Where have all the whales gone?

By Jacqueline Dowling

In 2014 I wrote the following piece in response to Penny leaving out a pom pom in The Little Drummer Boy.

This year, things have changed – a bit. The Christmas decs popped up all over our local retail stores, thankfully sans carols and groaning Crosby, at the moment. October 15th. So, when I enter the hallowed (by xmas trees) precincts, I turn right, away from the toys and toys and toys and get down to cabbages and grapes (or similar). Much more satisfying nutritionally. . .

So what’s changed? The whales have gone elsewhere, that’s what. We haven’t seen one close in this year. The boat cruises tell us that they’re far out because of warmer water – maybe, or perhaps they’re lying on a slab out east. I hope not. There was a timewhen we counted twenty five really close in, leaping, playing, mating. This year – uh uh. Nix, nada.

This is what I wrote, and I hope I’ll be able to write in a more positive frame of mind next season. I miss hearing them blow in the still of the night, and their mighty leaps out at sea.

Image result for hermanus whales images

The day was hot, no white Christmas in sight. Red nosed reindeer and jingling bells wilted in the heat.

Glitzy trees flashed their signals – Come and Spend spend spend. Only nine hundred and sixty shopping hours left ’til Christmas.

And then I heard it, very faintly through the hubbub and clatter of trolleys, the cadences easy and gentle. ‘….And he smiled at me – pa – rup -a -pom -pom…‘ suddenly my hectic materialistic world, for a moment stood still.

I left the noise, the bling and frenetic Come and buy buy buy of the stores and went down to the cliffs. To the sea. To the birds and whales.

The rocks were warm, the sea just a summer whisper of clear aquamarine. Sapphire pools filled with tiny darting fish and huge waving sea-anemones where flocks of oyster catchers strutted their scarlet way, their high pitched wheeeee carried on the southerly breeze. Across the bay Southern Right whales spouted and lolled, glossy black; lazy in the swells. I was quite alone, blissfully detached . But still the haunting lyrics of The Little Drummer Boy stayed with me, like a carousel going around and around – and around.

A shadow moved into the pool at my feet, silently slipping through the kelp. A large shadow, followed by a much smaller one. It was a whale cow with her newly born calf. She came to rest within metres of my rock, nudged the little body towards her and suckled it. I watched, awed by the love between these two gentle creatures, by their grace and utter trust.

This African nativity- no shepherds, no kings or wise men. Just a timeless and beautiful reminder, suspended, for a moment in the crystalline waters, of a humble birth, so long ago: and what it has come to mean to us.

Then, in one swift movement, the mother thrust her calf to the surface and blew.

Twin spouts of warm oily mist drifted towards me as she raised her head, opened her massive baleen jaws – and smiled.

Image result for hermanus whales images

Until next season – when I so hope this will ring true again…

Good Housekeeping

by Penny M

Spring cleaning started in summer this year with a bee-in-the bonnet declutter. In fact, it was overdue by a couple of decades. Love letters were discovered, scanned aID-100369858nd filed. Yes somebody did love me once. Bible study doilies, courtesy of resident fish moths were finger-shredded in preparation for their journey towards oblivion; their notes still play in my heart.

Books found new order. Things hoarded for future family or retirement projects were relinquished to the trash or charity for new homes and hands. My original objective for all this activity was a moving decision and a decision to move. Reality slowed the pace to embrace a vacation strategy. God’s timing is perfect.

Now it really is Spring and the momentum is over, like a candle with a sneakily, short wick.

In comparison, my internal housekeeping is ongoing. With understanding comes forgiveness. Lies are tossed, compassion discovered and hope reborn. The truth is I am changed. As usual, I will celebrate Christmas for the right reason. I will not be listening for reindeer bells and wellingtons, but the scrunch of footprints across the sand. Also, maybe the patter of my granddaughter’s feet as she locates me making the most of my vacation visit.


For some the promise of a second coming, or death in the interim, induces fear and frantic attempts to get houses in order. For others like me, there’s no rush. Christ is already here and points out the ‘dust’ when I’m ready to deal with it. Peace is part of the ‘furniture’. I am loved and there are no cobwebs in my soul.

Pics courtesy of: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php
“Flowering Apple Tree In Spring” by Vlado
“Young Brunette Woman Standing With Mop” by radnatt

Quirky Family Holiday Traditions

By Susan Roberts

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the 25th of December – more than any other date in the year – causes us to think back on past Christmases. Apart from the obvious religious significance, I think that each person who celebrates Christmas grows up with traditions that they believe are universal, only to discover that classmates and next-door neighbours do things slightly differently.

When I was a child, every December my father would move one of the lounge chairs into the spare room and bring in the big potted tree from outside. My mother would wrap Christmas paper around the rusty tub it stood in, and we knew that the magical time of Christmas was on its way.

The school year always ended on a Friday and from the first Monday of the holidays we began to decorate the tree in earnest. We must have had a ghastly collection of child-made decorations that we churned out during the last few weeks of school, along with a few glitter-strewn paint-daubed or crayoned… er… things that we felt were Christmassy. My parents indulged us, but were probably relieved once the more badly-made ones fell apart and had to be replaced with much better ones bought from a shop.

One year, the tree itself had to be replaced because my sister developed an allergy from the leaves and wasn’t allowed to touch it. Not a problem – it was the 1960s so there was a great new tradition of bright green, symmetrical plastic and wire trees that could be bought instead of the real thing, so we quickly jumped on that bandwagon.

Every December after that we decorated the plastic one and packed it back into its box every January, along with the tiny bright plastic berries that could be pushed onto the ends of every wire branch. I still have that tree. The berries? Not as many as we started with…

A few nights before Christmas the dining room door was closed and we could hear much wrapping of presents inside, but the gifts weren’t put out under the tree until just before we went to bed on Christmas Eve. My mother had an annoying habit of putting sticky-tape over the little gift tags that opened like small cards, so that our fingers couldn’t pry them open for us to see who was getting what. We were absolutely not allowed to prod, shake or poke any presents that had our names on. Or anyone else’s presents, for that matter.

We were packed off to bed after the usual reading of The Night Before Christmas and despite high expectations of Santa’s visit, with the best will in the world we never managed to stay awake to see him come down the chimney. He must have done because in the early hours of the next morning there was always a parcel on the foot of each of our beds. How did he do that?!

Once our parents woke up, we had a quick breakfast and left for church with our mother while our father did the necessary preparation of the Cornish hen, then fetched our grandfather (along with Grandpa’s current girlfriend) and any other stray relatives, in time for the big lunch.

After church, we had the ceremonial handing out of the presents, the wild frenzied unwrapping, and then the relocation to the dining room for the biggest meal of the year. This always ended with a traditional hot Christmas pudding (out of a traditional tin from the supermarket), steamed and decorated with plastic holly, and eaten with home-made brandy butter, syrup and lots of ice-cream. (A reminder here to all northern hemisphere readers – in South Africa it is extremely hot in December so ice cream is just the best thing in the world!)

All this eating activity (or maybe it was the heat) seemed to wear out the adults because after Christmas lunch they all became drowsy and had to stretch out on sofas and (more annoyingly) on our beds because our childhood bedroom had the glorious afternoon sun. Children were banished to the garden where we met neighbours and played with new dolls, train sets, tricycles or bicycles and – of course – books!

Later in the afternoon once the adults had revived, we did the annual stuffing of our cake-holes with Christmas cake, mince pies and a vast array of sweets and nuts that my mother had managed to stash away from us for who knew how many weeks, and then the relatives were taken home.

As the day turned to evening, we prepared for a cold chicken supper with another family of friends. I don’t know when that tradition started, but each year we alternated – one year at their house and the next at ours. It was always the perfect winding down, relaxing time and my overriding memory is that there was lots of laughter.

Within a few days after Christmas we usually packed up for two weeks down the coast at a big family hotel that we returned to year after year until it got too expensive. Or perhaps it was because we got too big to share a family room?
By the time we returned home in January, the tree looked drab and out of place so it was taken apart and packed away. A few days later, the preparations began for another gruelling year of school before we could all have fun again at the next Christmas.

My family’s traditions have changed a bit over the years, but the memories are as vivid as ever at this time of year. Unlike Scrooge, I enjoy the visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past.

What are your favourite memories of family and holiday traditions? And do you still follow the same ones that you grew up with?

Original retro tree from the 1960s – skinny and spindly, missing a few berries and baubles, but still holding its own

Original retro tree from the 1960s – skinny and spindly, missing a few berries and baubles, but still holding its own

Dashing through the snow

By Sue Trollip

Yes, that’s what I did yesterday – well to be honest it was more of a shuffle than a dash. Who has snow boots before the first snow? From the squeals about frozen toes from all the ‘out of towners’ at the office, I’d guess no one. Last night the websites, with speedy delivery, that sell boots online made a fair killing in our little town.

But that’s not my story.

It’s Christmas. It’s snowing. It’s a real live wonderland out there.

People have gone insane. No longer is suburbia a dark inky well after sundown. It’s now an oasis which, I swear, could be seen from the moon. In our neighbourhood there are even Christmas lights on real pine trees. How … how … it’s beyond me, but it’s beautiful. Entire houses are swathed in lights, and downtown each tree is wrapped, and I mean entirely wrapped, in tiny sparkling white lights.

It’s majestic.

The world glitters between the falling snowflakes and I can’t be anything but idiotically happy every time I step outside.

I know it’s still a few days away, but MERRY CHRISTMAS!

A Mother Time

by Penny Mleaf2

While contemplating my next blog, I realised that I turned my new leaves over months before New Year’s Day 2014 had a chance to survive the fireworks and reverie. Resolutions were therefore not required. Now that we are in March, after a phenomenal couple of months, I feel I should mark the occasion.

For me, there are few places better than the UK for Christmas. I guess that’s because I was born there and have memories of my father sneaking up the stairs with the stockings at midnight, frosted glass and grass, baubles, tinsel, mince pies, brandy butter, gammon, cranberry jelly and roast parsnips. No matter how hard I tried to recreate the traditional lunch, it was never the same in the humidity of a Durban summer.Frosty Somerset morning

I began this year with my parents in their Somerset home, following a sumptuous meal with their friends at a farm in the English countryside. Above is a view of their back garden, my mother’s wonderland.

After several years of matchsticks until sultry midnights climaxed with self-imposed, lonely views of crackling gunpowder showers over the ocean, local sound effects and calls to children wherever they were, it was pleasant to spend New Year’s Eve with parents and people.

Until my son and then my daughter and her family emigrated to Australia, apart from each New Year’s Eve, and a few years (a couple of decades ago) when I was supposed to watch the share markets as a part of my job, I never seriously considered that anybody else, besides God, was awake when I went to bed.

 “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
― Ray Cummings, The Girl in the Golden Atom

Communications became complicated. Melbourne, where my son stays, is eight or nine hours ahead of Durban and one or two hours ahead of Brisbane where my daughter lives, depending upon daylight saving. The UK is one or two hours behind Durban. My brother lives in California which makes it even more complex. To clarify then, as I write this in Brisbane at midday on Monday 17 March, it is one o’ clock in the afternoon in Melbourne, four o’clock in the morning in Durban, two o’clock in the morning in the UK, and seven on Sunday evening in California. I am literally way ahead of my brother.

For the first time since I returned to employment, a quarter of a century ago (eish!), I didn’t have to rush back from the UK for work, school or anybody else. It was like falling into a liquid-centred chocolate pudding. When I eventually emerged four weeks later and tripped back to South Africa, it was to organise my life prior to my trip to Australia. Five and a half weeks squashed into a couple of days of reality in between puddings. I have arrived in Brisbane for two months of mother and granny blessings, interspersed with tapping keys and swiping screens.

 Oh the bliss of being a writer no matter what the time and where. There is always somebody awake to ponder my musings.

 A belated Happy New Year to our precious readers
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