Tuesday 28 August 2007

My Grandmother's House

This was originally posted at Kombai, but some of my family have asked that I repost all my childhood memories here for them.
Photo copyright of Jusben at MorgueFile.
.All my childhood lies in my grandmother's house. No matter where I am, or what I remember, my mind takes me back to that house. It was the centre of the wheel for our entire family - aunts, uncles, cousins, friends... everyone met at my grandmother's house.

If I close my eyes now I am there at the gate, hot African sun scorching down on white picket fences and trellises heavy with honeysuckle, golden shower and coral creeper. A riot of creeping plants and flowers dripping bees. Below them, along the concrete path to the door, there will be sweet peas. Every summer there were sweet peas staked up against the freshly painted picket fence. It is cool under the canopy of green that leads to the door. There are two huge pine trees shading the back. They smell of resin.

Around the front there is a swimming pool my grandfather built himself, two aviaries of birds and the fruit trees. Down the side there is a dry sandy strip marked with little wooden crosses for all the many departed pets. Dogs, birds cats, rabbits and even a monkey have their sacred space in Granny's little garden. She pulls the weeds from around the crosses and drops a few tears and flowers on the "special" ones. There are grape vines and a guava tree up where the pets are buried. Once my cousin and I stole an enormous guava and ate it together under the grape vines, hiding in the green shadows, taking alternate bites from the fruit gran had been admiring a few hours before. It tasted like sawdust to my guilty taste buds.

Inside the house, at any time of day, it is always shady and shadowy. All the trees and the deep covered front veranda keep the house from direct sunlight. In the scorching African summer this is a good thing, but I do always remember feeling a bit creepy going down the shadowy passage to the toilet. There are family photos along the walls in the passage and several generations of family watch me with shadowy eyes as I dash for the toilet. Great-grandma stands at the end of the passage, beautiful forever since she died so young. Her sad Irish eyes seem to know this photo will be the last memory held of her passing through this world. She watches me, the third generation of girl children she will never see grow up.

In my grandmother's bedroom everything smells of old perfume and floor polish. Mary stands on the window ledge, with her arms outstretched. She is wearing a pale blue cloak over her ivory plastic glow-in-the-dark body. I love her. I love the fact she glows in the dark. I used to have a glow-in-the-dark Jesus nailed to a wood and mother-of-pearl cross, but then my mom found out the "glow" came from toxic chemicals and threw him in the bin. Very weird memory that - a snapped up Jesus pulled off the cross and thrown into the dirt bin. I can remember going outside and lifting the lid to look at him lying there with his legs and arms scattered amongst the potato peels. My mom tells me Jesus will still watch over me and answer my prayers at night, but I do miss seeing his soft greeny glow over my bed. But in my grandmother's house Mary will not suffer the same indignity. Gran doesn't care that Mary is toxic - Mary will stay.

At the end of the passage there is a little iron and glass table on which stands the telephone and four brass ornaments - the sphinx, two pyramids and Buddha. Mary in the bedroom and Buddha by the phone… is there some hidden meaning there? Mary will hold you while you sleep, but Buddha is better for communication? Who knows! I only know I am allowed to play with Buddha and the sphinx because they are made of brass and indestructible. I will lie on my play rug with Buddha and the sphinx. The sphinx was once a cigarette lighter and his head is hinged to open up the lighter. This will leave indelible scars on my understanding of ancient Egyptian history. For years to come I will think the sphinx's head comes off. The sphinx is okay, but I prefer Buddha. I smile back at Buddha while the grown ups sit at the table and talk. He's not as pretty as Mary, but he is more cheerful. Admittedly not as exciting, he doesn't glow, but gran says if I rub his tummy he will grant my wishes just as Jesus answers my prayers. I think to myself how clever God is. He has Jesus for prayers, Mary for comfort and Buddha for making wishes come true. It is a wonderful world with so many celestial beings to watch over your needs.

In my grandmother's house there may not be much sunlight, but there is always noise. There are birds in cages, radios and always people. People come and go in waves. Gran feeds them and makes them tea, but she never visits them. She is the hub and all spokes lead to her. The hub does not wander. It stays in the centre and keeps the wheel of life turning. That is gran - the hub of our wheel.

She is always in the kitchen, out in the garden or sitting in the dining room. I can't ever remember seeing her in the lounge watching TV. She is too busy for TV. She has plants to watch over, dogs, cats, tortoises, lots of birds… visitors constantly. Only the fish tank isn't her territory. Grandpa takes care of the fish. Grandpa has his small sections of territory staked and claimed - the fish tank, the outside room piled high with old junk and his own bedroom filled with fascinating things. If I am good he will take out the old tin boxes full of war photos. Then he fills his pipe and sits by the window, puffing soft smoke and telling me the stories behind the photos. I knew about Mussolini and the war in North Africa before I was eight. Grandpa has other photos too. Stationed in Egypt he went to every ancient monument and museum he could. Here there are photos of the real pyramids and sphinx. And if I get bored with desert stories there is a box of old toys at the top of the wardrobe. Paper dolls from the 1950s and marionette puppets. I love grandpa's room.

My aunt has the last bedroom. Here I can look, but not touch - except her big plastic bangles - I can play with those. They jangle on my arms, but I can't put my hands down or they'll all fall off. I walk around the house with my arms up to keep the bangles on. It's not as exciting as war stories or Buddha and the sphinx.. I go and put them back. For now I will sit with Buddha on the floor and be at peace. Here we will sit at the centre of the world and let it revolve around us. There will be dripping and tomato sandwiches for lunch and then later gran will let me feed the tortoises. Life is good.

Monday 27 August 2007

Another Nice Day..

Amel has chosen me for the "Nice Blogger Award". What a nice surprise, from a very nice person. :-)

The author of this award is Bella-Enchanted. In her blog she explains what the award is about:

"This award will be awarded to those that are just nice people, good blog friends and those that inspire good feelings and inspiration! Those that care about others that are there to lend support or those that are just a positive influence in our blogging world!"

"nice"is a word that is both over-used and under-rated in the English language. This is what the dictionary has to say about "nice":

nice (nīs)

1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature: had a nice time.
2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance: a nice face.
3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness: a nice gesture.
4. Of good character and reputation; respectable.
5. Overdelicate or fastidious; fussy.
6. Showing sensitive discernment: a nice sense of style.
7. Done with delicacy and skill: a nice bit of craft.
8. Used as an intensive with and: nice and warm

I now have to pick seven bloggers I think are NICE. :-) I am going to use the dictionary's descriptions to pick the blogs I think fit each.. leaving out "fussy" #5! I'm adding a few new blogs in - to give some newly found nice folk a chance to get free advertising of their blogs. To do that I had to leave out a few nice old friends, but since they are all nice I know they'll understand. ;-)

1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature:
Has to be Epi, of Analysing it

2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance:
Mercedes of Desert Candy Go look at her recipes! (drool)

3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness:
Jeff, on The Present Truth

4. Of good character and reputation:
has to be Random

6. Showing sensitive discernment:
Betty of Howling in silence

7. Done with delicacy and skill:
Guyana Gyal, for her sublime stories.

8. Used as an intensive with "and" :
Blur - as in "nice and takes great photos". ;-)


Thursday 23 August 2007

For "Sexy"

No, not at all what you think. ;-)

This morning I have been thinking about a very dear family friend - Sexton K.., otherwise known as "Sexy". We met Mr K when he and his wife ran a fabric shop in our little town. He knew as much about the latest fads and fashions as any woman and I can still hear his voice saying things like "Don't buy the green honey, Purple is IN this season" or "No honey, that colour just does NOT suit you. Your skin suites peach and orange tones".

And in between the gossip and fashion advice were the stories. Mr K was a one-man show when it came to story-telling. His wife would watch him (nodding or shaking her head, but always smiling) as he spoke. So many stories, and such stories! Wicked, delightful, heart-warming or down-to-earth, but always funny.

Like the story of how he once offered to take a dead grandma to be buried for a poor family.. on the back of a fully loaded vegetable truck. Or, even better, how he conned an entire seaside village into stealing cats - purely for the fun of catching them out. Totally wicked, utterly awful and yet so hilariously funny that I start chuckling every time I even think of the word "cat" and "bus" in the same sentence.

Over the years my family went from being friendly customers to friends. Not a difficult step with Mr K. When he and his wife moved into a retirement home complex we kept in contact. They had to sell up their house after sudden ill health stripped away their savings, their home and their shop. And yet Mr K was never anything but upbeat.

Lose your home? "The retirement place is small so it is MUCH easier to dust, honey. "
Lose your business? "I have so much more time to go fishing now."
Having your wife become seriously ill? "At long last I get to be chief cook and have fun in the kitchen."
Find out you have an aneurism that could kill you at any moment?

"Well.. that certainly makes living each day to the full important! "

At the time when he found out about the aneurism he was working as the bus driver for the retirement home. The administrator was horrified when he found out. He said to Mr K, "What would have happened if you'd been driving a full bus when you suddenly died?"

To which Mr K replied, with a twinkle and a grin, "Then I wouldn't have died alone."

By then he was in his eighties, but he looked at least a decade younger and he acted like a man in his twenties. Rebellious, joyfully alive, teasing twenties. Nothing ever seemed to phase "Sexy", except perhaps when I told him I was getting married and moving to Scotland. He did droop that day, but within a few hours he was back with a challenge. He said he'd take my fiancé on in a duel because I'd been his "girlfriend" first and he wasn't letting me go off to the other side of the world without a fight! Then he laughed and gave me a hug.

No, he never fought the duel, but he did inspect my husband-to-be from every angle.. and warned him that if he ever made me unhappy he'd have Sexy K.. to deal with! No, the cats who were "removed" were not harmed. Yes, the administrator at the retirement home did take Mr K off bus duty, but he still carried on being busy and active. We rarely visited because he was rarely home. If he wasn't fishing he'd be arranging a charity event, visiting a sick friend or off selling his gorgeous home-made jams, pickles and preserves. He also continued to tease mercilessly, but with such a love and joy that you couldn't help but forgive him. Mr K had no intention of slowing down, or being good, for anyone.

The year I left South Africa was the year he died. I missed being there to say goodbye, but he would have just pulled a face and made a joke about that. My parents went to the funeral. They say there were four large candles in front of the altar.. and they kept behaving very oddly. First they'd go out, then they'd flare up huge.. the service kept having to be stopped so that someone could see to the candles. My mom says she wanted to laugh. She knew. Sexy was still being a tease, even at his own funeral.

I miss you, Mr K. You were more like family than a friend. I only hope I can meet my own old age with the same enthusiastic subversive spirit.


Friday 17 August 2007



This morning a friend sent me an email "whack on the side of the head" for lacking self-confidence. He was partly right - partly because this time I actually had done a U-turn and gone back and reclaimed my rights.

We all back down at times - from humility, martyrdom, lack of self-confidence, or self preservation. The spotlight is both desirable and dangerous. Being visible makes you strong, but also vulnerable. I do tend to prefer the shadows to leaping into the spotlight. It is easier to slip along in the long grass with the cats than risk your skin by joining the lions roaring on the hilltop.. where the hunters can see you.

It got me thinking about something I wrote about a year ago, about rights. I went and hunted it out, gave it a dust off and edit..

this is for "YOU":

This morning a thought dawned on me - one way or the other, my whole life,
people have been telling me I "had no right".

I had no right to believe I was important in God's eyes because I didn't do "this" or believe "that"...

I had no right to my country of birth because it wasn't my ancestral homeland.

I had no right to my ancestral homelands because none of them are my place of birth.

I had no right to say what I thought on certain topics because
I didn't have the "right" qualifications.

I had no right to speak or be in some places because I was the wrong age,
colour, gender, religion..

I had no rights...


..and eventually you start believing them.

You start buying into this narrow little world where only those with "the right" can have an opinion, have that job, live in that place or be themselves.

(*insert stronger word of

You are YOU because God/Goddess/Creator made you that way.
You are meant to be YOU.
You have the right to be YOU,
and speak YOU,
and think YOU.

No-one has "the right" to ever take YOU away from you.

Just be YOU,

rejoice in YOU,

and enjoy sharing the wonder of discovering the unique and different versions of YOU in everyone around you.

ok, getting off soapbox now..

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Today :-)


Today I recieved a registered letter to say my British Citizenship has been approved!

I feel as if I have (strangely) come a full circle, having been born into a British colony and starting my schooling colouring in the Union Jack in Kindergarten. It isn't official until the ceremony, which they say they'll notify me about, but it's close enough that I felt the day deserved a "patriotic" picture.

Have a good day! :-)

Saturday 11 August 2007

Three Beautiful Things

Since I posted the news update from Zimbabwe I haven't felt very inspired to write. Every time I come here I feel wordless, but today I realised that life goes on regardless of wars, deaths or natural disasters.. and so should my blog.

Finding a topic to follow on with is hard, so I have decided to keep it simple.

Three beautiful things that I am very grateful for this week..

#1 You lot reading this. Yep, you! :-)
Your caring replies about the situation in Zimbabwe were greatly appreciated. I have no words to say "thank you" big enough. Knowing people still care helps a lot.

#2 Jelly Beans. :-D
I haven't had a decent jelly bean in Northern Scotland in five years, BUT.. this week I found a shop that sells my favourite jelly belly beans. Admittedly it's 50 miles away, so I'm not going to get a regular "fix", but at the moment I am the ecstatic owner of a 100g bag of beans. Cappuccino, coconut, lemon-lime, peach, strawberry parfait.. all my favourite flavours. I could die happy right now.

This week summer finally arrived! We have had sunlight since Wednesday. I have walked outdoors, gardened AND sat outside and toasted myself for three whole days. Today it is a little cloudy, but still sunny enough. I'm going gardening and will not be back here until the rain starts. ;-)

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Strange Happy Sad day

I've had some wonderful birthday wishes from friends and family this morning, but at the moment I just feel heart-ache. :-( I got this email news update amongst my birthday greetings. Somehow I couldn't let it go, not on the day I was born - in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe on the ground near break point - The Crisis deepens

We are now into our 5th week of price controls and the resultant shortages. I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the situation and hope that my misgivings are not misplaced.

Today there is no rice in the urban areas, very little bread and what is available is being rationed, there is no maize meal, no cooking oil or margarine, no meat and very little milk and dairy products. I called the Dairybord today and they had no product to sell – nothing, they said they were having problems with their milk supplies.

In addition to this situation, public transport is virtually at a standstill. This has developed following heavy fines imposed last week on the mini van taxis that provide 90 per cent of urban transport here. People are being forced to walk everywhere.

The wholesalers and manufacturers are virtually out of stock. There is a thriving parallel market for everything but even here the supplies are very short. Maize meal is being sold at Z$250 000 to Z$300 000 for 10 kg’s – that is 4 times the official price, fuel is available but at prices ranging from Z$240 000 to Z$500 000 a litre.

Hotels are running out of food – I stayed in a local hotel on Friday and found the staff serving a basic meal of rice with stew and a bit of cabbage as a salad. The queue stretched out onto the road – the manager said to me he was not running a hotel but a feeding station. The manger of the hotel over the road was eating there and said to me he could not even provide the basics to his clients. They had no beer!

Local business that has a contract to supply the Prison said that they had 4000 prisoners and could not feed them, not from any source. The Army and the Police are in a similar predicament although the Police have been using their role in the price control exercise to loot business of goods in short supply. I hear that soldiers went through Ross Camp (the main Police camp in Bulawayo) looking for looted stocks.

In addition to this crisis in domestic products nothing is being imported commercially. This is because the price control authorities are treating imported goods as local goods when enforcing the price controls. So people who would normally import products in short supply are holding off and no imported products are available. That leaves only cross border shopping, as a means of meeting family needs.

Wealthy people are traveling to Botswana and Zambia for shopping trips and poorer families are calling their relatives in South Africa for help. For this reason on Saturday there were hundreds of vehicles from South Africa at the border – all trying to get up to their families in Zimbabwe, drop off supplies and then head back to South Africa. The road was littered with broken down vehicles, as many are old and overloaded.

I see no signs of any response to this crisis in basic food supplies. What do the international community and the UN system think they are doing? I hear that when the State tried to stop retailers selling fuel against coupons purchased with foreign exchange that the UN agencies promptly told the government that if they did that they would close down and leave. The government backed down. I heard this morning that many embassies are considering flying food in for their local Embassy staff, one Ambassador told me they were evaluating the difference in buying from South Africa or direct from Europe – great to have options, but what on earth do they think the ordinary Zimbabwean is doing?

I will tell you what he/she is thinking. It is how do I get a passport, how do I get to the border or get a ticket to anywhere where sanity prevails? The exercise to remove up to 3 million Zimbabweans from the country by simply denying them the means to survive is well under way. I estimate that 500 000 have gone already to South Africa, with other destinations that probably means we are up to 600 000 – 20 per cent of the goal, 80 per cent to still go. That’s only 12 000 a day across the Limpopo – an easy target.

No amount of border patrols, no amount of policing or forced expulsions will slow down or stop the exodus. There is only one way to do that – give Zimbabweans some hope that they have a future, any sort of future in the country of their birth.

SADC leaders gather in Lusaka on the 14th August – just one week away. The future of this country and perhaps others in the region are in their hands. I must say that does not give me a lot of confidence, if they fail us again as they have in the past, we may well have to take things into our own hands, and that could be very nasty.

Mr. Mugabe is in Malaysia staying in a five star hotel with no shortages. He could not give a damn. His own strategy for the immediate future is being worked out and he sees no possibility of his efforts being frustrated by regional leaders. Left to his own devices he will get want he wants by the year end, hold farcical elections in March 2008 without opposition and continue as before.

Eddie Cross
6th August

Saturday 4 August 2007

Found in Translation

Reading Amel's blog entry on her adventure in applying for a library card in Finnish reminded me of a wonderful man I met a long time ago.

I used to work at a library in South Africa. One day this dear old man came in.. and the other librarians wailed "Oh nooo!!!" It turned out the old man was Italian and spoke no English. He had come to South Africa to live with his son. How we got by without being able to communicate was quite unique. He had a list of phone numbers of family and people he knew who spoke both English and Italian. Everywhere he went (I saw him do this in the bank once) he would hand over his list and say "please phone". Then he'd get the person on the phone line to act as his translator.

This day at the library we phoned all the numbers on his list, but no one was home. He tried explaining, saying words slowly. Then he started waving his arms about like a madman. I was watching from another counter when I suddenly recognised one word. I speak a tiny bit of Spanish and he had used a word for "bird" in Italian that was close enough to Spanish for me to understand. He wasn't waving his arms about - he was flapping his wings!

I went over to him and I flapped my arms. I said my one Spanish word - "pajaro?" He almost hugged me he was so happy!

The other library staff were overjoyed and relieved. They handed him over to me and off we went to look whatever it was he wanted. I took him to the animal and bird book section. There were a lot of books. I held out a few, but he shook his head. Then he started to quack, like a duck. I had a clue and sorted through to find a specific selection. He handed back the books with no photo illustrations and acted out painting with a brush. Slowly I got to understand that he was an artist and wanted pictures of ducks to copy for his paintings.

We had such fun that day and we laughed so much. He taught me how much joy there can be finding other ways to communicate, as long as you remember to find delight and laughter in the experience.
He taught me that when you have to "talk" to someone who doesn't speak your language you need to first find the person you are talking to at soul level first. Find their eyes and their heart.. and be prepared to laugh at the joy of your own clumsiness.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

Falling with Grace.

One of the best compliments I have ever been paid was by a fellow classmate when I was in my teens. That particular day I slipped running up the steps to our class. There I was lying flat out on the stairs laughing at my own absurdity when she leant over me and said "well.. at least you fall with grace."

She certainly knew. During my high school years I managed to fall off a bus, fall on a bus, fall up stairs, down stairs and slip in the rain. The last was the worst. I ended up covered in mud from head to heel. I spent the rest of the day walking backwards whenever a teacher was around so that they wouldn't see and wouldn't add to my humiliation by putting me in detention for messing about on the (muddy) sport's field before classes. Come to think of it, I think she was also there on the night I accidentally pulled down the scenery at our high school dance.. on top of myself.

Oh, and let us not forget the after school disco where I got my sandal heel caught in my skirt hem and fell down stairs into the lap of a completely unknown young man. Or the time I ran back to the car after posting a letter for my mom, slipped on some gravel and went under the car as neatly as a letter through a postal slot. Have you ever tried to stay serene when people ask you if you're okay because all of you is under a parked car with only your head visible? What is the perfect cool response to finding yourself draped over the lap of an unknown severely winded young man?

I think I might have given up and hidden in my room for the next fifty years if it hadn't been for her kind comment. Just a few words, as she stepped over me and went on up the stairs, but they meant the world to an awkward shy teen.

Falling with grace.

Today I've found myself thinking how nice that sounds. Much better than falling from grace, although I suspect the latter is often more darkly exciting. No-one gets through life without falling, one way or another.

So, whoever you are and wherever life takes you.. when ever you stumble along Life's Path - may you always fall with grace.