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:



Do you suffer from nyctalopia? It is that condition which makes it difficult for you to find your way in the dark or in the dim light. Basically, it is a condition we know better as night blindness. I wonder if that is why some people are afraid of the dark – because they are unable to see.

It is only in the last decade or so that I have felt comfortable driving through the countryside at night. I have even become used to the dimming of the light as day fades into the night, which used to be the very worst time for me to drive. Perhaps necessity helps one to overcome such adversities. A strategy I have learned while driving at night is to focus on the line on the shoulder of the road when faced with a stream of headlights. Moonlit nights are the best for driving and walking though.

I have always enjoyed the silvery wash of moonlight. Walter de la Mare describes it so beautifully in his poem, Silver:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
This, incidentally is a poem I learned to recite for a school concert when I was about ten – and have never forgotten!

It must be a form of nyctalopia that makes it difficult for my eyes to adjust quickly from a bright light to the dark at night. That is the moment I step outside at my peril, especially if there are steps to negotiate – a fall waiting to happen.


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 recently wrote about the waning art of letter writing and return to it again for this is a subject that resonates with me: I enjoy writing letters. Real letters. Letters that give the recipient a flavour of what we have been doing, what is happening in this country, and that share opinions about cultural and social issues. My favourite form of letter-writing is by hand. I usually sit at the small stinkwood desk that used to belong to my grandmother and later my mother.

Holding a pen in my hand seems to provide a connection of some sort to the person I am addressing. More importantly, sitting at my desk focuses my attention on the act of writing. True, I look up now and then to watch birds as the pass the window or call from the tree tops; to observe the effect of the changing light on the landscape; or simply to gaze into the distance while my thoughts flow.

Letter-writing is a pleasurable activity for me. I have three, maybe four, faraway friends who also still use what has disparagingly come to be known as snail mail. One only writes by hand and another often adds a page or two of handwritten comments at the end of a typed letter – often a ‘one-size-fits-all.

I used to assume that most people resort to e-mail. I certainly type a lot of letters these days and attach them to e-mails – more often because I am unable to get postage stamps. Even these ones though are composed with care, the recipient always in my mind as though we are having a conversation. They are satisfying to compose and I look forward to receiving some interesting replies.

Articles and blogs I have read during recent weeks decrying the waning art of letter-writing and ‘old-fashioned’ face-to-face communication have confirmed that ‘most people’ do not resort to e-mail after all. Like SMSes/text messaging, e-mails have become passé, used for internal business communications and as a vehicle for would-be scammers.

We were discussing the role of Facebook the other evening. One brave soul commented that she had withdrawn from Facebook and faced a barrage of reasons from the others present why Facebook is such an important vehicle for communication these days. I remained silent for I have never joined that community. One person said “I rely on Facebook to remind me of birthdays” while another wondered aloud whether wishing all one’s ‘friends’ a happy birthday through that medium was as meaningful as sending a message via Whatsapp – or even e-mail – might be.

Articles about the benefits of taking a break from Facebook, switching off Twitter, and promoting family time without the ubiquitous cell phones abound. A recent article pointed out that modern society has become so dependent on social media that people feel they are losing out if they are not constantly ‘plugged in’. This reminded me of articles discussing the etiquette of watching television that were published once South Africans were at last able to have that broadcasting medium in their homes!

An apt phrase that is often repeated follows the lines of ‘don’t miss the actual beauty of the sunset because you are so busy Tweeting it.’

I leave you with this thought from Matthew Arnold:

Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done?


You know what it is like: silence descends in a church or a hall, during a family gathering – any place where the proceedings have moved forward to pause for a solemn moment, be it to pay homage, show respect, await an announcement of some import … the hush is all encompassing – and you sneeze!

Sternutation seldom happens as a once-off interruption. It frequently causes faces to turn your way – some of those glaring looks sharply prick their way through the crowd and, in flinching from them, you sneeze again … and again!

Someone nearly always sneezes during a dramatic pause in a play, an opera, or a symphony concert. I have listened to a concert of sternutation at church services and public lectures. At some times of the year the situation is direr than at others – especially when there is a yellow haze of pollen about.

Crossword lovers would have come across this scientific term for ‘sneeze’ in cryptic clues.

I wonder what the term is for the inclination to want to giggle during solemn moments.


Dendrology is the study of trees. The term has the same root as dendrite which comes from the Greek dendron, meaning tree. Who would have thought that having to wait for a while outside the local electrical shop would yield such a beautiful source of dendritic patterns in the stone cladding of the building – one I have either walked past or have parked outside many times:

Although they look like fossilised imprints of ferns or minute trees, they are actually the result of manganese oxides that have crystallised on the surface and are fairly commonly found on sedimentary rocks.


Of course you have heard of ARISTOCRACY, referring to a high ranking class in some societies who believe they are born to rule. They tend to enjoy certain ranks and privileges such as inherited titles or positions of power. These days even those societies which do not have an entrenched social class system have one imposed on them by economic advantage (or disadvantage).

This leads to me thinking about PLUTOCRACY, which refers to a government by the wealthy or an elite class who derive their power from wealth. In both cases wealth plays a part in terms of wielding power over those who have neither.

Now, Americans and South Africans – you could presumably name several other countries too – currently bear a very public cross in the form of their respective governments. In both countries the government leaders were legitimately voted in, leaving others feeling aghast and scratching their heads in a ‘what were they thinking’ kind of way.

As with all elections, once the celebrations of victory – or the commiseration of defeat – have subsided and the reality of the full-term of the elected government hits home, citizens of all persuasions have to live with the consequences. Media reports indicate that the Americans are saddled with a government by persons least qualified to do the job – I cannot speak for them – and in South Africa we have long been the butt of jokes that make us wonder if we have not drawn a government by the worst persons.

In both these countries the concept of democracy has turned us into a KAKISTOCRACY.

Now, now, South Africans … while this word bears a strong resemblance to the one commonly used to dismiss something out of hand or to describe a situation or feeling that is simply too awful for words [the root for that one is the Indo-European kakka-/kaka, meaning to defecate], the origin of this word is more refined and was coined by the English author, Thomas Love Peacock in his 1829 novella The Misfortunes of Elphin. You mean, you haven’t read it? It begins with the words, In the beginning of the sixth century, when Uther Pendragon held the nominal sovereignty of Britain over a number of petty kings, Gwythno Garanhir was king of Caredigion, and is a comic romance filled with wit and humour.

Kakistocracy comes from the Greek kakistos (meaning ‘worst’) plus the suffix -cracy (meaning ‘rule’ as in aristocracy and plutocracy mentioned above).

Now you have a word for it, you can describe your feelings about the government with a clear conscience in polite society.

I am grateful to for introducing me to this word.