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Shades of grey

Jamie DornanTo my eternal shame, I was recently coerced into watching 50 Shades of Grey. O me, O my! Not my thing. But we had a couple of hours to kill and nothing else was showing in that time slot, so … the hours were dutifully killed. I woke up in a panic at the sound of thunder toward the end. Mercifully it was only in the movie and not outside (where 2000 endurance athletes were competing in Iron Man).

Why 50 shades? The action (or lack of it) was predictable to the point of being mind numbing. I spent most of the time speculating whether Jamie Dornan’s left eye is smaller than his right. Apparently he won’t be starring in any sequels (I understand his wife has put her foot down).

This brings me to the “Why” of this post: It’s my belief that it’s crucial that we hang onto the fact that life has a billion shades of grey. One of those shades here is that I’m envious of anyone who can write a bestseller, never mind get it made into a movie. Plus, I also fell asleep in Pirates of the Caribbean, so my state of consciousness might not be a good reflection of the depth of any screenplay.

Iron Man (going on outside while I was at the movies) is another shade of grey altogether. It’s a mind-blowing feat of endurance that lumps together athletes of all shapes and sizes, strengths and weaknesses in one incredible melting pot. There is one medal for all who complete the 3,8km sea swim, 180km cycle and 42km run within the cut-off times. All finishers earn the title “Iron Man”, no matter what state they’re in by the end.

Photo courtesy of Lava Magazine

Photo courtesy of Lava Magazine

What impressed me was the way Jodie Swallow (first woman to finish) came back during the final half-hour to hand out medals to athletes finishing in double her time. There’s someone who’s aware of “shades of grey”—who knows that every single finisher is a winner in their own right. Port Elizabeth, Mandela Bay, is also known as the Friendly City, and that spirit is only too evident during Iron Man. The spectators who line the route are there for everyone, not just their own friends and family. It’s their encouragement that helps many an athlete summon up the last scraps of courage to complete the course.

I did my bit of cheering. But this was also my holiday, so I think I was justified in doing a crossword or a Sudoku or two, eating junk food and watching a bad movie. How many newspapers are sold by virtue of their crossword or puzzle page? It’s certainly one way of getting people to read the news.

Photo courtesy of The Herald

Photo courtesy of The Herald

I was sad to see that PE’s old colonial monuments are under threat. Apparently people find them a too painful reminder of the past. That in this day and age Queen Victoria reminds anyone of anything besides Emily Blunt is a puzzle to me, but … shades of grey, again … let’s make allowances.

What I can’t understand is why anyone would want to tear down PE’s famous horse memorial. This is a monument of universal appeal, a life-size statue of a horse with a soldier kneeling at its feet, which actually commemorates all animals that die in our so-called service. The inscription round its base reads: “The greatness of a nation depends not so much upon the number of its people or its territory, as in the extent and justice of its compassion.” Worthy sentiments, well worth preserving. Whatever we may push to the back of our minds, let’s not ever forget those little acts of kindness that got us through the dark days. And still do: Shades of grey.

Weekly photo challenge: One

A walk in the park
Some day when life’s edges unravel
go bravely without a backward glance
memories implode cascading in
aromas of apples and croissants
unmade beds siestas “Closed at Noon”
treasures once so carelessly exchanged
tucked into a beaded evening bag
for a stranger to rediscover
dust off at some future antiques fair
reminding passers-by that affairs
have a way of coming to an end
heaven forbid that steely scentless
state reserved for others less loving
one day when we part it will be a
good-book-waiting goodbye a walk in
the park where we’ll leave regret behind
like a roses on our favourite bench

Weekly photo challenge: Grand

My grand old man took these photos:


Of all the mountains
big or small,
scenes or vistas,
the grandest view
I’ll ever see
is one my dog
can share
with me.

Best friends

Daily Prompt: Love to Love You

What do you love most about yourself? What do you love most about your favorite person? Are the two connected?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us LOVE.


I love that I am little
because you lift me up
I love that you are wiser
because you show me the way
Perhaps one day you’ll need me
as I now depend on you
to keep shadows at bay


Daily Prompt: Wicked Witch

Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us EVIL.


Sometimes her shadow falls on me, Witch Nyll, black beast of Eneri.
And then I fight to rid my mind of desperate thoughts of every kind,
the lonely, maimed, the lost, the sick, neglected, aged, dead or quick.
I mourn the past and fear the future, blind to goodness, fail to nurture
all my blessings, which abound, seeing only tragedy around.
She tries to keep me from my God, beating me with heaviest rod
that sadness ever could supply, and breaking down my will to try.
She takes all pleasure out of good, removes the taste from any food.
She drains the colour from the sky so that I see with jaundiced eye,
Knows how to keep me from my sleep, makes all I love look stale and cheap.
But worst of all she banishes hope, giving me a gallows rope
to end it all. “Why carry on? Once you are dead the pain is gone.”
That’s when I look her in the eye and say “Oh yes? Then tell me why
there’s purpose found in everything, the smallest flower, the tiniest wing.
Each little life means quite as much as galaxies seen through Hubble and such.
We’re not just washed up on life’s beach, but always, ever within reach
of being the best that we can be.” I push my boat back out to sea
upon a course that’s straight and true, for only God can pull me through.


Daily Prompt: Non-Regional Diction

Write about whatever you’d like, but write using regional slang, your dialect, or in your accent.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us LOCAL.


In a country with eleven official languages, I only know two and have barely a smattering of three others. I don’t even know Fanagalo, the pidgin Zulu used by South African miners.

In South Africa we don’t have dialects like the ones you find in, say, France and Germany, which are are almost separate languages in themselves. We just have colourful variations, like the Afrikaans typical of Cape coloureds and the fishermen of the Western Cape, which sounds like a fruit chutney you’d eat with pickled fish and babotie, or the Boland farmers’ distinctive pronunciation that goes better with bredies and potjiekos.
To a foreigner, the different varieties of English heard in South Africa aren’t nearly as distinctive as those spoken in Liverpool, Devon or Newcastle. But a South African ear immediately knows if someone grew up in Durban (my home town), Cape Town or Johannesburg. I admire the stand-up comics who use different South African accents. Last weekend I was delighted by two of Pieter-Dirk Uys’s favourites personas – Evita Bezuidenhout and the lesser known but equally memorable Noel Fine (now retired and living in Cape Town, but not beyond attending a school reunion in Toronto, thank you). It was one of his best shows ever (“Adapt or Fly”). His speciality is the English spoken in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs.
I can’t imagine TV English having the influence here that it does in America. I understand that it’s spreading a kind of generalised American accent, removing distinctions between north and south, urban and rural, or at least flattening out some of the more idiosyncratic differences as found in, say, the Brooklyn drawl. I find that sad, although it would make life easier for South African actors. (Charlize Theron aside, when most South Africans try to put on an American accent, we sound like Southern belles.)
You will have gathered by now that I’m not going to reproduce any SA dialects or accents here. Whether they are strong as coffee on a cold Karroo night, or bittersweet as the buchu herbs that scent our Garden Route, without a story to tell, I’m speechless.

Flying Visits

Daily Prompt: Come Fly with Me

Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us TRAVELS.
The furthest I’ve been away from home?
I think that this deserves a poem.
My Buddhist friend gives me a smile
“The eternal present’s not a mile
away” he says “You’re always here
and now.” (We share another beer.)
But measured geographically
the furthest I have ever been
might come as something of a shock
to those of you who read this blog.
[Clue: wearing flowers in my hair,
I bought myself some wind chimes there.]
Not Shanghai, Perth or Timbuktu,
not Auckland, Rome or Kathmandu,
not Ireland, Wales or Edinburgh,
Québec, Toronto, London borough.
The furthest I have ever been
away from home was plus sixteen
thousand k’s from OR Tambo
(Joburg airport) in a jumbo.
Those rusty wind chimes I still own
came all the way from Chinatown,
not from the region of Beijing,
just genuine San Francisco bling.