MUNICIPAL MUSCLE

Every time the strong Berg Winds blow, the areas closest to the Municipal rubbish dump get plastered with plastic bags, cardboard and other debris – the rubbish dump is full; it is an eyesore; it seldom – if ever – gets covered over with a layer of soil. The bulldozer / frontend loader is broken we are told as often as a scratched record will repeat that snatch of song until the needle is physically moved along.

When those strong winds blow the flames of veld fires in that area, there are plenty of flammable materials to burn. The dump does not only burn accidentally, it is frequently set alight deliberately by people who wish to extract metal / keep warm on a cold night / enjoy fires … parts of the town become covered in toxic smoke that has residents living in its path snatch up their telephones to complain to the the Municipality … only to have them ringing in their ears until they cut out automatically. Why answer the telephone when you have no answer to placate the irate callers?

I was attracted to my front gate a few mornings ago by the sound of heavy equipment being deployed just across the road.

A frontend loader was muscling its way into the tangle of Cape Honeysuckle and Plumbago growing on the slope edging from our street towards they bridge. A closer look revealed that it appeared to be attacking an infestation of Prickly Pear. You can see the large leaves on the ground in front of the wheels.

The odd stump got knocked over too and collected.

Everything was dumped into the awaiting trucks – doubtless to be removed to the Municipal rubbish dump.

The frontend loader went back and forth as it gouged at the vegetation … and then it and the trucks left, never to return. This is what was left in their wake:

Plenty of Prickly Pear leaves ready to dig in and grow again. So much for Municipal Muscle!

MY GRANNY’S ALBUM: 2

Here are three more pages from my Grandmother’s autograph album. These entries date from 1903 to 1905. It is amazing to think this was done by hand – such a labour of love, patience and good penmanship:

These cats have each got such a character. The headline of the lefthand newspaper reads: FRESH RATS Just imported 1/3 per lb. Cheap. Take your chance. The middle newspaper reads: FOR SALE Tinned mice, locusts, rats etc. All arranged in latest style. The righthand newspaper reads: Music allsorts … A Rat Hunt to be held at Ratfield on Cat Monday. Wonderfully intricate detail!

 

This is a fun entry too:

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”

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!  

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.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Think of W.H. Auden’s poem, The Unknown Citizen, which opens with

(To JS/07 M 378

This marble Monument

Is Erected by the State)

Have you ever considered how, like JS/07 M 378, we too are unwittingly a part of a universal Numbers Game? We are so deeply into it that much of what happens in our daily lives wouldn’t function without strict adherence to the rules.

Take my name, for example. I would like to think it is unique. A Google search, however, shows several other women bearing my first name attached to either my maiden surname or my married surname! Anyone trying their own moniker for a gmail address is bound to have a similar experience – unless they happened to get in first. What really makes me unique, in this country anyway, is not my name, but my identity number.

My name aside, I cannot do anything official – like open a bank account, enter the Home Affairs premises, renew my driving licence, take on a paid job, or even pay my income tax – without providing that unique identity number.

My tax number is required by anyone who employs me, by the bank, and by lawyers or estate agents should I wish to sell any property.

The landline that connects me to the rest of the world has a telephone number, which requires me to punch in a number code if I wish to retrieve any recorded messages or a series of numbers should I want to make contact with anyone else via that means. I also have a cell phone number and I need to remember the PIN that will let me use the phone should I have switched it off. I cannot even enter my locked home without disarming the alarm by entering a special numeric code!

I cannot access my laptop without entering a password. I cannot access my online bank account without using both a password and a code. Even accessing income tax online requires of me a password and a code.

Then there is the PIN to verify my credit card. A registration number identifies my car among the many others of the same make and colour in every large parking lot. Our house has a street number and both that address and my mail address gets sorted via a postal code.

Some people use number codes for their front gates – you have to shout at mine because either the bell or its batteries get stolen from time to time. Cyclists use a code for their bicycle locks; some people require a number code to open their home safes; these days many parents have to punch in a number to gain access to their childrens’ school sport facilities.

Having to keep all these numbers, password and codes in one’s head can be a tad confusing – and forgetting one holds the dire prospect of being locked out of one’s cell phone, being denied access to one’s banking facility, or prevented from using one’s credit card: three strikes and you are out!

How interesting it is that the thumbprint – once the preserve of the illiterate – is making a comeback, albeit in a digital format. Names and numbers aside that is the only thing that makes each of us truly unique.

TREES TAKE A LONG TIME TO GROW

Trees take a long time to grow.

I remember being astonished when neighbours, who had purchased a house nearby, announced that they had at last had the tall trees in their garden cut down because they ‘were sick and tired of the weavers building their nests there and making a mess.’ It wasn’t long after that they complained of the heat from the sun that shone into their living room all afternoon during the summer months!

Trees take a long time to grow.

A few years later a friend lamented that their new neighbours had removed the large Erythrina tree from their garden to deter the Hadeda Ibises from roosting in it at night and  ‘making such a noise’ which woke them ‘so early in the mornings.’ We had a good laugh, for she later reported that the Hadedas had simply moved to perch in another tree across the road!

Mary Lisle’s poem springs to mind:

They have cut down the pines where they stood;

The wind will miss them – the rain,

When its silver blind is down.

Not only do trees take a long time to grow, but they support and shelter a variety of life forms as well as being intrinsically beautiful. I have often mentioned the myriad birds visiting the Natal Fig in our garden and how pleasant it is to sit in the forested shade on our lawn.

Trees take a long time to grow.

A matter of only weeks ago I visited a site close to the CBD to observe Sacred Ibises and Cattle Egrets coming to roost in three tall trees growing next to a block of flats at the end of the day. Some of the latter had fledglings in their nests, while others were flapping their wings whilst firmly gripping the slim branches in the afternoon breeze.

Letters of complaint have appeared in the local press from time to time about the noise these birds make. The number of Cattle Egrets have probably increased with the influx of cattle grazing all over town – I passed seven of them sleeping on the pavement outside one of the schools this evening.

Gerard Manley Hopkins decried the loss of the avenue of Binsey Poplars:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled.

Trees take a long time to grow to maturity; to extend their branches; to put out their leaves, their flowers and their fruit.

I drove past that roosting site a few days ago. A single Sacred Ibis was perched atop the skeletal remains of a single tree. Someone had cut down the other two and prepared the third for removal!

Trees take a long time to grow; yet as Hopkins points out, it only takes

Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve

Strokes of havoc [to] unselve

The sweet especial scene.

All three trees have now been felled – I hope the residents of those flats roast once summer returns!

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.  – William Blake