My cat cannot make coffee

Kitz in Benjamin's courtyard window Oct 2011


Kitzwallace is a tortoiseshell cat.  Not the sort of tortoiseshell that looks like ‘brindle’, but the orange, black and white, patchy sort.  My one son thinks she is the prettiest cat in the world.  That is because she has a dainty, sweet little face and tidily places her tail over her front paws when she sits down.

She loves his lap.  He cannot touch her because his lungs will object.  But she seems to love him most of all.  And WILL seek his lap.

She has a way of staring at a person, not in a manic way, but in a narrow-eyed kind of gaze.  And when I catch her eye, she will blink in slow motion, just like my mother did when we were children and looked her way for reassurance if ever we found ourselves in a strange situation.  She would wink at us with both her eyes, squeezing them for a full second.  Kitzwallace does that and I find it uncanny.  There is something that cat knows and I wish I knew what it was.

Occasionally she comes to sit with me while I am watching a movie.  She will perch with her back to the television and gaze at me, for a long time.  And then she will shut her eyes and stay that way, as if asleep,  still facing me.

IMG_1399                     Kitzwallace on Aga

She came to us just over 13 years ago.  She was a teenage kitten and just arrived at our house, which was on a different farm then.  Tame, clean and hungry.  No neighbours had lost a kitten and we concluded that some cowardly person had come from town and dropped her off along the road…probably hoping that she would survive.  Strange but true.  There are people who live in town who do that.  In my life, I have seen this several times.  How do those people sleep at night?  But Kitzwallace found her way to us and was such a joy to our two boys.  They were sure that God had sent her.  Maybe this is true.

In the 13 years that she has been with us, she has had several lives.  I lost count and am not sure whether we have passed nine or not.  I am too nervous to check.  I have cried many tears when I believed I was having to say good-bye.  We’ve been to the Vet many times. There is never a known cause for her troubles, yet somehow she rallies and returns.  I have resolved to stop crying and just enjoy the days we have, knowing they could end at any time.  She seems to be in charge of her destiny and all I can do is facilitate the journey.

Kitzwallace Oct 2011

She eats with the delicacy of a spoiled princess.  Only a little food at a time.  And she will return to her bowl when she feels ready for another nibble but because her feline housemate Katja is a very greedy, opportunistic cat who is obsessed with eating, she will find it empty.  So the routine is to feed her only a small amount and if she doesn’t eat it all, to put her bowl in the cupboard.  In any case, she gets given food whenever she asks and she has never been obese in her life.  (Darling Katja, even though on very strict rations, has a way of strolling that sets her large stomach elegantly swaying like a hanging bridge.  She regularly supplements her meals with rodents. Yet she complains that she is about to expire of starvation.  But her complaints fall on deaf ears.  For her own good.  Only the house sitter has ears that are not so deaf.)

fat cat 007

The way that Kitzwallace announces she needs “a little something” is quite something.  First of all, the voice she uses makes me think she is under the impression it is a very beguiling, irresistible sort of voice.  A pitiful, whispery croak. There is nothing rude and demanding about the voice.  But it gets you right behind the knees.  Secondly, her choice of TIMING.  Bizarre. I have found that the minute I am in the process of slipping cracked eggs into the pot of boiling water to poach, or grinding coffee and filling the mocha pot and setting it onto the stove to percolate, all of which is a process of concentration, precision and timing, is the minute she requires more food.  And how do you concentrate when your cat is sitting in the doorway, with her tail neatly laid across her paws, and croaking at you like Marianne Faithful?

So the other morning, when I was intently busy making coffee and this little croaky voice came at me from the doorway and I was trying to shudder away my irritation and impatience, a big thought occurred to me.

Of course Kitzwallace did not understand that I was occupied with something from which I could not tear myself away.  Of course she didn’t have the slightest idea that coffee was being ground, an operation was underway and  that timing of the whole process was crucial. No indeed.  Of course not.

Kitzwallace does not know anything about making coffee.

If the pot fits 002


Under Eider Down

Winter has finally arrived, two weeks ago, and with it the joy of taking out of storage all the lovely things that keep us warm.  Number One on my list is downEiderdown 001

When the boys were little, I made an investment and bought Four Seasons down duvets for all the beds in our house.  Pure Goose Down.  Airy and light and when two duvets are clipped together, incredibly warm for the deepest winter.  The Four Seasons from Granny Goose, or All Seasons from Royal Comfort or Makoti are such a practical solution, offering you three duvets in one: Summer, Autumn/Spring, and Winter.

But what I miss, are the down quilts I grew up with.  Starting out my life as a child sleeping under heavy cotton sheets and blankets, the way I got to know life, every bed was topped with what we called an ‘eiderdown’ in winter.  No matter that the fluffy down inside never saw an Eider duck in its life, it was an eiderdown.  And my grandmother made them all.  She lived in the farmhouse where I was later to grow up, being an absolute domestic goddess capable of the finest tatting, embroidery and lace making, choux pastry and delicacies like pickled tongue and then, without blinking an eye, being able to deftly skin a rabbit and pluck the down feathers from her own ducks.


The fabrics, oh those beautiful ,tightly woven fabrics that no feather could poke through.  The colours, the patterns, the choices!  I wonder why they have disappeared, when down products are still available.  The best you can do, is dig out what you inherited from your granny or trawl through antique shops.  If you like the busy patterns, that is.  Personally I think an eiderdown must have a pretty fabric, whether paisley or sprigs of flowers or granny print.  Especially if you have a bed with plain linen, the prettiness of the quilt will be even more striking.

eiderdown on bed

Recently the vintage shop Gister in Somerset West posted this picture (below) of a few quilts for sale and they looked so beautiful, I thought I should go and see them for myself.  Gister is a very well curated, small treasure trove.  The displays are like story boards.  Needless to say, the quilts were already sold.  quilts from Gister

But it did make me remember that deep in a drawer I still had a single bed eiderdown quilt from my childhood.  I’d put it away because it has suffered a fair amount of abuse from the long line of children that slept under it and it has been roughly darned as well as (yes, you may be horrified) a few ink blots, no doubt from school homework being done on the bed in the days of fountain pens.

single eiderdown    3 eiderdowns

There is no chintz, patterned, down-proof fabric to be found these days, so my solution was to choose a very pretty cotton quilting fabric, sew up a cover to the exact measurement of the eiderdown and then enclose it.  The most difficult part was to pin all the channels precisely, then with a triple-stitch zigzag, sew right through the whole thing, all along the seam line of the inner quilt, with my sewing machine.  It worked, and now my old eiderdown is back in play.

You can do exactly the same, if you have the patience.  Alternatively you can make a cover from the prettiest cotton fabric you can find and then fill it with puffy polyester, which is very light.  Some may shoot me for even mentioning the word polyester but hey, are you about to go and pluck a duck?  I know I couldn’t.  Quilts were filled with anything at hand – if polyester was available 100 years ago, they may well have used that too.  Though, in truth, it is not nearly as cosy and warm as down.  A few years ago I restored another ancient quilt – and found that all the pockets had been stuffed with silk stockings!

down feather

Down is almost impossible to work with.  Once upon a time I had the bright idea to make my own down duvet and ordered the 900 grams of goose down that was needed.  Carefully, with my hands deep inside the bag, I managed to divide up all the down into nine small bags, each intended for one of the channels in the duvet.  The down didn’t want to cooperate, it wanted to go everywhere.  My husband suggested I should blow the down from the small bag into the duvet’s channel with a hairdryer.  I gave this a try and at first it seemed to work, until the plastic of the bag got melted by the heat of the hairdryer and WHOOSH!  all the down shot up into the air.  It was literally airborne, like a blizzard of fluff.  And just then, there was a knock at the door.  I think there was somebody very startled that day, when two downy white apparitions with fluffy white eyelashes opened the door!  Let’s just say, that first duvet did not lead to a long and happy and successful career in duvets.  It ended before it even began.

For further reading, go to:

Would You Do It….?

praerie August morning 008

We have a shed, a nice big shed we built in 2008 from the steel frame which once housed a tennis academy in Rondebosch.

architect's drawing

I remember landing on a cloudy, drizzly day at Cape Town International airport on the 10th of September 2001. It was the day before my birthday, also the day before that terrible disaster in the U.S.A. I was returning from a three week visit to England where I’d gone, among other things, to meet the penfriend with whom I’d been corresponding for 27 years.

My husband collected me and my luggage and one of the first questions he asked me when we got into the car was, “Do you want to see your new house?”

We were not planning to move. Our home of ten years was a small abode we built ourselves. Well, not with my hands exactly; my husband and one helper did the whole project completely on their own, with my occasional input of ideas, from the foundations to the roof beams and purlins which he made from Blue Gum trees he felled and cured himself.  In the first few years it was the sweetest, quaintest little cottage with only two rooms, an open pitched roof, a bathroom that housed a cast iron tub so huge and deep it could bath a whole family of small people all at once (we’d fetched it from my brother’s farm where it was intended as a drinking trough for cattle) and a petite walk-in wardrobe. He and I had plotted the exact position of the cottage one afternoon with four pegs and a ball of yellow twine. Later, in two separate flurries of building, we added more rooms until at last it more or less resembled a normal house. It had the dearest little stoep on the front overlooking a big dam. We had a small sailing boat and when the dam was full, it could be launched straight from our garden gate, which stood in the water.

Now I was being invited to view my new house.   What can I say.  It was very big, very IBR and very green. That means it was a big steel structure completely clad in “Inverted Box Rib” metal sheeting and painted tennis court green.  “It’s got lots of space…” is what I did say.  And, as an afterthought, “The tennis net comes too.”

My husband had seen it advertised, the price was pretty good, and the deal was that he had to take down the structure and remove it.  This was done in due time and all the pieces came home on a large lorry.   And the tennis net came too.

We had bought a piece of land outside Wellington that year and sooner or later it would need a house.  And my husband thought this was the quickest way of getting one built.  My challenge was therefore to convert a rectangular space of 22m x 9m with 4,5m side walls and 1,5m roof pitch into something liveable.  A rather lovely challenge, I thought.  So I got going and drew the plans.  And then filled a whole book with artistic impressions of what it would look like and what the garden would look like with an abundance of magnificent trees (the property had none, except the single ancient wild olive).  The only comment I received was, “You have drawn the trees with such spreading branches, but actually, they will never look like that.”

And they don’t.  Today they all look, to greater or lesser degrees, like old women bending under their loads into the wind.

For years nothing happened.  All the steel and sheeting lay stored in heaps. In 2008 there was a change of plan.  We would build a shed with the tennis academy structure and then a proper house for ourselves with bricks and cavity walls.  All the steel and sheeting was moved to the farm outside Wellington. A trip to a demolition yard yielded what we thought were wonderful windows and so, bit by bit, the steel frame was erected and the shed came into being.  Amazingly, a thief came with a lorry in the night and removed most of the stored IBR sheeting – the small pile they left behind they thoughtfully weighed down with rocks.  For a reason…several nights later they came back and removed those too. There was not a soul about to see them or stop them.  Buying brand new sheets for just the roof cost more than what we had paid for the entire shed with all its cladding.

With so much space on hand, we decided to build a flat on the end of the shed – you never know what you might need in years to come.  In fact, we thought we would probably move from our small house and temporarily live in the flat while our new house was being built.  I measured the areas, drew templates of our furniture to scale, and planned the interior.

Then my husband changed his mind about living in the flat. He said he did not want to have to move twice. So, building complete and after 19 years in our previous “handmade” home, we moved straight to our new house on the prairie.

That was January, 2010.  But…..the excitement of what we could do with the flat was quickly dashed when the farm worker couple we had employed came to us with big eyes and said they had nowhere to stay.  They were squeezed into some tiny place on a farm nearby with relatives and were very uncomfortable. Well of course they could stay in the flat!

While we moved into our house, they moved into the flat and made themselves at home.  The mother was afraid of heights, so chose not to let the family occupy the bedrooms upstairs. However, her two little boys did not mind scampering up there and having themselves a bit of a ball. I don’t suppose she ever knew what mischief they got up to.

For a few years we exercised tolerance and forbearance. By 2013 we came to the end of our rope.  Our working couple was so often drunk and unfit for work and their one son in particular so partial to breaking into our house whenever we were away and making off with our children’s prized possessions that we had to call it a day.  They had to go.

By the end of that year the flat was vacated. It required a good deal of scrubbing and paint, but it emerged reasonably intact.  Since then it has served the purpose of storing hay for our cattle and being sleeping quarters for orphan lambs at night. The little pilot light that had once burned to “do” something with it had gone out. The pigeons moved in en masse, the dust and cobwebs settled like blankets……….                   It is not looking so good.

the flat 002   the flat 003

Kitchen area….about 3,5m x 5,5m                     ….slightly divided from the living area…..about 5,5 x 5,5m

the flat 022    the flat 017

Front door leading from the stoep                                         closer view of the living area

the flat 004   the flat 001   the flat 006

View from bathroom door with stairs going up     Shower area in bathroom      A bedroom in the loft
the flat 007  the flat 011
A second window in the main bedroom                 From an upstairs bedroom – as the view looks now

the flat 024

And now, more than three years on, I am looking at this space and thinking, “Do I do it?”  Do I fix it up, furnish it and make it available?

It could be beautiful.  People could be happy here. For short stays, or even just overnight. There is not a soul or other house in sight.  If you were to sit on the stoep in the evening with a glass of chilled wine from our beautiful Boland, all you would see would be the views I have shown you in my la vie de Praerie Facebook photographs – the prairie, the distant Kasteelberg mountains and the nearby Lemietberg mountains.  Within a radius of 10 kilometres you would find African buffalo, golden wildebeest, black wildebeest, Bontebok, Eland, Quagga, and not to mention the roaming wild creatures – Cape fox, bat eared fox, karakul, wild boar, porcupines and deer.  Also an Alpaca farm down the road with its mill and gorgeous products and a goat farm up another road with its cheeses….

If you were me, would you do it?

the flat 025


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.

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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.


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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.


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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’….

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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

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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… 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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