CAPS FOR SALE

I wonder if you remember that delightful children’s classic, Caps for Sale written by Esphyr Slobodkina in 1940. This memory is no reflection of my age, for this wonderful story of a peddler carrying all his caps for sale on his head can still be purchased in bookshops. No-one buys his caps and yet, when he wakes from his nap under a tree, he finds they have all disappeared – except for his own: monkeys have taken them and refuse to return them to him. In frustration, he throws down his cap – and the monkeys follow suit. He gathers up his stock and continues to call out “Caps! Caps for sale!” The tale is simple, humorous and filled with action – hence its continued popularity among young children.

It came to mind while I was driving through town the other day. In some areas, what used to be clear pavements have become crowded with vendors selling whatever they can – including this selection of “Caps for sale!”

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LOOKING BACK: OSTRICH EGG BREAKFAST

It is a good 57 years ago since our family took a road trip from our farm in the then Eastern Transvaal, through what is now KwaZulu Natal and on to what was still known as the Western Cape. This was an exciting experience which broadened our horizons in terms of the wonderful landscapes South Africa has to offer.

Although I had seen Ostriches in the Johannesburg Zoo before then, it was very exciting to see them in great numbers in the Oudtshoorn area on that trip. The image of the male Ostrich below was taken much more recently in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Even more exciting was actually seeing ostrich eggs in the veld. My father bought some eggs and, not wishing to break the shells (which are very hard, by the way), a hole was made in order to blow the egg to release the contents. As one Ostrich egg is said to contain the equivalent of two dozen hen eggs, there was plenty to feed a family of six for breakfast! In the image below I am holding the bucket to catch the contents, while my eldest brother is blowing an ostrich egg and my youngest brother is holding it carefully.

Judging from the background, I imagine we must have pulled off the road somewhere to make breakfast whilst travelling. You can see our Volkswagen single-cab truck had a canvas canopy on the back with roll-down sides; this is where we children made ourselves very comfortable on our journey around the country. Note the split windscreen – something we do not see anymore!

CHILDHOOD GAMES: HOPSCOTCH

Hopscotch has a long history, having been played by Roman soldiers, dressed in full battle armour, thousands of years ago to test their strength and agility! The name refers to hopping over the scotch, which is a line or scratch in the ground. It was a favourite game when I was in primary school. There were plenty of sandy places where we could draw the markings for the game with a stick, and any number of stones to choose from to use as our markers.

This is a game in which a configuration of squares are drawn on the ground. The squares should be large enough to fit one foot and to make sure that a stone thrown into the square will not bounce out too easily. The semi-circle at the end was regarded as a rest or stop area where one could turn around and/or regain one’s balance.

To play, you have to toss your stone inside the first square without touching the border or bouncing out – otherwise you miss your turn and have to pass the stone to the next player. You then hop through the squares, skipping the one containing your marker. What makes it difficult is that you can’t have more than one foot on the ground at a time, unless there are two number squares next to each other. Here you can put down both feet, one in each square. When you get to the end, turn around and hop your way back in reverse order. While you’re on the square right before the one with your marker, lean down and pick it up. Then, skip over that square and finish up. If you managed to complete the course with your marker on square one (and without losing your turn), then throw your marker onto square two on your next turn. Players begin their next turn where they last left off. The goal is to complete the course with the marker on each square. The first person to do this wins the game!

It is not a game I see my grandchildren playing, either at home or at school. Then again, hopscotch hasn’t been a familiar game to any number of high school girls I have taught over many years.

It seems to me that this is a worthwhile game to pass on to the next generation before it is lost completely.

IT RAINED A LITTLE

It rained a little one afternoon last week. Not enough to sink into the ground, but enough to change an ordinary view into something different.

It rained enough to make people walk a little faster across the car park, but not enough to sink into the ground – or green the grass, or perk up the plants for long.

It rained enough to clear the air, to create a freshness that has been absent for a long time. It rained enough to lift our spirits and to hope for more.

TYPEWRITERS

Do you even remember typewriters? They are museum pieces today! Yet, what an advance they were when they first became available as manual machines, later graduating to the electronic versions. According to https://www.britannica.com/technology/typewriter the first typewriters were marketed in 1874, and soon became known as the Remington. Originally designed to prevent the jamming of typewriter keys, the QWERTY keyboard is still used on our computers and mobile devices.

My father purchased a small portable typewriter when he began writing notes for his book Golden Memories of Barberton. He used the two-finger ‘hunt and peck’ method and, over time, became quite adept at typing so accurately that he was able to place carbon paper between two sheets of paper in order to have a copy of his notes and writings. He once made an error while writing the above mentioned book. As it was near the end of the page, he simply changed the name of the person (thus creating a fictional character whose story is dying to be written) and included it among the real characters. No-one has ever questioned the existence of this chap!

My own relationship with a typewriter began many years ago, when I realised how the skill of typing could help me in the preparation of my teaching notes (we used Gestetner roneo machines then!) and I enrolled for a typing course at our local technical college – starting at what would now be called a Grade 10 level. I plonked away at the large machine against the back drop of either music or the teacher clapping a rhythm with her hands. Clack, clack, clack went the keys as my fingertips bore the bruising from whacking the sticking keys with gusto. There were speed tests and times when we had to look up while typing to increase the accuracy of our work. These were manual machines which required one to flick out one’s left hand to deftly move the paper to the next row without losing either the rhythm  or one’s place in the text: ting, ting, ting … one could tell that everyone present had a different speed of typing. Clack, clack, clack, ting, ting, ting … it was sometimes difficult to keep pace with the music or the clapping, until I learned to screen it all out and focus on my own sounds – a useful skill. I inadvertently entered for the matric (Grade 12) level examination at the end of the year and was greeted with a variety of challenges I had not prepared for. To my delight I passed well and have never regretted the evenings spent on that course.

It proved to be an extremely useful skill when my husband was preparing his manuscript for the first edition of his Field Guide to the Natal Drakensberg. Not owning a typewriter yet, we borrowed his sister’s electric one. What a joy that was to use – especially as I frequently had to rock our first child to sleep in his pram with one foot whilst typing! I used a different electric typewriter when typing his Master’s thesis and appreciated the smooth rhythm and fairly quiet keyboard so much that, once we could afford it, I purchased an Olivetti golf ball typewriter – how useful it was to be able to change balls to alter the fonts!

I loved that typewriter so much that I kept it for years after we had moved to a computer. With my husband’s PhD in the offing though, I simply had to get to grips with our new computer. I learned about spacing and tabulating and all sorts of finer aspects of producing a thesis on a ‘need-to-know’ basis and by trial and a lot of error! I have never looked back … my beloved electric typewriter was eventually taken to the Hospice Shop complete with a set of golf balls and boxes of ribbon. I hope it found a happy home and proved to be useful for a while longer.

THE EYE CANNOT ALWAYS SEE

We don’t often get vapour trails here and when this one caught the light I decided to capture it with my phone camera.

At the time I did not notice the shining spot in the sky close to it.

I was nonetheless pleased to get a shot of a plane so high in the sky together with one of the local ones lower down.

It was only when I zoomed in (sorry about the fuzziness) that I realised that initial shining spot was actually a sky diver!

NATIONAL GRAZING STRATEGY

On the 5th May 1989, the South African Post Office issued a series of stamps to highlight the National Grazing Strategy. Internal postage for ordinary letters at the time was 18 cents and the image, designed by Denis Murphy, is a frightening one titled Mensgemaakte woestyn (Man-made desert).

The 30 cent one is titled Die aarde breek (The earth breaks) and depicts the same scene some years later, when most of the earth has been eroded away to form a deep donga (a steep-sided gully formed by soil erosion – an Afrikaans word that originated in the nineteenth century from Nguni donga, meaning washed out gully).

Here is an example of such a donga in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Before you blame the National Parks for negligence, bear in mind that this donga would have been on one of the original farms purchased to create this park.

Much is being done on farms, nature reserves and in national parks to curb the adverse effects of soil erosion. Examples include:

Planting Spekboom in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve:

The provision of gabions on top of and next to culverts under the road in the Great Fish River nature Reserve:

Breaking the flow of storm water run-off from the roads in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

A land rehabilitation project in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

Getting back to the stamps: I do not have copies at hand, but the 40 cent stamp, titled The helping hand, depicts a dam that has been built in that deep donga. The 50 cent stamp moves on by several years, by which time the dam is full and the area is grassed over – there is even a leafy tree growing in the foreground – I can’t help thinking this is wishful thinking combined with artistic licence! This one is aptly titled The land rejoices.

Let us all take care of the soil and the vegetation that covers it!