By Jac Dowling
Several interesting happenings lately in this part of Africa where, it seems, I’m the one lonely Scribe. But never mind. Recently Arch Desmond and Mrs Tutu came to retire in Hermanus and we are delighted to have their company. He recently did two one hour sessions at Bargain Books signing copies of his and the Dalai Lama’s Book of Love. The queue seemed to go on forever, hence his decision to spend another hour the next day. It’s a remarkable book and has nothing to do with mud, which is what this blog is meant to be about. . .and it certainly wasn’t Western Cape mud since we have not had rain for ages and Cape Town’s gasping. Secondly, Kobus Moolman is launching his new volume of short stories at Hermanus’ Fynarts festival in June, which is really good news.
So, to the mud bit. We hired a 58 foot narrow boat some years back and decided to explore the Oxford Canal. Set off up the Thames in good spirit, First Mate at the helm, Skipper (me) hanging out for the first lock which, fortunately, turned out to be manned by lock keeper and electric gates so there was no jittery jumping onto slippery steps and winding two heavy gates open and I was mightily relieved. Doesn’t do to make a pampoen of oneself at the first opportunity. Just after navigating the busy Oxford stretch of river, we saw a little sign under a willow which read Oxford Canal so we turned right (starboard??) and entered a world of quaint cottages, daffodils in gardens, washing blowing in the breeze and an extremely muddy towpath.
First Mate and I decided to share the opening and closing of locks, which meant hazarding the mud, slippery steps and one of the deepest locks in the canal system. Be warned all ye who enter here, pushing open heavy lock gates is best done using derriére as a cushioning tool and pushing backwards. And a pair of strong arms to key open the locking mechanisms. Pub lunches and suppers were the order of the day, cosy fires et al and on we went, skirting weirs, giving way to other craft and generally having a jolly good time afloat!
I became quite adept at leaping ashore to tether the boat each time we stopped, always on the towpath side, this required nosing in to the bank, leaping gracefully ashore, tethering the bow then niftliy reversing the stern alongside and tethering that bit next – First Mate got quite good at this until we came to a weir that was flooding and got caught up in the current. Much reversing and swearing later, we avoided disaster and I stood ready in the bow, rope in hand to leap (gracefully) – except the bank collapsed under me and I was up to my chin in muddy canal water, slipping ever further under the boat on the muddy bottom. FM couldn’t work out where I’d got to until he saw the lock keeper racing towards us, by which time the bow was pinning my shoulder firmly to the collapsing bank and I hadn’t a clue what to do. Being hauled out was a tad ignominious I’ll admit, plus I was soaked and filthy. But we couldn’t hold up traffic any longer so into the lock we nosed, I emerged onto the quay and wound the ropes around two bollards, and the water gradually left the lock with us dangling above it because I’d left the ropes too short. Cupboards opened and crockery crashed to the floor, I had pondweed in my hair and. . .
I rest my case.
By Sue Trollip
It’s weird how the world works, the ebbs and flows. And sometimes I forget. It takes me by surprise.
I got into a skid on the ice. I did a 360 degree spin then stopped in a berm, facing up the hill. I lost my nerve. Sewing machine leg. Shivering jaw. I sat. Further up a truck slid halfway across the road.
Then a woman came past. Stopped to ask if I was okay. Told me there was another car at the bottom, in a berm. Then she zoomed off. Jammed on brakes to miss the truck at the top. Came sliding back down the hill … into me. We were okay.
Her husband came, to rescue her. Told me he’d be back.
He returned. Took a photograph of the damage. And left. Left me there. I was gob-smacked. Flabbergasted. Mind-boggled. This is not the type of person I am used to. Not the quality of people I have in my life. My world is of men and women who help. Who rescue. Who are kind. Kind!
I sat. Sewing machine leg back and waited.
A policeman came.
‘Hang tight’, he said. ‘Sand is on the way’.
Then he looked again.
‘If you backup 5 yards and floor it’, he said, ‘you’ll get up’.
I stared. Embarrassed. Afraid.
He nodded and reversed. Via his mic, he said, ‘Backup’.
And I heard the snow creatures on the windy road titter.
Then he said, ‘NOW! And don’t let up on the gas’.
And I went. Fishtailing up the hill. White knuckles. Deep furrow between my brows.
‘You’re a natural’, he said over the mic and I grinned as the adrenalin surged. At the top I breathed. Waved. Kept going in the fluffy traction of snow.
It is a good world. But sometimes kindness is not behind the first door. Be Patient.
By Hazel Bond
She’s a good religious lady.
Says her prayers three times daily.
Sees what’s good and what is evil.
Knows the workings of the devil.
Gets the horrors when the T.Vs
Show those girls in their bikinis.
Turns her eyes from wicked pictures
Showing women going topless.
She cannot tolerate the press
That prints those articles on sex,
Yet she boasts of skinny-dipping
When at night time she goes swimming.
I wonder if she gets a thrill
Because it is so possible
One of these days she will be caught
When she is swimming wearing naught.
It’s a risk she can’t help taking.
A delicious titillating
Of sinful senses she denies
Within her own and others’ lives.
An appreciation of a fine South African poet and writer
by Jacqueline Dowling
Kobus Moolman has had a profound effect on my writing; his imagery and stark use of words, creating pictures and sensations in minimalist form, choosing only that which carries both sentiment and image straight to the soul. Certain of his poetry contains echoes of Pablo Neruda, Dostoevsky and, possibly, Chekov. Dark in parts but always sweeping his canvas with vivid and emotive observations and portraits. Life stripped down to its bones. Seeing people and places in a different and realistic light.
‘Time like Stone’, a collection of poems and prose written during his time in Nieu-Bethesda after winning the Helen Martins Fellowship, traces the poet’s struggle for language over silence – . The great open spaces of the Karoo: his thoughts and senses.
From Silence and the Stones:
‘ Silence and the stones
speak impenetrable codes
loud as emptiness…’
‘…and now a solitary bird, wide-winged
rides slowly the lonely railroad
of a neighbour’s sky.’
Finally The Wind of Bethesda
‘…All day the doors on the street
are closed against the dust,
the wooden window-shutters too.
Only the sun seems not to mind,
and an old grey donkey
that chews slowly an old rose bush…’
Tactile, emotive and immersed in the otherness of life in a different place. See the infinity of sky, hear the soughing wind and the high keening of a kite; feel the gritty dust in your mouth and nostrils, and the texture of an old scruffy donkey whose coat has seen many seasons, his tired body drawn many carts. The paucity of grass and shrub.
Perhaps Karoo Notebook, to me anyway, is Kobus’ magnum opus. The extracts from the journal kept during his stay in Nieu-Bethesda for me, are echoes of feelings and emotions that go so deep into my soul that it’s hard, at times, to express them. But he does…minimalist, saying only what he sees, hears and feels. No frills.
Wrestling with the thought: what is selfishness?
In a place like this – where one is largely an unkown element
(even to oneself), because, significantly, so much alone – one is
continually moving into areas of oneself that had not been known
Even a simple expedition to the corner trading store, then, to
buy a loaf of bread and a piece of smoked wors, becomes a journey
of discovery. We are our own Columbus or Eric the Red.
I have lain on sunburnt rocks under an infinity of night sky, high in the mountains of the Klein Karoo, the stars so close you could hear them crackle. Below, in a kranz, a river chuckled its pebbly way to the sea, a jackal barked and was silent.
Sitting on the low verandah wall at night. A vast plain of stars
above me. The darkened street around (Bethesda has no street lights)
with the deep outlines of trees tossing in the wind, and
Then the low bubbling of water in the village furrow.
Apparently, in all the history of this village, the spring that feeds
these street furrows from high in the hills has never run dry.
The creak and clank of the wind-pump in Tannie W’s yard
A wind lifts the curtains slowly
in the room,
a warm wind with the voice of crickets.
Other lives happen all around us, but we do not have eyes to see…
I have learned, through Kobus, to open my eyes to the unusual, to store moments, scents, sounds and emotions. And not ever to be afraid to listen to the music in my soul.
Time like Stone
University of Natal Press 2000
ISBN: 086980 979 2
For my signed copy – thank you Kobus.
By Susan Roberts
Today I browsed through my previous posts on this blog, reading snippets from the last two years, re-living the traumatic build up to my relocation from South Africa to Australia. Sometimes I can’t believe how much has happened in the last two years, yet at other times I wonder what on earth I have been doing since I got here nineteen months ago, and wondering why I haven’t done so much more than I have.
I started planning for this journey from the time my sister started planning her move – more than six years ago – but I only kicked the machinery into fast gear two years ago when my bridging visa was granted, and my medical was passed.
It’s hard moving from one country to another. Let’s just get that out of my head and onto the table. There are degrees of difficulty and everyone faces different challenges, but no ex-pat I’ve ever met looks back and says, “Gosh, that was easy!”
As I write this, I am still applying for jobs and trying not to squander my last few hard-earned South African rands that I converted to Aussie dollars at vast cost less than two years ago. I am ever hopeful that soon I will be able to start earning a steady stream of actual Australian dollars. I need to build up a tiny nest egg and find my own place to move into; a place where I can spread my wings a little, unpack my boxes of sentimental stuff, buy a few kitchen appliances and start to live the Australian life in my own way.
Sometimes I wonder what my emotions will be like when I finally unpack the boxes I haven’t touched since packing them back in Durban in early 2015. Will I rejoice at finding things I thought I had left behind? Will I feel sad when I realise just how much I did leave behind? Will I act like a spoiled child as I look around my few paltry belongings and wail “Is that all there is?” Only time will tell.
In the frenzy of packing two years ago I forced myself to cull my collection of… well, everything. I suppose I should say I decimated it, because I had to cut down everything to about a tenth of what it had been. At the time, I took inspiration from articles about Marie Kondo. I grasped every single item I owned and asked myself that all-important question, “Does this spark joy?” and then I ditched the least joyful nine out of every ten of them.
It naturally follows that I am soon going to face the problem of building up a new collection of goodies – everything from mundane necessities to desirable luxuries, and I’m not yet sure how that’s going to affect me. Not that I haven’t already started gathering things. Some would say too many things, but such is my optimism about finding a job that I didn’t want to lose out on bargains when I saw them. To date I have acquired a portable CD player (so I can listen to the CDs I brought with me), a sewing cabinet (because I had to leave my mother’s bulky wooden one behind), a small 2-drawer filing unit, a wok and a few other kitchen utensils, and – inevitably – more books and DVDs…
I found an interesting article the other day, by Anna Monette Roberts, in which she listed four important lessons she has learned from KonMari-ing her house.
How did these four things resonate with me? First, she experienced the enjoyment of liberating herself from many of her lesser-loved possessions. I too found it liberating to reduce the contents of my house. I also managed to get rid of some odd things which I hadn’t really wanted but had felt obliged to hang onto for so long. Liquidating bits of the family silver and turning antique crockery into hard cash was easier than I’d thought, and I had a good excuse so I didn’t have to feel guilty. It also helped me to acknowledge the quirky assortment of things I really couldn’t bear to part with.
Second, she found it easier to move house. I think I will find the same. I couldn’t keep as much as I’d wanted to, but what I did keep I managed to fit into a very tiny Move Cube which sailed across the sea all the way to Australia. Once you’ve moved countries – nay, continents – I imagine that a shorter trip with less stuff will be less daunting.
Third, she discovered her own sense of design – and it wasn’t the same as her interior designer mother’s. While I had to leave behind many beloved pieces of wooden cottage furniture and other items I had gathered slowly over more than thirty years, I am still the same person inside, drawn to the same type of things, and already I have gathered a few irresistible items around which to build my new life.
Fourth, and it is this final point which excites me the most, Anna Monette Roberts feels that her house is no longer “a dark, heavy place filled to the brim with stuff from my past.” I too want a place with no regrets, to break free from the past. Some of those lovely old pieces of furniture were strongly linked to ex-boyfriends and others were reminders of less-than-pleasant times in my life, so this is the part I am looking forward to the most. To be able to make a fresh start with new trappings around me, things which are symbolic of a new start in life, mixed in with a select, eclectic mix of treasured pieces which I hand-picked from my old life.
By Sue Trollip
I went to see La La Land at my favourite movie theatre down by the river. As luck would have it I got the times wrong and had an hour to spare downtown. So, I walked alongside the pounding river, tripping over sandbags from nearby businesses who were preparing for the impending flood. The drizzle made me smile as I walked around the square because a farmer’s daughter will always love the rain.
Doubling back to the cozy jungle café for a sandwich, I gazed at the damp pedestrians, listened to the rain, yearned for the sunshine. Then I got down to the serious business of movie watching.
Emma Stone, versatile and resonating and Ryan Gosling, a man who plays a lovesick sap and a cold hard killer with equal aplomb, sang, danced and fell in love. Then the movie got real. Heartache, life, careers, dreams, aspirations, regrets, decisions. I loved it!