A poem

August 25, 2012 Comments Off on A poem

On Wednesday last week I took my children to Soweto to visit, among other sites, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum. For those not from South Africa, it’s a museum commemorating 16 June 1976, the start of the Soweto uprisings, and a day when hundreds of children were mowed down by the apartheid government while they protested in their thousands against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.

It moved me to tears. It also moved me to write a poem, something I’ve not done for probably two decades, so I beg you, be kind. (And pardon the asterisks – I couldn’t separate the stanzas any other way.)


The Children at the Edges

It’s the photographs that tug tears from my soul.

Looming, lifesize,

Starkly wrought in black and white,

They make a monster of me.


There’s that picture, sure,

The one that shook the world,

The one that started all the trouble.

But it’s the others that draw me —

The children at the edges smiling

As though this were just another day out.


I see the shock in my own children’s eyes

When they realise they are just as young.

My two “born frees”

Who still reap ill-gotten gains from days like these.


The anger is palpable.

The faces of the soldiers familiar somehow.

I remember these boys,

The boys who left to fight a war

Against God knows what.

Against these children.

They left as boys and returned,

Their hair buzzed short,

Their eyes and voices as hollowed out as their souls.


I silently count.

Ah, I was seven.

I couldn’t have known.

These things were kept from me.

But out in the courtyard

The stones bearing their names cry out,

Silently accusing.

So many children, so many dead children,

So many who will still die

If we do nothing.


Not a death born of the blood-stained clay

Or the bullet-scarred churches.

Out on those dusty streets

There is a freedom of a kind,

And in theory, at least, we are all the same.


And yet, and yet.

The wrongs are not yet right,

For the children at the edges.

Copyright Mandy Collins, 25 August 2012


Scent of a woman

August 17, 2012 Comments Off on Scent of a woman

I am not a great perfume lover. Most perfumes get up my nose, irritate my allergies, and I find most of them fairly overpowering and headache-inducing. I have a favourite perfume oil I dab on my wrists occasionally when the mood takes me, and that’s about it.

But today, as I passed my neighbourhood pharmacy, I spotted a familiar bottle on one of the counters, and found I couldn’t resist spraying some 4711 Eau de Cologne on each wrist. Because it’s the scent I associate with my granny. She’s been gone for eight years now, and I still miss her terribly.

Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, and my maternal grandmother died when I was just six, so my dad’s mom was the grandparent who was around for the longest. We were very close; I took my first unaccompanied flight to Cape Town to visit her when I was eleven, and that week spent at her home in Stellenbosch is one of my fondest memories.

I had no qualms about spending a week with her and the elderly, frail woman she cared for despite being so young, and not having any siblings or friends my age to keep me company. My granny was company enough. We raced around the streets in her little green Mini visiting a variety of her friends, who cooed over me and gave me sweets and other treats, which pleased me no end. I also spent a lot of my time elbow deep in flour – her simple but stupendously delicious food and legendary puff pastry, always made from scratch, continue to inspire me in my own kitchen today.

But back to the 4711 – or Eau de Cologne, as she always called it. She always had a bottle on her dressing table, perched beside the black lacquered jewellery box that now resides on my chest of drawers. I remember being entranced by the bottle’s feminine shape and the turquoise and gold curlicues on the label. To me it was the epitome of glamour.

Of course, it isn’t really, especially by today’s standards, but she treated it simultaneously as if it were liquid gold, and a panacea for a multitude of ills. I’ve written before of how she taught me to be thrifty: Eau de Cologne was always dabbed on sparingly, never sprayed with gay abandon. But if you had a mosquito bite, out it would come, and it would – miraculously – soothe the itching and discomfort. If you were hot and bothered, again, some Eau de Cologne was dabbed on your pulse points to cool you down. There was very little it couldn’t do.

It’s the smell I associate with the inside of her wardrobe and the lining of her handbag. If she retrieved a tissue from underneath her watchstrap to wipe your nose, or dry your tears, the faint, delicate odour always seemed to be trapped in the fibres. And in many ways, the scent was a perfect metaphor for her – simple, unfussy, subtle, and a comforting presence no matter what ailed you.

I’ve really been missing her of late. So often I want to pick up the phone and call her; hear her voice and laugh at her wicked, mischievous jokes, and bask in her practical, down-to-earth advice. All I have left of her is the jewellery box, some photographs, her recipe books and an arsenal of happy memories. But this afternoon as I did my grocery shopping, her scent lingered on my wrists, and I could almost hear her voice again.


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