Still me

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday, 31 October: Early sunset

I caught the dying sun setting yesterday evening at about 18h:30.

And that reminded me of another poem! The sestet from Gerald Manley Hopkins' sonnet: God's Grandeur.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday, 30 October: Brideshead revisited

Going to a matinee on a Friday afternoon felt deliciously decadent as I abandoned my PC, locked the dogs to sleep in the cool house and treated myself to a viewing of 'Brideshead revisited'. All on my own - no neighbourly comments to distract, no popcorn to crunch, not even a chocolate bar to unwrap soundlessly - I feasted on the latest movie version of one of modern novels I most admire: 'Brideshead revisited' by Evelyn Waugh.
Emma Thompson made a stately, stern yet human Lady Marchmain, Michael Gambon was there as a crusty and repentent Lord Marchmain (just for you, Willow), Ben Wishaw as the tortured Sebastian, Hayley Atwell as a robust Julia and Matthew Goode as a cool yet not unaffected Charles Ryder. Castle Howard provided a magnificent Brideshead.

I enjoyed the movie but, of course, it cannot supplant Waugh's magnificent prose. Some may think the story a criticism of stern religion; others about illicit love in between-wars Britain. Personally, I think the main theme is about men and women's futile attempts to escape the Hound of Heaven.

"I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter." (Francis Thompson)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday, 24 October, 2008: Cottonwool clouds

These early morning clouds over Thatchwick Cottage are tufts of cottonwool. A wet weekend is forecast for Johannesburg and Pretoria. Our spirits have already been lifted by some spring rain which has given a green sheen to the brittle, yellow veld grass. The prospect of more rain is a great conversation opener with all and sundry: the petrol attendant at the garage, shop assistants in the mall, casual passersby on my early morning walk, Unisa colleagues and friends.

Pretoria afternoon by Anthony Delius is a poem about summer thundershowers.

There leans on the horizon's fence
a slow explosion of heat,
that towers white, grotesque, immense,
above the end of Schoemann Street.

The grieving jacaranda trees,
each on its bruise of fallen flowers,
are withered senators whose pleas
rouse no one in a fatal hour.

The dark mechanic roads run by-
the petals drip on them in vain-
and self-absorbed the black wheels ply
their way with a strange sound of rain.

But vast now in the passiate skies
a praying-mantis reaches down
stretching its pious claws to seize
the helpless insect of the town.

Scared refugees of light and shade
flee west across the startled hills,
men stare from shelters they have made,
feel earth grow stronger that their wills.

The dry earth cracks - and through it comes
a black tremendous man who's dressed
in plumes and ox-tails, urged by drums
with spears of lightning in his fist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday, 21 October: Seasonal rhythms

The shy and gangly visitor to my fruit table, the grey lourie, is now busy picking berries from the flowering cherry. I have noticed, at this time of the year, for a period of about eight weeks the fruit eaters which are so busy at the fruit table for the rest of the year leave the bananas, papaya and apple untouched. They prefer to feast on what Nature is providing on all the flowering trees and shrubs. And so it should be!

On Friday evening the lightening flashed spectacularly and the thunder rolled to usher in our first spring rains. Only about 10mm fell but it was enough to exclaim, to whomever you met, the next morning, "We had rain, did you?" On Saturday evening another electric storm led to good showers; last night, soaking rain brought down this Masked Weaver's nest. I shall keep it for Joelle when she visits in November. She is a budding zoologist/entomologist! Mr Masked Weaver builds nests in a frenzy of activity; the Missus pulls them apart with equal energy until she finds one to her liking.

The hadeda ibis is so frequent a visitor to my garden that the dogs just ignore these prehistoric looking birds. They have glossy grey feathers and I call them my 'peacocks'. The call of the hadeda flying to and from roosts is one of the most familar calls in Africa: ha-ha-ha-dah-dah! I love the shrill sound over the thatch roof in the early morning.

So the year has its rhythms. Here in the Southern Hemisphere our commercial and school year runs in an orderly fashion from January to December. It is in December - Christmas time - as most call it, that schools close and folk take their long break. So as the sun rises earlier and sets later, we are all slowing down. I have finished my major academic writing projects for the year. Work will fill my in-basket and my in-mail till the day before Christmas but the worst pressure is off.

PS I want to recommend two attractive South African blogs for anyone who can manage yet another blogspot!!!! The Max Files shows the work of an excellent photographer situated in Port Elizabeth on the coast. My life in a picture is lyrical and lovely, like Claire, its author. I must also mention that the Internetional Award comes from the blog of a delightful 79 year lady in Poland at

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Friday, 17 October: A moonlit Skywatch

A full moon glows through the clouds over my back garden. And a poem for all Skywatchers and other friends.


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way and that she peers and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter de la Mare

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wednesday, 15 October: The Inn of Sixth Happiness

I grew up with the stirring story of Gladys Alyward, the little Cockney domestic servant, who went to China in the '30s as a missionary, without the blessing of the China Inland Mission and with just a few pence in her pocket. Her life of faith in God and great human courage is worth reading or re-reading: The small woman by Alan Burgess. See if you can find a copy! I was inspired by the tales of how she forced muleteers to sleep the night in the Inn of the Eight Happinesses (the Eight Beatitudes) so she could tell them Gospel stories, unbound the feet of little girls, faced a prison riot, the Japanese invasion and led 'her' children to safety. Gladys had to leave China during the Chinese Revolution and settled in Taiwan where she died in 1970.

The wonderful movie entitled the Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring a magnificent Ingrid Bergman is also a golden oldie worth revisiting. You can watch a tantalising 10 minute synopsis of the movie on You I guarantee it will whet your appetite.

And to contemplate on this Wednesday are the Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5), the be-attitudes which Gladys exemplified so well:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteouness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday, 10 October: Bits and bobs for Blue Monday

The flower of the Plectranthus xerophilus is described as mauve in my lovely coffee table book, The Southern African Plectranthus and the art of turning shade to glade by Ernst van Jaarsveld. However, viewed in my garden, I think it appears blue. So here we are on a Blue Monday! It is a homegrown plant, one of a genus of 53 (so discoveries are taking place, thanks to the endeavours of Ernst van Jaarsveld), indigeneous to South Africa. My beloved country has an amazing flora and fauna diversity. Excuse me for bragging, but the floral diversity is 23 000 species and its historic contirubtion to world ornamental horticulture is enormous. Did you know the pelargonium cultivars (geraniums) and the hardy little hen and chicken hail from here? Others are proteas, aloes, mesembrianthunums, clivias, gladioli, freesias, Barberton daisies (a kind of gebera) and arum lilies.

I love this little plant and have several genera in my garden. Why?

Let Ernst tell you: "These plants tolerate mishandling and can build confidence in gardeners who think they do not have green fingers".
I finished this extra easy quilt top which is blue-ish and pink on Saturday. It is for Joelle who turns six pretty soon and it matches her bedroom decor. Now I must make another for Jaelene (aged 3). These two little girls are at the stage where gifts must be given in tandem and preferably equally pretty!

I had a blast last week with Skywatch Friday and found so many new intriguing blogs in farflung corners of the globe. These bloggers are quite a different mix from you, my regular blogging girl-friends! Very international and some serious photographers. But great fun and I get to communicate in Afrikaans with skywatchers from Belgium and Holland!

Friday, October 10, 2008

10 October, 2008: Cloudless skywatching over Pretoria

Cloudless skies over the geometric shapes of the buildings of my alma mater and the university where I have been teaching for twenty-two years. The University of South Africa, fondly known as UNISA to hundreds of thousands of alumni, including Nelson Mandela.

The admin block at Unisa. Teaching is done through distance education (mainly print, but rapidly changing to hi-tech).

Pretoria lies in a mauve haze as the jakaranda trees flaunt their glorious blossoms in honour of Persephone. In the far distance are the stately sandstone Union Buildings, the seat of the administrative section of the government of South Africa.

The skyline of down town Pretoria where shoppers bustle under mauve pools of shade.

The view from the 10th floor of the Theo van Wjik Building at Unisa.

Now what to do under skies so blue? Gal finds working tedious on such a magnificent day and takes to the pool in Thatchwick's backgarden for a little exercise.
Not true to his water-loving breed, Trist prefers to look on with just a hint of a tolerant smile.

Thank you all Skywatchers and good blog friends for popping in to enjoy my part of the world! Now I am off to enjoy yours!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Monday, 6 September: Blue Monday

After sky and sea, the colour blue spontaneously conjures up the robes of a Madonna in my mind's eye. Here are the exquisite blues of the Conestabile Madonna which is housed in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg/Leningrad. May the sight of mother and Holy Child bless your Blue Monday!

This (and Book Club to be held tomorrow evening at Thatchwick) reminds me of the poignant novel: 'The Madonnas of Leningrad' by Debra Dean, which I read earlier this year. The story deals with an elderly Russian woman's memories of the siege of Leningrad during which time she was a guide in the Hermitage Museum. Amidst those days of inhuman carnage and suffering (the starving museum staff ate the glue used to frame the paintings to keep hunger at bay), the young guide would wander the great halls of the gallery, stopping at each empty space on the wall (the artworks had been removed to safety) and describe to herself from memory the great paintings of Madonna and child which had hung there.

And now - emails, articles to be rounded off and mailed to publishers, assignments to mark, calls to be made....before Tuesday.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday, 3 October: Skywatch Friday

I took this photo of jakarandas against a cloudless sky from my backyard at 7h30 this morning. In Pretoria we are scanning the skies for a hopeful wisp of cloud, listening for the rumble of distant thunder and checking the activities of ants and other little creatures which may indicate the advent of the spring rains. Temperatures rose this week to 36 Celsius. Gusty, hot winds blew. We, living in the interior of the beloved country, South Africa, are so dependent on the summer rains.
The ancient jakaranda in my garden is turning purple and the roses are blooming.

Carrie at Oak Rise cottage is a faraway friend. Her mom turned the grand age of 90 years very recently. This sweet pink rose is for your mom, Carrie.

Poetikat, poet of note and the creator of great You-tube videos, mentioned to me that her mother loves white roses. My single iceberg standard is not doing well but I hope she will enjoy this creamy rose!