the journey of a budding author

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Repurpose


You buy that house because, among other conveniences, it has a swimming pool. Perfect for the children to learn to swim in. And they do. Learn to swim I mean. And they have wonderful times right throughout the summer, never changing out of their swimwear. You have pool parties for them, wild splashing games with friends all afternoon. Food is served on the terrace.And it is such fun and you thing this will always be your life.

Then comes phase two. Languid teens sunbathe at the poolside squealing at little brothers who tease them with bomb-dives that engulf them. Then the little brothers grow up and sunbathe at OTHER girl’s pools. And dad swims once or twice a season,mom hates cold water and eventually all that is left are massive bills for the chemicals to keep this dinosaur clean. We found out that we has a ‘sick’ pool that needed resurfacing, which would have come at a huge cost. And who would have swum in that newly surfaced pool anyway?

We had to take action and the first thing we did was empty it. And stare at it for a couple of years and make plans to do something with it. But what? Fill it in? Nah. Too difficult. Then we decided to make a sunken garden with a fish pond and splashing fountain, although it took another couple of years to begin the task.

Enlisting the help of the now-grown children (and one spouse and the gardener)  my husband  began to fulfill our dream of a lovely place to sit and have afternoon tea. After moving LOTS of soil, and huge quantities of blocks and working out how to empty any flooding that might occur in an area that is below ground level and planting rows and rows of roses in the terraces, the sunken garden with fish pond, was complete. And beautiful.

Designed by my husband Paul and built with strong able-bodied young people and the middle aged helping.

I made the tea and other refreshments and took the pictures.



the magnum opus begins



this post was in response to a wordpress weeky photo challenge


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Chaos

A few years ago we had to replace out kitchen floor-covering with tiles and the resultant chaos was hard to live with. We had to wait 2 days for the cement to dry before we could move everything back to its place, leaving us to camp elsewhere in the house, climbing over and around the mess in the dining room, fridge and stove and dishwasher and washing machine in the passage, piles of books in the sitting room. I took these photos as a record for posterity, I never thought I’d be posting them in a photo challenge!

One can’t help thinking how pathetic our belongings look where they are just jumbled together, and one can feel incredible compassion for victims of earthquakes. My chaos lasted a couple of days, then all was returned to its place; ancient towns of central Italy  have sustained devastating earthquakes in the last two weeks and their residents are having to live with permanent  devastation and loss. My heart goes out to themdsc07762dsc07768dsc07764dsc07773


Weekly Photo Challenge : Abandoned

I am fascinated by old and crumbling buildings. They speak of lives and purposes long-forgotten. Echoes remain of joys and griefs and loves and loss of hope and hope regained. Why were they abandoned?
These photos are of a family homestead in the Eastern Transvaal, now called Mpumalanga. It was very sad to see that trees grow up in rooms where the family lived and laughed and played and sang. They rejoiced in good harvests and grieved when crops were destroyed by locusts or drought. Six sons and daughters danced and courted beaux and celebrated weddings and babies’ births, and wept when loved ones died. The ebb and flow of fortune scattered the family and the home was rented out for many years, till finally the new owners, who had a larger modern dwelling finally consigned this solid sandstone house to decay and resolution into earth once more.
We made a pilgrimage to the old homestead about six years ago on a dry Highveld winter day soon after the last daughter, our beloved mother and grandmother died at 97 years old after a fruitful life. These pictures a record of the visit.

please click on each photo to enlarge.

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This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. ”Abandoned” was this week’s theme. Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.






More childhood memories

      We moved to 8th Avenue at the beginning of April 1953. What a magical place it was. It had been built about 1907 and in its glory years had been the home of a magistrate, but by the mid-nineteen fifties its pretensions to grandeur had ceased to pretend. We didn’t care about that. The back stand was the most marvellous playground any child could wish for. Firstly there was a stable and a garage on the western side and on the eastern side was a garage, where John later kept his pigeons. Next to that was a servant’s room, probably originally for a married couple, maybe the cook/housekeeper and the butler /driver / gardener, and next to that was a much bigger room that probably had been a dormitory for several maids. The rest of the stand was covered in fruit trees ( including a walnut tree, a row of quinces up against the back wall, an apricot, several types of plum and two or three different peach trees.( Heaven to me, was sitting up in the big plum tree with an exciting book to read, and being able to put out my hand and eat as many plums as my tummy could hold.) There was a drive coming down from the big worn out corrugated iron gates that displayed the address, 75. In the large area between the stable and the eastern garage and servant’s quarters, there were still vestiges of the gravel that must have covered the driveway. Behind the garage ( or carriage house, as it had been in its ostentatious days ) and stable that were on the western boundary grew huge fir trees, and next to them in the corner was a big oak.

     This WAS the Faraway tree. (I once fell out of this tree; there was no Slippery Slip I found to my chagrin and had to break my fall by grabbing the edge of the corrugated iron fence below that separated us from the neighbours. I bear the scars to this day!) We used to play on the rather rusty roof of this garage, having climbed up via the oak tree which almost reached the roof; after a rather daring leap we would be into another kind of wonderland amongst the thick fallen fir ‘leaves’ where we found huge egg-shaped cocoons which held ugly white grubs. I learned quickly to stand my ground and conceal my shudders while my mischievous older brother made me hold one of these wriggly horrors. This resoluteness stood me in good stead when I was faced with having to pick up frogs and grass snakes and huge locusts and other uglies. I knew instinctively that had I shown my fear, my life would have been miserable for ever afterwards.

      Once we had attained this rather dangerous eyrie we used to play that we were on a space ship hurtling through time and endless space to another Universe which we called Veronica. We zipped through the Milky Way; We flew at incredible speeds, hurtling past millions of galaxies, whizzing around myriads of brilliant, singing stars and their marvellous planets. What strange creatures might we find roaming down there? But we weren’t distracted as we braved the perils of our mission. Then we would be brought back with a bump as mom called us in for lunch, and  with my heart in my mouth, I had to put my trust in that tiny branch once more, to descent to the land of Earthlings.

   I recall that day we moved in, the excitement as we explored everything. When we had visited the house before we bought the place, I had peeked into the housekeeper’s  room. That old lady and her husband were sitting quietly and when I peeked around the half-open door and I jumped, not expecting to find anyone there. They greeted me with solemn kindness and I was about to continue my exploration of the property, when I saw a curtain in the corner which obviously concealed the servant’s clothing, but I imagined that it lead to some other mysterious room, maybe a staircase to somewhere else!  I could not investigate at once of course, but excitement tickled in my chest at the thought of what could be there. It was one of the first things I looked for on the day we moved there. The door of the servant’s room was slightly ajar and it creaked as I pushed it open with anticipation giving me cold shivers. I crept into the shadowy, rather musty room and was very disappointed to find the room was empty and all there was in the corner was a blank wall. Shades of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe! I know exactly how Lucy must have felt when she couldn’t go back to Narnia, because the wardrobe was no longer a way of getting there. It was just that. A Wardrobe. This was just A Wall. And I never did see the Other Room. Except in my imagination.

     The unfortunate part about these buildings was that they were dangerous in that they had only used a mud with a bit of concrete, it seems, as mortar. The whole lot were very shaky and we really couldn’t do anything with them except demolish them, which was a real pity. But they remained for several years for us to enjoy before they finally were torn down.

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No-one tells you that when you have a baby you sign up for life…


I once saw a video of funny moments in sport. One of the clips showed a rugby scrum moving powerfully, with the referee dancing around them. Suddenly the writhing heap collapsed sideways and the poor little ref. was buried under several tons of flesh. Since becoming a mother I know exactly how that poor little man felt.

You marry and the first thing people ask you after “How was the honeymoon?” is

“So when are you going to start a family?” As if it was their business but yet the pressure starts, quietly at first just the odd comment from foolish aunts and manipulative grandmothers who want to see their great-grandchildren before they die. You carry on your life, ignoring the growing insistence of the voices and that relentlessly ticking clock; children are a sign of blessing from the Lord, happy is the man whose quiver is full of them, you are told with arch looks.

Then peer pressure of the worst kind starts. Your friends fall pregnant. Your conversations which used to be filled with plans for interior decorating of the love nest and layouts of new gardens, and exotic holidays for two, now becomes filled with  complaints about morning sickness and visits to the gynae. Very soon you and your beloved succumb to all of this and look at each other and say: “Why not? Everyone else is doing it?” Without a thought for the consequences, you throw yourselves into the flow. It is amazing that one enters into the most life-changing experiences without even thinking twice. No one tells you that you are signing up for Life.

First Pregnancy is very like a honeymoon. You are caught up in the idea of Motherhood rather than thinking about what happens after.  You expect that babies will be just like playing dolls. You live through the discomforts which are sweetened by the planning and furbishing of The Nursery; you are amazed at the feelings that stir when you feel the flutters of life in your swelling stomach. You become aware early on, that inside of you there is another person, albeit a stranger, not just a growth, or a  new piece of yourself. You plan and dream, while you cuddle the new babies of your friends. You attend pre-natal classes and you pack your suitcase.

You wake one night with the sure knowledge that The Moment Has Come and shaking with excitement and nerves, you are rushed through dark streets to the hospital, screaming through red lights, Beloved almost hoping to attract the attention of some cop.

“I’ve always wanted to do that.” says your beloved, grinning.

After a long night and half a day of agony and pushing and puffing, you finally hold the sweet and precious cherub in your arms. Despite the pain, and newness of trying to feed her and the necessities of learning about changing nappies and bathing and coming to terms with the changes in your body, you are wrapped in an awareness of having done something marvellous. You have helped God with his creation and produced the most beautiful baby that ever lived. You feed her and wonder at the miracle she is; you stroke her soft cheek and examine her dainty hands and feet. Then she is whisked off to the nursery while you bask in the congratulations, surrounded by bouquets verbal and floral. The day comes when you can take her home, and your beloved carefully puts you both in the back seat of the car and whisks you home. You are surrounded by flowers and still in your imagination you can hear angels singing in pink fluffy clouds surrounded with bows and ribbons. Motherhood is so easy.

When you get home, your beloved says,

“I’m sorry darling; I have to go back to work. My leave only starts tomorrow.” The rat. You are left alone with cherub who begins to cry, and cry and cry. You change her nappy even though it is not necessary. Still she cries. Check for pins. She can’t be hungry. It is only eleven o’clock. She is only due for a feed at twelve. Something terrible must be wrong. In desperation you phone the hospital.

“Have you tried feeding her?” they say. You can hear the smile in the voice.

“But in the hospital, she was only brought for a feed at twelve…”your voice trails off.

“Try feeding her.”

Feeling very foolish you put down the phone. And feed her. The crying stops. For a while. And that silence is wonderful.

This when Reality rushes up to meet you. Soon you are convinced that every one conspires against you to conceal this reality from you so that you, too, will fall into the honey trap. No-one tells you about the sleepless nights or endless nappies. The crying doesn’t stop it seems, for six months. Then one day, she is passed that tiny baby stage. She sleeps through the night. She chuckles and smiles and pats your face. She spits porridge at you. You think that God made six-month old babies so cute in order to ensure the future of the human race. When the cherub is older and even cuter and you have forgotten about all the said sleepless nights and nappies, you have another one because she looks so lonely playing in the sandpit by herself. And it starts all over again with a second cherub. This time though, you are wiser and not so neurotic. You can’t  believe that the love you have for the first cherub can extend to another, but love is wonderfully elastic. It fits perfectly.

You will never be the same. You can never go back to who you were. You are on duty all the time. Sleeping late is a thing of the past. Even holidays are working holidays. The pay is lousy. You can’t resign either. The loo is no longer a haven. You will be sitting quite comfortably, trying to snatch a read, when the door (which you didn’t quite close) is flung back and children (yours and any visiting ones) and dogs invade en masse without a by-your-leave. There is no place to hide. Showers are all you ever have time for. The house always looks a mess despite your best efforts.

I once told a young mother-to-be that she should not work right through her pregnancy but she should take some time for herself before the baby’s arrival, because she would never be alone, ever again. She was angry with me because she felt I was being negative but on reflection I know I was right. If your children are not physically present, you are ‘haunted’ by them, with the God-given awareness that only a mother could have.

You live through many problems that you have to overcome using your own initiative and lots of prayer. Babies don’t come with a manual, so you make some dreadful mistakes. Everyone has conflicting advice and you weave your way through this, trying to be firm and not feel guilty about doing what you feel is right. If only you were given a crash test dummy to make those mistakes on, you wish, and then when you have totally wrecked it, and maybe learned a few things, only then should you be given a real baby. But God gave imperfect children to imperfect parents and amazingly you all survive.  One day you meet an old friend, who does not have children, and she chides you for not phoning.

“You are stuck in your Motherhood Comfort Zone.” she jeers.

“Comfort Zone!’ your voice rises hysterically. “Comfort Zone! I have never been so uncomfortable in my life!”  However, you have to grow up alongside your children, because there is nothing like motherhood to reveal just how childish you really are. That is not comfortable. And not so wonderful.

There is job-satisfaction with lots of fun and laughter too; more rewarding moments than not. Warmth and love with hatfuls of kisses and hugs and beautiful memories to make you forget the hard stuff. But that is Life. Nothing worthwhile is easy and Motherhood is very worthwhile. And it is Wonderful.

May 8th 2004

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Memphis Belle and other beauties

There it stood in all its shabby glory. Dull brown duco that had probably never seen a polishing cloth. A 1972 Chev Impala station wagon all 4 metres of it. Column shift gears, bench seats, it guzzled about 10 litres per 20kms. You could have played tennis on the bonnet. My emotions on seeing this wonder for the first time were indescribable.

We had just recently moved to Lonehill and in those days it was really in the country. We only had one car between us and I had just left a job as a book rep. which came with transport. A neat little blue Corolla in fact. When I was offered this position in an antiquarian bookshop in central Johannesburg I had made the provision of a car a condition of employment. It was a long shot, asking for a car. Maybe subconsciously I was hoping that he would refuse. He didn’t and I duly went to work there. Two weeks in, I still didn’t have the car despite the fact that I brought up the subject daily. He was a vague dithery rather artistic old man, and very difficult to pin down. Finally, maybe just to stop the nagging, the boss capitulated.

“My brother owns a used car lot. I‘ll asked him to find us something.” And that was that. A couple of days later, he came through to tell me that I could go with the driver to fetch the car. At last! I had almost given up hope and had been mentally composing my letter of resignation.

As we pulled into the car dealer’s yard in the dreary fastness of industrial Germiston, my heart sank. As we rounded the corner of the shabby office, my new transport awaited me. Not a neat blue Corolla. Definitely not.

I am only 5 feet tall and when I sat behind the wheel I couldn’t see the front or the back limits of this baby. Reversing was guesswork, and I never learned to parallel park her properly. The 3 gear column shift was so sticky I developed Tennis shoulder. And she would jump out of gear, while we were in the middle of rush hour traffic. Solly, the driver taught me a trick. I had to pop the bonnet and grab some object in the engine I never knew the name of, and violently jiggle it with both hands. Then slam the bonnet, jump in and hopefully be able to get home before I had to repeat the performance. Once this happened while Paul and I were on our way to a dance. We were driving through Braamfontein early one glorious summer evening. He was driving the car for the first time and really didn’t know what to do, so I hopped out in my evening finery and jiggled the Thing, slammed down the bonnet and as I got back into the car, I looked up and I realised we had an appreciative audience watching from the balconies of the building opposite. All I could do was wave!

Because of her great length I couldn’t park it in the driveway so it sat, large and inviting on the pavement. Were those days really so innocent? We had a stream of people asking if it was for sale, but it was never stolen. One day a man came, one of many, and when Paul saw him walk up the drive he guessed what the man’s errand was. So when he opened the door Paul just said, without preamble,

”No it’s not for sale!” and made to close the door. The man said,

“No, you don’t understand! Wait! Just hear what I wanted to say!”

Paul opened the door a bit wider, “O K what is it?”

“Do you want to sell the car?”

I suppose all this interest in this petrol guzzler was because it was in the days before Combi taxis came into fashion and because of their size Chevys and other generously proportioned cars were highly desirable, as their bench seats could be filled to overflowing with customers. Many times as I roared up the road, a pedestrian would put up a thumb without turning around and then be amazed as I thundered past them, at the sight of a white Madam driving a taxi.

How easy it would have been to steal her could be demonstrated by the following story. One day, I parked at the Bompas Road shops to buy veggies and when I came out I realised that I had left my keys in the ignition and had slam-locked the door. I went back into the shop and told the man my predicament, and asked him for a sharp pointed object, like the wicked blade he used for cutting pumpkin. He came out with me, convinced that I was crazy. Everyone knows you use a wire coat-hanger to open a locked car! Instead of trying to pry open the window as he obviously expected me to do, I simply put the tip of the knife into the lock and Voila! I’m sure I could have started the car with the same knife if I had had to! Now the shopkeeper knew he had seen everything!

Some cars are characters in their own right and this one was no exception. She had survived untold adventures in Zimbabwe before she landed up in that car lot. Maybe she had been driven down here by escapees from the early days of Uncle Bob’s rule in that country, who knows?  I suppose that if we had owned her, we would have named her. Maybe Memphis Belle would have been a good name, she was something of a flying fortress, but I left the company after six months and went into interior decorating. With mixed feelings I bid her adieu but she will always have a place in my heart.