AMERICA PACIFICA by Anna North


Gripping dystopian novel about survivors from the next Ice Age. The plot is straight forward – no particular surprises there, but the book excelled in creating a horribly credible  picture of poverty in a survivor society and exposing human greed, capitalistic class structure systems, the failure of a visionary scheme, in the face of an entrenched status quo. The under classes subsist in miserable slums, and mainly eat processed jellyfish and seaweed that is mass produced into a simulacrum of fast food – yuck! At the end of the novel I felt it would have been preferable to have been frozen by the encroaching ice rather than struggle in the hot, rainy filthy, hungry desperate underbelly of a new society on an overcrowded island. Uggh!  Bladerunner cubed! Steven Spielberg’s recent futuristic TV series Terra Nova portrayed a positively paradisiacal world, by way of contrast, and Terra Nova was no picnic …. Nothing like a grim dystopian novel to make one’s current circumstances seem excellent, despite our economic, criminal, political urban South African woes. Not to mention global warming.

Here’s a thought: maybe, at this early point in the 21st Century, this is as good as it’s going to get? Only an increasingly rapid downhill slope from here? What do you think?

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LOTTO DREAMS


 

What would you do if you won the Lotto? Don’t tell me you haven’t spent the odd moment dreaming about your new life with those infinite millions? I’m sure most people have, whether they admit it or not.

I’ve watched a few episodes of the American TV series How the Lottery Changed my Life. As usual, I’m fascinated by the responses of ordinary people when presented with a LOT OF MONEY. Some of the prizes are beyond grasp: telephone type numbers running into six digits, while other prizes have been a mere 3.5million dollars.

Many of the winners act predictably: a new home or car for their Mum; gifts to immediate family, an upgrade from their modest suburban home to something bigger and much grander – this usually means an explosion of extraordinary bad taste, but each to their own, I suppose.

Some of the men indulge their passion for fast cars – not one, not two, but stables of fast cars. Hello, Lamborghini!  Others – mainly bachelors, but I don’t think they remain bachelors for long! -  buy property that allows them to build huge swimming pools and their own private golf course, and these guys are tanned, and smiling from ear to ear. Golf every day and no work – gotta be good!

And then you get the mavericks. How about the family man who was in a syndicate with workmates – five guys in total. They won.  Four of the men went golfing but Number Five, the family man, continued with his job, which was operating a road-cleaning truck. He upgraded the family home, and explained he still had to put kids through college. I can’t decide whether he’s a shining hero, or an unimaginative idiot.

A farmer in Iowa, struggling to maintain the family farm, spent a fortune on a state of the art combine harvester, and a lovely new tractor. I notice they didn’t interview his wife – I hope she at least got a few new dresses, or something!

A woman living in a trailer with a large family didn’t change her lifestyle at all – just bought plenty of adult toys like quad bikes and motorbikes,  which were shown rusting away on a derelict property, guarded by a pack of dogs, numbering over twenty, or something. She fell into the category that decided: winning the Lotto isn’t going to change my lifestyle – I like it just the way it is.

Lastly, the couple who bought a monster – and I mean a monster – mobile home (I think they call them Winnebago’s in the USA). The vehicle was over forty feet long, and contained as many buttons, switches and gadgets as a NASA space vehicle. The couple took to the roads and were happily exploring America and delighted to be living on the road.

What would you do, I wonder? I’m still working on my wishlist.

 

 

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HAPPY POSTCROSSING!


The Finnish commemorative Postcrossing postage stamp

The Finnish commemorative Postcrossing postage stamp

 

It’s a new phenomenon – postcards whizzing round the world, sent by nearly half a million people in over 200 countries – people who don’t know each other, but are linked by one common factor: they like to get mail! Old fashioned snail mail, stuff in the letterbox mail – for once, not e-mai!

It costs you nothing to join Postcrossing (www.postcrossing.com) but there’s the cost of buying postcards – although some folk make their own. Plus the cost of postage, which in South Africa is quite high, R5-75 per card for airmail  delivery. Apparently the Brits are not big members of Postcrossing, due to the high cost of postage in their country.

Nearly every country in the world has Postcrossing members, barring some miniscule, obscure islands that are not even dots on the map – Cocos & Keeling Islands? – and some countries in West Africa, and on the horn of Africa. Other than this, worldwide, somebody is sending or receiving a postcard this very second. Yes: NOW, right now.

The most enthusiastic joiners are the Russians, followed by the Americans, and then the Chinese.  Male members number 63,539 ; 311,178 females. There are 465,078 registered users in 223 different countries. These stats are from the Postcrossing website, but they change on an almost hourly basis. When I joined last year, South African had just over 400 members, but now, since an article on the phenomenon in Ideas Magazine, the number has more than tripled.

Apparently one of the attractions of Postcrossing is that there’s an entire generation  – electronically connected 24/7, of course – who have never received an item of snailmail! I find this fact quite staggering, but I suppose the cohort  aged 15 – 25 probably falls into this category. So for the electronic generation, a postcard in the mailbox is a brand new experience.

I joined Postcrossing in October last year, and now I’m a complete addict – it’s a lot of fun! I’ve been a letter-writer all my life, but with my increasing eyesight problems, postcards are the perfect solution. I still get mail in my box and the thrill of a card from the most diverse places: from Turkey to the Ukraine, from the USA to Malaysia – who knows where the next card will come from? The only downside to Postcrossing is our very erratic and irregular postal deliveries, but hey! getting seven cards in a bundle from all over the world is okay too.

Finland even issued an official postage stamp in honour of Postcrossing – see my very poor pic up top.

Join: I promise you won’t regret doing so.

 

 

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MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER


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I’m turning into my Father. No, I’m not adopting formal three-piece mens’ suits, with correct tie, nor am I turning bald, nor correcting my posture to ramrod stiffness.

But I’ve suddenly realised that I’ve adopted his habit of eating the identical breakfast , day in and day out. My Dad unvaryingly consumed fried egg and bacon, every day. There might occasionally be a slice of fried bread added to this gourmet feast, or  a daring fried tomato, but by and large, it was fried egg and bacon.  Back in the Olden Days that I’m speaking of, we knew (and cared) nothing about the evils of oil, fat, cholesterol, cardiac health and the like. Consequently, Dad’s plate was a happy culinary skating rink of oil/fat, which I suppose was the entire point of a hearty, satisfying breakfast.

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My daily e&b is a very different affair. I have an efficient little bright pink, non-stick, one-egg frying pan. From the day I bought the damn thing I have loathed the colour, but comforted myself that, because it was manufactured in China, it wouldn’t last long. Wrong. Two years later, it’s doing just fine and the Teflon remains  as durable as ever. So my fried eggs wouldn’t know what oil and grease meant, not even if you drew them a diagram. Ditto my carefully trimmed bacon slices, grilled, and carefully blotted with kitchen paper. But at the end of the day, I’m  eating fried egg and bacon for breakfast, at least six days out of seven. Purged of fat and calories, they may be, but they’re still satisfying. Particularly with a smidgeon of that other forbidden substance – tomato sauce.

I sound like a regular food Nazi don’t I? Trust me, when you’re  diagnosed as a  diabetic, you turn into one. And maybe I should add that my Dad was felled by a mighty stroke in his early sixties – just possibly his fat-clogged arteries may have had something to do with it.

I remember my Mother once remarking to me, somewhat sourly : “You’re your Father’s daughter.”  Her tone wasn’t complimentary. Subsequently I’ve puzzled over this remark, but her shrouded meaning went to the grave with her. And when you’re younger you tend not to cross-examine your parents. At least, I didn’t. Now I wish I had!

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LARRY MCMURTRY : A BOOKMAN AND BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS


Years ago I read Lonesome Dove,  and loved it. Later I read The Desert Rose  and enjoyed both novels set in America’s South West. Over the years I’ve seen Hud, Cadillac Jack, Buffalo Girls, Dead Man’s Walk, at the movies, not realising they started out as books written by McMurtry. Furthermore, he wrote the screen play (together with Diana Ossana) of one of my favourite movies, Brokeback Mountain.

What a prodigious writer the man is: 29 novels, two collections of essays, three memoirs, more than 40 screenplays! He won the Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, and an Academy Award for Brokeback. All this I discovered, and more, when I read his account of a lifetime spent writing, buying, selling and reading books, in his memoir titled “Books – a memoir”. The chapters are short – sometimes only one page in length, but what a wealth of anecdotes and history of American book collecting, buying and selling they contain.

I loved the stores about eccentric booksellers, often hidden away in tiny dark shops, for instance the little old Jewish bookseller whose shelves extended up to the ceiling and who made his customers view his stock through binoculars! Nowadays things have changed, and often owners of bookstores or libraries who wish to sell their collections or stock, will simply make a video recording of the shelves, which McMurtry and his partner Marcia Carter will scan, and then decided whether to buy the books – or not.

I was intrigued to read about the enormous libraries amassed by the rich (and the super rich), the famous, and the movie moguls. A very few appear to have been genuine lovers of books and reading; the remainder displayed their collections as signs of their wealth and prestige. I was astonished to learn that big collections of books, numbering the thousands, change hands at auction or private sale, holus bolus, in their entirety, and McMurtry relates how he drove to auctions in his car, loading the vehicle to the hilt on the homeward run with his purchases. He says that the loading and unloading and unpacking of book cartons is the physical side of book collecting, and dealing. I’ll bet it is – a carton of books can be damn heavy, as I know!

I did a rough count of the books currently in my cupboards and shelves and came out at around 700. This number is miniscule when compared to the private libraries of the wealthy, some of whom specialise in collecting specific editions – of the classics, say – in their entirety. No wonder their libraries number in the thousands. And of course University and State Libraries also contain (and on occasion sell) complete collections of a particular author’s work. Interestingly, when official Libraries receive a bequest from an estate, sometimes a portion of the bequest will be sold off to the dealers and collectors, because it does not fall within the ambit of their collection.

McMurtry has tales of trawling through second-hand book shops in the States and in the UK, buying huge job lots of books, and occasionally discovering something really valuable  in amongst the dross, that sells of hundreds of dollars, and in one transaction pays for the entire job lot, with a handsome profit remaining. He also lists – depressingly – a long list of bookstores he has dealt with over the years,  many of which  have sold up and closed down. He reflects towards the end of his memoir on the usurping role of computers in libraries, sometimes – oh horror! – replacing the book stock entirely. He ruefully decides you can’t stem the tide, things will, and do, change.

But he loves books. Always has and always will, and he turned his home town Archer City, Texas, into a booktown (being inspired by the English town devoted to books, Hay-on-Wye). He owns and operates a vast bookstore comprised of nearly 400,000 used, rare and collectible books.

Now THAT’S A BOOKSTORE!  I’d love to visit it.

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BEATING THE TEDIUM OF THE TREADMILL


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I virtuously stride out my permitted twenty minutes on the treadmill at the gym, I amuse myself by counting cars. You heard me: counting cars. Or, rather, the colour of the passing cars. Yes, I know. Small things amuse small minds – yeah, yeah. Other folk chat to friends, catch up with e-mails on their Blackberries, listen to their i-pods, etc , but I’m an  eccentric old bat, and I count cars.

Let me inform you, South Africa has finally overcome it’s love affair with the white vehicle. For years the vast majority of cars were white.  It was an official statistical fact that motor manufacturers issued at least three-quarters of a new range in white duco.  One theory being that white duco repels heat better than any other colour. South Africa is a hot country. On the downside, white shows up the dirt, but that’s a minor detail. Another handy fact is that statistically, white cars are less likely to be involved in vehicle accidents, because they’re more easily visible.  Which sounds reasonable, don’t you think?

But now, in 2012/13 I can report, after months of careful observation, the predominance of white is being whittled down by the emergence of the silver or grey vehicle.  Silver/grey vehicles, on most days, appear in almost the same number as white vehicles. Trust me, I have counted them. It helps that my gym has positioned the treadmills at a great height, upstairs, with a vast glass wall fronting the street. What could be easier?

And, this revolutionary move away from white duco does not stop at the silver. No, it does not. A close second contender is – wait for it – black!  I suppose with the majority of cars now offering air con as a standard feature, you can splash out and opt for black, and forget about  being cooked alive in your mobile oven. Clearly these drivers don’t give a hoot about potential fender-benders.

The next most common colour is … go on – guess!  Red. Followed by blue, and then on occasion – but only occasionally – by green, brown, and yellow.  Very very occasionally I spot a burnt orange vehicle, and maybe once every six months, a purple car. I’m still waiting to spot a pink vehicle.  I seem to remember that way back when one of the big-finned, long, American sedans came in pale pinks, pale blues, turquoise, and cream  but right now the ice-cream range of colours are not available for car finishes.

So there you have it folks. A completely arbitrary report on the most popular colours for cars in Cape Town. You must admit, my blog does offer you a little bit of everything.  Drive on, McDuff!

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MY FIRST CAMUS – The Outsider


My first stab at Camus could just be my last.  It was a short book – 119 pages – which meant I actually managed to finish it.  The book was first published in French in 1942.

One of the things that struck me forcibly about the novel, was the change in social attitudes.  Now, in 2013, the attitude to beating up your girlfriend and being cruel and abusive to your dog, both actions treated in a calm tone of acceptance in the novel, are shocking to the politicised, sensitized eye of today. Ditto the casual naming of the local Arabs as ‘natives’ jars in today’s ears  (book is set in Algeria – Camus was Algerian).

I read the foreword by Cyril Connolly and discovered novel was intended as an attack on French bourgeoisie attitudes prevalent in her colonies as well as a portrait of ‘the Mediterranean man’ as opposed to the man of mainland Europe. Neither of these themes was obvious to me, as I was reading.

To me, it was a portrait of a man who might possibly be suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. Mersault was portrayed as a man with  zero emotional tone. He was a sensual man – he enjoyed physical sensations – smoking, swimming, sex – but came across with no emotional affect at all.  He also seemed to be curiously passive throughout his arrest and trial. At the end, when he is badgered by the priest to acknowledge the existence of God, he refuses and finally looses it, when he attacks the priest. Even when he murders the Arab on the beach -  it comes across as curiously flat.

During the murder trial, it seems as if the prosecutor is more incensed at Mersault’s calm unemotional lack of reaction to his Mother’s death and funeral, than he is at the murder of the Arab.

It was a curious and disquieting novel. I don’t think I shall be trying any more Camus. My first Camus was also my last.

 

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REFLECTIONS ON WRITING – NOTEBOOKS & JOURNALS


English: A notebook with a scarf.

English: A notebook with a scarf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two weeks ago I read an on-line article written by an American writer Mary someone … I didn’t save the article, and didn’t make notes, not realising at the time how the content would remain with me and prompt me to write a blog post on the topic. She wrote about the tools in her writer’s life: paper and pens. So I’ve probably got the facts a bit skew-wiff; if you’re familiar with the original article, please forgive me.

The writer was relating how she has a number of different notebooks in which she writes, by hand. She prefers pens to keyboard. Her notebooks have different coloured covers which is handy for remembering that notes for future novels/stories go in the blue book, poetry goes into the red book, personal journal entries go into the book she bought in Sweden, and so on. I thought what a marvellous idea . Of course it appealed to me. I have a weakness for buying notebooks, journals, out of date large format diaries which I pick up on sales, they make marvellous, sturdy books which can be used for rough-work, notes, lists etc. Their usefulness is boundless. I always visit the Journals & Diaries section on sales, knowing I will pick up a good quality product at an affordable price.

I was toying with the idea of putting Mary’s scheme into action when it slowly dawned on me that I’m already doing it. Command Centre to Mrs Smith. Hello!

For several years, during the period when I lived on the coast at Melkbos, I kept a Beach Diary, in a nice green journal with butterflies on the cover, a birthday gift from my daughter Laura. Every time I walked on the beach I’d record my experiences in the Beach Diary – for instance:

Friday 27 February 2004:  0800

A lovely salty fog, no wind at all (!) and a flat sea,  but oddly a lot of detritus washed up, including an unusual amount of trash along with broken crab shells, mussel shells and (for the first time) cone shells  -  mostly those enchanting inner spirals, but I did pick a whole one, in brown and white.

And the gull mystery continues – several large groups of adult black & white gulls just standing around, all gazing quietly seaward, quite far back from the tide line.  A few were preening or stretching wings, there was none of the usual noisy  squawking, taking off, wheeling and landing.  I almost got the feeling they were basking in the sun.  If not this, then why do they congregate thus?  Have seen them before, in the afternoons, always on a calm day just congregating.  Hmmm.

1 March 2004 :   0930

Light breeze, sun, and quite big  waves  -  human-generated debris on the tide line, plus a lot of weed and patches of a nasty yellowy green foam – maybe oil?

Huge amounts of weed, mostly kelp, each clump with its own swarm of  flying , hopping fly-type insects, myriads of them that rose in clouds as I walked.  There was red, fine seaweed, also a little dark green weed in a branching formation, very dark green and spongy.

Found an entire clear-glass jellyfish, for all  the world like a flat  fried egg – no tail or tendrils.  .For the last five days the wind has had a nip to it.  I think the season is changing.

Yes, maybe it was naff to use the Papyrus Font for those entries, but at the time I was in love with it. Anyway, it makes the Beach Diary passages instantly recognisable,not so ?

And then there’s my blue spiral bound notebook, a gift from my sister, with a pic of a cute tabby kitten on the cover (irresistible!) which I keep for Writer’s Circle meetings, and at the back my brainstorming ideas for blogging.

One of my best notebook buys was on a sale (bonus points for this one!) where I picked up a cloth bound, pale sage green, large format journal, intended as a Gardener’s Journal. The yellow pages are line ruled, some are bordered with quotes about plants, trees etc, and there are colour photographs at intervals to illustrate the four seasons of the year in a garden. It’s a lovely book and I’m using it as my Books Read Record. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know I write many book reviews and it has been part of my writing practice for years to write a short review on every book which I read. It helps to keep me writing, especially when I’m busy, or not in the mood to continue fighting with the second draft of my novel, and also provides a useful record of my reading. I must say it’s a pleasure to have such a classy book for my book record.  Now if only I could write reviews to match my classy journal I might be considering a permanent slot in the columns of a prestigious magazine … aw, go on, indulge me, we all need to day dream a little!

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R.I.P. CROXLEY WRITING PADS


Recently a friend reported that it is no long possible to buy a Writing Pad.  In this electronic age they appear to have become obsolete.  Sure, you can buy packs of dinky little notelets, in supermarkets and chain stores. You can buy pre-printed invitations to weddings, parties, christenings, and there’s a wildly expensive greeting card for every occasion under the sun. But a pad of ruled writing paper? Nah. Not going to happen.

Croxley Writing pads were a big feature of my school days – back in the Olden Days, when we had zero access to the telephone; cellphones hadn’t even been dreamed of (incredible, I know, but there was a time), and communications were limited to writing a letter. Quaint, but true.  Emergencies were dealt with via telegram. Arrival of a telegram always meant big drama of some sort.

But Croxley writing pads were regular features of life. They  provided a whole world of possibilities: blue or white paper for letters home, to your parents; maybe yellow – or even green – to friends or penfriends; and if you had a boyfriend, then pink or mauve … a whole pastel world of promise.

Your wealthy friends scorned commercial writing pads, and wrote on thick sheets – unlined, of course! – of creamy Basildon Bond, which also came in a sky blue colour, but that was it. No vulgar pinks and greens.

Your overseas relatives used flimsy blue aerogrammes, which offered limited writing  space and un-co-operative gummed flaps to close the letter, which always tore in the wrong place when you tried – no matter how carefully – to open the wretched things.

So: I have to say that texting and e-mailing, while quick, convenient and cheap, offer none of the excitement of opening a real letter, which arrives in a sealed envelope, bearing a stamp. A postage stamp – you’ve seen those, surely?  I learnt the other day, of a young lady in the Ukraine, who collects stamps, but she scans them in, and has a Virtual Collection of postage stamps. Stanley Gibbons must be revolving in his grave like a threshing machine …

P.S. I’ve just spent a fruitless half-hour searching the free Clip Art sites on the web, hoping to find a graphic to illustrate this post – no way José, nada, nix. Writing pads have been well and truly obliterated. 

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EXPLORING OTHERWORLD EARTH By A M SMITH ©


Just for fun I’m putting the first section of my latest NOVA story (2013 entry – it won 2nd prize in the South African Section of the competition) on my blog. I’m a little wary of posting the entire story, as I’m planning on compiling a collection of my Africa stories, later in the year, with a view to publishing them as a book. But here’s a taster – enjoy!

 “Ready?”

“Don’t hold my hand so tight” whined Karski

“”Quiet! Stop grumbling.  Everybody concentrate.” Torl began to murmur the spell that would open the portal and transport them to the Otherworld  of Earth. The four kids were breathing in unison,  mentally following Torl’s words,  hands in hot, sweaty  grasps, concentrating on the words,  relaxing into the deepening vibrations that swirled round them, letting the vortex take them down, down, down, down.

“Ouch!” shrieked Karski, when the hard pavement met her bottom, and jarred her hand away from Obski’s clutching fingers.  Her eyes jerked open with the impact and took in feet/shoes/legs/black skin/ blue denims/bright skirts/plastic packets/crumpled red and white cups …. “get UP” hissed Obski “people are staring at us – get up!” He yanked his twin up, ignoring her complaints.  She lurched backwards, struggling to find her balance on the hard surface.  Her legs wobbled and she was dizzy.  She sucked in a deep breath and coughed as the hot, thick air assaulted her nose and lungs.  It smelled  alien, gritty, chemical.  Nothing like the sweet, clean air of home.  The thick smelly air was making her eyes water. She rubbed them with her knuckles, and peered through her matted lashes. “Look at the sky! It’s so bright! And it’s so blue … “

They gazed upwards. “It’s so hot” said Mori slowly.

“And so noisy” added Obski.

“Is this Earth, do you think? Did you get the spell right?” said Karski turning to Torl. Before he could answer they were shoved backwards by a group of large women, carrying lumpy cloth wrapped bundles on their heads, forging down the pavement in a phalanx, oblivious to the crowds, shouting loudly to each other.

“Look at that!” gasped Mori.  “I wonder what spell they’re using to balance those bundles?”

‘They’re not” replied Torl tersely.  He was very sensitive to Magick and could sense spells, or creatures from Otherworlds long before the twins or Mori. “This is not a place with any Magick.  This is an Otherworld, remember?  That’s why we came travelling. “

The kids looked around them, taking in the crowded pavement, the road filled with boxy, metal objects that moved on four wheels, filled with people. The mechanical noise from the metal people-carriers was deafening. Across the road was a large area filled with giant metal people-carriers, standing in rows.  People were swarming round, shoving and jostling to enter the carriers.  Vendors moved amongst the crowd, selling food, hats, clothing, shiny unidentifiable objects.

“But maybe I’m wrong ,” said Torl .  “Look over there”.  He pointed to a woman sitting on the ground, lined up with other vendors selling fruit, vegetables, clothing.

The  middle-aged woman was stout, wrapped in a bright red, white and black patterned cloth, with coloured beads threaded into the myriad little plaits that framed her square face. From across the street it was difficult to make out what she was selling. She had a cloth spread out in front of her, covered in twiggy bundles.  The kids cautiously crossed the road, holding hands and shrieking when a noisy motorbike zoomed alongside them and backfired.  “Ooooh “ moaned Karski “I don’t think I like this place” . Her round grey eyes were panicky, darting left and right. She was twisting her long silvery hair into a knot around her thumb. She always fiddled with her hair when she was upset.

“C’mon on” grunted her twin, towing her briskly through the crowds. “Don’t be such a baby – remember we’re ten years old now! You were the one who wanted to come, remember?”

They fought their way through the crush until they reached the woman. They stood in front of her, surveying her display of roots, herbs, small gourds, mysterious twists of paper.

“I smell Magick” murmured Torl “but its Earth Magick, not like ours at all”.

The woman peered at them through her beaded fringe of little plaits.

Torl flicked off a quick  translation spell and said to  the woman “Good day to you, mother. What are you selling?”

“Muti” muttered the woman, with a sidelong glance at the four kids.

“What’s?  “…  began Mori but was interrupted by  a skinny girl, who jumped between the kids and the muti-seller.

“Hey you guys!  Whatsup!  Howzit! Whatcha doin? Howzit goin? Hey?” The girl fidgeted from foot to foot, as she rattled off her questions.
“C’mon you guys!  Muti’s not for whiteys, you know that!  haibo!  Come with me! I’ll take you to Sandton, to the City, to the stores, Haibo! Ja! “

The kids instinctively clustered together.  The girl’s taut body energy was  vibrating their magickal senses  like a stinging wasp. “Uh, I’m not … what’s Sandton?”  asked Torl, as the girl physically shoved them towards a white metal people-carrier.

“You don’t know Sandton? Where you guys been?  Where you guys from ? Huh ? Huh ?”

“We’re from Arksi “ replied Torl.

“Hau! From where? That’s new ! sounds like Greece or something? You tourists, right?  Come on, get in-get in- get in – taxi leaving now – baba, five for Sandton City – yeah!”

Just then a police helicopter swooped low over the taxi rank, rotors clattering . Nobody else paid any attention to the surveillance, but the kids instinctively ducked as they gazed upwards, stupefied by the noise and the sudden appearance of the chopper. Even Torl’s face turned a paler shade of grey.

“What’s that?” quavered Karski.

“Some sort of flying device, I suppose; if you think about it, without Magick ,the people on Earth can’t fly on their own like we can” said Mori thoughtfully, watching the departing chopper.

“Come, come! “ scolded the sparky girl shoving them into the minibus.  The stunned kids meekly crammed themselves in. Karski had to sit on Obski’s lap, Mori and Torl jammed themselves into a micro space on the next seat, flanked by the frenetic girl  who yelled “ Me – I’m Thembi – Thembi from Bembi, haha-hha! Yeah! Let’s go, let’s go!”

“Auw, sisi, not so fast “ reproved the guard “not so fast, we are going. Who are these young ones? Why are they such a strange colour?  And who is paying?“

“I don’t know -  white tourists from somewhere – plenty tseheleti for me today -  eh, baba, let’s go before they get out of your taxi!”

She turned to Torl and demanded ”Pay, you must pay!  No riding for nothing, ja? “

Slowly Torl reached into his neck-pouch and extracted a Planetary Federation Basic Unit.

“What’s that?  You can’t pay with that! Tsheleti, bucks – where you coming from hey? No money in your country? No US dollar? Huh? Huh?”

Mori whispered “Torl : this is not safe – we need to get out of here! Now!”  and she muttered a short Flash Spell, together with an Escape Spell. Instantly the taxi was filled with a blinding purple flash and a strong smell of burning. The four kids disappeared.

“Auw!  Aaahh !  – what is happening?”  panicky screams  erupted from the taxi, along with the jumble of rapidly exiting passengers. Thembi was frozen, stunned by the flash, the noise and the departure of her victims.  The guard dragged Thembi out by the scruff of her neck and shook her violently “See what you have done!”

* * *

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