Old School

 

By Sue Trollip

I was a pretend executive the other day. I had to fly to Johannesburg for a meeting with only my handbag. As I usually fly like a Kilimanjaro pack mule I was delighted by this new experience because there was no need for me to go anywhere near the baggage carousel. (Deborah Levy describes the baggage carousel as a ‘dead grey river’ in her short story A shining Light and I’ve lost enough possessions in the past to be most grateful to bypass that particular river.)

I decided against taking my laptop because it was too cumbersome and because Jo’burg is such a cold place that I had to wear most of my clothes for warmth, so I was already weighted down. My plans to take my e-reader were thwarted when I switched it on and got the lightening bolt screen so I hunted around for a paperback. Please understand that all this was happening at approximately 5am (one of my favourite hours when I am asleep). I couldn’t find anything small enough to entice me to lug it around for an entire day so I left sans reading material. That and a lack of caffeine (SURPRISE: I was running late) made my hands shake before I’d even left the house.

There was no other option, I had to go old school. Fortunately I am a bit of a notebook freak so I grabbed one from the drawer of good things (which no matter how many times I fill with chocolate, never seems to contain any) and an inspiring array of pens (this may account for why there was no time for coffee).

Although being a pretend executive sounds exotic I knew it was going to be one of those hurry up and wait days.

I should have had an hour at the airport to get my thoughts in order but because of roadwork at the first three interchanges on the highway I arrived four minutes before the gate closed. With my heartbeat pounding in my throat I parked, sprinted and boarded.

By the time I paused for breath I was already on-board the plane and in desperate need of coffee. Being on a budget airline that wasn’t an option (I am a wee bit of a coffee snob and cheap instant coffee does not thrill me) so I fiddled in the pocket in front of me until I found the Airport magazine and was thoroughly amused for the fifteen minutes it took for me to read through. Then I pulled out my pen and pad and got going.

When I arrived in Jo’burg there was no time for coffee as I had to board the Gautrain and it has a ban on food and beverages. Fortunately, being a lover of train rides, I was too thrilled to bother much but by the time I got to Rosebank I had about twenty pages of words and an irregular heartbeat.

Gloria Jeans was lit like a shining oasis in a coffee desert and I planted myself at a table, sipped coffee and covered more of my notebook’s white space with blue words.

The meeting was one that taunted my nerves and afterwards instead of letting myself get wound up I returned to Gloria Jeans and added a pink macaroon to my coffee order, then I whipped out my notebook and wrote until my hand cramped into a protesting claw.

The day did not go as planned, but at the end of it I had an almost full notebook of weird snippets, random asides and a decent amount of usable sentences. My next trip is due shortly and instead of bothering with electronics I’m planning to go old school again. If old fashioned ignites the creative sparks, who am I to argue?

Pictures courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The Da Pinchi Code

By Pat Clur

In some wealthy British suburbs criminals scribble chalk signs outside homes to indicate whether homeowners are wealthy, have already been burgled, or if they have nothing worth stealing.

British Detectives investigating the crimes call the symbols the ‘Da Pinchi Code’.

South Africa has its own ‘Da Pinchi Code’ according to this e-mail circulated by a security company:

Lookout for these ‘marks’ that ‘spotters’ put in place for thieves:

A ‘Z’ painted at a Stop sign means houses in that street are going to be robbed.

A heap of small stones in front of a house indicates the owner has dogs.

Two stones placed alongside each other means two old people live there.

Stones arranged in a row indicate how many people live in the house.

A Coke can on its side shows somebody is home, an upright can – nobody’s home.

A red can or rag means the occupants can defend themselves.
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A white sorghum carton open end pointing to a house means it’s targeted for a burglary.

A white plastic bag on the fence signals an easy target.

The neck of a green bottle points in the direction criminals should take.

A blue bag or paper means somebody in the house is prepared to help you …

The list went on and on, hammering home the point that litter on verges, far from just being an unsightly annoyance, could actually be secret code and a security threat.

Our house is the last in Hillcrest, bordering on a cane farm, surrounded by grassy vacant land, an ideal target for Green Belt Burglars.

Green Belt Burglars are not into martial arts, they’re so called because they use farmlands, forests and undeveloped land to access urban areas to commit theft.

I returned from a walk with my dogs and noticed an arrow scratched on the road outside our gate. Nearby was a small piece of white paper  weighted down with two stones. At the top of the road, at the start of the cane  break, I found another arrow scratched into the hard clay. A little way along was another scrap of paper weighted with stones. The signs pointed along the  cane break to our house.

Exactly what the e-mail warned about – a code.

Taking courage from the fact that I had three large dogs with me, I followed the marks along the cane break, erasing the arrows and removing every last stone and scrap of paper.

It was stupid and risky to go too far into the cane, so I just cleared the cane break leading to our house. Then I scratched new arrows into the ground and placed the papers and stones to indicate three left turns, one after the other. That’d fox them – they’d go round in circles!

They did too.

Only it wasn’t Green Belt Burglars who ended up sweating, flustered, cursing and lost in the cane – it was members of our sports club running a cross country race, following a paper trail laid the day before.

Dancing with Debris

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By Susan Roberts

Unlike Kevin Costner who danced with wolves, my landlord dances with debris. Yes, that’s debris, not Debra. Well, maybe the word dance is a bit strong. More like, he shuffles it about before abandoning it against a wall somewhere, rather like those shy boys in high school who weren’t quite sure what to do with you once they’d got you onto the dance floor.

Twelve years ago, when I asked a family member what the new place she had moved into was like, she said, “Well, it reminds me of those movies set in Columbia where some drug lord lives in the middle of nowhere and the grounds are overgrown and filled with junk.”

About three months later I needed a new place to live and she told me that there was a vacant cottage at the bottom of the property below her house. She spoke to her landlord and he agreed to meet me. I drove down the long unkempt drive to the panhandle property hidden behind two other houses, and my first impressions matched hers. I almost expected Harrison Ford to leap out of the shrubbery, gun in hand, in an action replay of Clear and Present Danger. Sadly, Harrison didn’t, but the film setting remained.

My relative lived in the top half of a two-storey house. Square and flat-roofed, it overlooked the ancient carriage house which had been converted into a cottage. Not far away was a half-drained, dirty pool – clearly no one had swum in that for ages. Across the garden, several rusty sheds languished behind piles of old building materials: spare windows and doors; broken tiles and roof trusses; disembowelled packets of hardened cement – much of it covered with weeds and creeper.

The whole place was bordered by an arrangement of unmatched fences, walls, buttresses and huge spreading trees that my sister and I would have given our right arms to climb when we were children. To an adult with an adult’s eye for pleasure-crushing, it was a bit of a dump. However, the
adventurous, movie-obsessed child in me loved it. Not only did the place look like an abandoned movie backlot, but the atmosphere of a fantasy land was heightened by the birds calling and monkeys jumping from tree to tree. And that was before I even saw the inside of the cutest little cottage…

Jump forward eleven years and I’m still here. So is the debris. I’ve moved from the cottage into the top half of the house once inhabited by my relative, and the debris has played musical chairs in the garden. In the last decade I’ve come to see my landlord as a generous-natured, easy-going man who has the best of intentions when it comes to helping out and fixing things, but who never quite gets around to doing everything.

And he never throws anything away.

As a retired builder, he has amassed a vast collection of things he picked up cheaply (or free) on numerous building sites over the years, all on the off-chance that he might one day be able to use them somewhere. By his own admission, he built the entire house out of these bits and pieces. The critical part of me wants to say: “Yes, I can see that,” but the non-critical fantasist in me finds the idea of living in a Jerry-built house rather fascinating. In my mind’s eye I can see him as a child dreaming up magnificent palaces.

A compulsive magpie by nature, he can’t let go of any object that might come in useful. I come from a family of magpies myself so I understand and sympathise with this tendency, but this guy could have written the book on it! Imagine my embarrassment when I finally pluck up the courage to let go of some useless piece of junk that I no longer need and put it outside on the pavement with the garbage, only to find it back in the yard the following day, leaning against a fence or shed, waving at me in the breeze because it got rescued at the eleventh hour by my landlord!

I admire his vision, but not his impractical execution. In the alcove next to my dining room is a stairway (blocked below because that’s a separate flat downstairs). This leads upwards to a tin roof which rattles and squeaks in harmony with the weather, and sounds like a steel drum band when it rains. One day the sheets of tin will be removed and the stairs will open onto the roof garden that has yet to be fashioned. Not in my landlord’s lifetime, I don’t think, and probably not in mine either.

In the meantime the staircase is an ugly, unpainted, roughly plastered eyesore in the middle of my house. Or it was, until I draped it with 22 metres of pongee lining which I once used to give my cottage lounge a false ceiling some years back, after I grew tired of waiting for my landlord to put up
a real one. Two months ago he finally installed a proper ceiling in the cottage, but of course I am no longer there to enjoy it.

So why do I continue to live here? On four sides of me the trees tower, the purple-crested louries flit and nest beneath the canopy, and the monkeys use the thickest hanging creeper-vines to swing daily through the trees. My cats prowl and bask in the sun. A kind of paradise on earth for all of us, if a little muddled and untidy. In another part of my mind I remember that magnificent tree house in the 1960 Disney film of The Swiss Family Robinson which I have fantasised about living in since I was a child. Dreams don’t always come true, but that’s why God gave us imagination.

I’m a bit eccentric and I love living in a substitute move backlot, surrounded by cats, monkeys, louries and paradise flycatchers, in my own little pocket of paradise, watching my strange landlord dancing among the debris, creating mansions in his mind as he arranges his junk around the garden..

Reflecting

By Michelle Dennison / Julianne AlcottI have reached a milestone in my life.
The big 4 – 0.Saying goodbye to my thirties and hello to my forties.I enjoyed my thirties. Sure, I experienced things like divorce, and losing most of my friends because of it. But I suppose I really gained from that. I’m free, and I know who my real friends are now.

I had more self confidence in my thirties, which is quite something, because my self confidence in the first twenty-something years of my life was virtually nil.

I became a mother, to an amazing little girl, and she continues to keep my life interesting with her antics, and her many talents.

I found a job that is perfect for me. Children, creativity and books. What an awesome combination.

I joined a hiking club, and every Saturday, my life is a mini-adventure as I ramble with a group of like-minded people from all walks of life, and explore the hidden jewels in Durban’s back yard.

My writing has reached levels I have only dreamed about in the past.

Love … Well there is an interesting question without an interesting answer, to quote William Thacker in Notting Hill.

I have learned that when a man keeps saying he wants to take me out to dinner, or dancing or any kind of date, and he doesn’t… Well that is a problem with him and not with me. Men like that aren’t worth the mind time we give them.

I have learned what love can be like. A beautiful harmony of two hearts and souls, where there is no need for words. I know that nothing less than that will satisfy.

And so I face a new decade. A blank page waiting to be written on. Adventures waiting to happen.

Life begins at forty, so they say…

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Picture: freedigitalphotos.net (Stuart Miles)