Flash Fiction

This short flash-fiction piece needs an intro. The story is very South African and will probably not convey much to outsiders. ‘

MAKWEREKWERE is a (derogatory) term applied to all black foreigners. Xenophobia is alive and well in our complex country. 

Oddly enough all car guards are from the Congo. Also occasionally from Burundi. Why this should be, I don’t know. Speak to them in French, and they’re your pal for life.  Yes, we have Car Guards in all public parking spaces – to prevent theft and car-jacking. Like I said : a complex country. 

The reason Ouma (Grandma) Swart is scowling is because she’s from the bad old days, when no black man would put his arm around a white woman.

I hope this mini-story is now clearer to foreign readers. P.S. You learnt quite a bit about South Africa in this intro, didn’t you? Not much of it to our credit, sorry to say. 



“Calmez vous!”  begs Alphonse, the Congolese car guard, tentatively putting his arm around the raving woman’s rigid shoulder. Ouma Swart  scowls disapprovingly, from her car.  Bee-ba, bee-ba: The cops jump out of their van.  “Los haar!” yells the cop, hand on his weapon. “Non, Non!” squeaks Alphonse, hands raised, backing off rapidly. “You are mistake – I am help!”

“Ja,” confirms the burly man exiting Sportsman’s Warehouse “the lady ’s drunk; been shouting in the parking lot for the last ten minutes; car guard’s just trying to help”. Alphonse rolls a relieved eye.  Why, oh why, did he ever leave   Kinshasha?





Inspired by Nina Sankovitch’s nostalgic account of childhood summers, hot sunny days, blue skies, lazy hours lying on the grass, looking up at the sky, I did just that, this morning at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Which, by the way, is one of my most favourite destinations in Cape Town.

It was magical. I found a secluded lawn, fringed by a couple of acacia trees with thick foliage, and I carefully lowered myself on to the grass. Old ladies with hip replacements don’t get down to grassroot level as easily as they used to do, let me tell you. I used my floppy sunhat as a pillow and lay back. Gazing up at the cloudless blue sky, through the delicate leaves , listening to distant voices, listening to birds calling, insects buzzing and whirring around in the undergrowth, and – for once – only a very distant hum of traffic. Do you know how difficult it is to be outdoors in an urban, or peri-urban area, and not hear any traffic? Practically impossible. In fact, I have been out in the veld, with no houses or people anywhere near, and you can still hear the sound of vehicles from distant roads and highways.

The grass was thick and lush, and mercifully free of inquisitive ants. Not that I have anything against ants, but they do tickle when they start exploring. I lay there, enjoying the changes in the air , enjoying the respite from days of blustering winds. Today the air was gentle and warm, followed by short bursts of cooler air – perhaps it was an adventurous sea-breeze that had drifted over the top of Table Mountain from Hout Bay. Every now and again there’d be a brief whiff of warm, humid air carrying with it the rank odour of decay: maybe a deceased lizard, or a rat, quietly mouldering in the surrounding bushes.

It’s very relaxing lying on thick lawn grass on a bright, warm sunny morning, gazing up at the sky. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, for a change. My mind was happily blank – the occasional vague thought drifting through, but nothing too taxing.

We should all do this a great deal more often. I highly recommend it.



LAND WHERE I FLEE – Prajwal Parajuly (Book Review)


The sub-title to this review should be “The Family Reunion from Hell.” You think I’m being overly dramatic?  Read on.

There’s a wry quote from one of the family on the topic. He says :” People in the West keep themselves busy during reunions – they play sports; they drink. We do neither. We sit around and squabble and pretend everything is alright.” Actually, I can think of some Western families who do the same, but back to the Indian novel I’m reviewing.

Four Westernised grandchildren travel from the USA  to Sikkim to celebrate the landmark 84th birthday of their grandmother – Chitraleka –  who adheres rigidly to the caste system, is adamantly wedded to traditions from  the previous century, despite being a rich industrialist/business woman, despite her status as a widow.

Agastey  (author of the quote above) in an oncologist, living in New York, with his boyfriend, but – shhhh! The door to this closet is firmly closed, and he’s continually pestered by the family to interview suitable brides, and get married. Two-thirds of the way through the story, his OTT boyfriend Nicky pitches up, uninvited, to join the happy family gathering. Oh boy.

Manasa is married, and forced to leave her job as a hedge fund manager to care for her ailing father-in-law, as tradition demands. So she’s filled with bile and resentment.

Bagawati, eloped, and married out of caste!  shock! horror!   She’s in total disgrace with grandma, who refuses to acknowledge her two American grandsons in Boulder, Colorado. Poor Bagawati struggles to support her family and works as a dishwasher, but is ashamed to admit this, or the fact her husband is a failure.

Fourth grand-child, Rutha, joins the party late, but with disastrous results. He’s a trouble-making journalist who – true to form – causes all sorts of mischief.

As if this  turbulent mix needed any more drama, throw in Prasanti, an ex-hijrahttps://en.wikipedia.org/ (eunuch) who is a servant, but treated by grandma as servant, maid, confidante, friend. Prasanti is a curry-flavoured fire cracker who thrives on creating disruption. Which she does, at every opportunity, and sometimes at grandma’s instigation.

And you thought your family gatherings were difficult? Exhausting? Fraught with tensions, old sibling rivalries, sad and/or bad family history? You ain’t got nothing on this lot, I promise you!

So when your annual Festive Season Family Gathering turns out to be exhausting/fraught/tense/ take heart : you could have been part of the family gathering in Sikkim. It could be worse.



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What could be nicer?  Mountain and vineyard scenery in Constantia, a  thick green lawn bordered by old fashioned flower beds, couches on the veranda where you sit sipping your coffee, enjoying your home-baked shortbread, soaking in the view, along with the peace and quiet. Which doesn’t last for long, due to noisy ducks flying overhead, but never mind – you get the picture. I spent the morning at  Constantia Cellars exhibition centre, where the Cape Embroiderers  Guild were holding their needlework display.

After a hectic week in South Africa, the turmoil of the  dramatic student demonstrations, I needed a restorative – something peaceful, some soul food. Relaxing on a comfy couch, coffee in hand, I let my gaze rove over the lush flower beds filled with white daisy bushes, mauve foxgloves, red poppies, blue statice, palest pink gladioli. Old fashioned flowers that folk don’t grow any more, what with water restrictions and lack of time for gardening. Hibiscus bushes smothered in red flowers,  interspersed with lemon trees drooping with fresh yellow fruit formed  a backdrop to the flowers. I was enjoying the garden so much I hardly needed to go inside the hall to admire the needlework!

The display of needlework  by the Cape Embroiderers Guild was eclectic and inspiring. There were  geometric designs of Scandinavian Hardanger and Blackwork; stylised  Jacobean embroidery, smocked dresses, cross-stitch samplers,  tapestries, and a very impressive  ecclesiastical red brocade cope, decorated with a design in gold thread and beads. There were examples of other embroidery techniques as well, beautifully worked tablecloths featuring drawn thread work, and other techniques new to me.

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You may be wondering about my interest in embroidery? The very first school I attended, in central Africa, was a convent run by an order of French nuns. So there in the heart of darkest Africa, they taught us embroidery, French, drawing, basic arithmetic and Scripture; their version of a  foundation education for little girls. I enjoyed embroidery and continued doing it for some years.

During my childhood years, many women did embroidery both as a hobby and a household art. My Mother, for example, enjoyed doing Jacobean embroidery and stitched a magnificent fire screen.  I still own a fragile linen runner, embroidered by myself, perhaps aged 9 or 10 years old,  with a conventional stamped design of a lady dressed in a crinoline standing in a flower garden … those were the days. I enjoyed embroidery all those years ago, and wouldn’t mind trying it again. I think I’ll add it to my list of projects for 2016.





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I decided to catch Cape Town’s MyCiti bus into town, to attend the Open Book Festival, held in the CBD. After all, I have my pre-loaded bus card, so why not?  Fighting city traffic and hunting for a parking never appeals to me. The bus had to be the better option.

All went according to plan from my local stop, to the City terminus. What a good idea this was! Now all I had to do was find out where to catch the last  bus  to take me to the Festival venue at the Atholl Fugard Theatre. So I approached the nearest MyCiti official and asked which bus I should take to the District Six Museum, knowing that it was around the corner from the Fugard.

I know I said District Six Museum but what the official heard was only the first part.  She told me there was a District Six stop. So: I boarded. The bus ploughed up Adderley Street, into Darling Street, past the Castle, and up the hill to Cape Town Tech. At which point I had a nasty sinking feeling. I knew that my intended destination now lay half a kilometre behind me, but the bus forged on. Sure enough, there was a District Six stop, but it wasn’t where I needed to alight! By now, we were too far advanced for me to jump off and  walk quickly to the theatre. Sometimes you just gotta relax, and admire the view. Which I did, for the next half hour.

The higher we ascended, the more  spectacular the views. First the narrow streets of Woodstock, gentrified cottages and  pricey eateries; then the hodge-podge of shabby Salt River shops and backyard dwellings.



Ahead were the narrow, narrow streets of Walmer Estate, which our bus driver tackled with verve , causing me  to feverishly repeat my mantra. Up and round and round, to the  windy heights  of University Estate, a fantastic view of the harbour far below – vessels, oil rigs, cranes, and the Atlantic.

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Down, down we plunged at breakneck speed towards the maelstrom of Salt River  traffic circle which is a crazy roundabout of trucks, bakkies, cars, motorbikes all converging on a mammoth traffic circle – I clung onto my seat grimly as our Lewis Hamilton-wannabe driver charged round the circle,  back up into Salt River Main Road which I knew  would ultimately lead us  back to the City terminus.  But not before we’d missed several cars by a whisker in Salt River, and had an altercation at the bottom end of Adderley Street, where the road narrowed down to one lane and a cheeky white Corsa thought it would nip smartly in front of our bus … The Corsa lost out, defeated by a storm of angry hooting from our driver.


I think I used up my day’s allocation of adrenalin, but I loved seeing the flower sellers in Trafalgar Square, loved the cypresses and green grass of the upper mountain slopes, the harbour views, the tatty peeling charm of Salt River – and miraculous to report, I boarded another bus, got off at the correct stop, dashed up Harrington Street and made it to the venue in time. Phew!Blommemeisie-5_380_430_80







*(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)

I really should not browse in bookstores. The results are inevitably fatal. On Saturday, Bargain Books window display of Adult Colouring Books drew me instantly, because I’ve been trawling my on-line bookstores, looking at them, so it was good to be able to page through an actual book. Online book buying is frustrating, in that you get only a glimpse of the product. Nothing beats a good page through. Which, in this case, proved useful: many of the books had a very heavy black design style, with more black lines than free white paper to decorate. In the end, I succumbed and bought Japanese Patterns (Creative Colouring for Grown-ups) – what a treasure! I’ve always liked Japanese design, Japanese art, pretty much all things Japanese, including sushi and wabi-sabi (no you don’t eat it; look up the link) and I find Japanese textile designs particularly attractive. So: my spare bedroom gets the winter sun after lunch, and there you’ll find me colouring in, supervised by Chocolat basking on the spare bed. Bliss all round.



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My friend Elaine lent me a delightful collection of poetry titled The Last to Leave by Margaret Clough. It’s her second collection of poetry, engaging with the issues of aging and mortality, but in a light, warm-hearted tone which makes the collection a pleasure to read.  The Cape Times said “Joyful and plump with life”, and I couldn’t agree more. Ageing doesn’t have to be  gloomy! I loved the following poem and I’m sharing it with you, because I’m pretty sure many of us have undergone the same awful experience:

BLOGSPOT BLUES – by Margaret Clough

I’ve lost my blog. Where can it be?

I think it has unfriended me.

It disappeared into the cloud

I shake my fist. I cry aloud.

I punch the keys, but all in vain.

It doesn’t like my user-name.


*(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)

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DSTV are currently offering a ten day Star Wars special on a dedicated channel. Yay! An entire channel – Star Wars, 24/7   – how much better can it get? I’m currently watching Star Wars Rebels  which is an animated series, in half hour episodes. Suits me. In between my frantic dashing to and fro, I can collapse on my couch and lose myself in a universe filled with the heroic exploits of the noble Jedi versus the inhuman villains of the evil Empire.  We zoom from galaxy to galaxy, (what would we do without hyper-drives?), dodging gigantic hostile creatures or armies of robotic troopers; we’re hiding behind asteroids, or exploring buried Jedi temples. It’s all so straightforward: Good versus Evil. No deep psycho-social issues, no emotional traumas, no politics,no literary nuances :  just the comradeship of the brave few battling the forces of evil. Whoosh! I want a light-sabre  and Jedi powers for Christmas, please.


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Recently I  took refuge in an uber trendy coffee shop in Cape Town CBD. The rain was belting down, it was cold, and coffee was the answer.  The place was packed, and I had to wait for a table. To my surprise, the hostess offered me a chair, so I could sit and wait. Okay. Very nice of her. I appreciate random acts of kindness.

Let it be noted that I wasn’t complaining about having to stand and wait for a table. And although ancient, I do not go around with a Zimmer frame, cane and guide dog. Nor am I decked out in snooty twin set and pearls, shod in brogues. I’m wearing leggings, long sleeved tees, scarves and coats like everybody else. Note to self: to update ancient image I obviously need to buy a pair of high-tops a.s.a.p. Clearly my Skechers are not cutting it.

When I was finally led to a table, the pert little waitress was solicitous, and finished every verbal exchange by patting me tenderly on the back. I began to feel like an elderly Labrador who’d wandered in from the rainy day, seeking refuge. Or possibly I’ve been reclassified as a National Treasure, a la the Japanese. Anybody over 90 years in Japan is automatically awarded National Treasure status. A great idea, by the way.

I finally worked it out: I was the only person in the place not glued to my Smartphone or laptop. Dead giveaway. Pensioner Alert: beep-baa, beep-baa. And, P.S. the cute little waitress tried to con me out of my change when I paid for my coffee. I gave her the beady eyeball and growled: Make a plan, sisi! She reluctantly gave me my change. Bah! Don’t mess with Senior Citizens! Like Labradors, they’re inclined to bite.




I always enjoy reading Indian novels and if you’ve never tried an Indian novel, I urge you to experiment. Like all other genres they range from the comic (see below) to the serious, for example Rohan Mistry’s work, and a whole lot in between.

Thrity Umrigar is an interesting female novelist – interesting because she’s an Indian novelist who  lives and works in the USA  and in the two novels I’ve read, both  explored the collision of cultures as applied to womens’ stories, modern Indian v.s. modern American life. It’s East meets West, and occasionally the twain do meet, but often with much conflict en route.

In The Story Hour  she focuses on Lakshmi’s story. Lakshmi, is a deeply unhappy wife imported from India to a marriage in the USA; she’s so  depressed she tries to commit suicide and is saved, in hospital, by a female psychologist, Maggie.  The story is a brilliant exploration of cultures, womens’ relationships, the cultural barriers between East and West. We view two marriages – secrets are revealed. There is despair, forgiveness, hope and  a blossoming new, fulfilling  life. I very much liked the ending which was not a formulaic  “and they all lived happily ever after” finale. Life seldom ties a neat ribbon bow around endings, and the novel authentically presents possibilities and options, but we don’t know which she will choose. Very authentic.  A recommended read.


The other Indian novel was by one of  my favourite comic authors, Tarquin Hall. Yet another mystery in the  Vish Puri series, titled The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken.  The book is like a Bollywood movie – OTT (over the top) –with multiple, confusing plot lines, amongst them match fixing in cricket, diamond smuggling, a  record-breaking moustache is stolen (off the wearer’s face, nogal) ; the Indian Partition of 1947, a revenge killing and through it all there is indomitable Vish Puri : detective of note, he’s overweight, lover of good food, but currently a reluctant dieter.  Vish Puri is trying to solve all these mysteries simultaneously, with varying degrees of success. And then there’s his Mummy-ji*, respectable old lady, who interferes mercilessly in the process. There’s a  marvellous portrayal of a breakneck car chase, which is breathtaking to read.

The book is a terrific substitute for a ticket to India – its colourful, spicy, chaotic and garlanded with the solemn hilarity of Hinglish ** and as a bonus point there’s even a Hindi wordlist at the end of the book.   I can’t wait for the next Vish Puri mystery!

*-ji is an honorific, attached to names.

**Hinglish – lovely mixture of Hindi and English






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