Archives

DOING THE ANNIVERSARY WATOOSI

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. “
selfspireselfbannerspire2staidsdonkhillciclepiccirclepic2

 

 

Advertisements

NO PICTURES, BUT A NEW VISTA COMING SOON

I’ve read many, many novels and seen countless films wherein the living space of a character, occurring in the dingiest neighbourhood, is portrayed very romantically. Loft conversions reached from street level via roll-up on-street steel doors, industrial spaces converted to sumptuous apartments are revealed after an arduous trek up a steep staircase, handsome men brush their teeth at kitchen sinks …  These scenes are, admittedly, usually set in London or New York where, apparently, the dictum of “worst property in the best location” does not apply as importantly as it does here in Johannesburg; a dictum which I ignored when I bought my flat.

In defence of my bad judgement, I was numb at the time: my circumstances were so inconceivable to me that I didn’t even bother to shop around; I bought the second flat I viewed. It didn’t matter to me that my friends would be too afraid to visit me; my daughter had cut me out of her life, what did I want friends for?

When, three days after moving in, the building’s hot water supply was cut off by the city council due to misappropriation of funds by the body corporate management company, I accepted the inconvenience with dumb stoicism and an unhealthy dose of self-pitying martyrdom: surely I deserved as much hardship as was thrown my way?

And then the delightfully unexpected happened and my daughter slowly came back into my life. She was careful not to let her distaste show when she visited me but, once she came to live with me, it soon became apparent that she was deeply embarrassed by our address. Weekend after weekend she chose to stay with friends after a night out, rather than be dropped outside our building by her friends’ parents, lest they be hijacked or harassed by the junkies camping out in the park across the road.

I’d more or less made up my mind that we would have to move, when South Africa awoke one morning to a wave of xenophobia. The news reports were nauseating beyond belief. My neighbours in the building were made up mainly of North Africans; they stayed off work, too frightened to venture out into the threatened violence against them. I myself felt fearful as I drove home every day.

As is often the case, a final sign came to me in the form of a routine bi-annual courtesy call from the estate agent who had sold the flat to me! Yes, I decided, it was time to get out of there.

The flat went on the market on Saturday, hopefully it will sell quickly. It has been a holding space for me during my darkest hour, but that hour has passed and it’s time to go out into the sunlight again. Louise Hay says to release your space to the new owner with love and that love will, in turn, await you in your new space.

And, as my wise friend Charlie always says, so it goes …

ive learned

THREE RANDOM REFLECTIONS ON TIME AND GRATITUDE

Three random reflections on the concepts of time and gratitude … But first, because those in the know advise that nobody reads a blog without photographs, here is a picture of my cat:

Reflections on the lost years

I am a recovering alcoholic. It did not happen overnight, but the progression from ‘normal’ consumption into active alcoholism was swift. It happened at the worst possible time for my child; just at the onset of adolescence. She coped by cutting me out of her life and I floated about the house like a wraith; an awful spectre to make her usher her friends quickly past my bedroom door. She is a girl of strong, strong character; she didn’t allow me to accompany her father when he took her to her first day of high school. She didn’t turn to me when she started her period. I learned second-hand of her first love and her first heartbreak. I wrote to her all the time; letters in vino veritas, letters from rehab, letters at each milestone: her birthday, Christmas, Mothers’ Day, the day my divorce from her father finally happened, and countless days of no particular significance. During my years in recovery, she began – with caution and an ill-disguised mistrust – to meet with me. Slowly, slowly, we drew close again until the most miraculous thing happened and she asked to come and live with me. And so it is with us now; we have a life together again. And it’s sweeter and stronger for the things we lost in those unhappy years. And so it happened that I began to believe in God. I know that I will be in recovery for the rest of my life and that I am only granted a daily reprieve. I understand that it will take much time before my daughter stops watching what I unpack after a trip to the grocery store; I understand and I accept it, with infinite gratitude.

Reflections on the short-lived romance

When I was 50-and-three-quarters-years-old; an age that, in my youth, I had regarded as middle-age; my brother died and I found romance with his best friend. It was, in hindsight, the whiplash of shared grief that we misconstrued as passion. It lasted three months and I was as dizzy as a teenager throughout. I’d not been kissed (the mwah-mwah air kisses from my gay brigade at social events aside) by a man for over a decade. A big, strong and sensitive man; he held me together and has remained a source of support and will be my friend for the rest of my life. And he made me feel desirable; for that I am grateful beyond words. Perhaps, one day, romance will sneak up on me again; for now it is enough to know that I am worthy of love. And I will, always, buy myself flowers …

And, if you’re still reading, here is an old picture I took of some potted roses on my balcony:

survived the hailstorm_edited

Reflections on being deemed too old and too pale

Shortly before we came back to work after the Christmas break, my boss took me to lunch and gently, as is her way, told me that it was time for me to ‘move on’. I’d come to work for her as her personal assistant at the beginning of 2014, when she moved her psychology practice to her home. It was a time when I was brittle in the aftermath of my divorce and we both agreed that it would be a temporary arrangement. She feels that it is now time for me to move back into ‘the real world’ and find a job which will utilise my experience and renew my sense of self now that I am so much stronger. I flew into an immediate panic and made an appointment with a personnel consultant who brutally informed me that I was on the wrong side of 50 and later sent me an article giving me news of the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Amendment Bill, which eliminates all white people including the disabled. (Read more about it here if you don’t believe me.) I fell into a stunned funk, from which I am just emerging. I will not accept this as the death knell for my future. I have too much to offer. For now I am safe where I am, working for someone who has become a stalwart friend, irrespective of where my future journey may lead. And, for the part she has played in my journey over the past year, I have boundless gratitude.

If you’ve read this far, thank you; here is a picture of some poached pears I cooked ever so long ago:

OF SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS; AN UPDATE

I thought I’d better post something before WordPress deletes my blog due to inactivity, and to let my friends know that I am alive and well.

Sometimes we only see how life balances out when we look back on it. It’s been six months since I lost my brother and – within a fortnight of his death – six months since I got my daughter back.  And so my grief was tempered by having this whirlwind of joy move permanently into my everyday life and turn my silent apartment into a home.

She’s a force of nature, this beautiful child of mine; funny, smart and with a will of steel. It’s a daily blessing to see her happy, healthy and simply soaring in her new school.

My gratitude knows no bounds, truly.

chel 2

And now that I have a life again, I am cooking and baking again and – hopefully – will be back to blogging regularly again.

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.

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.

IMG_6586

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 …

IMG_6588

IMG_6591

 

IMG_6592

IMG_6593

“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.

Photo