On the eve of my 47th birthday, I have a story I would like to share.
When I was in Standard 7 (aka Grade 9), way back in 1985, I took a typical, department of education type, aptitude test to assist me with my subject choices for Standard 10 to Matric.
The outcome of the aptitude test indicated that I should pursue a career in humanities. Careers in this field are for example; teacher, journalist, public relations, youth care, publishing, advertising, media, training, politics, tourism, etc. There are many more – but you catch my drift.
I chose my subjects and continued on to Matriculate with a very mediocre final report. I hardly studied during my final year of school – I met my first boyfriend in Matric and that was the end of it for me … love befuddled my brain.
It didn’t matter that my Matric marks were not meritorious. Tertiary education was out of the question. It wasn’t part of my family’s culture or within my scope of options. I matriculated in a time where school-leavers could get jobs.
My first job was as a bank teller at United Bank. I worked with humans but it was definitely not a career in the humanities field. All too often I made mistakes which meant that I didn’t balance I had to cash up. I remember my supervisors being exasperated because they would have to work late to help me. They eventually gave up and moved me to the enquiries counter.
No money; no balancing or unbalancing of any kind.
Except, I couldn’t stand the paperwork; couldn’t grasp the filing system; and I was a bit too cheeky to some of the condescending clients.
I resigned before they could fire me.
My next job was as secretary to our pastor. I made appointments and phone calls, typed out his sermons, transcribed and archived old sermons, etc. I quite enjoyed the job – but the pay was poor. Pastor Pierre would give me a small stipend from his own skimpy salary when he could afford it. Sadly, one cannot live on bread alone, I needed money.
I went back to what I knew – despite knowing better – I got a job at Allied Bank.
History repeated itself. I made mistakes and drove my supervisors crazy by making them stay late and help me recon and figure out where the mistake was.
A few months into my new job and United Bank decided to merge with Allied Bank (the beginning of ABSA – don’t say my blogs don’t teach you anything). I was retrenched as part of the reshuffling.
My next job was back at the church – is this starting to feel like a game of tennis?
This time, though, I was employed as a pre-school teacher. I had no qualifications except that English was my first language. Here’s a quick history lesson – this all took place in the early 90’s.
Previously disadvantaged people, who were discriminated against for their skin colour, were now allowed to send their children to public schools where English was the language of tuition.
Most of these kiddies came from homes where English was not spoken at all.
We had three or four years to teach the little ones enough English that they would be able to cope in the mainstream education system. I taught 4 year olds. It was so rewarding.
The little ones would come in at the beginning of the year, not knowing one word of English, and leave at the end of the year ready for the next teacher to take over, until they graduated from Grade R, as fluent as any English speaking child I knew, except with the colourful African accent.
While working at the school I met and married Gavin and fell pregnant with our first child. Gav qualified as an Engineer and accepted a position in Germiston. So we moved town.
After a while I started working part-time at our new church. I sent out birthday cards, phoned people who had visited on Sunday, this and that. Purely voluntary.
After a few years we moved to a plot in Muldersdrift and I became a farmer.
First we grew veggies and watermelons. We had no staff, we were the staff – Gav, myself and my parents, and for a short time my siblings where with us to lend a hand.
Gav prepared the fields with our little Massey Fergusson tractor. We planted the seedlings by hand and harvested the crops by hand months later. We marketed and sold and delivered as much as we could to local shops, but the bulk of the yield had to go to the market in Pretoria. We received peanuts for our produce. It was heart breaking when we realised how much the middle man makes.
Next we tried farming with broiler chickens. We erected huge sheds. Still we had no staff. We couldn’t afford to hire people to help, we were taking loans against the bond to cover our operations while we waited for business to take off.
I fetched the day old chicks, up to one thousand a time, placed them in the huge sheds with wood shavings on the floor. I fed the chickens out of fifty kilogram feed bags. I had to weigh and count them and manage their health with vaccines and extreme hygiene.
After six or eight weeks, depending on the size of the birds and the demand for the meat we (the four of us) would get up before sunrise to catch and crate hundreds of birds at a time. Sometimes entire batches of one thousand would go in one day. We took them to the abattoir and we fetched the cleaned and packed meat the next day.
I marketed and delivered the chicken myself. Some of my customers were private households who bought four or eight chickens which I delivered in a skedonky Ford Sierra station wagon.
Some of my clients were hotels, some were spaza shops. It didn’t matter who you were or how many chickens you ordered, I delivered.
Needless to say we worked ourselves to a state of exhaustion for very little money. Our debt was growing faster than we could grow our business.
We sold the plot and moved to town.
I was a stay at home mommy for as long as I could bear it. I’m sorry – I don’t enjoy housework. I take my hat off to those mommies who keep their homes clean and tidy; you are very special beings indeed. When I felt about ready to run away from home a wonderful opportunity presented itself.
I was offered a job, mornings only, as an assistant to a quantity surveyor.
I took the job to escape from housework – honest truth. I had no idea what a quantity surveyor did.
I embraced the position and even studied in the field to qualify as an assistant QS. I learned so much and my brain revelled in the expansion. With the growing knowledge came the salary increases until I was in a very cushy, well-paying job.
I worked for Leon for nine years. It’s the longest I’ve stuck to anything besides being married.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. I hit the ceiling of my brain capacity and was able to learn no more. The job became routine, and when our country’s economy floundered I sat for weeks at a time with no work at work.
It was during this time that I began doing courses on writing and proofreading and editing. I joined an agency and got my first freelance writing job. One job led to another and I was writing Ebooks and articles and blogging for fun and sometimes for money.
At the beginning of this year, my boss and I had a meeting about my future and we decided to let me go. All I asked him for as a parting gift was my computer. The very computer I am using now.
Officially unemployed once more I dawdled through the first four months of the year. I decided in May to pull my finger out and make a go of this freelance writing thing and put all my new knowledge to good use.
Through one of my contracts I learned a lot about search engine optimisation and the gap for social media marketing.
An opportunity presented itself and I took over the social media management of one of my daughter’s design clients. It was then that the penny dropped. I realised that if Cam and I worked together we would make a great team!
That was the beginning…
Seven months later I have six social media clients and I have written articles and Ebooks for many more. One of my clients is a local band. To help me do a better job as their social media manager I offered to take photos and videos of them at one of their gigs. I had so much fun marketing them and taking photos that day.
We were driving home from the event when I clapped my hands in delight and said to Gav, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up!”
To say my jobs have been varied is an understatement. Never mind changing jobs within the same career path – I drastically changed career direction several times.
The interesting thing is that ten years ago, what I am doing now did not exist. Yes there were freelance writers, but they worked for newspapers or magazines.
Social Media Management? That was an unknown.
The moral of the story?
Maybe there are a few.
- The fact that I kept learning new things and challenging my once mediocre Matric results should be one source of inspiration. I passed my Assistant QS certificate with 96% and my Proofreading and Copyediting certificate also brags a 98% average.
- The fact that a technologically challenged 1970’s baby could learn about her computer, SEO, Dropbox, PayPal, etc, etc, enough to earn a living should mean that if anyone puts their mind to something they can succeed. Surely.
- The fact that I’m doing something that didn’t exist a few years ago means there’s hope for our children. New careers are being born with every advance of technology.
- The fact that I have never left the borders of South Africa but I have worked for people from Canada, Australia, Israel, USA, England, Norway, Sweden, India and Indonesia shows that geographic borders need not limit your options.
I hope my tour down memory lane leaves you with some inspiration or hope.
You’re never too old to change direction.
Don’t be afraid of change.
Sometimes what could be perceived as a bad thing (like losing your job) can be the beginning of something great!
Go on – be brave and let yourself grow.
I unwrapped the course hessian sacking very carefully. Whatever was inside felt heavy, although it was no bigger than my fist.
‘Magic paint…’ is what the ancient woman at the antique store had called it.
I still don’t know why I went into that store today; I was on my way to the bakery to buy some fresh, crusty bread to have with the soup that had been chilling in my fridge since my mom had given it to me over the weekend. I’m sure it’s still edible – it’s only been four days – well it may be on the verge of becoming inedible, but I live on the edge. I laughed sadly at my own joke. I was so far from living on the edge; I lived in the middle of the vast flatness that far preceded the edge. My solitary existence was a cause of great concern for my dear parents, but I enjoy my own company. No, that’s inaccurate. I prefer my own company.
Two shops away from the bakery I saw the antique store, it must have been there for years, because the contents of the shop were well settled in the untidy order that is typical of such a place, but I had never noticed it before.
I didn’t feel any magnetic pull to enter the store; nor was there any accompaniment of anticipatory music. I simply changed direction and walked through the door.
I was disappointed when the clichéd bell tinkled its announcement of my arrival. I would have loved to have entered anonymously and left unseen. I stood amongst the aged and timeless pieces and glanced noncommittally at all that was on display. The obligatory ticking of clocks was the most obvious noise; the flurry of papers being stirred by a desk fan assisted the clocks in breaking the silence.
With my shoulders hunched and my hands in my jacket pocket, I took a deep breath and realised that I may well have stopped breathing when I walked into the shop. Expecting the musty smell of old stuff, I was pleasantly surprised to inhale the scent of pine.
I chose to begin my explorations to the right and slowly made my way through the organised clutter. I hadn’t walked far when the sound of footsteps alerted me to the fact that I wasn’t alone. I turned, expecting to find a bent, old man with glasses and dishevelled grey hair, looking at me reprovingly for my apparent disinterest in all things old and beautiful, but instead, there stood an old woman. She was more wrinkled than I believed humanly possible. In fact, in my mind, I made the immediate assumption that the oldest of items in this store, be it two hundred years old or more, were probably hers to begin with.
“Hello.” I said, hesitantly. Not sure if she had seen me or just happened to be on the same side of the store as I was.
“Yes.” She replied. “I see you.” Her eyes were silvery-grey, like the eyes of a puppy before they turn brown.
“Oh…” Was all I could muster in response.
“I have what you’re searching for.” She said, and gestured for me to follow her.
Well that’s great. I thought. I’m glad she knows what I’m searching for, because I sure don’t.
We reached the desk with the fan. I stopped a fair way off and she walked around to the front of it. Opening a drawer that I could not see, she lifted out a bundle of hessian sacking. Cupping the parcel in two hands she made her way towards me. I felt awkward; was I supposed to move closer to receive what she was offering?
I didn’t. I stayed put. There was no lead-footed feeling and, again, no musical accompaniment to hint at how this exchange might turn out. I simply had no inclination to step forward. All too soon she stood directly before me; her arms extended, palms up, offering the wad of hessian and its unknown contents to me. Dumbly I responded by taking it from her. I stood looking at her, holding the package the way she had, palms up.
“You’ve been searching for this.” She said simply.
“What is it?” I asked.
“But I don’t paint. I’m not an artist. I’m a writer.” I explained, feeling a bit let down.
If she knew what I was searching for, why was she giving me magic paint? I would have preferred a magic pen, especially seeing as lately I was struggling with an all-too-real bout of creative writer’s block. No doubt it was brought on by the career choices I had made. I was trying to make an independent living from my writing, but creative writing didn’t pay well, so I had conceded to write in the creatively-restrictive field of business and commerce. Now I found myself in a trap of deadlines; brain fatigue having robbed me of my imagination.
“You are a writer.” She said.
“Yes.” I was becoming a bit exasperated now.
“You are a writer.” She repeated; this time she emphasised the word.
“Yes.” I said softly, and I hung my head as I absorbed the words. “I am a writer.”
“Take the paint. Paint. And then write.” Her grey eyes were soft on mine when I looked up.
“Thank you.” I whispered.
“Go.” She said; a small smile showed through the lines on her face.
“Okay.” I obeyed; turning slowly, I walked out of the store.
Outside, on the pavement, I stood for a while with the bundle in my hands, not sure where to go from there. I forgot about the fresh, crusty bread. I turned in the direction of my small apartment and, like someone carrying a bird’s nest with eggs in it, I walked home.
There were three separate layers of hessian surrounding what I soon discovered to be an ancient clay pot with a cork stopper. The cork was brittle, I was afraid that it would disintegrate when I tried to pry it open. A few pieces of cork crumbled in my hand, but the stopper popped of easily enough. Curiosity made me cautiously place my nose over the opening to get a whiff of what magic paint smelt like. Nothing. No fragrance. I swirled the jar slowly in my hand to see if I could glimpse the paint through the small opening. Nothing. It was just filled with darkness. I was tempted to dip my finger into the pot so that I could see what colour and consistency the paint had, but I was concerned that if the paint was waterproof or worst still, toxic, I would have an odd coloured fingertip or possibly no fingertip at all.
While I contemplated the situation I looked up at my grandfather’s old writing desk; an inherited piece. He had been a writer too. He had written with a pen and paper in the days before typewriters and computers. My computer looked so out of place on his old desk, but that’s how I write – I type actually – but it’s still called writing.
Next to my computer was a pen holder filled with pens and pencils. Even though I type most of my stuff on a keyboard, I do still like to make notes with a pen and paper. I scratched through the writing apparatus and found a pointless pencil. I grabbed a piece of paper and made my way back to the magic paint pot.
Carefully I dipped the pencil in and pulled it out, the end was covered in black paint that had the consistency of regular acrylic paint, the kind that kids use for school projects when they have to build and paint a model or something.
I touched the paint-filled pencil tip to the paper and it made a blob of paint. I moved it along the paper and it made a line. I twirled the pencil in my hand and the painted point made a swirly paint pattern on the page.
“Magic paint huh?” I said to no one but myself. “Looks like ordinary black paint to me. Black? I mean, why can’t it be blue or something?”
I had hardly said the words when the paint on the paper turned blue.
“Oh my socks!” I exclaimed as I looked around the room. I don’t know what I was expecting to see; I was, after all, alone at home. A pot of magic paint didn’t change that fact. I looked at the tip of the pencil, definitely black.
The paint on the paper, definitely blue. I dipped the pencil back into the pot and brought out another blunt point immersed in black paint. I followed the same routine – a dot, a line and a swirl, in black paint.
“Red.” I said, and the newest applications of paint turned red. The initial ones stayed blue, and the tip of the pencil was still black.
“Oh my socks!” I squealed again.
I repeated the exercise until I had gone through all of the primary and secondary colours and was beginning to try weird and wonderful colours like magenta and puce. The paper was nearly full and I suddenly realised I was really hungry. I ate the reheated soup, without crusty bread, all the while staring from the paint pot to the black paint on the pencil-tip to the rainbow of colour on the paper.
“I need a paintbrush.” I announced, once again to no one in particular. When one lives on one’s own, one is inclined to converse with oneself.
I glanced at the time. Today’s writing deadlines were, for once, not the reason I looked at the clock. Deadlines forgotten, I wanted to get to a craft shop so I could buy some paintbrushes. I carefully placed the cork back on the jar and then dashed out to the nearest general dealer to buy a variety of paintbrushes. While I was there I bought two canvases, one medium and one large. I knew I couldn’t really afford these things, I was using bread and butter money so to speak, but I’d been without bread today and survived. I felt sure I could compromise a little in some way to make up for this unprecedented splurge.
Back at my apartment I propped the medium sized canvas up on my kitchen shelf. I had the paint pot open on the shelf next to the canvas and an assortment of brushes rested in an old vase. I stared blankly at the canvas. The blank canvas stared at me.
“I don’t know what to paint.” I said. “I’m not a painter, I’m a writer.” I walked to the window. I didn’t know a thing about painting. I didn’t know if I was supposed to do the outlines in pencil and then fill in with paint, or start in one corner and work my way down and hope that whatever I painted came out in the right proportion.
As I mused, a thought occurred to me. What if the paint was so magic that it not only changed colour, but it also knew how to paint. If I held the brush and said “tree”, would the brush be able to paint a tree?
From my spot at the window I looked beyond the pot of paint to my bookshelf and my cosy reading chair. On the chair lay a book of poetry I’d been reading and I remembered that my bookmark was on the page that marked the beginning of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven.
I walked up to the canvas and picked up a medium brush. I dipped it into the paint pot. I held the paint-soaked brush against the canvas and whispered, “Raven.”
No magical feeling overcame me; no melody accompanied the brush strokes. It was my hand that was doing the painting, even though I had never painted before. At unplanned intervals my hand would dunk the brush back into the pot. Occasionally my hand would choose a different size brush. Intermittently my mouth would utter a colour and the most recent application of paint would change to various shades of blue, purple and grey, intermingled with the black. I was astounded to see how much colour went into the painting of a black raven. The attention to detail was infinite; the bird’s pupil and iris, although both black, where differentiable. Minute brush strokes created the wisp of feathers. Talons and beak appeared glossy and sharp due to the accuracy of the highlights.
As I completed the final stroke and put the brush back in the vase, I looked at the painting with a mixture of awe and astonishment. The raven looked so real that I almost expecting to see it blink and ruffle its feathers before flying off the page.
I looked at my hands. Spills and splashes of black paint decorated my fingers – only black, no other colour. No blue, no grey, no purple. The same applied to the brushes in the vase. I had used all but the largest brush, and they were covered with black paint alone.
I went to the wash basin and was pleasantly surprised to find that the paint simply rinsed off under the warm water. I brought the brushes to the basin and rinsed them clean too. When I put the brushes in the vase I touched the raven painting. The paint was dry. It did not smudge. The unruffled, realistic looking raven stared back at me.
It was late. The sun had set without me noticing. The only light on in my apartment was the kitchen light. I was hungry again. No bread. I made myself a cup of tea and nibbled on the last of the short bread biscuits my mom had left for me. I walked around my small apartment closing blinds and switching on a few more lights. One gets lonely and a little afraid of the creatures in one’s imagination when one lives by oneself. I may have creative writer’s block, but my imaginary thoughts still work; overtime. I took the book of poems and put it next to my bed, switching on the bedside lamp and turning down my duvet as was my nightly routine.
My shoulders were unbelievably tense from the time I had spent painting; more so even than when I write for the tightest deadline. I was surprised because while I had been busy, it had felt so effortless. I took my tea to the bathroom and ran a nice hot bath. While I soaked in the bubbles I thought about how unexpectedly my day had turned out. I was awake much later than usual so I was quite tired. The hot water eased the stiffness in my shoulders. The water waned from hot to warm. I climbed out of the bath and went to bed. I didn’t have the capacity to read more than half of The Raven before I drifted off to sleep. It was a fitful sleep.
The melodic rhythm that my mind had created for the poem kept going round and round in my head like a monotonous carousel.
The Raven’s raspy voice that my mind had created for the bird kept squawking, “Lenore. Nevermore.”
It was hardly dawn; I didn’t even give my alarm clock time to chime before I was awake. While lying in my bed I had a worrisome thought. What if, when I got to my kitchen, the raven is gone? Not just the raven. Everything. What if all that had happened the day before had been a dream that I dreamt after reading The Raven? I lay a while longer, pondering my thoughts until I had a different worrisome thought; what if it had all been real?
Unable to bear the self-inflicted suspense I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen – completely unsure of what I wanted to find. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the raven staring back at me. The paint pot, the brushes, the painting, it was all there the way I remembered leaving it the night before. It was all quite real.
I made myself a cup of coffee and walked through the apartment opening the blinds. There was an invisible dawn behind heavy clouds. It would rain today. I rummaged around in the grocery cupboard and found half a Weet-bix biscuit and some All-bran flakes dust. I added the last drop of milk to the cardboardy cereal. It was so dry I had to sip coffee in between mouthfuls.
“Dreadful waste of coffee.” I muttered through a powdery spray of bran.
I looked from my computer, with the sticky notes all over the side of the screen alerting me of pending deadlines, to my now empty grocery cupboard, desperately in need of re-stocking with items I did not have the money to buy, to the lifelike raven that I could hardly believe I had had a hand in creating, to the large blank canvas that was waiting expectantly for a masterpiece of its own.
“Ugh,” I moaned. “I have to work or I won’t eat.”
I looked at my reflection in the mirror while I brushed my teeth. My plain, un-made-up face stared back at me dispassionately.
“How can you be so calm?” I asked myself with my mouth full of toothpaste foam. “You have a pot of magic paint in your kitchen, you have three deadlines pending, you need money, and you need food.” I told myself. “Food? I can get some from Mom. That’s never a problem. So much for being independent.” I answered, rolling my eyes at myself.
“Deadlines? They’re pending not imminent. I can take another day. I can work over the weekend. That’s the advantage of being a freelance writer isn’t it?”
I shrugged and spat the minty foam into the basin. I also had to wipe some white foam specks off the mirror. Talking with a mouthful of toothpaste foam can be a bit messy, especially when there are words that start with ‘P’, ‘B’ and ‘F’. I really do need to stop talking to myself – but who else do I have when I’m alone at home?
I made up my mind that I would visit my parents first and pick up a few items from their grocery cupboard just to tide me over until after the weekend. Then I would paint whatever the magic paint pot decided on; once that was out of my system I would be able to focus on work. Isn’t that what the antique lady said after all; “Take the paint. Paint. And then write.” If I recall correctly?
I made my bed, got dressed, applied a bit of make-up (more for my mom’s sake than for my own – she really does worry about my reclusive, anti-social choice of lifestyle), remembered to brush my hair at the last minute, and then took a brisk walk to their place. They live a mere 3 kilometres away from me. I had hardly left my building when the rain started, so by the time I reached their home all my make-up and hair brushing efforts were in vain.
Mother dear flapped about my state of being the entire time I visited. She gave me her warm, fluffy gown to wear while I waited for the dryer to finish with my clothes. She insisted I dry my hair properly. While I used her blow-drier and luxurious face moisturiser she made some French toast drizzled in honey, and expensive filter coffee which she served with a generous dollop of fresh cream – just the way I like it but could never afford. As much as I was acting nonchalant on the outside, I was revelling in the attention on the inside. She packed a box full of goodies from the grocery cupboard, all the while chastising me for moving out, thus depriving myself of the comforts and luxuries of home. Finally she ushered me into her car and drove me the short distance back to my apartment.
Hardly an hour had passed since I walked out of the door and I was back inside. Tummy filled, heart warmed, and grocery cupboard re-stocked. Because of the rain, my mother had declined my half-hearted invitation to come up to my apartment. I was quite relieved – I don’t know how I would have explained my impulsive interest in painting; never mind the unmistakable artistic talent that I had suddenly developed.
With a mug of frothy hot chocolate in my hands, I made way over to the raven. He held my gaze while I once again admired the fine detail of the painting. I touched the beak and the talons, almost expecting them to feel as three dimensional as they looked. I ran my fingers over the wing and imagined I could feel softness in the vane and the downy barbs of the feathers.
“Magic paint.” I said, “Magic indeed.”
I glanced over at the large empty canvas and wondered what I should paint on that one. The inspiration for the first painting had come from a book of poems. I am a writer who loves to read. I ambled over to my overstocked bookshelf. Before I got close enough to recognise books and titles I closed my eyes and held out one hand. My idea was to pick out a book and allow that to be the inspiration for the next painting.
I ran my fingers along the spines of the books feeling the hard covers mixed with the paperbacks, trying not to remember the order I had last filed them in – not that they stay in any order for long. The few friends that I do have often help themselves to books from my library. When they return them they are not nearly as fastidious as I am about putting them back in order. My hand rested on a thick hard cover but I chose to pull the smaller book out that was shelved to the right of it. In anticipation I opened my eyes to glance at the cover.
The Man Who Lives with Wolves: Shaun Ellis
I looked up at the thick hard cover I had by-passed in favour of this one.
Cook with Jamie.
“Oh, okay.” I said with a resigned shrug, “I don’t fancy doing a portrait of him, so I guess I’ll be painting a wolf.”
I moved the painting of the raven over to the left and propped the empty canvas in its place. I took a deep breath and, choosing a medium brush, I dipped it into the paint pot. As I placed the brush on the canvas I said “Wolf”, and the same thing happened as the day before.
My hand knew what to do; which brush to choose and which brush stroke to use. My mouth knew what colour to call, from dark grey to light, from brown and beige to white. The wolf’s irises were yellow; the fangs were off white. It was fascinating to see how black paint could become so light. A soft pink tongue lolled between the canine teeth. I had completed most of the wolf; a contemplative face, a pensive stance. Ears tilted slightly back, listening. Eyes gazing forward, looking. Shoulders tense, waiting. I was about to start painting the hind quarter when I noticed that the brush was coming out of the pot dry. I picked up the little paint pot and peered inside. Of course I could see nothing. I plunged the brush back into the hole at the top but when I drew it out there was no paint. I looked at the raven. I looked at the partially completed wolf. I had run out of paint.
Without a moment’s hesitation and despite the falling rain, I dashed outdoors and made my way back to the antique store. When I walked passed the bakery I realised I had walked too far. In my hurry I must have walked right past. I turned back and, slowing my pace a little, paid attention to the shop fronts. After the bakery there was a shoe shop, then a barber, then a pet supply store and finally, before the end of the building, there was a chemist.
I was confused. I walked back again.
Chemist, pet store, barber, shoe shop, bakery.
I walked passed the bakery and studied the shops on the other side of it, just in case; a bank, followed by a tailor, and then the end of the block.
I turned back once more and looked at the row of shop fronts before me. Because of the dreary weather the daylight was dim. The shop lights were bright as they displayed the store names.
Alex’s Tailor. Infinite Bank. Denny’s Bakery. Bless Shoe. Cut Above Barber. Fluffy Friends Pet Supplies. A to Zinc Chemist.
The rain water was stinging my eyes; I realised I had stopped blinking. Maybe I had even stopped breathing because suddenly I felt very dizzy and my chest was tight. People were scurrying by under umbrellas or rain coats and I was standing in the pouring rain like a halfwit staring at blinking lights.
When I finally came to my senses, the baker’s wife was calling to me from the doorway.
“Yoohoo. Honey? Are you alright? Don’t you want to come in out of the rain?”
I looked at her dumbly and walked into the warm bakery, dripping wet and trailing streams of rainwater as I walked.
“Denny!” She called. “Bring us two towels, and a mop. And get Sandy to bring a cup of hot tea with lots of sugar. We have a customer here who doesn’t look well.”
Sandy, Denny and his wife fussed about and dried me and the floor around me. They poured hot, sweet tea down my throat and then thrust a donut between my paint stained fingers.
“Whatever is the matter with you, child?” Denny chided in a fatherly manner.
“Where is your jacket? How can you venture out in this weather without a raincoat or umbrella?”
“I left in such a hurry I didn’t think.”
He just shook his head, tut-tutting, as he mopped the puddle at my feet.
“Where did the antique store go?” I asked. He looked at me, puzzled.
I pointed and said, “There was an antique store a few shops down. Where did it go?”
“That antique store closed down when Mavis died; must be at least ten years ago. It was where the pet store is now. And before that it was a bookstore, and before that it was a stationery store. No one stays long in that shop anymore. Not since Mavis was there. And Mavis was there from the beginning of time.” He said with a chuckle.
“Good ol’ Mavis, as ancient as the antiques themselves.”
I realised I had stopped breathing again. I accidentally inhaled a donut crumb which left me coughing and spluttering for a while. When I finally got my breath back I was overcome with confusion and just wanted to get home.
“Thank you for the donut, and the tea, and, and everything …” I said softly. My words trailed off and I finished the sentence with a weird little wave and gestured that I had to leave. The three of them watched, flabbergasted, wet towels and mop in hand, as I walked back into the rain. One more time I studied the shop fronts and one more time it was confirmed that the antique store was not amongst them.
Soaking wet and very cold, I entered my apartment, fully expecting that the paint pot and the paintings would no longer be there; that the whole thing had been some or other fabrication of my suppressed creativity since the onset of the creative writer’s block.
I was almost shocked to see the raven and the three-quarters-of-a-wolf staring back at me. I had an idea.
I picked up the paint pot and said, “More paint.” I dipped the brush in hopefully, only for it to come out dry.
“More paint, please.” I tried. It didn’t work.
I looked at the wolf; so expectant and yet so incomplete.
“You will never get the opportunity to be complete. You will never look real, like the raven. The raven looks so real. The raven looks like it could fly off that canvas at any minute and disappear just like the antique store did. Like Mavis did. Fly Raven, fly!” I commanded.
At that moment a light flickered in Raven’s eyes. His beak and talons became three dimensional and they pierced through the canvas. The bird fluffed out its feathers and unfurled its wings. With a whoosh of air it flew from the canvas and circled the room a few times. I was shocked into immobility as I watched the raven, which had once been a painting, dive down from ceiling height straight towards my face.
Too late I lifted my hands to protect myself and I felt its talons dig into my cheek as it flew by. It circled again and flew back towards me. This time I covered my face but I felt its beak peck ferociously at the top of my head. Blood, from the gash on my head, now mingled with the rain water that was running down my face. As the raven circled to attack once more I reached for the paint pot and threw it at the bird. With a squawk of terror, the raven attempted to change direction in mid-flight, but the paint pot hit its mark. The bird and the pot tumbled in the air for a time that was gravitationally impossible.
I watched in stunned disbelief as the raven began to liquefy and poured back into the pot. The pot landed with a solid plonk on my reading chair.
The tightness in my chest reminded me to exhale and my breath left me in the form of a childlike wail.
Very, very tentatively I walked over to my chair to pick up the paint pot.
I could feel it was heavier; it wasn’t empty anymore. With trembling hands I turned to put the pot down on the kitchen shelf with the intention of re-corking it and throwing it far, far way.
From the canvas the wolf stared back at me. Pensive. Incomplete.
Mavis’s words echoed in my ears; “Take the paint. Paint. And then write.”
This is me; writing after painting.
Oh I love to try new things!
I met a fellow Niume blogger online. You know how it goes. You have a couple of minutes to check out everyone else’s stuff, so you click through a few links and read and enjoy, and get ideas and inspiration, and seven hours later your errands aren’t run, your chores aren’t done, and your family are feeling hungry and confused. But at least you know that there are yellow and pink striped fish in a pond called ‘Kululalaling’ somewhere on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, you know how to strain syrup from an aloe plant to make your own heal balm, you know that so-and-so only writes about sport or politics and you’re euphoric from all the beautiful photographs of sunsets, sunrises, flowers and beaches.
On one of my wanderings through the blogs on Upwork, I stumbled upon Ginny Stone.
Originally the attraction was purely geographic – we are both from South Africa and as it turns out we both live in the Jo’burg area: a very broad term used to describe the agglomeration of municipal areas that share the same dialing code, but run as independent little cities in one metropolis. If you’re curious you can read more about it in a blog I wrote about South Africa: https://niume.com/post/59211.
Just make sure you come back here when you’re done – don’t get lost out there in the ocean of blogs.
The first of Ginny’s blogs to grab my attention was about rebounding; the kind that involves a trampoline, not a broken heart.
My husband has a health issue that requires him to rebound daily. I tried it and enjoyed it but (shock, horror, gasp [and blush]) I can’t do it for long because it makes me leak. The gynie says it’s normal for a woman my age … big sigh.
Anyway, moving on swiftly, I commented on Ginny’s blog and she responded (this is a wonderful habit for all bloggers to get into – if someone takes the time to comment on your blog, at least take the time to respond). Ginny told me to try hula-hooping instead of rebounding and she sent me hte link to a blog she had written about it.
Following her instructions I went to the hardware store and bought 5 metres of 25mm irrigation pipe and a connector to make a giant hula-hoop.
For the next few weeks the hula-hoop became my ‘thing’.
Every day for about an hour I would sway away and let the giant hoop encircle me. I found that listening to music while I hula-hooped was most enjoyable.
Songs by the Goombay Dance Band with their island style rhythm and Michael Bublé with his soft-jazz croon where my favourites.
I found hula-hooping mesmerizing, therapeutic, downright addictive.
I have a busy schedule and fitting in an hour or so of hula-hooping ate away at my reading and writing time – but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. At one stage I went to the hardware store and bought material for a second hoop and at times I swayed them simultaneously.
Why the desperate need for the hula-hour? I have no clue. I can only think that it’s because the year was winding down to an end and it had been a rather shitty year. Hula time was ‘me’ time – nobody could get within 3 metres of me and with my headphones on I was removed from the real world.
Gavin, ever the practical one, said that the constant movement of the giant hoop around my waist was going to erode my middle-bits; he feared I would become a stick-woman. I tried to explain that I was not made of sand and the hoop was not a stream of water, therefore no erosion would take place.
Although the fluid movement of the abdomen, hips, and legs will reduce centimetres, it’s because of the muscle-movement and not because of any eroding properties of the hoop.
In the month that I used the hula-hoop almost daily for about an hour a day I lost a few centimetres around my waist and my posterior and thighs firmed up a tad.
We went camping and I asked Gav to take a series of photos and videos of me with my beloved hoop. I chose a nice river-side background and proceeded to play model while my dear, patient husband followed my instructions and took short videos. My goal was to post a series of videos of me doing various hula-moves to demonstrate how different actions worked different body parts. I had big ideas about YouTube tutorials and starting a new craze.
Sadly, I’m not model material and YouTube is full of hot young women with bouncy boobs, wearing tiny clothes while they hula-hoop to sexy music. Some of them have three hula-hoops going at once.
My dreams of becoming a hula-sensation were dashed and I realized that, as much as I enjoyed the hula-hoop, I was in fact wasting time. I was tired of listening to Son of Jamaica, Feeling Good and Sway, I missed reading and I missed writing and I could probably tone my flabby abs quicker if I stuck to cycling and did a few crunches and a quick planking exercise.
So just like that, the phase was over. The giant hula-hoops have been claimed by my dad, not because he wants to be the next YouTube sensation (although a 70 year old man with a hula-hoop may just get more hits than a middle aged woman), they are made of irrigation pipe and my dad is an avid gardener… waste not want not.
Or in my case: waste not time on your waist.
PS Check out Ginny’s blogs
It’s one of life’s ironies that my sense of adventure pounced on me at this stage of my existence.
Why now, when my body doesn’t want to cooperate?
Well it cooperates I guess … but, boy oh boy, I know all about it the next day!
Inside of me there is a 20 year old that wants to ride a tube and learn how to ski behind a boat, climb to the top of a waterfall, clamour to the top of a rocky outcrop, swim beyond the breakers in the ocean, play in the waves with my inflatable kayak, and ride my mountain bike through the bushveld where there are trees and valleys and hilltops with a view.
But there’s a problem. I’m not 20. Not even close.
When I was 20, I was sewing and learning how to bake and be all domesticated.
Now I’m very much on the wrong side of 40 AND I’m as clumsy as … ummmm … I can’t think of anything to describe the clumsiness that is me.
I blame it on my lanky frame. I’m tall, maybe that affects my centre of gravity.
I am most likely to trip up, slip down or drop something; more than anyone else I know.
Once, while camping with good friends, I was contemplating climbing a very tall cat-ladder to get to the top of a lookout tower which was opposite our campsite. The view over the bushveld would have been awesome from up there.
I voiced my thoughts, only to have my husband and my friends say, “No!” in sync like a well-rehearsed trio.
You see, they know me.
They’ve seen me walk into a pole, trip over a wire railing, fall out of the boat, fall into the boat, fall off the jet-ski, burn myself countless times while cooking, knock beverage glasses flying, spill bowls of food, need I continue?
They also, just weeks prior to our camping trip, saw my face a few hours after falling off my MTB.
Read my previous blog “I met Mother Earth, her name is Sandy” to find out more about that misadventure.
For me, it was as simple as ‘climb up the ladder and appreciate the view.’
For them, my statement evoked images of a slip, a fall and a messy drop!
I sighed at their reaction and said I would be careful.
They just laughed and my friend said, “You want to do all these crazy, adventurous things, but you’ve got the wrong body.”
His words stung.
He didn’t mean it unkindly. He was speaking the truth.
I do want to do all these crazy, adventurous things, but my body is not performing as athletically and gracefully as I would hope.
Alas. I will not give up.
I’m not old enough to be too old. I never want to be too old.
So I will clamour up rocks and enjoy the breathtaking view from the top of the koppie, even if it means I accidentally land with my palm in a pile of dassie poop when I have to reach out to steady myself.
(Language lesson for those who don’t live in South Africa: a koppie is a small hill, most often consisting of a rocky outcrop. A dassie is an African rodent. It looks like a giant guinea-pig and lives in colonies on koppies.)
I will swim beyond the breakers, even if I have to lug my boogie board along with me … because the stillness of the ocean past the breaking waves is indescribable. And maybe I will see dolphins up close again.
See my blog: Dance with a Dolphin if you want to find out just how close I got to a touching a wild dolphin!
I will continue to enjoy my MTB adventures, despite the fact that I have fallen and injured myself three times – once in our own driveway, before I had even left home.
You see, my body may be lanky, and my centre of gravity may be off tilt, but the treasures I find when I push through and live the adventure are well worth the risk of a possible mishap.
The odds are 1 in 5 that I’m going to hurt myself doing something. Whether I take a tumble off my bike, get dunked by a big wave, or slip on a rock; I’m prepared to take the risk and live the adventure and occasionally it may even be accident free.
Another friend teased me and said that I should have a board up at home that reads, “(insert number) of accident free days”.
What can I say? Never a dull moment.
I will consider my bruises, scratches, scrapes and scars as adventure markings.
Maybe some people look at me, they see my scars and my newest bruise, and think I should try and be more ladylike, possibly a little less adventurous.
Well, I did that for too many years and honestly, life got dull.
So let me enjoy my second bout of youthful behaviour without the added stress of trying to impress the boys and fit in with the girls.
Who dictated that there are only certain times of your life that you can do certain things?
No way. Any age is the right time to have an adventure!
At the end of this month, more specifically, the 26th of September, I will be celebrating my 9 year anniversary in my current job.
That might not sound like a big deal to you, but to me, it’s momentous!
If we were celebrating a wedding anniversary I would be buying my boss a gift made of willow, pottery or leather. Let me stretch the marriage analogy – we have made it past the 7 year itch!
However, 2 years ago (making it the 7th year of my employ), I almost resigned in order to open a coffee shop.
Apart from my marriage, I have not persisted in anything for more than a year or two, because I get bored easily and I like variety.
This fact rings true in my pastimes, hobbies and after work activities.
During the past 9 years I have volunteered as a ‘committee mommy’ at my kiddies’ primary school, I was a junior school youth leader and then a secondary school youth leader at our church, and I started a Sunday evening group especially aimed at teens.
I have dabbled in various arts and craft activities ranging from card making, to mosaic, to making beaded jewellery. I even tried selling my wares at craft markets and such, but sacrificing a day of my weekend to watch people manhandle my creations and “um” and “ah” was not my idea of fun.
My activity levels also fluctuate. When I started this job I was inactive and a bit overweight until I joined a gym and worked out often. I lost weight and got nice and fit. I even started playing squash. Then I got lazy again and did nothing for a while. I put on some of the weight I lost. The inactivity passed, I started swimming and jogging, and now I’ve moved on to MTB riding, but with summer around the corner I feel the pull towards the pool again.
My boss is a quantity surveyor. For those who are not familiar with this occupation I will summarise our services briefly; if you need something built, we’ll work out how much it’s going to cost you, and if it’s a big project, he will manage it for you.
He and I are related through marriage – my hubby and my boss’s wife are cousins.
I had no relevant qualifications when I started this job. A year or so in, I studied part-time for about 18 months through a correspondence college to get some paperwork that states I’m an assistant quantity surveyor.
When I started working in the construction industry I didn’t know there was a difference between concrete and cement.
When I left school I thought I’d seen the last of geometry.
Little did I know that, one day, I’d be using all those formulas for area, perimeter and volume once again. Honest truth – I know what pi is.
Listen up children: “You DO use some of the stuff you learn at school in real life!”
As a quantity surveyor’s assistant, I spend my working hours measuring, counting and calculating, and unbeknown to me, this habit has overflowed into my personal life.
The realisation that the 9 years I’ve worked in this job equates to 20% of my life’s years is as a direct result of the calculator in my brain.
Another startling fact is that I have spent about 2700 hours driving to work and back. That’s almost four months in the car! I have owned 4 different cars during this time.
My excitement about this job started dwindling a long time ago.
“It’s not you, it’s me.” I would say to the pile of papers in front of me.
This job really doesn’t suit my personality. I’m creative and this job is methodical, logical, orderly and precise. I’m light blue with red streaks and this job is grey. I’m a spiral and this job is a square.
My boss is a great guy. In the 108 months that I have been working for him, he’s never lost his cool and never shown any irritation or exasperation, no matter how dom I can be at times. (“Dom” is a wonderful Afrikaans word for “thick”). His calm demeanour hushes my volatility.
I have a great working environment in a very pretty setting.
Our “office” is at his home and I have a view of the garden and the pool. I am his only employee so there is no gossip and no office politics.
There are people I know who would give anything to have my job, yet I swing between gratitude, discontent and guilt.
What began as an adventure soon turned into a dull routine and I found myself working for the money. Shock, horror, gasp. I too have succumbed to the trap.
That reminds me of something Adele Archer wrote.
“I am tied to the trappings of the western world, because of the stresses of the western world.”
I’m trying to break free from the mould and establish a career as a writer; it’s not a lucrative business. In order for me to make what I’m earning now, I would have to write 1000 words every hour, six hours a day, AND get paid for each word.
And then? Guess what will happen? My love of writing will turn into a slog and I’ll begin staring at my keyboard saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I’m getting old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
I have touched and held various kinds of wild, or at least ‘unconventional’, animals during my limited adventures:
I have been hugged by an ostrich.
I played with lion cubs who thought I was a chew toy.
I spent an hour with cheetahs. I got to pet them and feel their raspy tongues when they licked me.
I played with a mischievous meerkat.
I gingerly rubbed my hand over an African python that wasn’t big enough to swallow me, and I touched a crocodile while it wasn’t looking.
None of those experiences compare to holding a critically injured Impala for almost an hour while waiting for someone to come and help the poor animal.
We recently visited a game farm that offered mountain bike trails that wound through the bushveld, promising an assortment of game to be viewed. My husband, son and I were very keen to go exploring as the MTB bug has bitten (and if you read my previous blog you will remember that I tried to bite back … but I failed and I falled*). *I know, I know, that is a made-up word*
We set out from our caravan at about three in the afternoon. The game farm has several fenced-off areas as they also keep cattle, so we had to stop twice to go through some gates.
As we approached the third and final gate, that would give us access to the actual game reserve, we saw a group of male Impalas throwing themselves against the fence in an attempt to get to the other side.
For those of you who are not familiar with South African wildlife, an Impala is a small antelope that can jump very high. They are very common antelope, we see dozens of them every time we go to the bush.
In Afrikaans an Impala is called a Rooibok, which means ‘red buck’. They are also referred to as the McDonald’s buck because of the “M” pattern on their rump and the fact that you see one around every corner.
Back to my story…
The buck were unable to jump over the fence as it was erected high enough to stop them, but they were trying very hard, and in their vain attempts they were hurting themselves. We decided not to go through the gate, instead we cycled towards the buck, hoping to chase them back into the bush. It was so horrible to see these animals continuously and mindlessly throwing themselves against the fence. The wire kept catapulting them back as it recoiled against their barrage. Finally we were close enough for them to notice us and they ran away into the shrubby, thorny bushveld until we couldn’t see them.
We were just about to turn back to the gate when, a few hundred meters in front of us, we heard a crash! and we saw another Impala buck trying to jump over the gate at the other end of the enclosure. We watched in horror as he charged at the gate, leaped into the air and hit the gate with such force the fence reverberated. He then fell to the ground. We rode as fast as we could and as we got nearer we saw that he was struggling to stand. Justin (my son) and I were the first to reach him.
We cautiously approached the struggling animal because we were sure he was going to spring up at any moment. We didn’t want to get in the way of him and his horns. He wasn’t able to get up though. We knelt down and held him still in order to prevent him from hurting himself further. I held tightly onto one of his horns and rested my hand on his head, Justin held his body. By now Gavin (my husband) had reached us, so I asked him to please ride back to the main office at the campsite and get some help.
The poor Impala had done a lot of damage to himself. He had completely skinned the top of his nose, right up to his forehead, and his nose was bleeding. He kept struggling, scraping his front legs on the ground in his attempt to stand, and that’s when I noticed that his back legs weren’t moving.
I cried while I tried to soothe the frightened creature and wished with ALL my heart that I could speak ‘animal’ and get him to understand that we were trying to help him.I told him he had really hurt himself and he needed to lie still because struggling would only make it worse. His huge, soft, brown eyes with a delicate line of lashes just gazed at me incomprehensibly.
Justin and I could hear his heart beating.
After a while Gavin came back … alone. He told us that the owner said we must just leave the buck, he’ll come “sort it out” later.
When Justin and I let go of the Impala to see what would happen, he kicked and lashed about so much with his front legs that he was beginning to turn around on the ground. I saw that if he continued like this, not only would he be extremely confused and stressed, but soon his horns would get stuck in the wire of the gate. Justin and I got down on our knees and held him still again. I told Gav that I thought the Impala had broken its back and I just couldn’t leave it alone until someone came to help. Justin and I kept talking soothingly, trying to calm the poor buck. Our legs started cramping and going to sleep because of our posture; but every time we tried to re-adjust our position the Impala would get a fright and start to struggle again. In the meanwhile Gavin rode all the way back to camp to update the farmer.
Eventually I saw Gavin cycling towards us again. When he reached us he said the farmer was on his way, and that if the buck had broken its back they would have to shoot it.
I cried so much my tears fell on the poor little buck’s cheek; every fairy tale I’d ever heard came rushing into my mind and I thought desperately, “why can’t my tears be magic and heal this dear creature?”
Within minutes of Gavin reaching us I saw a white bakkie heading our way. For anyone who is not from South Africa, a “bakkie” is a pickup truck, a utility vehicle. It is pronounced “buckie”.
In broken English the farmer thanked Justin and I for staying with the buck, and he encouraged us to continue cycling as there was a large game farm to explore.
I didn’t feel like riding. I wouldn’t have seen much any way – I was crying too much. I absently followed Gavin and Justin back to the caravan.
Later that evening, while we were sitting around the campfire, we chatted to a few of the young game wardens. They told us that after the incident, the farmer had given them instructions to hang feed bags from the fence to discourage the other Impala from jumping against it.
As old as I am, the first person I phoned after the sad episode was my mom. Her words were very encouraging; just what I needed to hear, “you were meant to be there to comfort that buck.”
The first three words of this blog it read: “I have touched…”
Now I can honestly say, I have touched and I have been touched.
We drove through the gates of our nearest adventure park feeling very smug. One week prior we had arrived with our two bicycles inside our Chrysler Voyager; like real beginners we were.
This time we were one step up as hubby had purchased a fancy bike rack that attaches to the tow-bar. No more having to take wheels off so the bikes could fit inside the car – no siree: the Hennings had arrived and they looked the part!
Our sixteen year old son was no longer too embarrassed to be seen with us, so he tagged along for the ride.
It had been seven days since Gavin and I tackled our first off-road mountain bike route. We finished the 12,4 kilometre trail and spent the next few days waxing lyrical about the adventure and our ability to complete the ride; albeit it an average speed (oh, the irony of the word!) of 12 kilometres per hour. Now we were back, son in tow, to triumph over the trail once more.
This time, however, I was feeling apprehensive about the ride. I felt mentally unprepared; unphsyched. What’s worse than doing a 12,4 kilometre mountain bike trail for the first time? Doing it the second time. You see, now I knew what I was in for. The first time I was blissfully ignorant of the challenges the course would command.
Approximately 4 kilometres in, I was huffing along thinking that this was actually perfect material for my next blog:
Your second MTB trail is as daunting as giving birth to your second child!
Allow me to elaborate. When you have your first child you read all the right books and go to prenatal classes and attend little mommy-to-be groups. You prepare yourself for the arrival of your little babe; blissfully unaware of theactual pain and the reality of getting that little one out there! It doesn’t matter how many people you speak to or how many books you read – nothing can prepare you for the real thing. So when baby number two comes along, you know exactly what to expect because you’ve gone through it before.
With these thoughts making a noise in my head I rode along, quite distracted; wishing I had a voice recorder so I could voice-note my ideas for the blog; really not paying much attention to the route at all.
The people who designed the track were very thoughtful. They built sand embankments on the sharp corners so cyclists don’t have to slow down much; instead one just goes whizzing around the corners against the embankment. The people who designed the track were very thorough. They designed the route to include open grassland, hills and dales and off course forested areas. What’s a mountain bike trail without trees ‘ey?
Bearing in mind my lack of focus and the fact that I am naturally a rather clumsy soul, I whizzed around one of the aforementioned embankments and entered one of the forested areas.
It wasn’t a big tree. Why it was more of a sapling really. However, it bore some sort of grudge I’m sure. The timber troublemaker leaned in as I drove past and clipped the handlebar of my beautiful bike. One minute I was whizzing through woods, the next I was gliding towards the ground.I remember my face hitting the ground. I didn’t have time to think of any swearwords. When I came to my senses Gavin was bending over me asking what happened.
I was very dizzy and my face really hurt. The fact that I didn’t have any grazes or cuts on my hands proves that my face broke my fall. Ouch. The look on Gav’s face made me want to panic. How bad did I look? I felt something loose on my tongue. I automatically assumed I had broken a tooth. In a most unladylike manner I spat the tooth out, only to discover it was a stone. I have never been so happy to spit out a stone.
After rinsing the sand out of my mouth and my eyes I told Gav we could carry on and complete the rest of the route. My enthusiasm didn’t last long. The wind stung the grazes on my face and I felt very lightheaded. Thank goodness Gavin has a good sense of direction so we could take a short-cut back. The sort-cut was, however, still over one kilometre long.
And why? oh why? I ask with sand in my eyes, why did the thoughtful(?) and thorough(!) designers of this off-road track leave the steepest, slipperiest climb for the very end? Needless to say I made it back to the car or I would not be writing this blog.
In conclusion I have learned some lessons from my fall. May I list them? Sorry for you, I am a list-maker.
1) Never, ever ride without a helmet. If I had not been wearing my helmet I can only imagine what would have happened. As it is I was out of sorts for a week with mild concussion and I still have scabs on my face.
2) Concentrate! I know I’m a woman and multi-tasking is a thing we women do, but writing a blog in your head while thinking about giving birth while riding at a relatively fast pace past a vindictive tree is not clever. When there are wheels involved it is best to focus on just one thing… staying alive. Do you have the Bee Gees song stuck in your head now?
3) Carry a small first-aid kit. I didn’t even have a tissue with me to dab up the blood; I had to use my T-shirt, Rambo style. Considering that I take a small truckload of medicine and medical supplies with us whenever we go camping, I cannot believe I didn’t think of this one sooner.
4) It’s best not to ride alone. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one.
5) Tree roots are intertwined with shrub roots which are in turn intertwined with grass roots. Don’t let these foilaged fiends fool you. They talk to one another. They gossip amongst themselves and have long memories. You saw the Ents in The Lord of the Rings. Well this was a revenge attack.
I remember when I was about ten years old, I rode my bicycle into a tree… oh wait, that sounds familiar …
While on holiday in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, my son Justin and I spent a lot of time in the sea. I am not a strong swimmer so I take my boogie board with me wherever I go.
Something happened on our last morning on the beach that has made me determined to learn how to swim and to use swimming as a form of exercise so I can be fit next time we go to the sea!
Justin and I were at Humewood beach, we were quite deep – passed the breakers. Earlier in the week we had visited the same beach and we had swum out to the last pillar and back three times during the course of the morning while it was low tide.
This particular day it was high tide and we were in line with the first pillar. Justin was diving under the water and I was just floating on my board in the swells.
Beyond the breakers there’s a wonderful calmness. The crashing of the waves is a quiet rumble behind you so your ears can pick up noises that would otherwise be drowned out by the sound of the waves.
Justin said he could hear dolphins whenever he went under water, so I put my head under to listen. I could also hear them squeaking and clicking. It was incredible to hear it in real life!
After a few minutes I noticed some activity in the distance, some boats and rowers where gathered together to the left, towards the harbour. Then I saw the dolphins!
A pod of about 30 dolphins was heading our way! I shouted to Justin to look and told him to swim to the last pillar because they were heading in that direction. Justin had his flippers on and he’s an excellent swimmer. I on the other hand was a bit like a turtle with its shell under its tummy! I paddled with my arms and kicked with my legs with all my might; but having recently studied maths with Justin I knew perfectly well that the speed, distance and time formula was not in my favour!
Justin reached the pod as the last dozen dolphins were making their way past him and he turned to watch them go. I was a few meters away, watching the last three dolphins – hoping I could still make it – when I saw one of the dolphins change course and start heading straight for Justin!
I called him and as he turned around the dolphin swam right next to him! Justin put out his hands and stroked the dolphin on its back!
By now I was in tears! I was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the experience and so disappointed that I hadn’t quite made it in time. The look on Justin’s face was priceless! He was in awe. I reached him after the last dolphin passed and he rested on my boogie board as we watched the pod, the rowers and the small boats head out towards the Hobie beach pier.
Justin said when he was so close to them he was quite afraid because he didn’t realised how big dolphins really are. We couldn’t believe he had touched a dolphin in the wild.
We floated there for a while to catch our breath as the dolphins disappeared from our site behind the gentle swells.
When we turned back we realised just how far out we had swum! We had to swim about 300 metres to get back to the beach.
It was an awesome, unforgettable experience and possibly (but hopefully not) a once in a lifetime experience for people who live more than 600km’s from the nearest beach!
LET ME INTRODUCE THE COUNTRY
Look at a world map for a minute will you.
Find Africa. Now find South Africa.
Yes, yes, all those rumours you’ve heard are correct: South Africa is a country and not a continent. It is a country made up of nine Provinces and eleven official languages.
I was born and raised in South Africa and although there have been times when I have been ashamed of our government – both in the past and at present – I love this country and all of its beautiful people. I have a deep-seated hope that one day all the good in this Land will win through and it will become everything that the true patriots believe it can be! I would like to introduce you to the country that holds my heart.
South Africa is the most extraordinary country because of its diversity within a relatively small area. It is 25th on the list of countries in order of their size. To help you put South Africa’s size into perspective; it can fit into America seven and a half times and it can fit into Australia five times. The United Kingdom however, will fit into South Africa five times.
The widely spread city of Johannesburg has risen up from the African soil to form a concrete contrast between the man-made metropolis ant the surrounding highveld and bushveld.
The shrubby suburbs are vividly different from the topsy-turvy townships.
An aerial view of the city shows how it inches towards Pretoria and is bordered on all sides by other cities that are expanding and bursting through their municipal borders. Due to the fact that so many municipalities border one another so closely, the combined and expanded area of Johannesburg has been labelled an agglomeration and has a population of over 10 million people. To put this into perspective for those of you who enjoy random facts; that means that roughly 20% of South Africa’s population live in the Jo’burg area which comprises 2% of the total area of the country.
The five biggest cities after Johannesburg are Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London.
Because of its situation at the southernmost point of Africa, South Africa has a coastline of over 2700 kilometres (1677 miles). From the rugged cliffs with crashing waves along the Wild Coast to the open, sandy, surfing beaches of Natal and the Eastern Cape; from the temperate waters in Zululand to the frigid waters of the Western Cape; and from Tropical Summer showers on the East Coast to Mediterranean rainfall on the West Coast; our coastline offers abundant variety.
Our coastal areas offer scuba and snorkelling, swimming and surfing, whale watching from shore or a boat ride to see dolphins; you can swim with penguins and for the very brave there is cage diving with sharks.
The Drakensburg mountain range which is derived from an Afrikaans word meaning “Dragon Mountains” because of the way the range rises and falls along the escarpment, stretches over a 1000 kilometres (600 miles) long and at its highest point is 3482 meters (11424 feet) above sea level.
During the short, cold winter months, peaks and other parts of the mountain range become covered in snow offering South Africans a limited window of opportunity to ski. Snow also falls on the Cederberg, Matroosberg and Overberg Mountains which are situated in the Western Cape. During South Africa’s long summer the mountainous areas offer many other activities like mountain climbing, abseiling, paragliding, hiking, fishing, camping and cable car rides.
South Africa boasts the largest ‘green canyon’ on earth, namely the Blyde River Canyon. Situated in Mpumalanga is has lush subtropical foliage and has some of the deepest cliffs of any other canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, the first being the Fish River canyon which is situated in neighbouring Namibia.
Whilst on the subject of canyons I have to mention the Bourke’s Luck potholes; although not great in proportion they are a magnificent display of the decorative, erosive power of water and they happen to be a short drive from the Blyde River canyon.
Most of South Africa’s forested areas are found in the Eastern and Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal and the lowveld areas of Limpopo and Mpumulanga. The forested areas of South Africa make up about 7,6% of the land area. The most famous forest is the Tsitsikamma Forest which can be found in the Eastern Cape.
Once, many years ago, herds of elephants roamed this forest. Now they are found only in protected areas and sanctuaries.
Attractions in our forests include bungee jumping or swinging, zip-lines and canopy tours as well as kloofing, hiking, waterfall tours, mountain bike trails, bird watching and game viewing.
South Africa is a very dry country with negligible fresh water in the form of a few small dams. I use the word ‘small’ because South Africa’s rivers and dams make up less than 1% of the surface area.
The Karoo which derives its name from the Khoikhoi word “garo”, which means desert, is in fact a semi-desert.
The Kalahari Desert is also a semi-desert because the area supports more animals and plants than a true desert. The Kalahari Desert is shared between South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Although not a desert in the true sense of its definition, the Kalahari offers many desert-like experiences for holiday makers; including incredible star-gazing, 4×4 dune riding and dune boarding, as well as game drives.
South Africa’s national parks make up 4% of its land area. The largest and most visited is the Kruger National Park which is situated in the province of Mpumalanga, which is a Zulu word for “the place where the sun rises”.
Arguably one of South Africa’s greatest drawing cards is its wildlife.
I am sure I needn’t list them, but I will. First we have the hugely sought after Big Five; lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Then there are others like cheetah, caracal, African wild dogs, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, zebra and a wide range of antelope. A visit to one of our national parks will provide hours of game viewing opportunities.
There is so much to see and to do with no more than a two-hour flight between our major cities and their surrounding attractions. If you choose a road trip over flying, as my family and I often do, you will experience all the quaint places in between the attractions. Soon you will discover how richly South Africa rewards those who seek her many treasures.
For those of you who do not have the opportunity to travel, perhaps my blogs will help you discover some things about this country that some tourist have not experienced – because I am not a tourist – I am a South African.
Gavin and I drove all the way down to Natal to buy our new caravan.
We had been looking for a specific model for a long time and finally saw an advertisement for a 2009 Palma with a straight bed at a dealership in Pinetown. By happy coincidence we were invited to a family wedding in Cato Ridge so we decided to fetch the caravan on the weekend of the wedding.
We were not one hundred percent sure we would take the caravan; we considered the fact that there might have been something we didn’t like when we saw the real thing. With this in mind we booked our accommodation at Watervale Lodge and not at a caravan park.
Gavin phoned the owner of the lodge to ask if he had a secure area where we could park the caravan safely for the weekend and he confirmed that he had “hectares of space available”.
Gav and I love time away from home together and decided to make use of the opportunity to turn the weekend into a long one.
We left home (Krugersdorp) on Thursday afternoon and stopped over in Harrismith at Mountainview Inn for the night. The views are always spectacular but in autumn the gold, bronze and red leaves add a warm beauty to the impressive mountain view.
The accommodation at Mountainview Inn is clean, pleasant and acceptable for a stopover or even a short stay to explore the surrounding area. There are at least half a dozen restaurants to choose from, all within walking distance of the Inn.
Early Friday morning Gavin started vomiting. We’re not sure what caused him to be ill. By the time we were ready to leave Harrismith he was not well enough to drive so I drove the rest of the way.
At the dealership in Pinetown we found the Palma and the salesman and after a short debate about the fact that the 2009 model has less packing space in the kitchen than our 1997 Palma we decided we would buy it.
The salesman, let’s call him B, was very accommodating and efficient.
Within an hour or slightly more, our paperwork was done, the money transferred and a travel blanket was fitted to our “new” Palma.
Unfortunately all the activity had not been good for Gav and he was still feeling very weak and had developed a really bad headache.
I had the scary privilege of being the first person to tow our ‘van: out of the dealership, through Pinetown, onto the N3 and off to our lodge near Cato Ridge.
Gav is a nervous passenger at the best of times. Add to this his feeling of weakness, his headache and the fact that I was driving with a rather expensive asset hitched to our Fortuner all made my dear hubby very apprehensive and full of advice.
The trip went without a glitch. The Palma was light and beautifully balanced behind the car – probably because it was empty of all our camping paraphernalia.
While I drove Gav phoned the insurance company and gave them the Palma’s details to add to our insurance policy. They were wonderfully efficient and by the time I had turned off the N3 on to the Inchanga road off-ramp our caravan was insured.
The road to Watervale Lodge was not bad. We’ve towed on much worse roads on our trips to campsites around Britz. It was twisty and narrow and the last stretch was sand but despite Gavin’s worst fears I managed to get us to the gates of the lodge without incident.
We phoned the owner of the lodge so he could open the electric gate and he met us half way up the long, rather steep driveway. The driveway was surrounded by a beautiful garden full of trees and garden beds edged in natural rock. Gavin got out of the car to greet the owner and ask where we should park the ‘van.
Neels, the owner of the lodge, wanted me to pull the caravan into a clearing on the right hand side of the driveway, in front of a big pile of rocks. Gav warned me to be careful and watched with bated breath as I expertly maneuvered the ‘van around the rocks. All we had to do now was unhitched and swing the front of the ‘van to the right and it would be safe and out-of-the-way for the weekend.
I got out of the car feeling quite chuffed at my driving and towing skills and went to stand behind the car to greet Neels and be available to help Gavin swing the caravan into place.
The hand brake was engaged and Gav unhitched the ‘van. At that very minute the caravan began to roll back! Gavin and Neels were still holding on to the front. Neels let go; Gav held on! Within seconds Gav had to let go too because he was being dragged along the ground by the caravan as it gained momentum.
Our perfect Palma plunged into that huge pile of rocks which I had successfully avoided on our way up the driveway while Gav and I looked on helplessly and Neels stood there dumbfounded.
On impact the caravan swung to one side and came to a halt with one wheel up in the air. Gav got up off the ground, all covered in sand and limped to the back of the caravan to assess the damage. I was frozen in place with my hands over my face.
When my ability to think returned to me I reached for Gavin’s cellphone. Not to take photo’s – although now that it’s over I wish I had taken a few.
My first reaction was to phone the salesman who had just sold us a caravan with a broken hand brake! When B answered the phone I explained in detail what had just taken place. He told me very calmly that the hand brake is not designed to stop a caravan from running backwards. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that a device that stops wheels from rolling forward cannot do the same to wheels rolling backwards. B asked me if the caravan was damaged. I replied that I didn’t know as it was still perched on a pile of rocks. I mentioned to B that Gavin had hurt his leg in his failed attempt to hold on to the caravan. I voiced my disbelief at his reason for the dysfunctional hand brake. He assure me once more that it is in fact so. I said goodbye and hung up. I have to mention here that B never made a follow-up call. I’m very disappointed in his apparent lack of sympathy. I honestly expected him to call back a day or two later to find out if Gavin and the caravan were alright. Sadly I think B was too busy counting his commission.
Unbeknown to us, the biggest rock in the pile of rocks was actually just a fiberglass rock put there to cover the bore hole pipe and pump. This artificial rock was broken into three pieces and lay on the lawn a meter or so from the scene.
The smaller rocks had acted as a sort of ramp – boosting the caravan into the air, clearing the bodywork and causing the chassis to crash into the bore hole pipe.
After a minute or two Gavin was able to start thinking rationally again and between himself and Neels and one of Neels’ staff members they managed to build a ramp with the rocks so that Gavin could use the car (note Gavin is driving now) to pull the ‘van off the pipe without severing the cable that the pump was suspended to; and without causing more damage to the Palma.
Slowly, slowly, rock by rock Gavin edged the caravan down until both wheels were on the ground.
Only then did we realize the damage our runaway ‘van had caused to the bore hole.
The impact of the chassis had chopped the top of the bore hole pipe clean off, severing the connections and causing the pump to sink right down, who knew how far into the bore hole. Watervale Lodge was no municipal water connection. Whatever was left in the Jojo tank was all they had until the bore hole pump could be retrieved and reattached.
Unfortunately this all took place late on a Friday afternoon so Neels was unable to reach anybody who was willing to come out and repair the damage. Someone in Pietermaritzburg said they’d come out on Saturday morning.
Neels, his staff and even Gav had a look and tried to retrieve the pump but unfortunately without the right equipment it was futile.
Eventually Gav had to go to our room and sleep. He was so tired and weak because the poor guy hadn’t been able to eat much all day and he still wasn’t feeling well; not to mention the caravan/bore hole incident taking its toll on his already weakened state.
On Saturday the man from Pietermaritzburg didn’t pitch so Neels and his staff struggled all day until just before 3 o’clock when they finally managed to get the pump out, reconnect it and voila – Watervale Lodge had water again.
At the wedding on Saturday evening Gavin and I were greeted with, “Hey guys! Would you like some whiskey on the rocks? To go with your caravan.”
The damage to the caravan was minor: a few surface scratches at the back, a small dent in the chassis and the drain plug of the water tank was slightly bent.
If our caravan had missed the bore hole pipe it would have been a lot worse. Further down the steep, rocky driveway was the lodge’s main electricity supply shed built out of timber and railway beams. Beyond that was a big hole that used to be a farm dam.
Just imagine the disbelief at the insurance call center if Gavin had phoned within half an hour of insuring the Palma to put in a claim because it had rolled away down, down, down the hill.
What lessons did we learn from this experience and what advice can I pass on to other caravan owners?
1) Ladies: learn how to tow and get involved in the nitty-gritty of the caravan. Learn how to hitch and unhitch. Maybe, just maybe, if I had paid more attention in the past I would have known to warn Gav that the safety chain was off when he unhitched the caravan. Feeling as sick and as tired as he was he overlooked that small yet vital detail.
2) Caravan hand brakes are not designed to stop a caravan from rolling backwards. Crazy but true. So if you’re on an incline put bricks or chock blocks or something behind the wheels before you unhitch.
3) Watervale Lodge is a peaceful place to stop over for a night or two. Neels is a gracious host who cooks all the meals himself and his wife Mary makes the desserts, so not only do you get the comfort of a home away from home you get delicious meals too. If ever you do get the chance to stay there tell Neels that the caravan people send their regards.