A walk in the rain

February 25, 2015 § 12 Comments


You know that I grew up in a coastal town. And I think I’ve told you that we went to the beach in our winter holidays. It was never far, just slightly out of town, but far enough away from home to feel like we’d gone somewhere.

Our holidays weren’t about sunblock and sunburn and sunbathing. They were all gun-metal skies, gritty beaches, rounded rusty rocks, and chilly rock pools where a keen eye could find a pumpkin shell perfectly poised between the pebbles.

But it’s the beach walks I remember the most: long wild walks in the seasonal drizzle of a winter’s day. My black school raincoat with the hood tied securely under my chin. The whipping of the wind around my ankles. The cold at the end of my nose. The wet, wine-red colour of my cheeks. Running through freezing foam despite the wintry weather.

I long to do that walk with you. You don’t need to speak; the wind would carry your words away and the rain would wash mine from my tongue.

I don’t need words.

I need that vast emptiness, and the glowering sky. I need the crinkle of your eyes, your gentle smile. I need your hand and your heart.

I need a walk in the rain … with you.


* This blog is the second post in a ‘two bloggers, one topic’ challenge devised by Dave Luis and me. We had the same topic and published at the same time, without seeing each other’s posts. You can see what Dave wrote about this topic at http://www.bloggsymalone.wordpress.com.


My mother’s hands

February 18, 2015 § 11 Comments

My mother’s hands were always busy, and usually with a needle of some sort.

Trained as a needlework teacher, she could conjure up clothing without breaking a sweat – a wedding dress, a school jersey, a yellow gingham playsuit for a four-year-old me, or a dress with bold red flowers that I wore to a wedding as my teenage boyfriend’s plus one. She embroidered tray cloths with tiny, precise cross stitches. She upholstered small items of furniture. She crocheted blankets for our beds in every colour of the rainbow, and she even knew how to make lace.

If I wanted something new to wear, we seldom bought it, because the budget simply wouldn’t allow. “Let’s go to the shops,” she’d say. “We’re going to steal with our eyes.” We’d trail through the clothing stores and I’d point out what I liked. Then it was off to the fabric shop, the one only a few people knew about, which was tucked away in an obscure industrial street.

There the choices were endless and the prices low. And we’d step into a wonderland of colours and textures, of linens and silks, brocades and cottons, of stripes and spots and flower-sprigged prints. I’d follow behind her through walls of buttons and rainbows of fabric till we found something I liked. And a day or two later I’d have a garment that looked like it was made just for me. Because it was. And no-one would ever guess it was home-made.

In the genetic lottery that produced the body I inhabit, I realise I have my mother’s hands and my father’s fingernails. They’re not beautiful hands by any means, nor are they as adept as hers were. They’re scarred and wrinkled, and stout and square. They’re the kind of hands that would send a beautician running for the hills.

But these hands can run up a dress or a cushion cover, and they can knit, and they can cook and bake and play the piano. They can touch type, they can write a letter, they can pull out weeds and change a tyre. They can wipe away a tear, or smooth the expanse of my children’s brows while they sleep. They can hold your hand.

And while I may not have my mother anymore, she’s not completely gone. For when I look down at whatever it is I happen to be doing, I have her hands to remember her by.

* This blog was written as part of a ‘two bloggers, one topic’ challenge devised by Dave Luis and me. We’ll be doing this for a couple of weeks, and you can see what Dave wrote about this topic at http://www.bloggsymalone.wordpress.com.

Tandem blogging

February 17, 2015 § 2 Comments

My friend Dave sent me an email with some blog post suggestions last week. He assures me it’s not because my blogs are boring, but he knows that I frequently get to Wednesdays and start furiously casting around for topic ideas. I’m choosing to believe him…

But I thought it would be fun if he and I both wrote about the four or five topics he’d suggested – at the same time, on our our respective blogs, and published in tandem without seeing the other person’s writing.

So that’s what we’re doing for the next four or five Wednesdays. Tomorrow, at 2pm South African time, we’ll both publish our posts on the same topic, and you’ll find Dave’s blog here.

See you then!

Ask a stupid question …

February 12, 2015 § 7 Comments

There I was, happily slurping my coffee on a Saturday morning as I scrolled through my Twitter timeline, when a promoted tweet popped up that made my blood boil.

Now, promoted tweets have the power to do that at the best of times, but sometimes they do it so well that there ought to be a prize for them. A deeply sarcastic prize.

Here’s a screengrab of the tweet: see if you can figure out why I was so irritated (apart from the missing word in the picture, of course).


Let’s address the two questions separately – because they are separate questions.

With regards the first question, the closeness of your relationship with your children has nothing to do with your stance on underage drinking. Close relationships with children are fostered through love, listening, empathy, discipline, boundary setting, good family values, and so on.

Sure, underage drinking falls under boundary-setting, but if your relationship with your kids stands or falls on that issue … oy vey. You have bigger problems to worry about.

And as for the second question, what on earth is a cool parent? It isn’t your job to be cool – it’s your job to raise kids who can function as citizens of our society, kids with a fighting chance of a good life ahead of them. Am I wrong?

Using coolness as a measure of your worth in your children’s eyes is like trying to hold an egg white in your hand – you’re just never going to get a proper grip on it. Because what’s cool is not always good for you. What’s cool comes and goes. What’s cool today may be deeply uncool tomorrow. Coolness is irrelevant in parenting.

Finally, being firm about underage drinking isn’t really a choice – it’s the law. We South Africans are past masters at complaining about all the crime, and then picking and choosing which laws we feel like obeying. A new law is proposed and we say: “Who’s going to enforce it?” We speed, we park illegally, we steal office supplies, we smoke where we’re not supposed to, we drink and drive, we allow our children to drink before they’re 18. And by so doing, we instil a similar mind-set in our children – where it’s okay to break the law just as long as you don’t get caught.

I think whoever is in charge of the strategy on this campaign needs to rethink the questions they ask (and hire a proofreader). There are important conversations to be held on underage drinking, but I’m not sure this is one of them.

Let it go

February 11, 2015 § 7 Comments

I should be blogging now. It’s Wednesday, after all, and Wednesday is blogging day.

But it’s just after 9pm and we’re having a heatwave. I got home late, and last night I slept so badly I could’ve sworn it was full moon.

So I’m letting myself off the hook. In the past couple of weeks, no matter which way I’ve turned, I’ve got the same message: “Let it go.” And these have not been subtle hints – those exact words have been uttered by doctors, therapists and friends. It’s like there’s a cosmic conspiracy: this the message I need to hear. This is the lesson I must learn.

I’m a perfectionist control freak people pleaser, so letting go just isn’t in my make-up. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

So I’m not going to feel guilty for missing a blog. I’m going to bed and I’m not going to blog tonight.


* PS. Apologies for the earworm.

There’s no place like home

February 5, 2015 § 10 Comments

I was recently back in the town where I grew up, visiting my parents, and my younger daughter asked me to show her the house I’d grown up in.

So we took a drive past the house and continued up the long, straight road past my primary school on the right hand side, right next to the Methodist Church where I attended Girl Guides. Then we drove on to my high school, exactly a kilometre from our front gate.

As we cruised through the suburb, I pointed out where the Scary Dog had lived – the one with yellow eyes, the one that terrified five-year-old me as I trudged to school with my brown suitcase, its metal handle digging into my small hands. I showed them the place of my greatest ignominy, where I tumbled off my bicycle as a teenager and landed, legs in the air, in the middle of the road right in front of the school gates. I showed them the verandah outside my Grade 1 classroom – or Sub A as it was called back then. And I showed them the verandah outside the woodwork classrooms, where I hung out in my final year of high school, a lone girl in a garrulous group of boys.

But what I really wanted to do was to go back to my house, to number 28, knock on the door and ask the people who lived there now if I could wander around. I wanted to see if the loquat tree still bore its yellow apricot-like fruits; if the piece of cement next to the pool still bears my hand print and those of my brother, my sister. I wanted to look for my mother’s short, broad footprint next to the bench she built on the side of the house.

I wanted to know if the pine, louvre-doored built-in cupboards that divided my sister’s room and mine were still there – cupboards my father built with the help of a friend, that turned a former single garage into two lovely bedrooms, and which looked as professional as any carpenter’s work.

I wanted to know if the plaster in the passage and the study and the lounge was still knobbly and rough and painted with shiny enamel – all the rage in the ’70s and ’80s. And I wondered if they’d kept the long, wide cement driveway, parts of which I helped my father to throw, mixing the cement with a spade making that satisfying shuck-shuck-shuck noise to ensure it was the right texture. The same driveway where I taught myself to ride my first bicycle, aged nine.

Is my mother’s rose garden still there, the one she tended in a windy climate not suited to rose-growing? Does the wooden fence still enclose the pool? And what about the Wendy House, the one my dad built out of an old packing case and a window from a Mini, and which stood next to the sandpit – a huge tractor tyre he brought home from work. Does any shred of them remain? Does the pear tree still bear fruit that’s inedible unless you stew it for a very long time?

And then I realised that none of those things are likely to be there anymore. Because although it’s my house, it’s not my home anymore. It’s just a geographical marker of my memories, and stepping over the threshold would only bring disappointment. Other people are making new memories in that shell, and nothing inside is likely to live up to what I remember.

So I’ll go back and drive around the neighbourhood again, in all likelihood. I’ll point out where the bearded woman lived around the corner, and I’ll remember the house whose verge grass was so soft and plush that I’d walk that way just to feel it give way beneath my school shoes.

But I won’t ever knock on that door and ask the people who live there if I can have a look around. I’ll just remember, and smile, and keep on driving.

Where Am I?

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