Working weekend

A chilly winter morning that calls for uncomplicated delicious slow-simmered bean soup. Perfect for a working weekend, beans with a little spiciness, creamy beans in tomato and garlic, some leeks from the back of the fridge softened in olive oil, some diced carrots, some parsley and rosemary from the garden. A little smoky paprika, a little freshly ground black pepper. Something to offer friends who pop in, something for brunch, or lunch, or even a late supper. I par-cooked the beans in a slow cooker overnight.


Uncomplicated. Another word I love. Vegetable soups, bean soups, lentil soups; uncomplicated. Decluttering the  study is uncomplicated even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. A big featherdown duvet to warm the goosepimpled thighs on a cold night — uncomplicated. Reviving miscellany of herbs in the raised kitchen garden — uncomplicated. Dogs, complicated. Editing, complicated. Writing the new fiction, impossible. But bean soup is doable.


Kim Addonzio:

Writing is part of the way I process my experience. It always helps to find the form for it and a way to say something, whether it’s my life or some other topic that I’m writing about and exploring. In one way it opens it up and helps you understand better and in another way it closes it down because you’ve written a version of the story that’s now your memory of the event. When I go back and remember something that happened, I may remember it only in the way I’ve written about it, and I’ll have forgotten what was there that I didn’t get down in writing.


A tough month ahead, financially. No treats or outings, no chance to get down to the ocean or over the mountain passes. This is how it goes, a life lived hand to mouth, free, autonomous, challenging. Surprises popping up, unforeseen expenses,  hungry friends, the generosity of neighbours,  bouncy rain-wet greens from the garden, digging into store cupboard staples, back of the fridge wrinkly turnips and wilting chard, the mild percussion of bean farts, the necessity to bake dog biscuits, bath by candlelight to save electricity. Snatching at daily life as it goes on by, recording a thought or recipe or dream image. For now too, I’m grateful for stability of place.


Because the dreams fill up with images and voices of the displaced, the migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees. My heart aches and strains to make more room, expand with compassion and practical solutions. Seeking the courage and vision to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty:


Refugees are often denied the chance to tell their stories, or forced to tell them, knowing that if they are deemed tragic enough and true enough, they might be allowed to stay. Some are denied entry, their applications stamped “LOC” for “Lack of Credibility”. So the ethics of telling refugees’ stories are hugely complex, and I can understand why writers are keen to problematize the telling; but introducing too much doubt in the reader’s mind can get in the way of empathy.


And the truths embodied in this vast enforced diaspora may not emerge for decades to come, until the children and grand-children of refugees begin to write down family histories and evoke historical journeys retold to them from relative safety. And  by then, there will be other movements, other displacements, the turning of  cyclical schemas of terror, tyranny and  heroism. Sitting at my desk and watching the  winter sun burn through diaphanous obscure layers of mist, I pray for the energy and desire to stay present.



Change feet and dance

Got up at 5am and logged onto the Internet to see pound sterling plummet and Asian markets falling in response to early reports Britain may be leaving the European Union. Brexit a reality, along with the rise of right-wing groupings across the Europe I have known as liberal and tolerant. Ugh.


Surrounded by empty dusted surfaces at home. I should have done this months ago. What explains entropy when we need to acknowledge it is time for change, when we know change must happen and the sooner the better? Ages ago I saw online references to Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. A Japanese organising consultant pointing out the obvious. I hated the title, hated having the obvious pointed out.

First, put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. Only then, Kondo says, will you have reached the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.


And after  a few angsty days, I  find I don’t miss any of the things sent away or discarded. So long as I don’t think too hard about any of them. I’ve never hoarded things — except books? — and I know what I use and like to use on a daily basis. For a long time, my home was shabby, warm, bright, layered, intriguing. My euphemisms, of course.


Then suddenly it was messy, untidy, nothing easy to find. Every object had ‘room creep’ and I shifted things around without  being able to find a good place for them. Summer clothes all over the closets in winter, shoes in a sad little heap. Books spilling over everything, a teapot awkwardly perched on the kitchen windowsill. What went wrong?


Will I reclutter? Probably, booknerd that I am. But for now my mind feels lighter because I’m not carrying around a crowded house in my head.


And last night, in my minimal interiors, a great flush of pink light at sunset from flamingo skies across the valley. Streaky spangly girly pinks and  mauves. Wisps of candy. Neon pinks, hot pinks, lipstick gloss pinks. Soppy but irresistible.


The Zen of Dick Allen:


I never in my life before

became aware

egg shells are so light,

said the Zen master,

holding the shells of two eggs

in the palm of one hand.

Why, they’re almost

as light as a Crayola mark.

Even when I move my head,

if I wasn’t looking,

I doubt I’d know they were there,

and if this is so, what else

might I have missed,

like the tea-kettle whistle

at the end of the sound of “Yes,”

low-lying hills in the distance,

how the sky fits into them

like one hand pressing

into another,

the smell of a cloth bag filled

with quarters and dimes,

and at my age, how silly,

how splendid,

to still be discovering this.





The wheel at solstice

Dazzling big white moon at midnight when the rain stopped. Winter solstice in the southern hemisphere, mid-winter and the wheel turning. I love these old metaphors, the  terms for  cyclic seasonal change and stirring in the earth. The valley suddenly deep vernal green after rain, arum lilies coming up white and incandescent in ditches, snow whitening mountain peaks.


I am trying to reduce my library of old books. The house is over-flowing  with books: gifts, secondhand finds, ordered books, collectable books, beloved much-read books, hardbacks and paperbacks. It has taken me a long time to admit I can’t just keep tucking books into corners and finding room on shelves of  creaking bookcases. And  there are books that were a disappointment, books I know I won’t read again. Time for a clean-out.


So I carefully sorted books into boxes and  thought I could send them to our local library.


But the local library doesn’t take donated books any longer. Most students and  visitors use the library for computer access or  want brand-new books, thrillers and romcoms. The secondhand  shop over the mountain doesn’t want old books because they don’t sell, even if they are great reads. Fewer customers now that almost everyone has Kindle.


I know that the Age of the Book is passing. The same way I know that the publishing industry is in freefall and  that good writers everywhere are struggling to publish. There will always be readers, but now they read snappy brief memes online, nobody  subscribes to newspapers  or literary journals. Investigative journalism is under-funded and  has been replaced  with under-informed opinion pieces. Longform is unpopular, editorials are unpopular, print tomes of memoirs, collected essays, fiction and non-fiction are not in vogue. Reading habits have altered, our attention spans have shortened.


Some of us will  go on hankering for books with glued spines and glossy well-designed covers   and acid-free pages of  luscious print. We want something to  admire, sniff and hold;  in a durable form so that we can turn pages, keep it to reread again and again. To lend or borrow or keep at hand. But for many people, reading isn’t as entertaining as podcasts or the spats on social media. Books are seen as disposable, pulpable, a waste of paper, wood, trees.


Out in rural Africa, printed books have always been rare commodities and  highly prized. Each year I send parcels of books up to schools and colleges in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, remembering how I longed for more books to arrive from England as donations to the small library on a dusty street in the middle of nowhere. Books saved my life, books gave me a future. And now they are no longer wanted, younger  people would rather access the Internet, learn in a different way. Yes, I work hard to learn more about Internet access too, the world is changing and wobbling on its axis as  new challenges and discoveries in technology reshape society. It is what it is.


But when darkness falls and the news no longer makes sense and the voices online remind me of the baying of  wolves, I switch on a bedside lamp, go across the room and take down one of the books that have given me so much pleasure over  so many years: Proust, Woolf, Pascal, Montaigne, Austen, Sophocles, the classics, the fiction writers, the thinkers, the sanity of a mind alive and communicating with us, forming thoughts in lovely unforgettable sentences on a yellowing page between the covers of an old book.


Solstice moon rising in full flush on the Johannesburg skyline last night, can’t identify the photographer:



Solstice moon