By Hazel Bond

Things I Have Discovered About My Mother

By Susan Roberts

s1I suppose I always took it for granted that I would one day become a mother, but somehow it never happened. This has something to do with the hours that I work, or maybe it’s because I grew up old-fashioned enough to believe that I needed a husband first. Over the years, the right candidate never appeared so I just got on with my life instead.

Not that I’m sorry I didn’t become a mother. My family will tell you that I was never particularly enamoured of kids. When I was grossed out by someone’s wailing brat or a dirty diaper, there was always a well-meaning relative to assure me that “it’ll be different when you have your own one day,” but they couldn’t see that there was a wary part of me that couldn’t imagine going through that with a permanent infant which I couldn’t hand back to its parents when the day was over.

Look, I’m not bad as a cat-mother. Several generations of kitties have passed through my life and I feel richer for having shared my home with all of them, but let’s face it, cats are pretty self-sufficient. I never had to nurse, sing to sleep or spoon-feed a cat. I never had a bitchy teenage cat telling me it hated me or that it wished I was dead. Plenty of my friends suffered the self-doubt brought on by their own ungrateful offspring in those teen years. Not me, thank goodness!
As for those diapers: my sister joked back in the 80s that she might be dealing with diapers then, but long after she stopped doing that, I would still be dealing with cat litter. Well, of course that’s true, but even now I’d rather face a litter tray than a single soiled diaper. A slotted spoon, a flushing toilet and a good blast of air freshener and the litter tray is as good as new.

No, the real reason I could never become a mother was because I knew I wouldn’t match up to my own mother.
My grandmother died when my mother was fourteen years old. My grandfather worked as a steam train driver and his job took him all over the country working odd hours, so it wasn’t practical for him to look after my mother. She went to live with her cousins. They were good to her and she maintained that friendship with all of them for the rest of her life.

Some years before my mother died I asked her about her family because I was trying to compile a family history. My mother’s family home had been packed up and sold when she was fourteen, so there were no records and very few photos. However, her memory was clear and she told me everything she could remember about her mother’s seven sisters and brothers, and the names, spouses and children of her grandmother’s three sisters from the generation before.

Fast forward to the present day. I have a distant cousin who lives in Spain – let’s call her H – who is the descendent of one of those sisters of my great-grandmother. Some years back H began compiling a family tree, so I passed on to her the information my mother had given me. The other week I took a long look at what H has completed so far. She has found so many relatives that it took me several hours to correlate her very thorough research into my somewhat sparse pages.
Two things happened to me that morning. First was an overwhelming admiration for my faraway cousin who has done so much work and has so lovingly researched all of this for the rest of the family to enjoy. (Thank you, H!)

When the initial awe and gratitude had passed, my second thought was one of sadness. I counted up the number of siblings that my great-grandmother really had, and there were more than just three sisters. There were six brothers and nine sisters – a total of fifteen siblings! My question now is: did my mother ever know that she had all these relatives? I don’t think so, because she told me the names of all those that she knew of. Although she didn’t know their dates, she had the names and there were only four, including her grandmother.

Of course, now that I have all of their birth and death dates, I can see that most of them had died before my mother was born. Some died within a few years after her birth, and she probably never met them, but most of them had offspring of their own. By the time my mother became a teenager, she had only a few relatives left on whom she could count. Sad that in a family of so many, so few were known to her.

My mother excelled at school and once received the highest marks in the province in a particular subject, but she didn’t finish school. More important to her was to get out of school, out of her relatives’ house and establish a home of her own. This she did, just as soon as she had a good enough qualification to get a decent job.

She rented a small bachelor flat next to her church and around the corner from the residential hotel in which her father lived. Often she would walk to his hotel after work and have her evening meal with him before walking home again. It was much safer back then, of course…

In her twenties she married my father, gave birth to my sister and then to me. She created a new family around her. It sounds odd, I know, but I only ever thought of her as a parent figure until after my father’s death. Only then did we talk as contemporaries.

She consoled me through broken romances, assuring me that there would always be a home for me “back home” when I fell on hard times. Years later the truth dawned on me: there was no way on earth that my mother was going to let any daughter of hers feel that she didn’t have a family home to go back to when a job crashed (in my case) or a marriage crumbled (in my sister’s case).

Looking back, I think that the worst thing that happened in my mother’s adult life was the death of my father. It must have s2seemed like she was all alone in the world again, just like when she was fourteen. At fourteen she had no choice other than to live with relatives, but at fifty she had a choice to continue to live her life on her own terms, and live it she did.

She was a wonderful mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She knitted us jerseys and sewed us ballet tutus and theatre costumes. She was a meticulous housekeeper, but one who loved pretty ornaments and knick-knacks around her. She had a place for everything, and everything was in its place. There was always a loving heart in the very centre of her home, from her immaculate blue-and-white kitchen to her peach-coloured bedroom. For too many of her formative years she had had no home to call her own, but she made up for it as soon as she was able to, giving her family everything that she had been denied.

She never deviated from that course. Her home and her love for her family were the most important things in her life, and I don’t think I could ever match that kind of dedication, no matter how much I love my cats!

Just a few weeks before my mother died, we walked out of the hospital together after her last chemo session and she told me that she had been very fortunate in her life. She had lived to see her daughters grow up, then her grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren. She said that there was nothing else in her life that she could have wished for.

She didn’t say it, but I know she must have wished that she could have spent more of her life in her own mother’s company, in a way that we – her daughters – were lucky enough to be able to do with her.

I miss her…

Oy Oy Oysters

By Jac Dowling

I’ve never actually met a walrus: nor do I believe Lewis Carroll did before writing his Jabberwocky poem The Walrus And The Carpenter. As a child I felt terribly sorry for the poor little oysters and swore never to eat them – ever. Until my tonsils took to swelling up every few weeks, making it difficult to swallow. Enter Doeks, Mrs Doeks and their little black brakkie ‘All Black’. They spent every oyster season combing the rocks along Port Alfred’s East Beach: returning at night with huge dripping sacks of oysters hoisted on their backs. Doeks, bandy-legged in his rolled up grey flannels, a tweed jacket and ancient felt hat: Mrs in her matching navy hat and long coat, which was buttoned to the neck probably 24/12. My father knew them well and they were regularly to be seen sitting under a tree in our garden, shucking oysters – which then found their way to me. And so began a lifelong gastronomic affair with these bivalves, in places so different and memorable – flavours, views and experiences blending and swirling, leaving an aftertaste of pure bliss.

In our hedonistic childhood we roamed the beaches and countryside on foot and horseback, perfectly safe and untroubled. Tables of rock, exposed at low tide, held pools of sea-anemones, brilliantly coloured: their tiny tentacles waving and grabbing at little darting fish. Creepy octopus lurked under ledges, and there were walls of huge oysters clinging to the rocks. A sturdy knife took care of cracking the shells open and we gorged ourselves on the thick, slippery and sweet meat of the molluscs. No lemon juice was required, nor tabasco or Black Velvet. Just sea water. When the weather was good and the tide in our favour, we more or less lived on oysters and were tanned, slim and very healthy children.

That was then. We grew up – looked for oysters in different places. On the banks of the Knysna Lagoon, mud flats stretching out on all sides, a small clinker-built boat runs up onto the sedge, offloads boxes of oysters freshly harvested from the lagoon beds. Our shaded picnic table of rough wooden planks, sits on the very edge of the water. Avocets and stilts dip their way through the silt and seagrass, red-legged oystercatchers peck among exposed rocks. And we address a platter of Knysna oysters fit for a king. Served on crushed ice with wedges of lemon – accompanied by a chilled and beaded bottle of Chardonnay Take two dozen home with us for later. For when the sun sets over the lagoon, and birds come home to roost.

Between Mauritius’s Grande Baie and Club Med an unremarkarble small restaurant stood back from the road: an ancient and weatherbeaten rowing boat propped against the wall. On it was painted in wobbly script Le Bateau Ivre which translated into The Drunken Boat. Interesting – we thought. Worth a try. That evening we persuaded our Mini-moke along the narrow and bumpy bayside road, the air heavy and scented with woodsmoke from casuarina fires. The restaurant appeared like something out of a film set. Soft lights lit filigreed branches of tasseled tamarisks. The exterior shadowed and inviting. Luring us in. We sat beneath a canopy of banana thatch. On a wood grill nearby, lobsters steamed fragrantly. French/Creole music played softly in the background . Our oysters arrived on generous platters, nestling in a mound of silky seaweed and accompanied by crusty French bread, toasted over the coals, and a bottle of South African white. Lamplight – mellow.

My last memorable interaction with oysters was at The Raft restaurant, Walvis Bay. And probably the best ever.

The Raft restaurant, Walvis Bay

Situated on a lagoon alive with birds, The Raft is an experience, with excellent food. Pelicans float under the deck, part of which is glass, so one has the feeling of being afloat yet firmly anchored – weird, especially if your table happens to be above a glass panel. The oysters, originally imported at an early stage from Chile, and matured in the lagoon, are sweet, succulent and possessing a flavour which lingers down the years. Oysters, chilled wine, pink flamingos, dolphins and a totally spectacular sunset.

Since then I’ve begun to feel like the walrus who wept bitter tears. All the local oysters are crammed into fish tanks, higgeldy piggeldy. No lovely waves washing over them and clearing their systems. Fish tanks in fish shops or over-priced restaurants. No thank you, I do not want six oysters on a plate with tabasco or balsamic – or dried out slices of lemon with a scattering of parsley to fill the spaces. My memories are far too poignant and rich.

O oysters, said the carpenter
You’ve had a pleasant run.
Shall we be trotting home again?
But answer came there none.
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one
(Lewis Carroll)

Mind the Gap – Social Media

Penny Mitchell - Communications that Matter

Those of you who have had the opportunity to ride on an underground rail system, commonly referred to as the tube, will be familiar with the warning to passengers to, “Mind the gap.” In explanation, there is a space between platform and carriage. When the doors open and you step in or out, make sure you don’t put your foot in it (the gap).

I am an avid proponent of social networking.

The purpose of publishing a book with Sue Trollip on mastering the basics, Going Global – Technology made simple (available on Amazon and through local independent outlets in South Africa) was to make sure that everyone can benefit from improved communication, for example Google, Facebook, Twitter etcetera. There are minions out there who are intimidated by technology – you can help by purchasing a copy for those you know.

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Did somebody say Cheese?

by Penny M

Yes, anything from a grimace to a grin will do as long as features are misplaced for a few seconds, minutes, or more, or more … Fortunately cameras are much faster these days for all except group photos.

Cheese no longer makes me smile. The cost has climbed into the eaves of every food store I know.

It’s a festive season, I think, a thought that no longer brings excitement. Have you noticed how the price of many basic necessities climbs towards December (or any holiday for that matter)? In fact, retailers can’t wait to order and display fresh stocks with price hikes from October onwards. Do they think we don’t notice?

People splurge to buy things they might not normally buy throughout the year. This is because it’s traditionally the season of giving, in celebration of the greatest gift of all.??????

But cheese?

An Economics Lecturer, in the dark ages of my memory, prodded my mind.

“Supply and demand.”

In my bread-winning thinking, this is an excuse trotted out by mercenary mouths who line their pockets for retirement. Many scrimp and save, spend a bonus, take credit. Why should that gift or treat you’ve been ‘scrooging’ for jump in price at year end? Believe me commerce is geared towards making sure there is plenty of supply to meet that demand. The retailers are not counting sheep at night over mark-ups – the consumer is already captivated.

Chain stores (excuse the pun) order extra fashion lines etcetera, mark it up for the festive shopper and then down to the normal price (where they still make there extortionate profit) on sale in January. So who is demanding what from whom? So be it.

Call me a Grinch if you like, but is there any reason why basics should increase in price at Christmas, or any other holiday for that matter? The number of Gammons in fridges under threat of power cuts was enough to alarm anybody who has ever experienced food poisoning. I bought mine early, turned the freezer to maximum and kept the gammon there until just before cooking.

According to an article on Supply and Demand in Wikipedia, there are four rules. I have listed them below with my rough interpretation following in italics:

  1. If demand increases … and supply remains unchanged, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price – suppliers rub their hands with glee, put the prices up and work overtime to meet the demand; or just continue at normal production, but increase the price; or stockpile until retailers are chomping at the bit for stock and then release more at a higher price. (NB – another thought is that they’ve coughed up a lot on expensive advertising to increase demand and have to get it back now).
  2. If demand decreases … and supply remains unchanged, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price – Stands to reason if nobody wants your goods at that price, you will have to drop it to clear the surplus and plan your production accordingly.
  3. If demand remains unchanged and supply increases, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price – Duh! Bad management! Too many people needing the overtime to pay for the cost of living.
  4. If demand remains unchanged and supply decreases, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price – If the loyal customer can’t do without your stuff, they’ll have to pay! So all the supplier has to do is stockpile and take a holiday I’ve made enough batches of mince pies this season to understand why fruit mince might be in short supply (I paid R19.99 for a jar at Spar), but cheese!

My solution to demanding suppliers:

  1. Know your customer.
  2. Monitor your sales every month.
  3. Produce for your regulars.
  4. If your prices are reasonable, you will attract more customers without unnecessary spend on advertising which drives up your costs.
  5. Plan to meet increased demand at holiday times, but don’t raise your prices. You will sell more which should improve your profit margins.
  6. Factor in your seasonal costs, e.g. overtime, shutdown, bonus cheques and price accordingly all year round.

And last of all, drop the price of cheese and make me smile!

A beautiful and frosty new year

By Sue Trollip

I’m starting off my new year doing one of my favourite things … travelling.

I’m not actually going to leave at one minute past midnight and there will first be red wine and fireworks on a snow covered mountain, but after that I’m hopping into a car and fleeing across the snow covered desert to see what I find. As Robert Louis Stevenson said:

‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.’

I agree wholeheartedly, but I also like to go places, Robert. I like to immerse myself in whatever is there, or run for the nearest train, as I’ve done before. Moving though the world is always a lovely experience and today we have been discussing different smells and the way food tastes different in each country even when it’s the same. It’s interesting how we all see things in our own way. David Mitchell wrote in ‘Cloud Atlas’:

‘Travel far enough, you meet yourself.’

Even Henry Miller had it right when he said:

‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’

So I’m going to see the Nevada desert, the mountains, the Pacific ocean and the city of San Francisco and when I return I will no doubt have learned a few more things about myself and my surrounds.

This morning, I travelled to the next town over in the blistering cold. My ears were cherry coloured icicles and my toes curled into their socks anxious to return to the heat of the car as I marched down the street of touristy shops. It was a browsing expedition, a fun outing in unbearable weather and when the lure of coffee seduced me back to the car I did not hesitate, until I saw the lake with windy sea-horses, a beach covered in snow and the distant mountains capped with more snow.DSC06409

Beautiful and frosty … now for the wine and the fireworks!