Category Archives: SOCIAL COMMENT





You are looking at the remains of my Amex credit card. Have I snipped it up because of a New Year Resolution not to use it again? No. On bank instruction, I wielded my scissors. Why? Because some so-and-so hacked into it & fraudulently used it in Pretoria 2 000 kms away from Cape Town.

Thank goodness for Nedbank’s SMS warning system that tells you when sales are registered against your card. No sooner did I read the text than I was on the phone to report a fraudulent transaction. Whizz- bang-splat: they blocked my card. So much good it did to the hackers. A curse upon the lot of them!

I had to fill out paperwork (the plague of the modern world) but in three working days I fetched my shiny new Amex card, from the nearest branch of the bank. The service up to this point was excellent, but why, oh why, in this digital age do you have to wait a very long time while the bank clerk patiently waits for their lumbering computer system to process your collection? What’s with the PCs in banks? Invariably the clerk apologises “for our slow system” or – even worse – the dreaded words: “sorry, we’re off-line. You’ll have to come back.” I’ve encountered this often in the bank. And, to be fair, elsewhere.

Perhaps, in view of South Africa’s staggering crime rate, the clerks have to navigate an obstacle course of security checks before they can process your request. I don’t know. I remain baffled.







Really? Bananas from Ecuador, for crying out loud? Now I realise why it cost me R6-77 in Cape Town for two bananas. What a crazy price. But I suppose if the fruit has been air freighted from the north-east of South America to the very tip of Africa in the South , the price is bound to rise. South Africa produces bananas  on our southern coast in Kwa Zulu Natal; as does our neighbour Mozambique to the North of us. Not to mention Malawi  even further North.  South Africa joined the trading bloc BRICS  – BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Originally the first four were grouped as “BRIC” (or “the BRICs“), before the induction of South Africa in 2010. BRICS – Wikipedia

Thanks Wikipedia. What would we do without you? Global info is wonderful but I’m not so sure about global trade deals . They  certainly wreck the price of bananas.


*(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)







*(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)



1 Comment




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.






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.





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 .  Thanks again to 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?






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  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!






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.

*(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)




*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE 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
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)



Leave a comment





Not of my body, let me hasten to add. Maybe I chose a misleading title for this piece.

No, no, dear readers: of my overflowing cupboards.  A blitz on the dreaded STUFF, which I have written about before. I’m not a hoarder, but it’s astonishing how stuff accumulates. Gifts, raffle prizes, sale bargains, retail madness. Regardless of the source, my cupboards are overfull.

My friend Emily inspired me to phone The Guys – she used them when she had a mega-purge of her very large house. Result : ruthlessly tossed mountains of STUFF – ornaments, bric brac, travel souvenirs, you name it –into the pile it went . The Guys arrived in their bakkie, armed with cartons, crates and ready cash (yay!) packed it, loaded it, and drove away.

I spent a hot, sweaty Sunday extracting unused item – you never know, one day I might … Sound familiar?  Out came the pristine manual typewriter, in its metal case, that I’d been keeping for the day when I retreated to the Karoo to a farm cottage sans electricity, and sans electronic aids,  to write my award winning novel. Dream on, lady. Never going to happen. Out it went.

Extra flower vases  acquired from florists’  arrangements, sent by daughters. You can always send me flowers for a birthday, I love them  – but what to do with the vases afterwards? You sell them to The Guys, that’s what!

Old, chipped ornaments, which I was definitely going to repair one day . Truly, that is the deadliest phrase in my life: one day I will …   Complete the sentence. The One Day tasks sink below a wave of accounts to be paid, vet appointments, medical appointments, meetings. No to mention the craft projects. Not even going there!  And so it goes. As you well know. And one day  is yet to arrive.

Out went my once prized collection of stone eggs. I went through a phrase when I was intrigued by gemstones, and it was fun to collect them. That phase has passed. Now I’m bewitched by postcards and Postcrossing. Lotsa fun. Can you see the butterfly mind effect at work here?

I assembled the rejects on my dining room table. There was the gigantic electric wok which was so big it wouldn’t fit into any cupboard, so has been sulking, unused, in the garage. Out it went. Here was a box with a new light fitting for the bathroom. Never installed, for technical reasons. And here – a real blast from the past: a box of stiffy disks. Remember those? PC’s are no longer manufactured with a slot in which to insert them, so …

The box of silver Apostle teaspoons that you can’t put in the dishwasher? Sorry. Bye bye. No longer of use.  But the wad of money The Guys gave me is definitely of use. Time, effort and sweat well spent. I plan to spend the cash on theatre tickets. I am definitely not buying any more STUFF.  That’s a promise!











imagesSouth Africa is not an easy country to live in.  The challenges are enormous,  ranging from the ever present threat of crime, to rising cost of living due to the drought, to our desperate water shortage here in the Western Cape.

So  I am delighted to share   a heart-warming story  from the  tiny town of  Phalaborwa, situated in Limpopo Province. Phalaborwa is small – population approx 13 500 ,  close to the famous Kruger National Park . It’s bushveld terrain. Hot, dry,  and thorny.

My sister and her husband recently drove up there  to attend her father-in-law’s funeral and help her mother-in-law sort out the paperwork and business affairs that are the inevitable result of a death. . Her in-laws   have lived in Phalaborwa for over 30 years.

Oom* Koos was old, well into his eighties. I never met the man, but always relish  the story of how he opened up his garage early one morning, and was literally bowled over by a leopard charging out, desperate to get back to the bush! A true  Bushveld story. How or why the leopard spent the night in Oom Koos’ garage, I don’t know. But you get the picture.

My sister told me that the town was unbelievably  supportive of the newly widowed woman. Apparently her car needed fixing urgently, and the local garage repaired it, but refused to charge her, saying “repairs were on the house”.

Likewise, when my sister and Mrs Fourie went to the local SPAR to order plates of sandwiches and snacks for the after-funeral tea, there was the same generosity. “No charge”.  Let me be clear – the family did not in any ways ask for discount or assistance, this was the spontaneous response from the SPAR Manager. “No charge – it’s on the house”.

During the week that my sister was in Phalaborwa, she told me that neighbours arrived daily, with cooked meals, forfour people,  three times a day! Not just the next-door neighbour, but different women on a daily basis.

Now that’s true, old fashioned neighbourliness. Wonderful  to discover that generosity and kindness are alive and well in the far North of South Africa! Finally some good news. Let’s all celebrate the notion of neighbourliness, sharing and kindness.  Our country needs it.


*Oom – respectful title bestowed on older men . Afrikaans origin