Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Losing it

Last week was not the best week for me. First, on Monday, I lost a dog lead when taking the dogs for a walk at the vlei. It was one of those special ones with a clasp at each end and not easy to replace. I have lost things there before and was sure I would not see the lead again, but I did tell a few fellow walkers about it, just in case. Then on Tuesday, I completely forgot to go to the Exercise class probably because Gairo, my domestic worker, had swopped her Tuesday workday for Wednesday and this put me out. The next thing to go wrong was a booking for a course at Summer School. My friend Julie had asked me if I would go to a poetry course with her. She was going to do the booking. On Wednesday morning she turned up at my house having been unable to book on her computer. We had no success on mine either so decided to drive up to the University Centre for Extramural Studies and sort out the booking in person. We found the building which houses this Centre without  taking more than three or four wrong turnings, but the drive had taken longer than expected and we had arrived just when most of the staff were on their lunch break. After a battle to find the information we needed and after filling out a very long and involved form, we registered for the course.  Then came the problem of payment. The office that dealt with fees was closed for lunch. I didn't want to stay until after two because Gairo was waiting to be taken home as she had to get home to fetch her child from school. Eventually the lady behind the counter was persuaded to accept credit cards.  Then all we had to do was check on venue and time.
"Short Form Poetry? But that's this week not next week. The course started two days ago."
Julie and I were devastated, We could have sworn that the dates were 22nd to 26th not 15th to 19th, How could we have made such a mistake.  We must have been looking at the dates for another course.  We had to cancel at once. What a disaster! But just then the course co-ordinator, who happened to be an old friend,  appeared.
'Why don't you  attend the remaining two, sessions. We'll sort out the fees later."
So that's  what we did.

Wednesday is always a busy day. I had been to a U3A meeting in the morning. The trip up to UCT had taken several hours and I had just enough time to pick up my notes for our Evergreen poetry club meeting which started at three that afternoon. I also had a church meeting at 6 and I just had enough time to feed the dogs before rushing off to that. That is why I only got to the vlei the next day. I was a bit later than usual after the "short form poetry" too. One of my dog walking friends gave me some good news
"Paul has your dog's lead. He's gone home already, but you can get it from him tomorrow." 
I knew just who she meant. Everybody living near the vlei knows Paul. He is the one who owns no fewer than six rescue dogs and takes them to the vlei every morning and evening without fail.   I would be sure to see him the next time I walked my dogs. But, somehow,what with one thing and another, I kept on missing Paul. I finally caught up with him.
"Oh no!"he exclaimed.  "I brought the lead with me every day, but finally  I gave up and today I left it at home.  Be sure to come tomorrow and I  will bring it tomorrow"
The next day, I discovered that I had lost my watch. It was one of Gairo's workdays so I asked her to look for it when she was cleaning the house. Unfortunately she failed to find it. It awasone of the hottest days this month and I when I got the dogs ready to go for their walk, I ealised that the heat of the afternoon had made me think it earlier than it actually was. When I got to the vlei I could see no sign of Paul.
"He must have gone home already," I thought
If only I could have sent him a message, but all that week( I did say it was a bad week, didn't I ) my phone would only send messages in Spanish.
I gave the dogs a quick run and then drove to Paul's house. He has no bell at the gate, so I shouted for him, but there was no reply and no dog barking either.
So it was back to the vlei and sure enough, there was Paul, just about to walk his dogs home. I called out to him and he reluctantly turned back.
"When I didn't see you ,I'm afraid I gave the lead to Hazel" he said. "She lives in the house two houses from the corner."
So I proceeded to a house which I thought was the one he meant.
"No, There is no Hazel here, but I think the chairlady of the Neighbourhood Watch is called Hazel. I'll give you her number."
"Is she a a tall person who has a limp?"
"I don't think so, but I'll try her anyway."
But the chairlady was not there.
I took the number and rang later.
"Have you a dog lead that belongs to me?"
To my amazement , the answer was "Yes" and soon I had my lead back. "Thank you Hazel" Although Hazel was not the Hazel I thought she was. but a quite different Hazel.
However, in spite of everything, there were some good things about last week. The two poetry sessions were really worthwhile, and somehow the fees seem to have been forgotten. The lead did come back and since then I have managed to get someone to fix my phone so it speaks English again.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Modern Poetry

I have not been writing much lately. This is partly because .I have started a course on Modern American Poetry. Not the famous Modpo, but a course run by Illinois university. I don't think it as good as Modpo, but I like the way it does include a number of poems(and poets) that are not part of Modpo. Poms covered so far are of the kind that I can relate to. These all fall in the period that is known as "Modern" and not "Post Modern" and date back to the early 20th century. But I have recently read some poems which were highly praised by prestigious American critics and these I am afraid I cannot relate to at all. It is not just that they are difficult to understand.  Of course I am old-fashioned enough to prefer poems that make sense to me, but I can often enjoy teasing out the meaning from a poem that seems obscure at first reading. I don't really like poems that are made up of numbers of seemingly unrelated images like those of Ashbery's later work., but I can get enjoyment from the vivid description in the word-pictures Ashbery paints. I can also enjoy the music of  many modern poems  though I may not understand what they are about.

I think it was in the New Yorker, (sometimes pages of this journal get sent to me) that I  read about some young American poets who had all received prizes for their poetry. I instituted a Google search and that is when I decided that Twenty-first Century Poetry/Contemporary Poetry/ or perhaps Post-Modern Poetry had past me by. I have experienced various set-backs recently. I was rejected at the MacGregor festival.The new on-line literary journal, the name of which I can never remember, informed me that the poems I had submitted were not of a high enough standard and the poem I thought had been accepted by the journal, Stanzas was not included in its latest issue. I read these prizewinning poems carefully several times, but I could make neither head nor tail of any of them.  It was not just a case of a series of unrelated statements or unrelated images, they seemed to me to be just a number of unrelated words set haphazard on a page. I read them aloud because I have found many poems come to life only when read aloud. Some of Gertrude Stein's work which looks at first glance like the "word-salad" of a schizophrenic, trips delightfully off the tongue and makes its own kind of sense when you hear it. But this was not the case with this poetry. It is true that American speech has its own  cadences and rhythm so perhaps I am missing something by reading the poems in my clipped South African English, but I don't think it is that. It must be I who is not in tune with the literature of the New Century. Perhaps I should consider retirement. At Eighty-three it is not surprising to find oneself a has-been.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Vegetarians and Vegans

On Saturday I was at a party. It was the end of year party of our poetry group and one of the most enjoyable I have been to. The food was great, the company was excellent and the poems were of a very high standard too. While surveying the most wonderfully varied choice of snacks, the subject of Vegetarianism came up and with it the idea of the exploitation of animals. Somebody saying how poor cows were forced to produce more milk than was natural and chicken kept to lay eggs etc. Now, I am against animals suffering, but I am not sure that the exploitation of animals is the evil that some  animal lovers believe. Think of all the animals we share our world with. There are those we  use for our own purposes, and those we compete with for living space and food. The first multipy and thrive, the others are pushed towards extinction, unless preserved in game parks and reserves and there, of course exploited too, to make money as tourist attractions.

Animals do have feelings, but are we right when we equate their emotions with ours. I am reminded of friends from our dog club who asked me to sign a petition against using  animals in circuses.  "These creatures, " they said. " are put in cages, taken all round the country and made to perform tricks." I said that I thought it a bit hypocritical of us to condemn the practice, because it was exactly what we were doing with our dogs. We train them to run Agility courses, take them to events in different places and keep them in cages at shows when not competing. I am not just trying to justify it when I insist that the dogs simply love it. You just have to see my terrier's excited reaction when he is taken to a show.  Just because animals are made to work, doesn't mean that they are unhappy or badly treated. We may prize freedom, but do animals feel the same way? An animal in a well-run Zoo, kept safe and fed regularly is probably happier than the same creature in the wild, often hungry and in constant danger of predators or if a predator itself, in competition with other dangerous animals. We may get sentimental about the natural life in the great wide open spaces, but given the choice, we nearly all opt for a safe suburbia ourselves.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

All Souls Day

All Saint's, All Soul's and Halloween  all come at the same tine of year and I get them muddled. I am also confused about "the Day of the Dead. "  Is this the same as All Soul's Day?  At the churches where I worshiped previously neither All Saint's nor All Soul's was  celebrated. I always knew that the name Halloween meant Saint's Eve, so presumably it is the day before All Saint's day, but because of all the skulls and skeletons you see at Halloween, I thought it had something to do with the dead and so I thought the day on which one remembered the dead was the day before the day you remembered the saints.  I believed that All Soul's day came before All Saint's Day. I was very surprised to read the instructions in our latest pew leaflet. We were told, last week, to go to church on Wednesday evening as it was All Saint's Day and  again on Thursday evening for All Soul's day. So I must remember Nov 1 all Saints, Nov 2 All Souls. First remember the goodies and then all the other dead people.

Now that I am a member of  All Saint's parish , Muizenberg I am very aware of the date of our patronal festival. So I know that the actual day was Wednesday. But because not everyone can attend church in the week, there was just a short service on Wednesday and we waited until today for the proper celebration. We had a simply glorious service for this special day. The church was shining clean and full of flowers, the Youth band produced most joyful music and we had a scrumptious tea afterwards.

I had intended to go to the evening service on Wednesday. I even told Luke, who was to spend the night here, that I would leave his supper for him in the oven, if I was not there when he came.  I had been very busy all day making marmalade for the Evergreen Craft market which was to take place on Friday and just did not make it to church. I got everything ready. I put the meat and veg in the oven, sat down for a few minutes and fell fast asleep, only waking when Luke arrived. The pork rashers were a little overcooked, but thankfully not burnt. he was ravenous and didn't mind.

So having missed out on All Saint's, I attended the All Soul's service the next day. . It was quite a moving service. After the prayers when we remembered those that had died, we went up to the altar and lit candles for them. There were not very many of us in the congregation. The Parish council  had catered for a larger group and there were enough candles for each of us to light more than one. I thought of all those dear to me who had died. So many of my family, so many of my friends.
I made a mental list as I went up and lit candles. First, my Grandmother, who died when I was still at school. My aunt Bobby who lived with us died when I was at university, my father I lost when I was in my twenties, married and living in Zambia, my father-in-law died the same year. My mother-in-law died many years later when we were living in George, my other aunt Dorothy died at much the same time, but I don't remember exactly when. My husband died seventeen years ago. My eldest Daughter died eight years ago. After my husband's

  death I moved to Cape Town to be near my grandson and my youngest daughter(who have both since moved away, of course) . When I moved  I  had family living here as well as a number of old friends. almost none of them are left. I have out-lived them all. I was one of the youngest of my generation and had numerous older cousins. Of these I was very close to Jerry and Brian .Both died a few years ago. Closest of my friends were Poelie, Liz, Catherine and Helen  Of them only Liz is still alive and she is senile and bedridden. Why am I still around? I ask myself.

Yesterday I went to a wedding. It was a delightful occasion. I found myself becoming tearful. Why after all these deaths, do I cry at a wedding.Perhaps because it was such a welcome change from all the funerals and  wakes or  ("celebrations of a life") that I have been to lately.


Today I remember:
my Granny, who showed me how to sew,
and knit and darn my father’s woollen socks,
my Dad who didn’t say too much, but taught me
some Maths and some 
basic carpentry.
my Aunt, who gave me lessons in the pruning
of bougainvillea creepers, fruit trees and rose bushes,
my Mother who  introduced me to books,
my daughter Dot, who taught me patience among other things
my friends, Catherine, Poelie, Helen
with whom, I spent so many pleasant hours.

And last, I light a candle for my husband .Mike.
My hand shakes and the hot wax burns my palm.
”Butterfingers” he would have said. “Let me do that for you.

It's still hard to live without him.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Being in the Minority

Is it unusual, or do other people like me also increasingly find themselves the only Christian at a social gathering.  Of course, here, at Evergreen,so many of the residents are ex-Zimbabweans and probably originally from the UK ,so it is not surprising to find a lot of non-believers. Church-going is not very popular in England these days. But apart from my friends from All Saints and St Martins so many of the people I spend time with are atheists.

The other evening  my friend, Joy, held a dinner party  as a  Farewell for a woman Ruth and her son who had been staying with her. When we were all seated ,the little boy, Luca, offered to say Grace. Joy accepted, and he did it very nicely. But Joy's friend and neighbour, Fabienne, was horrified at how the child had been "indoctrinated".  She was particularly perturbed by the short span of time in which this indoctrination had taken place. She kept on exclaiming that he had only been at a South African School for  such a short time and yet been so thoroughly indoctrinated. All the other adults except me(or should it be I) distanced themselves from this embarrassing evidence of religious belief. I remarked on the experience of being so often in the minority and said that it seemed that Atheism was very trendy. Fabienne took exception to the word "trendy. I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps she felt I was not taking her seriously enough. I am not sorry that I was prepared to stand up for my faith,  but I think I must learn to be more tactful. In my experience, atheists are inclined to be very touchy.

All through my life most of my friends have been non-believers or at least not church-goers, but it is only in the last few years that I have noticed many being so vocal about their lack of belief. There are numerous prosytelising  atheists around too.and on Social media anti-Christian sentiment is common.

I am not sure what the cause of this upsurge of atheism might be. Perhaps it is the interest generated by the work on the human Genome  which has made writings on Evolution popular. I Know Richard Dawkins has been very influential. His books on evolution have been best sellers.  although I'm not sure The extended Genotype (if I have remembered the title) was as widely read as :the Selfish Gene .  It is the God Delusion  that everyone has read and which I think may have  been a large influence in the drift towards Atheism in the English-speaking world, though other popular writers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. have contributed too. On another level, Dan Brown's books, which I always considered just light entertainment, have been surprisingly influential. So many readers seem to have taken seriously the mishmash of old (and mostly discredited )myths and stories which form the background of the plots of his rather trashy novels.

Twenty years or so ago, remarks like those Fabienne made about "indoctrination" and "believing such silly stories"  would have been considered very bad manners.  Now, although it is not at all PC to insult Mohammed or belittle Islam, it is quite all right to say anything you like about Christians or the Christian faith. I suppose  we are expected accept this criticism meekly and  to turn the other cheek.

And on the subject of silly fairy tales, why do people like Fabienne think modern day Christians take the stories in Genesis absolutely literally. Surely even when they were first written, they were meant as allegories. The very names, Adam and Eve , meaning Man and Woman (or mother) show us how we are to understand their story.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Elusive Grand Marigold

Two weeks ago, my daughter, Shirley and I went off for a weekend  together. We had been planning this excursion for a long time. I have attended the annual McGregor Poetry Festival every year, but it was the first  time for Shirley. Granny, the old hand, was to organise everything. This turned out to be a mistake. First of all I found it  impossible to book events online. I had to ask Shirley to do so. I told her which ones I wanted, but somehow we managed to double book and acquire tickets  for two events in one slot. I did manage to do the airline bookings successfully after spending most of one frustrating morning at it and Shirley was able to arrive and depart  at the right times and on the right days. The accommodation, however was a different matter.

I found what seemed to be the ideal Bed and Breakfast place online. It was the exotic name.the Grand Marigold, that appealed to me. I duly booked two nights and received an E-mail confirming my booking.  I did not make a note of the street address or the phone number, but printed out the e-mail and put it in my bag. Unfortunately, I decided at the last moment to take a smaller handbag with me and the e-mail got left behind.

When we arrived in McGregor, early in the afternoon. I realised that I did not know where to find our accommodation, so we decided to go first to Temenos where the booking office was situated and where we would be able to get directions to the various venues. We were sure that the organisers would know the Grand Marigold. To our amazement, nobody there had ever heard of it!  Never, mind, we would go to the Tourist Office. The people working there would be bound to know where it was. No, they had never heard of it either. they had a list of places offering accommodation and a large board on which B and Bs and 'Self-catering rooms" were advertised. but the Grand Marigold did not appear on either. Booking sites on the Internet were consulted, lots of places found, but no Grand Marigold to be seen.
"Are you sure it is in Mcgregor and not in Robertson or Greyton?"
by this time I was not sure of anything except that we had come all the way to McGregor and now had nowhere to lay our heads.
The kindly lady in the tourist office offered to find us a room. At this late date it was an almost impossible task, but somebody appeared at the door just as we were about to give up with the news of a cancellation. A small cottage and we would have to  share a bed, but we took it.  It was quite close  being situated in Darling Street, which we thought was also the Street where the Grand Marigold was hiding, but though we drove up and down that street several times we found no sign indicating anything grand or Marigold. We saw someone coming out of a house and inquired of them where the Grand marigold might be."Never heard of it" was the answer."

On Sunday, about to leave, we were in the Booking office again. We told the lady behind the counter about our fruitless search for the Grand Marigold. She had never heard of it either, but she did a more comprehensive search on the Internet and  found it advertised there. There was even a picture of its front gates.
"I know those gates," she said. "It isn't the Grand Marigold. It is a place called the Loft"
It must have changed its name, but kept it a secret.
Back at home I received an E-mail asking why we had  not arrived at the Grand Marigold.


The room we booked had two big beds,
a kettle and  TV
We could have watched the breakfast show
while we drank our morning tea.

But though we searched McGregor
and everywhere around.
This most elusive B and B
was nowhere to be found.

McGregor Poetry Festival 2017

This year's Poetry Festival, the fifth one, was, I think, the best one for me. Because I was not doing a presentation, I was able to relax and attend more of the events. Best of all, I had the joy of introducing my daughter, Shirley, to McGregor and to the fun of hearing poetry and of writing it too. At the last event, an "Open Mic" she even took part and read a poem of her own!
One of the best things about the festival is the opportunity of meeting old friends, all writers or readers of poetry. For the first time, I was able to visit the donkey sanctuary. Unfortunately they were not doing tours as it was too late in the day, but we were able to see the donkeys from the other side of the fence. We also visited some art galleries and took home a wooden"sculpture".

Highlights of our weekend were the presentations of John Maythem and Finuala Dowling and the "Beat Poets" read by Chris Marais and co.

We had an unusual. adventure as well. we couldn't find the B and B in which we had booked a room and had to stay elsewhere, not quite as convenient but adequate.