Tag Archives: Natalie Goldberg



Browsing through Old Friends from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg, sparked several thoughts in me. While eating my breakfast this morning I was reflecting how, when you’re a kid, you seldom understand the context of events. And when I was young nobody ever explained context to us – we were supposed to be seen and not heard, and constant questions were not welcomed or tolerated.
Continuing this train of thought I remember reading LIFE magazine and an article on the death of Leon Trotsky. Somehow the blurry black and white photos remain a fading memory to this day. Quite why the article made such an impression on me, I can’t explain. Perhaps because the man was murdered, and my Dad’s murder mysteries were my reading resource.
Considering I lived in a remote backwater of the dying British Empire, it was a miracle I even had a copy of LIFE magazine in my hands at all. There were no bookstores in the country. Granted, the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland had bookstores, but they stocked only religious or educational materials.
The expat community subscribed to a wide range of British and American magazines , which trundled slowly over the ocean, via the post, and fell into our eager hands many months after publication. The magazines were greedily consumed and then circulated around the district on a rota. Each magazine had a list pinned to the cover, with the names of the recipients. You were honour bound to read the magazine quickly, and then send it on to the next name, perhaps with a few magazines from your own hoard. If the next recipient lived fairly close by, you sent your gardener with the precious bundle – on his bicycle if he owned such a luxury, or on his feet if he didn’t.
But if the next recipient lived on a far distant tea estate, you would take your bundle up to the Sports Club on your weekly visit, and pass it over to the next person. Or ask another member to do you a favour and act as go-between and postman. Everybody obliged. The magazines were a link to the outside world, to civilization, to HOME. That mythical , longed-for Paradise, over the ocean. Far, far away from Nyasaland*, in tropical Africa.
So: when I read about the death of Leon Trotsky in Mexico all those years ago, the news was not by any means fresh, given the magazine circulation system. Our family didn’t subscribe to LIFE, we were merely on the rota. I had absolutely no idea who Leon Trotsky was, or his political importance. I probably knew where Mexico was, because I collected stamps and often used my small atlas to locate mysterious, faraway countries.
I’ve resisted Googling the death of Leon Trotsky, because I want this to be a memoir. One detail I do recall: he was stabbed to death with an ice-pick. Of course, I’d never seen such an item. It wasn’t common in tropical Africa. Ice cubes – yes, we had those. But ice-picks? No.
Neither was Communism – in the early 1950s which was when I probably read the article, mentioned in colonial Africa. Adults in my tiny world generally didn’t talk about world politics and events. Cut-off as we were from the rest of the world, our only source of news was the crackly, wavering broadcast news from the BBC in London, which tended to focus on the Home Counties plus a little international news. Most of which I ignored anyway. Assuming I could hear anything at all. The radio reception varied from poor to terrible.
I grew up in a vacuum so far as news and culture was concerned. Boarding school didn’t help much in this regard either. Sequestered as we were, and listening to our portable radios being (a) strictly controlled and (b) tuned to the Hit Parade from Lourenco Marques Radio in Portuguese East Africa*, I was a complete ignoramus. Youngsters today have an enormous exposure to global events and global culture. When I think how little I knew about anything as a young adult, it’s amazing I have survived this long, from such a scanty launch pad.
Yet here I am, in my senescence, surrounded by the digital, electronic world. It’s nothing short of astounding how much the world has changed in sixty five years in terms of communications and life-style. And you know what? I love living in the early 21st century!

  • renamed Malawi
  • renamed Mozambique






The Rough Guide to CULT FICTION . I bought this on a sale (can’t resist bargains) and it has been invaluable.  I often refer to it if I need more info on an author – it has intriguing snippets about their personal foibles, as well as literary info about their books. I’ve spent happy moments browsing its pages, reading up on Gothic Chic,  identifying Japanese Manga,  researching Kafka,  discovering new authors. In terms of value for money, I should have paid ten times more for this sale bargain.

1000 BOOKS  You Must Read Before You Die General Editor: Peter Boxall. This hefty reference book  is my ultimate go-to  guide. I prefer it to Google. My generous friend Marita sent it to me as a gift – and considering it was mailed from Australia, I’ll bet the postage came to more than the cost of the book.

The book starts  pre-1700 with Aesop’s Fables and ends in the 2000s. There are indices of book titles, and authors’ names, plus a general index. The book stock is glossy paper, so the many  writers’ portraits are high quality.  It’s concise, comprehensive, informative, and meticulously indexed. If you can find a copy (published 2006) and afford it, buy the book.  You won’t regret it. I wouldn’t be without mine.

The shorter Oxford English Dictionary –  two  massive tomes – heaven save us from the Longer Version! But invaluable, despite the weight lifting involved to find a word.

Collins’ SCRABBLE DICTIONARY  – treasury of weird words. You will be unbeatable at Scrabble, no question. Bet you don’t know what zoppa means. I certainly didn’t until I stumbled across it. (I’m showing off – slap me on the wrist).  One of my favourite new words is fice – means ‘a small fierce dog’.

Old Friends From Far Away – American writing teacher Natalie Goldberg’s brilliant take on writing memoir. She’s feisty, accessible, practical – she’s more real than real. Wannabe writers should  carry this book everywhere.

Wildlife of the Cape Peninsula –  – Common Animals and Plants  by Duncan Butchart : this handy little guide enabled me  to identify The Malachite Sunbird  that briefly visited my garden. The bird was so large, I was baffled because I had always thought  Sunbirds to be dainty little creatures. So now we know: they come super-sized as well!

Snacks & Treats for Sustained Energy – Gabi Steenkamp & Jeske Wellmann

A recent Birthday gift; low fat, low GI  recipes.  As a diabetic, this is the ideal cookbook for me, and surprising to report, the results haven’t had too much of the  sawdust factor. So often, diabetic recipes are loaded with oat bran etc. etc. that the end result tastes pretty much like … you guessed it : sawdust.



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