Still me

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

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday, 18 July 2008: Travelling light

Just a few hours left before the shuttle comes to pick me up. My little cabin bag is packed and it is almost the same size as my handbag (US purse). I am a minimalist when it comes to packing: just three light summer dresses, two crotcheted bolero's, undies, pj's, toiletries, camera, conference paper, my pocket Bible and books to read. Then it's just the outfit and shoes I shall be wearing. After many trips abroad, I know that travelling light is best. Cabin luggage means I don't have to wait for the bags to arrive at the airport and no chance of luggage going astray. That's a nightmare I have experienced several times.

Woofs are safely deposited at the kennels and they both rushed off quite happily to the pens.

While I'm away, I thought you might enjoy reading one of the life stories which form part of my conference paper. M's story of loss and recovery.

M. is a 53 year old unmarried woman. She is blind in one eye, a visible disfigurement. The eldest of six children (including three sons), M.' s parents were unskilled workers. Early in her childhood she conceptualised her predicament of grinding poverty whose resolution lay in obtaining an education. She recounted her enjoyment of her schooling at a small rural primary school. M.’s first loss was partial blindness caused by the neglect of an eye injury which occurred when chopping firewood without adult supervision, a task delegated to her by her parents. Her second loss was when her parents forced her to drop out of school after her seventh year of schooling and to enter domestic service to support her brothers’ education. This action taken without any consultation was tantamount to dooming M. to a life of poverty. She felt betrayed and helpless. M. ‘recovered’ by enrolling herself in an adult learning centre where she slowly “collected” enough subjects to obtain a school leaving certificate. Another threat to her self-actualisation emerged in a marriage arranged by her parents without her consent. This time M. was sufficiently empowered to resist their plan: her school leaving certificate had enabled her to improve her employment position to that of shop assistant in an upmarket city department store. This meant that she enjoyed some financial independence although still living at home with her extended family. M.’s epiphany occurred when a regular customer at the store pointed out to her that she was eligible for admission to higher education and suggested her enrolling in a distance education institution. M.’s adjustment of her identity is reflected in her words: “And to think, I was just a shop girl!” With the assistance of this customer, “an angel”, M. obtained a government grant and entered a local teacher’s training college, this time with her father’s blessing. After her subsequent graduation and employment as a teacher, she enrolled at a distance education university and eventually achieved an undergraduate degree and thereafter two postgraduate degrees in education. Today not only does M. see her educational achievements in terms of recovery from her losses, but also as a vindication of her determination to obtain an education and a reversal of the injustices suffered at the hands of her family. Before their deaths, her parents expressed regret for their earlier decisions; ironically none of her siblings made use of their educational opportunities which their sister had financed at such great cost. M. has rationalised and forgiven her parents’ actions which she ascribes to their own lack of education. M. currently holds a senior management post in her school and owns her own house. She “loves” her job; regards her alma mater as her “school” and her lecturers as her “mothers”. She is openly proud of her accomplishments and regards herself as a competent and respected professional and a financially independent woman.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday, 16 July: La vie en rose - I'm off to Paris

On Friday 18 July I shall be departing Oliver Tambo/Johannesburg International Airport for a conference in Prato, Tuscany (just a 15 minute train ride from Florence), where I shall be giving a paper (more about that later this week). I have a stopover of two days in Paris! And who better to exemplify the spirit of the French capital than Edith Piaf (1915-1963).

The throaty tones of the Little Sparrow often emanate from my CD player, especially when I am cooking. Born Edith Giovanna Gassion, she was named after Edith Cavell. When I was young, I was captivated by the story of the heroic Edith Cavell, the British nurse who was executed by firing squad in WWI for helping French soldiers escape German captivity. Edith Piaf's life was very different from that of her namesake but I think she was also a brave woman to survive an extremely deprived childhood. Her life is difficult to summarise: growing up in brothels, singing and doing acrobatic performances on the streets of Paris as a teenager, she was discovered in the Pigalle area by a nightclub owner. Her Svengali taught her stage presence, nicknamed her 'the little sparrow' and instructed her to wear her trademark black dress. Edith married twice, had several lovers and reports of her activities during WWII range from performing for the occupation troops to helping individuals escape Nazi persecution. Her most famous song, La vie en rose, Life in the pink, was recorded in 1945. You have seen the 2007 movie by the same title for which Marion Cotillard won an Oscar this year, haven't you?

Linking to Edith, the survivor of childhood trauma, my conference paper deals with the life stories of four African women (my former students) who triumphed over childhood deprivation to become qualified teachers with postgraduate degrees. When I have packed my little suitcase, I shall post an extract!

PS My thanks to dear friend, Karen Harvey Cox at the magnificent A scrapbook of inspiration who has kindly awarded me a prize! Karen, I will try to publish the award and my seven prizewinners before I fly! If not, as soon as I return!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Monday, 14 July: Birthday fun

Friends, family, food and fun made for a very good birthday on Friday! Thank you for all the good wishes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Friday, 11 July:Comtemplate the two Emily's (while I stir the soup)

Busy with last minute touches to the birthday luncheon, so make yourself comfy in the sitting room and comtemplate the two great Emily's of literature. Gal and Trist will keep you company while I stir the soup and pop the garlic loaves into the oven.

Emily Bronte (1818-1848) lived on the windswept Yorkshire moors in isolation from any intellectual buzz except for the company of her brother and sisters. Her attempts at employment as a governess failed; her life was cut short at thirty and she only wrote a single novel. But what a story that was! Wuthering Heights just simmers with passion, frustration and turbulence. As the wind wuthers across the Yorkshire moors, so does it wuther in the emotions of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. (Do you remember that Dickon in The Secret Garden talks of the wuthering wind?) Neither Heathcliff or Cathy are favourite characters of mine, too cruel and capricious, but I love the way Emily created the bleak, grim atmosphere of Wuthering Heights.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) lived most of her life in self-imposed isolation in Amherst, Mass. She was reclusive, eccentric and dressed mostly in white. In later life, she hardly left her room. But like all great writers she understood the psychology of the human heart so well, too well. She wrote over 1 800 poems, many about death and immortality. I was endeared to Emily in the days and months after my husband died. I find these lines searing even after five years...

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth -

The sweeping up the heart
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

This Emily Dickinson poem is especially for Alexandra.

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door:
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.
Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperior is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I've know her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wednesday, 9 July: Now for the swinging 60's

1969 - and ah, the lads from Liverpool!

In 1969 I was seventeen. n' Jonge dame van Huis Heemstede, Universiteit van Stellenbosch(trans from Afrikaans: A young lady of the House Heemstede, University of Stellenbosch). This photo was taken during my first week at university and the badge is my residence pin (something like a sororiety pin). I made the dress myself and it may have had a prim white collar but its length (or lack thereof) made up for it - a real mini skirt!

But I really yearned to look like Twiggy, the face of 1969!
In 1969, even I could spell Chappaquiddick. President Nixon had been inaugurated and South African news broadcasts brought us daily updates on Vietnam. We listened to the radio to form a picture of Neil Armstrong's 'giant small step for mankind' as South Africa did not have television at that stage.

Woodstock rolled in August but I was safely tucked away in New Dakota as an exchange student while Joan Baez crooned. I was a very straight teenager (don't regret that) - I never smoked grass, wore flowers in my hair and it took years before I made my first visit to San Francisco. But I loved the Beatles and Bridge over Troubled Water was my current favourite. I tried to have my hair cut like Mary Quant and wore thick eyeliner and pale pink lipstick but it just didn't have the same super-duper effect.

I read John Fowles The French Lieutenant's woman but skipped Portnoy's complaint. I wore mini skirts, maxi skirts and bell bottoms. I thought lasagna was the most sophisticated dish to order and cool still just meant chilly. Everything was fabulous, fab or fantastic!

I studied English lit at university with a year break while I was in the US. I discussed philosophy (didn't ever made much sense) and politics (hot stuff) in the only cafe in the student town of Stellenbosch to show how highbrow I was. I scored A's for Shakespeare, English novel and the Romantics. DH Lawrence made my blood tingle.

When I am 64 (Beatles)

When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me
a Valentine Birthday greetings, bottle of wine
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty four
You'll be older too
And if you say the word
I could stay with you
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater
by the fireside
Sunday morning go for a ride
Doing the garden,
digging the weeds
Who could ask for more
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty four
Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera Chuck and Dave
Send me a postcard drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely
what you mean to say
Yours sincerely wasting away
Give me an answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty four

I wrote a straight A essay on the title to this song. Wish I could read it now. In just seven years I will be 64!!! How ever did that happen?

Tuesday, 8 July 2008: 1950's fashion

I was born on 11 July 1951 in East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa. When I was 18 months old, Dad was promoted and was our little family (my brother and parents) relocated to Cape Town. Dad bought our home for six thousand pound sterling in the beautiful coastal suburb of Camps Bay. Today houses, like our family home, reach millions of South African rand (multiply by seven to get US dollars). With Twelve Apostles mountain range nestled behind our house and the white sands of Camps Bay beach a five minute walk, it was an idyllic place to grow up. Here I am in my school uniform on the first day of school. The page is from my scrapbook and my school report states that in the third term: "Eleanor's reading needs particular attention." Fortunately, that has been sorted out in the last 50 years!

Mom was a wonderful needlewoman and all her clothes were made on the old Singer. She loved to dress smartly: peep toe shoes, nylons with seams deadstraight down her shapely calves, gloves and a hat to complete the outfit. Pencil slim skirts with fitted jackets and a brooch on the lapel were her favourites in sober navy blue or grey. She made me dresses with net petticoats which scratched...and knitted jerseys which also scratched!

We spent our summers on the beach. I remember mom's bathing costume, skirted for modesty.

On 2 June 1953 Princess Elizabeth was crowned in Westminister Abbey, London as Elizabeth II. South Africa was still a member of the Commonwealth and we were all avid royalists. I am adamant I can remember crowding around our only wireless with my parents to listen to the hushed proceedings. But maybe that memory is just based on the anecdotes my parents told me about the great event. For years, I used to refer to Our Queen, much to my husband's chagrin. "What on earth do you mean our Queen? We're a republic! "

Here is a sketch of Norman Hartnell's wonderful gown designed for HRH.

More memories tomorrow.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday, 7 July: L'Chaim: Celebrating life!

"...the leaping goldenly (sic) spirits of trees and blue true dream of a sky..." (with my apologies to ee cummings)

How did you celebrate life in your little corner of the globe this weekend?

My experiences ranged from celebrating birthdays to moving boxes and household paraphernalia into a new, first proper home.

July is certainly birthday month on my calendar - friends, a daughter and myself. On Friday a group of six enjoyed a lively ladies' lunch at a restaurant in the mall while a pianist played smooth tunes to accompany the clatter of forks and knives and the chatter of conversation. Saturday meant several phone calls to Ruth in Bloem to follow the progress of her birthday, hour by hour. She had general surgery hours in the morning but a special dinner of prawns at home in the evening before a private viewing of the Three Colours: Red, White and Blue. Saturday morning saw me at a breakfast on the balcony at Harry's Pancakes overlooking the wooded surburbs of Irene soaked in glorious golden winter sunshine. It was a friend and colleague's birthday, which she always celebrates with an infectious childlike delight: "Julle (trans. You all) I love birthdays especially my own! I know it's not etiquette but can I open my presents now?"

The rest of the weekend was taken up by packing and unpacking cars as my daughter and son-in-law moved into their first townhouse amidst the dust, rubble and chaos of unfinished renovation. Interrupted only by a joyous church meeting on Sunday, we worked hard and moved lock, stock and barrel.

Friday 11 July is my 57th birthday and you are all invited! Do dress casual and come at noon to Thatchwick for a selection of winter soups and crusty breads. If you only have a lunch hour, there'll be time for a warm bowl of broth! If you have the afternoon off, linger for coffee and fairy cakes which, I hope, will be stacked in a sweet, toothsome pyramid! I have asked far too many people ("Mom, you always ask too many people! So it's a little late to start worrying about seating now!")so one, two or a dozen dear bloggers will be more than welcome.

And to celebrate birthdays, spiritual or biological, is ee cummings' lovely poem.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everthing
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing- human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ear of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wednesday, 2 July:Vita Sackville-West

I am currently listening to a tape reading of the charming collection of gardening articles by Vita Sackville-West, the English poet, gardener and novelist (1892-1962). Vita's life was colourful and bohemian: born to third baron of Sackville, she grew up at Knole Castle in Kent. Her childhood was unconventional; she was educated privately. Her otherwise distant father took her on long country walks and discussed science and Darwin. As a debutante she mixed with the Prince of Wales adorned with Cartier jewellery at Buckingham Palace. She married the diplomat, Harold Nicholson in 1913. After a stint in Contantinople they returned to England and eventually bought Sissinghurst Castle in 1930 in an almost derelict state. This is where Vita planted her famous white, grey and green garden. I have never been there - just read about it. She is, of course, also known for her love affair with the ill fated Virginial Woolf and her novel, Orlando.

The photo in side bar is of Nuttery at Sissinghurst, a wild copse of hazel trees that grow denser as spring turns to summer.

Living amongst the bright, bold, extravagant colours of southern African gardens, I admire the dedicated discipline of a gardener who could restrain herself to a colour scheme of mainly white.

Here is a poem by Vita. I echo her sentiments in the first few lines; not the rest!

- Days I enjoy
Days I enjoy are days when nothing happens,
When I have no engagements written on my block,
When no one comes to disturb my inward peace,
When no one comes to take me away from myself
and turn me into a patchwork, a jig-saw puzzle,
A broken mirror that once gave a whole reflection,
Being so contrived that it takes too long a time
To get myself back to myself when they have gone.
The years are too strictly measured, and life too short
for me to afford such bits of myself to my friends.
And what have I to give my friends in the last resort?
An awkwardness, a shyness and a scrap
No thing that's truly me, a bootless waste,
A waste of myself and them for my life is mine
and theirs presumably theirs, and cannot touch.

Tuesday:1 July, 2008: Prizes for some & flowers for all

Now something about me is that I sleep soundly and peacefully every night under my thick thatch roof. In a crisis, I sleep; when the neighbour's dogs bark, I sleep; when things go bump in the night, I say a prayer, turn over and sleep! But last night I tossed and turned under my pink mohair blanket.

Who of all my dear creative, innovative, kind, caring, wonderful blog friends should I honour?

I felt like I was a school teacher all over again - having to single out pupils for prizes. I squirmed like I did when I was a full-time mom, and Ruth received a prize and Cath didn't or vice versa!

But I can't put off the dreaded decisions any longer or I shall not be true to the spirit of the Arte Y Pico Award. Here are the five award winners - I tried to choose bloggers who are new to me (so that they know they are great discoveries) and I eschewed my old favourites (you surely know who you are!).

1 Susan at 29 Black Street
Susan lives in Nova Scotia and her wistful photos of her dogs brought a lump to my throat.
2 Pamela Terry and her crown prince, Edward at the House of Edward Pamela and her very handsome dog would have graced any great European throne of bygone days.
3 Ms Daisy at The daisy chain Ms Daisy has started her blog without the luxury of her own digital camera.She is painting her pictures mainly in words which is a lesson to all!
4 Viola at All things bright and beautiful Viola is a stylish professional with an exquisite blog but humble and friendly enought to share the most useful blogging tips with the technologically challenged like me.
5 Judy at Grand Lake I had to give you an award for yesterday's blog homage to that all important community resouce, the library.

Now the Award is in your court and you can bat it over the net to the next five winnners. (See the rules of the game below.)

And the rest of all you dear bloggers, above are two lovely flowers from my bare winter garden. They are no compensation prizes either! A pointsettia to remind you of Chrismas and a strelitzia regina (crane flower).

Rules of the Award in summary:
1 Choose 5 super blogs!
2 Publish on your blog and a link to each of the winners' blogs.
3 The winners must show the elegant trophy and add the name and link of the one who awarded you the prize.
4 Acknowledge also the link to the Arte Y Pico blog. How I wish I could speak Spanish! Gracias, Arte Y Pico for a lovely tradition.