WOMEN WHO LIVE IN CARS


 

I recently saw  The Lady in the Van –  starring the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith. The film is a 2015 British comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner, written by Alan Bennett, with Alex Jennings giving a terrific performance as Bennett. Wikipedia says :

The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett‘s strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild, a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.

What a story.  Imagine living in a van!  I certainly could not. Could you?  A camper-van holiday is one thing, even a three month long exploration of the USA in one of those  massive American  RVs is an option, but living in a vehicle for the foreseeable future?  I think not.

We have our own Lady living in a Vehicle, at my local shopping Centre. Not a van, but a white sedan, with a Gauteng number plate. It’s home to Sannie who spends her days wandering through  the Centre, occasionally  to be seen in the Wimpy, or the Coffee shop, exiting the supermarket clutching a small paper bag which obviously contains a meat-pie.

My first encounter with Sannie was early one morning . She was ranting and raving to thin air in the empty supermarket  parking lot. People started to gather aroundto see what the commotion was about . After a while the cops roared up, and attempted to reason with the agitated woman. At which point I had to leave, being en route to an appointment.

Some weeks after this episode, I plucked up courage and approached her one day, having  first checked that she seemed in a calm frame of mind. Due to my poor grasp of  Afrikaans I didn’t quite understand her story, which  was involved and  garbled, and I couldn’t really understand the gist of it. I told her I was worried for her safety, but she assured me she was fine, and slept “somewhere else”.  I didn’t pursue the matter further.  In South Africa, a woman sleeping in a car, alone, in a supermarket parking lot, is a very bad idea. Our national rape statistics are beyond dreadful.

I see her most days when I go to the shops, always neatly dressed in her blue denims, with her blonde hair done up in a plait and  worn around her head, like a Tyrolean milkmaid. Quite often she’s applied make-up, but her face is so weather-beaten from the fierce African sun that it’s not entirely successful.  But she tries. She’s clean and decent. She’s neatly dressed. Somewhat deranged, sure. But she tries.

Shoppers sometimes stand her to a cup of coffee, or a meal. One couple told me she was a schizophrenic, which may well be true. Sannie told me “she was waiting for her kids”. That’s sad. I wonder if her kids know the life their mother leads? Perhaps its been a long rocky road to this point in their family life, and they are exhausted beyond caring. Who knows? Our overloaded public health and social systems stagger along, they do their best, but there’s always cracks through which many people fall, and continue on downwards.

I’m counting my blessings.

Here’s a long distance pic of Sannie and her car. I felt it wouldn’t be right to sneak a close up of her,  but  if you stretch your eyes you can see the top of her head by the driver’s door. Her car is the white sedan directly under the tree in the foreground, with the pole behind it. BTW: I have changed her name to protect her identity.

 

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HARASSED BY A HADEDA


Over the last two months I’ve been harrassed by a HADEDA . I can hear my overseas readers saying: Huh? A what? Over to that fountain of knowledge, Wikipedia:

The hadeda ibis is found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in open grasslands, savanna and wetlands, as well as urban parks, school fields, green corridors and large gardens . It has an extremely loud and distinctive “haa-haa-haa-de-dah” call—hence the name. The call is often heard when the birds are flying or are startled, or when the birds communicate socially, for example early in the morning in residential suburbs.

The bird cheekily flies onto my patio and proceeds to rootle around in my pot plants, with its long, sharp bill, hunting for what I’m not quite sure. In the process it chucks out clods of soil, but this is not the main reason for my irritation. What Wikipedia politely omits telling you is that the Hadeda is the messiest bird . It leaves huge, liquid  splotches of white and khaki  droppings whenever it visits – on the table, on the bricks – everywhere. Yuck!

I can cope with its loud raucous calls. I can live with its foraging for food in my plant pots, but using my patio as a public convenience is altogether too much.  Need I tell you it times its visits while I’m absent and Chocolat, I regret to say, hides in her Cat Cave, and does nothing to defend her territory.  Mind you, it is a very large bird. Chocolat will tackle small to medium sized birds up to and including doves, but clearly the Hadeda  is not a viable mouthful. It’s a wise cat that knows its limitations!

 

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A DAB HAND WITH THE BATH SPONGE?


 

One of the many recent political spats in South Africa, and trust me, these happen on a daily basis, is over our new Finance Minister taking his wife with him on an official visit to Paris. Questions are being asked: why was Mrs G in the official party? What did she contribute? Etc.

All good questions, seeing we are talking about apparently  (yet more) wasteful expenditure of our hard-earned taxes.

And somehow my aged brain dredged up the mischievous memory  of a married couple I knew way back in the mid-60s. He was a jockey, so naturally he was a very small man. His good wife was a very solidly built formidable Afrikaans lady, almost twice his size. My husband told me there was much mirth in the Jockeys’ Change-room, when the husband confessed that he never ever took a bath unless his wife bathed with him. Together in the bathtub, you must understand. Given his tiny size and her large size, I’m sure they both  fitted nicely into the bathtub. Despite my questioning I never discovered whether she washed his back? Massaged his aching muscles? Or maybe she saved his skinny little bod from vanishing down the plughole ? Who knows?

Now our new Finance Minister appears to be a very slender man, so maybe his good lady is a dab hand with the bath sponge?  We will never know, but maybe it’s a reasonable pretext for taking your wife with you to Paris on a business trip? Let’s face it, which woman doesn’t want to visit Paris?

But, and it’s a reasonable quibble,  preferably not at the South African Taxpayers’ expense.

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MY NEW BOOK-THEMED BLOG


 

I subscribe to a number of WordPress blogs about books and reading,  and after enjoying them for several years, it finally dawned on me that maybe I should identify the book-related material in my  own blog  and start a second blog, devoted to books. Ping! Lightbulb flash.

So: I’m happy to announce the launch of THE BOOKSMITH BLOG  http://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com .  Thanks again to WordPress.com for their blogging platform.  They really do make blogging easy for  wrinkly writers like yours truly. I hope you visit my new blog, even if you’re not an official Booknut like me.  If all else fails, it has quite a funny header pic.

Despatches from Timbuktu  will continue to act as my electronic soapbox where I comment on modern life, South Africa, social trends, my travels around the Western Cape and Cape Town, plus  anything else that might  attract my butterfly attention.

And not to overlook the fact that Despatches From Timbuktu  is  the one place where Chocolat can express her displeasure at my poor performance as her Personal Assistant. Sorry, Chocolat,  but you have no idea how much work building a new blog entails . I promise there’ll be fish for supper tonight. How’s that for an apology?

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Filed under BOOK REVIEWS, CHOCOLAT: MY CAT, EXPLORING CAPE TOWN, POLITICS, PRESENT & FUTURE, READING, SOCIAL COMMENT

THE FREEDOM OF UNSUBSCRIBING


 

 

You have no idea how liberating it is to tick the Unsubscribe box  and confirm that you no longer wish to receive e-mails from  xyz  site. 

Let’s face it: over time one’s interest can, do and should change. Why not? You’re not dead are you? Life flows swiftly by and some interests prove to have been but a passing fancy, or a big mistake. Did you really think you were going to learn Urdu on-line from Babbel.com?  Get a grip!

So I unsubscribed from the writing sites that were clogging up my Yahoo Inbox. Right now I’m confining myself to blogging and the occasional letter to long-time friends. I’m not writing short stories or working on a novel. So why do I need torrents of advice on 20 Sure fire tricks to get that Novel Finished!  or  Revision strategy?  or  How to Write a Killer Query letter   or Find your Agent, make a new Friend!

My Yahoo InBox should be breathing an enormous sigh of relief. I know I am.  Wading through the advice swamp was time consuming, to say the least of it. Now all I have to do is wean myself away from Pinterest. Think I’ll leave that until next week.  Softly softly catchee monkey, and all that.

And I’m firmly resisting the odd stabs of FOMO.  Do you know what that is? Fear of missing out.  Some genius has identified it as a new trend, symptomatic of our insatiable craving for electronic content.  They may be on to something. But: I will be strong! Subscriptions – be gone!

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POTTERING THROUGH MY NOTEBOOKS


I’m a great potter-er. Sunday is a good day to potter around my house, doing minor tasks, playing with my Stuff. Even after my recent purge (see my recent post about The Guys and the Grand Purge) I still have plenty of Stuff left to play with. Believe me.

I was paging through my  old notebooks, dating back to the early 1990s.  Regrettably I have a weakness for notebooks. I can’t resist them. And don’t let me find a sale offering bargain price notebooks, because we all know what will happen.  A quirky cover? Cute Cats? Gold and sparkly ?  Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

So there I was, reminiscing with my notebooks when I was struck by a thought: what will happen to my notebooks when I die? Will the family be sufficiently interested to read them? Always assuming, of course, that they can read them. My handwriting varies from the semi-legible to a jerky scrawl …

Added to which I have developed a  series of abbreviations over the years, which enables me  to write quickly, and the chances of anybody else working out what I  intended, are not good. I spent years slaving behind a typewriter, and latterly a keyboard, which means I can type much, much faster than I can write. I can type at the speed of my thoughts. Very satisfactory, and also legible. But obviously notebooks are handwritten, in a variety of places – coffee shops, aeroplanes, retreat centres, other people’s spare bedrooms – anywhere and everywhere, and the  notes are not always legible.  Even to my eye.

The notebooks contain ideas for future  blog posts, draft poems, notes to self, articles, writing exercises, outpourings of angst, lists, titles of books and authors and  must-reads. And so on. Let’s face it: because I’m not a famous writer, nor a noted social diarist, it’s doubtful that anybody else will be remotely interested in my scribbling.

On the topic of noted social diarists, some very famous people e.g. Winston Churchill, or famous  writers e.g. Noel Coward  kept detailed – and regular – diaries. I own a copy of a fascinating compilation of diary entries, arranged by date and kicking off around the era of  the mid 1660’s (Samuel Pepys)  up to the late 20th century  (Alec Guinness, Brian Eno, Andy Warhol), titled The Assassin’s Cloak,  edited by Irene & Alan Taylor.   Of course, the social diarists entries are a delightful  mix of gossip, innuendo and scandal, whilst the politicians are dealing with weighty matters of state, or declaring war and so forth.  A far cry from my notebooks.

Thinking it over, I should probably tear out the written pages, burn them, and donate the remaining unused notebook to a charitable scheme collecting stationery for  disadvantaged school kids.  That’s what I should do . I probably won’t get around to it, and my family will stare in dismay at the pile of notebooks and say : “What the hell are we going to do with these?” Good question.

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*(JAP)BROWNED TOAST IS DEADLY


toast-toaster-food-white-bread

 

Really?  Is there no end to the health warnings? Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t eat fried foods.   Don’t be overweight. Don’t eat tuna – it’s full of poisonous minerals. Don’t eat processed meats . Don’t eat too much salt. Don’t eat sugar. And now TOAST? Is nothing sacred?  But, the BBC – a source I trust – solemnly advises us that we need to carefully toast our morning slice to a pale golden colour – any browner, and we are at risk. Yet again. I give up. It seems that anything and everything is waiting to ambush us, and the results will be fatal. Pass me the boiled lentils and a nice glass of pure spring water. Sigh. Read the article and depress yourself.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38680622

*(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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THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH by A M Smith ©


 

 

Periodically I post my short fiction on my blog.  The following short memoir could have been titled “Interview with a Monster” but I opted for “The Days of my Youth”  because it was written in response to the question: what happens before or after a famous fictional event? So I chose Thomas Harris’ famous fictional creation, and  wondered what sort of a childhood could produce such a complex, monstrous character? The character is being interviewed by a brave journalist:

 

 

I’m hoping to set the record straight, by agreeing to this interview about my earliest childhood experiences.  Everyone seems to think that people like me emerge from the womb dripping with wickedness, right from the start.  It’s not so – nothing could be further from the truth.  I had a perfectly normal childhood.  Normal –  whatever that is. It’s all relative isn’t it? But perhaps you don’t agree.

My earliest memory? Mmm, let’s see. I remember Mother pushing me up and down the garden path in my pram, humming quietly under her breath, trying to get me to drop off to sleep no doubt.  Father didn’t like to be disturbed, he made it very clear he would not tolerate a screaming baby, and once he was in his workroom he definitely didn’t want to be disturbed.  I remember being allowed to visit his workroom, I might have been four or five, maybe?  I was allowed in, on condition I sat on the stool and didn’t touch anything.  I remember the smell of the formaldehyde, and being enchanted by the box containing the glass eyes – I was longing to touch them, and play with them, but I sat on my hands, and looked around at the animal heads mounted on the walls, the glass fronted display case containing the most delicate examples of Father’s craft, the birds, seemingly caught in mid-flight. No, no, I don’t think Father’s taxidermy had anything to do with my interests in later life.

Oh – one of my fondest memories from my early years, was Spot.  My dog – I loved him dearly.  He had black spotty patches on his white coat, and so lively, as only fox terriers can be!  And I’d like to emphasize that I did not spend my boyhood  doing unspeakable things to small animals!  Really, you have no idea, no idea at all, of the dreadful letters I receive on this subject – I often wonder whether the authorities have locked up the right person when I read those letters. Trust me, some of those letter-writers ought to be in here, if what they write is to be believed.  I’m sorry, but I feel strongly about this and again it takes me back to my first question : what is normal?

You think my name might have been an influencing factor? Well – I must admit it is an unusual name – Mother was obsessed with the ancient world and she chose my name. Of course, once I went to school, I was teased mercilessly about my name. And then, later, the newspapers had a field day inventing that silly rhyming couplet to describe me.  So juvenile, don’t you agree?

My first love? Oh, that’s an easy question to answer: she was the prettiest little girl (I have a soft spot for pretty women – but perhaps you’ve heard). Anyway, she sat in the desk in front of me in Primary School.  She had long brown ringlets, and her name was Clare.  It’s a name that keeps recurring in my life, quite strange really. Very recently a young woman came to interview me and her name was Clarice.  But not a pretty girl, I have to say, rather thin mousy hair and a pale, strained face.

Another vivid childhood memory?  Well, let’s see. I know!  it was Uncle Gregor’s visit. I must have been about seven at the time. I found him very exotic, with his thick accent and funny foreign clothes. But what I remember most clearly is the night he took us out to dine, in a restaurant, what an occasion! The starched tablecloth, the smart waiters, the bright lights, the odours of food, wine, cigars, the buzz of voices – so different from our usual quiet life at home.  What? What did I eat? Do you know, I can’t remember, but I do remember what Uncle Gregor ordered. I’d never seen or heard of it before – hardly surprising, Steak Tartare was not a feature of our modest suburban cuisine. I remember being fascinated by the deep redness of the raw steak, and the intoxicating rich, sharp bloody smell of the meat – somehow it struck a deep note in the depth of my being. Hmmm. Now that I look back, perhaps a seminal moment.

What? Sorry, I was wool-gathering. More about my school days? Well, I don’t know – nothing really springs to mind.  My favourite lesson? Oh – biology I suppose, especially when I reached Senior School, and we started dissecting specimens. I was quite handy with a scalpel, Father’s tuition paid off there, and it was always so intriguing to slice through the muscle tissue and come to those perfect little organs, those tiny little mouse-hearts glistening with the blood … Are you alright? You’ve turned quite pale. Maybe you should call the guard and get some water?  Or should we stop now, perhaps it’s enough for one day.

But I must say I’ve enjoyed re-living my childhood memories with you, it’s not often that anybody shows any interest in Hannibal Lecter’s youth, no, they always want to hear about my later career. Oh well, that’s the way of the world, I suppose.

 

 

 

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THE TEMPTING LIBRARY BUMPER BOOK SALE


As is well known, I need more books in my house like I need the proverbial hole in my head, but nonetheless, I succumbed. After all, I’m doing a good deed by adding to Library funds, aren’t I? My book buying, on this occasion is a public good deed. So stop raising your eyebrows, and rolling your eyes. Yes – I did eat my Kryptonite for breakfast  – I can see you from here.

I had wonderful success on the Oldies But Goldies Table. A banquet of tattered treasures, old and battered, and costing R2 or R5 each. How could I resist? This is what I carted home:

Biggles & the Black Peril – Capt W E Johns  – boys’ adventures (see review below)

A Book of Poetry – W.M. Smythe   – dipped into;all those classic poems I should have read and didn’t; but  I can see this one is going to make its way back to the Library Sale tables.

The Bonfire of the Vanities  –  Tom Wolfe – still brooding heavily in my TBR pile.

Thus far I have only read Biggles and the Black Peril  by Capt W E Johns.  What a nostalgia fest!  I read as many of the Biggles books  as I could get my hands on when I was somewhere between the age of 9 and 12 years old.  I loved them.

Reading a Biggles book some 65 years later I polished off the book speedily.  They tend to be short on pages and even shorter on plot, but I say! What adventure, what thrills – chasing the baddies and/or being chased by the baddies (chief baddy in this epic is called Blackbeard – of course he is; and no, he’s not a pirate he’s a devious scheming Russian Up To No Good on British soil – the cheek of it!).

Flying all over Northern Europe in pursuit of the baddies in a flying boat – have you ever heard of such an aircraft? If you were born 1960 onwards, then probably not.  The page containing the publication date has been torn out of my battered copy, but the references are post-WWII , so I assume  the book was published in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

It’s all good clean fun, and the chaps are strong-jawed and courageous. The heroic Major Bigglesworth dramatically exclaims at intervals:”Hark! I hear an approaching machine!” I promise you, he does. “Hark!” – isn’t this delicious?  You can see him cupping his ear for the drone of the engine, while he turns his noble profile skywards and keenly scans the skies for the enemy aircraft. Wonderful. They don’t make heroes like this any more.

Our modern heroes rely heavily on Armageddon style weaponry and electronic wizardry, not to mention jaw dropping supernatural powers. Not so the brave band of Major  Biggles & Co. No no. Not for them. It was all down to courage, grit, determination, pluck and jolly good dash of luck thrown in. My vote goes to Biggles and not to Batman. You think I’m too old fashioned and hopelessly out of touch? Hard cheese,  dear reader.

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*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE


*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE

Dictionary.com has introduced me to a wonderful new word which I’m about to share with you.  I love it! Both for its comical aspect, and for its meaning. But I’m going to preface my discovery with a few general remarks on the topic of the right to free speech. Theoretically, we have this right in South Africa. But oh! the tsunami of outraged howls when a prominent person dares to voice a personal opinion.  It would seem that free speech is fine, so long as it doesn’t contradict political correctness.  Anyway, I will prudently say no more, and I will leave you to join the dots regarding my latest lexical treasure:

THROTTLEBOTTOM noun [THROT-l-bot-uh m]
1. a harmless incompetent in public office.QUOTES
If there was one function that any vice president, even a Throttlebottom, could be expected to perform it was to represent the president and the country at funerals of notables abroad.
— Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey: A Biography, 1984
ORIGIN
The term Throttlebottom was formed after the character Alexander Throttlebottom in the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (1932).

 

*(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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