Welcome to my prairie

Today we celebrate Freedom in South Africa.  Freedom is something we humans need in so many different ways, and for each of us it has one, or many, different meanings.  What does freedom mean to you ?  For me it means being in charge of my choices – to love, to do, to be.  And most of all, to be allowed.  In this century, there is far more permission than there ever has been before and it is a wonderful thing to see who does what with this permission.  I tend to steer clear of those who are focused on their rights, hammering away at old walls, and find resonance with the ones who really want to get on with their lives and enjoy what there is to be enjoyed.  So I have decided to start writing … (thank you Colette – you put the thought into my head!)…because there is so much to be shared in what we love and the exchanging of all things lovely will spread happiness and sunshine….completely for free.

Here in the Western Cape, between the winelands and the weatlands, is my prairie.  When it was shown to me 15 years ago, I did not want to move here.  A piece of land that my husband bought, with nothing on it.  Absolutely nothing……save this old olive tree.  It is a wild olive, and estimated to be at least 200 years old.  I fell in love with the tree, the love of the land came later.   Behind this tree you will see a planting of lots of baby trees;  this is one of the first things we did, to plant more than 100 trees.  How easily 100 trees get lost in the landscape!

Old Olive 001

Fifteen Minutes with Me

How many hours does it take for the earth to go around the sun – 24?  But since the world is apparently going pear-shaped, I’m not sure that this is still the case.  What if you were on the plump bottom end of the pear…then perhaps a rotation takes 32 hours and on the leaner, upper end it takes 16? pear

I think I live on the upper end of the pear. For time surely tempus-fugitflies. As it says on the faces of the numerous grandfather clocks that my brother has built:  Tempus Fugit.



This morning something interesting caught my eye – “The Fifteen Minute Mentality” and it gave me food for thinking.  You see, time has always been a cause of issue in my life.  Usually I’m accused of ignoring its existence.


My rough guide would be to get up and get going when it is light enough to see without a light bulb and only come indoors when the sun has set and it is dark.  But alas, I’m not a farmer ….  My working day, or being busy day, is usually from when I open my eyes in the morning until I shut them at night.  And my hunger for what I really want to do must fit in with what I really have to do.  There is no way you will have a quality life if you never get to do what you really want to do – that is my opinion.  And in my case, since I’m on the part of the pear which spins really fast and I have only 16 hours in a day, I ought to be one extraordinary, mega-super operator! But I don’t win that badge. It makes no difference to me how many hours there are in a day, the number is always wrong.  There isn’t a sadder person shutting their eyes at night if I have not ticked something on my list of things I wanted to do – and so this has been, ever since I discovered I was a person.

stop-watchTo be really successful at extracting 24 hours’ of time out of your 24, not even to mention 32 out of 24, one would have to be, not only super organised, but selfish too.  You would not have time to take that phone call from a friend who needs a (lengthy) listening ear, time to wait in a queue while somebody in front tries to find change in their purse, time to say “hello-how-are-you” to anything or anybody. (“How are you” becomes a speed-greeting and not a question).  But do we want to live like that?  A lot of us are being chased by everything yet feeling on top of nothing. If I were to guess, I would imagine the councilling couches are filled with people desperate for advice on how to enjoy their lives more, with people crying for a shoulder that will understand how wretched their lack of time makes them feel.  And I detect a small irony here:  it takes time to go and see somebody professional for help. It takes less time to actually stop.  To look.  To listen.  Required is only a small mind shift which, paradoxically, is not a move towards becoming more selfish.  It is true, when you feel you have too little, you are afraid of giving.  A small manoeuvre will make you realise you have enough, and set you free to give and to share and to enjoy!


How can we do this? How about doing something new, something called “Fifteen Minutes with Me”.  Every day, make a date with yourself.  Diarise it in your cell phone if you must. We so often don’t get to do something for ourselves only because we have a mental picture that is will take too much time.  Time that we do not have.  But you do have fifteen minutes.  The bit I read this morning was by a well-known needlewoman in USA who advocates that if you do just 15 minutes of embroidery a day, you will get a project done before you know it.  What good advice.  It boils down to that old question: How do you eat an elephant? Yes exactly: in tiny bites.


So go on, turn your day into bites, not bytes.  Spend 15 minutes with yourself, for yourself.  You are the most important person in the world you will ever have a date with.  Aren’t you lucky!


You’ve Got Mail

We were always P.O. Box 39, from the year dot which must be when that old post office building camp-o-key-002e into being.  The letterboxes looked like a solid wall of tiny metal doors, each with a cluster of small round ventilation holes.  The key that unlocked the mini metal door with a particular amount of pressure and a certain ‘click’ was also small.  This was a key that must never be mislaid.


Whenever I was sent to collect the mail (usually when my mother went inside to buy stamps) I couldn’t help feeling full of anticipation while turning the key and listening as the lock clicked, letting the door spring free and…oh joy, the box crammed from top to bottom with mail.  Letters, bills, cards, brochures, catalogues, free calendars from the insurance companies and my father’s rolled up Farmer’s Weekly (not in plastic, just a band of paper with his address).  And…yes! A letter from my penfriend.



The trouble with such a post office box was that if you didn’t empty it at least once a week, it would get crammed so full that nothing more could fit inside. The mail being collected depended on a trip to town to get supplies for the farm. If a parcel had come for you and was either registered, or too big, you would find a small note in the mailbox notifying you that you should collect it from the counter.  I loved that little blue slip of paper!  I still do.  (Except now it is white.) brown-paper-parcelsBrown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things”…if you have never received a parcel in the post, you’ve had one thrill less in your life.



Now I ask you, what happened to time, that there seemed to be so much of it then and so little of it now?  Christmas cards came thick and fast and there was always a bit of a quandary as to where to display them all. I try my best to send cards to as many people as I can, mostly friends and family….even if it is possibly an unfashionable thing to do. I think people do still love receiving cards, even if they haven’t the time or inclination to send any themselves.  I do still receive a few cards, mostly from abroad, and I love them to bits.

There is a very special thrill about receiving a letter by mail.  If you are the sort of person who prolongs pleasure, you will not rip it open then and there. You will wait until you are home, study the stamp, the address, the postmark, the ink (all right I am exaggerating now) but nevertheless you will open it properly by sliding a letter opener in the fold of the flap and let it tear neatly.  You will have something nice to drink by your side, and you will settle down to read.

To write somebody a letter means you travel into the depths of your mind and memory, recalling things in an interesting way.  The conversation might be one-sided, but once you start, it can be quite difficult to put down that final full stop!  The crown on this whole letter-writing experience would be if you have luxurious writing paper and an excellent fountain pen.  Neither are so easy to find these days.  fountain-pen

Texting…Even though sending a WhatsApp message is so much quicker than writing a letter by hand and also far quicker than typing an e-mail, I have been surprised to see how much time it does take….when you add it all up.  Being quite pedantic about spelling and language, I’ll re-type a word that isn’t right because these days, “to save time”, all cellular phones seem to think they know what you are going to say.  And my fingers are not very accurate on a screen, which is truly irritating. If you are not careful, you’ll be writing a whole lot of junk that is nothing close to what you had in mind. I can type blind on a keyboard, using nine fingers, but to fiddle with one finger at a time on a glass keypad can drive me nuts.

We take time to send even the most trivial little messages on WhatsApp, wait to see if they have been read, forward any number of silly video clips, have a laugh, spread the fun….When you spbundle-of-lettersend a lot of time alone, these bits of contact are so welcome, they colour in your day. Yet that bit of happiness is fleeting.  Nothing about the moment lasts – it must make way for the next beep.  You could not tie these messages up in bundles with pretty ribbon and save them in a drawer….to be found by  your descendants in a hundred years’ time! writing-letters-007And if you had to add up all the minutes you spent in a day checking your phone and being busy on it, you could have sat down somewhere, quietly and quite relaxed, with something nice to drink and written someone a beautiful, interesting letter.


That reminds me, I received one this morning, a big fat envelope in an otherwise almost empty mailbox.  (Which is no longer number 39) And I am going to find a quiet spot, put my feet up, and begin to read.



Hungry for a beautiful Life


“People are hungry for genuine human stories now more than ever.  We’ve gotten so caught up in this culture of self-branding where everybody cherry-picks what they show on social media and glosses over their failures and setbacks… But it’s the failures and the setbacks that people want to hear about, not these carefully curated success stories. That’s not real life. Nobody is interested in following yet another picture-perfect life on Instagram. Nobody.”

parisienne“We’re also living in a time where everything feels a bit pessimistic, even apocalyptic.  I think there’s a desire for more real-life stories that have a positive message, that are hopeful. There’s a certain comfort in having an 80-year-old tell you, ‘I was 15 years old in 1940 when the Germans invaded Paris and it was la grosse merde but in the end, we got through it.’

  • From an interview with Laurence Guilloud and Fabrice Le Dantec, founders of the magazine, L’Instant Parisien

Who are we, what are we trying to do, what’s this big deal about our Instagram life?

Go back 40 years.  (Oh I hate saying that, it means I have enough years under my belt to be able to go back forty years and still be on the page.  But this is a mindset thing…what is wrong with not being young (???) so yes, go back 40 years.)  You will find a 12 year old girl hammering away at a black Corona portable typewriter with silver rims around its keys, dreaming up stories.  corona-typewriter

No Tippex then (and now almost obsolete). Typing errors were crossed out by hitting the hyphen key and you had to change reels when your ribbon ran out of ink.  Copies were made with carbon paper — I had not heard of a photocopy machine, nor a scanner; computers belonged in SciFi movies and certainly there were no cell phones.  The idea that one day you would be able to talk to somebody and see one another via a screen was a fascinating, far-fetched thought.  People saw you in the flesh…or not.  There was no way you could pretend to be who you were not. “Hard copy” was all there was.

Now to the present.  While in the old days we could admire all the cinema stars as untouchable, awe-inspiring and, somehow, charmed, audrey-hepburnCyber media has presented us with the opportunity to be such stars ourselves.  Life has becomeboy-with-film a cinema.  And thanks to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Gramblr, flickr, we have become movie stars.  We put our best face forward…our best moments forward.  Quelle horreur, what would we do without the delete button!  Much of what we are actually experiencing is not going any deeper than how quickly we can curate it for the public eye.  And then, editing complete, we re-live the moment by looking at it on a screen.  We never really lived it as it happened, while it happened.  Our mind was too governed by recording it, by how it would appear not only to others, but also to us.  This cherry picked, curated life is called living by proxy.  [Definition:  by proxy the ability to do or be something without actually physically doing it.]


Somehow, we are protecting ourselves and others from our reality.  But when real life happens, when our reserves are called upon, when the merde hits the fan, really hits the fan, no one will have time to think about “how this is going to look”.

That is the genuine human story we are actually hungry for.


Yellow is the new Green

Today is Sunday, 22 January 2017.  Weather forecast:  “Blazing sunshine and very hot”, predicted temperature 39ºC, real-feel 40ºC.  The week ahead promises “hot with plenty of sun” and temperatures in the high thirties.  But wait a minute; this is what I want to see:  “Cooler with spotty showers, 26ºC” – on Tuesday.  Yay!

In our Mediterranean climate here in the Western Cape, hot summers are usual.  Hot and dry. Although rain is not unheard of, humidity is very low if at all existent and this is good for healthy vines. Interestingly, after an incident of rain, there will usually be a good old blow from the notorious Cape Doctor, the Southeaster, clearing the air around the vines and helping prevent mildew and rot.  We really do want our wine farmers to have a good crop – what would summer be without a delicious glass of crisp, cold white wine sipped slowly while you kiss a hot day goodbye?

As a want-to-be gardener, none of this suits me.  I want the rain; I do not want the wind.  More specifically, it is my garden that does and does not.  Having rain and then wind is like giving with one hand and taking with the other.2-feb-10-harvey-arrived-today

All good things come at a price and living out here in this amazing wide open world with sweeping views towards the mountains has quite a steep price ticket:  hard work and resilience.  Having the heart of an ox will help too.  When the south east wind passes over the plains at 80kms/hour and does not let up for three days, screaming and screeching and whistling through closed windows so that you must plug your ears to get to sleep at night, you have to bite on your teeth and carry on living, pretending to be unaware that all this while, plants, tender and otherwise, are being battered and burned alive.


When the wind finally subsides you run outside and administer first aid and water to everything with roots in soil.  It breaks your heart to see tender new little leaves, having just burst forth from the stem of a plant, scorched to paper.  How long will it be before another new little leaf might appear….? Baby fruit blown off and strewn; branches snapped and young stems bent or broken.  Sometimes trees are wrenched from the ground.


This happens time and again and you have to just keep going.  The first trees planted in our garden have been growing since 2002 and none are yet taller than 15 metres.  It is not easy to grow skywards when it would seem the elements want to plunge you back to earth.  A poor earth, at that.  Soil here is hard and fairly barren….to change this requires work.  And water.  From November until March, we water half of our garden by hand, four times a week – pots are watered every day – this takes nearly half a day.  The orchard and copse is watered every night via a drip system directly from the borehole.  But this year, we drew the line when it came to watering the lawn.  The whole country has had two years of drought and although we have a good supply of underground water, we’re not going to take it for granted. At first it was a tough call; a beautiful, gloriously green lawn is a winner in everybody’s book – who can resist its soothing effect?  There is nothing quite as therapeutic as a thriving, luxurious garden bursting with succulent shades of green…and equally, little that is more exhausting than seeing a sad and struggling garden.  Ah, but we are adjustable….


The landscape around us is dressed in its summer clothes: a creamy shade of yellow.  And since we have not been watering our lawn, it has turned the same yellow.  And how beautifully it merges with the world around us, “blending seamlessly”.  Who wants a green lawn now, in the face of water restrictions and terrible drought?

No indeed, I am quite resolved:  Yellow is the new Green.


Here is Your Country


Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. –Theodore Roosevelt


Belonging to a country is like having a surname – it doesn’t define you personally but it gives you an identity, more than your first name alone.


Were I to not like the name my parents gave me, I could have it changed, and people do, which is perfectly acceptable. But to change my surname and to change my nationality would be quite a different matter.  If I were to translocate to another country, I could adopt all the habits of that country and become a loyal citizen, but in actuality I would until the end of my days be a South African living in a foreign place.  My children born there would be nationals – the country of our birth is who we are – and not just born, but also where we grew up.



So why are there disgruntled people who begrudge their fellow countryman/woman equal nationality?  If I were born in a small country town, or in a big cosmopolitan city, or a rural hamlet or even in the bush or wilderness, I am neither less nor more an indigenous person than the next.  I would not dream of telling you that you don’t belong here, just as I would not like you to tell me to go back to ‘where I came from’, when actually I come from the same country as you.


Part of how nations have formed is through the people that came from different countries and settled in their new adopted home.  With them come new genes, new skills, new traditions. It is an ongoing dynamic among humans which began at the beginning of time. Whether my ancestors migrated here 300 years ago, 10 000 years ago, or two generations ago, this is my home.

magistrate-building-aberdeen-july-2011-see-creatures-of-rooftop      aberdeen-post-office-july-2011

With the way people have evolved, there is no possible way to unravel the knitting of who we are today, into separate origins.  Perhaps you could do this very broadly from an historical point of view, but the “origins” of a person and also a nation are like a tapestry.  Unravel or remove some of the threads and you will lose the picture.



Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I do want to own up to being worried about how we as South Africans do or do not cherish what we have – our history, our science, our music, our culture, our natural resources….our future.  Instead of bickering about who invented what and whose technology is entitled to being preferred and practiced, let us take stock of what we have and fall silent in our awe and gratitude.

Thankfulness, no matter who you are, is a very good state of mind.


The Road Home

farm-houseDistantly you recognise an outline….a tree, a rooftop, the crest of a hill….and in your stomach something moves upwards towards your heart. In the pleasant surge, there is a pinprick of anxiety; because what you have recognised is a glimpse into somewhere you know you are absolutely safe…..but you are not there yet.  Like an eager puppy looking through the travellboston-terrier-in-caring car’s window, your heart has reached it before you — Home.

The safety I’m referring to has got to do with feeling unthreatened by danger or risk, of having complete freedom to be who you are….to be well in your Self. If you are fortunate to have grown up in a home that was a haven from the outside world, a home where you were loved and where your personality could blossom and thrive, where you had the togetherness of family, where you were included and where you mattered and where, in your eyes,  your parents or guardians were invincible, you will always have a sense of being connected to home — it is an association with everything being right. This sense of ‘home’ has nothing to do with a place being grand or spacious and luxurious, or fabulously styled and decorated… or even beautiful…it has everything to do with where you felt safe while you were a child.

So you have memories of smells and sounds that evoke feelings; unconsciously you hold onto these as though they are treasures. They are treasures.


In the loft.jpg
In the old loft

A particular window where the afternoon sun slanted through into the room where your mother ironed clothes, the radio in the background playing vacantly while she was alone with her thoughts. A pot near the door where a sad plant could not make up its mind whether to live or die and yet your mother nursed it and coaxed it as though it was an endangered, rare specimen. A funny hook in a funny place where the kitchen door key always was hung – no logical reason or explanation, that is just how it was. I am making these things up, they are not my memories, but it’s the sort of odd assortment of things we all carry somewhere deep in our psyche. Then as adults we try and recreate this safe haven for our husbands, for our children, for ourselves. We want to make a nest.


My childhood home….with ostriches cooling off on the lawn

My childhood home was a farmhouse a few hundred years old, built of lime and flat Batavian-type clay bricks, its original six rooms added onto over the years until it was a higgledy-piggledy assortment of many rooms.  We were seven children and some of us had phobias about certain “creepy” areas in the big house, particularly one dark corner of the sitting room where a copper pot faintly gleamed and was believed to be the devil’s eye – but in safety we outgrew our fears.  Today there is so much that we laugh about.  I believed my room had a friendly ghost, I was certain I could hear it, but nothing would induce me to move out.  More than anything, my large bedroom with its wooden floor, high ceiling and very deep window behind whose curtain I spent many an afternoon reading, was my personal haven.

The road up to the farmhouse felt interminably long after a day at school and the jolting journey back on the school bus.  We walked wearily, and I confess I dreamed of Charlie Brown lemonade stalls being stationed along the way.  I once complained to my mother that it was too far to walk (probably about 350 metres) and she offered to send Aaron to fetch me with a wheelbarrow – of course she wasn’t serious but I felt insulted all the same.  But actually, I loved that road.  Because walking along – even when the hot summer sun glared off the gravel and sand and grasshoppers scattered about me as I trudged – meant I was going home.

The school bus would gather speed as it roared down the hill towards our farm entrance; just  150 metres from our gate I would for the first time be able to glimpse the tall Blue Gum trees and the old barn behind them.  After a week at boarding school, this was what my eyes sought every Friday afternoon: the first sight of home.  A day came when I looked towards the trees and something was wrong.  The picture had changed and I didn’t recognise it at all.  I was stupefied.  Stomping up the road, my horror grew by what was becoming clear to see:  charred walls of a burnt down barn.  Nobody had told me that this had happened in the week while I was away, I was completely unprepared.

I lived on that farm for the best part of 22 years until my father retired and one of my brothers rook over.  No matter how many years have passed, the farm and all that happened there will always be in me.  Just as the prairie that I now call home also will be. Home is where things are familiar, need no explanation, and where you feel comfortable.  Home is slippers on, fridge stocked, a collection of belongings that feel like old friends.

Think, if you were forced to leave your home because of a natural disaster, or a war, and you fretted and worried while you temporarily stayed somewhere else, longing to return to where you belong, and the day came that you could go back, how would it be?  Would you be anxious for that first glimpse?  Of course you would.  It must be like being reunited with somebody you love more than words.

We all carry that road in our hearts – the road home.


benjamin-walking-home-with-safira-and-snow-july-2014-009     vineyards-010


We don’t dream of Pavement Living

This morning there were two big woolly mounds up against the fence of the town park and I saw them move.  It was a strange sight. I had slowed down my car, approaching the Stop street, and that is when the sort of heaving movement caught my eye.  I looked more carefully and saw what appeared to be a whole nest of mounds….and while I stared, two mounds opened up and hatched two humans.

00317_03. Dog Sleeping in the Street, Afghanistan, 1983

This is when it dawned on me that it was a whole bunch of people who, as the first fingers of daylight pointed across the sky, were beginning to stir from their night’s sleep. It was early.  No doubt when the working folk arrived and parked their cars, these pavement people would be gone. Maybe they too had jobs….They emerged fully clothed, and began tidying up their ‘lodgings’.  I didn’t get a chance to count, but I guess there might have been at least eight people.  Looking at the opened cocoons, I could see that they would have been sleeping close to each other for warmth.  As I drove on, I saw one person walk to the rubbish bin and throw something in it.  Why did I notice this, I wondered.  I think it is because it registered with me that, although this person had not a room to call her own, she still ‘kept house’….

misty landscape 004

Briefly, as the traffic opened and I got my chance to drive on, the concept of owning nothing came into my mind.  For half a minute I dwelled on the feeling of having nothing……and of course, with that came a huge sense of relief.  I say ‘of course’ because the idea of having nothing to be responsible for and nothing demanding my attention, does immediately give the idea of relief.

It occurred to me then, that this must surely be the most direct way of becoming ‘present’, because there would be nothing to distract one – no imminent meetings, deadlines, cell phones, birthdays, budgets, sell-by dates, refrigerators to stock, dog food, cat de-worming, hair appointments, car licence renewals, insurance policy updates, annual leave planning, dry cleaning to collect, dinner parties to plan, the state of the economy……….nothing whatsoever.  What a discipline it would be, to hanker after nothing and accept that what is around me, what is BUSY HAPPENING, is all I need to pay attention to.  I have no moral high ground here, this is not why I am writing today.  I couldn’t begin to understand homelessness.   I simply saw those people sleeping on the pavement………

Groenberg, Sept 2010

Blüthner delivery 20 May 2011 010

I couldn’t hold onto the idea of having nothing for even one minute before the thought of my piano popped into my head.  It was the first thing I thought of.  My 115 year old Blüthner grand piano with its warm, musical tone and magnificent, turned legs.  I would not want to part from that.  Oh no.

Then I thought of all my books.  Wonderful volumes on dozens of shelves, books in every room in the house.  No, I would not want to part with my books.  And my bed…..my old iron bed with its cotton sheets and goose down duvet – not possible to give that up.  I have slept in that bed for 30 years.  Nor would I want to part with any of the other beds in the house, the often empty beds that are there for my children, for my friends or family who might come and visit me and who must be as comfortable in my home as they would be in theirs… my home, with its walls and windows and paintings and carpets and nick-knacks and electric lights and tables to sit at for eating meals. Which I cook myself.  My house, with all its rooms, each one for a different purpose, with privacy and privilege.

bed and books

I have mountains which I can gaze at every day, for as long as I like, all the while that I am here at home.  They bring me into the present — when I look at those mountains, there is nothing to distract me, everything else falls away.

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Outside my front door, I can see the whole world.  Unlike those people on the pavement, I do believe the whole world cannot see me.

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Moving Can Make You Happy

more rosemary

The rosemary bush was unhappy.  And then the pests came – the woolly aphids and mealie bugs – and after that the yellowing leaves and the soot.  I am sure they came because the bush was sad, not the other way around.  At first I paid it extra attention….fed it, made sure it got the right amount of water….and then I sprayed it with diluted soap to suffocate the pests.  The bush ailed more.  So at last I left it alone, stopped watering it and made peace with its imminent death. There were other rosemary bushes. Some of them also lived in pots in the kitchen courtyard and some in pots elsewhere. There was rosemary everywhere.

All of them happy.

Courtyard needs tiling


The sad rosemary bush just sat there and sulked.  In spite of not being watered, it would not die.  But neither would it live.  I tried to ignore it every time I watered the other pots in the courtyard but my eyes did not miss it.  As uncomfortable as it made me feel, I didn’t have the heart to dig it out and throw it away.  Then one day I heaved up the heavy pot and moved it, to a spot beneath the roof overhang near the back door.  In apology, I gave the decrepit little bush some water. That was two years ago.

rosemary at door

Now, every time I need some rosemary, I dash out the door straight to that bush.  It is as huge as a forest……well, a pot-sized forest. It is happy, happy, happy.

Moving made it happy.

tuft of rosemary

Some of us live in an apartment …a house, neighbourhood, town, province, country …and although we ‘happily’ go about our daily life, we aren’t thriving.  We are clever at adapting, clever at adopting ways to make us feel okay, but somehow we are not living our life with all cylinders firing.  Sometimes we might be living our entire life “by proxy”.

If it were possible to write down, in detail, exactly the kind of life you would wish for, right from the bed you sleep on and its linen,  the view from there when you wake up (and may there be one!), what time you wake up and how you get ready for the day, the detail of yourbedroom home and your kitchen and what kind of breakfast you’ll have, what you do next (drive to work, saddle up your horse, walk on the farm and inspect the fruit trees…do yoga or go for a run…). What motivates you about the work you do, the job you have… What your hopes, goals and ambitions are…What kind of people you engage with and who inspires you…What you can do to help somebody else have a better life (it has been proven that acts of kindness release happy hormones) …What new skill you want to learn and how and where you will fit this in…What other field of interest you want to pursue and where to grow your knowledge…

Flamboya tree, Mozambique 2009

What scenery you will pass through on your way home and what coming home will feel like…What your garden will look like…Will there be a dog to meet you and what sort of a dog…Will you take it for a run and will it be along a beautiful track, an orchard, the beach…

Praia da Rocha, Mozambique 09 (8)

Will you see familiar people you like and can greet along the way? After that will you choose to wander through your garden, checking it with close attention, or will you simply just enjoy it for its soothing effect?  At the end of your day will you sit down with a relaxing drink and if so will it be on your front stoep, in the garden or by a roaring fire?

in the kitchen


How will your evenings be spent – would you cook a meal and if you do, what equipment and ingredients would you enjoy using…Do you have boring jobs improved by beautiful details…Does your kitchen make you feel inspired?  With whom would you share your meal and also your night?


If one day you should make this list, compare it with what you have.  You might be surprised to find that, more or less, everything you want is what you already have.  But if your list and your life are oceans apart, perhaps it is time to make a change – to move.


Moving can make you happy.

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S.O.S. to the World

crow on field

This morning quite early, before the sun climbed to its sitting position on my mountains, the droning began.  At first it was far away, then almost insidiously it crept into my awareness as it came closer.  By the time the sun was touching the roof of my house, the belly of the small aircraft was also almost doing the same as it flew over.  Again and again.   The drone of the engine was so overwhelmingly loud and so very close it made the whole house audibly vibrate.  Over it would go, then swoop low to fly over the neighbour’s fields of sown grain. And as I watched, the mists came down.  When the distance of the field had been crossed, the plane would climb steeply and turn around and come back.  What would it be like, I wondered, to be out walking and have those mists descend on me….

early morning crop sprayer

It really is the strangest looking craft.  Very small, with a tiny cabin and unusually long snout, almost like a cartoon drawing of a stinging fly.  And the standard yellow colour I would suppose is to make it visible –   if you don’t hear it first.  I have never met a pilot who flies one of these small aeroplanes but it would be interesting to, as they must surely have hair on their teeth.

yellow crop sprayer

The dangers of flying so low are obvious, and not least the high tension, high voltage electrical cables suspended in the sky……these planes fly beneath those.



So I can’t help imagining that the sort of guy who likes this kind of job must be a wannabe kamikaze pilot  – “Kamikaze” – somebody who borders on crazy, fanatical and self-destructive.  He might be brave, but he can’t afford to be foolish.

kamikaze pilots

Six years ago when we were still new in this area, I remember my sheer panic one morning when a small plane suddenly started flying over our house.  I ran to my studio window, which is upstairs beneath the roof, flung it open and leaned out.  We were under attack!  This plane to all appearances was trying to line itself up with our house with each overhead swoop.  My mind raced, thinking who we might have offended or crossed in this unknown world, that they should be so viciously dive bombing us!  I had not ever seen such a strange looking craft either; for all I knew, it was specially built for dropping bombs…. Fortunately I kept my head and didn’t do something normal like call for reinforcements.  Ten minutes later I was laughing at myself.  This was not an attack on me or my family, this was an attack on weeds.

little black plane

Those mists that come down are the poisons that kill weeds.  So many things threaten the health of crops…too much rain (drowning, rot and fungal infestation), too little rain (poor germination and growth)…  How ironic it is then, that to save our crop so that we may eat, we must poison our planet.


I have read about the pressure being put on giant Monsanto about their widely used broad-spectrum herbicide, Roundup, which according to its press release, offers enhanced, consistent weed control, weed to weed and field to field, even hard-to-control weeds.  Glysophate is the active ingredient in Roundup.  There are crops that are genetically engineered as “Roundup Ready” – programmed to withstand extremely high levels of Roundup without dying along with the weed.  Due to their resistance, these crops are generously doused, which means that they are far more contaminated with glysophate than conventional crops.

wheat field        baguettes


And you know what that means, don’t you…..we are eating those contaminated grains in our cereals and breads.

What are we supposed to do?  Help!

dark sky on prairie

A Woolly Tale

Mary might have had a little lamb, but perhaps its fleece was not quite as white as snow.  The fuzz of a lamb’s coat can sometimes be a bit like Velcro, that fabulous invention to which anything fluffy will stick.  The more bits of grass, hair and goodness-knows-what else gets embedded into the Velcro, the less its counterpart wants to stick, almost as if to say, “thank you very much, my appetite for sticky things is satisfied and I am full – I can’t stick to another thing.”  (And just there your swimming trunks let you dosticky sheepwn by popping open after a particularly energetic lunge in a game of beach Volley Ball.)  That’s Velcro for you.  Lamb’s fleece has a great capacity for harbouring infinite bits and pieces that are usually displayed on a Grade 2 classroom’s Nature Table.

Forgive me for exaggerating.  By now you must be picturing a small creature resembling a roaming long-legged hedgehog, coated in leaf litter and garden waste.  That is not true.  Lambs have little fleecy pelts ranging from tight curls resembling “French Knots” (in embroidery terms) to soft fuzz.  Some have mini dreadlocks.  Some have silky hair.  It all depends on who their parents are.  But nevertheless Mary’s lamb was probably adored and spoiled, since it followed her around.  And if it was white as snow, it was probably from being bathed and brushed!  Which is what you would normally do with fleece before you can make yarn.

sheep with twins - Daylesford

Woollen yarn is an ancient material, used for a few thousand years already to make garments and useful items like bags, blankets and carpets.  The coats from sheep, camels, alpacas, goats and rabbits are the most usual sources.  Quite long ago my sister farmed with Angora rabbits – their fur is incredibly soft and warm.  Whenever she harvested their fur and it happened to not be summer, she dressed them in little jumpers to keep them warm until they had enough fur of their own again.  Imagine a whole hillside of sheep ambling about in Aran sweaters!

aran jersey    aran knitted coat

But the beauty of natural fibre is that it is sustainable, very hard wearing, very warm and very good for the planet.  When I had an orphaned kitten that needed to be kept warm, it thrived in a bed of sheep’s wool; synthetic polar fleece would not have done the trick!  Knitting is such a useful thing, too – it lends itself to creating beautiful things that, if protected from moths, can live for hundreds of years.  And no matter how well or badly you knit, it does have something very soothing about it.  I am not a good knitter, but my mother was.  She could knit, read a book and listen to the radio all at the same time.Katherine Hepburn knitting

This takes me back………

It is early morning in mid-September.  I have just woken and before my eyes have focused on anything, I have remembered that it is holidays.  What a cracker to get me out of bed in one leap!  September is Springtime, on my side of the world.  And yes, I can smell them…..I can hear them too, the baa-ing of sheep and the distant heady aroma of lanolin and manure.  A quick check outside to see whether the sun is shining (yes) and on with a sleeveless cotton dress, then off to the kitchen for a bowl of porridge, a dash of toothpaste and some wild brushing, a cursory jab of a comb through the hair and out the door, down to the pens.

Half skipping, half jogging, I am already almost there when I realise by the goose bumps on my arms that the cotton dress was perhaps a bit optimistic.  It is sunny, but not yet summer.  Oh but I can’t help loving September!  It is the time of year when you get dizzy with smells (others with hay fever) and the sun gets itself out of bed earlier and makes you feel full of energy, forgetting that winter has not entirely given up its grip.

shorn and unshorn

The make-shift holding pens outside the old barn are teeming with sheep, pushing against each other and going round and round.  There is a pen with shaggy animals waiting to be shorn, another with animals denuded of fleece and looking amazingly like oranges with the pith and not the skin.  Each of these bears a stamp with the shearer’s initials, almost like a brand but instead of being burnt into the shorn hide, the letter has been dipped into black oil and so made its mark.  This, I think, is to see who the good shearers are and who the culprits, for some savage nicks into flesh.

another sheep being shorn

Quickly my bare feet climb up the rails, slippery and smooth from years of use, over the top and down to the ground with a light plop.  Carefully skirting the puddles and droppings in the dirt I trot around to the big barn doors, open in the morning sun.  The din inside is at a steady pitch, folding around me like a heavy blanket and over and above everything else, is the loud humming of the motors of the shearing machines.  Strange contraptions that they are, with flying wheels and cords and cables, I know to keep well clear of them.  I am heading for the bins.  These are the cages where the various grades of fleece get thrown.

child with sheep

The sheepy smell of lanolin might not be everyone’s cup of tea – I know it wasn’t my mother’s when she was pregnant with us – but to me, it is part and parcel of my Spring holidays.  And so is the soft, springy bed of sheep’s wool and its wonderful combination of cushiness, oiliness and sharp pricks of things that are stuck in the wool.  And when the “sorter” comes and throws another pelt into the bins, I thrash my arms a bit to unbury myself.  It doesn’t take very long for me to grow bored of my bed in the bin and when I haul myself out of the wool, there is a rush of cool Spring air onto my warmed, oily skin.

From there I pass the sorting table, pausing long enough to watch as another shorn pelt gets flung onto the wooden slats, still resembling the shape of an animal skin although sort of torn apart like a shaggy cloud.  The “sorter” quickly picks off the skirt part of the fleece – this is the really dirty (Velcro) wool along the edge which cannot be used – and then separates the pelt into different grades according to length of fibre and cleanliness.

sorting wool 2sorting wool

It is fascinating to see how quickly he works.  The sorted wool from the bins goes into a huge square nylon bag hooked inside a wooden press frame.  When the press cannot push any more wool into the bag, the bag is closed, using metal hooks.  These are quite vicious and scary, if you have a lively imagination.

old wool press

But my destination is the stack of bales, stuffed so full of wool that the sides of the bags are bulging and slippery.  As I write this, the palms of my hands are perspiring with the memory of that feeling of almost slipping off as I climb up to the top, which is quite close to the barn roof.wool bale

Up here, I have a good view over the whole shearing operation.  The sheep being shorn sometimes resemble ladies calmly having a pedicure, as they sort of recline on their backsides with their feet lamely dangling in the air.  Of course they aren’t and ladies having a pedicure would not be clamped between somebody’s knees.

man shearing sheep

wool shed

But sheep are reasonably docile animals, and once persuaded as to what they must do, seem quite content to comply.  It is fun to see how, once they realise they are free after all their fleece has been shorn off, they suddenly spring to life and shoot out the doors into the sunlight.

Our sheep are Corriedale, with a dense, springy sort of wool.


They are also favoured for their meat unlike the popular Merino which is bred specifically for wool.  In fact, in the years of my childhood, Merino sheep were known for their many folds, almost like a Sharpei dog.  With so much excess skin, you can imagine, comes an extra amount of wool.  Almost like those specials you see in supermarkets: “extra 25% FREE!”

I heard a story of a fellow who was shearing a Merino sheep in the Eastern Cape years ago, when all of a sudden he and his neighbour dropped their clippers and bolted straight out the door.  The bewildered, abandoned sheep ran after them, with her half-shorn pelt trailing along like a cape.  While opening up the folds around her neck to shear off the wool, the shearer had disturbed a Cobra who had been comfortably ensconced and fast asleep!

cobra    guys running away

A fabulously woolly tale if ever I heard one.

kids running away