Harry’s Boots – My Books!

by Jacqueline Dowling

Poor Prince Harry, he hadn’t even left Afghanistan before the press spun both booted feet into his mouth over certain comments. OK, he didn’t want to do the interview in the first place, but the bosses had arranged a quid pro quo for leaving him to get on with his tour of duty sans media intervention. And all he said, quite rightly in my uninformed opinion, was that anyone who pilots a helicopter or operates aerial guns, needs to have nimble thumbs – which usually come with playing video games.
And the press loved it, they set to in a feeding frenzy par excellence. Poor guy.

My friends know all too well that I am not an Apps or Techno geek, I studiously avoid those things – except in extremis, like now. Which is how I come to observe that far too many children are Apping instead of reading.  How do we fix it? Part of our answer was to form Friends of the Library, an organisation which is growing rapidly year by year, and it’s fun: it works.

We’re  slightly less nimble in limb than we were twenty years ago, but with one goal in common. Books and Reading. Last year we put more new and donated books on the shelves than came from Province, and raised R70 000 towards even more books and reading aids. Our library has been voted the best in the Platteland (not quite sure exactly where the boundaries lie, but anyway…) which is a large chunk of the Western Cape.

Each Friday our Bhuki Cafe takes over the reference section of the library for the regular tea/coffee morning. This is hugely popular, especially when we have a special guest – one of the many writers and artists living in the area. And, in case you’re thinking I’ve not heard of epublishing or Kindle, our
next guest is a local epublisher!

Our 2013 Outreach Project is aimed at encouraging young people to read. We hope to establish a regular column for young critics on the book page of our weekly local newspaper, together with a story writing competition, open to all, in three languages. We also have invited hobbyists and crafters from various retirement homes to display and sell their goods at the Bhuki Cafe. It seems to be working well and bringing in yet more tea drinkers and readers.

With provincial and municipal budgets shrinking at an alarming rate, libraries closing and books being allowed to sicken and die on the shelves, there really is only one way to go, and that’s to get the public motivated and reading. Thumbs remain an exceptionally useful tool (more strength to Harry’s) and will, no doubt, become even more useful and essential in future.

But for me, there is nothing like a good old fashioned book, smelling a bit musty probably, and slightly  soft around the edges. And until someone convinces me that Kindles float when dropped in the bath or pool, I shall continue along the paper route!

Misery, but not in a Stephen King way

By Susan Roberts

It really is the most miserable thing in the world to be sick when you’re on holiday. I mean, you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, freed from your desk, away from the office schedules and that ringing telephone, and yet you are too ill to tear yourself away from your bed, your new schedule of medicines and that damned ringing alarm on your phone which reminds you when it’s time to take the next pill. Some holiday!

While lying in your bed feeling sorry for yourself, you have plenty of time to think about how the warning signs went up a few days before you left work. That little tickle started at the back of your throat one night, followed by the blocked sinuses the next morning and by lunchtime on your last day of work you had a pounding headache. Ever optimistic, you thought you’d be fine after a good night’s sleep, and you might have been – if you had only been able to get that decent night’s sleep – but that tickle turned into a chest-racking cough and by morning you were barely able to croak down the phone at your doctor’s receptionist to tell her that the mucous had turned yellow…

Okay, too much information! Let’s just say that it’s miserable to be stuck in bed when you should be doing all those things you’d had planned for your leave.

I remember being twelve years old, on holiday with my parents and sister at a large family hotel down the south coast, and I was sick and had to spend a few days in bed. Oh, the misery of hearing the laughter of other children swimming three floors below, seeing the reflected sunlight from the pool water dancing on the ceiling above my head, and being too sick to even stagger to the Picturewindow to glare jealously at the rest of the family enjoying themselves. Sheer misery, and not in a Stephen King kind of way.

The family took it in turns to do what they could to help, brought me books and magazines – my dad even found an article called How to Spend a Day in Bed which was all about how to sneak a day off work, pretend you were ill and wallow in glorious sloth-like behaviour, doing nothing but eat, read and sleep all day. It was fun to read it, but it didn’t exactly change my perspective on my own situation. Not then, anyway. Not when I was twelve years old.

However, it is nearly forty years later, and my perspectives have changed somewhat. I still remember the tone of that article, if not its complete contents, and I have to admit that a day spent in bed can actually be quite fun. (Okay, not in the way that I write about in my romance novels – let’s keep it clean here.)

As a part-time writer, all my writing has to be fitted in between my odd working hours. To get a whole day off work is a bonus and when that happens, I love to spend it writing, sick or not. It starts in my bed, with my laptop on one of those hard-topped mouldable cushions made by that fabulous place on the Midlands Meander. Once the first pot of tea is finished, and I start to feel hungry, I transfer myself and my laptop to the dining table, where words continue to fill my pages while I fill my stomach. Walloping two birds with one stone, so to speak.

My friend Julianne Alcott swears that a shower is a good source of inspiration, so when I need a pick-me-up I hop into my shower and emerge not only cleaner, but bursting with new ideas. It’s often only when it gets too dark for me to see the keyboard that I realise I have spent the entire day glued to my laptop, writing to the exclusion of all else. What a wonderful way for a writer to spend a day off!

The main character in Stephen King’s Misery – also a writer – didn’t have much fun as a captive in his bed, and if one uses that as a benchmark for the worst kind of day one can have in bed, then anything else is going to seem like a lucky escape.

Summer Dress

By Michelle Dennison (Julianne Alcott)

“I’d like to buy you one of those pretty summer dresses for Christmas,” my boyfriend said to me a few weeks ago.

And brave man that he is, he volunteered to go with me to shop for it. I owed it to him to make it as painless as possible, so I applied my mind, and came up with a brilliant idea…

Late night shopping at the Pavilion.

And it was a brilliant idea. We had a seafood supper at one of the restaurants, then joined the smallish crowd of people ambling down the corridors. The atmosphere was cheerful and pleasant, and we went into the first shop feeling hopeful.

We came out of the last shop feeling discouraged, and mystified by the choices of whoever decided what South African women would be wearing this season.

Whoever it was must have recently returned from the Amazon Jungle, because the majority of clothes were made with the most garish designs. Vines, trees and brightly coloured parrots shrieked out from jackets, shirts, dresses and even tight, jungle infested pants.

Then there were the delightful neon shades that made me wonder if I had somehow ended up in a time machine, and had been blasted back to a land containing the worst of eighties fashion. Some shops required us to wear sunglasses, just to be able to make it through the front door.

And this was women’s clothing, not teenage girls. What lady over 30 would want to go to work wearing a baggy crop top slashed with bands of orange, lumo yellow and putrid green?

So we decided that we should rather go to the upmarket shops, to find items more suitable for the mature, conservative woman. We came out of all of them shaking our heads. The clothing there looked like it had been made for the over 60 age group. Dull, severe and virtually monochrome.

Did no one realise that there ought to be clothes that come in between psycho freak-out and boring beige?

Then we went into a new shop, and immediately felt hopeful again. There were a series of pretty dresses in various shades of normality, so I grabbed a few and went to try them on.

I closed the door behind me, and gave it a measured stare. If I could see everyone outside the change room through the slats in the door, did that mean that everyone could see me? I wasn’t taking any chances, so I hung the assortment of dresses all over the door, hoping to provide cover for myself.

I then looked at my reflection and hastily did something to my hair. My hair is hardly well-behaved at the best of times, and visiting change room after change room had only made it stand up more and more wildly with every clothing try-on. Maybe it was trying to get into the jungle spirit.

And then I tried on the first dress.

There was something strange about it. The style was different. It hung in a shapeless drape over the top of me, came tightly around my waist and then dropped in a shapeless mass that made me look twice my width.

I opened the change room door and stepped out. My boyfriend took one look at me and shook his head, pulled a face and gave me a thumbs down.

And that was our last hope. The last shop in the Pavilion that could possibly contain women’s clothing.

My poor man shook his head, and said that he now understood why women could go shopping for 5 hours and come home with nothing. Because there WAS nothing.

I was determined not to give up though, so the next day, my daughter and I set off to find China Mall. I had been there once, and had found a lovely little black dress that I had worn on my birthday. I was sure to find something suitable among the masses of shops.

The previous time, I had started at the front of the mall, and made my way to the back. The black dress had been in the very last row. So this time, I started at the back, and made my way forward.

Whoever did the clothes buying for a large number of those shops obviously thought that South African women were either tiny, or elephant-like. There were either mega skinny dresses, or those volumous sacks made infamous by Mrs Roper in the eighties. Even the “one size fits all”dresses could hardly fit over my shoulders, and I’m only a size 34.

Then there were the strange tight numbers with hundreds of plastic slats sewn onto them, so whenever the wearer moved, they would be accompanied by shimmying loose rectangular objects, and a “chakka, chakka, chakka” noise. I’d love to know where those kind of dresses would be suitable for. Obviously somewhere there would be a lot of shaking going on.

Gradually, I started to find some decent dresses, and got my daughter to play fashion photographer. I then sent my boyfriend the photos, so he could choose which one he wanted to buy me for my present.

But then I gave up. I am hideously unphotogenic, and couldn’t bear to send pictures of me looking more and more like the Frog Queen trying to dress up for the annual Ugly Animal Ball. And my ever-increasingly crazy hair didn’t help matters.

My daughter and I fortified ourselves with some greasy Chinese food, served by a very scary diminutive Chinese girl who looked like she would slice us with a Samurai sword if we didn’t like the meal.

Then we soldiered onwards… And at the last shop in the entire China Mall I found the perfect dress. Well almost perfect. It stretched down to the ground, but I figured that it would be easy to chop off the bottom and make it knee-length.

Ironically, if I had started from the front of the mall like I had the previous time, it would have been the first shop I visited, and our shopping expedition would have been so much easier, and very much shorter.

My mom cut the bottom of the dress off (straight lines are not my forte) and I sewed the hem, hoping that no one would ever see the stitches I was making. I’m not a very good sewer, and the awful cotton I was using didn’t help matters. It kept on looping up and knotting itself, and I worked late into the night to finish it.

But at last it was done. The dress was washed to get rid of that plastic shop smell, and carefully ironed, ready to wear at Christmas lunch with my boyfriend and his parents.

And the look on his face when he saw me was worth it!

The Best Laid Plans

by Penny M

If you are anything like me, you must have all your birds lined up well in advance or your bills increase, your feet grow webs, feathers fly and you end up with ‘down’ syndrome.  Donald has nothing on me.

A few years ago, an ash cloud in the U.K. left my friend and I grounded in Somerset en route for Ireland.  We had the trip, the flights, the car hire and the accommodation all booked.  My dreams of encountering a ‘P.S.-I-Love-You’ look-alike without a wedding ring went up in smoke.  It’s no wonder I’m allergic to dust. Mother Nature had sneezed and not even anti-biotics would sort her out.  We returned to SA with flight refunds and holiday credits.

I’ve been waiting to book my trip to Australia with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter for months.  Several sizeable ducks needed to be arranged before this could happen; my granddaughter needed to be born and she complied on 15 September; she required her own identity document, unabridged birth certificate, South African passport (complete with the cutest baby photo) and Visa for Australia.  Everything is planned for February, hopefully before the teething kicks in.  We booked our flights this morning with four and a half weeks to spare.  Now the rest of the planning can proceed towards take off.  I’m not expecting to hook up with anybody Irish during my holiday, but in the words of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes of mice and men …”

PS – Gerald Butler is Scottish too.