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”


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!  


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.


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.

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


Waking up early to a sun that cannot yet break through the bank of weeping clouds; listening to the Knysna Louries chasing each other through the dripping trees against the swish-swish background sound of vehicles driving past on the wet road below our house; and welcoming the damp, while wishing for ‘real’ rain, I began to sift through an accumulation of papers that blink for attention on a shelf to the left of my desk. It is a good morning to sort through examination papers I no longer need, snippets of story ideas, the draft of a talk I plan to give – sometime – and to file others where they belong. It is a contemplative morning: quiet, dark, grey and damp. Solitude lends itself to thinking and so it was interesting to find an old photocopy of The Invitation amongst the pile of papers – no longer demanding my attention, for this gave me a solid reason to think about the joy my family brings, how fortunate I am, and what a wonderful world we live in when we really focus on what is positive. I share it with you in the hope that it will bring you a sense of peace and happy contemplation,

The Invitation by Oriah

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation