Totally Spiked

By Jac Dowling

Penny’s delightful hahahadeda piece set me thinking. Actually it did more than that because my thought process has been somewhat somnolent lately. It sent me to the garage in search of brooms, brushes, rakes, squeegees and feather dusters – here’s why:

We have twelve pillars (of wisdom, naturally – or was that seven?) around the stoeps of our house, all of which are adorned with ramparts of pigeon spikes, ostensibly to deter amorous and sleeping/messing pigeons. Ha. Not so. They love our spikes and snuggle down between them, usually making an untidy nest in the process, plight their various troths, lay eggs and start all over again. Their amorous serenades are anything but musical and, when the crescendo arrives I sprint (?) outside waving towels, jumpers, trousers…whatever’s lying around, and threaten them with dire consequences. They fly up out of reach and start all over again.   Hence the garden equipment. Except that today I discovered that they love sitting on broom bristles – clearly they do not have delicate derriéres.   So now we have boxes, bricks and styrofoam on three pillars, a rake, crutch and broom on another, two old brooms and a mop on the next and so ad inf.

But, it’s not only pigeons that haunt our maison. Two amorous starlings have latterly been removing mud and moss, wet and smelly, from the gutter and assembling it in the most arbitrary fashion among the tools and spikes – the mess is awful.   So, I tried soaking birdseed in vinegar and putting it out for them, loved it, ate every last seed – and returned. No sign of indigestion or discomfort, if anything it spurred them on to even greater efforts.   So, as things stand, if any cleaning within or without the house is required, we hasten to the pillars for the necessary utensil, use it and return to site asap. Job done.

So, Penny, your dawn chorus is more than welcome on our stoeps and, if anyone has an antidote to the aforementioned pesky birds, please let’s have it. Don’t even think of suggesting ear-plugs or ignore!   I’m about to venture forth with a bullwhip, if I can find one and risk being reported to the SPCA or relevant pigeon/starling protection unit.   I also have to attend to a spot of avian incest taking place in the bird-bath.

Don’t you dare laugh. We are no longer amused…


Kamakazi chipmunks on the Legacy Trail

By Sue Trollip

It’s is a fact universally known, to chipmunk aficionados, that chipmunks are most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon. This would explain why, when I wake at dawn, (well maybe just after, but it’s early), and hop onto my bicycle and race to work, I am dodging and swaying through the scurry of chipmunks.

Ground SquirrelYes, people refer to them as rodents, pests and other unkind things, but when you’re on your bicycle in the woods they are too adorable.

They do have a tendency to run next to you, or into you (no chipmunks were harmed in the research for this blog), so I’m not going to credit them with large brains. But they do seem friendly and I like that on my lonely morning ride along the river bank.


Picking Up Old Threads

By Susan Roberts

Yesterday I unpacked some of my boxes of precious books which are stored in my sister’s garage. There’s something tremendously reassuring about caressing the blue cover of my Oxford English Dictionary, and running my fingers over the dog-eared pages of my mother’s bright red copy of Chambers Thesaurus. A feeling of home.

It’s been three months since I packed them, and in the interim I have resorted to using Google in their place. But for all its speed, the internet doesn’t have the cosy feel of my own special books. I’ve given them a place on the bookshelf next to my bed, so they are within easy reach when I need help. Next to them are the rest of my reference books on writing, and on the shelf above are other favourite books about writing, together with my tatty collection of personal writing notebooks.
Below these two shelves are the travel guides, plus maps, and all my own travel diaries from places I have visited over the years. They have provided valuable information when I’ve written about faraway places. The initial impression captured in those travel diaries, regardless of how much detail about setting may be absent, is always the key to the essence of a place.

While the actual memories may not always be within easy recall, a quick re-read puts me back into the same frame of mind I was in when I first wrote them. Albums of photos help me later by recalling a visual reference, but it is the notebooks that contain the seeds of the setting.

Next to the bookcase is my little writing desk, the home of all things to do with stationery: pens, pencils, fresh notebooks, stapler, sticky-tape, paperclips and rubber bands. I have loads of envelopes too, in various colours, but since all my correspondence nowadays is via email, the envelopes are more for ornamentation than for practicality.


Talking of practicality, I write only notes and journal entries at this desk. It’s too small to accommodate the laptop, several notebooks, my favourite large teacup and all the other paraphernalia that surrounds me when I write my novels – a dining table is more the size I need for those – but it is a very cute desk and reminds me of the larger one my parents had, on which I often did my homework way back in the 1970s when everything was painstakingly written in cursive.

My homework took hours because I was always fascinated by the nooks and crannies of my parents’ old writing desk, filled with the earlier equivalent of my own later one – paper, pens, lots of envelopes and writing paper, pots of ink, stamp pads and assorted older knick-knacks from my grandparents’ time. During homework sessions my mind wandered as I played with old fountain pens, a rusty sharpener in the shape of a Scottie dog, compasses, magnifying glasses and even an old camera. Between solving boring maths problems and writing history essays I dreamed of one day writing more exciting things…


My mother had the desk restored to its former glory about twenty years ago and today it stands proudly in my sister’s study, which is the room next to my bedroom. It’s strange but comforting to have come halfway around the world to be reunited with the trappings of my youth, and with some of its dreams.

Which brings me to my next novel.

I don’t know where the next will be set, but it will be in a place I have visited, written notes about, and dreamed of. First, however, I must complete my current WIP which is long overdue. The best day for starting on any writing project is always today, and I will do that just as soon as I’ve finished writing this blog-post. The surest way to recover from upheaval in one’s life is to pick up the tenuous threads and start again, in front of a desk, one word at a time.

Morning has Broken

by Penny M

It’s one of those ‘what-came-first, the bird-or-the-egg?’ days. The Hadedas (or maybe this time the Wild Geese) are tap dancing on our roof as if somebody fitted them with clogs and toe taps. Without looking, I know they are launching themselves from the roof and swooping into the valley below. From bedroom level, it’s common to catch sight of plump underbellies and wings close enough to catch a feather.

I dutifully refrain from whingeing at the impudence of these tree-top refugees who wake me so rudely with their repertoire.

The voice of my ‘love-and-let-live’ neighbour as long as it suits him, ricochets across my conscience and silences me. “They were here long before us, you know. We have taken their territory.”

This is debatable and I won’t enter into Hadeda hugging or Goose cuddling, but somehow I know that the cries of these clumsy TerraDactyl look-alikes have a place in the South African psyche.

When I visit my parents in the U.K., the dawn chorus is a complete contrast and somehow wanting. Blackbirds, Starlings and Robins just don’t cut it without a section of strangulated tenors. Of course, seagulls have similar habits, but these don’t frequent the sing-song silence of inland Wiveliscombe in the bowels of Somerset. Neither do birds thump around above the eaves. Telephone poles and wires are more their thing.

RobinBlackbird In the tranquillity of an English village, tweets and warbles are more in keeping with the lyrics of an old hymn I used to sing at school, but never fully appreciated.

Morning has broken like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken like the first bird

Praise for the singing, praise for the morning

Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.

It strikes me as uncanny that Hadeda Ibis are referred to as Birds of Eden.

Ibis Perhaps, when at home in South Africa, I should adjust the lyrics slightly:

Morning has broken like the first morning

Hadedas woken like TerraDactyls

Praise for alarmists, praise for the warnings

They were here first, disturbing my World.

Ah well, when I get to Australia, I will have to contend with the rushing of night air as gargantuan fruit bats flap overhead like Hadedas without voices.

Thank God, He didn’t consult me before He designed the messengers of the air with His Words and assigned them to their dawn and dusk missions. I might have had something far less creative and uplifting to Blog about.

Birds on a Wire - freedigitalphotos.netOh, and by the way, my morning is fixed – it’s far better sleeping under a pillow than in a tree!

Photos courtesy of

Cabbages and things

by Jac Dowling

No, this isn’t about my latest trip to Food Lovers, Checkers and Spar, even though I have been known to visit all three on the same day, armed with shopping bags and credit card. Our Saturday Farmers’ Markets are packed to the gills with home-grown ‘organics’, home bakes, pork pies (without whiskers) @ R25 a slice and so on and so forth. Lovely things – but I was taken to a new project in Cape Town’s Company Gardens : plots of magnificent veggies and herbs have been established in what might have been the original place chosen by the Dutch East India Company.

The beds groan with compost and everything that a self-respecting vegetable could possibly want, and the result is predictably excellent. Rows of bright, strong spinach, frilly lettuce, beans interspersed with rocket, basil and the rest; mint and flowering whatnots, all edible and an absolute feast for the eye. A pebbled leiwater canal runs through the centre of all this, again possibly where the original water course might have been. I wasn’t around in 1650 with a gps, so I can’t be absolutely sure. Just a wee bit before my time. Surrounding all this munificence are the famous rose beds, on the verge of bursting into flower and, just beyond is the restaurant – accent being on the rest bit.

There’s nowhere I know quite like this peaceful setting, where one can relax with a friend, good coffee and a humungous breakfast. Quite simply, it’s a lovely place to be and there’s no rush.

The rest of the day was taken up with an interesting Irma Stern exhibition and another mounted by William Kentridge which had me bug-eyed since it deals with the concept of time in space, light years and . . . things. Absolutely fascinating especially as it involved moving images on three walls, with wooden working models down the centre of the gallery – moving in tandem with the images: fortunately it was dark in there so my state of non-comprehension went unnoticed.

West Side Story at Artscape, was a thrilling climax to an exciting day. A friend conducted the Cape Town Philharmonic and me oh my did they give the music a blast. It was an absolutely stunning performance, from all aspects and, at the end, the entire opera house rose to its feet and roared! I’m still experiencing outbreaks of goosebumps.

It was a truly memorable family time even though we didn’t actually find any cabbages per se, or perhaps they were having an insecure moment under the lettuce. But I shall return. There’s research to be done at the SA library, on microfilm which, on three of the machines, involves twiddling knobs. Fortunately it’s just a breath away from the restaurant – and cabbages and things.