CHAPTER 2 :  MORE ADVENTURESWITH OUR INBOXES


My faithful readers have asked for more  tips to help them stem the inexorable tide of e-mails.

The following hints won’t stem the tide, but suggest what you  can do to the deposited flood.

*Strap on your heavy duty protective gear, select your biggest, sharpest scythe, and plunge to the bottom, the very bottom, the first item (i.e. the oldest) of your InBox. Start wielding your scythe.  If item #1 has been lurking at the bottom this long, does it really need any attention now? I thought not: weeessssh, snick! Off with its head! Continue in this mode, until you can begin to see daylight in the mid-section of your Box. Wipe off your scythe blade, and have a cup of coffee. Now back to the task.

 

  • Simply delete mail without even opening it. I have friends who love to share their political opinions, or hoary old jokes : I press that magic button marked DELETE.  Best button on the keyboard, wisely used.

 

  • Under no circumstances take part in those irritating On-line Scrabble e-mails : they are total time wasters. You know what to do: press the magic button!

 

  • The heart-rending appeals for lost kids, dying patients, starving animals: harden your heart, most are phishing scams: Magic Button – yes, again!

 

  • Petitions: I delete them instantly. I read an article, written by a reliable source, that conclusively proved the info goes nowhere and changes nothing.

 

 

  • I enjoy gorgeous photography, clever puns, or informative articles sent to me by friends scattered around the globe, but I only send a very short one or two line acknowledgement if the content is superlative or warrants a comment. Not every mail needs a response. I enjoy and delete. Occasionally I forward items, but I’m trying to forward only the crème de la crème this year.

 

  • Buy a cheap kitchen timer. I bought a boring white mechanical timer, and it was a well spent R27.00 . Set it for half an hour, and attack your InBox. When that buzzer sounds, get up and walk away – go and do something else, either virtuous (dishes?) or pleasurable ( go for a walk , read a book). Whatever you choose to do, it’s taken you away from the keyboard. Knowing that you only have half-an-hour or whatever time you opt for, sharpens your focus. You need to get cracking! No time for dawdling or fiddling.

 

  • Beware of traps labelled Wikipaedia, and the like. Clicking on links to websites leads you to the quick-sands of distraction …you may get lost for hours. That distant buzzing sound is your timer: hellooo? hello? Yoohoo! Climb out, and resume your task.

 

  • Open a HOLD or PEND Folder in your Folders column. I stick mail in there that is un-resolved, or likely to be on-going and may take weeks or even months to finalise. Diarise one hour, once a month, to go through your HOLD Folder, and ask the question: why am I keeping this?  Delete anything that has grown mouldy green whiskers … or action it smartly. Feels good, huh?

 

  • For that matter, open loads of Folders, according to your needs, and heave mail into them –including out of your SENT Box. The point is, by filing mail into your Folders, you get it out of the dreaded, catch-all InBox.  I prune my Sent Box daily, keeping only immediate, un-resolved items in there. This way, it’s a kind of built-in Diary system. Works for me.

 

And now, having absorbed all this wisdom, you have  earned happy free hours to nip back on line and play Mahjong, or Poker, or Scrabble, whatever blows your hair back.  I won’t tell anyone if you don’t!

 

 

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TAMING THAT INBOX


 

I sort of, kind of, made a mini-New Year’s Rez:  Keep that InBox under control!

Whilst I didn’t put a Post-It note on my desktop monitor with the words: TAME THE BEAST!  PRUNE, &HACK!  that’s what I’ve been doing, ever since early January. It started when I had a few blessed, un-busy weeks in early January, and I strapped on my scythe and waded into my InBox.  It took me a couple of days, to read, action, or delete the undergrowth.  I un-subscribed from redundant sites, or organisations which no longer interested me, and this helped to stem the waves of drek flooding into my InBox. How many news letters/bulletins and blog posts do we really need to read?

I’ve also adopted the stratagem of using one of my alternate e-mail addresses on another server for my subscriptions to news services, and newspapers and magazines. Once or twice a week I settle down with my ASUS notebook and have a cosy browse through the Huffington Post, or The Millions, selectively reading articles, and deleting – you’ve gotta be ruthless! – as I go.

One happy morning, I had only 14 items popping up on the InBox screen.  Wow! This was a First Ever Moment.  And I liked it.  Such an empty, easy to read InBox. Neither my eyeballs nor my soggy brain were being assaulted on all sides. It was liberating. Since then I’ve made valiant attempts to keep the number under 20, but now that the year has gathered momentum, and Committees and Groups are rolling onwards, it’s proving difficult. I’ve hit 30 recently, even after my slashing and deleting.

One of the contributory  problems is that we’re suffering from the aftermath of a prolonged Postal Strike, during which period  – in desperation, and very unwillingly – I agreed to have my monthly utility bills sent electronically, because the bills were simply never reaching me, due to the Postal Strike.  Just to exacerbate matters, we now have routine rolling blackouts on a daily basis – our national power grid is reeling, but that’s another story – so we still don’t always get our mail, because the power is off. Let me tell you, South Africa is not an easy place in which to live. The current buzzword is ‘challenging’, but I can think of more descriptive ones that will be either blasphemous or obscene, possibly both.

Anyway, I was bragging about my InBox purge to my friend Dawn, who told me that it’s her practice to ensure that her InBox is EMPTY, every day before she leaves the office. Fortunately she’s a good friend, and I can forgive her for being perfect.

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RECENT READS : AN IMPOSSIBLE TARGET


 

I’ve just finished reading Tolstoy & the Purple Chair BY Nina Sankovitch.  I’m completely bowled over.  On a number of counts. Firstly, I’m drop-jawed at Nina’s basis for her project: she set out – and SUCCEEDED –  in reading a book a day, for a year. That’s 365 books, people. Furthermore, she wrote a book review on each book, prior to diving into her next book.  And this was accomplished by a woman who is a wife, and mother to four busy boys … so tick the boxes for taxi driving, laundry, cooking, cleaning, homework supervision … do I have to continue?

She embarked on the project to  overcome her grief over the early death of her sister, who died way too soon, a cancer victim. Three years on, Nina realised she needed to get off the must-keep-busy –at-all- costs track, so she decided to read a book a day, for a year, and treat it as a job. She sat in her smelly purple chair (the family cat, don’t ask) and read for hours. She did note that she  reads fast: 70 pages an hour. But even so.  Not all the books were skinny little volumes, but I think she avoided the doorstopper books. Not unreasonably!  Actually, on my re-read, I picked up the fact that when choosing books off the Library shelves, she aimed for books with a spine of about one inch width, not more.

There’s an efficient catalogue of the books she read; I can’t wait to annotate my own copy once it arrives. I’ve noted some great reading suggestions in her list, and managed not to deface a Library book by ticking items on the list.  I definitely need my own copy, so I can deface it with ticks, notes and marginalia to my heart’s content.

So apart from successfully finishing her mammoth task, remaining married, sane and emerging from the process as a healed human being, she has produced a wonderful book that is part memoir, part reading journal, part healing manual; the minute I finished the book I raced to my PC to order my own copy immediately.

I may even attempt a modest challenge of my own, during 2015, using a suggestion from the local  Good Books Appreciation FB page: to read 12 books from my TBR pile during the year. This is doable. I’ve already made a start by tackling the monster Gravity’s Rainbow  (see last week’s post), and finishing it. Therefore, only 11 more to go. Trouble is, I keep on getting distracted!

If you love books and reading, do not miss this book!

 

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MARATHON READ


 

I’m exhausted. But I FINISHED IT!   Yay! This was a monster read; a brute of a book, all 900 pages . It took me three weeks to stagger through this epic American novel. On 31 December  2014 I hauled it out of my To be read pile and told myself: The time has come. This novel has lurked in your cupboard for a whole year. You bought it because you wanted to read it. Now read the damn thing!

So I opened Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas PynchonPngMedium-nuclear-rocket-weapon-warhead-missile-16308, and started to read. The opening pages were crazy mad, but I pressed on. And on. And on. AND ON.

The back  book cover warned me that “it is impossible to do justice to the novel” , meaning that in the restricted space, they could not provide a nifty little précis of the plot. (Plot? What plot? Which plot? So many to choose from …). They were not wrong! Truly, the novel defies description.

Mid-point, when I despaired of (a) ever making any sense out of it or (b) finishing the wretched thing, I consulted that treasure trove, known as Wikipedia, which told me – among other things – that Gravity  has been variously described as ‘Pynchon’s masterpiece’;  ‘the Great American Novel’; and that numerous students have written dissertations based on the book.  If you are thinking of tackling any of Pynchon’s novels, I urge you to read the Wikipedia article first. It gave perspective, and (some) clarity to what I was struggling through.

I can tell you with confidence that the story is set in WWII Europe, and that Rockets feature largely in the story. Other than that, I’m not prepared to commit myself. I will however, chuck around a few descriptive adjectives: crazy, comic, paranoid, obscene, phallocentric, disgusting, baffling, confusing, erotic, cynical, sad, weird, arcane, …. oh and a whole lot more besides.  Not forgetting the funny limericks and bawdy ballads that pop up periodically. I get the feeling that TP  was – at that point in his life, the early 1970s  – a wannabe writer of musical shows. Who knows? With his  dazzling prose and lyrical descriptive passages, I reckon he could write in any genre that appealed to him.

Did I enjoy the book?  Umm … some of it; the lyrical descriptions of place, for example. Other parts: definitely not!

Will I ever read another Thomas Pynchon novel? Maybe – once I’ve recovered from reading Gravity’s Rainbow.  I might take a Stab at ‘V’. But not now.

I wonder if any of my readers are Pynchon fans? Would love to hear from you, if you are.

Lastly: I’d like to exchange /swop the book. I will not be re-reading it – once is all I can manage! I’m looking for Vladimir Nabokov’s novel  Pale Fire       which is neither in the Cape Town library system, nor in local bookshops. I can buy a hardback copy on line, at vast expense. Any offers?

 

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SLOW MOTION SNOW/FAST FORWARD  MADAGASCAR   ©by  A M Smith


 (Short Fiction)

As I dropped the coin into the beggar’s hand, his icy fingers brushed mine and I shivered. Icy fingers – slow mo : my fingers were icy – Jake’s fingers were icy, I did all I could but his fingers got colder and colder – icy fingers – why didn’t I do more? All that snow! Spruce branches groaning and creaking under their cargo of snow – snowfields up to the jagged peaks – snow – snow – nothing but cold snow – fast forward  – “Lady? You okay?” – the bearded face, the sour winey breath, the grubby parka – slow mo – the icicles growing on Jakes’s beard, my icy fingers, my freezing feet – I should have done more – the blinding light off the snowfield – the creaking spruce boughs – my icy fingers – fast forward – “I – I ..”

“Lady – “ slow mo – Jake’s fingers stiffening – getting colder – my breath in puffy clouds – no clouds in that harsh blue sky – rubbing Jake’s stiff frozen fingers  –  fast forward – “Lady – what you been takin?  Lady?”

Slow mo: I dimly hear the roar of the traffic on the nearby Trans-Alaska Highway – and I know where that goes – all the way up to the north, where it’s cold, cold, cold and there’s nothing but snow and ice and mountains and there’s Jake sinking into a snowdrift  –  fast forward  “Lady: what you sayin? Ain’t no snow here! just rain – this is Seattle and all we got is rain – no snow!”

Slow mo: the distant clatter of a helicopter – a shadow swooping over the snow –  but it’s too late – Jake’s fingers are stiff – mine are numb – my brain is frozen – my tongue won ‘t work – my eyeballs are stuck – fast forward – “Lady, that’s the radio station traffic bird – WRX – always up there, spyin’ on us all! ain’t rescuin’ nobody – leastways not tonight, not here”.

Slow mo: -helicopter – that’s it – we’ll go to the red sand, where yellow snakes bask in the sun, and black  and white striped lemur tails whisk through the trees, where the careful chameleons creep – no snow there, they don’t even know what snow means they –  fast forward –  “Whaddya mean we’re going to Madagascar? Lady, I don’t even know where Madagascar is – someplace down south maybe?  And anyway, I don’t even know you! Who you, crazy lady? Where you from? Where you goin? only place you need to go is Saint Martin’s Memorial I reckon, they got places for crazies like you”   – fast forward  – and Madagascar will be warm, and Sir David will show me round the island, you can come too, dirty old hobo in a parka, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the warmth, the sun, we can swim in the sea, and play with the lemurs, and there’ll be no more snow, no more icy fingers, your fingers will never be cold again – fast forward  : “Whaddya mean: swim? Where? In the freakin gutters? In this weather?  Lady – I’m drunk, I know I’m drunk, helps keep the cold out, but you is somethin’ else. Man!”

Slow mo : No, don’t go, old hobo man, I’m going to sell Aunty Maudie’s ring, that big emerald , and those emeralds  will buy us two tickets and we’ll go far away from the snow, no more icy fingers, no more Jake, we’ll be warm and no more snow and you can have a chameleon, I’ll have one too, and our hands will always be warm  – fast forward  “Lady: I’m getting wet, you is getting wet, I’m tired of your mumbling and your nonsense – go on home now, get outta the rain, I’m  going down the street to the Shelter, where you going? You what? No, Lady, NO! Ohmigod: no lady – what you do that for? Huh? Huh? Don’ wanna be a witness, no sir, guess I’ll just sneak down the alley into 6th Street and go to the Shelter that route – freakin cold, might as well be snowin’, that lady sure was rambling about snow, and why her fingers was cold in them fancy gloves I’ll never know.  Women! I ain’t got no gloves, and I sure do know about icy fingers. “

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COOKING  CURRY


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I watched a BBC cooking show, a series called Rick Stein’s India which gave us all the colour, dust, crowds, gaudy festivals, temples, gorgeous saris, elephants, and palaces you could ever wish for. An absolute feast for the eye. My favourite street scene shows an elephant slowly ambling along a road bordering a street market, and at each stall the vendor steps forward and offers one item – mostly fruits – from his stall, which the elephant gracefully scoops up with a curled trunk, while the vendor makes a Namaste and a slight head bow.

In amongst this the pink and perspiring Mr Stein, notebook in hand, camera-man at his shoulder, valiantly researched, South Indian cuisine, Rajasthani delights, on and on he went, through humble home kitchens, hole-in-the-wall kitchens in cities,  no bigger than a broom cupboard, tucked down side-streets, manned by sweating cooks turning out their speciality – just the one dish, there literally being no room to produce more than one.. He ate street food (and there were never any references to the dreaded Delhi Belly, he must have a very strong stomach!). He ate in a restaurant run by a Maharajah, who personally cooked ‘Jungly Mas’ for him – a simple dish consisting of goat, water, salty, ghee and chillies; he ate at the Indian school equivalent to Eton. He ate at the Golden Temple, at Amritsar, where thousands are fed daily – food is cooked in vast vats over open wood fires, by bare-chested lunghi-clad old men.

No matter where he ate, the theme seldom varied: curry. Sometimes it was vegetarian curry, sometimes fish, but often it was goat curry, masquerading as lamb, called lamb, and never referred to as goat. I gathered that sheep didn’t do well in India. Imagine those thick woolly fleeces in that terrific heat!

He conducted an earnest enquiry during his travels, as to whether Indians use the ubiquitous word ‘curry’ and if so, what they meant by the term?  Apparently in Britain, the word curry covers practically any hot and spicy main dish, produced by immigrant families in takeaways, in the local High Street; accompanied by naan bread  and lots of lager.

It transpired that most Indians were quite happy to use the word curry, although – strictly speaking – the work means ‘gravy’. But it seems that ‘curry’ has entered the many languages of India, and is widely use, to cover main dishes ranging from the most subtly fragrant to the inflammatory chilli. One Indian gentleman, a famous cook in India, discoursed eloquently and scornfully on the horrors of “Indian Curry Powder”, the boxed variety brought home from colonial service, to dear old Blighty, by the British. His condemnation of commercial curry powder was a joy to listen to! Indian cooks, of course, buy and grind their spices daily, at home, depending on the dish they’re making. I have to agree, that boxed curry powder (Rajah Curry here in South Africa) while quick and easy is always too hot. I don’t like blow-your-sox off fiery curries, I prefer spicy, deep flavoured curries.

So: inspired by Mr Stein, I hauled out my cookery books and made a tasty cauliflower curry for lunch yesterday. It’s quite a fiddly process, what with the chopping up of the veg, the discovery that I do not have fenugreek, or ground clove in my spice drawer, the garlic is finished, and so on – back to the shops yet again. But the results were worth it, and I have a nice stash of curry dinners tucked away in my freezer.

I can’t resist a bargain, especially in the cash-strapped month of January, so I bought vast quantities of tomatoes which suddenly appeared at Food Lovers’ Market at literally give-away prices, and I’ve found a recipe for tomato and hardboiled egg curry.   Hardboiled eggs, oddly enough, go well in a curry sauce. Sounds good to me!

 

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ANOTHER NEW YEAR


 

Here we are again, at the beginning of a New Year.

Somehow, 2014 whizzed by in a flash – it seems like only the other day that I was writing about the Tarot card that represented 2014  (Card VII, the Chariot) and the energies which it brings. Now it’s time to talk about the Tarot card for 2015 which is Card VIII, Strength.  In order to avoid tiresome wrangles over copyright, I’ve included an image from the Cape Town Tarot Association’s self-produced deck – the  CTTA member who designed this card was  Jenni Hodder.

 

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Our Card VIII shows a Zulu maiden dancing below Lion’s Head mountain, part of the Table Mountain range in Cape Town, while the lion floats above, with a leminiscate (symbol of eternity) above it.

*Traditionally the card shows a maiden – white robed and flower wreathed (the Rider Waite image) – either opening, or closing, the jaws of a seated lion. Debate rages over whether its wrenching open or slamming shut : but either way – you’ve got to be confident and courageous to attempt such a manoeuvre with a lion!  And that’s one of the messages this card sends to us  – globally – in 2015:  cultivate the virtues of strength (both moral and physical) and courage. Some see the card as a depiction of  the triumph of spirituality  (maiden) over matter  (the lion). Take your pick, whatever appeals to you. *To see a traditional image of Strength, go to http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/  and Google Rider Waite Strength VIII.

Card VIII also refers to Health, in general terms. We seem to grow more and more health conscious with every passing year, so here we go again. I have a memory of 2014 being the year of eating healthily, followed by  endless articles on the infamous Banting Diet, learned articles on the Neanderthal  Diet … etc, etc; whatever happened to Moderation in all things, I wonder? Each to their own, I suppose. Personally, I abide by the adage : a little of what you fancy does you good. This, combined with my  Rule of Half (i.e. I can eat anything I like, provided I eat only half the item; and as a further note: I don’t eat pizza ,steak, fudge, gooey chocolate cake, bunny chows, or any type of fast food so this is not as indulgent as you might suppose.  Half a biscuit? Half a square of chocolate? I rest my case.) It works for me.

Whilst I can’t claim to be that  clued up on Numerology, I do know that in the Tarot, Number 8 is linked with the powerful topic s of Money, Sex and Death.  Somewhat at odds with our gentle, pure Maiden on the card, but that’s life for you, full of contradictions.

Whatever the ins and outs of interpretations, I wish my readers a healthy, happy and above all, PEACEFUL,  New Year.

 

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CHRISTMAS CARDS


Santa

I’m feeling sad at the lack of Christmas cards this year.  Dec 25th is fast approaching and  I have no festive cards to display. One reason is the Postal Strike which has messed up, clogged, bollixed up, and paralysed the departure and arrival of mail. For four months we’ve either had no mail deliveries whatsoever, or – more recently –  sporadic deliveries of wodges of postal items, some of which date back as far as August.  I’m writing this post in mid  December.  I suppose this is proof that somewhere, in one of the vast Postal Mail Depot Warehouses, wekkers (South African pronunciation of the word ‘workers’) are unenthusiastically delving into the mountains of mail that have formed veritable mountain ranges within the warehouse.

Recently a picture was circulating on the Internet, purporting to show the interior of a Mail Depot in Joburg. When I looked at the photo, I wanted to weep.  Mail was spilling down to the floor, from overloaded metal racking. The floor was a sea of envelopes a  carpet of mail, on which were scattered plastic crates. Each crate was stuffed to overflowing with mail items. The piece’ de resistance was the shot showing the doorway to the Mail Depot.  The roller shutter-doors  were rolled up and letters had blown randomly over the tarmac into the yard …  Like I said, I felt like crying when I saw the picture.  I’m a lifelong supporter of the postal system: letters to friends and family, penfriends far away; magazine subscriber;  recipient of bills; mailer of parcels and cards on birthdays; and latterly, a keen member of the international postcard exchange called Postcrossing.

To sum up, I’m missing the usual display of Christmas cards: the bright reds and greens, the cards with sparkly glitter, all the kitch Santas, ho-ho-ing, the Star of Bethlehem cards, the whole jolly lot. But notwithstanding this, there’s a fair amount of Christmas cheer surrounding me, plus a couple of delightful unexpected gifts and I’ve found Pannetone (which I adore) in Food Lovers’ Market, so yes – Christmas is here. But my local Postman had better not knock on my door and ask for a “Christmas Box”.  Not this year! No way.

Wishing all my readers a happy and peaceful Christmas, and a New Year filled with health and happiness.

 

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MY 2014 READING YEAR


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2014 has not been a good Reading Year for me – I got off to a bad start with eyesight problems, which weren’t resolved until mid-May, so  I’ve not read as many books as usual. My list shows books which I read during 2014, and  is a mixture of Old & New. Some of them were published way, way before 2014; some of them in the late 1990s in fact, but I only had the pleasure of discovering them this year. One of my less obvious categories is ‘Books About Books’ : I’m hooked on books, and love reading  books about reading and books. We all have our quirks.

I hope  my list will introduce some new  suggestions for your own reading .

Best Book of 2014

The 40 Rules of Love – Elif Shafak

Not to be missed book : 2014

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

Most Original Book of 2014

We Are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Books About Books:2014

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair – Nina Sankovitch

Funniest Book: 2014

Nature Girl – Carl Hiaasen

Most Challenging Read of 2014

Living by Fiction – Annie Dillard

Best Gothic Novel : 2014

Marina – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Best Non-Fiction : 2014

12 Patients (Life & Death at Bellevue Hospital) – Dr E  Manheimer

Best Travel Book : 2014

The Way of Stars & Stones – Wilna Wilkinson

Best short stories: 2014

The Barnum Museum – Steven Millhauser

Best Crime 2014

Diamond Dove – Adrian Hyland

Great Reads (Novels): 2014

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

Big Brother – Lionel Shriver

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simision

The World We Found – Thrirty Umnigar

Epic Fail/unreadable  2014

The Infatuation – Javier Marias

Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust

 

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QUESTIONS ABOUT MY FATHER’S INSURANCE POLICY- by A M Smith ©


(A piece of Flash Fiction)

When you’re a kid, you don’t get the whole picture: you might have all the facts right under your nose, but somehow you don’t join the dots, if you know what I mean?

For instance, I remember asking my Mum: “Mum – why don’t you ever wear your beautiful diamond ring?” I twirled it round on my ring finger, where it sparkled and shone like a gigantic Christmas decoration. I must have been about 6 years old at the time. Mum let me play with her jewellery, but only on our bed, so as not to lose any of the little pieces, like her gold studs. One of them rolled under the bed and it took ages to find, and when I finally found it, Mum snatched it from me and gave me a hiding. I think was more sore at the injustice, than at the hiding!

Asking Mum  about the ring was asking for trouble, even another hiding. Her expression always darkened, and she usually ignored the question; only once did  she let slip the  mysterious phrase “it’s your Father’s insurance policy, that’s why,” but as usual she didn’t elaborate. Another dangerous question was “When’s Daddy coming home? Where is he?” I soon learned not to ask.

When I was ten years old, Mum had a terrible cough, grew thinner by the day, and then she got dreadfully sick. I had to stay with Aunty Lynne while she was in hospital, but Mum never came back home. Nobody explained anything to kids in those days. Aunty Lynne was quiet and tearful for a week, until she abruptly announced I wasn’t going home, and that Mum was with the angels. I didn’t understand – not really – what that meant. Somehow my clothes  and my tatty toys appeared in my room at Aunty Lynne’s house, and that was that. Life with Aunty Lynne and Uncle Johan  dragged on for years.

But when I was sixteen, I started to join the dots. I had to do a Local History project for school, so I spent happy hours at the Library, flicking through the newspaper archives on the microfiche system. Why this particular banner headline caught my eye, I’m not sure. ROBBERY OF THE CENTURY!  screamed the headlines. JEWELLERY HEIST : DIAMOND MILLIONS! Intrigued, I read on. A gang of thieves had robbed de Beers Johannesburg Diamond Showroom, at 6 a.m. on a Monday, and made off with jewellery worth literally millions.  The story continued to page 3,  together with a foggy black and white photo of the more valuable pieces. In the centre of the display was a magnificent diamond ring. I peered closer at the screen and tried to adjust the focus. I gasped.  Stunned, I sat back. The stolen ring looked remarkably like my Mum’s ring. Come to think of it, where was my Mum’s ring?

That night I asked Aunty Lynne. She looked uncomfortable and muttered she didn’t know. Her expression was so like Mum’s black look, that I prudently dropped the subject. By now I was way too old for a hiding, but I knew trouble when I saw it.

Back I went to the newspaper archives. I joined more dots.  The jewellery thieves had been arrested, tried and jailed for twenty years. I eagerly scanned the blurry picture of the three men making their final Court appearance.  I didn’t recognise any of them, or their names.

That night I tried another question on Aunty Lynne: “What was my Father’s name? And why’s my surname  Phillips, like your maiden name?” Surprisingly it was Uncle Johan who answered. “Girlie,“ he said “it just is. Leave it be. It’s what your Ma wanted. It’s better this way.” He gave me a long, hard look.  So I shut up and left it.

After Matric I wanted to go nursing, but how was I going to pay for it?  Uncle Johan wanted me to join the Railways as a clerk, but I wasn’t interested. I brooded,  moped around the house, irritating everybody, including myself.

Two days later the city was abuzz with news of a massive fire at Pretoria Central Prison.  An entire wing burned down, and eight prisoners died of smoke inhalation.   For some reason the domestic atmosphere  was tense, heightened by the arrival of a telegram for Aunty Lynne. She waited until Uncle Johan came home that afternoon, before she opened it. Pale-faced, she shoved it across the table for him to read. He read it, looked at Aunty Lynne and nodded. She got up, and disappeared into their bedroom.

Aunty Lynne returned, slowly handed me Mum’s trinket box, and said “Now we can give you your father’s insurance  – maybe if we sell it, you can go nursing.”

Stony faced Uncle Johan added:” And your name’s still Phillips – get it?” I mentally joined up the last dots.  I got it.

 

 

 

 

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