March 27, 2015 § 8 Comments

I am broken open
Shards litter, splinters glitter
Nothing is me anymore.

Everything is me from before.

Do not sweep me up
Or step over my pieces –
Look at me.


And hold back your broom.

For I will pick myself up.
I will gather my pieces with love and anger
From the fire that burns in me
And I will rise.


There is gold in my veins
Gold that has settled into the million tiny cuts
Of a million tiny words
That almost bled me dry.


And if you would love me;
If you would be the one to walk alongside me
As that gold is beaten till it gleams,
Be equal to the task.

I am done with less than, with second-best, with good enough.
I am done with eggshells and backbends and silence.
I am enough.
I am complete.
I am perfectly and wonderfully made.

And I will rise.



London bridge

March 25, 2015 § 8 Comments

“London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down…” It’s a refrain that has echoed across schoolyards since the 17th century, if Wikipedia is to be believed. I love looking up the history of childhood chants and games – so much so that I once began (but didn’t complete) a Master’s degree in sociolinguistics about the clapping games little girls play.

But that’s a topic for another day. As I read through the Wikipedia entry, and saw that London Bridge is accompanied by an arch game – like Oranges and Lemons – it got me thinking about children’s birthday parties and how they’ve changed since I was young enough to attend one as a guest.

When I was a kid, birthday parties were a simple affair. You came home from school clutching an invitation, your name carefully filled in on a pre-printed sheet you could buy by the pad at the stationery shop. On the appointed day, you sat on the back seat of the car carefully balancing the present on your lap, and your mum dropped you off at the gate.

Inside, a predictable set of activities awaited you, all organised by the birthday girl or boy’s mother: Pass the Parcel, Oranges and Lemons, I Wrote a Letter to My Love, and perhaps a game of Red Rover or Pin the Tail on the Donkey. There was one prize per game, if the game had a winner. You ate some crisps and some fudge and sometimes (shudder) there were lamingtons too. You drank some fizzy pop – a treat, at the time, for special occasions only – and the boys had a burping competition. And then candles were blown out, there was singing, and you were given a square of birthday cake, carefully wrapped in a paper serviette, to take home and eat after dinner.

And then we come to the parties of today. We, like the shopaholic sheep we are, have gone astray. Because there are clowns, magicians, funfairs, craft parties, dance parties, cooking parties – an endless list of options, making a whole new industry. I know because I’ve paid a fair amount of money over to those people on behalf of my own children.

Party tables groan with what passes for food – most of it is junk, and there’s always far too much of it. Children plant themselves next to bowls of sweets and shovel the stuff in, making Roald Dahl’s August Gloop seem positively restrained.

And it horrifies me.

Children today go to parties with an expectation. They want to be entertained for the entire length of the party – and the entertainment had better be up to scratch. They want co-ordinating decor. They will discuss among themselves which parties are cool, and which aren’t, and contrast and compare their various experiences. They will demand a ‘party pack’ when they go home, and look extremely confused and disappointed if one is not forthcoming.

In addition, don’t think you’ll get away with doing parties for 10 to 12 years – oh no. Thirteen requires a special party, as does Sweet 16. And then when they’re 18, and simultaneously able to drink and drive legally, there’s an all-fall-down-drink-yourself-silly party, naturally, because we South Africans are sensible like that… And don’t forget that a lavish affair for their 21st is almost certainly required.

I feel like a Mother Grundy just typing that. I’ve heard all the arguments, and they can be persuasive: it’s a different era! Kids just want to have fun! Isn’t it lovely that some parents are able to afford to do that for their kids?

But no. In the long-term I think we’re short-changing our children, who should be able to arrive at a friend’s house with a bunch of others and get stuck in to just being children. They should run around and play their own games, and be rowdy and get dirty and maybe stop for a drink or a snack before they carry on with being children.

Children who expect to be entertained and plied with food, drink and gifts at someone else’s birthday, and who demand a prize just for participating in a game, are not the kind of children I want to be around: they’re good, old-fashioned spoilt brats. And we, as parents, are responsible for making them so.

* Dave Luis and I are posting a series of tandem blogs. We write about the same topic at the same time, and publish our posts without seeing what the other has written. You can see what Dave wrote about this topic at

That one time, at band camp…

March 18, 2015 § 8 Comments

I’m going to cheat a little on this topic, because I’ve never been to band camp, but I have been to many, many camps – I was a Girl Guide in my distant youth, and camping formed a large part of what we did. But there’s one camp that stands out – a jamboree I attended with 499 other Girl Guides, and 2 000 Scouts: a ratio that felt just about right to a teenage girl… Ahem.

Anyway, it was a marvellous camp. We hiked and canoed and washed in zinc baths, and we cooked over fires and slept under the stars. I tried my hand at archery – mostly because the Scouter running the archery base was pretty hot – and finally had to concede when I buried the umpteenth arrow in the grass, that archery was not for me.

And then, one night, they assembled all 2 500 of us in an enormous marquee for an evening of entertainment with the Blarney Brothers. In some ways, it was an odd choice, because – and I’m sure they will forgive me for saying so – they were not exactly the kind of band (or the age group) you’d expect a bunch of teenagers to listen to. But these lovely middle-aged Irish men had the measure of us. In no time at all, we were singing along with them – they were consummate professionals, and they won over a pretty tough crowd.

I don’t remember how or why, but towards the end of the concert, the Blarney Brothers weren’t singing anymore, and my new friends were pushing me to the front and onto the stage. There had been some kind of call for people to come along and sing, and no doubt my friends had heard me humming around the tent – I’m always singing something. I recall wanting to sing a Whitney Houston song – probably Saving all my Love for You, but I suppose modern torch songs weren’t really the stuff the Blarney Brothers were likely to have in their repertoire, so I sang something else: I forget what.

I may have forgotten the song, but I will never forget the feeling. That was my first time singing into a microphone. I’d performed in many stage shows, mostly musicals, but I had never stood on a stage in front of 2 500 people who were waiting to hear me sing. Just me.

And I loved every single second of it. I was a little nervous, sure, but it was a good kind of nervous. I stood up there, belted out that song, and returned to my friends with applause ringing in my ears.

The sad part is that apart from the small foray I made into singing in public again last year, that’s probably the last time I felt confident about my singing abilities. But the really good part is that I remembered that evening. And I remembered the feeling. And I’ve realised that all of the self-critical voices in my head, for all of these years, belonged to other people. That once upon a time, I believed in myself enough to perform for all of those people.

And if I could do it once, I can do it again – right? (And with any luck, again and again.)


* This blog is the fifth of a series of tandem blogs with Dave Luis. We’re having great fun writing about the same topics and publishing at the same time without seeing each other’s posts. You can see what Dave wrote about this topic at

Nothing like that smile!

March 11, 2015 § 3 Comments

I need to take issue with Cher for a moment. Because she’s quite wrong – it’s not the kiss that’s important, it’s the smile. Have you ever watched a teenager texting their latest crush? Do you remember how your first love made you feel? Do you feel the corners of your mouth lifting as you remember? That’s the smile I mean.

There’s nothing that compares with watching someone’s face light up at the sight – or even the thought – of the person they’ve fallen for, the one who’s completely colonised their heart. There’s nothing like seeing someone’s face relax into a smile when you walk into a room. There’s nothing like the way every cell in your body seems to smile for just one person, that person, your very best beloved.

I was at a wedding recently where the air was thick with love. It was a beautiful wedding by all of the external factors we use to judge these things – the venue and the decor were exquisite, the drinks were cold, the guests in their finery. But its beauty lay not in the theme or the colour scheme, or even the dream that finally came true.

Its beauty lay in those smiles – the love light on their faces reserved only for each other – and the promise that they would always smile at each other that way.

And in the pews, each guest at that wedding smiled with them through a mist of tears, in recognition of that need in each of us.

* This blog is part of 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

A good sandwich

March 4, 2015 § 7 Comments

You might be forgiven for thinking I’m a little obsessed with sandwiches, given that I’ve written about Marmite sandwiches in the past. Indeed, some days I feel as though my life is one big sandwich-making exercise: I have a sandwich for lunch most days, and I make them for my children’s school lunches every day.

But today I want to address a very important issue: not so much the issue of a good sandwich, but the question that keeps me awake at night: which is the very best sandwich?

You see, I have made good sandwiches in my life. I am partial to ciabatta filled with steak, caramelised onions, blue cheese and rocket, or chicken mayo, crispy bacon, brie and cranberry sauce. Oh, how the thought of those sandwiches makes my mouth water. They are very good sandwiches, dear reader, but they are not the Best Sandwich.

There are people in the world, bless their souls, who believe that an egg mayo sandwich is the Best Sandwich. They are the people at funerals who swarm around the table in the church hall afterwards, pouncing with delight – and no decorum whatsoever – on those sulphurous, despicable concoctions that must surely issue forth from Hell itself.

And answer me this, egg mayo sandwich eaters – why do you never make egg mayo sandwiches at home? Why do you fall upon them, trampling each other in your haste to eat them, as though they are the rarest truffles, gruntled from the ground by French pigs, and unavailable unless some poor sod pops his clogs? You can buy eggs and mayonnaise at any supermarket, for goodness sake. Make your own, make them more often, and get a grip. Just stay away from me when you do.

But I digress, dear readers. Let me continue with your education. The Best Sandwich is not a bacon buttie, or a club sandwich, or even a BLT. The Best Sandwich is the humble cheese and tomato sandwich, for never were two ingredients (three, if you count the bread) more destined to be together.

A cheese sandwich is a wonderful thing, to be sure, but the addition of tomato just adds that little je ne sais quoi, that little zing of acid and the right amount of crunch, and juicy sweetness when tomatoes are in season and at the height of their powers.

An added bonus is that a cheese and tomato sandwich is practically a salad! Don’t believe me? Check out your local restaurant menu under ‘salads’. Run your finger down the list till you get to Caprese salad – what do you see there? Cheese and tomato, and maybe some basil for colour. Some places have the temerity to add avocado – that other food ingredient that must surely come from the devil – but the establishments worth visiting know that a Caprese is just a cheese and tomato sandwich without the bread.

And if you don’t already know this, a Caprese salad is the only salad worth eating in any case. All of the others are a huge waste of effort – all that endless chewing for very little flavour in return. And they don’t even fill you up – at least a Caprese will keep you going for a while thanks to the cheese. But I digress again…

If the combination of cheese and tomato is not the best in the world, pray tell me why it is used with such gay abandon in the world’s iconic dishes? I present Margherita pizzas, pasta with Napoletana sauce and parmesan, and macaroni cheese topped with tomato slices as exhibits A, B and C. And, at those selfsame funerals I mentioned above, why do the cheese and tomato sandwiches disappear faster than even the egg mayo sandwiches? Can you explain that? Huh? Huh? Can you?

I can. It’s because they’re the best. Obviously.

But the final reason, and I think you’ll find it a compelling one, is that a cheese and tomato sandwich can be elevated to Even Greater Heights, by making it into a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich. And toast, as I have established in a previous post, is medicine.

You have to agree, I’m afraid. The evidence is overwhelming. All of the other choices are good sandwiches – egg mayo excluded – but cheese and tomato is the Best Sandwich of all.


* This blog is the third 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

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