By Susan Roberts

My grandfather’s house today

My grandfather’s house today

I went through many transitions in the first fifteen to eighteen years of my working life, but my childhood was different. It was filled with roots. I grew up in the same house in Pietermaritzburg in which my father had grown up, and my formative years were the epitome of a happy, settled childhood.

My dad had grown up during the Second World War, and he had felt a strong sense of pride when accompanying his father in the Citizen Protection Services to ensure that neighbours conformed to the wartime blackouts and curfews in case of enemy planes. His mother had joined the army and worked at a military hospital, so his Great Aunt Bertha took over the household duties of caring for the two young boys in their parents’ absence.

Building the house just after WW1

Building the house just after WW1

Despite the fact that it was wartime, my father and his friends managed to enjoy their childhood. Or perhaps because it was wartime, they were not as closely supervised as they might otherwise have been. They played pranks, engaged in mock battles which usually ended in one gang burning down the riverside grass-and-mud fortress built by the opposing gang, and they still found time to bait and dodge the crazed, child-hating neighbour who brandished his shotgun at anyone under twelve who entered his vast nine acre property on the other side of the river.

I grew up listening to my father’s tales of the neighbourhood. For me, life was good and centred around those same landmarks. School was within walking distance, and high school only a bus ride away. There were ballet lessons, drama club activities, amateur dramatics and later the fun of University which was on the far side of town, two bus rides away.

My dad is the small grubby one

My dad is the small grubby one

We moved house when I was in my first year at University, but only across the river to the other side of the valley. My world was still small, still contained within that neighbourhood.

And then came the first big transition, when I graduated with a degree in English and Speech & Drama, and started my working life in South African theatre.

To do this I had to move away from home and relocate to Johannesburg at the beginning of 1982. This was when my real education began – all that “school of hard knocks” stuff that I had only heard about.

Theatre was fun, but it was hard too. Hard to live in a transitory world, hard to make a decent living, hard to come to terms with having no social life, hard to be away from home and family, and hard to pack up and go on the road again every few months with another touring show. I was young enough to enjoy the experience of life in other towns, and I got to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. However, every few years I got sick of the same old grind and changed my own scenery by moving to a new city, working for a different theatrical management.

To cut a very long story short – four years in Johannesburg, three in Cape Town, three in Durban, one and a half in Bophuthatswana, and another two and a half years touring two musicals back-to-back around the country – I finally settled down to a more permanent job in Johannesburg in 1995. It was while working there that I decided the time had come to settle in more ways than one, and I bought my first apartment.

The day before I moved into it, the mover’s truck broke down and my friends rallied together with all their small hatchback cars and the loan of two bakkies to move me into what I declared would be the last place I ever lived. In fifteen years I had lived at nineteen different addresses. No more.

“Next time I move,” I said, “it will be just me in a pine box.” I ate those words before too long, of course.

After two and a half years (it seemed to be my job limit at that stage of my life), I changed jobs again and spent a year at another local Johannesburg theatre, then commuted daily from my apartment to two Pretoria theatres in succession. A few more freelance contracts followed over the next year or so but my attitude to life was undergoing enormous changes and I missed my family more than ever before. Johannesburg winters seemed to be particularly bleak in my new home, especially since my boyfriend had finally declared that he had no intention of marrying me.

It wasn’t a big step to pack up and move back to Natal, closer to my family, once again. My plan was to settle in the Nottingham Road/Dargle area, to make candles and stained glass crafts on the Midlands Meander. I was finished with theatre…

However, a theatre job came up in Durban. I applied for and got it. I began working in a beautiful theatre that I had performed in as a student, and had visited on several tours.

I’ve been there for fifteen years now. Some people might say of this that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before the prince arrives, but I think it’s also about growing up and deciding what’s important to you. In my book, family heads the list every time.



by Penny M

Have you noticed that most who understand language have an opinion about something? I have heard that there is no right or wrong when it comes to a personal viewpoint, it’s simply that. For example, I think chocolate should grow on trees; that’s not wrong; it’s my thinking. The fact that chocolate is derived from the seeds of the cacao tree doesn’t faze me one bit. To be more specific, then, I think ‘ready-to-eat’ chocolate should grow on trees. You may think that’s a ‘cac’ idea. That’s your opinion and there’s nothing wrong about it.

I confess to being side-tracked by my revision session with Wikipedia (while commencing this blog last month). Cocoa solids are one of the richest sources of flavanol antioxidants, those chemicals that are great for Cardiovascular Health and, according to a 2006 Japanese Study, counteract, ‘age-related cognitive decline’ (Dole Nutrition Institute).

Cocoa solids also contain ingredients that have physiological effects on the body and are linked to serotonin (happy chemical) levels and could potentially lower blood pressure if taken in moderation. I could go on about the cancer fighting qualities of flavanol antioxidants etcetera, but now I am totally off track and happy about the chocolate I demolished yesterday. You might have a different opinion. You are more than welcome to it.

No, I started this blog wondering if that phrase, ‘the pot calling the kettle black,’ might be offensive at this time of national embarrassment (see my previous blog on Fifty Shades of …). There seems to be a whole lot of it going on. In my sooty opinion, there are merits on either side of the slippery slopes of reason. Instead of fisticuffs, could each party deal with matters in a mature manner and not unplugged?

Whatever happened to the proverbial ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?’

According to a quotable quote by Caroll Bryant ( (except for the bits in brackets which I appear to have discovered from a forgotten source) – Some people make things happen (EFF). Some people watch things happen (Zuma). And then there are those who wonder, ‘What the hell just happened?’ (DA). Not that I have a vote, but I think I might be in the latter category.

The amazing thing about news is that it’s over before you’ve caught up with it.

Not to worry, with the tenacity of certain politicians, our news is like a satellite series – if you miss it, it is sure to be repeated on the weekend, in the early hours of the morning, in six months, or next year, or even, in the case of bringing seven hundred plus cases of corruption to court, six years.

Sadly the ills of this land are rehashed in different ‘soapy’ episodes with various characters in the same old, same old. This one is in bed with that one and next month he’s in bed with somebody else. Sounds a bit like six hundred and ninety nine shades of pink (?).

The question remains, in my opinion, who is making news and who is making history or are they all in a hot bed with somebody spine-chilling? Is South Africa stuck in history and hyping it into news every day? Are South Africans chewing the cud of conscience or bitterness? Is the media blowing things out of all proportion, or are its ‘leaders’ exposing what others are trying to hide?

I think I’ll stick to chocolate, the darker the better. When I’m sad, I pray for the future of this beautiful nation and believe there is one; when I’m in a ‘cac’ mood, I sometimes resort to satire and laugh with those who wonder what the hell happened (or should I say, “what hell happened?”). In conclusion, I have to forgive trespassers their trespasses whether they are EFF, ANC, DA or whoever, for they cannot possibly know the full implications and ramifications of what they are doing to their ‘neighbours’. Anyway forgiveness and a few morsels of chocolate are good for the heart.

Forgive my sense of humour, but this clip below appealed (courtesy of You Tube).

The Pork Pie’s Growing Whiskers

By Jacqueline Dowling

I often wonder what sort of gap year I’d choose today. Would it be chilling on a Thai or Goan beach, back-packing around the globe, doing good deeds in one of the deprived regions of the world, working the super yachts…? there are just so many choices, so many places to go – things to see. And how do today’s Gappers ever manage to settle down when it’s all over?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Pictures from

My gap job just happened. It wasn’t exactly chosen nor, I suspect, would they have chosen me had they known how totally unsuited I was to the world of kitchens, waitressing, cooking and locking up. Home Economics at school had laid a solid foundation in the art of cleaning a stove until it squealed for mercy, removing stubborn red wine and beetroot stains, clearing drains, concocting a superb shrimp cocktail . . . What it didn’t prepare me for was how to poach and present an egg on toast (light supper) without the toast subsiding in a soggy mess due to a badly drained egg. Nor was I up to speed with ‘Welsh Rarebit dear, not too stodgy please.’ What the * was Welsh Rarebit? I was soon to find out.

Rewind to one of the Shakespeare Trust properties in Stratford-upon-Avon. Downstairs housed a restaurant-cum-coffee shop and a superb garden for summer meals and teas. It also housed me and several plummy voiced guides who took visitors and groups on tours of the lovely old Tudor building. Upstairs, The British Council occupied a couple of rooms at the back. From time to time large groups of their international luminaries and students were booked in for lunch, English style. Which meant roast beef and all-those-things. And that was the beginning of my woes.

Twelve beautifully robed and sari’d ladies sat around an ancient oak table and surveyed in polite silence the platters of roast beef, and Yorkshire pudding drooling thick beefy gravy. Eyes settled on their waitress (me) bearing aloft a large bowl of peas and another of new potatoes liberally doused with butter and chopped mint. It should have been a loud tara – tara moment, the dishes being set down with a flourish, and everyone going Oooh in various tongues. It didn’t happen. I tripped over a chair, both bowls headed due south and anyone within their sphere received a lapful of potatoes and peas, butter and mint.

Fast forward to my first duty evening. The gas stove looked a bit mucky so I set to and scrubbed it: then, for good measure, polished it with Zebo black lead. Looked great. Enter two Octogenarians who ordered ‘Our usual please dear.’ Silence.

Then ‘Erm, I’m new here so could you tell me what your usual is please?’ Turned out to be Welsh Rarebit, not stodgy. A quick phone call home and all was clear. Toast, white sauce with lots of cheese, not stodgy, pop under grill and you’re away. Except – when blackleading a hob, it’s a good idea to remove all lead polish. Top and bottom. Somehow the bottom bit missed out and when I lit the grill to brown the WR a shower of liquid black spits measel’d out all over my masterpiece. Not good. I explained that the griller had gone on the blink and would they like a fresh cheese/ham/egg or pork pie salad instead. Which, after a few whinges, they did. Now the commercial pork pies in the UK at that time were huge, delicious, golden and jellied and required refrigeration. I cut off two generous hunks from the one in current use, saladed up the plates and presented my alternative piéce de résistance with the flourish which missed out in the peas/potatoes incident. And left them to it.

Back in the kitchen preparing for the following day,I heard a tentative voice. Mrs Octo stood with her plate held before her, Oliver Twist style, and murmured ‘ Your salad was lovely dear, but the pork pie’s growing whiskers.’ And it was. Since I had survived the several slices I’d eaten for supper, it clearly hadn’t reached the red zone – yet. I could visualise the headlines in the local paper: ‘Student dies in suspicious circumstances. A whiskered pork pie has been taken into custody to help police with their investigation.’ Worse was to come when I discovered that the hard-boiled egg in the middle was turning a suspicious shade of greeny-grey. We’ve come a long way with sell-by dates and preservatives, but back then it was a case of writing down the date of opening or cutting anything perishable, and keeping a close watch.

On the flip side, I met a great cross-section of actors, musicians, poets, visitors – and the local puppeteers who made beautifully crafted marionettes, usually of the characters in the current RSC season of plays. And, on one occasion, a coachload of West African dignitaries in fabulous robes, accompanied by young boys wearing long white dishdashes and carrying brass bowls of rose-scented water for the washing of hands between courses. My job was to transport the trays of food to the edge of the room, well away from the table, and hand them on to the vassals in white. Happily nothing was spilled on this occasion and I was relocated to my favourite place, the garden.

Best of all were the summer evenings when I’d lock the old studded oak front door and hurry down Waterside to the theatre, just in time to buy a cheap seat in the gods, right up near the ceiling. I saw every production that came to the RSC that year, opera, ballet, Shakespeare, musicals, pantomime – and it laid a firm foundation for my choices in life. Did I settle down to higher education? No, not really: it was a struggle, and I so badly wanted to go back. Would I do it again given the chance? Yes, definitely, but always keeping a close eye on the pork pies’ five o’clock shadow and steering well clear of any form of stove polish!

Blood and victory

By Sue Trollip

When I first read Hemingway’s quote

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I thought it metaphorical. I mean can you really bleed at a typewriter? Perhaps if you missed a few keys and slammed your fingers onto those metal arms beneath, yes. But it’s rather unlikely. Can we bleed at a keyboard? I can understand carpel tunnel and really sore fingers but blood, not so much.

Then the Oscars came to town and although I joined in well after the whistle I’m doing my best to catch up. Two nights ago I watched Whiplash (Thank you Redbox). And man, was there blood, both literal and metaphorical.

I wonder what JK Simmons had to sacrifice to put that little golden statue on his shelf, or next to his bed, or in his briefcase. JK Simmons is a man we’ve all seen before. He’s been in a lot of movies and he has one of those faces. Then after years of slogging he wins his Oscar. Well deserved, in my opinion, the man was brilliant. But I want to ask him what it cost.

Last night I watched Foxcatcher and it had a similar theme. What is the cost of fame? How do we get it? What are we willing to sacrifice to have it?

Then I started thinking, and thinking some more and, my question to you is this:

With no guarantees of success how far would you go to succeed?