Lessons from the Universe

A few years ago I had a strange(ish) weekend in which I went to see 2 films dealing with sexuality and gender. The one was about someone changing gender and having to also cope with the discovery of his/her child as a teenager. The other was that famous one about the gay cowboys and their relationship and lives.  By the end of the weekend I was wondering if the universe was telling me something. Maybe I wasn’t as sensitive to other people’s difficulties when they don’t fit the societal norm. I spent some time reading around what some people go through, and I hope I came out of that more aware and caring.

This weekend was filled with dementia/alzheimers. First I read the book “Doing the rounds with Oscar” by David Dosa about a cat in a care home for mostly elderly people (many with Alzheimer’s and similar difficulties). Here the cat seems to know who is going to die and curls up next to them, as if to give comfort. David (a doctor specialising in geriatric medicine) doesn’t initially believe the stories he is told about the cat, then becomes intrigued, then from interviewing various families who experienced a death with Oscar present, becomes to believe that there is truth there, but cannot discover how the cat knows. A lot of the book is about his patients with dementia and how they and their partners and families cope as the disease progresses.  By the end of the book I was believing that Terry Pratchett was right, people should have the right to decide when to die, when who they have been is lost and who they are is someone with no quality of life.

Then today I went to a film with a friend. She chose what we were going to see, and she selected “Still Alice”. So here I am again at the end of a weekend, wondering what lesson the universe has put in my way. Of course along with wondering is the scary look at myself and wondering…

The lure of old science fiction

I am so often delighted to find old science fiction (not the sort with scary alien monsters) but those that turn a fanciful eye to either the future or alternate lifestyles in the same of different worlds.

The advent of my IPad and the fact that various kind people are re-publishing old science fiction (past copyright) on the web has allowed me to dig into the genre in ways that I could not do previously. That is largely because South African second hand bookshops do not have a large collection of the older stuff.

I had a delightful trip in time this weekend in the company of one J McCullough in his book “Golf in the year 2000, or, What we are coming to”, which was first published in 1892.

Yes 1892 – more than a century ago, there was this person (I am assuming a man because of the writing style and the entire focus on male thinking) writing ‘future fiction’. 

What always interests me in these books is their predictions for technology in the future. The first intimations of this man’s predictive capabilities came with the man who looked at his ring for the time. I thought the book was slightly early on the wearable technology and so wanted to meet this writer and introduce him to some of the wearable technology of today. Obviously I would need to bring him forward in time.

The next was the tub. Yes tub not tube, yet still an underground type of transport system, rapid and safe.

The biggest of all was the network of mirrors allowing people to watch (without sound unfortunately) on the mirror in their private theatre or in a place of entertainment (such as a pub) activities far away. One was the live ‘broadcast’ of a play, but the biggest was the transmission of a golf game from the USA to Britain.

The mentions of perfect coloured photographs wasn’t that much of a surprise as there was a lot of experimentation related to this at the time of his writing. So no points for predicting the already-foreseeable.

Ah well, back to the realities of 2014, and the guesses as to where technology will take us in the future.

Spirit of place and time

Places remind us -of experiences, people, emotions. I often think place is just somewhere to put time. If we are frequently in a place it gains permanence in our memories, and expectations.

It is odd to think of places that are permanent for some, being quite transient in ones own mind and memory.

Recently I met friends for a happy event, in a place I had only once visited. The previous visit was solitary, grieving over a loss – I wanted solitude.

In my mind the place was somber, cold colours, stark. This time it seemed cheerful, full of life and colour. I asked if they had redecorated and was told that they had toned down some of the more brightly coloured walls. Emotions and memory can make a place so different at different times.

Take me on your journey

So many misunderstandings come from people not having followed the same ‘journey’ in getting to where they are. I see this so often in groups arguing or seeming to agree and then doing completely different things.

One of my favourute things is to take such a group along a path of discovery, starting from some basic principle, getting them to agree on that, and then taking them back into their discussion/ argument, step by step and let them unfold the same journey together. It is amazing just how fast they can come together when the all start from the same place with some agreed destination.

Of course then the difficulty is spreading the word of how their logic together got them there.

Same problem, just a bigger pool of people…….

People watching

I have recently had the privilege of working closely with 2 men, quite different in background, but both intelligent and thoughtful.  That contract is about to end, and I will be sad to lose the almost daily interaction with them. One in his 30’s the other in his 60’s and both with a sense of humour that has made some difficult work a pleasure.

Elsewhere I have been observing 4 people, each with the same title in 4 companies in a larger group of companies. How different they are, one thoughtful and able to articulate his business clearly, one who knows all the buzz words but never gets to implementing the substance behind the buzz word, one who balances between common sense and the emotional approach, and the last one who really should have a different title and job, so involved in technology that there seems no space for any other ideas.

How amazing it is to realise just how different each person is, unique in their background, experiences, education and personality.

There are times when I want to find a quiet spot and scream, and other times when I just have to sit quietly ‘shuffling’ each one in my head, wondering what combination of circumstances, education and personality make them so different.

Those are the times I realise how fortunate I am to be able to observe each in turn.

Kindergarten Competition

The Food Bloggers Indaba (see previous post) went very well. We arrived, ate, drank, chatted, laughed, awarded prizes for anything and everything, had a game to hand out the “goodie bags”, and then…

We had a creative competition.

Amazing just how badly adults can behave given half a chance. A friend (who was attending the Food and Wine Bloggers Indaba) send us a present – the contents of which were to play a game.

The friend is Lyndatjie – she of the ‘frog lady’ fame on the media24 blogs – way back when.

She sent some meringues, lots of fontant icing in various colours, some squeezy tubes of decoration for icing, solver balls, hearts and other stuff.

The competition was to make a frog on a meringue.

We did so. BADLY in some cases. So badly indeed that I suspect the local kindergarten school may have suggested another year at home to develop fine motor co-ordination for the creators.

Here are the frogs, you may vote for the best one – using whatever criteria you please.f1 f3 f4 f5 f6 f7 f9

Creating the competition

Some years ago, blogging on a South African site I met many other South Africans. Some I loved, some bored me silly. Out of that experience I have retained some wonderful friends.

We were apparently a world first of bloggers who MOBBED – Meet Other Bloggers (M.O.B) We would meet in twos – my first was in the little town of Pietermaritzburg meeting SUPAGRAN. An evening of laughter and conversation, we were already old friends by the time we met as the blogs tended to be pretty open and full of discussion.

We would meet in greater numbers, every time discovering that the real people were pretty much like their blogs, except for the few who plagarised most of their content.

There were even some MOB events organised by the web site owners, the Media24 group.

But like so many on-line movements it petered out, largely because of a very unprofessional editor for the site and some troll friends of hers who made the place unpleasant – and who on Earth wants to hang out at a place where the vibes are not good?

So a lot of us moved the daily contact of the friendship onto Facebook, those who wanted to continue blogging went to other sites, WordPress included.

One of those friends is Browniegirl, a food blogger. I used to tell her how much I hated her – just because every post had me salivating and most of all when it was the posts of stuff I should not be eating. Having personally experienced her ‘Death by chocolate’ cake I know there was truth in that saliva drooling out of the corners of my mouth onto my laptop. Having had a lifelong battle with my weight I don’t need anyone tempting me into more of the wrong foods, or more food really.

Browniegirl, a warm and delightful woman,  started an event that has become an annual success – The Food Bloggers Indaba ( now also including wine). So far the venue has always been in Cape Town, with international speakers and so many goodies handed out that you need a second airline ticket to get it all home.

“What is an INDABA?” I hear the non-South Africans ask. Well we steal words from other languages all the time, don’t we? An Indaba is an important meeting, a word taken from the Zulu language and used in related local languages as well. A very common term in South African buisness.

As a photographer of absolutely no talent, a cook of medium talent and interest but an eater of far higher interest, a few years ago I started a competitive event, The Food Eaters Indaba. The first one had 4 of us, on the same day as the Food Bloggers Indaba, meeting at a restuarant, lots of food, wine, chat and laughter. So busy having fun we more or less forgot to take photos (unlike the Food Bloggers who take so many beautiful pictures).

Just like the Food Bloggers Indaba, ours seems to be growing, the numbers may even have doubled this year.

Alas though there are only a few sponsors, so it’s “bring a goodie bag with food related stuff valued at under R50 (do your own lookup on the exchange rate), and money because we are going to raffle the prizes sourced by one very enterprising member”. But the event shoule be fun, food, wine, chat and laughter. Maybe this year we will even have photographs……

Secret Valentine

February 13th. His first Valentine’s day in South Africa. Off to the shop on the way home, to pick up 26 identical little boxes, each with 2 chocolates and a little red rose.

February 14th. In to the office ahead of everyone – quite difficult to achieve, these South Africans always started work an hour too early for his taste. On each woman’s desk, one little Valentine’s present.

The gossip circulated fast. Next thing he came back to his office and there was a huge card. Signed by every  woman in the company. But no single special hint of any of the delightful young women taking a specific interest in him. When he said that in the pub on Friday night, he wasn’t sure anyone had understood.

Seemingly very young for his role, to take the South African part of the company through the tough financial times, and into whatever solution was negotiated in the UK. Openness with everyone, a calm façade, even on the occasional days he felt like breaking out into a rage. Not in front of anyone, always calm, always responsive. Taking them through the difficult time. Later that year the take-over announced. Retrenchments for some, job offers for others.

Settling into his new role in the much larger company. Christmas back to the UK, great to see family and friends, yet feeling a little out of it as he had really begun to settle into the more outdoor-oriented life back south.

February 14th. There it was on his desk. An anonymous Valentine card. He looked round the office. No one seemed to be watching him from behind pretty eyelashes. Ah well, surely she would make herself known some time.

During the year he met the woman who seemed right for him. The relationship developed, blossomed. They were happy together.

The next year. February 14th, there it was again. Another anonymous Valentine card. But he had already had one from his wife of 1 month.

And the next February 14th. Another. Anonymous, always anonymous.

And the next. And the next, until after 7 years he returned to the UK.

Never to know who she was, his faithful Secret Valentine.



We Shall Overcome

Reading the news this morning I discovered that Pete Seeger, the man who wrote “We shall overcome”  has died in his 90’s. I loved his stuff as a youngster, it spoke of possibilities, hinted that we could be better than we were but not in a polite mealy-mouthed way.

But the memory that came flooding back was of one day when I was at University. We had a reputation for political statements, and protests that had to remain on the campus property (or the police would arrest us) so we would stand silently, holding the placards along the edge of the University grounds that bordered a main road.

The day in my memory was one of the many. The government had again done something dreadful (trust me when I say that, the Nationalists were ruthless against opponents and really hated us white protestors as we were protesting against the policies of racial separation and domination by whites as they saw us as ‘selling out’ to those they regarded as inferior). So the placards were ready, and when we had a free period between lectures, instead of heading to the canteen for some coffee, we would trot over there, and take over from someone who had a lecture to attend.

That afternoon I was the assistant at a first year practical session (the masters student who was supposed to run them, just popped in now and then leaving me to run them all the time). It was a useful supplement to pocket money and there I think I discovered my love for helping others find out things and learn. That is something that has remained a joy all my life.

When I emerged from the classroom, papers for marking in my briefcase, I discovered the canteen in an uproar. The police had raided ON TO CAMPUS! Some students had been chased, hit and arrested.

I found my friends and we all sat chatting, realising one of us was missing. So a hardy soul went upstairs to the Students Union office to see if anyone had an idea of who had been taken. Our horror when one friend’s name was on the list was immense. We had heard stories of the police behaviour, backed up by pictures in the Daily Mail of those poor bodies of those who ‘fell’ from police headquarters.

We queued for the phone, and then phoned her mother. She was worried but somewhat peaceful with the news. My friend’s mother I should explain was a founder member of the “Black Sash” – a woman’s organisation protesting against the government’s apartheid policies and the cruelties and injustices it caused.

Nothing we could do. Her parents knew where she was, the students union lawyer was on the case. We needed to start travelling home. I was staying that night at another friend’s home, as we all had a project we were running at a girls home and we were visiting and ‘counselling’ ever y week.  I lived in Pretoria but attended university in Johannesburg, something that took 25 hours a week in travelling time, so once a week I would stay the night at a friend so I could go with the group to the project.

When we got to the home “Strathyre” we explained to the youngsters about the protest and arrest. They were so shocked we had a few of them in tears, dishing out hugs and reassurance. Then one of them came out carrying a guitar which she gave to me as she knew I could play a little. They demanded we sing “We shall Overcome”.

Such solidarity from children who had little, with those who; through dreadful government – had even less still warms my memories.

Weekend theme

So many corrupt politicians, so few assassins

So many rays of sunshine, so few solar panels

So many happinesses, so little to cry over

So many Maltesers, so little mouthspace (This one for Tilly Budd)


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