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”


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.


I have confessed before to being a hopeless bibliophile and that every nook and cranny in our home is crammed with books – some of them very old and others very new.


There is something sensuous about opening a book – fiction or non-fiction – and delving into its contents: getting lost in the turbulent history of the Eastern Cape; exploring the different shades of snow in Alaska; following the lives of young girls who went to war; laughing at the antics of a character in Cape Town; or finding out more about the habits of the Fiscal Shrike are some of the ‘journeys’ I have undertaken over the past few weeks.

Some of the books on our shelves have ‘hidden’ themselves. We know we have them; we know they should be ‘here’; yet, alas, they are not. I was searching high and low for a book on Merlyn the other day. I knew it had a bright orange spine – where could it be? When I located it at last I had to laugh, for the spine had bleached to white over many years of exposure even to indirect sunlight!

book with faded spine

Books are precious. It is true that some books are more precious than others for even a bibliophile like me can find some books to donate to a worthy charitable cause or to pass on to people I think will enjoy them. There is a big difference, however, between giving someone a book to read without expecting it to be returned and lending someone a book that does not come back.

I wonder if the Nobel Laureate novelist, Anatole France (1844-1924), really meant:

Never lend books – nobody ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those which people have lent me

Or if this quotation been widely re-used out of context.


Lending books can be a risky undertaking, that is not done lightly, for an element of trust is involved. There are some people to whom I will no longer lend a book, either because they have failed to return one that was precious to me or because I have had to nag them to do so. A friend once found some of her books for sale in a second-hand shop! I have discreetly ‘liberated’ some of mine from bookshelves in the homes of borrowers – years after having given them up as ‘lost’.

To never lend books is a harsh statement. I have been lent some marvellous books and continue to lend some of my favourites. So, I will expand on that by saying only lend books to people who will cherish them as much as you do – and who will return them!

How do you feel about lending books?


On Monday evening I addressed the local branch of the Military History Society on A Poetic View of the First World War. We were on the point of leaving when one of the members thrust a slim, dark volume into my hands. Age has heavily foxed the thick pages near the front and back; the cut of the pages is a little uneven; and the title on the spine is no longer easy to read. “I thought you might like it,” he said. It is an anthology of poems by Rupert Brooke called 1914 & other Poems.

Rupert Brooke

That this volume, first published in May 1915 – a month after Brooke’s death in the Aegean, is the seventh impression printed in August of that year bears testimony to the popularity of poetry at the time. It also illustrates how the many poets writing during the First World War could be so influential. Most of us know Rupert Brooke for his poem, The Soldier, which espoused the patriotic feelings of loyalty and honour prevalent at the time:

The Soldier

That was at the beginning of the First World War.

I have a Bible given to me by my Godmother, which she must have received as a gift.


That was at the end of the war that everyone hoped would end all wars.

Peace Day Bible


I noticed this spider-hunting wasp while I was watching birds the other morning. What attracted me to its presence was the speed with which it was running around this way and that. It seemed to be looking for something in the grass and leaf litter at my feet.

wasp looking for prey

Then the wasp emerged from the leaves bearing a fleshy-looking spider. According to African Insect Life by S.H. Skaife, the wasp stings the spider in order to paralyse it rather than to kill it.

spider-hunting wasp

She then takes the spider to a previously prepared hole, lays her eggs on its abdomen, and covers the hole. In this way the wasp can ensure a fresh supply of food for her offspring as, after hatching, the larva feed on the spider until it is time to spin a cocoon.

spider-hunting wasp dragging its prey

Looking up from all this interesting activity, I saw an Olive Thrush collecting caterpillars for its young.

olive thrush

Life, for everything on this planet, is geared towards feeding the next generation.


I am a bibliophile. The first signs of this appeared when I was very young. There were few childrens’ books in my home and those we had were treasured beyond belief. Reading became a magical form of escapism for me. Once I had worked through the tiny library of my primary school, I would look forward to the arrival of the Provincial Library Services van that would periodically replenish the stock of books in the minute public library (it consisted of two cupboards) of the small mining village I grew up in. Moving to senior school with its much larger library to explore was the beginning of an adventure that has never stopped.

As a child I often devoured books (and lemons) while sitting in the comfortable branches of an enormous rough skin lemon tree at home, happily hidden from view. On our farm I found a comfortable mango tree. A very large white mulberry tree also provided a cool haven for reading undisturbed. Not only did this mean I could escape into the world of the book I was reading, but such hidey-holes saved me from the inevitable teasing from my brothers, who would laugh at the sight of tears running down my cheeks. “It’s only a story!” they would sometimes jeer while I keened over the events held fast between the covers on my lap.

I have always been drawn to book sales and find the bookshop in any shopping mall is a natural place to wait for someone. I have stayed in places with a small library of books where travellers are welcome to take one to continue their journey with, providing they leave one behind. Difficult as it is to part with a friend, it is great to make a new one along the way.

Moving house with an ever-expanding collection of books has meant building shelves to accommodate them – and more shelves – and more shelves, until I sometimes think if we add one more book the whole house will collapse. We now have books in the lounge, the dining room, the passages, the landing and in various rooms throughout our home. Despite the shelves, books still pile up on tables and on the floor.


I discovered very early on that once the reading bug bites one has a companion for life. For some it is biographies, others prefer thrillers, many enjoy non-fiction, and there are others who give themselves up to magic realism or romance. One of the aspects of travelling I enjoy is seeing what books people bring with them to read at airports and while camping.

These days I usually alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction. The two genres are often linked. Last year, for example, I read a fascinating novel by Thomas Keneally, The Daughters of Mars, which dealt with the role Australian nurses fulfilled during the First World War. I was so intrigued by the detail he went into – learning a lot in the process – that I am now reading an historical account of nurses on the Western Front. The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn Macdonald is a must-read!

The roses of no man's land

Shelved rows of books warm and brighten the starkest room, and scattered single volumes reveal mental processes in progress – books in the act of consumption, abandoned but readily resumable, tomorrow or next year. John Updike, writer (1932-2009).



Birding is an adventure around almost every corner in the Kruger National Park – even though the rain initially put a dampener on this activity. One’s experience starts in the camp on rising: a variety of birds from Redbilled Buffalo Weavers and Crested Barbets to Grey Louries and Great Sparrows – as well as starlings and Arrow-marked Babblers – scratched around in the leaf debris of the trees we were camping next to. From the first morning I was made very aware of the new world of birds that awaited me.

crested barbet

Cape Glossy Starlings abound, attracting one to their presence by their beautiful blue metallic sheen and bright orange eyes. One cheeky bird alighted on the counter of the camp kitchen and stole a slice of sausage from my pan while I was cooking! Burchell’s Starlings are reasonably easy to recognise from their longer tails, while I found the Greater Blue-eared Starlings more difficult to recognise in the field.


Spurfowl are abundant too, especially on the road early in the mornings and towards sunset. Swainson’s Spurfowl and Natal Spurfowl seemed to be the most common – several of the latter wandered around Satara Camp too – although we also saw Crested Francolin from time to time.

Natal spurfowl

What a delight to find Brown-headed Parrots feeding on the long pods of the Long-tail Cassia tree right next to our tent!

Brownheaded parrot

It is always interesting to see familiar ‘garden birds’ in a game reserve and there were plenty of Laughing Doves and Cape Turtle Doves around. Although I saw Namaqua Doves once, it is the African Mourning Dove that was dominant in the camp and at the various picnic spots where we stopped. Its melodious call became familiar to us during the week we were in Satara.

African Mourning Dove

Of course the Lilac-breasted Rollers are magnificent looking birds. They are eye-catching, both when sporting their beautiful blue feathers in flight and when perched conspicuously on the top of bushes and old tree stumps. Their presence brightened up any drive.

lilac-breasted roller

The Purple Rollers are beautiful to look at too.

purple roller

What I find interesting is that in our home garden, the Burchell’s Coucals are heard far more often than they are seen, preferring to skulk around in the thick foliage. Here they are commonly seen flying across the short amber grass to perch in low bushes, often right next to the road! These birds have a special place in my heart, for many years ago we raised a fledgling that had fallen out of a nest and broken its leg. In the then Eastern Transvaal, where I grew up, Burchell’s Coucals were commonly referred to as ‘rain birds’ for their calls were a welcome sound during periods of prolonged heat and drought: many people believed this presaged the coming of rain.

Burchell's coucal

A spectacular surprise awaited us in a dip where the S100 road crosses the N’wanetsi River. A mecca of birds were in and near the water: Saddle-billed Storks, Marabou Storks, Spoonbills, Egyptian Geese, Hamerkops, a Pied Kingfisher, Goliath heron, Blacksmith Plovers, a Great Egret, Woolly-necked Storks, Fish Eagles, a Black-headed Heron, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Moorhen, a Little Bittern, Yellow-billed Storks and a Squacco Heron all in one place!

saddlebilled stork

This was a magical place to park for a while in order to watch the mating rituals of the Yellow-billed Storks and the efficiency with which the Pied Kingfisher and the Hamerkops speared their prey.

yellow-billed storks

While this feast for the eyes was going on at water level, another fantastic spectacle was unfolding in the tall riverine trees: a pair of African Hawk Eagles flew about in impressive mating displays while – we presume – a juvenile remained perched in the top of one of the enormous trees lining the river bank.

African Hawk Eagle

It was equally exciting to watch the flight of those magnificent, iconic birds, the African Fish Eagles as they swooped down from their high perches or circled above us. Their call is a distinctive and thrilling one.

African Fish Eagle
The area around Satara afforded us the opportunity to see interesting and beautiful birds such as the Bronze-winged Coursers right next to the road.

Bronzewinged Courser

Another was a Golden-tailed Woodpecker working its way through an old log near a waterhole. Southern White-crowned Shrikes would appear from nowhere – usually in a most difficult spot (such as against the sun) for photographs.

Golden-tailed Woodpecker


southern white-crowned shrike

Generally speaking, I have found the photographic field guide, Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan, a useful companion to my trusty and well-thumbed Roberts’ Bird Guide. The Magpie Shrike is a good example of a bird easily identified in flight when the distinctive white patterns in their wings (as illustrated in Roberts’) are clearly visible. Seeing one perched on a branch with the white back showing was puzzling at first – that is where the photographic evidence came up trumps!

Magpie Shrike

There is always something to see in the KNP!