MY GRANNY’S ALBUM: 1

My maternal grandmother, Edith Claire Myrtle Donald (née King), was fourteen years old when her older brother, Frank, gave her an album for her birthday on 8th May 1903. Most of the entries are dated between 1903 and 1905, although there is at least one dated 1919 and the most recent was one my mother added in 1934, when she was fifteen.

It is akin to some of the ‘autograph books’ that were popular during the 1950s and 1960s, in which people wrote verses or drew pictures. What is striking about this collection is the trouble my Granny’s friends and family went to when making their contributions. I will be sharing some of these from time to time as a reminder of the times of yore, when the pace may have been a little less frenetic.

Look at the intricate details of the cats, birds, dog, rabbit and spider on this page of ‘autographs’. Many are undated, while some are dated between 1906 and 1910.

The violets painted at the corners of this verse quoted from Keats are as fresh today as they were over a hundred years ago.

The ink has faded on this page, although the sentiments expressed have not. My Granny had a ‘contented mind’ and enjoyed a variety of friends who loved her dearly. Those ones still alive did ‘cleave to thee / whatever may betide’. As young children, we were in awe of the way the (to us) old people visiting my Granny and Grandpa at their retirement home in Southbroom on the south coast of what is now KwaZulu-Natal seemed to care for each other’s welfare.

I will leave you this time with a lovely painting of Coleskop – near Colesberg – along with a description of “The Myrtle”

MOUNTAIN DRIVE

The road up Mountain Drive is narrow and rocky.

In places it is very rocky.

Yet, it so worth the trip for the magnificent views across town from the top!

There were butterflies aplenty skimming the top of the grass, chasing each other, or landing briefly on flowers, trees or even on the stones – where I photographed this orange beauty.

Other insects were burrowed into some of the flowers waving in the wind.

Several termite mounds show signs of repair – note the different coloured mud.

The Cussonia spicata (Cabbage) trees are in bloom, their greenish-yellow terminal double umbels of 8-12 spikes per unit dominant on the skyline.

Other interesting flowers are the bright red Burchellia bubaline (Wild pomegranate)

As well as the beautiful orange of Leonatis leonurus (Wild dagga / Lion’s tail)

 

ACTING

It was while sorting through a pile of very old papers that I came across this programme which reminded me of one of the happiest episodes of my high school career: acting in The Admirable Crichton, a delightful play by J.M. Barrie.

Casting my eye down the list of people involved in bringing it all together, unlocks memories of people, of laughter, and of snippets from a time when we were poised on the cusp of change in our lives – some to work, some to study further, but all of us still closely bonded by the camaraderie that comes from being in a relatively small school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While memories of some of the people behind the names have faded with time, others stand out as if I had been with them yesterday. Of the boys, there is one who, when we were in Standard Six (now Grade 8), led the charge against our Religious Instruction teacher who had told us solemnly that the Earth is flat and is supported by seven pillars. What did we know at that young age except that we had learned by heart in Geography the various proofs that the Earth is round! [You are allowed to laugh now, just don’t fall off your chair]. Our class never had another RI class for the rest of our school career as a result of this altercation.

Another will always be remembered for the wonders he could do with the mace whilst marching ahead of our school cadet band – and for getting a hiding after ending a beautiful rendition of I am a Rock at a school concert with I am a Rock, I am a Spider [South African readers will recognise this as a slur on Afrikaners at the time – a rather rash thing for this boy to have done, considering the ratio at our school was one English-speaker to every four Afrikaans-speakers! The teachers were not amused!]. Yet another later became related to me by marriage: he and I had the ghastly experience of singing There’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza during our initiation concert during the first weekend of our boarding school experience. That proved to be my stage debut.

I corresponded with several of the girls for a number of years after leaving school – one I had known since Grade 2 and still correspond with occasionally, the others gradually faded away as their interests diverged from mine.

Such thoughts never entered our heads during the rehearsals and run-up to the opening night of The Admirable Crichton. We enjoyed the novel experience of presenting an entirely English production; enjoyed getting the stage ready; trying on costumes; and putting on make-up … I see that I was one of several girls roped in to be responsible for costumes even then. This is a role I took on when I joined the Dramatic Society at university – no acting for me then, but sewing costumes, altering them and helping out with the make-up. Once I was working, I opted to take on the role of cue mistress for staff productions – rather stressful at times when my colleagues extemporised whole sections of the text, keeping me on my toes throughout!

The Admirable Crichton – fancy the programme turning up after all these years! What a load of memories it holds!  

THE SUPERMARKET

“Won’t it be fantastic to have a decent shopping centre at last?” Elise delicately wiped the muffin crumbs from her mouth with a paper serviette, her eyes sparkling with excitement. Louise sounded more cynical.

“I’ll believe that when I see it.  Local businesses won’t stand for that sort of development on the edge of the central business district.”

“Rents in town will still be much cheaper,” Ursula agreed, “but there is no reason why any of those businesses should move.”

Elise was not to be put off.  “Just think, no more parking problems!” She gulped her coffee so enthusiastically that some dribbled down her chin.  She hastily dabbed at it and continued, “I wonder if they’ll carry a wider selection of goods?  I get so frustrated with the ‘this or that’ choice we have at the moment.”

“I’m more interested in what other shops will be attracted to the shopping centre.”  Ursula looked at the fading roses on the coffee house table and sighed meaningfully. “This whole town really needs a shake-up,” she commented while digging in her purse for her share of the bill.

Rumours about a new shopping complex had spread like wildfire, for it had been the most exciting event to occur in that small country town for years.  The residents eagerly scanned their weekly newspaper for confirmation. Even though they were used to the slowness of time in their area, their hopes ran high.  All looked forward to a much needed injection into their flagging economy. Genuine confirmation came a few months later when the artist impressions were finally published for all to see.  “You see, they are going to build!”  This time Elise sounded triumphant.  “Don’t you think the shopping centre is going to look beautiful?”

“I’ll hand it to them,” Louise answered somewhat grudgingly. “No brick and steel structure this time; the whole complex is in keeping with the local architecture.”

“Perhaps Woolworths will come?” Elise wondered dreamily.  She faced her two friends and smiled happily. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have our own Woolies?”

“Another supermarket chain would be good too,” Ursula commented drily. “It’s about time there was some competition around here.”  She picked up the newspaper to peruse the drawings again and had to agree that this was going to be a swish place indeed.  Their town was going places at last!

Advertisements filled the local paper, feeding excitement at the prospect of more jobs and especially fuelling the hope that there would be a greater variety of shops to choose from.  The whole square was filled with earth moving equipment and large building cranes.  Everyone was impatient to see what would emerge from the rubble of the building site. It seemed many months later before any physical progress showed behind the corrugated iron barricades and once these were removed Elise and Ursula drove into the new parking lot to look at the white and green painted building which looked as though it had arrived from their closest city.

“Oh, it’s so beautiful!”  Elise couldn’t hide her excitement.  “Those poky old houses and the tatty old post office were such an eyesore.”

“I’m glad they kept the palms though,” mused Ursula.  “They must have seen a lot of changes in their time!”

“Palms or not, I can’t wait for all the shops to open!  It’s a shame there’ll be no Woolies though.”  Elise began counting the list of potential new tenants on her fingers. “There’s going to be a jeweller, a new furniture shop, a discount store, another take-away – we could do with one of those.  Pity it’s not Kentucky.  We must be about the only town without one.”

Excitement in the sleepy little town reached fever pitch as the day of the official opening drew nearer.  The leading chain store had moved from its cramped quarters in the centre of town and promised to offer a wider selection of goods and better service.  Customers thronged to the supermarket, jostling each other impatiently for bargains: the chickens were on a fantastic special, they commented, and when last was washing powder so cheap?

Some months after the opening the three friends again met for coffee, their conversation still centred on the new shopping centre.  Elise, who had long felt their town needed a facelift, smiled brightly as she commented appreciatively on the beauty and spaciousness of the new building as well as the improved selection of goods in the supermarket.  Even Ursula was unusually enthusiastic saying, “I hardly ever buy groceries in town now.  It’s so much easier going there where I don’t have to worry about ruddy parking meters!”

“It’s a shame so many of the shops are still empty though,” Louise observed disappointedly.  “That jewellery shop lasted only a month and I hardly ever see customers in the pharmacy.”

“That’s because the rent is sky high.  They are charging city prices which small town people can’t afford.”  Ursula was passing on the opinions that one heard so often these days.  It was a widely known fact that their little agricultural town was not a wealthy one.

“Still, it’s a pity that such an attractive building should be so empty.  It is almost as if the complex wasn’t needed after all!”  Louise sounded sad.

“Who cares,” Elise countered cheerfully, “as long as we can buy our groceries in comfort!”

“I can hardly remember what the site looked like before,” Louise continued soberly, “I mean, it looks as if this massive building and car park have been there forever.”

“Don’t you remember those funny dark old houses with red polished steps and tins of geraniums or ferns on the walls of the dark stoeps?  Then there was that huge open space where the taxis gathered.  Now that was a real eyesore with all that rubbish lying around – not to mention the chaos of vehicles and long queues of people.  At least this looks clean and our town is the better for it!”  The others laughed at the passion Elise was displaying.

“Nevertheless, it’s funny to think people lived there once; that they had children, gardens, pets, hopes, dreams and made plans.”

“We’re better off without them, Louise.  Once the economy picks up this place will hum with business.”  Ursula was again recycling the desperate hope that pervaded every nook and cranny of that small town.  They paid their bill and cheerfully bid each other farewell on the pavement.

In one of the remaining funny dark houses with potted geraniums and a mass of ferns crowded on the dark red-polished stoep, bent old Mrs. Tipp put a protective arm around her ancient cat, Fluid, who was so old he could barely muster a meow.  Her mottled arm shook involuntarily as did her lined lips while she gazed out across the rubble in the open space in front of her house to the enormous white and green monstrosity which had been the death knell of the community she had lived in for fifty years.

The lace curtains in her crowded sitting room flapped idly in the warm breeze.  They had become so impregnated with months of dust from the building operations that she could no longer get them white.  The leather sausage dog with a gilt chain around its neck and a yellow bead for an eye bore testimony to the clouds of dust that had blown in under the door and infiltrated the small dark house which had become increasingly difficult for her to keep clean.  Even the collection of bric-a-brac in the wooden show case with a mirrored back had been covered with a film of dust.

Mrs. Tipp released her hold on the cat and stiffly opened the front door.  “Time to get your milkies my boy,” she croaked cheerfully.  Having checked the buttons on her orange and white crimpelene dress with the large pockets, she slowly counted the money she required and pulled on a pair of towelling slippers with rubber soles.  She carefully locked the wooden door, barely noticing the faded and blistered paint, and slipped the key into its familiar hiding place at the base of the third sword fern from the right.

She still felt ‘undressed’ without the comfortable feel of her handbag under her arm, but that kind policeman had warned them about muggers when he’d visited the Senior Citizen’s Centre.  It had been shocking the way in which Mrs. Scott had been attacked and robbed of her handbag in Magellan Street, however, and this had convinced Mrs. Tipp that the policeman was right.  Poor Mrs. Scott had broken her hip in the fall and those dreadful thugs had made off with all the money she’d drawn from her savings to pay her bills and buy her groceries!

Mrs. Tipp patted her deep pocket and picked her bent way through the remaining builders’ rubble towards the new shopping centre.  She hardly noticed the wind whipping the hair from the plastic slides and casting it about her face.  Instead, as she stumbled over the rough ground she remembered … Mrs. Stander who used to bake those melt-in-the-mouth milk tarts, Mr. Raso who sat on his front steps each morning to greet passersby, Mr. and Mrs. Topell who kept racing pigeons in their back yard and, above all, her dear friend Sarah Stickley, who had died soon after moving into the old age home, so stricken was she at the loss of the only home she had known since her marriage.

She fiercely wiped away the tears which always welled up when she ‘trespassed’ through the gardens of the past.  She missed the little Corner Shop where she had bought her groceries for years and passed the time of day with old Mr. Gumbie.  No-one took much notice of her at this fancy supermarket where the assistants sighed audibly while she painstakingly counted her coins which she kept in a plastic bank bag.  These new coins were difficult to identify and she couldn’t stop her stiff fingers from shaking as she tried to prise them out of the narrow opening.  There always seemed to be crowds of people waiting impatiently in the queue and she seldom found the tea she wanted.  Mr. Gumbie had always kept a box of Earl Grey under the counter for her as well as a tin of those hard travelling sweets.  The managers of this new supermarket seemed to change so often that there was no point asking them to do the same.  Everyone was so impatient in that noisy place that it was quite frightening to go inside!

As she picked up her plastic carrier bag and carefully shuffled past the jostling shoppers near the cigarette counter, Mrs. Tipp reflected sadly that, worst of all, there was no-one left who cared to ask her about Fluid.

ELEGANT GRASSHOPPER

The Elegant Grasshopper (Zonocerus elegans) reaches a length of around 5 cm. Its vivid colouration is so successful in deterring predators that these grasshoppers have no real need to escape – hence the underdeveloped wings. The Elegant Grasshopper also relies on its accumulated toxins for protection from predators, producing a yellow liquid through its exoskeleton. Although pretty to look at, these grasshoppers are considered a pest by farmers as they attack various crops such as soya beans, cotton and groundnuts.

BOOKS NEED TO BE SHARED

I shudder sometimes when I come across articles relating to the decluttering of one’s home. I look at images of childrens’ bedrooms done up in bright colours and floating shelves artfully decorated with the odd car or doll – where are the books, I ask myself.

I know a child who loves to read.

I shudder sometimes when I hear people talking about ‘getting rid’ of their childrens’ clothes and toys and the books they have ‘grown out of’.

I know a child who loves to know who used to read the book she’s reading.

I shudder when I see books used as props in home décor magazines to hold a pot plant or piled on the floor tied with coloured string to serve as a doorstop. How can you treat books like this, I want to shout.

I know a child who loses herself in worlds away from where she lives.

I really shudder when I see books in good condition being cut up, or pasted over, or painted, or folded in the name of an art form that is likely to be tossed aside in years to come.

I know a child who longs for peace and solitude so that she can read undisturbed.

I know a child who harbours a desire to keep every book she has enjoyed.

I have kept the books my children read. They have been dusted off for the next generation to read.

I love reading the stories I read to my children to their children.

I love listening to my children reading the stories I read to them to their children.

Books are friends
Books need to be read
Books need to be cherished
Books need to be shared.