Home » Uncategorized

Category Archives: Uncategorized

See more posts

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.

Friendly ghosts

It started off as a very solemn occasion. On a visit home I decided to look up the family graves. My children were just old enough to be a little apprehensive about visiting a cemetery. My mother wasn’t keen, but humoured me, adamant that she knew exactly where to find the family “plot”. She didn’t.

At the first cemetery we were a little awed by so much emptiness. The fresh wreaths were sad, the dead flowers depressing. We spoke in hushed tones and tiptoed round the sacred mounds.

By the time we got to the third cemetery things had changed. Gravestones held no more terrors. The children leapfrogged over railings, chasing each other round the more ancient monuments. We began to enjoy our meanderings under the cypresses. Instead of a sad search, the outing became a kind of family romp as the chances of finding the family graves became ever more remote.

Each cemetery had a tale of its own, reflecting floods, subsidence, the changes in funeral fashions over the decades. I began to study the headstones, marvelling at the stories they revealed: the flu epidemic of the early 1900s, the different wars, nurses, soldiers, sweethearts, children, parents, fresh flowers at old graves, old flowers at new ones, the rich, the poor, the pillars of the community. It was no longer sad, just a reflection of society much as you’d find in any museum. I suspect the dead were glad to have us around.

It made me wonder how we could popularise cemeteries, encourage people to “use” them rather than avoiding them. There is something beautiful about old and weathered stone and trees, yet we relegate these special places and their memories to caretakers and hobos.

Isn’t collective memory important? When I finally gave up looking for my “own” graves and “found” all those others, I vicariously “remembered” people I never knew. Rather than leave bunches of flowers that wither and die, we could plant bulbs and corms to introduce a little colour, and turn the graveyard into some kind of community garden rather than an arid impersonal wilderness.

If I’d brought flowers with me on that day so long ago, I like to think I would have left them on the oldest most “unloved” grave that I could find.

Double trouble?

Daily Prompt: Food for the Soul (and the Stomach)
Tell us about your favorite meal, either to eat or to prepare. Does it just taste great, or does it have other associations?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us FOOD.

DO have some more, dearie!
No thank you!
Come on I KNOW you want some more!
No thank you …
But you end up with it on your plate anyway. Drives me mad, but it looks like I’m turning into one of them – those women with a compulsion to feed folk. Today, since I couldn’t fly over to the Philippines and feed the homeless, I settled for taking a veggie lasagne (my speciality) to a friend instead. Then I got home and started all over again with another batch for my family. (“Shame, hey” as we say in South Africa.) No, I’m not going to give you the recipe. (Actually, I don’t have a recipe.) BUT, today one of the ingredients was this cute little Siamese twin eggplant:
Which reminded me of this cute not-so-little Siamese twin carrot:
Which reminded me of a recent breakfast when every single one of six eggs in one box had a double yolk: DSC_7070
And, since I can’t give you a second helping (not that you’ve had a first helping) here’s a picture of my veggie lasagne instead (can’t help myself):

Fair Game


Daily Prompt: The Perfect Game
You’re set to play poker (or Scrabble or something else . . .) with a group of four. Write a story set during this game. Or, describe the ideal match: the players, the relationships — and the hidden rivalries.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us COMPETITION.

“She’s done it again,” Anne hissed to Mandy. They exchanged eyebrows as Steffy blissfully arranged her letters in the lower left hand corner of the scrabble board, nowhere near the game in play, so she could use a red triple word square.
“That’s not allowed!” Zoe shut her scrabble dictionary with a snap. “Not allowed. You have to connect your word to the others.” Although Zoe wagged her head and pursed her lips to prove her point, Steffy continued taking fresh letters out of the bag, a tremulous smile tugging gently at the corners of her mouth.
“She’ll still lose,” Mandy whispered to Zoe. “Don’t make a fuss.”
“Hmmf.” But Zoe went ahead with her multiple letter, high-scoring coup. “All the same. There are rules.”
“I’m thinking,” said Steffy.
“The sky will fall,” hissed Zoe.
“I’m thinking of having Botox.”
Mandy stopped mid-turn, her hand poised gannet-beaked above the board. “BoTOX,” she repeated, “The ‘tox’ stands for ‘toxic’. That’s poison to you and me.”
“There’s a woman across the road, three doors down, who does it,” Steffy continued, humming contentedly as she added more letters to her private game in the corner.
“It’s Mandy’s turn,” said Zoe loudly. But Mandy was spellbound, listening to Steffy.
“She does fillers and ‘peels’ too. What’s a peel?”
“They take off your old skin. I think it’s painful.” Mandy’s gannet plummeted. A neat a three-letter splat just where Anne was planning to go.
“Aw,” said Anne. “Bummer.”
“Stephanie, I’m not giving you a score until it’s your turn. And then only if you join your word to the others.”
“Why, Steffy?” Steffy patted Mandy’s beaked hand with her own freckled claw.
“Jeff says I’m not the woman he married. I want to change that.”
“Of course you’re not. That was ten years ago. AND he’s sixteen years younger than us.”
“You lucky devil” added Anne.
“I warned you at the time” said Zoe.
“It costs,” said Mandy. “And it doesn’t last. You need to keep doing it every three months.”
“Steffy’s got the money. Come to that, we’ve all got the money.” Mandy topped up their iced tea.
“Wealthy Widow Women.” Anne took every opportunity to remind them of her own special name for their gang, even though it had only been vaguely funny in the first place, and Steffy wasn’t and hadn’t been a widow for the last ten years.
“It’s your turn, Anne.” Zoe sipped her tea like it was poison. “This is warm, Mandy. Cold things must be cold. Put mine back in the fridge.” It was Mandy’s apartment, so she didn’t mind, but Zoe would have acted the same at her own place round the corner. They just did her bidding. It was easier. Except for Steffy, of course.
Anne added an ‘s’ to Zoe’s word, which led to an argument about the score.
“B…O…T…O…X…” Steffy placed her letters over another triple word square.
“That’s a proper noun! And a trade name! You can’t do that.” Zoe swept the letters off the board.
“This is meant to be a friendly game” protested Anne, “So we don’t need rules.”
“Don’t need rules? Don’t need rules?”
“Tell you what,” said Mandy, tipping the board so that all the letters slid into a heap, “What d’you say we take a little walk across the road to the Botox lady and find out a bit more?”
Steffy opened her purse and took out her lipstick, and Anne grabbed her walker.
“I’m game!” she said.
Only Zoe frowned her disapproval. “Perfect,” she said, “Just perfect.” But she was gathering up her things all the same.