, family dynamics prevented this – it is one of her regrets. I am however eternally grateful that my children got to experience the totally unconditional love of a grandparent and as a result I think they are richer for it.

Recently however my mother became quite difficult. She gave up, turned her face to the wall and waited to die. Yet die she didn’t and quite frankly she just became a pain in the arse. I’m sure I’ve bored all my family and friends silly recently with incessant tales of difficulties with my mother, I’m pretty weary of them myself. So I’m feeling quite relieved to have finally taken the decision to move my mum into a care centre. It wasn’t so much that we were no longer able to care for her, it was more her increasing antipathy toward her caregiver, Thandi, and the resulting unpleasantness, that necessitated the move. Without Thandi’s help we would not have been able to cope but my mother was totally convinced that Thandi was stealing all her possessions despite us being able to show her that this was simply not true. As her quality of life has become more and more negligible, I have felt increasingly overwhelmed by the responsibility for her happiness, or lack thereof. In the end, I decided that I had a life to live and it should not involve being made miserable on a daily basis by my mother. As simple as that, or maybe not! There is still the guilt to contend with but I’m dealing with that. I’m lucky to have friends who have had similar experiences because talking through these issues has really helped me to come to terms with the situation.

On the day my dad died, I knelt by his bed and assured him that we would take care of my mum and I guess I believed I would be breaking that promise by putting her in the care of other people. However, I don’t think that either my dad or my mum would hold my decision to do it now against me because I’m doing it for what I believe are the right reasons. I have to acknowledge that I just don’t have it in me to be the kind of person to selflessly devote myself to my mother and I truly hope that the last few years of her life will be happier in the Amber Valley Retirement Village in Howick than they have been during the past year at Rocky Mountain. And even if they are not, I know that it is going to make a qualitative difference to our lives here.

I shall try to remember the good times with my mother, which were by far the majority, and look upon these times as an “eddy in the space-time continuum”, a blip in the grand scheme of things. And despite it being a difficult time, we have had quite a few laughs out of it and many lessons learnt. I’ve also rediscovered the incredible value of Rescue.

Believe it or not, I’m going to miss not having her next door in the wee house. We made a good team her and I. The other day, Judy and I were remembering the time I joined the university yacht club. I was not impressed by the somewhat sexist attitude of the committee which called for female students to volunteer for catering duties while the guys were asked to look after the boats. Because I objected, I became responsible for the maintenance of one of the Mirror dinghies. One of my first tasks was to sand and varnish the centre board. Needless to say, I took it home and handed it straight over to my mum, who from then on became the unofficial boat owner, and a splendid job she did too.

When I left home to move in with Peter, my father stopped my allowance. I was still a student and he continued to pay my fees but he reckoned that if I was living with Peter, he should support me instead. It wasn’t easy, so I took a couple of weekend jobs to help make ends meet – as a cashier at the OK Bazaars on a Friday night and Saturday morning and at the emergency chemist in Berea Road on Sundays. Unbeknown to my dad, once a week my mum would come to our Umbilo Road flat to do our ironing and she would always leave a R10 note for me on the ironing board. I think she knew that my dad had always given my brother preferential treatment and she tried to make up for it in her own way.

I have so much to thank her for, as a mother and as a grandmother to my children, but mostly for being my ally in life and I really don’t want to desert her now at the end of hers. So, we just have to make this work.

I must admit I was dreading the tour of the Care Centre and found the whole experience quite draining. However, as Care Centres go, Amber Valley really does seem to be a good place (pleasant staff, beautiful gardens, nice facilities) and the “inmates” looked at home and well cared for. For the first time in months I feel optimistic about my mother’s future. Here it seems pretty bleak but there, there is a chance of her getting more attention, more stimulation and, I hope, companionship. Perhaps the old Edna will come back, but even if she doesn’t, she’s bloody well done a good job.

A lot of people my age talk about not wanting to be a burden on their children. My mother has, for the most part, been more of a help than a hindrance so I don’t think we should regard taking care of our aged parents as a burden. It’s a challenge to be sure but, if we retain our sense of humour and keep the whiskey and Rescue on hand, it can be quite rewarding as it connects us to the full catastrophe that is life. I speak for my family when I say that our lives were made better for having “Enna” as part of it and I like to think that it was reciprocal.

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If I Ruled The World

There’s a particular kind of comfort that I find in places that house books. When I was a child growing up in Port Elizabeth, I looked forward with eager anticipation to trips with my mum to the library. The architecture, the reverence of books and hushed voices made me feel like I had entered a place of worship. And since we were an agnostic family, the library was, in a way, my substitute church.

Later, as a student at the University of Natal, whenever I felt lonely or confused, I would escape to the English Lit section of the library, which in those days was somewhere near the top of Memorial Tower Building (a lot more romantic than the present modern library). It was a small room with spectacular views over Durban and, surrounded by dusty old books, I always felt safe and reassured.

And later still, there was Adam’s Bookstore in Musgrave Centre. It became a ritual of mine to stop in there for a cappuccino and a browse through the bookshelves after the weekly grocery shop. This provided a much-needed respite from tedious housewifely chores.

So, it’s no surprise really that now I find myself as a volunteer librarian, hopefully exposing other children to the wonderful possibilities of a library. Every Thursday, Robyn (another volunteer) and I open the library at the Curry’s Post Primary School and provide a happy and stimulating environment for children to experience the pleasure of reading. Grade 4 – 7 learners (ages 9 to 12) come during break to exchange their books as well as to sit and read or play with puzzles. At first it was bedlam, with the children just grabbing whatever book they could lay their hands on. Now it’s so heart-warming to see them taking their time and poring over the books before finally choosing the one to take home. I just wish we had more for them to choose from, but we’ll get there. This year the Stretch Foundation very generously donated R5,000’s worth of books supplied by Biblionef as well as a lovely selection of Book Dash books. Local people have also made kind donations of second-hand books.

After break we have a half hour story time with the younger children (6 to 8 years old). Often, we sing songs, play games and do creative activities as well. Then it’s the turn of the grade 4 & 5 learners to have story-time with me while Robyn takes the older children for a more structured reading lesson.

Image result for michael morpurgo let there be half an hour of storytime

School finishes at 2 o’clock but there’s a group of about 20 children who wait for their taxi to come at 4 pm. So Robyn and I now keep the library open for them and have landed up starting an informal aftercare programme. By the end of the day we are both knackered, seriously in need of a drink (or two) but hugely fulfilled.

Neil Gaiman...on point, as always. "The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity.  And that means finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them."

Recently I found a carpenter to make me my own mini – library; it turned out rather well I think.




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