It was shortly before lunch when the smell of burning and drifts of white to pale grey smoke provided the first indications of a fire on the slope of the mountain behind Hout Bay.

Within minutes the smoke had turned into an ominous brown to deep grey colour and we could hear the crackling of the flames now easily visible around the fringes of the smoke.

Sirens blared as the first of three fire engines wound its way up the brick-lined suburban street.

Before long the heavy throbbing of a helicopter could be heard making its way across the valley that cradles the town.

It turned towards the sea for the first of numerous trips to fill its Bambi bucket, drop its load of water and return for more.

This was an exercise repeated over and over again while the fire engines kept watch on the houses in the path of the flames being fanned by a moderate breeze.

The fire engines finally left the scene well after sunset.


The Urban Herd often passes by our home – so often that we actually name individual animals we easily recognise. Here is the Mud Cow, for example, so named because she looks as though she has been splashed with mud. This photograph of her was taken in November 2021 when she was grazing on our pavement.

Late yesterday afternoon she was on the pavement in front of the house next door to ours – this time with a skittish calf in tow.

She was one of a larger group of the Urban Herd we had not seen in the gathering gloom until our return. A few of them are caught in the headlights through the windscreen. There were many more dark shapes in the background that we had to wait for before we could proceed.

From time to time we come across a new-born calf. This one was nestled in the grass while its mother grazed nearby on the hill above our home.

At other times we can hear the mournful bleating of a calf that has become separated from the rest of the herd, like this one a short distance below where we live.

Here is a part of the Urban Herd resting in the park below our house. For some reason – apparently a new mower has been purchased – the municipality recently mowed the grass there for the first time in months. The Urban Herd still pays it regular visits though for there is water from a leak that has been untended for years and plenty of shade for them to lie under while they chew the cud.


We leave this morning for an adventure into the Western Cape. As we head out of town we will be saying goodbye to:

A herd of goats in Graeme Street, crossing the road from a private school to test out the lawns further down on the Rhodes University campus.

The Urban Herd of cattle making their way along Somerset Street.

And farewell to these donkeys walking along African Street.

I wish you all well over the Easter weekend.


The town I live in has spawned several Book Clubs, largely because of the rather meagre holdings of the municipal library. These clubs also serve an important role in the lives of women of all ages: a legitimate excuse to abandon their families once a month to enjoy the company of friends who share a love of reading.

I was fortunate to be a member of a wonderful group of women who shared a genuine love of reading as well as a healthy disregard for pretentiousness. We shared the books we liked and felt comfortable enough with each other not to mind the cut-and-thrust of healthy criticism of our choices whilst feeling pleased when our choices were hailed as being good ones. Our conversations were generally sparked off by the books we read and ran in so many different directions that by the end of an evening we felt mentally stimulated and our souls were enriched. I use the past tense for my Book Club, already ailing from a haemorrhage of members moving out of town after their retirement, is unlikely to survive the long pandemic-induced lockdown social restrictions.

The name inside the cover of a second-hand book reminded me of a particular Book Club that we tended to regard as being ‘rather snooty’. Potential members were vetted for their suitability in terms of their social status and the intellectual level of their reading matter. We all knew some of them – really pleasant individuals: university lecturers, librarians, wives of the legal or medical fraternity, and even a few heads of departments from local private schools. It appeared to us that one had to have some ‘standing’ within the community to be accepted there – no wonder we laughed.

Private conversations revealed that several members of this Book Club were in awe of the woman whose name is in this second-hand book. As a university professor, she was their ‘highest ranked’ member. She held fixed views and hated to be criticised. It appeared that her opinion about books and authors were paramount.

She was an interesting person in her own right. While outwardly successful, with a fine house and an upmarket car to show for it, she nonetheless remained needy. She was needy in terms of demanding her share of the limelight. Professionally, she was driven and competitive. She volunteered to serve on any committee that would bring her into, or keep her within, the sphere of ‘power’. She needed to be close to what she regarded as the most powerful people within her academic field; she needed to rub social shoulders with the financially ‘better off’ and what she regarded as ‘influential’ members of our small society.

This woman was sure to be seen at every book launch, opening of an art exhibition, charity events and social functions that she perceived would benefit her profile. There were many who sniggered at her fixed smile, sparkling gold jewellery and carefully styled hairdo. She always dressed impeccably. Some of her professional colleagues wilted under her sharp tongue – they didn’t often experience the charm she turned on in public. We knew that several members of her Book Club sighed with relief whenever she wasn’t able to attend a meeting.

Retirement hit this woman hard for with it she lost a public platform on which to parade. Our town is filled with retired academics, so they are not regarded with any  of the ‘awe’ she thought she ought to enjoy. Adding to her woes was the pandemic which kept us all at home for nearly two years. She wrote papers for any online journal that would accept one, but this didn’t give her the public exposure she craved. She turned her hand to creative writing, which helped to raise her profile within a very small writing circle. It pained her when so few people recognised her or greeted her when she walked around the suburbs once the pandemic restrictions were eased to allow exercise. The pandemically-induced social restrictions cheated her out of hosting a glittering farewell when she and her husband decided to leave town. Her final ‘hurrah’ was not to be.

Hers is one of the Book Clubs that has survived the pandemic. After years of kow-towing to her ‘superior views’, the members now laugh a lot more; they tease each other; they feel free to choose a wide variety of books simply for the pleasure of reading instead of as an intellectual exercise; they argue about books and authors – and they are all very happy.


Readers outside of South Africa will find it strange that since April 2008 the country has been subjected to periodic scheduled mandatory load shedding during which – whether we like it or not – there is no power for several hours at a time. This creates havoc all over the country as you can imagine. This week we were subjected to Stage 4 with three such outages per day. I needed to buy items from our supermarket:

The light was coming in from the wide entrance for this was the middle of the day. This shopping mall has a generator, but seemed to have trouble getting it going for the second bout of load shedding that day.

I joined three other shoppers at the cheese counter, our combined cell phone torches creating enough light to see by. Everyone was using their cell phone torches as they moved up and down the aisles to fill their trolleys. How can a regular power outage halt what needs to be done during the day? There was sufficient power coming from a smaller generator for the tills to work, so life carries on. I could hear the large generator kick in as I neared the exit and the supermarket was bathed in bright neon light once more.

We have moved to Stage 2 for the weekend: only two sessions of power outage.