Time to read again

I used to read a lot. I was an avid reader from a very young age. My mother was, too, so she encouraged this and allowed me to read everything on her bookcase. School holidays revolved around having sufficient reading matter – at one stage we lived far from a library and it was a hellish period. As an adult, I can’t begin to describe the panic that would come over me if I thought I might run out of reading matter. I don’t re-read books so it was never a question of just grabbing something off my bookcase – there had to be an unread book available.

I often had several books on the go at one time; different types of books, for different moods, for a quick read or a long session. I went through fads of specific writers and read everything they produced. When I went to live in Zimbabwe for a few years, at a time when decent bookshops were scarce there and pre-internet, I joined a mail order book club – the catalogues came in the post and were fabulous, from thrillers to cookery books and autobiographies. I ordered by return post and paid for them by cheque – how quaint!

I’ve never understood people who never read and don’t own a well stocked bookcase. I hate it when people borrow books and don’t return them*. I always assessed (and judged!) a person’s bookshelf on arrival at their home. How could anyone not have a bookshelf and books lying around? (* However, I’ve started giving away the books on my bookcase. There are people who need them and can’t afford books, and this year I’ve done a lot of uncluttering of possessions. I have a decent collection of local non-fiction left, waiting for a worthy cause.).

I recently read a study that showed that people who don’t read are lacking in empathy, or that people who lack empathy do not read. That makes so much sense. I can see it in some of my non-reading friends who are also not empaths. It makes sense that someone who never reads about other people’s experiences, problems, happiness, death, joy or pain, can never understand the value of caring, or how to show it. Some people read only self-help books. That fits in with the self absorbed personality typical of those who lack empathy, and of course most of such books are a scam.

In recent years my interest turned almost completely towards non-fiction, with great emphasis on South African non-fiction. I have read few novels in recent years.

But, sadly, I have read very little in the past 2 years. It’s left me with a huge gap, to not read every single day. I can almost feel the need, the lack of peace. I feel almost guilty. And it makes me feel stupid, as if I have drained a part of me. I still absorb a lot of information via the internet and documentaries, but I don’t regularly lose myself in a book that is beautifully written and transports me to another world.

I blame social media and Netflix. I allowed them to steal me away from books. Thank goodness I don’t own a tv set, that would be the complete downfall of me.

This year, with all the time in the world to read, I tried, but my concentration was poor and I read only a few books, fiction and non-fiction. When I was added to a Facebook book group I realised I wasn’t alone with poor concentration, but I also realised I would soon turn into an imbecile if I didn’t increase my reading, a lot. I also need to restrict my social media addiction, that’s not good for the brain even if I filter out the obvious rubbish.

And then, Helen Moffett applied the pressure (without knowing it!).

I was super honoured when Helen had sent me a Facebook friend request and I love her posts. Helen is a multi-talented wordsmith and many other things besides. Read about her here and be sure to not miss her ‘rants’ – she delights us with an annual rant about Women’s Day.

Helen generously offered friends some of her duplicate books. I ‘applied’ for one and got it! All I had to do was fetch it, which I did yesterday. She added a second one as a bonus, and her only request is that I should review them on the Book Appreciation Group and pass them forward. Which I will do, of course, so it’s making me read! Yay!!

Left: the bonus book, short stories by some excellent local writers.
Middle: the book I applied for, Nechama Brodie’s thriller set in Johannesburg. That’s the one I’ve started reading and I’m loving it.
Right, on my Kindle, Helen’s latest book, the charming and gentle Charlotte, which I did start but will need to start again because my concentration was atrocious. (PS: if you read this today 30 December, Charlotte is available for 99p on Kindle if you live in the UK or Ireland!! and, if you’re keen on the current series Bridgerton, this is set in the same period.)

Here is a link to the crowdfunding campaign I’ve created in an attempt to save my tourism business and prevent my bank from taking my minibus. Any contributions welcome, and you are thanked in advance.

Lockdown Level 3, Round 2

As expected, South Africa has been placed in a lockdown level 3, adjusted, as from today.

If people were not already on holiday I suspect travel between metros and provinces would also be banned. As it is, curfew is extended. The sale and transportation of alcohol is once again banned – healthcare workers will now be free to tend to the dying and suffocating instead of the drunk. Restaurants and similar establishments must close their doors at 20:00 – considering how many of them did not comply with basics and how many of their customers refused to comply when they were asked to, I have little sympathy.

Almost all beaches in the country have been shut, completely.

My plans for today were scuppered by the beach closure. I had planned to take the dogs for a walk to Noordhoek beach because I went to collect something from someone in that area. Noordhoek beach is huge and beautiful. It’s not a good beach for swimming, because of the cold water and dangerous currents, but for walks, oh yeah! It’s also a great beach for horse rides from the local stables, which now is banned – now there is an establishment I have sympathy for. So the dogs stayed home 😦

Watching our President’s speech was difficult and not least because he was, at one point, overcome with emotion. He was beseeching his citizens to stay safe and alive. He has been doing that since March, more than 10 months.

We did not have to reach this point. We knew the poor would have difficulty isolating and keeping social distance but when you hear of private hospitals in up-market areas struggling to cope, you have to ask how stupid and careless those privileged people are that this could have happened to them in such numbers?

Of course the uninformed are out in full force on social media, displaying their ignorance and complete lack of understanding. Most of them are doing so from the comfort of a garden, a pool, a holiday. They blame everyone but themselves. They are furious with the government for telling them they are irresponsible. They are terrified that the economy will continue to nosedive because of their and their workers’ carelessness.

In the meantime, potential visitors emailed to cancel because few people want to go on holiday where restaurants close at night and wine is not available. My friend who works at a winery wanted only a day or two off, not two weeks of uncertainty. And so on and so on .. just because people don’t care. In my next life, I want to come back as someone who doesn’t give a fuck, because clearly it’s less trouble.

Noordhoek Beach. To the left you can just see the stables.
Same beach, different day.

My crowdfund link in case anyone wants to and can contribute something to help me keep my tourism business alive for the day when tourists start returning to South Africa.

2020, when humanity was defined by a virus

Two excellent series of photos, from around the world, that feature the horror that was 2020. When this year started we thought nothing could be worse than the fires in Australia. Little did we know what was raging silently in Wuhan. Through sheer co-incidence, in January, on a Facebook post in which people were mocking the virus in China, I saw a comment by someone whose name was familiar. I looked at his profile and recognised him as having once been the manager of a restaurant I visited regularly. Now he was posting, on and off via VPN, from Wuhan. I sent him a message of support and we communicated for a while.

He told me how he and his partner were locked down in their small flat, food was delivered daily, he was able to continue teaching online, they had no idea how long it would last, they were scared, they hoped it would be contained in China. If I didn’t hear from him for a few days I would worry, but each time it turned out ok, he had simply been locked out of his VPN. Eventually, he evacuated Wuhan but chose to not return to South Africa, and went to Hong Kong instead.

And as it rained in Australia and a kaola bear became a celebrity representing the 5,000 others that died, so the virus spread throughout the world. And here we now sit, speechless, terrified and horrified at the stupidity of those who refuse to comply with safety precautions and have therefore made it much much worse than it needed to be. Some of them are even presidents of their countries. History will not remember them well, not any of them.

It’s New Year’s Eve in a few days and many more will become infected as they party. It’s holiday season and many people have insisted on going on holiday despite the danger to themselves and others. There are rumours of another presidential announcement tonight – I’m not sure if that’s true and all I can think that he might announce is a tighter curfew and another total ban on alcohol. It’s necessary because hospital trauma units are bursting with drunken drivers and drunken brawlers, but does the government have the will to do that, and what difference can it make to New Year’s Eve at this stage?

A friend visiting from Europe wants to meet me for lunch this week. I’d love to see him but he’s been socialising with friends and family so I dare not. And yet, so many people I know have been out and about non-stop for months without getting sick, and continue to do so. The chances are some will fall ill sooner or later. Some may even die.

Yes, I am resentful. Very very much so. I resent being locked up like a prisoner because others are excessive. Because others don’t wear masks. Because others drink too much alcohol. Because others hate their own company so much that they can’t stay at home. I am angry, too. Because many are too poor to isolate. Because there is stigma attached to having the virus. Because some people have to work, even when sick, to serve those who want to socialise. I’m fucking angry that when people said the economy must be restarted, they meant their workers must go and turn the wheels, and those workers are now dying like flies.

I used to think a lack of compliance was from ignorance, even on the part of those who have access to information. But I was wrong. Everything I have read, everything I have been told, every question I have asked, all show that people are not ignorant of the facts. They just don’t care. And that shocks me more than anything else. I’ve always been cynical but a part of me wanted to believe that man was inherently good. How wrong I was.

In these depressing morbid days, walking the hounds in these peaceful and beautiful surroundings has been the highlight of my days.

And again, my crowdfunding link in case anyone wants to contribute something – many thanks in advance!

The South African beach story

It’s summertime, it’s the festive season, it’s holidays, and the virus is peaking, again, with a new variant that infects faster. But wait, there’s more .. in the interests of public health, the government has closed the beaches in two of the most popular coastal holiday destinations.

The Eastern Cape. This province is one of South Africa’s most corrupt, incompetently run and poorest regions, but also one of the most beautiful. The long beaches are mostly unspoilt and fabulous with warm Indian Ocean water. But because a few pockets here and there are likely to be very crowded, the government decided to close them all rather than monitor the situation and enforce social distancing. This is because our Minister of Police is a really horrible and lazy bully who forms part of a faction that fights the president instead of working with him. We live in hope that he gets the boot one of these days. If it was up to him, the restrictions would be worse, with renewed prohibition and total lockdown..

Ironically, there are a few people who are able to walk on some of the forbidden beaches. The cattle herders of Pondoland. It’s not leisure, it’s work. Their job is to ensure that the wealth of the Pondo people, their cattle, is cared for and returned home every day after their traditional beach walk. Have a look at these stunning photos. Isn’t it ironic that the lowly cattle herder has a privilege not extended to the wealthy holiday-maker?

The Garden Route. Straddling the Eastern and Western Capes, this coastal region is also magnificent. So named because it is always green and lush, it’s one of our most popular holiday destinations. I like it very much and am grateful to have been able to take clients there on many occasions but I prefer going there outside of this time of year. It gets very crowded in December/January, unpleasantly so in my opinion, but that doesn’t deter the many who go there year after year, many of whom have a second home there. One can avoid crowds – there are several small towns and villages, there are forests, there are lakes and lagoons, and there are many beautiful beaches and the warm ocean offering a host of activities.

Oh, wait, not this year – this year all beaches along the Garden Route are closed. This is another of the crazy and lazy demands of the hated Minister, and it’s absurd. There are some very small beaches that might be difficult to control, but the most popular are wide and long, (and in some instances quite difficult to access, therefore never very crowded)!

Yes, there’s plenty of other things to do and places to go in that region but the warm water and the beach activities are a major attraction and for some people the only reason they go there, especially those from Johannesburg where there is no beach, or Cape Town where the ocean is too cold for swimming. The tourism industry has already taken such a knock that it was relying on this festive season to recoup some losses but unfortunately this stupid beach ban has caused many people to cancel their plans.

But all the beaches in Cape Town are open! There isn’t much logic in that because the Covid-19 hotspot is now extended to include Cape Town and surrounding areas. Logic has been absent from quite a few lockdown restrictions since March so this doesn’t come as a surprise.

All these photos are from the Garden Route – Robberg Peninsula, Victoria Bay, Wilderness, Nature’s Valley, and Plettenberg Bay. Only Victoria Bay is small and might not be easy to manage, all the others are either very wide or not very accessible, such as Robberg.

My ‘save my business’ fund has reached 50% of my goal and I am super grateful to see how generous and kind so many people have been. I still need to inch closer to the goal though, so in case you haven’t yet spent all your money on Christmas presents, here is the link. All I am asking of Dear Santa is to remove the spectre of losing all the efforts of my hard work 🙂

Hail to the shop assistants!

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic healthcare workers have been lauded, for doing their job. Okay so they didn’t sign up for a pandemic but they did sign up for sickness and risk, and they are trained professionals. I applaud them for the continued efforts, for not giving up, for going back into the field even when exhausted or after recovering from the virus themselves.

But supermarket staff? They didn’t sign up for anything dangerous. In South Africa they are not even paid a living wage. One supermarket chain pays its workers so badly it one 290 years to earn what her boss was paid in a month.

With the exception of some high-end stores, most shop assistants in this country are surly, rude, and not ever likely to do anything for you beyond roughly swiping your groceries along the scanner. Who can blame them for not being thrilled with their lot in life? What do they actually have to be happy about? Nothing. They work very long hours, earn peanuts, receive very little in the way of benefits, and most of them live so far from their place of work that they can easily spend 2 hours in disgusting dangerous public transport to reach their work. And when they get home there is no help for them to guide kids with homework, to prepare supper, to do the laundry, and in many instances to endure domestic violence.

They’ve worked throughout the pandemic so that we could have food and other consumables. Lucky for us, the people who work in the retail stores have continued to be there. I’m not referring to the owners of the stores, those who take the profit, but the poor sods who ring up your stuff and get nothing extra for working in a pandemic, except droplets of virus from the customers.

No-one clapped for them. No one arranged videos and public outpourings of gratitude.

How else would we have eaten for 10 months? Who stacked the shelves full of toilet paper that we suddenly needed in massive quantities? Who loaded and unloaded the delivery trucks and shelves and warehouses? Millions and millions of retail workers, that’s who!

Thank you to anyone who works in retail, especially those who come into contact with the public and their droplets and bad attitude. And a special thank you to those who were not always empowered by their companies to enforce the safety protocols to safeguard them.

Thank you to all supermarket staff, and especially my local surly ladies at Checkers!

Only one photo today. The lovely Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens with agapanthus in the foreground.

Ending off as usual, with a link to my crowdfunding campaign. Thanks in advance for any contributions.

2020, annus very horribilis

As we enter the second wave of Covid-19 with a hideous new variant, many countries are back in lockdown, airlines are cancelling flights, and everyone still wants to rush away for a holiday. January will tell us how good or bad of an idea that is. I can’t blame people wanting to leave home for a while, I really can’t.

There’s no disputing this year has been one of the biggest shitshows in living memory. Or has it?

The Holocaust and the wars of the first 50 years of last century were much worse. Think about it.

Apartheid was worse – it lasted almost 50 years and ruined generations to come.

The various genocides (real ones, not the fantasy one that racist South Africans talk about in the comfort of luxury and high-end security) of the 20th century wiped out as many as 30 million people, and counting.

The outbreak of the Aids epidemic was a horror. We in South Africa remember it all too well. Funeral after funeral after funeral. Almost everyone in South Africa lost a friend or relative to that plague, before anti-retroviral medication came along to control HIV before it can turn into Aids.

So why is Covid-19 so bad? 1,700 000 dead – horrific of course but not as bad as some of the examples above. Is it because the entire planet is affected? Because it’s happened so fast? Is it because the economy has almost ground to a halt? The global economy needs an overhaul so this might be the event that forces that to happen, but it doesn’t happen overnight; it’s long and slow and many people suffer in the process.

We also don’t even know how many people are ill with long-term Covid – that’s when it lingers for months and months and months. Just as the patient thinks they’re getting better, wham, they’re back down, feeling as sick as months ago when it started.

Just as the virus didn’t take a break for the holidays, it has no notion of a calendar so let’s not heave a sigh of relief on December 31, because it won’t go away magically as the clock strikes 12; nothing will change unless we change it.

I especially liked Richard Poplak’s take, below: “This should have been a time of connection; instead it sharped our divisions.”

This does not only apply to South Africa where the divisions between rich and poor, white and black, are sharply defined and there is an abnormally wide gap between groups. This applies all over the world. I suspect these divisions will get worse, not better. We seem to be headed for a Dystopian type of world that we have seen in fiction.

So, on that not very cheerful note I will end this post with a few soothing photos of scenic Cape Town which I came across when trawling through my photos. I am attempting to sort all my photo folders but am making no headway at all. These were all taken last year, the year of innocence which we clearly didn’t appreciate.

And, as always, below the photos a link to my crowdfunding campaign. Many thanks in advance for any contributions. May the spirit of Christmas be with you as you assist me in saving my touring minibus from the evil capitalist banking system.

From the top: Aloes at the top of Table Mountain; Cape of Good Hope; fishing boats at Kalk Bay; spring flowers at Kirstenbosch; Noordhoek beach; African penguins at Boulders Beach.

The tomato files

I came to the lockdown vegetable growing party a bit late. My gardening philosophy is ‘survival of the fittest’ and this does not lend itself to vegetables. Vegetables are needy, they need attention. They need pest repellent, staking, protection from dogs, and goodness knows what else. They also want to grow in neat rows which is not how the rest of my garden looks. My garden always looks like a work in progress and there’s always something that needs to be done. That’s how I like it.

But, in the days of Corona lockdown with time and good weather … sighh .. I dug out the vegetable seeds I had bought last year, for someone else who then decided not to become a vegetable farmer after all and gave me back the seeds. Also, tomato seeds from my kitchen – big fat round ones, little Roma or Rosa (I forget their name, the small oblong ones), and miniatures. And chilli seeds, also mixed.

I had seed packets of lettuce, leeks, baby spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, beans, and others I forget. I also had the Checkers Lil Garden series – this is the second time this supermarket chain has done this promo. It’s a good concept – giveaways of small kits to grow veg and herbs, all in an eco-friendly way. Ideal to teach children to grow things. I had little success the previous time because I neglected them but I figured this time around I had nothing like work or a social life to distract me so I gave it another bash.

I started off with tomatoes in containers. Not a brilliant idea if the pots are too small and the tomatoes cramped. The Lil Garden stuff did very well and then required planting out. So I sectioned off a corner of the garden, we protected it from the dogs, and transplanted things. Only the tomatoes were in neat rows because of needing the dog barrier to hold them up; everything else was hodge podge.

There were many losses, I won’t dwell on them but will focus on the positive. And the tomatoes – they fall into both categories.

Tomatoes are fussy little pheckers and much loved by a whole bunch of little creatures. Every morning we counted how many fruit were forming – I was heady with excitement – until I realised they were being eaten up. First the bottom leaves dry and die, then the tomatoes themselves are eaten from inside. It’s easy to miss the pinprick hole made by worms. Sometimes it’s when the fruit is almost ripe, sometimes the little green ones. No consistency.

I had to break my rule of no pesticide and shot off to the nursery. I was sold something bio that seems to be almost entirely made of garlic. I sprayed a small quantity one evening and then watched to see if my dogs would be attracted to it. If so, then I couldn’t continue. They didn’t go near it so I continued and sprayed a lot. I still spray it every few days. The smell of garlic is nauseating.

I seem to have saved some of the tomatoes. There are a few still being eaten, and I can see little bugs on them at times, but generally speaking I have harvested enough to please me and make this not too much of a time waster. I pick them early enough to ripen indoors and we’ve had a few salads. Considering my vegetable track record, the tomatoes are being counted as a success. But I might not bother again.

Another success, a complete one, is lettuce. I have several varieties .. butter, frilly, and something called ‘Italian’. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than finally having lettuce in my garden, to pick a few leaves whenever needed. Rocket – also a success and added to salads, but the plants are very tall and already flowering. I suspect they will seed themselves. Basil is doing well, planted as a companion to the tomatoes, as advised by my friend Fadia.

Leeks and chillis are very slow. Radishes have completely disappeared. Three borage plants look like death. Swiss chard are not plentiful enough to cook alone so they go into salads. The carrots and beans want sowing in a few months but I might never bother. I’m not really cut out for vegetable gardening but there are lettuce seeds left over that might get thrown haphazardly to see what survives.

Not everything in the pots survived. There’s definitely something to be said for a proper vegetable garden with everything in rows or the wooden planters that are all the rage now.

The various stages of excitement and anticipation. Note the weirdo pointy tomato – I’ve been watching him like a hawk and he’s going into a chicken salad later today.

My crowdfund campaign is at 50% and I’m very thrilled! Please read below and see if you can help me save my business for when tourism picks up again. All contributions, big and small, are appreciated and I thank you in advance!


A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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