Still me

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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

28 May, Wednesday: Cold cures

I have been sniffling around the house with my first (and definitely my last!) cold of the winter. Mega-doses of Vitamin C, gallons of wild berry juice and some homemade chicken soup to share with the dogs have cleared my very fuzzy head. I am now feeling perky and ready to go. Confined more to the house than usual, I again enjoyed some of my precious collections. Here are my Hummel figurines on their shelf above the piano. This collection was begun by a gift from my American 'mom' and 'dad' when I visited them in Rugby, North Dakota in 1995 after an absence of 25 years. (I was an American Field Service student in '69-'70). I only know of one Hummel stockist over here and the cost is exorbitant due to the exchange rate. My modest collection has been built up through bargain discoveries in antique shops. Some might call the little Hummel lads and lasses sentimental art, but I love the innocence of these little friends. And I am unashamedly a sentimentalist!

And to ponder, a pithy quote inscribed on a headstone in an English country churchyard:

Reverence God
Respect man.
Preserve property. (Anon)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday, 19 May 2008: The death of a noble tree

This week I was forced to remove a huge tree in the grounds of Thatchwick Cottage. Its root system had started to crack my wall some time ago but after this summer's rain, I could no longer ignore the damage. Gert, my regular tree trimmer, did an excellent job to hew down the enormous tree whose branches hung over my wall, part of the road and the pavement in front of my house. I fled to my study from eight in the morning until lunchtime when the sound of the electric saws ceased. My dear friend, who is a well-known ceramic artist, is donating a special bowl for a birdbath to place on the waist-high stump as a peace offering to my garden birds... and here is a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins in memory of that tree.

Binsey poplars, felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the quenching sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering
weed-winding bank.

O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew-
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene;
Sweet especial rural scene.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday, 15 May: Making heirlooms

I just managed to put the final stitches to last year's quilting project. Here it lies in the dappled sunlight on the front lawn. Gal and Trist were shut in the kitchen while I took this shot. Anything that is spread on the ground is an invitation for them to walk all over it, turn around a few times and flop down. I'm afraid that even though I love them dearly, this particular 'blanket' took too many hours and has too many stitches in it.

It is always good to survey a final product, no matter how imperfect. This week I have been snowed under with urgent deadlines: the draft of a textbook, an article (academic, I'm afraid) and a conference paper as well as the work of some diligent postgrad students to review. The quilt reminds me that there is a life outside of work!

Thank you all for your comments. I have not had time to return your visits yet but am looking forward to indulging in a worldwide walkabout to all my blog friends!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thursday, 9 May: Tribute to my grandmother

New blogging friend at Take A Sentimental Journey kindly posted a vintage photo of my mom on her Mother's Day Hall of Fame. So I have decided to pay tribute to my maternal grandmother on my blog in honour of Mother's Day. Here is Maude Helen Woods nee Wolverton. Unfortunately I did not know her personally as she passed away when I was only three years old. But several of her possessions were passed down to me and a few stories. Again, not nearly enough. So those of you with living grandparents, make sure they share their stories with you before they are lost forever.

But I do know this. Maude Helen was born on 1 January 1877 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England.She had some training as a nurse or nurse aid and only married my grandfather, Henry Freeman Woods, at the very ripe age of thirty. As a local lad from a nearby town, my grandfather must have been something of an adventurer. He had already done a stint in Argentina, a very exotic location for an Englishman. When Maude and Steward married in 1909, he was on his way to South Africa or rather the Orange Free State as this was before South Africa had become a country (Union was in 1910). They must have travelled on a cargo ship to Africa, a far off and fearsome continent, when you were used to the gentility of middle-class English small town life. My gran brought with her an entire set of silver cutlery, silver hairbrushes and ornaments. I have bits and pieces of the collection in my house, all engraved with her initials, MW. They made their way from the coast by ox wagon to the dusty, dry, hot Free State to settle in Thaba Nchu, a dorpie or hamlet, some 80 kilometers from Bloemfontein. Life must have been very harsh in those days. The country had just suffered two wars between the British Empire and the free Dutch burghers and tension, even hatred, was still running high after the suffering incurred by both sides. Dutch women and children had died in their hundreds in the first-ever concentration camps run by the British, many situated in the Free State. But it appears that the English settlers in Thaba Nchu lived calmly side by side Dutch neighbours. The little English community was very much a replica in the wild of the best of English life. My mom told tales of picnics in the bush, jolly outings to climb the nearby kopje (hill),regular attendance at the Church of England church (Episcopalian), swimming in the mud dam and plenty of pranks. My grandmother never, ever saw the fishing boats of Great Yarmouth or her parents again, although some relatives did brave the trip to South Africa. My grandfather almost lost his trading store where he sold farming implements during the Depression and my mother remembers the family furniture being carted away for sale to pay the debts.

I have inherited the gold chain that Maude is wearing in the photo and her name as my second name. And what else, I wonder? What other of her characteristics are firmly embedded in my DNA or have been passed down to me by tradition: grandmother to mother to daughter?

Have a blessed Mother's Day! My girls will not be with me on Sunday but I know we love and appreciate each other as I know your children do you!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday, 5 May: A quirky poem for lasagna lovers & aspiring blog writers

The connection with everyone family's favourite dish (especially when the recipe is from Carluccio of London, like this veg and meat lasagne) and writing poetry (or blogs, for that matter) may seem obscure. But wait till you read this quirky poem by South African poet(ess), Finuala Dowling.

Talk, share, listen

I was meant to be writing a poem
but because I'm human I made a lasagne instead
while simultaneously composing a poem in my head
and thinking about an article I'd read, which said
poets on average live for only 62.2 years.
(It is Ferlinghetti's fault, I think, that we look so long-lived.
Born 1919 and still going - he may make a hundred.)
You can tell if a poet's depressed, say researchers,
because we write more "I's" and more "me's" and choose
fewer words of rapport such as "talk","share" and "listen".

Ho, hmm, talk, share and listen.

In fact I made two lasagnes, since some people like meat
whereas others won't eat things which once had feet.
I was cooking to escape my screen. On it were two lines:
"Poets end their own lives
But politicians have to be shot."

How dreadful. I said that. I wish I had not.

Ho, hmm, talk, share and listen.

There is an art to making lasagne while simultaneously
composing a poem. Lasagnes are quite complicated
and deep. They come in layers with blank sheets
in between. Lasagnes are best assembled alone,
in a serious and contemplative atmosphere, and should, wherever possible, be allowed to stand quite long
before being read aloud to create a frisson
at occasions where one gathers to talk, share and listen.


This comes from a collection of delightfully sad and funny poetry about love, family, writing and Cape Town, entitled The doo-wop girls of the universe, published by Penguin.

What do you think?

And, by the way, is it politically incorrect to say poetess? Woman poet? Surely not female writer!! I am sure Alexandra at Silver Bell Cottage can advise...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Saturday, 3 May: Skulduggery in the Tudor court

A public holiday on 1 May was the perfect excuse for a good movie. The novel by Phillipa Gregory, "The other Boleyn girl" has been made into a sumptous historical drama. And the dastardly deeds of Henry VIII and his court make today's politicians look quite mild. In spite of knowing the horrible history of the Tudors pretty well, my friend and I were on the edge of our seats as the tragic story of Anne Boleyn and her sister, Mary unfolded. I don't believe there is a painting of Anne, so Henry's next unfortunate wife will have to do. This is Jane Seymour to whom Henry was engaged the day after Anne was beheaded. How is that for a love life? She bore his only legitimate son and died 12 days later. How fortunate we are to live in the 21st century in a free society in which women can make their own choices! If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend it. Every scene is like a painting from Holbein.

On a lighter note, here is Gal and that smelly old shoe!
And a miscellaneous bunch of Thatchwick blossoms in the rusty watering can.

Early this morning I sped off in my car to the nursery (some 15 km away) before the Saturday traffic hit the roads and came home with a bootful (please, translate if you live in the US!) of plants: bright orange calendulas for colour, foxgloves, more plectranthus Mons lavender which thrives under the trees and some bargain crysanths in pink and cerise.