THE CALL OF THE LITANY BIRD – Surviving the Zimbabwe Bush War – Susan Gibbs

51ec8ydt03l-_ac_us160_Book Review


The book is an account of events in the  Nymandhlovu farming district,  southern Matabeleland,  Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) 1977 to 1983/4, written by farmer’s  wife, Susan Gibbs.

Sue Gibbs loved the farm, the bush and Rhodesia – this comes through clearly on every page, but in the end President Robert Mugabe’s  genocidal attacks against the  Nedbele, and their leader Joshua Nkomo,  plus the crimes of dissidents, who stayed in the bush after Independence and were nothing more than bandits,  committing farm murders and ambushes –  made life on the farm too dangerous.  Despite having the Agric Alert radio system, and despite PATU (Police Anti-Terrorism Unit) and the Army being on hand – despite living in wired enclosures, despite carrying sidearms and driving around in bombproof vehicles on account of the landmines:  the slaughter of farmers continued. In the end, these factors drove the Gibbs (and many other farmers) away from their farms, the land and the people they loved. And I need to emphasize that the phrase  people they loved refers not only to their friends and families, but also to long-time  loyal farm workers and servants.

On a very personal note: I lived in Bulawayo  during the 1970s, and worked for a time at the Matabeleland Farmers’ Co-op and came into daily contact with many of the farmers mentioned in her book, including her husband Tim Gibbs.  The sunburnt, hard-working men and women came into the Co-op on their weekly visits to town, to collect machinery spares, veterinary products, building supplies, seed and fertiliser, plus an enormous range of other items necessary to maintain a farm in the Rhodesian bush.

Our family had a close friend who ran a cattle ranch in the Shangani District, so I could relate to Susan Gibb’s  account of farm life in Rhodesia – the lovely gardens, the servants, the animals, the snake stories, the floods of visitors.  Rhodesian farmers were  generous, hospitable  folk, always ready to offer a meal, or a weekend on the farm, out in the bush.

On the one hand the book is a lovely read in the  nostalgic “when-we” category. On the other, an exposure of black atrocities against white farmers, and their black farm workers, in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. There was enormous suffering all round in the farming community.

I hope Susan Gibb’s  book receives wide recognition for an honest account of the attrition.




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 DEATH BY CARBS  by Paige Nick
Hilarious who-dunnit by one of South Africa’s best comic writers. Banting guru Dr Tim Noakes *(b.t.w. he’s a real, live resident of Cape Town, even as I type) is murdered by a hitman – chaos ensues when the ambulance conveying the body to the mortuary is hijacked by two incompetent bad guys and thereafter mayhem compounds with every page – jealous co-authors of a banting book; fervent Facebook  banting fans; a back-sliding banting CEO; adultery; bribery; conspiracy – just another normal day in sunny South Africa, but elevated by the fact there’s a laugh on every page. And well done, Paige: I’m dying (not lit! ) to read your next novel.
*P.S. When interviewed by the local press on how it felt to be the body in a murder mystery, Dr Noakes was a good sport, and laughed about his new-found fame as a corpse.”Give that man a Bell’s” – South Africans will understand the joke; but I’m not sure it’s allowed on the banting regime …


VIGILANTE – by Shelley Harris

What stuck-in-a-rut wife/mother/McJob worker woman doesn’t fantasize about another version of her life where she’s bold, powerful, adventurous ? Read this unusual novel about a woman who acts out her fantasy as a caped crusader, rescuing teen age girls from a serial rapist. We can do it, ladies! Recommended.



Quirky fun novel, translated from Spanish.  It’s the stereotypically  eccentric, cold British v.s. the loud, passionate Spanish. A big  mystery, a little crime, colourful characters, romance – a quick easy read. I enjoyed the book.




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Book Review

The biography of a Somali nomad girl made a huge impression on me, for a number of reasons.

My strongest reaction was to the dreadful topic of FGM (female genital mutilation) . Although  I was born in Africa and have  lived on the continent all my life:  having a British Colonial upbringing, the notion of FGM is an anathema to me. Apart from the pain and suffering inflicted on young girls, under the most primitive, unhygienic conditions, it upholds the patriarchal norm that women exist purely as chattels and objects of sexual gratification. I don’t even know where to begin ranting about this issue.  For more on this topic go to:   link    Not to mention the host of genito/urinary/gynae problems that persist for the unfortunate women’s lives.

Prior to reading the memoir, I had always been baffled as to why generations of women continued to inflict  pain and mutilation on their daughters. I had never understood how or why women could willingly perpetuate barbaric practices upon their daughters. But Waris Dirie’s explanation finally shed a ray of light on the vexed topic. She explained that just as parents in the West might go to great lengths to provide a top notch education for their daughters, in her Somali society, parents felt they had to ensure their girl children were ‘circumcised’ because if they were not, they would be considered ‘unclean’ (by men, of course !!!)and would not be marriageable. Taken in context, the Somali adherence to FGM  makes cultural sense.  In Somali culture, patriarchy rules. In fact, in most African cultures, to the best of my knowledge.   Provided one can swallow the notion that girls are married off at an early age, say 12 years upwards, usually as a commercial transaction; bride price paid in camels.

Apart from the thorny FGM issue, about which Waris was horribly matter of fact, her account of growing up as a nomad in the deserts of Somalia was fascinating. Despite the hard life – little food, and always a scarcity of water, she waxed lyrical about the freedom of a life lived outdoors, and the closeness of family around the nightly campfire. When I recall early films like the Rudolf Valentino Sheik  and contrast it to the real-life account of Waris: well! I think many of us may have had teenage romantic fantasy of being swept off our feet by Rudolf V and whisked away to his silken tents in the remote desert, where he … can you feel the steam coming off this page? As ever, the actuality of life lived in harsh desert conditions is entirely another matter.

Another thing that I found amusing, was Waris’ later comments on the spoilt Western girls in the modelling world of NYC, complaining about trivia and the hard work of being a model (admittedly being a model is no picnic) which Waris views with wry scorn. The gist of her attitude was that the soft Western women had absolutely no idea of what a hard life really meant. And, having personally  witnessed rural African womens’ hard lives, I heartily agree with her. Those urban princesses have absolutely no cookin’ clue.

The book shows that Rags to Riches stories really do take place outside the covers of romantic fiction, albeit via a very hard path, in Waris’ case.

And lastly,  the memoir bears out one of my favourite sayings : Truth is always stranger than fiction.


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Can someone please  tell  me where the cucumbers have gone? By which I mean proper cucumbers, like we used to have in the Olden Days. You know: a short 6 to 8 inches – sorry, my brain doesn’t work in centimetres – stout , tubular, yellowish-green vegetable that was plentiful, and also cheap. In fact, they were as cheap as chips. No longer. The only options available now are the long, dark green  English cucumbers, shrink wrapped to extinction. Not only this, they cost the earth. Must be the cost of the plastic shrink wrap. And don’t get me started the topic of plastic. I shall stow away my soapbox and continue my rambling train of thought.

And here’s another thing that appears to be heading for the horizon and disappearing at a rapid rate. The fax machine. Yes – you heard me.  Cape Talk Radio recently revealed that there’s a generation of young people mid teens to early twenties, who don’t really know what a fax machine is. They are of course totally up to speed with anything electronic. Need to transmit a document?  Sure! You scan it in. Of course. You want what? To fax it ? no … uh uh – our copy shop doesn’t do that. I kid you not.

I can recall, in the mid-80s attending a demo of the new gadget that was going to revolutionise office admin forever. We watched open-mouthed as the rep showed us how the contraption worked. We gasped in admiration. It was like magic! It was revolutionary. I remember thinking: this is going to change business forever. And the fax machine did. No more posting a letter and sleepily waiting for a reply a week later. No way. This was INSTANT. No more “we haven’t got an answer yet – we’ll let you know”.

I was correct. Business was never the same again. The (now archaic) fax machine was the lumbering forerunner of the electronic age.  How things have changed in the last thirty years. As they do, as is natural.

But I still want to know: where can I find a decent cucumber?





The Japanese guru of Tidying Up, petite little Marie Kondo,  titled her best seller Spark Joy: an Illustrated guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying. And her minimalist approach to possessions, homes,  and hoarding, has been a huge hit.

Look: we all know we have way too much STUFF. You know: STUFF. The treasures, the trash, the bargains, the forgotten items that clog our cupboards, gum up our garages, and – in some cases of extreme hoarding – actually bury us under its toppling mountains.

She has a no-nonsense, no holds barred approach to STUFF. She’s drawn up a list. Of course she has. It’s the official Kondo battle-plan.

First you blitz your clothes. I had a ruthless kamikaze raid on my clothes and heaved bags of clothes to charity with a few items to friends – the nearly new and the pretty good. The silk dressing gown in the hideous  swirling design of orange and turquoise, which I’d kept for over 20 years for sentimental reasons and worn twice. What a relief to toss it!  Actually it felt good to say goodbye to old, worn garments.

Next on the list – oh dear, shudder, tremble: Books. I have a stash of To Be Read books secreted in my built-in cupboard, away from public gaze. The pile is so enormous, I’m embarrassed to own it publicly. It’s composed mainly of sale bargains – I haunt book sale tables and seldom come away without at one book tucked into my bag. And then there’s the awful temptation of on-line book buying. To compound matters, the crafty devils now offer free door-to-door delivery … irresistible.

Somehow I forced myself to dive into the depths and I was pretty good.  I didn’t count my rejects, but it’s probably around 20 books. Not bad for a bookaholic.

What I need now is a good, stiff drink. Never mind that I don’t drink alcohol. I deserve one. I’ve had enough Kondo-ing for one day – no, for at least a month.

It’ll have to be a pot of strong coffee and half an hour with a book I retrieved from the TBR pile.  I’ve earned it!










I think we all have an idea of what constitutes perfection, whether it be found  in Art, Nature or Science. We hanker after the perfect summer’s day; or we wish for the perfect partner; or pray for the perfect child to grace our lives; or fantasize about the perfect meal.

Occasionally our wishes are granted and we witness the perfect sunset over the ocean, a symphony of clouds, colours and light, and we recognise perfection. Perhaps we’re watching a figure-skater glide over the ice in a series of exquisite patterns, each  more complex than the last, to finally achieve a dazzling pinnacle of movement. The perfect moment.

Maybe we’re presented with the perfect gift, that embodies thoughtfulness and  generosity on the part of the donor and delighted satisfaction that at last, we now own the desired object; and it is indeed perfect.  Everybody’s version of perfection will be different. We are, after all, a wildly varied species. What embodies perfection for one, will baffle others.

The common denominator in the case of perfection is: rarity. That’s why perfection is so highly valued. We rarely encounter it and when we do, we treasure it.  Perfection however, is not confined to the sublime, to the artistic, to vast expenditure. It can and does occur in mundane  settings. For instance, the episode that prompted me to write this post, took place yesterday in a shopping mall, at lunch-time.

I had a yen for fish & chips. So I ordered a small portion of grilled hake, with chips and paid R29-00 for my lunch.  Pretty soon the waitron arrived with my plate of fish ‘n chips. Nothing fancy, no garnish.  Condiments in sealed plastic sachets; white paper napkin wrapped around the cutlery. A bare formica table, a plastic chair. What could be more ordinary ?

The fish was moist, tender, grilled to perfection with exactly the right amount of melted butter and a teeny sprinkle of herbs floating atop the golden juice. The chips were light, crisp on the outside, floury on the inside, and hot, hot, hot. Clearly just out of the fryer. And not a drop of oil or sogginess to mar the hot, savoury crunch.

In short: the perfect plate of fish and chips. And this from a humble Fish-away franchise in a foodcourt, at Bayside Mall, Tableview. Perfection in the mundane.









Yet again I’m re-classified.  See my April 2015 post : APPARENTLY I’M A STRAY, ELDERLY  LABRADOR DOG . This time I’m doing the re-naming. Not the younger generation.  By now you’re thinking: what? has the woman discovered an unpalatable truth about her heritage? No, no dear readers. For many years, S.O.B.  was the euphemism used in American fiction to avoid the insulting term “son of a bitch”.  I am now using the term to describe myself as a Silly Old Bat. Much more ladylike, and absolutely true.

Why am I admitting to being a silly old bat?  I recently used my Mastercard to buy a theatre ticket on-line, and I hesitate to admit this, punched in the wrong pin number. What’s more, I used the wrong number three times.  Consequently, my bank refused to have anything to do with further transactions on my Mastercard. this in turn meant I had to go to the Bank, grovel, admit to being a  s.o.b. and   … oh it’s a boring story, and proves that old women frequently get their brains in a tangle, despite valiant efforts to  avoid making silly, old lady mistakes.

Like I said: I’m a S.O.B.  Disempowered by a pin. Aging brain cells betraying me yet again. Pins usually keep two objects together don’t they? Think safety pins. My Mastercard pin did nothing of the sort. It proved to be my un-doing.

The poet who proclaimed Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be, definitely wasn’t living in the electronic age. Furthermore, he was way off beam with this couplet. Old age has very little to recommend it let alone qualify for inclusion in the Best category.





(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’; random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

2016 will go down as the Year I Made Cocoa. On a chilly, wet, grey day, nothing beats a cup of hot cocoa. Not your instant stuff. Proper cocoa, that comes out of the tin in a rich brown fine powder, that has to be carefully sprinkled into hot milk, and has to be stirred briskly to mix. Then boiling water is added, followed perhaps by a healthy dollop of tinned Ideal Milk – I adore   Ideal Milk, it’s one of my many weaknesses. I think it stems from childhood, when my Mum made jelly, and whipped a tin of Ideal milk into the jelly, to produce a divine, fluffy, light as air pudding – what a treat that was. But a summer treat, that’s for sure. Right now it’s mid-winter in Cape Town and because we live in a Mediterranean type climate, our winters are mild and wet.  After our dreadful El Nino induced drought, the wet is very welcome, but it’s chilly and damp, so hot cocoa fits right in.  As my fridge magnet sagely observes: Chocolate is the answer! Who cares about the question?



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STATION ELEVEN – by Emily St John Mandel

  Book Review

I waited  nearly two years for the book to surface in a bookstore or library in Cape Town. In the end I succumbed to Book Depository’s excellent prices and bought it on-line. It was worth both the money and the wait.

The book is a dystopian novel set in Canada after a world ‘flu pandemic kills 99% of the population.

A small group of actors and musicians band together to form the Travelling Symphony. Not only do they perform music, but also Shakespearean plays, which have proved to be the most popular items in their repertoire. Despite the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know it,  Shakespeare’s work proves to be enduring!

Twenty years later they are still travelling on their well established circuit in the Great Lakes region, visiting the tiny settlements where people are gamely starting over.

What was so good was that the story didn’t haul out the tired tropes of Mad Max, or a pack of Zombies!  However, a religious polygamous  cult who provided the  danger element to the story, which affected lead character Kirsten. Both  Kirstin and the cult  proved to be linked directly back to the pivotal character,  Arthur Leander.

The book is beautifully written and  elegantly plotted. Despite the grim premise, the story is engaging and the characters likeable. The theme of Interconnectedness is cleverly woven through the narrative, via the life of Arthur Leander, a famous actor; we see him before and during the pandemic, and the reverberations of his life continuing to affect survivors  in the post-apocalyptic world.

The interesting issues were:

What the world lost (apart from inhabitants) : technology and science – there’s no electricity and therefore no Internet  – imagine the effect of these losses on daily life?

And a big question: what – or even who – would you save as you fled to the wilderness away from the plague?  Lead character Kirstin grabs seemingly inconsequential items and stuffs them in to her backpack, and escapes. The objects play an important role in joining together the puzzle pieces of the story.

A wonderful 5 star read. I loved it.



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Chocolat calling. Yes, AGAIN.  Twice in twelve days. I know it’s a bit much, but you’ll just have to put up with me. I have to get this off my chest. Actually, my whiskers are severely ruffled, I don’t mind admitting it.

Ever since my Personal Assistant  returned from The Wedding, she’s been burbling on about Fuggly the FarSide Farm cat. Apparently this Fuggly person made a big impact on my PA. I can’t think why. Here’s Fuggly  lounging on a Persian carpet at FarSide Farm.  Kindly note, she’s a portly person, wearing  common old tabby stripes.  No comparison to my sleek lines and rich brown coat. The prettiest thing in the picture is the magnificent Oriental carpet, don’t you agree?

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It seems that Fuggly was rescued by Noble Hero, Graham, when she was an abandoned kitten.  NHG was driving way out in the sticks. Luckily the dirt road forced him to drive slowly, otherwise he would have driven over the scrap of a kitten lying in the road – burnt, dehydrated, flea infested, starving, a whisker away from death. NHG picked her up, nursed her back to life at his FarSide Farm, where she now supervises weddings. As you can see from the picture below she is checking out the table decorations and keeping a close eye on the preparations.


Due to her exacting standards, the tables looked very striking once they were completed.


Fuggly didn’t stay for the wedding  reception. She doesn’t care for loud music and dancing feet. Little cats tend to get trodden on, in all the excitement. However, Gulliver, a very grand person also in residence at FarSide Farm, graced the festivities with his presence, by lounging just below the bridal couple’s central table. Unfortunately my PA didn’t take a picture of him, so she’s begged a studio portrait from Olivia, the unflappable FarSide Farm Events Manager.

Iphone pics Nov 14-3

Gulliver likes to try and lord it over Fuggly, because he’s an Abyssinian , and I must say, as another purebred person, I agree with his attitude.

I don’t t understand why my PA keeps on talking about Fuggly and Gulliver. I mean, she has me in residence, 24/7, devotedly providing hot-water bottle services under the duvet nightly; singing her awake on cold winter mornings; bringing gifts of mice, birds, grasshoppers, lizards.  Really, there’s just no pleasing humans! I think I shall retire to my cat cave and sulk.

P.S. If you’re wondering why my picture at the top is so big? of course it is. I’m the most important person. Surely I don’t have to remind you ?