Home is Where the Roots Grow

IMG_1978 By Susan Roberts

We are told from an early age that home is where the heart is, and Dorothy tells us at the end of her adventure in Oz that there is no place like it. But what do we actually mean by that word: Home?

Every time I return to South Africa after a few weeks in that other Oz, visiting my sister in Melbourne, I find myself searching for a new definition of exactly what Home is. What does it mean to me personally? And where exactly is Home now?

As a child, Home was the big, rambling house my grandfather had built room by room between the two world wars. My father had grown up there and in time he inherited it. My earliest memories are centred in that house. It was the place to which my sister and parents returned daily after their respective outings to school and work. In my tiny mind, I imagined that Home revolved around me, much like the earliest astronomers believed that the sun circled the earth, instead of the other way around.

I didn’t particularly enjoy school when I started it; the boys were rough and noisy and most of the girls settled into bitchy groups which didn’t include me. No matter, because I soon learnt to bury myself in books. When the final bell rang each day, Home was the haven to which I retreated; that place where I felt safe and loved after the rigours of a day at school.

My current home is a tiny cottage in Durban North where I have lived for most of the last twelve years. Secluded out of sight of the street, I cocoon myself in a profusion of books, cats, and an overgrown garden. But increasingly my mind thinks of other Homes.

IMG_1220Particularly the one in Melbourne.

When my sister moved there three years ago, part of my history and my heart moved there with her. My three visits there have resulted in the sort of root system that is usually associated with the most determined of weeds. I have put out feelers, dug in and attached myself inextricably to the earth around her, and part of me still lingers there long after I uproot myself to return to Durban each time.

Forgive the imagery, but since my sister is a keen gardener, I think it fits the situation perfectly. Her garden is beautiful, she spends time, effort and love in nurturing it, and it shows. The photographs I took of her garden in February are eclipsed by the ones I took in the last few weeks. Her garden has taken root and grown under her loving care in the same way that her family has.

In contrast, my own network of family has shrunk to the point where I no longer know what home means. When my mother died six years ago, my sister became the matriarch of the family. Christmas, Easter and family birthdays were almost always celebrated at her house. In the years since she moved to Australia those family celebrations have been pared down in my world, or sometimes ignored completely because it’s easier for me to deal with them that way.

The final three South African members of my mother’s generation have passed on in the last two years. This has coincided with the moving of most of the generation below me, to other countries – two to Oz; one to New Zealand, and the fourth is about to move to another town in South Africa. Soon there will be no one left here but me. When my eldest niece leaves Pietermaritzburg in two weeks’ time, she will be the last member of our family to leave that city in which our ancestors settled way back in 1880.

Each time I visit Australia I realise more and more that the family base is where my sister is, and that this may have been so for a longer time than either of us first realised. As children, we played daily with the boy next door, and we have always referred to him as our brother. Many years later he moved to Australia with his wife, and their family has formed a strong part of the new home base around my sister. I’ve seen them more in the last two and a half years than in the thirty or so years before that.

A week before I left Melbourne, we had a celebratory family braai. (Well, they call it a barbie over there but we know that it’s really a good old-fashioned braai!) I looked around the group of laughing, bantering, reminiscing relatives and realised that the word Home definitely had more to do with the people than the buildings they inhabit.IMG_2296

Dorothy Gale was right – there really is no place like home!


Bells and Other Things

by Jacqueline Dowling

This week has seen several anniversaries and memorial services: 100 Years since the start of WW1, 25 since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that of Dylan Thomas who died too young, 50 years ago. I have a collection of his work, dog-eared, thumbed and read over and over and over. Perhaps my early childhood in Wales had something to do with it, learning Welsh along with English, then forgetting it as I grew older. But his words and music and magic stay with me – Dylan, why oh why did you self destruct at such a young age? You had so much more to say.

          ‘…Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood

                   And the mussel pooled and the heron

                             Priested ashore

                   The morning beckon

          With water praying and call of seagull and rook

          And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall…’

                                                (Poem in October – Dylan Thomas)

This morning I rose early to avoid the after-church shopping rush. The town was deserted. Gulls wheeled, the sea a deep cobalt blue with white-caps dancing in a frenzy before the south east wind. The bells of St Peter’s church rang out through the wind, happy bells, frisky and different. The wind whisking their message far and wide from its squat stone tower. The air smelled of sea and kelp. Whales, in their late season, leaped and thrashed between the swells, fountains of white water shooting into the early light. High above an aircraft, heading like the whales to Antarctica, left contrails in the sky. And the bells rang out across the sea. Dylan Thomas heard bells too. He wove them into his poems and essays; they rang across a different landscape: a more gentle one of estuary and river. Quiet places and quirky people.

Bells – they have so many different voices. The muffled tolling for the death of a monarch. Joyful pealing out on state and royal occasions, all the bells of London singing with one voice. And the mournful solitary tolling of a bell in times of war.

          ‘What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?

          Only the monstrous anger of the guns,

          Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

          Can patter out their hasty orisons.

          No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,

          Nor any voice save the choirs,-

          The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;

          And bugles calling for them from sad shires.’

                             (Anthem for Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen 1918)


No bells toll for the tragedies of the 21st century.   If they did, they would go on and on …and on.

A later part of my growing up took place in Stratford-upon-Avon, where bell ringers practise every Tuesday evening, a traditional pealing of the bells in Holy Trinity church, by the river, near the theatre.   My grandmother’s house was across the fields opposite the church, and a short ferry ride took us across the Avon, on a chain wound flatbed to the actors’ pub The Dirty Duck and round the corner to the church, in that order. The bells were always happy, and on a quiet Sunday evening we’d sit on the river bank, listen. When they ceased, there was frequently the hiss of a hot-air balloon filling the silence, floating in the late evening light.


Bells – drifting through a summer’s night dense with moonlight.   Wheatfields amber beneath a harvest moon which hovered bronze and glowing, just above the earth, cradled by stars in the vastness of the night sky.   Bells. . . pealing in the New Year across those same fields, now covered in soft pillowy snow.   Stealing under the thatched eaves of our cottage, as they’d done so many times before.

In Cirencester we heard a beautiful carillon from the cathedral, as we did in Amsterdam, Venice and Cape Town.   The bells speaking – as they have spoken down the centuries.   Each with a different voice.

          ‘Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly

          Come in the morning where I wandered and listened…’

                                                          (Poem In October-Dylan Thomas)

And I bought bells.   Christmas bells. Children’s bells. Happy bells. . .


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I confess (by the seat of my pants)

by Penny M

I read Bridget McNulty’s article entitled Sometimes Plan but Sometimes Wing It. Bridget is a published author in USA and South Africa. Bridget, the brain behind her Now Novel program, designed to help writers get going on that novel, believes that Writers can be divided into two categories: pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write without planning while plotters prepare beforehand with extensive outlines …

I had never heard of the term Pantser, and so I was immediately off on my journey through the internet to see if Bridget had just made this up.

Mouse Rider

According to Urban Dictionary.com, Sharing the pronunciation of the German word for “armor”, the pantsie believes the pantser is, in fact, some kind of Nazi fascist scum. Actually, the pantser is a NaNoWriMo term that means that you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ when you are writing your novel. You have nothing but the absolute basics planned …

What is NaNoWriMo? Oh yes, that stands for National Novel Writing Month which I am, in fact, poised to take part in, albeit eleven days late.

The Urban Dictionary continues, This outlook towards writing is often opposed by the ‘planner’, who knows exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, and where it will happen. There is often enmity between the two types of writers.

Now I know why my hesitations, procrastinations and tardiness irritate those plotter friends of mine. Sorry peeps, I confess, when it comes to writing and a few other important things like living, Facebook, Blogging and Linked-In, I’m a Pantser. I drop in at the last minute. The rush is amazing.

What is even more alarming is the realisation that I was paranoid about planning when working in the corporate arena. I had to be perfectly prepared before I set up an appointment, gave a talk, met with a client. There weren’t enough hours in the day to be perfect. Now my PJs are starting to show signs of fatigue.

Cindi Myers, another successful author, wrote in her article Plotter or Pantser: The Best of Both Worlds (see Writers Library)

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you outline before you sit down to write your novel, or do you sit down at the computer each day, waiting to be surprised, writing your book literally by the seat of your pants? Or are you a combination of the two?

Her step-by-step is really helpful.

When it comes to my consultancy work and business dealings, I still don’t like to be surprised, but have learnt to seize an opportunity, no matter how clumsily. I can always sweat the detail in the ‘wee’ hours and deliver the perfect plan tomorrow. At least deadlines are under my control. In spite of the unfortunate fact that most deaths are unpredictable, part of my service is to ensure that plans for that eventuality are in place well in advance (see my website www.matternatter.com for more information).

I have always felt deprived about my name, just Penny (not even Penelope) nee … My brother had a second name. Practically everybody I knew when I was a kid had more than one name, some even more than two. I was thinking that Penny M. Pantser might be kind of hip; or Penny M. Plotter. Instead of waiting for 11.59 and 59 seconds pm on 31st of December 2014, I have decided that my resolution is to be less of a Pantser and more of a Plotter. In the meantime, I have chosen a pseudonym for my novels. It is Penny M. Grace (my paternal grandmother’s first name).

A day in suburbia …

By Sue Trollip

The other night I drove to the city. Nostalgia hit as those lights came into view. Action, excitement, people. I sighed, did my shopping and went home to the pitch dark of suburbia.

Yesterday I worked a long long shift in three different departments.

I started with coffee and before I’d finished my first cup I’d been offered a house dog sitting job, then it was down to business in front of the computer. I’ve had several dog sitting jobs since I’ve been here and only one family had met me before. The rest were because of people we both knew. When the mum of a Chihuahua I’d babysat one weekend told her friend I’d look after their Labrador I sent a text saying ‘Would you like to meet me before you go so you can see if you like the look of me.’ And she replied with a smiley face saying ‘I do like the look of you because the Chihuahua’s mum likes the look of you.’ And that I guess is the story of life in a small town.

Then I moved on to what I like to call my ‘smile and wave’ job. When I first started working there it was as though I was a ghost, nobody looked at me unless they had a problem. Now I’ve become a fixture, a harmless gargoyle who talks. There are regulars who eat at the café there. There’s the man with the bushy grey beard who rides his bicycle everywhere and usually pauses to tell me a little about his day. There’s the dude who likes to discuss the weather with me. The older man with the crick in his spine who smiles and says hello but nothing else and the short man who’s always in a hurry but never fails to ask how I’m doing as he dashes past. And Mr and Mrs Tall and Skinny who sometimes greet me and at other times are lost in conversation and continue past as though I’m not there.

Finally I moved into the ER and … well that’s all I can tell you because what happens in the ER stays in the ER.

Just before midnight, I drove home beneath a huge yellow moon. Suburbia is not the city by any stretch, but the movies are only 30 minutes away and somehow there’s something comforting about living in a place where I get to smile and wave even when I’m not at work.

Chihuahua courtesy of Paul Gooddy at freedigitalphotos.net

Chihuahua courtesy of Paul Gooddy at freedigitalphotos.net