RHYTHMS AND RITUALS

On the first day of the month, you have to say: “A Pinch and a punch for the first of the month” doing the actions as hard and as quickly as you can . To block the person , you can say : ” a kick and a slap so you can’t get me back…”

If the first day of the month also falls on a Monday , you also have to go on diet/ learn a foreign language/ tidy your cupboards.Whatever you need to do but have not as yet done.

When you go outside and see the first star in the sky, you have to say:
Starlight
Star bright
First star I see tonight
Wish I may
Wish I might
Have the wish
I wish tonight

When you have children and they are old enough to learn a poem about refusing a second helping at dinner , you have to teach them to say:

I’ve had an elegant sufficiency
and anymore would be an overindulgence
of my already exasperated appetite
However your loving kindness
shall linger forever in the halls of my most gracious memory
like the tintinnabulation
of chapel bells in the distance.

They should ideally learn the words to the fancy version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
This goes as follows:
Scintillate Scintillate
globule vivific
Fain would I fathom
thy nature specific
Loftily poised in the aether capacious
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous

Ideally , all children should be able to sing a couple of hymns- whatever faith they hold. Hymns are stirring and ideal for marching up a hill or for quietly crooning. After a friend had unloaded all the sorrows of her world onto my shoulders i found myself quietly singing What a friend we have in Jesus in the shower. Most therapeutic.

There are many rhymes in my head – skipping rhymes like :Christopher Columbus , a mighty mighty man and also Crikey Moses King of the Jews. There is Bobbejaan klim die berg and Jan Pierewit and The Grand old Duke of York.

I sing them to myself, i sing them with my friend Yasmin at gym (for an atheist and a Muslim we do hymns quite well). I have taught many children how to refuse a second helping .There are noises in my head but mostly they rhyme….

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TO THE HOSPITAL WITH THE OTHER MASTER

As you all know by now , we grew up on a farm and so whilst we learnt to swim in the river and to milk cows(harder than you think) and ride horses(nicer than you can imagine) , one of the skills we did not acquire was riding a bicycle. Our farm was surrounded by dirt roads (tar was a 25 mile ride away) and the drive down to our house was graveled and bumpy.Steep downhill to get to the  farm house and steep uphill to get to the top of the road where our farm sign said “Veryan” .A.H.Anderson on a tall pole with a hook where our postbag hung for collection.

We did have bicycles and we learnt to ride them on the thick kikuyu grass but we never took to it- too many punctures and too much hard work .So we listened to stories my dad told us about riding his bike in the streets of Kimberley from his grandparents home in Lodge Road with no hands on the handlebars whilst peeling an orange(they were that straight and that long and he was so skillful) and we were envious but it just did not make sense to us.

i bought myself a bicycle when I got to Maritzburg University to do my law degree but it was all amateur stuff- I used to wear long Indian skirts and they often got caught in the spokes of the wheels but the distances were so short and the roads so quiet, that even whilst holding onto my shopping bags and riding whilst my skirt got shorter and shorter as it got caught up in the wheels was no problem.

Fast forward a few years and I am now a recently retrenched legal adviser looking for something to do with her time. I mooted the idea of cycling and my husband said firmly and in rather an imperious way that I was a hopeless cyclist and he would not buy me a bike as requested for my birthday OR for Christmas OR ever. In fact he said he forbade me from riding a bike.

I neither liked his tone nor his imperious orders and so I informed him that I would buy my OWN bicycle with my OWN money .

I had a friend living around the corner and I agreed to hook up with her- she would teach me the ways of cycling in the mad, bad city. Off we went – I was properly attired in hideous cycling shorts with the padding and sported a helmet. We whizzed about our suburb and through to Killarney and then returned to the house.I had not done enough exercise yet ( This was a new sport and I am a good starter , not a great finisher…)and so I informed Fran that i would carry on .
From here on the story must be told in my husband’s words as I do not remember anything further….We had a very competent domestic worker with us at this time.Her name was Sarah Ramashaba and she would in a different time and place have been running a small country. Why Sarah behaved as she did is one of those mysteries…. . I remember I came home dripping in blood in the car of a stranger. My bicycle was offloaded and I stumbled inside to retrieve my medical aid card and credit card. I do remember trying to phone Rupert but there were so many numbers in my head confusing me I gave up.

In Rupert’s words now he phoned home to find out how my new life of leisure was going – Sarah said I was not at home Rupert asked casually where I was and she said that I had gone off to the hospital with the other master….Rupert asked (aghast) What hospital ?; and what other master? but Sarah did not have the answers and so Rupert assumed it was the Rosebank Hospital and sped off there.

There he found me wandering around the top floor of the hospital looking friendly and interested but with blood dripping down my chin. i was concussed , my front tooth knocked out and my helmet was smashed.
To this day I have not remembered what happened to me – did I fall? Was I knocked off ? Was I having an affair with the man who took me to the hospital? Where did he find me ? Why did he not ever get in touch with me? All is a mystery and the only certainty is that I have never ridden my bicycle again .EVER.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE TO LOVE YOU

Granny Patsy dispensed lots of loving advice and one thing she said stuck in my mind: “You may not always like your cousins,” she said , “but you w always have to love them and they you”. When we were small loving and liking were easy – we were all at school together at the convent (even if James was banished to the boy’s playground and the boys dining room – the nun’s knew what 7 year old boys were capable of) and our cousins the Lovedays were from Johannesburg and we only saw them at Christmas.

My sister and I were known as the Black Andersons and Fiona, Bridget, James and Helen were known as the White Andersons. We never questioned the distinction – we were dark haired and loved to swim and tan and they were blonde and did not lie out in their bikinis covered in olive oil and in Granny Patsy’s words “leaching all the natural oils out of their skins ” like my sister and I did .Oh Granny, I wished I had listened to you more carefully! I am now a map of freckles and age spots but I suppose I did have a very clear line between my white bum and my brown back …

Bridget tells the story of my gran gathering all of them around and saying to them :”Now I want you to be very kind to Elizabeth- she has very thin hair. Philippa is all right – she has lots !”Fortunately , my sister now has lovely thick hair and we don’t have to be specially kind to her any longer.

Fiona and I did ballet together and walked to Shirley Parry’s school of dancing for young ladies in Kokstad every Wednesday. Bridget and I were in the same class – Bridget was at one time tormented by the thought that God was calling her to be a  nun and spent lots of time going to Rosary and I presume praying fervently NOT to be a nun.

James was a boy and really  rather useless in my view , although he was good at running. He is now the nicest man and is referred to in our household as Farmer James . He is a clone of my grandfather and has those wonderful old fashioned phrases that take me back to my wonderful childhood: he talks crop yields and rain forecasts and says I reckon  and is our only real link to the land and people  of my birth. James was staying with us (as a useful and worthwhile adult a few years ago when my son William was about 4 ).William walked into the kitchen and James said in a cheery voice : Good morning young William.” William looked up at the tall burly man and said without missing a beat : “Good morning fuck knuckle.” Lucky I keep smelling salts in the kitchen!

Helen was born much later and caused great excitement. Her room was the sweetest little room and had teeny tiny cupboards for her teeny tiny clothes. She was a living doll and I hope we were kind and sweet to her.

My Jo’burg cousins were exotic and special : we knew they took first place at Christmas time as Granny and Grandad had to make the most of them. No resentment – just how it was. Marion was competitive – she liked to run races and was James’s constant companion. Jess was the model for Little Women- she made exquisite patchwork quilts and blackberry jam and was alt together too perfect for words. She did have a deep and very naughty giggle and found my father “Uncle A ” very funny in a slightly terrifying way. (He had a big voice and used to meet and greet the cousins when they come to us for Boxing Day with a sjambok to keep the dogs from jumping up!). Although they wore homemade clothes like the rest of us there was a sheen on them from the big city- a whiff of Bigness. Marion has tennis lessons with Frew McMillan and we had heard about him on the radio! Jess dyed her hair red for her role in Anne of Green Gables. Clare – musical and small and a good sport – later to have a whiff of razzle dazzle when she told us stories of bunking out and nightclubs and of course, when she started playing for the girls band – was it called The Pervettes ? we were very excited to be associated with such an out there character.

At high school , there was a drift of distance  apart and then I found Bridget again when I went to Maritzburg Varsity to do my Ll.B.She and I were very different but there was the cousin blood between us and I loved having her there. We went to King Mswati the Third’s 21st birthday party (well, we weren’t invited – we went to the concert). In true student style we got the tickets and climbed into my car – and without consulting a map , we drove straight to Harrismith . We stopped to fill up with petrol and asked the petrol jockeys how much further to Swaziland. Their jaws dropped and they repeated SWAZILAND in tones of incredulity. We were on completely the wrong course! We just turned the car around and drove there quite unperturbed. It was a great concert with Eric Clapton and fireworks and we slept in the car and drove back again.

Fiona and I hooked up in Jo’burg again where I was working as a legal adviser and she was doing her internship/ something at a hospital. Fiona was always an outdoors girl and found the city quite confining. We went to Graskop for the weekend – we stayed in the caravan park and Fiona was quite well equipped with camping gear. The night we got there was heavenly and the stars were magnificent so we decided to dispense with a tent .We cuddled into sleeping bags and drank Old Brown Sherry .The next morning we woke up in suburban Caravanville! Each caravan was bigger and better and had more additions and satellite aerials than the next.We went on a long hike and the weather turned that night.We were freezing in our tent so went to the ablution blocks and read our books in the baths.To every tannie’s credit, they offered us a place to sleep !

There are so many stories – trips to the Wild Coast and camping and tubing and Fiona’s Russian boyfriend Staz ( who was greeted by Rupert in impeccable Russian 1 and told him he had left his umbrella on the train) and Bridget’s matric dance dress and so much more ….

We have all attended one another’s weddings (mostly) and I know the names of their children but we are grown up and far apart. I do think however if I were to call any one of them from an obscure road , in a state of distress, each one would come to my aid. Because we are cousins and we have to love each other.

A sense of location – your car licence plate

I miss knowing where people come from. And cars used to be an easy way of telling where a person came from and indeed , how they would drive. On our farm roads it was important to know whether that smart shiny Mercedes with the Durban (ND) registration plates  was being driven by a cattle speculator on his way to the Swartberg Cattle show (and should one drive him off the road?) or a Durban family on their way to visit new friends or a potential son -in -law. James Clarke , a wonderfully funny writer for The Star newspaper wrote a column about the different licence plates within Jo’burg. If a jaguar was being driven with Sandton licence plates (TSN) and a hand was trailing out of the window . you would know that the owner of the jaguar was not turning left or right but merely drying their nail varnish on the way back from the beauty parlour.  It was a wonderful source of general knowledge and enforced geography .You were more forgiving of people who came from George (CAW) because you knew it meant Cold and Wet and when a souped up car thundered past with Bellville licence plates , you knew that it was awful –   did not have to go to Bellville to see CY. You avoided the mini bus with XA (Umtata ) because that is where taxi cowboys are born not made and that he would do a U-turn on the highway if he felt like it. When  a bakkie lumbered by driving at 60 on the highway and  it had  NCW or  NUZ plates – Kokstad and Mandini were rural areas – you  gave the man a break! You excused the little old lady with the Toyota Cressida driving in the middle of the road if she had Benoni plates – she had probably been to Thrupps to stock up on Cooper’s Marmalade.

Licence plates give you an indication and a glimpse of home – you peer into the window to see if you know the NCX (Matatiele ) driver and they come without claims to status or smugness. They don’t show you how many children the y have or that they like cycling and surfing and dogs – they just say This is who I am – this is my home.I miss that .

The elephant in the room – apartheid

So here I go rambling on about my idyllic childhood and telling stores of cakes and homesickness and eccentric characters and nuns and convents and there is something I never address. How did I grow up in this idyllic world and never mention the disease that  must have affected every breath we took?  It went by many names-apartheid / separate development/ separate and unequal/ racism?  I have really thought about it and tried to rationalise it but I think I will use this blog as a sort of “getting to the point eventually” mechanism. 

Like most people I know or think I know well, I had a very happy childhood. I was a miserable and sulky teenager and a confused and slightly hysterical twenty something but my childhood was a long comforting procession from the horrors of the convent boarding school to the delights of polo tournaments and falling in love with the dashing South Americans who were the only people to visit South Africa in the apartheid days. 

I want to write this down, not because I had a very special childhood- my mother did not walk with a cheetah in elegant parks in London, my sister and I did not have a secret language and we did not play intense fantasy games in dark cupboards. Neither our father nor my uncles were either paedophiles or glamorous military men and we were not the prettiest nor the ugliest girls- I want to write it down to explain to my children and ultimately to myself how we were born with and not only tolerated but never questioned the status quo of apartheid..

As a child I was aware of poverty and the difference between our house and the staff “huts”. We had sandals for summer and gumboots and stout winter shoes whilst the kids(piccanins) on the farm went barefoot and had ragged clothes. We slept on beds in between crisp white sheets and I knew they slept on sacks and blankets around a smoky fire. We had a daily bath and indoor toilets – they went in the veld behind the huts. We all lined up for cod-liver oil in the winter- my sister and I , the farm kids and the newly weaned calves were all lined up and given 2 tablespoons of the foul mixture. Eventually my dad introduced a thick tasty powdered soup which boosted everyone’s immunity to the biting East Griqualand winter .

Albertina was my mother’s most favourite gardener- she was to my mind an ancient old woman (probably mid 40’s ) and she lived in the location. We lived on the border of what became a small part of the Transkei when the concept of homelands were introduced to the South African Republic. She wore faded blue shweshwe dresses and walked the steep rough path back to her home barefoot . I loved Albertina and knew she battled so I used to fill her pockets with sticky brown sugar and coarsely ground mealie-meal. I knew she needed it but it was done secretly and as a game beetweeen her and I . When we went to the cattle sales at the Swartberg Farmer’s salegrounds, there was an awkward space between the Davies and the Napiers and the other farmers. My father always went to talk to Mr Davies and Mr.Napier but I noticed the unease and the separation. The explanation for that was that they were classified Coloured as they were descended from Griqua stock. They were landowners but only for their generation .
The police too were a puzzle – they were sweet , good people (kind to my Granny Ticky who became a lonely widow and loved feeding up the beefy sergeants) but brutal to an innocent African walking on the road. We distrusted them and watched as the police van cruised past our farm.

 

 

Then onto school we went and in Standard 4 we peripherally experienced the Soweto riots. We had no television and did not get the newspaper so we relied on day girl accounts of what was happening. One day we heard about school kids rioting and the next, we were practicing bomb drills in the classroom!
In high school , a few black kids were admitted. Elegant Busi with her tiny waist and perfect posture and innate grasp of maths. One day we went into town together and I suggested a milkshake at John Orr’s. Busi reminded me she could not go in there as she was black and so we went to Juicy Lucy instead – they turned a blind eye. We thought it daring when we rolled Busi up in a rug and hid her on the floor of the school bus so we prefects could all go to Drive In together. By then , we got the daily newspaper and politics were discussed but in a cloistered boarding school, the world felt a long way away.
Rhodes University was different but no less puzzling: the wild eyed left were strange to me in their ragged clothes and strident tones. Nadine Gordimer spoke to the student body in the Great Hall and made clear her contempt and disdain for the white students. I remember thinking indignantly :”But I cannot change the colour of my skin now lady! Tell me what I can do on a practical basis.” Grahamstown is a poor and economically depressed area and it was a shock to be assailed by the poverty of Fingo village and the constant stream of beggars (mostly little kids who begged for 20 c for bread).A siren used to ring at about 5.30 in the evening and I saw john and Stanley, the dignified waiters in our Hall of Residence , running down the street to vacate white town before the curfew. I wanted change but my natural inclination was to stay out of trouble. Cowardly and unforgiveable but I had no wish to end up in prison and so whilst I attended marches and protests I would never have put myself in the front line. The division between black and white students grew hard and unbreachable.We were no longer at school together and we knew too little about each other or we had been effectively poisoned by the years of apartheid to find in each other a common humanity. Our law classes were attended by intense black students and there was nothing to bind us together. I never subscribed to racist talk or thinking but I never challenged the status quo- I was a happy and frivolous student most of the time and debates about apartheid and the franchise for all were kept to reasoned debates.
As an articled clerk, I was slave to a lawyer who represented Inkhata Freedom Party – they were supported by the police and were at the root of many assassinations and shootings and violence. I protested against my involvement and was told to put up or go. I stayed.
In my digs , a girl involved in the ECC was followed by Security Police and our phone was tapped. I left the digs. I did not want to end up in prison.
So this is in essence a sad confession of apathy and fear – what could one person do against the might of the SA government and if I were to do something , would I end up in jail? I think I am a kind person and I try to do positive things now with the money and time at my disposal, but when I watch a movie about the Jews or refugees in some war-torn country calling for a brave individual , I judge myself and find me wanting. There is so much more to be said but it is a sad and silly confession and achieves little. I did not join the army, I never voted for the Nationalist Party and nor did my family but we were white and the sun shone on us. Mea Culpa….

Road trips and random thoughts…

A long time ago when my now husband was my then boyfriend, we spent a holiday in Knysna over Christmas . After  a huge party on New Year’s Eve, we left the next morning to drive back to Johannesburg. I was tired , hung over and it must be said I behaved abominably. When I saw the sign just after Prince Albert that said Johannesburg 1066(Battle of Hastings, remember?) I started whining and weeping and writing and Rupert just gritted his teeth and drove on. He never said anything but since then we have never driven further than to the Natal South Coast.

24 years later … we are driving to Plett. I plan the overnight stays and pack delicious and nutritious padkos. I pack fruit and knives and flasks of coffee and Pandora and homemade ginger biscuits.Evlen a wet “lappie” for sticky fingers.Rupert finds CD’s suitable for the road and to cope with our disparate tastes and off we set.

The sky is a wide blue and the grass sweeps a gentle green. Swallows swoop in and out of their nests under bridges and cows graze beside the road. I take note of the mealies (its a habit- my dad  always used to ask) and mentally recite the breeds of cows I remember. The music which is from the world makes the African landscape seem more African .I love this all and I pass over snacks and press food on people with the grin of a girl who has got her own way- a real road trip!

I google away to find out random facts and suddenly places make sense to me. We pass the signpost to Brandfort , the place where Winnie Mandela was banished and you suddenly realise how faraway and isolated it is. We go over the Sand River where the

Sand river convention was signed (beastly British ignored that one soon enough) and past the monument to the women killed in the concentration Camps during the Boer War (Rupert’s grandmother was interned there ).I suddenly realise that the Manguang conference which elected our beloved JZ is the district of Bloemfontein.
We eat our lunch at the ghastly Shell Stop but smugly sit on the grass (weed on by countless dogs no doubt) and eat our Panini’s with our coffee. Truck drivers wave at us- we wonder whether they think we cut a stylish picture or are sympathetic because we cannot afford to sit inside and eat hamburgers .
You see how apartheid cut up the landscape- pretty towns and far away small settlements with tiny houses for the workers. Some are desolate and dreary and plastic bags and small kids abound. Others are hopeful and sport solar panels on their roofs.
I love the Karoo – the vast landscape and the sky dotted with clouds. I love the textured “bossies ” and how you can look into a seemingly empty expanse and then spot a herd of sheep clustered in the shade of a tree heads hanging low. You see insouciant goats clambering up a rock to get to the green leaves. Birds emerge and hover and swoop .Pied crows cluster on the fences like roadside undertakers . Black crows nest in pairs on the telephone poles – their beaks gape open and I realise for the first time where the Afrikaans expression comes from : “So warm , die kraaie gaap”.
We drive in remote areas and it is guaranteed that when you are in the middle of nowhere (or more precisely between Uniondale and Middelburg) you will always see a fat man in lycra on his bicycle. Where did he come from and where is he going to ?
we sleep in Graaf Reinet and swim in an icy reservoir. We pass Noupoort where Rupert’s dad grew up and I wonder at the origin of some of the names. What terrible act lead to a settlement called Misgegungd? I imagine dinosaurs roaming over the vast plains of the Camdeboo.
Of course , every silver lining has a big black cloud and the trip back is ghastly. Hot as hell (36 in Uniondale and 42 in Graaf Reinet) , hostile teenage passengers and an encounter with a man who tried to drive us off the road and terrorised us for the next 20 minutes. I think deep thoughts of flying in a cool plane with a stale croissant to chew on.

Toned thighs and tennis sighs…

I grew up in a really boring time- isolated farming district and quite sparse entertainment on offer. Luckily we did not know how very bored we were and we were quite happy with our party lines and our horseriding and our dentist trips to Kokstad!. The highlight of our April holiday was the annual Crossroads Tennis tournament . It catered for all ages – from kids who had ever held a racket before , to really quite good players- not Sugar circuit players but good enough to come from Underberg and Kokstad and the holy grail of sophistication , Durban and Kloof.

When you were a littlie , you were taught where to stand and how to hold the racket on the bottom court by some endlessly patient parents- Pat Wallis and Monica Herring spring to mind.
Then you graduated in age order up the ranks of tennis court until as an under 15 player , you played on the top court in front of the crowd.
As we got older , we graduated to sitting with our backs up against the wall and our legs stretched out to bake in the sun. We all wore white – white tennis socks with bobbles on them, white skirts and shirts and of course , the obligatory frilly panties. I remember (with an ache of mortification) I stretched my unshaven legs out next to a Durban girl whose legs were smooth and shaved.
One year my sister invited some school friends to come and stay with us – Fiona invited her brother and he invited his friend from Hilton College. He was gorgeous – smooth brown skin and blonde hair with dark eyes and eyebrows. Even his name sounded exotic to me- Mike Shapland…. I was 11 and I was smitten. He was probably 15 or 16.
WE had to squash into our car to get to Crossroads – there was not enough room and as the smallest I had to sit on Mike’s lap. I was delighted and terrified. Even I knew that the lighter I was on a boy’s lap, the better. So for a the long 40 minute drive to Crossroads I sat as lightly as I possibly could – legs tensed on the floorboard and willing myself lighter. I sat as light as a fairy on his lap – did he appreciate it ? All I know is that when we got to the club and the door was opened, my legs had gone into a spasm or cramp and I fell out of the car and did a little “bollemakiesie” instead of exiting gracefully .