Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Umzimvubu ((Port St John's)

This is the view from my bed. 

We drove for seven and a half hours from Port Alfred to Port St John's ( Umzimvubu) and here I am enjoying spectacular views.

When here eight years ago with my daughter Jen, who knows about these things, she arranged a star gazing meet just before dawn, to spot Orion rising over the Indian Ocean. He looks like our Orion only he's upside down. Then the sun came up and it was magical. You don't forget mornings like that.

My father had died the week before, so we went to Third Beach and I made a wreath from the flowers that grew in the forest that came right down to the water's edge and I threw it into the sea. I scratched his name alongside my mother's in the rocks, and tomorrow I shall go back to check that they're still there. Not visible to anyone who didn't know where to look.

And yes Dad, if I see the goat I gave you for Christmas that year, I shall be sure to say hello.

Third Beach ....

Is now the Silake Nature Reserve:

Nomvouzo Cingo, my African sister, joined us. She represents the ANC in the Eastern Cape Parliament. We are very proud of her.

She took this, and I guess I ought to put it up. It was windy...

Tomorrow we head for Lower Kroza, my home in Africa. There is no running water, let  alone wifi, so I will post again when I am able. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Small Game Hunting

You may envy me this:

A balmy 24 C thanks to the gentle breeze courtesy of the Indian Ocean that you see in the background there. The town between me and same body of water, is Port Alfred.

We came here three years ago with Hannah and Luke, and I took some stunning pictures of a perfect beach, which I subsequently lost to a fumble with the card-thing. So we had to come back. This time the card is doing fine, but the battery is flat and the cheap-from-China recharger won't. No use trying to off-load blame, it's all down to me. At least this time I have back up, thank you Apple! 

They say travel broadens the mind, but mine being quite broad enough, I leave to it's own devices, and am busy broadening my backside. The 'Bar One Chocolate Cake (and ice-cream) ' at The Links restaurant last night bearing witness to my abandonment of self control. I have however, exercised pretty religiously for thirty minutes every day, including the hated water aerobics in the pool you see before you. Those who love me know I took up belly dancing (hip-drop, hip-drop) because I nearly died  of boredom with water aerobics. At least the form has redeemed itself today.

I have never seen myself as prey before, but last night I came under a determined attack by a killer. I have repeated, slightly shame-faced, I admit, the tale of how, when I was last here in the amazing Republic of South Africa, I convinced myself on returning home that I was incubating dengue fever (because all the symptoms on the internet fitted... ). In fact, I had the worse dose of good old-fashioned 'flu ever,  and am now first in line for the free jab come the season.

I am cautious. Not sufficiently so as to take the tablets and gain immunity, but enough to stay out of malarial areas, slather myself in Bushman Jungle Strength Bug Deterrent, and cover up in the evenings. However, I am still not comfortable in the presence of mozzies, so that menacing high-pitched whine  of the  marauding female at 11pm last night, had me up and armed with a towel in pursuit of her. All the thrills and spills of a regular hunt without leaving home.

Success came with a final foray at 11:45. A wily and worthy opponent hit the deck, stunned by an overarm  swipe from the left, to be finished off with a quick pinch between right thumb and forefinger: Classic  tactics.

My triumph over the species was short-lived. Nobody told me that mosquitoes can get you in the morning. And a revenge attack caught me off-guard at breakfast. I am awaiting developments.

The Morning After...

We found out that Sunderland were through to The Cup Final.  

I am an indifferent Football Fan as my regular readership is aware, but even I, at my most cynical, could not fail to ride the roller-coaster with the Family Fanatic as Sunderland, with the help of the Man U goalkeeper, won it all, then lost it all, in the final two minutes of a 120 minute slog. Abject despair turns to absolute incredulity as Sunderland triumphed in the Penalty Shootout - a device that is not generally approved of in this neck of the woods, but which delivered the goods, just this once. 

So Sunderland are going to Wembly, and so I believe is Ray, courtesy of a future son-in-law. 

It being advisable to get the celebrating in before the actual game, for the obvious reason that it may not be appropriate after it, we went out and got drunk.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Penguins and Minnisotans

First, it's summer! The lovely beautiful heat washes over me and I stand there, in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, just feeling that this is what Paradise was like.

I'll skip the plant lists. 

Lunch was a hoot, because the Replacement Hat blew off my head four times during it. We were at the "Moyo" where I had the fillet steak and Ray had the oxtail in a miniature potjke, which looks like a witches couldron. 

I am thankful for the wind, because it kept the temperature down to around 24c...

The Replacement Hat was purchased in The Little Shop at the Botanical Gardens, because the Original Hat stayed in the Hotel Room, for reasons best known to itself. 

The rest if the day is best shown in pictures:

Oh! I almost forgot - We met the Minnisotans at dinner here in The Doubletree Hilton. We had a wonderful time swapping stories. So this is what is great about getting away from you all - telling the same old stories to people who have never heard them before. 


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Turkish Delight

Kate and Darren squandered their air-miles recently to fly 'Business Class' to Tenerife and although I was slightly envious of the better leg-room (though not so much, because at 1.61metres, I am rarely cramped) what most impressed me, and Kate, was the real cutlery. Having never been even remotely tempted to attack anyone, airborne or not, with the silverware, I always gaze askance at the plastic knife and fork, and wield it with a sigh. 

I feel, therefore, like a queen, having more than enough room to stretch my legs, and METAL dinner works. Top Marks Turkish Airlines. 

I am writing/wrote  this at whatever it is in feet, well-fed (beef  and tomato stew, very tasty. Good wine and a creditable coffe) and enjoying being entertained by Richard Gere, who always plays Richard Gere
playing someone rich in need of a good wife... He dies, so I won't spoil the ending for you by giving away the name of the film. Besides, I can't remember what it was.

I passed the time taking some 'arty' shots. This one is the interior of the cabin.

And THIS one is a glass of water. If you look very closely you will spot the Blessed Virgin Mary. Possibly.

And THIS one, lacking any celebrity appearances by divinities, is the Priority Pass Lounge in Istanbul.

I'm behind you.


I reckon I earned it!  Frankie and Benny's Birmingham Int'l Airport

Friday, 17 January 2014

Tale of The Hotel Sitter And The Dead Parrot

There is a pretty little thatched cottage, complete with roses around the door and weaver-birds in the acacias. Its precise location escapes me: somewhere between Blomfontein and Johannesburg will have to do. At the end of a wonderful tour of South Africa, friends and I were making a dash for the airport, and Dun-Tourin' was our last night out. 

By coincidence, the owners of this bijou B&B, were also on vacation, leaving their livelihood in the hands of Mrs Heidi Schmidt, a Hotel Sitter.

Heidi was in her sixties, and had taken up Hotel Sitting to supplement her retirement income. I am very interested. I would LOVE to be a Hotel Sitter. I'd even go back to College and get Certificates to qualify for it. If only for the stories that could be told. 

The Hotel Sitter And The Dead Parrot

Heidi was a terrible cook. An indifferent stew followed by tinned fruit salad topped with evaporated milk was the worst meal of the trip, or ever, come to think of it, but she more than made up for it with her stories. The most memorable she related concerned a week she spent looking after a family-run hotel on The Garden Coast whilst the owners were taking a short break. 

"Take the dogs for a walk every morning and evening and put the parrot back in his enclosure at night. Just whistle, and he'll fly straight in." Seemed simple enough. Not quite. 'Taking the dogs for a walk' entailed putting them both in an old pram and pushing them around the yard, and getting the parrot to fly meekly back into his cage after a day of comparative freedom, was a non-starter, no matter how loud or long she whistled. 

"The parrot had taken a dislike to me. It bit me when I tried to feed it, and whenever I tried to bring it in. It would flutter away from me and swear." 

Heidi recalled a long flight of stone steps from the verandah to the garden. Parrot would wait for Heidi to climb the steps, then flutter back to the bottom of them. Repeatedly. Exasperated and exhausted, Heidi resorted to throwing a sheet over the recalcitrant, and man-handling it, kicking and screaming, into its sleeping quarters. Tired and triumphant, Heidi snapped the door shut and went to bed.

Silence greeted Heidi when she woke the following morning. Instead if screeching obscenities at her from it's perch, the parrot lay flat on it's back on the floor of its cage with its feet in the air. The beautiful Amazonian grey , a family friend and heirloom, was to all appearances, dead. 

Heidi did what she could. She shook it, massaged its chest, tried to force brandy down its throat- the parrot remained mute and still.

Panicked, Heidi called the vet. Who evidently knew the parrot very well. It was a repeat offender.

"It's playing dead." The vet advised. "Cover it up and wait and see what happens. Call me back tomorrow if there's no improvement."

Within two hours, the wily and vindictive bird regained its  perch and squawked to be fed as if nothing had happened.

Remember Heidi's story the next time... Oh! You know. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Sometimes, It's Good News

I haven't seen Alice for months. The last time I saw her, she was in bits. She'd broken an agreement not to see the drug-dealing, violent scumbag who'd fathered her twins, and as a result, was about to lose them.

And so she should. I take a hard line on this one. The Social Services had rehoused  her in a a refuge, in a distant town, away from danger. We, who care for, her breathed a sigh of relief: we thought she was safe. Then she listens to one , "I'm sorry, I've changed" story, and herself and her babies are once again at risk. Her Key Worker had no choice but to remove them. 

I know this, and wouldn't argue with it, but I am a mother. I felt my heart breaking for Alice who thought she'd lost her children for good, and I cried with her. Sometimes, that all you can do.

That was six months ago. I saw Alice today, and she was a different woman. She radiated happiness.

She doesn't have her babies back, but neither have they been adopted away from her. Alice has been given a second chance. Someone, in authority, decided to go the extra mile. It must have been hard work, and intensive. A lot of effort and a calculated risk. 

She is being rehoused a second time, in another town. She has goals to meet: regular testing, parenting classes, and another agreement to stay away from 'dad' when he leaves prison in April. If she stays on track, her children WILL be returned to her. The Alice i saw today, is willing and capable, to do all that is necessary. I'm sure she will succeed. 

Practically all the stories you hear about Social Workers are negative. It's a sad fact that when they make mistakes, there's a possibility that someone dies, and those mistakes are paraded in front of us so that we might pour scorn on the 'failures' that led to this or that scandal. My mistakes cost me a slap on the wrist, theirs, cost them their jobs. How anyone ever wants to take it on in the first place, beats me. 

In my work, as today's story bears witness to, I see another side of the story. A compassionate person who might not have been able to weep with Alice, did something far more dramatic. He, or she, put their  career on the line to give Alice her life back.

Thank you, whoever you are. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Highly Unlikely

Today came like a bolt from the blue
With sky and sun.

I wonder as I interrogate the cold, 
And the brightness:
When the day comes that I don't feel you any more -
When I have died - 
(I wouldn't hesitate to die, but embrace my ending
With infinite gratitude to those who
Follow me, for taking on the pain
And the rest...  . You know.) 

Will I regret?
Or forget?

I think it possible

Though highly unlikely.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Ellen Caroline Pitt

Yesterday I found a photograph of my Grandmother, Ellen Pitt,  whom I never met, and I looked with interest at her tight-lipped care-worn face. A singularly ugly old woman, I thought. 

I am brought up short at how dismissive I am of her. I push her away. I want a smiling soft-faced rosy-cheeked grandmother, not a withered stick who isn't looking at me, who never knew me... 

She wasn't old. I realise with a shock, Ellen Pitt didn't grow old. She died in childbirth, aged forty-two, in 1930, in a Nursing Home in Clarence Street, Gloucester. I wonder at her death. 'Placenta previa' is recorded on the death certificate. Treated by Ceasarian Section, today, which was available only to the rich in Gloucester, in 1930.

She, a mother with nine living children, bled to death because she was poor.

My own mother was three years old. She remembers the last time she saw Ellen. She once took me to the spot in Clarence Street where she stood, being told by her father to look up to the window at the end of the block. Her mother's face appeared, they waved, and that was it. Her mother was going to go into labour and die of it, but her children were not allowed to visit her. 

That was 1930.  Our society has moved forward, and my Grandmother's untimely death would be an outrage today. Politically unacceptable. 

I am an optimist, and I have every confidence that the gains that have been made since the 1930's to make Grandmother's poverty and death politically unacceptable, will not be reversed. When I feel that politics don't matter any more, and I can't be bothered, I shall go and stand on that spot in Clarence Street, and remember Ellen. 

Making Meatloaf

An early start today. Daughter Kate and fiancé Darren stayed overnight and Ray has taken them off to the airport. Darren recently owned up to never having had meatloaf. So I fixed meatloaf for supper last night as they're off to Spanish cuisine for a week. I thought a little real homely American comfort food would be a great send off. (Don't talk to me about the delights of calamari, You'll not convince me.)

Meatloaf. Mmmm. Homemade, the right mix of good lean minced steak, finely chopped onions and sausage meat, spiced with a dash of curry powder, glazed with a special BBQ sauce... Move on Mary, move on, it's too early for leftovers. 

I am skiving. Apart from making meatloaf, I did nothing yesterday, and am not about to do anything today. Loving it.

A friend recently asked me how I was feeling, and I began to cry.  Unknotting, letting go, releasing emotions that I would be unwilling to name. Like pushing a reset button - you know the sort: hidden,  and needing a sharp jab to activate. You just have to do it sometimes and what a relief it is.

Well, anyway, I re-packed the baggage, lightening-up somewhat, and made meatloaf. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Your Very Good Health

I have it. The app that allows me to blog on the move, but I am hesitant to use it. For starters, my ill-matched 'package' gives me over 400 'phone minutes and texts that I have no use for, but allows me so little data usage, I'm afraid to use my Smartphone away from wifi... Furthermore (what a lovely word. I shall use it again...) Furthermore, I am not a spontaneous blogger. I admit it, I am too inhibited. Goodness KNOWS what might happen if I took to instant escritorial enterprise! I may let fall an indiscretion, or WORSE, allow a grammatical error to slip by unnoticed. Spelling errors - highly improbable: an internal alarm sounds at the slightest hint of an errant letter.

But I'm thinking about it... 

I have just returned from the  doctor's surgery for a thyroid function test. There is much that might be blogged in a doctor's surgery. I watched a woman with a kindly face and a set of wheels steer her way into a chair, completely and inadvertently blocking the exit to the corall of smart blue seats which was occupied solely by she and I. I began to speculate as to the etiquette of freeing myself from my unintended  prison, but she departed before I needed to exercise my manners. 

The Magazines! I passed up on the hunting and shooting periodical. The lead article on humanely dispatching a pheasant didn't appeal. I am not against shooting on principle, I just can't imagine myself ever being safe around a gun. I fear I might discover hidden depths and unexpected talents.

I settled for a long-dead issue of Good Housekeeping. Noting in passing,  that 'Woman', 'Woman's Own', ' Woman's Weekly', ' Reader's Digest'and 'The People's Friend' are unaccountably absent. These worthy papers punctuated my medical expeditions over the years. I only ever read any of them in the doctor's surgery, which, come to think of it, partly explains their absence today. Women, I sighed ( being one of them) have little enough time to read magazines these days. 

I have absolutely NO interest in Celebrity Gossip at any other time in my life other than waiting to have  a pregnancy confirmed (tested by a pharmacist, wait three days, result sent to the doctor... Well it WAS thirty years ago.) high blood pressure monitored, or a limp explained. Come to think of it, I am remarkably fit... Just you wait.

However, in the doctor's, I suddenly become avidly interested in the lives of others. Today, it was a smiling Dawn French beaming down from seventh heaven, letting me in on her new-found happiness with her Biggsy. I approve. I love happy endings, being confident of one myself, and heartily wishing for them for everyone I know.Of course, until you depart this life, it can only be a 'happy meantime', but I'm content to settle for that. 

I didn't get to finish the article. A smiling nurse called me in for my blood test ( five minutes before the appointed time) and quickly drew a phial-full of the stuff. In and out in four minutes, including a very pleasant conversation on the weather.

I love the NHS. Two of my daughters work for it: one in policy-making, another in preventative care, so I have a great deal of insight - bad and good - into it's workings. I know it's far from perfect, under constant stress, and always spectacularly on the verge of bankruptcy. But I have a feeling we, the Great British Public are so committed to it, that the monkeys who run this country will leave it be. I hope so. 

An American commentator wrote recently:

Philanthropy will buy you a hospital wing. Social Justice will deliver a national health service. 

Was I thinking of social justice whilst giving Dawn French the thumbs-up? No. I'm glad I didn't have to. All I had to concern myself with was the weather. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Maybe Writer's Block...

Isn't such a bad thing after all... 

A writer should write every day. I am not a friend of the word should, but nevertheless, I feel I ought to make a bit more of an effort. 

I downloaded a free-e-book, courtesy of Wordpress, with 365 writing prompts and today's is,' 'Write about an inspirational teacher and the impact s/he had on your life.' 

A non-starter. Though I rather liked school. I wasn't much bullied, I kept myself to myself, expected neither praise nor censure, and am quite happy to have attracted little of either. I did get a detention once, aged fifteen,  for not knowing my 9x table, and at the end of an undistinguished, and deservedly so, Sixth Form, I won the Cup For General Progress. This tended to go to the girl with working class parents who got enough O Levels to go to University. Or, as in my case, Teacher Training College. 

I will record all that I remember of my schooldays. I cannot say that I will entertain in the telling, but spanning as the tale does, 1955 - 1969, researchers, one hundred years from now, may mine this piece as Social History. Stay with me, let's see what crops up. 

September 5th 1955. I am Four Years and Eleven Months Old, I have shoulder length blonde hair with a  side parting and a bow. I am going to be taught to read using a  'Ladybird' Alphabet Chart which we recited every day: ' A is for apple a' 'B is for Ball b'. I am confident I could go through the whole bloody thing today without skipping a beat. What an achievement!  The fact that at Four Years and Eleven Months I could read fluently, counted for nothing. There was no attempt at 'Personalised Learning' in those days. I never questioned this, because, although I was precocious, I wasn't THAT precocious. Miss Greenwood: Young and kindly, put us to bed on camp beds around 2pm and we were expected to nap. I napped. I can nap anywhere at the drop of a hat, and I put this marvellous attribute down to this early training. I didn't cry, so I sat on the table with the good children who were given their free milk first.

Matson Infants is a Tesco Express these days. It had been a village school under the stern authority of Miss Aldridge, but had grown with the new Housing Estate. The old schoolroom held the Middle Infants, I was in a Temporary Classroom, that outlived the school. 

We played on the old village green. 'King Of The Castle' In and Out The Bluebell Windows... Conkers in season, football for the boys: 'Two Ball' and Skipping Rhymes for we girls.

I was severely reprimanded once, for kicking a girl who pushed in front of me to get on the bus home. I NEVER did anything that obvious again. 

I remember seven other things from my Early Years.

Delicious dinners, especially Butterscotch Tart
'Let's Move' (BBC: Still going when I started teaching in 1972) which entailed prancing around between the tables ( with the chairs up) in vest and knickers.
A lurid poster of Persephone being dragged Into the Underworld by Whomsoever. (Pluto?)  A fantastic introduction to Greek Mythology and incidentally, an insight into Romance (of a particular sort) that was even more fascinating, and probably had a profound effect on my sexuality.
Going 'Through The Rainbow': enduring the entire Reading Scheme all the way to The Violet Readers.
Never getting Maths
A Poem with, 'Pomegranates Pink, said Elaine' in it. 

Learning takes on a more serious aspect at Finlay Road Junior School, a tuppenny  busride away from home. I got myself there and back, went for lunch with my Aunty Mary who lived nearby. Lunch hours were a hour and a half long in those days, so's pupils could return home to eat if their parents couldn't afford the one shilling a day for a School Meal. I preferred eating with Aunty Mary, because I could read 'Cassandra' ( political commentator) in the Daily Mirror to 'Pop' her lodger, and eat blancmange. Aunty M dosed me up with cod liver oil every day, which grew the brain I have now, which  was remarkably prescient of her.

I was a political animal at ten. I mean, the Daily Mirror was a serious paper in those days. To further my informal education, when no-one was looking,  I read 'The News Of the World', which gave me even further insights into Romance, and a mistrust of the clergy that persists to this day.

I always had to sit next to a boy. I pretty much despised them all, I'm ashamed to say, especially Desmond, who used to play with himself under the desk. I used to watch, enthralled, but only worked out what was going on years afterwards, having stowed away the experience in the 'pending' file for the day when enlightenment dawned. 

I made an exception for Stephen Collet. He was gorgeous. Unfortunately, as Romance was all about ravishing gods and incontinent vicars, I didn't recognise Love when it first appeared... .

I must have learned all that was necessary at Finlay Rd because along with the WHOLE of Class 4A1 (all 42 of us) I passed the ' 11 +' and was enrolled in Ribston Hall High School For Girls. Few Finlay Rd pupils achieve this today, because the middle class has got THAT  all sewn up in the abolition of catchment areas and an efficient tutoring network. (I like to think that Cassandra would approve of my stance on this.) 

I still didn't get Maths. Especially Arithmetic. 

No inspirational teachers here either, though credit is due  to Miss Long for introducing me to Mozart (Eine Kleine Nacht Musik'. Even saying it was a thrill) and to Mr Watson for Ballentyne's 'Coral Island' my first grown-up book. Blood-thirsty and horrible, but I lapped it up.

I was an intellectual snob by eleven. Commended by Mr Watson for laughing at his puns (the only kid who did) and sniggering at Paul Bullock for not understanding that a ' red pale' is an heraldic emblem:He informed us that Caxton's Printing Press could be found 'under the sign of the red bucket' Ho ho ho. He was probably better than me at Arithmetic though. (Good old RJ Ounstead. History as it should be taught. Out of a book and learned off by heart.) 

We started French. We were allocated on a French name. I was Odette. Eugghh . No wonder I never took to the subject. 

High School. Pretty unmemorable. Rowed in the coxed four, skived every other form of physical activity, played minor parts in the school plays... . 

Some highly un-inspirational teachers, some shockingly inept ones. I rack my brains to recall anything at all about them:

The physics master whose shoes creaked. Miss Walsh, short with a huge bosom. She would sit, inhale, raise said bosom a foot or two, then lower it with a sigh onto the desktop. Mort, the class-snob Of a headmistress, who famously sat on the stage during assembly with her legs apart, showing pale pink all-weather knee-length bloomers... . 

Mr Kennedy! My first crush. He was a  bit inspirational! He taught well, and with humour. Biology. I can hear his voice in my head to this day:  a soft Welsh lilt: 

" A FLOW-er is that part of a PLANT con-CER-ned with re-PROD-uc-SHUN and con-TAINS the SEX-u-al OR-gans"

Maybe my passion for plants is suppressed desire... Maybe not.

My friend Carol reminded me recently that Mr Kennedy returned to his village after a  terrible disaster when a coal tip rolled down a mountainside and engulfed the School. He was from Aberfan.. 

I am asking myself, because it's only fair, "Was I an inspiration teacher?" More so than Mort, less than Mr Kennedy... I do recall one incident eight years ago when I was 'doing The Egyptians' with my junior class. "I will NEVER forget this!" Eleven year old Joshua told me. I had been demonstrating the ancient and venerable art of Middle Eastern Dancing. Though with rather more around my middle than I usually wore. It was one with sticks. 

Lord! Look at the time! I've been writing for over an hour. If you've persevered this far, thank you, and goodnight.

Front row ... Middle

Sixth Form: fundraising for Standish Hospital.

'Gladys' Second Maid. 'The Admirable Crichton' July 1968