Back online

Problems with Mozilla Firefox crashing my system if I try to do something complex or simply interactive. Offline and chafing to get back and post my online diary, resume a habit as necessary to me as morning tea.

It was a momentous week with local elections, a massive loss of support for the African National Congress, the party of Mandela, a party many of us joined and fought with in the Strugglle against apartheid. History doesn’t live on outdated loyalties – now there is widespread corruption, incompetence and the Sate President widely viewed as a crook, a rapist, a tyrant. All the same, the results were startling – the major metropolis centres voting for an opposition party.

And as President Zuma announced results with his usual bland disregard for criticism, four young black women stood up front with placards reminding everyone of the kangaroo court that acquitted Zuma a decade ago when he was charged with raping the daughter of his friend, a young woman known as Khwezi forced to flee the country and live in exile. The protesters were hustlled off-stage by the President’s security henchmen and roughed up. But the silent protest electrified South Africa and those following the elections.

So, it was a week of change and turbulence – but evidence again of the way democracy works, that people are not fooled by political grandstanding or threats, that votes do matter.


Protesters hold up papers protesting against President Jacob Zuma, at podium as he delivers a speech at the announcement of the results of the municipal elections in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. The protest refers to Zuma's acquittal for rape in 2006. (AP Photo/Herman Verwey)

Protesters hold up papers protesting against President Jacob Zuma, at podium as he delivers a speech at the announcement of the results of the municipal elections in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. The protest refers to Zuma’s acquittal for rape in 2006. (AP Photo/Herman Verwey)

Brief blog

A new month, arriving without warning, brandishing the new sliver of moon like a bendy toothpick. Deadlines squat on my desk and mutter at me. I have household tasks, admin and bills to sort out, the garden is crestfallen, writing flows and stops. Editing grows onerous. And I have no time to write a brief blog, I think to myself and then click open the site.


Elections tomorrow, a public holiday, hoping there won’t be riots. Or cars stoned on the highway, or bombings or police violence. Or bad news from anywhere.


Spears of narcissi coming up at the side of the house, fiercely green. The water meter half-buried in dead leaves seems to have gone awry, numbers don’t compute. Rates and taxes follow me around like evil twins whining at how unaffordable my life has become right now. The morning’s coffee tastes like mud, all sediment and bitterness. I’m writing a poem about Walt Whitman channeling his mother, internalising the maternal. Bold strelitzia in a tall jug on the kitchen windowsill attract lines of ants seeking out nectar. The bold paddles of those leaves deserve a poem to themselves.


For an arid country, the valley and mountain slopes are surprisingly green from snow melt and rain. Green and unshadowed. Schoolchildren play cricket on the spongy water-logged playing fields. Moss grows on paves in the back garden. I plant out fat pink  cloves of garlic showing  curved green spikes.


My neighbour arrives to show me his latest finds from an antique shop on the Kalk Bay sea front. I’m thinking about a youngster blowing himself up in Anspach, the medieval town where the enigmatic Kaspar Hauser appeared as if from nowhere and was murdered. What do we make of the stranger in our midst? My neighbour dislikes dogs and won’t come inside but stands at the gate to uncover his  new treasures. Silver-plated tea pot and tureen, patches where the copper or brass shows through. “Is that handle worn Bakelite?” I ask tactlessly  and he glares at me. I have taken the sheen off his discoveries with my liking for accuracy. I admire the tea pot, but he is not convinced.


Tomorrow I shall write five business letters, edit a legal report, make a tagine of Moroccan lamb with preserved lemons and za’atar and cumin and rose water or other impossibly fragrant spices and preserved lemons I bottled last winter. And then I shall sit and tighten the focus of my elastic irreverent mind and write.


There is the housemate now, bringing in firewood, calling the dogs, scraping mud off her shows. I open an old chewed-up (puppy, sweet nameless puppy) paper of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and read:


We don’t know what’s going on here . . . We don’t know. Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.


A new week unfolding like a spring leaf

All writing, creative writing anyhow, as a defamiliarising process. Not to stitch together fragments so much as pay attention to lacunae, the gaps and ellipses, what does not fit, what signifies void, what will not cohere. And catching my breath to push harder into this  writing business. As if I was once again a small girl diving in from the highest diving board, launching myself towards the unknowable flat water surfaces, bracing for the unknown with arms extended for a swan dive, head first. And to dive in cleanly, to slice into what  lies deep and shocking, to enter another atmosphere, another medium.


Writing about war and the pity that is in war.

“I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish


The friends who are divorcing assure one another and mutual friends and family that this will be amicable, polite, no squabbling, no using the children as pawns. They mean well but already they confide in separate friends, they ask friends not to breathe a word but instead to take sides, to stand by them in the ordeal. Rumours fly back and forth. And is anyone ever calm and rational about money? Only the lawyers are dispassionate and keep their own interests close to their chests.

Violence breaking out from East to West, from Munich to Kabul, deaths and suffering at the hands of ‘madmen’. The chicanery ( trumpery?) of politics and elections. The summer flinging itself into throes of heat, the winter here clear and bright.


I pause in my reading of World War I diaries and letters to make a light vegetable stock for risotto. Going into the kitchen and watching (covertly) the ground woodpecker on the grass under olive trees. Simmering pots, measuring out carneroli rice or arborio, grating Parmesan, chopping parsley, soaking dried porcini and chanterelles, examining broad flat black mushrooms from nearby woodlands. Seeing already the smiling faces around the kitchen table.

A new week, new work projects, phone calls to be made, emails to be answered. That hum of a busy life underway, the friends coming around, an anniversary supper for close friends, soups for the hungry, vegetables from local food gardens to be brought home and sorted. And this blog takes on the slapdash quality of a diary, something that doesn’t worry me too much — simply to record a passing moment, a quotation or  lines from a poem, notes jotted down as I take a break between stints of concentrated work.

Conversation in snatches:

“If we go down to the coast for the weekend, we’ll need a dog-sitter…”

“No problem but  I can’t take time off that month, can they make it another weekend? Are the whales birthing in the bay yet, has anyone seen them?”

“We can’t miss whales in spring — have you seen my library books? I stacked them somewhere obvious.”

“What is that dog barking at? Don’t tell me there is a squirrel up the liquidambar tree again?”

“Right, I’m off, there’s M at the front gate in her weird pork pie hat with the candy stripes. Why are all our friends so badly dressed?”


And then the house falls silent again, you could hear blades of grass growing, the sun shafts through onto walls and wooden floors, panels and oblongs of sun falling through dust motes and barred shadow. And outside the gnarly branches of the pin oak, catalpa, poplar, sycamore, jacaranda, tipuana and fig are studded with scaly gummed buds, some tucked in the axil of the leaf, some swelling on a bare twig. Nature does not need us, we are extraneous even in the gardens.