Ghost In A Machine

The past two weeks have been extremely tiresome as I have had to deal with one computer malfunction after another. I consider myself to be fairly competent around technology and in our home I’m known as “Mrs Fixit” when anything mechanical goes on the blink, from water pumps to the satellite gizmo. And when my computer plays up, I’m usually quite capable of handling it on my own – it’s a bit like detective work and I enjoy the challenge of solving the puzzle. In this instance it helps that I have a stubborn streak, like a dog with a bone I won’t let it go until I’ve fixed the problem. However, recently the motherboard in my computer blew, thanks to Eskom’s voltage fluctuations, and instead of replacing it I asked the computer repairman to put my hard drive into Alex’s unused computer. I was relieved to get the computer back with my hard drive intact, but it wasn’t long before pleasure turned to pain. Alex has Windows 7 which, for some reason, has a problem with my Telkom 3G internet connection. After a couple of hour-long phone calls to Telkom I finally got the connection sorted, but it is still very erratic. Then I realised that Alex doesn’t have Office so I tried to load that only to discover that his disk drive doesn’t work. So I downloaded it which took about 5 hours. Hallelujah, I could then access all my documents, but not my emails. I then discovered that Alex didn’t have Skype either, so I downloaded it but couldn’t get the mike to work. Of course I couldn’t load the software for the video cam (broken disk drive, right?) so I had to download that. Finally I got Skype, speakers, mike and video to work and I was proper bucked with myself. But, as we all know, pride comes before a fall because I then couldn’t load my Photoshop software and intense frustration started to set in. The final straw was when the screen went black and messages started popping up telling me that Alex’s version of Windows was not authentic. That was when I threw in the towel and admitted defeat. Fortunately Alex has come home and is busy sorting out all the glitches for me and hopefully everything will be running smoothly again before too long.

It’s scary how dependent we are on our computers, for me it is my link to the outside world and I’ve missed not being able to post my blogs, so please bear with me if this one is somewhat disjointed. So much seems to have happened recently and I think it may be my last post of the year because soon Peter, Alex and I will be heading off to the States to visit Kiera and James. And the tigers have been snapping at my heels as the countdown has begun. We discovered that when one travels to the States, one either has to leave one’s suitcases unlocked (which is a no-no here in S.A. as luggage theft at airports is rife) or have TSA locks for which USA customs officials have the master key. So we’ve had to ditch our wonderful old Samsonite suitcases that do not have the appropriate locks and spend a small fortune on new luggage that does. The next item on the agenda is forex and we have delayed buying dollars as the exchange rate has been so dismal, 8.86 rand to the dollar today, yikes. Still, it has to be done, and soon.

Before we leave we’ve had to make sure that Njabulo and James won’t go hungry while we’re away. We did a big shop with them on Sunday and included some Christmas treats like bulk supplies of biscuits, sweeties, ice cream, tinned fruit, custard and jelly. They will spend Christmas day with their paternal grandmother and I hope they will all enjoy a jolly good feast. Although I’m impressed by Shoprite Checkers in Howick, which does cater more for the poorer members of society, the cost of groceries is still scary; but what can you do? We also have to make sure that all is well on the home front and that my mum is taken care of.  Fortunately Peter’s sister, Meg, is going to look after the house, doggies and OAP in our absence and I’m busy stocking up the pantry, freezer and wine cellar for her.

Talking about wine cellars, we were recently invited to join a wine tasting club. At the turnoff from the N3 to Nottingham Road, about 7 kms from our farm, there is a restaurant run by Matt, an extremely enthusiastic and charming young man. It is open every day but only on a Friday night for dinner and we’ve come to regard it as our local. The appeal of the restaurant is that we always feel welcome there, it is frequented by a regular crowd and the food is simple but fresh and consistently good. Recently Matt initiated a once-a-month wine tasting event and invited 16 of his regulars (ourselves included, I’m chuffed to say) to join him at the restaurant for an evening of unpretentious wine tasting and good food to follow. Alex attended the inaugural evening with me since Peter was away on business, and we both had a great time. I’m a pleb when it comes to wine and it was actually quite interesting to try wines that I don’t normally drink and discover that I quite like them. Not sure that’s a good thing!

When Peter moved to the farm, he had no idea how to adjust to semi-retirement and enjoy the more sedate way of country life. He has been living with stress for so long that, when he got here and was forced to relax and go with the flow, he became quite prone to developing a lot of ailments. My yoga teacher spoke highly of a woman, called Claudia, who practices reflexology and Reiki in Nottingham Road, and I made an appointment for Peter to see her. He goes to her once a week and what a difference she has made. He is so much more relaxed and there have been no more complaints of ill health since. Claudia, it turns out, is one of 7 daughters of a Mr Mitchell who ran a school in Nottingham Road for 50 years, after his father started it in 1922 (Claudia’s sister has since taken over the reigns). The school was the first to admit black children, thus losing its government subsidy, and it was quite a progressive little enclave in the Midlands. Claudia invited us to the school’s prize-giving ceremony on Saturday, where we were entertained to a performance of a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, and an incredibly tasty lunch, prepared by her sister who runs the school’s kitchen. What was so weird was that at the concert Peter got chatting to the woman sitting next to him who turned out to be someone he knew from the ngo sector at the University of Natal and she is married to the one and only Mitchell son. Not only that, after the concert we bumped into someone else that Peter used to work with and we discovered that he was married to another of the Mitchell daughters. What a small world.

More small world stuff. Alex bought me a copy of Marguerite Poland’s memoir “Taken Captive by Birds”. I had seen a review of it and expressed an interest, not really knowing much about it. I love her children’s books, many of which I bought for my children and have kept for non-existent grandchildren, and we also have her beautiful book on Nguni cattle; so I was intrigued. I have met her on a few occasions at the home of mutual friends but I never really got to know her, which I now regret. The book is a beautifully written and illustrated memoir of her childhood in Port Elizabeth, in an area called Sardinia Bay. For me it is so evocative of a time and place that I knew well and have such fond memories of. I wish that I had known that we shared this little bit of history when I met her.

“It was a small community strung along a coastal valley threaded by a white-lime road leading to a long stretch of unspoilt beach.”

I remember that road well, it seemed to glow at night when the sea mist came rolling in and we were searching for the entrance to my friend Alan’s homestead, which was marked, as I recall, by white-washed stones. She mentions him in her acknowledgements and it brought all those memories of some of the best parts of my own childhood flooding back. To some extent I even think that I am where I am now because of Al’s cabin; because sub-consciously we gravitate to things that remind us of happy times, and my spot here in the Midlands often reminds me of “The Bush” (as Marguerite Poland refers to it). And it’s not just the similarities of being surrounded by natural vegetation and birdlife but it’s also the sense of freedom that I had as a kid to be myself that I now seem to have regained. Al’s parents owned a bookshop in P.E. and their house, I swear, was held up by books; I loved its country feel. He stayed in a wooden cabin in the garden, but the loo was in the main house. There was a plate glass window in front of the loo (fortunately from waist height up when sitting) with a great view of the garden and it was not uncommon to be in the middle of having a widdle and have someone walk past, waving. I have a lot of growing up memories that are firmly located at Al’s cabin at Sardies but I‘m afraid, without permission from all concerned, I can’t repeat them here.

It is that time of the year when all the baby birds appear in the garden. My absolute favourite are the Cape wagtail chicks who sit on our doorstep, all cute and cuddly.

Marguerite Poland writes:

The most tender of all is the wagtail. Small, grey clockwork creatures swaying on its splinter legs, it trips across the lawn, through the flower beds, along the warm brick path, companionable and trusting.

Cape wagtail chick

Cape wagtail chick

The swallows returned to their nest on the outside of our bedroom door and a couple of weeks ago I woke up to a great commotion as the chicks were introduced to the joys of flying. They make the most delightful noise when they enter and exit the nest, it sounds like the gurgling and chuckling of a very happy baby and it never fails to make me smile. We’ve shooed two wild cats away from the house, which I’ve been told are quite rare, but I really don’t want them too close to the francolin chicks, which seem to be nesting in the garden. I haven’t seen Thumper since, mind you. And a baby mongoose has appeared on the lawn, eating the food that we put out for the birds.

A few weeks ago Kho was mowing the front lawn when he called me to come and see the very big nkonko. I misheard him and thought he said nyoka (snake).  So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I went to have a look and was relieved to see that it was a huge, male bushbuck and female companion grazing in a clearing. We always used to see a pair of bushbuck and their lamb on the property. Sometimes they would graze on the koppie and we would catch a glimpse of the magnificent male silhouetted against the skyline. But in recent years they have not been around, perhaps because of all the game fences going up around us, or maybe our neighbours’ dogs were a problem as they roamed the property. So I was very excited to see them back and so close to our house and I’m hoping that we will be seeing a baby bushbuck before long.

male bushbuck (nkonko)

male bushbuck (nkonko)

The watsonias and freylinias are constantly visited by sunbirds (mostly malachite) and his nibs, the cheeky little pin-tailed whydah, is back in the garden, terrorising all and sundry. The garden and birdfeeder provide us with such a colourful spectacle at this time of year; there really is no need for Christmas decorations. And so, with nature blossoming and babies booming all around us, I wish you all a very happy Christmas, thank you for reading my blog and I’ll be in touch again in the new year.

red bishops and weavers make a colourful display at the feeder

red bishops and weavers make a colourful display at the feeder

his nibs

red-collared widow birds

red-collared widow birds

these plants have popped up on the koppie, they look like orchids (?)

these plants have popped up on the koppie, they look like orchids (?)

a bit phallic, wouldn't you say?

a bit phallic, wouldn’t you say?

are you coming, or what?

are you coming, or what?

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2 Responses to Ghost In A Machine

  1. michele harpur says:

    Hi Cathy – a great read! I had forgotten the white stones and the loo. How you remember this all! And now, having visited your farm, I can place everything that you talk of. Very special. Have an amazing trip and I look forward to your Jan blog. Lots love, Michele

  2. Angie and Ken says:

    Hi Cathy
    Ken and I just love all your blogs especially now as we are in London for 12 months looking after our little grandson. All the bird pix make us quite homesick thinking of all the babies we are missing in our garden. Hope you have a wonderful time in the States with Keira and her husband and family. Looking forward to hearing all about it. Buon Natale Angie & Ken

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