Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Last stop on our trip was filled with nostalgia. We visited with family and old friends from university days. On one glorious morning we walked along the coastline from Kalk Bay to St. James. This smallish beach was one of our favourite spots when the children were little. Lots of rock pools to explore, and a tidal pool just perfect for quieter swimming. I was even brave enough to take a dip!

Looks lekker, hey?

However, I'm happy to tell you there's one major change since I was last there. These beaches are no longer 'whites only'. In fact, as we were leaving a troop of schoolchildren arrived to enjoy the perfect day.

Colourfull... in all sense of the word!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES Last Garden Route stop: Leisure Isle

It was the great Margaret Atwood herself who alerted me to something that I was already experiencing when I struggled to achieve the first draft of 'Cape Town', then called 'Clearly in the Dark'. I can't quote her exact words, but the gist of what she said was that, when you focus on your story, the universe conspires to provide the research help you need. Thus it was with me. Looking through a few old papers we'd brought from South Africa, I discovered I'd kept a calendar from 1989, so I knew when Easter fell that year. And no, I couldn't simply google it, because this was in the dark ages. Also, weirdly enough, I'd kept a fashion magazine from those days, and so could see what the cool girls would have been wearing.

But on a more serious note, I needed more insight into the political Struggle. This post tells how I found it.

Leisure Isle lies in the Knysna lagoon. In the early Sixties, my parents built a retirement home there, which turned into a holiday house for us as well. It was also the location of my cousin's restaurant, The Pink Umbrella, and many were the meals and cream teas, and scrumptious evening mealtimes we enjoyed there.

One time I went to stay with Mom and Dad. As was my wont, I strolled down mid-afternoon to go for a swim. An elderly couple were already bobbing around in the warm water, so I joined them and we soon fell into a conversation. It turned out we were both going into town that evening for a piano recital, but also discovered mutual friends, the artist Frank Spears and his wife Dorothea, who'd played an important part in my Cape Town student days. Here's the portrait sketch he did of me at that time:

To cut a long story short, I was invited to tea to see their paintings. When I told Daphne I was writing Renee's story, she immediately rose and went to get a copy of her own book, which she gave to me. 'From Tribulation to Triumph' provided me with the facts I needed. Yes, you'll find her name in the acknowledgements.

So this preamble leads me to my recent visit with Daphne. Sadly, she lost her husband some years ago. Despite failing eyesight, she still lives on her own, in the same house I visited that first time. She invited me to lunch. And here we are, at the restaurant across from where The Pink Umbrella used to be, sitting under an old milkwood tree. Amazing, isn't it?

Lastly, in case you need flowers for Mother's Day, here's one of Frank's paintings that always hung on the wall of our Leisure Isle house.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Let's hang around Knysna for a little longer. It's such a beautiful spot in which to linger! So I want to start by sharing an event I participated in when I visited in December 2011, and then switch to a very first world experience.

But first, let's have some lunch together at the East Heads cafe. Um, did I mention that this environment is the setting for my romantic adventure 'Alexa's Quest'? Hopefully to be published before too long.

So here we go. What will you order, I wonder? There's always fresh fish of course, and babotie, but also vegetarian dishes, and such desserts as cheesecake and carrot cake which are likely to be the most delicious you've ever tasted!

Please, take a seat. You can sit in sunshine or in shadow.

Did you enjoy that?

Now let's go to another event that featured delicious food. The venue was the kitchen at House Hammond. See the previous blog entry if that doesn't mean anything to you!

Yes, it's the launch of my cousin's book, a combination of memoir and recipes, guaranteed to delight both the imagination and your palate! Up till now, the book has only been available in South Africa, but since last month, you can download the eBook from Amazon. So check out 
'PINK AND OTHER COLOURS'. Here's the link for you to buy it now!!:

p.s. she truly has a most engaging and amusing writing style! And can't you just see that from this photo?

And here's Myrtle, who started her working life as a cook at the Pink Umbrella restaurant, went on to teach kindergarten, look after AIDS orphans and then became a town councillor. In the background you can see the open fireplaces, and the sliding doors onto the terrace. (Sigh!)

So now to the first world stuff. You see, when I visited at the time of the book launch, I went to my dad's dentist. Dr. Wiid built a beautiful bridge for me, and when my local dentist saw his excellent work and heard I'd be in Knysna again soon, she suggested he should do the crown I needed. I'll spare you the preliminary details which were quick and painless. But I wanted to share what happened then. 
"Take a look," Dr. Wiid said, and brought me upright in the chair. To my left was a computer screen which showed an image of my upper jaw. To my surprise, he began to design the tooth, right there, before my eyes. I tell you, it was just like watching my talented son working on an ad image: make it bigger there, change the shape a little here, move this over to the left a bit... you get the picture. 
Once he was satisfied with the shape, the look and the fit, the dentist said, "Okay. Come back in three quarters of an hour and I'll have it ready for you!"

And he did. Magic, hey?

Saturday, April 27, 2013


NEXT STOP: KNYSNA (with the silent 'k' as in 'knee' and the diphthong 'y' as in 'nice'.

Sometimes, life grants you the grace of some breathing room. Thus it has been for me, at intervals over the past few years when I head down to the picturesque Garden Route to visit my cousin. More about her in the next blog post.

But today I want to share with you something of the pleasure I always feel, staying at a wonderful lodge called 'House Hammond'. And yes, the owner is related to me! These pics give you some idea of what the accommodation is like:

The lodge is built into a hillside and overlooks what South Africans call a 'vlei'. The valley below is a kind of wetland, home to many birds and other wildlife. Behind that is a view of hills, and far in the distance, the Outeniqua mountains.

For me, being there is like a retreat. I don't do much writing, but absorb as much as I possibly can of the beauty that surrounds me, 'filling the well' as we say. And in fact, this area is the inspiration behind my latest story, 'Alexa's Quest', which will (hopefully) be published before too long. It's a kind of treasure hunt/romance/adventure, with some scenes set on the Knysna lagoon. Wilbur Smith set one of his novels there too. He was at school with my brother-in-law and we were once invited to a barbecue, where I met him and his wife. Unfortunately, those were the days before my writing, so I missed the opportunity to ask him for some tips! ;-)

The entrance steps are just visible. The area behind the car houses the owner and her family, as well as staff. Behind the pillars, a row of sliding doors leads from the great room with its comfy couches and huge central fire place... hardly ever needed because for some magic reason, the lodge stays cool in summer and warm in winter.

This next views are of the inner patio. Hey, I've been swimming!

Lastly, the view from my room. Sorry I can't share with you the luxurious interior, but here's the balcony.

Perfect for sitting out of a morning and enjoying an early cup of tea and a rusk!

Monday, April 15, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES: Part three: The flat tire saga, Second installment

Here's how we knew we'd found the right, tire-fixing business:

Yes, we parked on the sidewalk, on the corner, which looked like this:

(On the left horizon, you can see some of the government's new housing)

We found a makeshift shelter in front of a brick wall, underneath which two employees were completing the job of fixing a tire for a pickup truck. We asked the owner/entrepreneur if he could help us, and inquired as to how much he'd charge. The answer was 'it depends how many holes'!

Now what you get in this area is many thorn trees. The thorns they bear are about three inches long and sharp enough — yes — to penetrate a tire. Part of the tire-fixing business's equipment was a metal drum cut in half and filled with water, so the employees could find the holes.

But the answer to my question came: Seventy Rand a hole.
And we still didn't have any cash. Which meant I'd have to mosey along to the (very third world) shopping centre nearby and take my chances at the ATM. Meanwhile, the tire repair began.

So here's the makeshift shelter, and the tree in the background to the left. Also, if you look carefully, you can see a lead coming over the wall to provide electricity for the compressor!!

Before getting out of the car to go and get money, I decided it would be a good idea to put my camera into the glove-compartment. I opened it, and what do you think I found inside? A roll of banknotes, specifically six one-hundred rand notes, one fifty rand note and one twenty rand note, the latter two of course adding up to the seventy rand we needed to fix our tire!!!

So all was well. And miraculously so, especially as that money could easily have disappeared during the valeting that had happened before we took the car. Now all I had to do while waiting was enjoy the warm air and the sight of a white bougainvillea, plus the scent and sight of a frangipani tree in full bloom, both of them just on the other side of the brick wall.

After this we drove back to the park and spent a couple of hours enjoying the wonder of game viewing.
Even these commonly-seen animals provided a thrill.

And yes, we arrived safely and happily back in Johannesburg.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES: Part Two, first installment

Before I dive into today's blog, I need to explain about our transportation. As I wrote already, the friends we were staying with in Johannesburg were kind enough to lend us a car. This was a vehicle normally used for their son's business, and specifically, for delivering vitamin supplements around town. Before handing the vehicle over to us, they'd had the car detailed and filled with gas.

After spending a comfortable and peaceful night in our small brick chalet, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and set off for the park gates. There is a daily charge for being in the reserve, so we had bought our two days worth. We presented our paper receipt here:

The park attendant checked the date, handed the permit back to us with a thoughtful look. He didn't step away from the side of the car, but stared down at our left front wheel.

"Your tire is flat," he said.

Right. There was only one thing to be done. My husband did a U-turn, parked in the shade and began the process of changing the tire. There was no other traffic on this Sunday morning, so that observant park attendant came over to help. I got out of the car and stood under the tree, enjoying the beauty, the tranquillity and the simple fact of being out in the bush.

Fine. The spare was in place. Except... wait! I did some observing of my own.
"The spare's flat, too!!"
Oh dear.
Fortunately it wasn't completely 'pap', as they say in S.A. We could see it would serve us okay if we drove slowly to the nearest gas station, which we'd passed on our way to the game lodge. So off we set. Only to discover, that garage had no air, let alone any facility for fixing tires.
Oh dear.
However, the attendant informed us that, if we drove into the close-by town of Mogwase, passed the shopping centre and turned right, we'd find the BP garage. There they had air.
To add a general note about South Africa, it's a bit of a schizophrenic experience, because sometimes you're completely in a first world country, and at others, completely in a third world country. Mogwase was definitely part of the latter.
We get to the BP garage and join the line-up of old bangers waiting to have tires pumped. As per usual, there's a guy doing the inflating. So we ask him if we can get our tire fixed.
"No," he says, "but if you go back down the street, on the corner under the tree there's a place that can fix it for you."
To be continued... tomorrow!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

AFRICAN ADVENTURES Part One: A self-drive, twenty-four hour safari

My husband and I were lucky enough to escape part of the cold and snowy March weather. We flew to Johannesburg where we spent the night with old friends from Cape Town days. They lent us a car and we headed north-west to Pilanesberg, a crater formed in very olden days by a long-extinct volcano. This is what the terrain looks like:

Beautiful, non? But a photo or even a film can never convey the slightly spicy smell of the earth, the gentle touch of the warm air.

We arrived at the game lodge a little before five p.m., a couple of hours later than we intended. The thing was, having studied the map, I decided we should take a slightly different route from that advised by our friends so we could go further on the M4 motorway. What I didn't realize was that, once the turn off to Sun City was passed, it turned into a toll road!

And I only had ten rands in cash... the equivalent of one dollar.

No worries, though, because as we drew up to the toll booth we saw that credit cards were accepted.

"Fifteen rands" said the slim black woman in the booth, holding out her hand.

My husband handed over his Visa. It didn't work. We suggested Mastercard, but she just shook her head and said, "Won't work."

Who knows why? Perhaps because the cards were from overseas??

Anyhow, there we were, pretty much stuck. I told her we had ten rands and my husband passed it over. She slipped out of the toll booth and addressed the vehicle drivers behind us. Because she was speaking in her own, African language, all we could understand was her calling out "Five rands."

But lo and behold, after three or four minutes, she returned, triumphant. Someone had donated us the bucks, worth of course more like $5 in South Africa.

How about that??

So on we went, hitting a traffic jam in the busiest area of Rustenberg, a platinum mining town, where the roads were up because of the installation of a new transit system. Busses, taxis, people, roadside stalls... all very local and African. But we eventually arrived at Manyane resort.

We booked in and hastened to take a trip inside the gates of the game park. One of the first animals we saw was this delicate creature:

Being in a game park has an atmosphere of peace like nothing else on earth. Perhaps it's because the animals roam free and aren't under any sort of threat? Kind of like paradise? Anyhow, for my husband and I, being there was as if our souls sighed out a huge sigh of release and delight.

That evening we had the excitement of seeing two white lions. We came across some open Jeep-type Safari vehicles blocking the road. Clearly some siting was up. Only about fifteen feet ahead, a male lion strutted down the road, lay down and looked at the cars as if to say, "I'm king here. What are you going to do now?"

Unfortunately, it was getting close to 6.30 p.m., gate closing time, when we'd have to be out of the park. So the vehicles ahead inched forward. And as they did so, his lioness came bounding out of the grass and tackled the lion in exactly the same way that cats and kittens play.

What a thrill!

More tomorrow, folks!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Summer in winter

What does a writer do when it's snowing outside, there's a windchill that's too horrifically cold to contemplate, and a frostbite warning to boot? She uses her imagination to put herself somewhere warmer!

In my case, this means writing about South Africa at this time of the year i.e. midsummer. What am I writing, you ask? It's a memoir, actually the first full length manuscript I ever completed. I wrote it for a writing contest and although it didn't win, the sponsoring publisher wrote to say they were interested to publish my 'charming' book.

Hah, I thought, this getting published business is a bagatelle. How wrong I was! A year later I received the rejection, along with the two readers' reports. I was so ignorant and innocent that I didn't really 'get' what those were saying. Luckily I kept them because now, at last, I feel the time is ripe to do the revise and expand thing. Because now I can see the faults—well, some of them—and the potential.

So what's it about? Ahhh, see, our family spent four magical years on a Cape wine farm. My memoir is written from the point of view of Miranda, our eldest child, who was on the brink of teenagerhood at the time. Here's a faded old photo to give you a glimpse of the paradise in which we lived:

Friday, January 4, 2013

What a coincidence!

Last week when we had a snow dump, our neighbor and her daughter helped my husband with the shoveling. So when they were done, he invited them in for a cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake.

We were sitting around the dining-room table adorned with its festive cut-glass candlesticks when our neighbor turned to me and asked, "I'm interested to know... What do you do to keep yourself occupied?"

I explained about being a writer and started to tell her about 'Cape Town'. She opened her eyes in astonishment and said, "I just got that book out of the library!"

"Really? That's amazing!"

We chatted a bit more about writing and reading and so forth.

" And do you know how I choose the novels for (her teenaged daughter) and me to read?" she continued. "I go along the shelves and see what book kind of glows for me, stands out in some way."

How often I've wished I had that ability, which some people seem to possess quite naturally.

Anyhow, the cool thing is, mother and daughter were very excited and thrilled. Mom said she'd definitely buy my book, and would I be willing to sign it for them?

Would I? You bet!