Still me

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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thursday, 26 February: Joan Didion and my own year of magical thinking

"Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know ends."

These are the opening lines of Joan Didion's honest and lucid record of her experience of the first year following the loss of her beloved husband, John Gregory Dunne. A year complicated by the mysterious illness of her only daughter, Qintana. A year when her own mourning had to be partly shelved as she waited outside the ICU ward where her daughter lay desperately ill and Didion negotiated medical terminology with the usual hurried and harried medical staff. A year when she re-visited her marriage before finally letting it go.

This remarkable book has a special place with four other slim volumnes on my book shelf in a section I think of, without self-pity or regret, as my Grief Library. When I lost my husband of 31 years somewhat over five years ago, part of my healing lay in sharing, word for word, the experiences of others. At a time when I could not concentrate on a phone number, let alone a movie or a novel, authors in my Grief Library were my faithful companions through the valley.

Joan Didion describes that year of intense emotion as the year of magical thinking. She, like a select few other literary alchemists (Alan Paton, CS Lewis, Emily Dickinson and Thomas Hardy, to mention a few) has the artistry to transform her grief into beauty, into art, into a memorial of words. At first I could not grasp the significance of her title; then I agreed. "Oh, yes, Joan. A year of dreadfullly sharpened awareness! You are right! A cuppa un-shared, a book, a movie, a sermon un-discussed. A joke, a rose opened in Thatchwick's garden, a tumble with the dogs, a rainstorm takes on a bleakness as well as a luminosity, when suddenly you are alone."

Am I becoming maudlin?

So let me return to the inimitable journalist, essayist and novelist, Joan Didion. She was born in California in 1934 and she lives in New York. Her style is distinctive: cool, economical, not an adjective wasted. She seems detached and icy even but underneath her pain is naked. Winston Churchill described the "essential structure of the English sentence as a noble thing." He would have approved of Didion's writing.

A postscript on her book is that her daughter passed away in 2005 at age 29 although she appeared to be recovering during the period that the book covered. Vanessa Regrave, a friend of Didion, stars in the one woman Broadway play. I think I could fly to New York just to see that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday, 24 February: A purse is a handbag

I confess I have a secret fetish which has developed as a kind of midlife obsession. I cannot resist a handbag: somber, brown leather; avocado green to match my sandals; small, black and beaded; large, red and bold. Above is my funky turquoise springbuck skin handbag, much coveted by all who see it.

The reason for the fuss? Miss Daisy has tagged me. Her first challenge is to:

1 Identify five items in your purse (which is a handbag if you speak Queen's English.) Well, Jean, in spite of that funky bag, I am a minimalist when it comes to the contents. You will find: my black wallet with cheque book and credit card; a strawberry coloured coin purse; a much-too-pink lipstick; an embroidered linen hanky (Kleenex make me sneeze); a pocket diary; and an ancient swatch of coloured fabrics acquired when I succumbed to the colour coding fad in the '80s.

2 Five things that belong in my workroom/study: My sewing machine parked behind my laptop (in case someone from work reads this and questions my priorities); books, books, books; family photos including a favourite of my late husband when he was twenty-four and in love (with me!); a red brick fireplace; a redbrick mantelpiece crowded with quaint porcelain and brass.

3 Five hobbies/activities I am into: Discovering the world of blogs and bloggers (such nice folk, all of you); art movies with sad enigmatic endings; Pilgrim's Progress (into which my nose is embedded at the moment. How artfully Bunyan shaped characters from metaphors); indigeneous gardening using our colourful South African plants (you may even have grown a few; bet you didn't know that they hail from here); tinkling light music on the piano keys after three years of re-learning classical.

4 Five things I have always wanted to do: Write a bestseller preferably with movie rights; make a million with said bestseller; retire early on profits of said besteller; visit Alaska;and taste truffles.

How's that? Now for any five other bloggers to take up the Big Five.

I am only going make one nomination: Raph G Neckmann

Raph is an unusual writer with a keen sense of humour. He lives in Giraffe's World, not Scotland. (That is a private joke!) Raph doesn't have a handbag so he can swop that question and mention five items that aren't in his briefcase but ought to be there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday, 18 February: Discovering my Grandma

This almost-century-old photo of my Grandmother, Ida Mabel Hammond (nee Boucher)(1890-1965) was snapped in 1917 in the former Transkei region of South Africa. The little tyke she is hugging is my Dad, Leslie Alfred Hammond.

Why the sudden posting? Well, Ida is the grandparent I knew the best; yet one about whom I know the least! This is about to change! A year ago I posted a query for information on a South African Ancestry website; this morning I received an email from Ida's grand-nephew, who lives in East London, South Africa. He found my query and mailed to say that he has lots of interesting family history which he is going is share with me.

What do I do know to date? Ida Mabel was born on July 21, 1890 in Queenstown, Eastern Cape. She was one of eleven children born to Priestwood Boucher and Mary Jane Boucher (nee Armstrong). Her parents were married in 1875 according to the rites of the Church of England. After young Ida married my grandfather, George Hubert Hammond, they lived on a trading station in the Transkei and had three sons: George, Leslie and Clarence. When my Grandpa lost his sight as a result of glaucoma, the little family moved to East London. Grandpa was employed as a gardener at a Children's Home, bending over the flowerbeds to smell the flowers which he could not see. Granny worked as a seamstress for a Department Store. Later the elderly couple moved in with their youngest son and family who lived in Pretoria; I was growing up in Cape Town. But I do remember Granny Hammond's infrequesnt visits to our home. She was a forceful old lady who spoke her mind. She taught me to lay a tea tray 'the English way'. She was optimistic, ramrod straight, bold and generous. I remember the gifts of a one rand coin made to my brother and I, although she had very little money of her own. She was always neatly dressed in home-tailored skirts, blouses and hand knits. She struck me as someone who was never a victim but who tackled life's setbacks with vigour. She adored her sons!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Monday, 16 February '09: The Serious Scribbler and her poetry debut

Passionate Poet Laureate of Blogland, Poetikat, has deemed me worthy of the Serious Scribbler Award. Instead of the usual acceptance speech, I shall make my debut as a poetess. Yes, poetess. Notwithstanding my rather well-known feminist leanings, I would you prefer it if you address me as a poetess. Such a pretty word, redolent of Elizabeth Browning reclining on a chaise longue and Emily Bronte, scribbling beside the fire while the wind wuthers in the trees.

In line with last week's canine sentiments, here is my first poem to be published on the Net!

Puzzlement by Yours truly

I am puzzled why poets
So seldom wrote

Is it that commonplace
Humdrum loyalty is
In favour of the more exalted?

1 April 2001.

Now I must return the honour.

1 Claire who shows great potential as photographer, writer and poet(ess).
2 Barbara Martin, friend, conservationist and writer of captivating fantasy who lives in the most beautiful neck of this world's woods.
3 Alexandra, my original bloggy inspiration and also Poet Laureate of Blogland. Please note the title of Laureate is shared by several poet(esses).
4 Pammie Jo, an avid reader and as you know, in every reader is a budding writer just tucked away waiting to emerge.
4 And the same goes for Sally, Blogland's smiling lady!

Here are the rules for the winners:

Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Oops, I myself never linked to Mr Linky so off to do so! And more Awards to post in this star-studded week. Ah, the trials of the talented!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday, 14 February,'09: Valentine wishes

I have picked a posy from Thatchwick's garden to wish you a happy Valentine's Day with your loved ones!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday, 12 February: Another doggie bloggie

Had a lovely dog story on the email this morning and decided to add my own little tale to the annals of canine loyalty.

Last month, I was a casualty of our hot, humid summer conditions. I was hit with an awful tummy bug (fortunately lasting only 24 hours). Saturday night saw me to and fro to the bathroom (and to the kitchen for ice etc). Doggos, who sleep in the kitchen, obviously could hear from the ‘smells and bells’ that there was trouble in the house! I was too exhausted and nauseous to bother to settle them again in their sleeping places. So Trist (always the headboy) assumed his place of guard at the bedroom's threshold. However, Gal, the sensitive type, spent the rest of the night going back and forth from my walk-in closet dragging every winter jersey he could find stored in the closet's lower drawers to my side. He can open the drawers himself, you see. Morning saw the floor next to my bed piled high with all my winter woollies and every odd shoe shoe, just in case I needed them in my distress!

Both fellows lay next to the guest room bed (where I retreated on Sunday morning for a change of scenery) until daughter Cath arrived with Panados, tummy pills and bottles of Energade. The moment they saw her, Trist and Gal rose, with a grunt of relief, murmured: "At last, we are off duty!" (dogspeak), retreated to the garden, leaving the rest up to her.

Woman’s best friend?

Here are two undignified shots of the boys chewing their chewers which I have smeared with Marmite! You need to be a South African to know about the delightful flavour of Marmite!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tuesday, 10 February: Sympathy

Sympathy by Briton Riviere (1840-1920)

We made them
in the image of our fears
to cry at doors
at partings - even brief
to beg for food at table
and to look at us with those big
aching eyes
and to stay with us
when our children flee.
And sleep upon our beds
on darkest nights
and cringe at thunder
as in our own childhood frights.
We made them sad-eyed
loving, loyal, scared
of life without us.
We nurtured their dependency and grief.
We keep them as reminders of our fear.
We love them as the unacknowledged hosts
of our own terror
of the grave - abandoment.
Hold my paw
for I am dying.
Sleep upon my coffin.
Wait for me,
in the middle of the drive
that curves beyond the cemetry wall.
I hear your bark
I hear your mournful bark
Oh, may all the dogs
that I have ever loved,
carry my coffin
howl at the moonless sky
and lie down with me sleeping
when I die.

Best friends by Erica de Jong

(Trist and Gal, where would I be without your unconditional companionship?)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wednesday, 4 February '09: Weekending away

Where was I last weekend? Down in Bloemfontein (trans. Spring of Flowers), capital city of the Free State Province, visiting Joelle and Jaelene. Tucked at the bottom of my suit case ("Your 'kootcase' ", says Jaelene) were the girls' quilts. Labelled: Lovingly made by Granny, 2009.
What bliss! On Friday morning I had a free time to meander the colourful streets of Bloem and popped into the Twee-toring kerk (trans. Church of the Twin Towers). Here the verger's wife, Daisy, showed me around the 160-year old building with obvious love and enthusiasm.

Afterwards I strolled up the road to my favourite antique shop, Die Waenhuis (The coachhouse) which, as you can see, is well-stocked with treasures. It's always a pleasure to chat to the well-informed co-owner, Bobby, and ask her for her 'best price, please!' Hmm! Now what treasure has my name on it? Silver teaspoons and book on Queen Victoria for Catherine. Bone handled dessert knives and porcelein budgies on a china branch for me. And the girls? I tossed aside the idea of yet more Barbie dolls...
...because standing on the pavement outside the front door was just the buy. A double 1940's school desk, dented, scratched, with spaces for inkwells, slots for pencils, a shelf for books and little seats that flap up when you respectfully stand to greet Sir or Mam. Much nicer than toys made of expensive shocking pink plastic!

Fortunately, the girls are made of the same sentimental stuff as their gran. They were delighted when their strange new 'toy' was delivered that afternoon. ("What is our present, Gran!" It's something unusual - just wait and see!") Both settled into the desk parked in the family room and began to draw. When best friends, Esme and Emile, arrived, the game was extended and the desk was the centre of attention! "We're not playing school, Gran. It's Office, Office!"
On Sunday, we dressed in our best for church. And that meant princess dresses worn at last year's ballet concert. Jaelene donned her ballet shoes; Joelle prefers the grass under her feet!
The days were hot and sultry. Just right for showing Gran the progress that has been made with the skill of swimming.

Sunday lunch was enjoyed on the lawns at Olievenhuis (trans. The House of Wild Olives), this little city's own art gallery. The lovely grounds are filled the avantgarde sculptures of the local art students, nestling under thorn trees. Here little girls can choose a surrealistic beast to ride on the The Carousel.

A pixie wearing a Viking helmet and platform heels piped the end of the weekend as we turned to head homewards, pack and take a reluctant Gran to the airport.

" I am going to miss you, Gran!"
" Going to miss you too!"