Sheep For Sale

There are huge old trees in Ganora’s gorgeous gardens. The kind that have cradled generations of Karoo farm children in their boughs  –  for voyages to sea, Secret Society meetings, and the occasional sulk. I’m sure they still do, but on the hot, blue-skied day we were there, they were just standing around on the lawn providing shade for the around seventy farmers. Mostly men, in varying shades of khaki and plenty of blue (don’t accuse me of not catering to dedicated followers of fashion: blue is this year’s colour for farm-wear. And probably last year’s, and next year’s, I’ll stop there), and they were all talking Sheep.

You see, we’d been fortunate enough to be invited to the annual ram auction at Ganora, a ridiculously beautiful farm outside Nieu Bethesda that is not only a working sheep farm, but has fossils, ancient rock paintings, superlative guest rooms by all reports, and lovely owners, the Steynbergs. I stray though. This day was about the sheep.

Down on the bottom terrace, the farmers milled about between the rams (also milling about as much as they could in their enclosures, and slipping out at any opportunity to run amok amongst the humans). After being offered tea and an array of delicious snacky bits, including sweet and sticky koeksisters  – Karoo gasvreiheid is beyond compare  – I watched in fascination as they looked in the sheep’s mouths, examined their woolly jerseys and made notes in their auction booklets, of which I could make neither head nor tail (see what I did there). All I can say is that there is obviously a complicated science behind it.

And then it was auction time. We all piled into the shed and the auctioneer started the sale, his call as strange as that of *something that talks very rythmically and very fast*. Sorry, but I just spent an hour down a Google search wormhole trying to find a Karoo animal that sounds even vaguely like it, but couldn’t. Luckily I recorded it, see below. It’s a weird, on-edge-meets-lullaby feeling, watching (and listening to) an auction.

The very handsome ram gets put in a pen in front of the auctioneer (facing the room of buyers) for all to see, he explains their good points, the hammer drops and then it’s quick-quick, as farmers vie with each other, raising their hands, showing their numbers, being spotted by the spotters (dudes that stand on each side of the auctioneer watching for any missed raised hands, and shouting when they see one). Each ram went for anything between R6 000 and R16 000. I held my breath and didn’t scratch my nose until the hammer dropped for the sale each time, in case I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a ram. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a sheep, but I fear the sheep wouldn’t love my city garden. And, Dwayne.

Once the auction was done, the prices paid, the rams back out in their pens waiting to go to their new homes (and meet their new lady sheep), we all retired back onto the lawns in the shade and enjoyed lunch  –  braais creaking under the weight of the chops being cooked on them, delicious, fresh salads and ice cold beer. Remember the gasvryheid I mentioned earlier? This is gasvryheid on steroids.

We all know I’m already a huge fan of the Karoo, but the more time I spend there, the more I get to experience the inner-workings of the land, the more of a fan I become. There’s a whole world going on out there, a sometimes tough and harsh world, but it’s a world with a gentleness, an unhurried passion, that one doesn’t see in the city. Here, on these farms, your work really is your life, and it’s hot and unrelenting, but it’s done under huge, clear skies on vast plains with so much air to breathe. And there are such lovely people (and sheep, and dogs, and ground squirrels, and, and …) all scattered about.

We Need To Talk About Straws

I’m tetraplegic. That is not something I often talk about in my writings because, more often than not, it has nothing to do with my everyday goings-on. Actually, no, that sentence is incorrect. It, obviously affects everything I do, but in most cases, it’s in the most uninteresting and un-writing-worthy way. I’m straying, though. the point I was making is that, well, I’m going to use it today to give more sway to my argument against straws.

My tetraplegia means that, while I can move my wrists up and down, I cannot move my fingers. Over the past twenty years I have perfected the balancing act of holding a glass or can using gravity and the paw-like action that paralysed fingers naturally take on. If, however, I’m lying down, gravity is not on my side, so I use a water bottle instead. Very occasionally, when drinking something that requires a glass, like raspberry cordial, or something equally beautiful, I will use a straw. I will then wash that straw, let it dry, and use it again next time.

In the same way, very small children, who still use sippy cups at home but want to feel a little grown-up at a restaurant, may need a straw. Or stroke patients, or people who have balance issues. And for all of them, I say go for it, that’s what things like straws are for: to make life easier. But they should only be used in those scenarios.

And there I, finally, get to my point. All you perfectly able people (and children) sucking your liquids through plastic straws, stop! All that plastic is flowing into the sea and straws are getting stuck in turtle’s nostrils and polluting the oceans and just doing bad stuff. And it’s completely unnecessary.

The other day I saw an entire table of late-teens get gorgeous-looking, brightly-coloured cocktails, each with not one, but three straws. Presumably so that they could guzzle them down quicker, knowing teens. I wanted to shout across the tables: “Kids! Kids! You know what? it’s even quicker if you pick the glass up and drink it through your lips. You know those things that were specificaly designed to make it possible for you to sip stuff without it falling down your fronts? Those.”

But this isn’t a rant aimed at teens, it’s aimed at everybody. When did we all forget how to pick up a glass and drink with our lips? How come there’s not a huge move toward not giving a straw with every drink served at a restaurant?

An argument from a friend, whose poor ear I was chewing off about the issue, was hygeine. She was worried about the germs she might get off the rim of her glass. This, after she’d just taken the escalator and held onto the sliding bannister-filled-with-tiny-organisms-from-the-hundreds-of-people-doing-the-same-before-her. Worried about germs? Wipe the rim with your serviette.

Because, as I said before, that straw that you’re using, because you’re too lazy to pick up your own glass and sip with your own mouth, is going to land up in the sea. And it may very well hurt or kill the lovely creatures who live there and aren’t as ‘lucky’ as the guy below, who was found and helped. I put lucky in apostrophes there, because, if you watch this video, you’ll see how bloody awful it was for the poor critter. He BLEEDS. Not to mention how sore he must have been with it lodged there.

Stop with the straws. Just, stop.

Things I’ve (Not) Learnt in my Forties

As I head (at speed) toward my 43rd year of life and, having read innumerable blogs, articles, and columns titled ‘What I Learnt in My Forties’, ‘Ten Things I Know Now That I’m Forty’, ‘The Wisdom of One’s Forties’ and the like, I thought it was time to make my own list.

Here it is:

  1. I’m still completely unsure of the world and my place in it.
  2. My humour is still that of an 11-year old boy.
  3. I must stop reading about the things I should know, the epiphanies I should’ve had and the wisdom I should be spewing. Because I don’t know them, I haven’t had them, and the wisdom escapes me.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Women’s March: Respect Existence or Expect Resistance


We all knew it was coming, the inauguration of a sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynist (and the list goes on) president of the USA. I’ve been avoiding the news since he won the election, unable to bear his bullying and nonsensical tirades. I’ve been thinking-hoping that something would happen, that this was all some kind of huge prank, an exposé of the terrifying influence of modern/social media, of the society we find ourselves living in: its falsities and empty-headed idolatries; its botoxed, plastic-surgeried mask; its duck-faced inanity.

On Friday, I broke my media blackout and watched the inauguration, hoping that this would be the Big Reveal, that Trump would come out, preferably in a clown outfit, and shout: “It’s a hoax! This was just an experiment to show the horrifying ease with which fear can be harnessed to lead a huge population of people over a cliff into the sea.”

But, no.

And so it was that I headed into the city yesterday morning to join hundreds of women (and men and children and some hounds) to support the Women’s March in Washington DC, because we absolutely cannot sit back and allow hatred and greed and prejudice of pretty much every kind ever given a name, to win.

It was hot and sweaty, but marching in Cape Town is pretty much a walk in the park, literally. After gathering in front of the museum, we headed down Government Avenue, watched by the old trees and stately buildings that line the path through the Company’s Garden. There could’ve been more people. There should’ve been more people. And more diversity. But that’s a thought for another day, because this blog is about showing support, building a resistance. We had gathered together to say no, and therein lies the power of the collective.

I only truly comprehended that later, the power in numbers. Seeing footage of all the other sister marches across the world, and the main Washington one, I was astounded. We were a few hundred, but with the marches across the world, we were millions. We are millions.

Millions of people who are saying no, not on our watch.


Crumpled Sheets Under a Full Moon

limpopoI am a true child of Africa. My blood is thin and I can’t cope with the cold or skies that are too small. Put me in London in winter – which I love for its history, its energy, its beauty, the tube – and after three days I’m as claustrophobic as if you’d tied me up and put me in a box in a cupboard.

And that’s why I love this time of the year. Mid-Summer. The time of sleeping under a sheet only, the windows wide open to let in any whispers of a breeze that’ll chase the sticky air away. It’s sweaty and sultry and hot sleep is filled with wild dreams, waking with crumpled sheets and crazy hair.

It’s the time of hot white skies cooling to blue before melting into inky black, the Evening Star blinking and – right now – the full, fat moon pulling at the sea and adding a good dollop of madness to dreams.

The voluptuous moon keeps me awake, her silvery tendrils lighting up those crumpled sheets. Now that I don’t have to wake early to get to the Ivory Tower, I relish my time in the moonlight, as stories flit around in my head and fly out of the window.

As hard as I try, they keep slipping out and dissolving into the hot night.

Oh, George

Remember just last week, when I was telling 2016, all dressed up in its Grim Reaper suit, to bugger off? No way, it just keeps on going, waving it’s bloodied scythe about.

George Michael was my first crush, ever. The second was Morten Harket. I longed for a t-shirt that said either ‘Choose Life’ (and this was years before Trainspotting) or ‘Go-Go’, to wear with my pink joggers with white piping. I must’ve been about ten. I bought the casette of Make It Big at the Carletonville OK, and flicked through the poster holders each time I went with my mother, hoping they’d have got in a Wham! one. They never did. Sigh.

I knew all the lyrics to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (and have just discovered, on listening to it now, that I still do. The brain is a marvelous creature); I longed to go and find the fun and sunshine at Club Tropicana; Christmas songs suddeny got cooler when they brought out Last Christmas; and Careless Whisper was the soundtrack to many beautifully mortifying pre-adolescent slow dances at discos held in various garages in and around Carletonville.

Then we grew up, and so did he, and our joggers and tie-on roller skates were discarded in the corner and my musical tastes wandered off to a slightly darker, dingier club than Club Tropicana. I fear George Michael ambled into a much darker one than mine, but he continued making music, singing, being brilliant.

Fast forward to around the turn of the century (oh, wow, I can write that, and it applies! Good grief). I’m in another dingy bar (I’m a fan), and it’s karaoke night. Nini, one of my favourite people on earth, takes her turn, and belts out Faith, and I am reminded of the man’s talent. And hers, of course. Now that I think carefully, it may not have been her. She always does I Want To Break Free. No matter, the details are secondary. I met George Michael again that night. He was a consummate song writer, and his music weaved in and out of my life’s soundtrack (and millions of others). Our memories melt into ghosts, as time goes on.

By all accounts, he’s had a rough time over the years. I hope that’s just the horrible popular media rumour mill with its hiss and claws, and that his last time on this crazy earth was happy. And although my fandom dwindled as my age increased, he will always be my first crush and there’s nothing quite like a 10-year old’s crush. And now he’s gone.

I hope he’s doing the Jitterbug as we speak.

Now, seriously, 2016, GO(-GO), and don’t bother waking us up before you do.

Summer Holiday Nostalgia


As children we were fortunate to have a house at the seaside*. A shack, really, that to me was a palace beyond palaces. It was four rooms. Five, if you counted the bathroom that sat in the garden, a scary-when-you’re-9-years-old five metres away, out of the back door and through the dark. The front door opened into the lounge which opened into my sister and my room which opened into the kitchen, off which my parents’ room was. It was the perfect holiday house.

It was a palace beyond palaces to me, to us, because it was at the seaside. Not on the sea, with views across the ocean, not one of those rambling fake-Spanish monstrosities that started popping up along Beach Road, in the late 80’s, guzzling the aromatic bush, all glass and soulless, no. But it was at the seaside.

Set in the cluster of houses next to town in Port Alfred, where the river bent, we could walk to the beach, or the river, and the air was salty and slightly clammy and, in the house, when we first opened it up on arrival, it smelt like grass mats and damp wood and holiday.

And it was at the seaside which, for us who lived in dusty gold-mining towns over a thousand kilometres from the sea for the other 46 months of the year, was heavenly. And it made that shack a palace in our eyes. And it was. We were extraordinarily privileged to have it, to have those blissful, barefoot summer holidays.

Every year, when schools closed, our parents would pick my sister and me up, the car packed so tightly with tiny bags (summer: we needed only our costumes, a couple of t-shirts and shorts, one light jersey for ‘in case’ and a pair of flip flops to protect our feet from the duiweltjies that would’ve run riot in the garden all year), my mother’s sewing machine, boxes of plums and peaches from our garden on the mine, and the dog. My sister and I would exchange our school uniforms for t-shirts and shorts on the back seat, stuffing them under the car seats not to be seen or thought of for the next six weeks.

We’d eat digestive biscuits with triangles of Melrose cheese squashed on them as we drove over the dam wall, leaving the Free State behind us and entering the Eastern Cape. We’d stop to stretch our legs and walk across the dam wall, leaning over the edge as the water thundered and our hair flew above our heads.

The Eastern Cape has held my heart since those early days. Perhaps it was genetically passed down to me, from my parents who had loved it from their varsity days, and my grandparents before them. I didn’t realise then that I, too, would go to varsity there, and the Eastern Cape would entwine itself around-and-in-and-through my heart more than I thought possible.

Then, though, in my childhood days, that little house was a palace, the place of sandy feet and salty skin; the Treats Drawer (second from the left) that smelt like Christmas fruit cake and chocolate bars; our iron beds made with a sheet and a brown storm blanket that squeaked and squawked and gave us the best sleeps ever; morning swims on Kelly’s Beach, us the only ones there so early; sundowners and picnic suppers on the jetty at the end of the road; the friendly librarians at the library with its puzzle on the huge table always on the go; the smell of the Christmas tree; the sound of my Mother sewing ‘secrets’ late at night, a shaft of light thrown into our room from the kitchen; my Dad collecting mussels at Riet River; of walking behind him on the beach, stretching my legs so that my footsteps could match his 6 foot, four ones.

It was a palace filled with delight.

*Seeing everyone’s gorgeous holiday pictures, I got all reminiscent (and I’m working the night shift tonight, so it’s a good time for some writing.)