Category Archives: PRESENT & FUTURE

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

MY SURVIVAL STRATEGY FOR CHRISTMAS 2017


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I can hear my readers screaming: Gag that woman! Christmas 2017? Noooooo – we’ve just staggered away from December 2016. Please!  Enough already!

Keep calm. Don’t panic. Make a nice cuppa tea and when you’re feeling calmer, continue reading. Okay. Everybody  take a slow deep breath and we’ll  analyze what makes (most) Festive Seasons less than ideal.

There’s so much to do isn’t there?  The shopping, the  decorations, the enormous lunch, the gifts, the hordes of relatives; the washing up; the clean-up; the family rows that sometimes last for decades. And, last but not least, Uncle George. Every family has one. I can see you nodding your heads. The awkward relative  your conscience prods you to include. And then you wish you hadn’t.

Where to begin?  Here’s my #1 tip:

  1. Shopping: start now in January at the January Sales. I’m pretty sure every country has them. Big money-saver. Bung your bargains into a plazzie bag, write the names of the recipients on the plastic with Magic Marker, and stow in a dedicated, secret  carton in your garage.
  2. Failing the January Sales, make a big diary note around September to start attending monthly Craft Markets and keep a sharp eye out for Church Bazaars. You will discover unique handmade items, often at very reasonable prices.
  3. Immediately after Christmas scoop up markdowns of  gift wrap, tags and bags . Pop into that box in the Garage. Ka Ching! Saving money!

#2 tip : Decorations.  Buy a Christmas wreath, attach to the front door and when somebody moans about the lack of decorations, tell them firmly that if they want more decorations, then they’d better get cracking and provide some, because this is the year you’re on strike. Trust me, the world will keep on turning without tinsel.

#3 tip:  The Enormous Lunch.  Announce around October that this is the last year you will be hosting The Christmas Lunch, and furthermore, this year,  it will be a Bring & Share Banquet.  Circulate  the menu and insist that the diners commit , in writing, to one major item e.g. the turkey. You will provide the venue, crockery, cutlery, one edible item,  plus  coffee/liqueurs/choccies afterwards.

AND, the cherry on top – once assembled around the festive board, hold a lucky draw , the winner of which will be the host of next year’s Bring & Share Banquet. Propose an enthusiastic toast to the lucky winner.

#4 tip: Buy a dishwasher.  Yes, you do need one. Don’t listen to anybody telling you they use a colossal amount of water, they don’t. Or that they will ruin the family silver : actually, yes, they will, which is why you will use perfectly good stainless steel cutlery. Ditto the same dire effects on the bone china. Take that heirloom 60 piece Royal Albert dinner service to the nearest antique shop and flog it. You have other crockery, for goodness sake.  The proceeds will help pay for the dishwasher.

#5 tip: Secret Santa : Hold a draw around October where your Xmas Lunch  guests will draw the name of one person, for whom they will bring one gift, to the value of …  Fill in the magic number:  not more than X.  End of story. Your garage trove of gift bargains is for your nearest & dearest, or people like your hairdresser. You cannot live without a good hairdresser. So give him/her a prezzie.

#6 tip:  Uncle George/Aunty Maud:  Using part of your loot from flogging the heirloom silver and the  EPNS gravy boat, cunningly book a table for the old fossil for a slap-up Christmas dinner at a local hotel. Naturally you will book taxi transport. You will of course break the good news in the form of a fictitious Raffle prize? Anonymous Benefactor?   This way he/she  can’t possibly totter through your front door on December 25th. Fingers crossed.

#7 tip: Buy a large diary now, yes, on 2 January, and map out your Defense Plan for the next Christmas jollies. Work out your strategy, diarise, execute, and relax. Oh, and a P.S. Don’t think you can get away with running your diary system on your mobile phone. Bad idea. They tend to get lost, stolen, dropped and broken. But your hardcover diary stays safely at home, and the Magic Strategy is preserved.

#8 tip: One last essential pointer. At the next mammoth bottle store sale, stock up on a couple of bottles of your favourite relaxant – sherry? (very seasonal), brandy? (warming and cheering) gin? (good for  cooling G&Ts for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) . Hide your haul in the Garage Box, and start medicating around 15 November.  You should be in a relaxed frame of mind for the upcoming festivities.

Finally: for mercy’s sake,  do not lose that Diary!

 

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Filed under HUMOUR, PRESENT & FUTURE, SOCIAL COMMENT

A STRANGE BAR OF SOAP


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If you’re wondering about  the picture above , let me explain.  The black rectangle supporting the packaging is the actual bar of soap : lemongrass and charcoal, would you believe? Hence the marbled black  and cream appearance.  I’m nervously wondering if my skin will  be a trendy charcoal grey after I’ve showered? Time will tell. Odd colour aside, the soap does smell nice – with a touch of peppermint alongside the lemongrass.

Somewhat oddly, the  package depicts a nightjar. I know this, because there’s a helpful note around the back of the box which tells me so. The connection between the bird and the soap  isn’t clear to me, but hey! This is a whimsical soap bar. Re-reading the blurb to clarify the nightjar issue, I discover the soap is handmade from sustainable ingredients, in KwaZulu Natal, so I suppose the bird motif is in keeping with the natural origins.

However, the most intriguing thing for me, is the paper on which the soap and box are resting. It was neatly wrapped around the bar of soap, instead of the more usual waxed paper. Being addicted to the printed word, I grabbed it and checked that my first impression was correct. Yes, it was. The wrapping is a page out of a novel titled  The Eagle has Flown .   I’m familiar with the catchphrase The Eagle has Landed,  much beloved of thriller and war story writers. But The Eagle has Flown ?  So I Googled it.

Wikipedia says: “ The Eagle Has Flown is a book by Jack Higgins, ….. It is a quasi-sequel to The Eagle Has Landed . “ Thank you Wiki. What would we do without Google and Wikipedia?

I am baffled as to why the soap maker wraps the finished product in pages torn out of an old novel. Quirky marketing? Paper shortage?  Thrift? Dislike of Jack Higgin’s novels?  Enormous guilty satisfaction in ripping a page out of a book? Who knows? It certainly is wrapping with a difference, and one of my more unusual birthday gifts that’s for sure! Because chocolate is on the verboten list, people tend to trawl craft  markets in search of gifts, so I often receive splendid surprises, and the soap was one of them.

P.S. If you want more info, or even a bar of black soap,  then I suggest you do a Facebook search for Rondawel Soaps.  I discovered their info on the Woza Moya page.

 

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GOING, GOING, GONE


 

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?

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SPARKING JOY OR SHOULD IT BE TERROR ?


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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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CHOCOLATE IS THE ANSWER


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(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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LYING ON THE GRASS


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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.

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AN UNEXPECTED BUS TOUR


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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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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WHERE DOES THE TIME GO ? 


 

It’s really quite ridiculous. Here I am, retired, and finding myself without a second to even sneeze. Busy, busy, busy.

Friends phone me up to arrange a coffee date, and we find ourselves one or two weeks hence  into our diaries … because its ten days before I have a free slot – crazy! Anybody would think I was a top flight executive. Any day now I’ll need a Social Secretary to manage my diary.

People often say “You keep yourself so busy!” either in tones of admiration or condemnation (delete inapplicable).  Not so. I’m not deliberately  trying to keep busy.  It’s just that there are so many interesting things to do or see. Plus there are my weekly addictive sessions with Mah Jongg and Scrabble. Not giving those up!

And then there’s the theory that as you age, time speeds up in an inverse ration to your age – or something – I’ve never grasped that. I know I should, but I haven’t.  I remember, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, how it took FOREVER for Christmas and your birthday to come around again, whereas nowadays I’m clutching my forehead and gasping, only another 62 days until Christmas – where did the year go??   Never mind the Christmas juggernaut rolling towards us – lately I wake up in the morning, and find that its Friday again,! Dammit, we just had  Friday! Where on earth did the week get to?

I’m definitely running out of time.

Recently a psychic told me I have another 20 years left to me before I depart this mortal plane. Yes, well, no fine … On the one hand I was immensely cheered because it means I now have time to finish my Fantasy novels. And it may take that long. I felt as if I’d been given a gift: another twenty years! Wow!  But on the bad days, it doesn’t seem like such a bonanza.

There’s an old saying “Man proposes, God disposes”. Perhaps the best thing to do is live each day as best we can. An old song had the line  yesterday is history, tomorrow still a mystery  and all we really have is NOW, just this moment, as the Buddhists would say. And this moment. And this moment.  That old American hippie, Ram Dass, once wrote a book titled “Be Here Now”. Pretty good advice.

 

 

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