I didn’t so much cruise into Grahamstown exactly a year ago, as limp in on a wing and a prayer. After a twenty six hour road trip from Johannesburg – twelve of them unaccounted for, too traumatised and fatigued to register the familiarity of the circle at College, the sweep of Somerset Road down to the University, the Cathedral spire towering beyond every rooftop, the ancient houses. I stumbled out of my car, barely able to steady myself against vertigo and nausea, and stumbled into the Home of my friend, Zaskia. Completely deaf from tinnitus and insane with pain and sleepless for close on a fortnight, my head felt enormous, too big for my body, my legs struggled to obey my command to climb the step from the sidewalk down to her front door. Inside, cool and dim in the afternoon heat, I lay my car keys down on a table and knew that I had survived my most foolhardy act ever, to drive across the country in an attempt at aversion therapy to quell a lifelong phobia had not only been unsuccessful, it had endangered me and countless people on the road over the preceding night of terror. I knew I wouldn’t drive again, but that was an important motivating factor in my coming to live here; I was resolved to walking myself better – whatever ‘better’ was, the result of which investigation was the primary reason for coming away from life as I had known it for so many unhappy years in Johannesburg.
It’s been a long year, a fast year, a watershed year and I am not who I was the day I arrived. For one thing I got a dog, and I got a couple of friends and a whole lot fitter, I like to think I’m wiser; I’m definitely poorer in monetary terms, but beyond the wealth of Croesus in terms of the riches brought me by the things I experience in my new daily life in this beautiful place I will call home until I die.
I’m now an old homeless lady with long lilac hair, two almost-white cats and a daft black dog who wears socks. I talk to myself and them all the time. Even in public. I probably smell like an old person cloaked under years of stale Chanel No 5 and cigarettes, because I never sit still and seldom sleep. I squat in an 1820 Settler house owned by Zaskia, an ex war vet I met in hospital a bunch of lifetimes ago. Me after a suicide attempt and her paralysed from GB, both of us staring at the ceiling basically for days and days, until she walked again and I stopped wanting to be dead. Also in the house with me and the animals are three ghosts (one is from the 1920s and I love him, I haven’t found a photo, but I think he looks like Jay Gatsby! The other two are very Anglican and the lady one doesn’t let the dogs upstairs. If you think I’m lying, just watch Wallis do a U-ey as she gets to the landing. She falls down the stairs and it makes a hell of a noise. She’s still at that loose, spare-parts in a pillowcase looking phase. All legs and loose pyjamas. Anyway, there’s also a restoration crew of master craftsmen who are direct decedents of the first coloured craftsmen the community – the soft hearted, foul mouthed Denver Guys – and their respective girlfriends/wives/fishing injuries/fokken enjin problems, hangovers (and excellent music). The ghosts get irritated because I rearrange my furniture every night. I can’t drive, and have a walk addiction (I’m an alcoholic in joyous recovery, I just exercise nowadays instead of quaffing fine wines), so Wallis spends more time on the streets than she did when she was a street mongrel. People often mistake us for beggars and give us their unfinished sandwiches or loose pocket change. I’m supposed to be here to write a book about food and history, and to sling hash in a greasy spoon while I watch poets at night in smoky bars and stuff. But I get carried away and talk to the locals, buy food, take photos and tell my old friends out in the real world what I saw while I was walking that day, and about all the gossip and stuff and chat and then suddenly it’s ten months later… I have digressed. It’s a most foul thing. A side effect of my trigeminal neuralgia and complex PTSD. I’m what they call in the nicer gossip circles Not Quite Right In The Head, or – more widely afield – Fucking Weirdness Personified Hermit. I know it all sounds implausible, but I am an inveterate list maker and it’s all nicely sorted. This blog revival is actually about how to live and die graciously in one room and eat beautifully on very little but a hope and a prayer and what you learn about Grace when you only have Google in the dawn hours in rock bottom’s basement. Without talking on the phone or supporting the plastics industry or being A Nuisance. And there will be recipes for various things you can bake with cannabis. And philosophy, lots of philosophy. One of my husbands said I can’t write, that I don’t have the tools for crafting description, so I have gathered my tribe, my beautiful roadside havens along my walking, and I will show them to you, let them add colour to the pages. Really. And it’s all true, because I told Sobek, my superhuman legal eagle, and that damn crocodile said “sit jou gat in rat en tik suster, I’ve got your back. “