Still me

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Grace notes

Grace notes are defined as notes which are not essential to a melody or harmony.  That may be so bun the player can add them, surely for sweetness or effect.  So...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

On the other side of the chalkboard or, me and my MOOC

Last night I found myself on the other side of the chalkboard – a student listening attentively to the wisdom of the teacher. I read the course instructions, once, no, twice and then all over again. I struggled to open the correct links and felt the frustration of a distance education student who cannot just put up her hand and say, “Excuse me, Professor, but can you help over here?” I felt the panic of the new student who is overwhelmed with deadlines. The tables were turned; the teacher became a student again.

What happened?

I have enrolled for a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course – presented without charge. This MOOC is offered by the ‘Writing University’, the University of Iowa considered the top university specialising in creative writing in the US. What a privilege and one of the mind-boggling benefits of living in the technological age! Here I am in Africa transported to the classroom of a university thousands of miles away. Of course, this should not surprise me – I have been teaching at a distance university for nearly 30 years. But my tuition only stretches to email and in-text comments on my students’work.

I viewed my first YouTube lecture presented by two established novelists from different cultural contexts and with what first appeared to be juxtaposed views on the writing process. But in the end, they converged on so many points – writing needs time and discipline, requires no formal qualification just the compelling desire to express oneself, its outcome, the joy of creation.

Grace Notes: Grace turned a week old on Thursday. She has exceeded her birth weight, weighing in at 2,6kg. She opens her eyes and stares wonderingly at my face, then falls asleep again. All is well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The first rose of summer

Just Joey can be relied on to produce the first roses of the new season. This standard is sixteen years old, planted by Richard when we first moved to Thatchwick Cottage. Its stem is thick and gnarled. its roots go deep judging from its resilience to my sometimes erratic watering. It is a full blown rose which does not last well indoors in a vase. But the bees love its generous open center.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Our Grace

The world has had some remarkable Graces. Princess Grace, charming, beautiful and dignified, comes to mind immediately. Gracie Fields sung encouragement into the hearts of troops during World War Two. Grace means pleasing, beautiful, kind and merciful. This tricky pregnancy has also been a journey of grace. And here she is... Our Gracie. Jethro was  overwhelmed. He immediately began to teach her to talk. Cath looked remarkably chipper and was ordering tomorrow's meals when we arrived. 
Ryan and I are mightily relieved. We are all grateful.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


‘Nasturtiums’ - For Karin

Once you picked a fistful of nasturtiums
Rambling wild along the banks of the Breede river
They filled the mouth of a brown stoneware jar
A flaming bunch: yellow, orange, red
Streaked with black
Encircled with round, veined leaves
So I would know they were for
You set them on the table next to my bed
I ate a flower nipped from its juicy stem
My tongue tasted
Colour, yellow-orange-red

1971, 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Stepping straight into summer

In a day or two temperatures have risen from the early 20s to over 30 degrees C.  The door to my study has been flung open and the budgies' cage is again hanging under the thatch eaves. I know 
I should be doing the Grandma thing and teaching Jethro his letters but sitting in a deck chair watching him water plants, dogs and himself is more fun for us both. Summertime and the livin' is gonna be much easier!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Letters from home

‘Dear everyone’

So Dad begun his letter dated 14 February 1991. It is written on tissue-thin, white pages without lines – Dad’s evenly spaced sentences guided by the template that came with each pad of Croxley’s airmail notepaper placed carefully beneath each transparent sheet. His opening line acknowledges the receipt of my letter written a week before and airmailed from Pretoria to Cape Town – the proof of our ongoing written conversation.

Of course, my parents and I took turns to make cross country calls weekly. But the calls never replaced the letters. A clinging, interfering, suffocating family circle? Not so, we all led strong, independent lives; exchanging letters was just a way of life to my parents. I can still see my mother writing letters at the mahogany writing desk in the corner of lounge, the blotting paper with its mysterious half-captured squiggles at the ready. Sunday nights she wrote in bed using an upturned tea tray as a desk: long weekly epistles in her small neat print to her sister, Eve, on the dusty drought-stricken farm outside Grahamstown, Joyce, her sister-in-law, in her neat suburban bungalow in Port Elizabeth, her never-to be-forgotten friends in East London, the great-aunts in England. She wrote thank-you notes to neighbours and letters of congratulation to nieces and nephews on their exam results or their selection to a provincial hockey team. She wrote letters to Mother Superior to explain my absence from school after yet another bout of tonsillitis. She wrote letters of condolence to the bereaved on special notepaper edged in black. “Jill’s had a new granddaughter or caught the flu or bumped her car or won a prize for her marmalade – I must write to her,” was Mom’s constant refrain.

Dad once retired, took to writing letters, a habit well learned during the war years. This particular letter has an encouraging word for each one of us. He worries over the conflict in Iraq and reminisces over his own bygone war. ‘There are no winners in a war”, he counsels. Mom’s new pills for Parkinson’s, he assures, are working wonders. His game of bowls is improving and - tell Ruth, he adds, he never forgets to feed the doves on the front lawn. He sends pats for the dogs and love to all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014



Prompted by impulse
I enter the back garden
Lush in its green winter

A frog
Drifts on the surface of the
Too-blue pool
Black eyes stare
I grab the scoop
Angle the basket beneath
The pale belly and outstretched limbs
And forklift him to safety

He crouches motionless
On leaf litter
Among the ferns
A small cobblestone
Tarnished bronze, black and green

I return thrice
To find him
In the selfsame place

For the man-made hazard
The crass treachery which mars his kingdom
I beg his pardon
 Then he is gone
Vanished into shady hiding

I  marvel at the nudge
Which sent me
Mid-task, mid-afternoon
To rescue
A frog

Monday, September 1, 2014


During a search this morning on the net I noticed that Wikipedia is calling for photos of monuments.  Monuments tend to summon ideas of  huge buildings, men on horseback cast in bronza and mounted on a plinth, columns covered in names of the honorable dead. But a monument may be anything of enduring value to humanity like the bronzed shoes scattered on the banks of the
Danube as it flows through Budapest. Men's boots, women's high heels, children's shoes. In memory of the victims of the Iron Cross who tossed them into the river to drown during World War II.