GOODBYE SHAWN; MY BROTHER, MY FRIEND

Grief is a pervasive thing. It is a relentless companion, sometimes falling into shallow slumber, only to wake when least expected – at mundane times, like when one is making a cup of tea or eating a sandwich. It comes awake ruthlessly, hacking with icy fingers at the chambers of the heart and bringing one to one’s knees.

My brother died two weeks ago. It was a brutal death. He was in a coma for seven days and, at first, I prayed for his recovery, and then I prayed for his death and a merciful release for the tortured body that was being kept alive by machines. I held his hand, kissed his forehead and told him it was OK to let go. The end of his life was senseless, hope of recovery from the grotesque dance that his alcoholism had trod with him came, but it was too late.

I’ve chosen to remember him happy, young and carefree. I hope he has found that place again. shawn

RIP SHAWN CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS

6 MARCH 1968 – 9 SEPTEMBER 2014

I LOVE YOU. ALWAYS AND FOREVER.

(Photo credit: Peter Gerber)

And a repost of something I wrote long ago, about the day he came into my life:

GETTING A BROTHER

There were no children my age to play with; it was a brand new suburb; all red earth and building rubble. Both parties of most couples went out to work, walking together to catch busses. My mom and dad each had a car, which was quite unusual at the time. They misguidedly thought nursery school was a cruel business, an enclave for neglected children; only marginally less horrible than the orphanage they threatened to send me to if I didn’t eat my spinach.

There was, apart from the lovely, fat and funny Willemienah who cleaned and cooked; a nanny who’s sole purpose was to feed me, clean me and make sure that I didn’t engage in any activities that would lead to my needing stitches or the services of the Police Force. Her name was Martha and to this day I remember what it felt like when she wiped my face with a warm facecloth, sprinkled with 4711 cologne, after I cried because of a fall. I ate my meals with them, sitting on the concrete courtyard floor; tomato and onion gravy with stiff maize porridge. I’d have it for lunch any day, still. Only much later did it dawn that Sotho was not the only language on daytime radio.

I begged and pleaded for a brother and my parents kept telling me it was not the right time. I was six before I realised that I was lonely.

From time to time my paternal grandparents would come to take me to their farms, early on to Excelsior and later to Tweespruit. My Ganny Sue taught my to sew a neat stitch and my Gampy let me walk out with him after supper, ostensibly to make sure the cows were tucked in, but really to smoke his secret cigarettes. They allowed all the rules to be broken; I didn’t have to bath every day, especially not if I’d swum in the reservoir. We sometimes had stewed peaches and custard as our supper!

On returning from a long visit, I walked into our bathroom, where my mother was drying herself after a shower. She had become fat, something I hadn’t noticed during everyday contact and I told her so. My dad overheard and joined us in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the tub and pulling me onto his lap. He told me that my mom was growing a surprise for me in her tummy and could I guess what it was? I said ‘a bike?’, but they laughed and said I’d have to wait and see.

Perhaps a fortnight or so later, I’d taken my skipping rope and gone up the road to visit with an old lady whom I’d befriended and who allowed me to pretend that we were grand ladies taking high tea on a cruise ship. Her kettle had just boiled when Martha puffed in and said I should come home at once. She hoiked me onto her back and trotted down the block.

My parents were sitting in the lounge, my mom holding a soft parcel. They beckoned me to join them and my mom opened the parcel so that I could see the scrunched up little person they were giving me.

His name is Shawn and he is one of the best friends I have ever had; my little brother who grew to be bigger than me in every way conceivable.

I’m really quite fond of you, grumpy old codger. And so very proud.

THE QUINCE QUESTION AND COOKING LIKE CORDOBA

I was quite surprised – reading some comments on my last post – to learn that the quince is not widely known. I’ve always loved this fruit, with its quality of romantic history. When I was a child the trees were everywhere and the fruit abundant. Nowadays, it seems the tree has become unfashionable and the fruit is rarely available and – when it can be found – is obscenely pricey.
From Wikipedia: The quince /ˈkwɪns/ (Cydonia oblonga) is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears, among other fruits). It is a small deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature. Throughout history the cooked fruit has been used as food, but the tree is also grown for its attractive pale pink blossom and other ornamental qualities.

Most varieties of quince are too hard, astringent and sour to eat raw unless ‘bletted’ (softened by frost and subsequent decay). High in pectin, they are used to make jam, jelly and quince pudding, or they may be peeled, then roasted, baked or stewed.
The flesh of the fruit turns red after a long cooking time. The very strong perfume means they can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavour. Adding a diced quince to apple sauce will enhance the taste of the apple sauce with the chunks of relatively firm, tart quince. The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from “marmelo,” the Portuguese word for this fruit.
Quince trivia:
In Turkey, the expression ayvayı yemek (literally “to eat the quince”) is used as a derogatory term indicating any unpleasant situation or a malevolent incident to avoid. This usage is likened to the rather bitter aftertaste of a quince fruit inside the mouth.
When a baby is born in Slavonia (Croatia), a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life.
Ancient Greek poets (Ibycus, Aristophanes, e.g.) used quinces (kydonia) as a mildly ribald term for teenage breasts.
Although the book of Genesis does not name the specific type of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, some ancient texts suggest Eve’s fruit of temptation might have been a quince.
In Plutarch’s Lives, Solon is said to have decreed that “bride and bridegroom shall be shut into a chamber, and eat a quince together.”
I was interested to find, in my research, that the quince is used in Argentinian cuisine. As my daughter is currently there for six weeks on a cultural exchange programme, living with a host family in Cordoba, I’m very keen to try and replicate what she could be eating while she’s there.

 

MY DAUGHTER WITH HER HOST FAMILY IN CORDOBA

MY DAUGHTER WITH HER HOST FAMILY IN CORDOBA

It’s rather fascinating to discover that our food culture so closely mirrors theirs. Beef barbeque is as popular there as it is here. In Argentina the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish, jelly-like block or firm, reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo, very good with a nice slab of steak.
Quince cheese, also known as dulce de membrillo, is a sweet, thick, jelly made of the pulp of the quince fruit. Quince cheese is a common confection in several countries, where it goes by various names, such as carne de membrillo or ate de membrillo in Spanish, marmelada in Portuguese, codonyat in Catalan, cotognata in Italian and membrilyo in Tagalog.

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Pic credit: Wikipedia

Recipe adapted from here: http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/easy-quince-cheese-recipe-membrillo-467/

I added two chopped chillies to the mixture.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to eat my lunch … and daydream that I’m right there with my daughter, sharing in this wonderful adventure she’s on …

 

AN ANNIVERSARY AND A REAWAKENING

I was dreaming of food. Crisp baguettes, the flesh of the bread a virginal white, still steaming from the oven, and ripe cheese, its borders creeping towards the edge of the plate. Grapes and plums, stacked high in bowls, dusky and fragrant, their scent filling the air.” The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes.

Almost exactly to the date of the anniversary of my move into my apartment, I had a week-long leave from work. Restless and feeling that niggling Calvinist guilt at the prospect of a period of sloth, I was nonetheless determined to have a bit of a holiday – I had a new novel that – unexpectedly – had food reference throughout, and a stash of sweets. So, as one does, I also stocked up on what has been my staple diet for the past year: pot noodles and sardines. My kitchen has been neglected for the better part of the past year, with hindsight I now understand that neglect to be part of my grieving process. In any event, the pot noodles had to be laid aside when my microwave oven and my kettle died within two days of one another. I was forced to engage with my gas hob and oven.

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Removing the microwave to the rubbish collectors, I cleaned the counter top, rather pleased with the rearranged space and hauled my coffee machine out of its retired status and – very peculiar – the desire to cook again came over me. I had to bake immediately and did so, muffins first, then a tomato and onion tart tatin.

A lamb tagine followed; enough for two days’ lunch. I was mortified by the layer of dust that coated the tagine when I took it down from the shelf.

I went shopping and rediscovered that unfortunate-looking fruit of my childhood: the quince. Ah! Bought a little pork fillet and pan-seared it with cumin and ginger, then wrapped it in peppered smoked Black Forest ham and roasted it with the poached quince …

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“As lamb is often suited to flavours redolent of its habitat – grassy, herbal, maquis – so pork is complimented by the earthy flavour of cumin. Sprinkle ground cumin on pork tenderloin or chops before cooking …” The Flavour Thesaurus, Niki Segnit.

And so it goes, as if the advent of the end of our winter has swept spring back into my kitchen, I am filled with resolve to cook, if not every day yet, more frequently. And my healing heart can only grow stronger; one day at a time …

I just need something to look forward to, she wants to say. I just want to smile without having to think about which muscles to use.” The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes.

LE DIVORCE AND A LOOK BACK AT 2010

I’m aware that a new blog post is long overdue, but I’ve had the most dreadful blogger’s block and a lingering bout of self-pity masquerading as depression. To get me back in the saddle, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to revisit a post I did back in early 2010, and see how many things have changed or are still the same.

I am: made up of my life experiences, but am constantly changing.
Update: I am also – as of 25th April, finally divorced.

I have: about 54 pairs of shoes, most of them red.
Update: When I moved out of my marital home two years ago, I culled my shoe collection. I now own about 30 pairs …

I know: that I am unique.
Update: Deep down inside, I still believe this, but the depression sends me many “What’s it all about, Alfie?” days.

I think: I should have put the fillet in marinade an hour ago.
Update: Ah, that was the good life. I now rarely eat red meat, but when my budget allows I do indulge in a good steak, like I did to commemorate my divorce.

I don’t think: the weekend is going the way I wanted it to.
Update: My weekends bear no resemblance to those of four years ago. Now they are quiet and contemplative, with none of the frenetic entertaining I used to do. I attend 12-Step recovery program meetings and read or watch a movie. With my cat. The past weekend was very bleak.

I want: to change some very important things soon.
Update: How prophetic that answer proved to be!

I have: a tendency to cry easily.
Update: Yes, I still do. Takes very little to get the waterworks going.

I like: avocado pears.
Update: I like my boss. A lot.

I dislike: self-indulgent, egomaniac, me-me-me drug addicts.
Update: Renovations. We’ve recently had a lot of work done on my boss’s home (she practices from home) and – while the results are delightful – the inconvenience and mess were a hair-pulling experience.
I now have far more empathy with the drug addicts.

I hate: winter.
Update: Yep, no change there!

I dream: an impossible dream. But still I dream it.
Update: Ditto.

I fear: something so much that I don’t want to put it in writing.
Update: Again, ditto!

I am annoyed: quite often of late.
Update: By traffic-light beggars who swear at me when I have nothing to give them.

I crave: sunlight and starshine.
Update: Somebody with whom to share early-morning and late-night musings; someone to take turns with to make the morning coffee.

I usually: drink two cups of coffee a day and three glasses of wine a night.
Update: I usually have pot-noodles for lunch at work and drink far too much coffee. Those glasses of wine … oh, how much pain they ended up causing …

I search: for some good in everyone, often it is hard.
Update: For reconciliation with my daughter who has, once again, removed herself from my life. I’m told it’s quite common in the case of divorce for a child to become resentful to rebel against both parents if and when they try to present a united front in disciplining the child. Such is the case at the moment and my grief forms the backdrop to my daily life. I just have to keep the faith and keep praying that she returns to me soon.

I hide: my secret pair of Crocs away from everyone.
Update: See above re my daughter – I hide my pain daily and try my best to present a cheerful front.

I wonder: what Marthinus (my first boyfriend) eventually did with his life.
Update: What would have happened if I didn’t have all those glasses of wine every night …

I know: that madness is just a moment away for everyone. Some will evade that moment and others will succumb. Look at the survivors of the Holocaust.
Update: I will survive this period of my life.

I just can’t help: myself from reacting to bigots.
Update: Still guilty ….

I regret: a great many things. But looking in the rear view mirror may make me miss a signboard, so …
Update: The 2010 answer still makes sense …

I love: Quentin Crisp until my dying day.
Update: Spoiling myself with a bunch of fresh flowers once a week.

I can’t live without: writing.
Update: The 12-step recovery programme. I literally won’t be able to live without it.

I try to: deliver the best version of me. I really do try.
Update: Still trying …

I enjoy: swimming naked at night in summer.
Update: Getting into bed early, in warm pyjamas with a good book.

I don’t care: much for Chardonnay.
Update: I don’t care that I live in a ‘dodgy’ neighbourhood, I love my apartment.

I always: dry my feet first when I get out of the bath.
Update: Yes, still do.

I never want to: be misunderstood, but it happens all the time.
Update: I never want to be homeless.

I rely on: my husband, too much perhaps.
Update: And look where that got me ….

I believe: that there are things I cannot change.
Update: Yes, still, and God grant me the serenity to accept those things, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

I dance: and it embarrasses people, so I try to only do it when I am alone.
Update: Far, far less than I used to.

I sing: and my family get very cross about it.
Update: On Sundays, when our local radio station plays golden oldies. My cat leaves the room when I do.

I argue: badly. I am non-confrontational and generally a pacifist.
Update: Ditto.

I write: constantly, without it I would die.
Update: Infrequently of late, which makes me sad.

I win: wine sometimes in competitions. I am lucky that way.
Update: I don’t enter competitions aymore.

I lose: my reading spectacles very frequently.
Update: No change there …

I wish: I could fix something I broke.
Update: I could turn back the clock …

I listen: to classic rock on DMX channel 119 almost all the time.
Update: More carefully to what people are saying than I used to.

I don’t understand: Swedish, but I am working on it.
Update: How my life changed so much in so few years. (And I still don’t understand Swedish … )

I’m scared of: again, I can’t write it down.
Update: Financial insecurity.

I forget: family birthdays. Always.
Update: No change there either … but Facebook has helped a lot.

I am happy: enough.
Update: Some days. On the rough days I just roll with the punches and know that things will surely get better.

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BEING THIN, RITUAL SLAUGHTER, REJECTING SWAINS AND CONTINUED GRATITUDE

No roses to wish my readers a happy Valentine’s Day, but I’ll share a photo of a belated housewarming gift I received from one of my neighbours last week. Her name is Ethelynne, she’s 86, Jewish and is an incorrigible gambler. She tells me that not a week goes by that she doesn’t buy a lotto ticket and has done so since the advent of the lotto draw in this country.

lounge potplant for blog 14 fe

I’m settling into my apartment with increasing enjoyment and I continue to ‘play house’; having finally unpacked the last of my boxes, the place is beginning to look more like a home and less like a furniture warehouse.

entrance hall for blog 14 feb

lounge couch for blog 14 feb

lounge long view for blog 14 f

lounge wall for blog 14 feb

After the disastrous encounter with the amorous Italian Paratrooper, I am meeting more of my neighbors and have begun to acquaint myself with the diverse African cultures that make up the melting pot that constitute the tenants of this building.
Without being familiar with the South African accent, one may miss out on the humour in the exchange I had with an ancient lady from the third floor the other day: I’d arrived in the foyer to find her trying to wrestle her shopping bags into the equally ancient elevator, while struggling to keep the heavy door from squashing her tiny, crippled frame to a pulp. The sweet old dear must be over 90; I’d hazard a guess that she may well be over a hundred years old. The doors swished shut and I said “I’m Cindy.”
“Oh,” she said, “I’m thin too! Always have been, no matter what I eat.”
I managed to restrain my mirth while I carried her bags to her door, but I now smile every time I pass the third floor.
Less amusing, and very alarming, is the rumour – conveyed to me by our busybody caretaker-lady – that the Nigerians a few doors down from me are trainee witchdoctors and are slaughtering live chickens in their apartment in order to use the blood for rituals! I’ve taken to keeping a beady eye on Princess Ally’s demeanour, in the firm belief that cats have a superior sense of knowing about the nearby presence of evil of any sort and that – if the chicken-slaughter story holds any truth – Princess Ally would be going about hissing and spitting with her heckles up. On the contrary, she is the most relaxed cat I’ve ever known and her show of “How dare you have left me alone for so long?” indignation when I walk in the door at the end of the day is an act worthy of an Oscar. It’s quite apparent that she’s been happily sleeping since my morning departure.
I fact, I have – on occasion – had to pat her gently to wake her!

ally on windowsill

In other news, I’m loving my job; I must have the nicest boss on the planet and I steadfastly believe that an act of God lead me to be employed by her. I’m very grateful for the amount of free time my job gives me, which enables me to fetch my daughter from school most days. Watching this child of mine undergo the transition from girl to woman; to change daily before my very eyes, never ceases to take my breath away.


The most surprising news I have to tell is that I’ve had tentative overtures from a few potential swains. I am, however, only just beginning to enjoy my single status too much to reciprocate in kind and my inner-grammar-Nazi makes their (there!!!) amorously texted declarations of honourable intent cause me to break out in hives – as opposed to eliciting a demurely flattered blush to the cheeks.
Still, the fact that I am engaging in even vaguely romantic dialogue is a sign of my miraculous growth over the past two years. I often catch myself, these days, marveling at how far my spiritual journey has brought me to be in the world which I inhabit today.
I’m living life on life’s terms; one day at a time. And I’m finding it more joyous than anything I could have imagined…

HAPPILY AND GRATEFULLY IN THE 2014 SADDLE

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within.

– Albert Schweitzer

2014 has started with sparks of blessings from many quarters. First off, on the 8th, I celebrated my birthday with an outpouring of love from so many quarters that I was left breathless. I was spoiled at a lovely brunch by my dear friend of 44 years, and she surprised me by having two old schoolfriends join us.

My birthday celebrations continued throughout the week, with many plates of delicious food being consumed in superb company.

I’ve been further blessed to find the perfect job, in the most beautiful environment. I am personal assistant to a psychologist who works from her beautiful home. I work four days a week, two of which are half-day, so I am lucky to be able to spend time with my daughter, who has started at a new school this year and has a busy extra-mural calendar – how nice for both of us that I am able to step in and do much of the ferrying to and fro.

My work colleagues are two cats and a sausage dog, all of them will – no doubt – provide me with lots of blog fodder. The cats consented to having their photos taken, but Maddie is a discerning hound and will – hopefully – allow her picture to grace this blog in her own sweet time.

 

I continue to be grateful to God for my rekindled relationship with my daughter. I am loving getting to know her boyfriend too, he is a wonderful young man and it melts my heart to see how gently he treats my child. They celebrated their first anniversary together on the 12th and I pray that they see many more happy years together.

My best wishes go out to all my blog friends for a blessed 2014. Thank you all for your love and support.

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.
– Henry Van Dyke

WRESTLING, ABUNDANCE AND A FAREWELL TO 2013

I’ve been the target of an unwelcome suitor. A knock came at my door some weeks ago and I, thinking he was here to discuss some water problems we’ve been having in the building, allowed a very drunk Italian man who lives on the first floor into my flat. The caretaker of our building has since told me that he’s a general nuisance and a hopeless alcoholic. Anyway, once inside, the man lurched at me and told me that he’d known at first sight that we were meant for one another and that he was going to make me very happy. Grappling at my left breast and slathering my neck with smelly wet kisses, he proclaimed himself to be so generous that he’d just last week given his ex-fiance R10 000. To get new teeth. I was too busy fighting his hands away from my chest area to ask about the fate of the ex-fiance’s old teeth. I darted behind my dining room table and eyed my sabrage sword hanging from the wall. Before I could get to it, your man – very unsteady on his feet – charged at me and got me in a bear hug, clutching each of my buttocks firmly in his hands and proceeded to tell me that he’d been a parabat during his military service and that he’d make sure nobody would ever harm me: his ‘queen’.
By this time I’d managed to dance him back toward the door and – before he knew it – I had him out onto the landing and shut the security door between us. In a wheedling tone he begged to be let in again and then took to bellowing that I was a ‘stuck up cow’ and did I realize that he was not only rich, he had friends in rough places I’d never even heard of. One door down, the door opened and my neighbour, Brice, from Nigeria, an ebony mountain of a man, came out onto the landing and stood, arms folded, an implacable expression on his face and steadily gazed at the Italian who, by now, was spouting and spitting vile gibberish.
Finally registering Brice’s presence, the inebriated wretched slunk away down the stairs. He’s been back a few times, but I simply don’t answer the door. And I now have Brice’s cell phone number saved on quick-dial on my own cell phone.
I’ve had happier attentions from my close friends and family over the last hard times, like my darling sister jumping in to replenish my internet airtime when I ran out.. While I’ve been job hunting a friend has taken over Our Alice’s char wages and my best friend through high school – whom I’ve known for going on 44 years – surprised me with a delivery of a truck full of luxury groceries. From fancy cheeses, pates, chocolates … toilet paper, shampoo and soap … fruit, bread, cat food and cat litter … I don’t need to cross the doorstep of a supermarket for at least two months. I was speechless and at a total loss for words at her generosity.

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Seemingly as a sign of a new chapter opening, one of my miniature rose bushes – which I’d all but given up hope of ever flowering – has just produced a bud …

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And to end the year, one of those quizzy-things that’s doing the rounds today:

  1. What did you do in 2013 that you’ve never done before? I bought my own washing machine. And I learned to accept help from people who care about me.
  2. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes, a dear friend gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
  3. Did you attend any funerals? No.
  4. What date/s in 2013 will you remember and why?  14 July – my daughter said she loves me and we began our reconciliation after a long period of not speaking to me.
  5. Were there any illnesses or injuries in your family? Not in my immediate family, no.
  6. What was the best thing you bought? My apartment.
  7. Where did most of your money go? On buying and renovating my apartment.
  8. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: “I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed…”
  9. This question is missing.
  10. What was your favourite TV programme? I don’t have a TV.
  11. What was the best book you read this year? White Truffles In Winter by N.M. Kelby.
  12. What was your favourite movie this year? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
  13. What did you do on your birthday? I moped. I’ll celebrate my 50th birthday next Wednesday, hopefully in a better mindspace.
  14. Did you travel anywhere this year? No.
  15. What did you do for Christmas? I had a sumptuous lunch with a friend and her extended family at the Johannesburg Country Club.

Goodbye 2013, thanks to all my blog friends for your unstinting love and support. May 2014 bring you all rich blessings. xxx

“I believe in justice. And in love. And in NOT getting over it, because that’s too much to ask of a human being. Getting over it is the wrong thing to want, anyway. You should never expect to get over it, the best you can hope is to live past it. And you go on. Your past becomes a part of you, you just fold it into the gnocchi dough and keep rolling.” Lisa Scottoline