“Did you teach Richard to swim?” Paula looked across at Georgie, whose eyes were focused on the young children splashing about in her small swimming pool. She reluctantly averted her gaze to focus on her friend.

“Not entirely. His prowess in the pool is largely thanks to months of taking him to swimming lessons. It was a schlep at the time, but they’ve paid off in the end.” Georgie returned her gaze to the pool.

“He shows such skill though.” Paula sipped her tea thoughtfully. “I’ve always meant to take Mike and Sue.” She sighed. “All those jobs that get stockpiled during the week … I don’t know, we always seem to be so busy over the weekends. One should look forward to them, but when I think of the regimen I would have to submit to if I had to fit in swimming lessons as well …” She broke a piece off a scone and pinched it between her fingers. “I’d never get to the gym for a start!”

Georgie took in her friend’s slender figure and glanced briefly at her own, which had rounded and softened during the eight years since Richard was born. She’d always thought that she would continue running, like Diane had, and going to the gym at least once a week the way Paula did. Instead, her lapsed gym membership card still glared accusingly at her whenever she opened the writing bureau she’d inherited from her grandmother. Any truly ‘spare’ time she had she either spent with Richard or working in her small garden …

“Goodness, it is noon already! We really must fly. Come on children, get out of the pool now or you’ll get left behind!”

“I want to be left behind, Mommy.” Sue pulled a face. “Richard’s going to be making mini pizzas for lunch with his Mom.”

“Susan! Get out now!” Paula turned to Georgie. “Isn’t it funny the way other people’s meals sound so much better than our own. Come on Susie B.” She strode towards the edge of the pool and, with a rapid movement, yanked her daughter out of the pool and tightly wrapped a towel around her wriggling body.

“I want to stay and have pizza with Richard!” Sue stamped her wet feet on the grass as she tried to get away from the dress Paula was pulling over her head. “I want pizza!” she sobbed.

“We’ll buy pizza on our way home. Come to the party Sue and let’s put your panties on.”

“I don’t like olives!”

“I’ll ask them to leave out the olives.” Paula rolled her eyes as she towel-dried Mike’s hair and gathered the wet costumes and towels into a large tote bag.

“Thanks for the tea, Georgie. I suppose you can stay calm because you’ve only the one to worry about.” She held her children tightly by the hands. “Say ‘bye now because Mommy’s still got to get to the gym.”

That afternoon Georgie sat on the wooden bench in the shady part of the garden while listening to Richard playing his recorder. Guy had been teaching him to play since the age of five and they both basked in the praise that washed their way via Richard’s music teacher. Georgie remembered how inadequate she had felt when Richard’s Grade 1 teacher had informed them that all the children ‘must learn to play a musical instrument’. Guy had covered for her perceived inadequacy by choosing the recorder. He and Richard played together most evenings after supper – often with Guy playing the piano.

Isn’t it strange how even a musical instrument can create a foe, she thought. Nearly everyone she knew had congratulated her when Richard performed a solo during a school assembly. Except for Berenice. She, who had often sat next to Georgie by choice during the periodic school music concerts, now pretended Georgie didn’t exist. That hurt even more than the parting comment that just wouldn’t leave her: “Of course it’s easy for Richard to do well – you’ve only the one to worry about!”

Berenice had three children and seemed to have a different colour hair every month. Whenever the mothers were asked to help out at school picnics, Berenice would make light of the fact that she was used to serving measured portions of food. Now Georgie felt she was being shunned by some of the mothers who had been friendly – until Richard started doing so well in various aspects of school life.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t have another child,” she told Guy that evening.

“What?” He nearly choked on his beer. “Georgie, after all our trying, aren’t we so fortunate to have Richard?”

“We are, it’s just that I seem to be turned on by people with more children who seem to resent his achievements.”

“Put it down to guilt.” Guy put his arm around her. “Not everyone is like that. The one’s you worry about don’t really want to give up what’s important to them like hair, smart clothes or the gym in order to focus on the development of their children. You know that I love you all the more for the – “.

“Dad, look at this large pile of extra-terrestrials.” Richard joined them on the patio. “If we had luminous paint we could put them out to glow in the dark like glow-worms.”

“It is by such means that our son expands his knowledge, grows in self-confidence and accumulates such a rich store of words to choose from.” Guy handed Georgie a glass of wine. It had been her turn to read the bedtime story.

“He wanted to talk about different countries tonight.”

“We’ve been looking at the globe.”

“Mm, so he was sort of ‘testing’ me.” Georgie laughed softly. “I’ve news for you my friend. I suggested you would be able to point out where his collection of extra-terrestrials live when they’re not here.”

The next evening the three of them watched the full moon rising behind a large tree in their front garden. Richard kept checking his wristwatch. “We’ve rotated one degree now, Dad.” His father smiled at him.

“Watch it carefully now,” Georgie warned him. “It’s about to clear the tree.”

“Ben is an uptight imbecile”. Richard said suddenly.

What?” Both of his parents called out in unison.

“Richard, where did you learn to use an expression like that?” Georgie could feel her lips quivering with indignation.

“Son, Mom asked you a question.” Guy spoke quietly into the pool of silence that followed.

Richard sighed. “He said I was one and that’s why I never have fun and have school all day and all night. He says imbeciles always have to keep learning otherwise they forget things.”

“And are you an imbecile?”

Richard laughed loudly. “Of course not, Dad. I’m normal. It’s Ben who is of low intelligence.”

“How do you know that?” Georgie looked across at her husband, now lit up by the ghostly light of the moon.

“His father keeps calling him an imbecile because he gets things wrong in class. We looked the word up in the dictionary. It means an extremely stupid person.”

Crickets chirped, a nightjar trilled and they could hear frogs croaking in the dam over the road in the long silence that followed. At last Georgie bent down towards her son. “Do you really think Ben’s stupid?”

“Of course not! He’s my friend. Besides, we’re in the same soccer team for tomorrow.”

“Accumulates a rich store of words to choose from?” Georgie whispered into Guy’s ear as she placed his bowl of soup on the table.

“I never said he knows how to use them appropriately yet,” he shrugged in return.

“Poor Ben.” Suddenly the envy directed towards her because of Richard’s achievements didn’t matter anymore.



Life goes on in the cycles it has followed since the world began. I have been thinking about the many things that have made me happy in my life and my thoughts naturally turn to my children and grandchildren. I could fill pages of cute baby photographs compared with the adults my children have become and how my grandchildren have turned into interesting people – but I won’t. Well, to warm to the theme of growth, let me slip in one idea of how little hands later become large hands capable of doing so many different things:

We tend to think of living things when we mull over a theme of growth. While rust does not reproduce or eat in the way a living organism would, it is a chemical reaction we are familiar with the consequences of: if we leave rust alone it will destroy almost anything – like this cannon:

Think of growth in a different way, such as in how each puzzle piece contributes to the growth of a complete picture:

Then, back to the living as we admire peach blossoms that will, in time, turn into delicious peaches:

Baby fork-tailed drongos will grow to adulthood and will, in time, end up feeding young of their own:

Finally, among the many small pleasures that keep me alert whilst providing peace for my soul is the way single letters – combined with brainpower – fill a crossword grid. That is a very satisfactory kind of growth!


I have endured a difficult few months prior to the final wrench yesterday when I lost a second son to another country. It was while we were perusing his impressive collection of books prior to packing them for storage that I borrowed what turned out to be the first of Lee Child’s novels featuring Jack Reacher. Talk about a page-turner! Killing Fields gave my mind a complete break from the sadness hovering in the wings. I whipped through it in a single sitting and felt refreshed afterwards. While browsing through a second-hand bookshop in Bathurst before Christmas, I came across another Jack Reacher novel.

I was hooked and purchased another novel from a bookshop in Port Elizabeth several weeks later. We had already reached the stage of ‘the last’ of this and that and I found comfort in the quick-action dimension that required no thought or emotional investment on my part.

As the impending departure loomed darkly, a friend and I met for coffee and she returned a pile of Ann Cleeves novels I had lent her during a difficult time. “What do you think of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels” I asked, thinking she too may find them a distraction.

“I have a heap of them at home.” My eyes must have lit up for she called me a week later to collect them. They teetered on a to-be-read pile on my desk.

I was bone tired from sorting, packing, cleaning and having to face up to the impending departure. Sleep evaded me during the final week and so I tackled the pile – finishing each novel somewhere between midnight and 2 am – then waking with my mind refreshed and cleansed of the previous day’s concerns.

On our return from the final farewell at the airport two hours away, I felt too emotionally drained to do anything useful other than to brew a cup of tea and curl up in a chair to read the last of the Jack Reacher novels in my pile. I have now read my fill of them and know it is time to move on.

Months ago another friend gave me a pile of old delicious magazines she had found in a charity shop. Feeling tired and emotionally drained, I picked one up at random before going to bed. It is dated November 2022. While idly turning the pages, my attention was drawn to this illustration that seemed so ‘me’.

Hands cupped around a warm drink, a notebook at hand, something to eat, and the autumnal background all ‘spoke’ to me for it clearly illustrates me carving a slice of peace in a busy day as I sit in our garden and watch birds whilst eating breakfast or enjoying mid-morning tea. Then I saw the post-it note from my friend.

The title of the article is ‘The comfort of simple pleasures’. Yes! That is where my comfort will be sought in the coming months. I sent her this message: Lying in bed tonight after an exhausting week and a particularly sad day, listening to the wind howling and trying to warm my feet, I picked up a copy of delicious[and found your note]. Both are balm for my bruised soul.

How serendipitous it is that I picked up that particular magazine and was blessed by her unexpected note when I needed it most!


There was a time in this country when families grew up close enough to each other to visit regularly and to gather for important family celebrations as well as for Easter, Christmas and New Year. Later, the younger generations began to spread their wings: some to university and others to seek jobs in nearby towns. Such moves meant missing out on some of the family celebrations except, perhaps, for Easter, Christmas or New Year – traditional family gathering times.

With a greater variety of jobs on offer, wings stretched further and families have become more scattered across the country. It has become less easy to ‘pop home’ for significant family birthdays, for example, and a greater effort is required to attend important weddings. Some family members might have to fly in from major cities and even to hire a vehicle …

‘The world is your oyster’ gets bandied about in motivational talks along with ‘the future is in your hands’. As South Africa’s future becomes darker, drier, more rickety and potholed; and as the future standard of education becomes increasingly uncertain, young men and women are looking to the rest of that ‘oyster world’ to find a haven where they can compete for jobs on an equal basis; where they can feel safe; and where the education of their children is secure. Most of them probably leave with heavy hearts: South Africa is not easy to turn one’s back on.

No hearts are heavier than those of the parents left behind in the sunshine, the drought, the wild beauty, and the plethora of flora and fauna. Families maintain contact through electronic means, yet what we parents miss is the physical hug, spontaneous laughter and being able to watch our grandchildren grow up.

Our children moving to other countries can wrought unexpected changes within families. So it is that there are some who find that circumstances beyond their control have led to their in-laws and grandchildren speaking a different language from those we are used to.

I was struck by this when I was sitting on a bench near a waterhole in the Kruger National Park, cradling my camera on my lap, when a young couple walked slowly towards me. Hand-in-hand, they were armed with a camera and binoculars respectively and smiled shyly as they passed me. In their wake trailed a grey-haired woman who caught my eye as we greeted each other.

She immediately started telling me about her holiday with her son and daughter-in-law. “We have based ourselves at Hazyview,” she told me for it was cheaper than staying in one of the chalets in the Kruger National Park. “We come in every day. My son grew up with Kruger in his blood – we used to visit here every year until he went away.” At this point her voice trembled and her moist eyes followed the young couple as they looked up into the trees, binoculars and cameras at the ready. “My son misses Kruger,” she finished wistfully.

Although she spoke fluent English, I could discern that Afrikaans was her home language. I was about to do her the courtesy of switching languages when she moved towards the young couple returning along the stone-clad path.

“Did you see anything interesting?” she asked the young woman in English. Then she turned to her son with “Dis nou so droog ‘n mens kan niks sien nie.” [It’s so dry now that we can see nothing]. As they walked away I couldn’t help facing the nagging truth of yet another South African family stretching across the delicate balance of distance, language and differing lifestyles.


My father had been mining diamonds at Premier Mine, near Cullinan, for three years when he reached a point of no return: the conditions he worked under were extremely dangerous and the accident rate was unacceptably high.

He resigned from his position as Mine Captain there to take up a similar post at Sheba Gold Mine in the Eastern Transvaal. My father recalled his Mine Manager being angry when he handed in his notice, demanding to know why he was giving up his prospects in the diamond industry. My father later wrote in his memoir: I was perfectly honest with him, telling him that if I never saw another diamond in my life, it would not break my heart, also that if I wanted honour and glory, along with a medal, I could have gone to Korea. My mind was made up, I was leaving. I was born in the Premier Mine Hospital two weeks later on 20th May 1951.

My mother was the only patient in the maternity section and so my eldest brother often slipped into the ward during the day to visit her. My maternal grandparents were holidaying in Italy at the time and my father sent them a telegram: IT’S A GIRL!

We moved to Sheba Gold Mine when I was three weeks old. We lived in this corrugated iron and wood house until I left home to attend university in Natal.

It was nothing fancy, as you can see: basically built from wood and corrugated iron on a foundation built of local stone. These red-polished steps (mimicked on the other side) led straight into our living room. The open door your see there is a screen door – very common in those days to keep out mosquitoes especially; we also had screens fitted to our bedroom windows. It was while sitting on these steps that I, in the company of my family, observed Sputnik I on 4th October 1957 with such excitement. Commentary on the radio indoors kept us informed of its progress as we scanned the sky for what would look like an exceptionally large and bright ‘shooting star’ travel across from one horizon to the next.

The far window is where our dining room was. It is there that my father encouraged us to know about a world wider than the small community we lived in. We discussed what he called ‘general knowledge’; he asked for our opinions; he told us about earthquakes and volcanoes; and would talk to us about interesting events he had seen or heard about. That is where I did my homework in primary school and thought hard about what to write in the obligatory thank you letters for cards or gifts from my grandparents.

You might notice a sprig of leaves in the top left hand corner of the picture. This is a glimpse of rambling roses that twisted their way this way and that through wooden lattice-work at the side of a shady veranda that ran the width of the house – providing protection from the sun for the two bedrooms that faced onto it. The house used to get so hot during summer that on some evenings my mother would hose down the corrugated iron roof to bring down the temperature a little. We would sometimes see snakes threading their way through the roses: a fascinating yet fearful sight when we were small. The building at the back was our garage – also constructed of wood and corrugated iron.

My father was also a part-time farmer, with a farm – Dunduff – in the beautiful De Kaap valley stretching out from Barberton.

I think we enjoyed the best of both worlds: able to take advantage of the amenities of the mine such as the primary school, tennis courts, public swimming pool, being able to watch a film in the recreational hall every week, as well as having the freedom to explore the veld on our farm. That is where my life-long interest in nature had its roots.

My senior school years were spent in boarding at the Barberton High School. Those years proved to be important in terms of me developing a sense of independence and forming my own opinions. It was ostensibly a parallel medium school, but with a ratio at the time of one English class to three or four Afrikaans classes, it is not surprising that most subjects were taught in Afrikaans with only a sprinkling of English!

It was with a heavy heart that I left the bosom of my family and the comfortable familiarity of the Lowveld to attend the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg at the start of 1969. Little did I know that I would never return to live within easy visiting distance of my immediate family.

I met my husband while I was a student and ended up living in Natal for about seventeen years. During that time I got to know the Natal Drakensberg very well and bore two sons before we moved to Johannesburg for a brief sojourn.

After that we spent about eight very happy years living in both Mmabatho and Mafikeng in the then independent homeland of Bophuthatswana. Our daughter was born during this time and was in pre-primary when we made a final move to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape during 1988.