Jozi- the city of gems

A crisp Autumn morning saw me summoned to the big water mass in the landlocked city. Emmerentia Lake which was named after one of the Randlord Farmers wives, was ‘gifted’ to the city.
And what a gift it remains.
The interesting terraces and different areas make for a lovely wander.

On arrival at the gate, I saw a wedding procession arriving opposite a mass group of Tai Chi-ers. I was greeted by the eccentric but fascinating bookshop owner who rushed me along to the quiet martial arts display. I saw early morning picnic-ers, while kids scooted around on their bikes, while solo book readers lost themselves within pages of their books.

The summer leaves have started falling, exhausted from the unusually hot summer, but  the trees still look rather full. Some swallows seem to be hanging behind on their migration north, while bulbuls screeched some morning tunes.

I lingered in the rose gardens and took my time to smell as many as I could and thought of my mum. Unusual butterflies didn’t allow me to take a photo but flitted their way as I made my way to the water. I was surprised how quiet it was, being a perfect morning for a paddle. I quizzed a remote boat handler and learned some interesting things.

Remote boats cost about R4000- so the sport is becoming less popular. There is a competition once a month  (?) With about 18 ‘leaguers’ meeting to test their skills. One chap is good enough to compete internationally. When asked how his skills differed, I was told maybe he can read the water and wind better.  I also learned that some people meet on the water at weekends to do yoga on standing paddle boards!!! I still had loads of questions but realised that he might be there for some peace and quiet -which I was ‘taking’ from him, so I thanked him and went off to check out the geese. Hundreds of them. All rather quiet, and some looking rather injured, I wondered if it was because of ‘inbreeding ‘ or other reasons.

The walk back to my car, saw me stop in the eccentric bookshop, which has marvellous books but somehow I resisted my temptations and they can remain there for future purchase.  The wedding party had grown considerably but there was no sign of the bride and groom as yet. Pity, because their guests all looked gorgeous, so I wanted to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds.

The great outdoors called.
I think I might be missing my morning runs. But a long walk helped.

Crying

I am a sensitive person. I always have been. This means that I live with my heart on my sleeve and feel everything. Those emotions used to spill out of me in the form of jokes and tears, but mostly tears.

I was the one who cried while watching strangers reunite at airports. I cried when crawlers clutched their way to the Comrades finish line, I cried at every Oprah episode, heck, I even cried at the VW adverts.

I cried when I was angry, I cried while trying to make my point in Crew Leader meetings in a room full of TV men ( dammit). I cried when Auld Lang Syne was sung. I cried for anything and everything.

4 years ago I cried outside the ICU ward when I realised my friend was slipping away. A stranger consoled me. I stopped crying and locked in my tears. Within a couple of months of her dying, my husband had a serious health issue and was in the same hospital being treated by the same doctor. At the same time in a hospital on the far East side of our country, my dad lay in theatre having his broken hip fixed. I had no tears.

I felt perplexed as I know what suppressing emotions can do to my health. I am a therapist, I advise my clients to let all the tears, anger, fear and toxicity out. Yet I couldn’t access mine. Locked far down, out of reach, I put my grief neatly away.  The therapist part knew it was dangerous, so I thought my walk across Spain would crack me. Nope.  The only tears that I didn’t force, were those that spilled from an unknown place in front of Sagrada Familia. I returned home, invigorated but not cried out.

Towards the end of last year, my world began to shake. I could feel changes coming. This year, my 14 year old dog had to be put down. This was the crack, in fact it felt like a rupture of an old scar. Tears poured out of me, and I didn’t stop them. Like the first rains of Spring, they made grooves in my face and my heart. I wailed and wailed. This short beginning of 2019 has been a year of tears, changes and awareness. Today, my connection to my late friend, her beloved Gigi, or Gypsy girl, Boston dog, had to be laid to rest. This time the wailing was less. The tears know how to flow. They have been making surprise acquaintance all week. In supermarkets, DIY stores, in my car, and in my therapist chair.

I am trying not to overthink it, because it is simply a matter of feeling- not analyzing. I am surrounded by support. Some unexpected and from unusual people and I am allowing myself to feel. I am trying not to rush it away and I have to force myself to refrain from asking ‘how are you?’. I can’t deflect this. I have to own it. To feel it.

I am crying… at last.

Birdie flying high

For someone who had inherited a bird phobia, I am rather fond of birds now. But not kept in cages, more those in the wild, suburban back yards, open velds, or more recently, up a cliff.

Johannesburg isn’t really a tourist destination. People sometimes touch down here on route to the Kruger Game Park, or a stopover for the Cape of Good Hope, yet for some exquisite creatures, it is a destination every year. The European Bee Eaters migrate here to spend their summers, calling from up high, feasting on goggas and teasing me, because their beauty is just out of good binocular view (for me). They have a distinctive call, and even though the name gave me a huge hint, I was overjoyed when I recognised their call while walking the Camino in Spain a few years back. My excitement in hearing this, made some of my Peregrino sisters laugh, because it is ‘just a bird, right?’ No, this is not just a bird, this is a fellow traveller all the way from Africa.

And this week, I had stood atop our rocky ridge in the city and had my breath taken away. The Northcliff Ridge is part of our rocky outcrops which wouldn’t be present, if a meteor hadn’t hit the ground about 80 miles away, 4 million years ago and caused the earth to split open and push upwards. But I digress.

I was standing there, taking in the marvellous view and I heard the Bee Eater’s familiar call. Except, this time, I didn’t need to look up, instead it was at my feet, flying merrily around and showing me the sheer beauty of it’s colour. I excitedly tried to take a picture but, I realised that this beauty was to be captured by my eye only. My camera fumbling relaxed, I stood there, mouth open. I was alone on the ridge, watching my Northern Hemisphere visitor. I wanted to ask it if it was readying itself for the long trip north, but I already felt the answer. I wanted to ask if it recognised me from Spain, and I laughed at the craziness in my head. Beauty is in the detail, and I had to google for a photo that what do this creature justice. But nothing quite compares to standing there on the ridge, feeling like queen of the world (sorry Titanic) and watching the dance of the Bee Eater.

Safe flight north!

A delightful doggy called Doyle

I was never a ‘small dog’ person, or so I thought. But 15 years ago, our old dear was getting on and sore and hubby said that I needed to go look at puppies at the pet shop down the road. Pet shop and puppies, I was against both, but I humoured him. But I hadn’t counted on the lady from the shop putting the cutest little tan and white Jack Russell puppy in my arms. How can anyone put them back? And that started my love affair with the tiniest dogs with the biggest character. Two nights after listening to crying from the kitchen, hubby found the original seller and brought home the black and white girl from the same litter, for some company. What was he thinking, I asked myself. But it turned out to be the best decision ever. Sisters reunited, they kept themselves amused for hours, playing in the garden and who knew that watching puppies play could be such a fantastic stress reliever?

Naming the girls was a tricky thing, because we are terrible at it. After a few weeks of calling them puppy 1 and puppy 2, Nic announced that we should call them after our favourite comedy show at the time ‘Father Ted’. We had a ‘father Jack’ in the chicken who turned out to be a hen, so we knew Jack shit about fowl gender, Ted was great for the ‘tan’ coloured one but Dougal seemed to be too long a name for such a small dog. So puppy number two became Doyle, after the hilarious Mrs Doyle. And true to her name, Doyle was a real character.

She was catlike, in that she only wanted to be touched when she felt like it, she didn’t run to us if we called her, and she used to lie up high on tops of couches and things. She even dug in the sand to do her business but it was her at least times of nine near-death experiences, that I was convinced of her feline genes. She thought she was the size of a Rottweiler and even in her last days, would bark bravely from the doggy pram at other bigger dogs on her walks. She would sigh and groan, and was very vocal in her emotional display and didn’t bark in a usual ‘yappie dog’ way.  She would love eating the Jack shit and after Jack went to the chicken coop in the sky, Doyle took to daily foraging for pigeon poop to crunch on, before she would grace us with her presence during our morning tea. She loved to sprint round the garden in her excitement then would rush inside the cat flap to suckle the rest of her excitement away on the remaining reindeer soft toy , that had made the scale for 10 years after she destroyed several teddies.  When we were over the road visiting neighbours or out of town on business, the two dogs and the chicken would sit patiently at the gate waiting for our return. They would throw in a howl or two just to remind us that they were waiting, and to tell anyone that knew them, that we had left home on foot.

When Doyle’s sister, Ted, died from cancer her personality changed and seemed almost more loving, although still nothing like her late lap dog sister. For 18 months, she slept quietly at our feet in our bed, and sometimes sleeping right through for 14 hours without needing to go do her business.  When her new/old sister Gypsy arrived, she acceptingly went back to overnight in the kitchen with the snoring and farting of the newbie being too much for us humans. Doyle continued to show her personality at any chance and taught Gypsy how to eat bird kak.  When she tore her knee ligament on her afternoon walk, she was caged for a very long period of 6 weeks, but she healed well, and not too long after would gallop around the pool, ears flapping quickly on her head (don’t tell the vet surgeon!) She taught Gypsy how long we would run for and after 20 minutes of sniffing around the house would go and sit and wait at the gate for a quick spin up the road herself when we got back. ( I timed her, when Nic went running and I stayed behind)

As her eyes aged, and her hearing dimmed, she got less afraid from the storms and fireworks, and would sleep peacefully through any anxiety of her youth. She started taking ‘turns’ the past few weeks, and would lie completely still and look desperately sad. I thought initially it was a stroke, but it was probably more from her liver as the vet had seen a shadow over it when I admitted her one time. She would rally round the next day and continue to bore a hole in my head, staring, if it was getting close to walk time or dinner time, and she really was very, very punctual. This morning, her clocked stopped and decided it was time to go find her sister in doggy heaven and as sad as it is, she gave us a life full of entertainment and love. Plus, I am told that the chicken poop that side is ‘heavenly’.

Rest in peace sweet puppy

Tapestry

The beauty of being an immigrant of the 70’s is the opportunity to have two places, thousands of miles apart, that feel like home.
As much as I love buildings, it’s not the physical structures that make it feel familiar. It’s the energy of the place. Glimpses of past memories spent there, shared with the familiar look on aging faces.

I went to a funeral of one of the foundation people from my childhood. A mother, a smile, a patch of the quilted memories that add to my sum total of experiences. As I sat in the back of the all too familiar church, a place where my own vows were taken, I looked at all the familiar heads and sighed with belonging. My tribe, but no blood connections. Strings woven through each of our hearts. This recognition of history without knowing specific detail. Some threads connected looser than others but the common ground literally giving us a bonded meaning.

Grief visited, through hearing the tender words of bereaved friends and family, acknowledging our own personal visits with the feeling, both past and present. A laugh on hearing about dear Patsy’s character. A glimpse into her nuclear family while enabling a brush with my own wider ‘femily’. It helped that Patsy had lived well, that she made the world a happier place with her wide smile. There was cheer in the air, in spite of the tears.

Driving through the once walked streets, flashes of houses triggering long forgotten names, I wondered what it would be like still living here, having never moved away. A ‘dad song’ popped into my mind.. and I sang the lyrics as tears rolled down my cheeks. Not tears of sadness but of gratitude and peace of my own life, well lived.

” It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home
Yes, they’ll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly
It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home..”

Rest in Peace dear Patsy

Happy first day of 2019

Although I no longer put all my hope into the magic of one day or one resolution because I now find magic in any ordinary moment, I still love observing the global cheer of being hopeful. I love watching people build themselves up with positivity and expectations and the excitement that goes with that is infectious. But I am no longer compelled to join in. A lesson in setting boundaries which I have enjoyed doing.

The day is just a Tuesday, yet the importance of the collective days get rounded up and judged accordingly. Us humans have a need to assign, to determine and to judge. It helps us understand the craziness of the world. I used to have a sense of panic of not setting proper goals, of not finishing last years, of not being ready to finish dates with a different year. But maybe it’s age, maybe it’s just temporary, I no longer panic. The anxiety has shifted. The compulsion altered. The ‘what if I don’t get it done…’ has changed to ‘I am never going to be done’ and that has given my internal mechanisms a real break.

In saying all that…. 2018 was the year of relationships for me. Most of them completely shifted, because I became easier on myself. I took leaps and the nets did magically appear. I lept into the abyss of the unknown, possibly the biggest leap I have ever taken and I am amazed that the chronic fear has all but disappeared. Realism hasn’t left me though, but I am aware that I am responsible for my life and I have tremendous support yet, even if that were to disappear  ( which was the scariest of fearts- Scots words) I will be ok. I will find my way.

So I wish for myself the contentment of the moment, the fun in dreaming big, the excitement of exploring and the inner peace in the midst of chaos.

Ok, I wish that for you too, but that is up to you to find your way.

Cheers, to all who have loved me, been loved by me and to all future loves…

The Journey

This time of year always gets me thinking about our emigration. The 13th of December 1971 is the ‘official’ landing day for our tribe in South Africa but a thought crossed my mind about the actual journey. 

Today, the 10th of December is the day we left behind the cold, familiar world of Milton in Glasgow. I was five and (almost) a half years young. The world as I knew it was dark, icy and busy with family. I don’t recall leaving our upstairs tenement house, nor any packing of clothes, or selling of furniture. Nor the taxi trip to the station- it must have been a couple of taxis, at least. I do remember being at Glasgow Central Station amidst a frenetic goodbye from cousins, aunts and uncles and boarding a sleeper train. Maybe this is what triggered my love for trains, perhaps. But at this point I can’t recall if I had any idea of where I was going, then again don’t think any of us did. All we knew is that we were going to ‘Sunny South Africa’ where my dad would be guaranteed a 3 ( or 4?) year work contract. In a rapidly shrinking work opportunities-city, it made sense for my folks to take care of there 6 and 3 quarters size brood, in a far away land with sunshine! A bargain! But I digress…

I don’t recall how many sleeper compartments we had, nor who I slept beside but I do remember the clackity clack of the train, the twinkling ‘exit’ sign lights and my first encounter with a chamber pot. Fascinated as a curious 5 year old can be, I don’t recall actually using it but more interested in how it got emptied. 

On arrival in a bustling London station, I remember the vision of a huge pile of suitcases on wheels and a flapping coat trying to control the worldy belongings of our entire family. The blue cover of the record player was at once familiar for me because Cliff Richard sang ‘summer holiday’ on it and this was kind of what this trip felt like. 

Details in between are very sketchy but the next clear phase of my young journey was an indoor swimming pool with coloured lights surrounding a man sitting at the bar. In the pool!! My eyes bulged when I saw this and in some dusty part of my memory I think Hawaiian music was playing. This pool was in a 5 star London hotel which we were to spend the night of the 11th of December due to the maiden Boeing 747 flight to Johannesburg being cancelled. I think we had 3 bedrooms between us but another exciting memory is the huge silver domes that covered our food on tableclothed trolleys that we wheeled to us. The life of luxury…

My mum must’ve had swollen feet and several anxiety attacks being 7 months pregnant and all this adventure showing up. But I remember her smoking away on the airplane which in my, short 5 year legs memory, seemed to be so roomy. We stopped for fuel at Los Palmos ( I think) where it was so hot my nostrils felt blocked and I was fascinated by a huge wooden fan slowly chopping the air on the roof. 

My next memory is not the airport in Johannesburg but the fountain at a white hotel ( the Lido) where I think I paddled in my panties ( or knickers) free from the very heavy and hot kilt that my mum had made for all us girls. It was also the first time I experienced Coca-cola .. in my own glass bottle and I remember being impressed. 

The 13th of December had us sleep over in a one star hotel in my future home town of Ver een ig ing ing. The National hotel was somewhat different from the London luxury and I heard my first ever cricket chirping! The tiny basin in the rooms had my-size Lux soaps and eating in the dining room and being served was an adventure for this young bairn.

The three days of journey were always kind of remembered in separate bits. Today I went on the journey again as a 52 year old accompanying my 5 year old self, who was full of wonder and awe. The destination almost forgotten but what a joy I felt, piecing the sepia bits together and stepping back in time for the journey that got me here. 

Cathie, the brave?

My dear friend was showering me with praise as to my courage for exploration and adventure. She called me brave. I thought about this for a moment. Of all things in life, I never really think of myself as brave. After all, I was scared of fear itself. Yet in that moment of pause, I had a flashback to the young girl.

I was so scared to say no, to speak in public (I would blush profusely), to stop alongside country roads, to  talk to strangers was a big no-no, even to be seen- frightened me.

Petrified!

My anxiety was so subtle, yet ever present. I did somehow manage to function and come across as a fairly intelligent TV sound operator. Yet under the seemingly calm surface, the dark, murky mud of fear threatened to overpower me at any given moment, (plus I am scared of the dark, and dark water- even now!)

So I wondered what happened to make me appear brave now? Somewhere along those 18 years, I made friends with my fear. It is still present but no longer all encompassing nor in charge. It is simply another aspect of me. Along with curiosity, excitement, anticipation and wonder- which I think may have been there all along but just drowned out by the noise of fear.

In many ways the reason why I am so public with my life on social media, may be because a part of me still can’t believe I am doing something. I need evidence, an audience and a future reference for past reflection.

I recently attended a lovely talk by Kate Turkington and I marveled at her attitude towards life. She travels, speaks, lives, loves and all with a sense of magic and wonder. I asked her if she has any sense of fear. She paused and answered ‘no’. I think she trusts life in all it’s unpredictable glory and possible pain and I think I may have started to do the same.

It’s not courage that makes me do things, it’s curiosity.

 

 

And that takes me to places I have never thought possible. If I can help one person step out of their comfortable, safe, fearful space -just once- then it is even more rewarding. But I am not doing life for anyone else- I am simply doing it for me. Because…

 

I can!

Cathie senior

Being the second youngest of a large clan has it’s advantages and being surrounded by the usually absent tribe at a time of vulnerability brings new information to light. Ironically it was in the tender conversations about our ailing dad that the topic of mum came up.

I have very quiet memories of mum, because unlike this Cathie, she was not  the chatty variety. Especially to a busy teenager then working, gap yearing, getting the hell out of the home town, adventuring young lady.  I would call her frequently but I think I would just babble on about my life and her wisdom would hold her silence on the telephone line .

Dad seemed to be the talking one, or more often, the nagging one. He would nag at her as she silently poked holes in her Benson &Hedges cigarette and hid behind her smokescreen.  His nagging would change to drunken playful flirting with her most Saturday nights when he had some time off from his back breaking factory life. Mum remained quiet, except for a loud ‘Alfie’ if he was playing too rough  with us young ones who were enjoying his tickling and antics.

In her absence, her character is growing larger and larger as my older siblings shared her stories and a different mum is being  born for me. Mum controlled the purse strings, that I always knew. Dad’s weekly wages would be put on the mantelpiece mid-Friday afternoon and the envelope would vanish when I next glanced. I never saw mum actually move it, but she seemed to work miracles with the pittance and the tribe of 9.

She started working when I was about 9 or 10 and I remember thinking when had she learned to type. But her skills were highly respected and she quietly kept working away at her job.

Two things I learned this time around? The first was that Dad hated her working out of the house . But she kept at it. The second thing was that she didn’t use her wage towards the household budget. This dumbfounded me in ways that I am still discovering. I vaguely recall the story of mum asking her accountant son what to do with some savings. He wisely told her to pay off the bond which she duly did. I remember being flabbergasted at how expensive the house was at R17500-. I  did not know where or how these savings came about – until now. Pieces of the puzzle-which I didn’t even know where missing- continue to fall in place.

Then she also bought shares in coffee…that is more vague in my memory. I remember her complaining that coffee prices shot up and I kind of moaned that she ‘owned’ some of the land so why doesn’t she get coffee beans for cheap. She was my first introduction to ‘shares ‘ yet I didn’t know it.

My admiration for her has increased a gazillionfold. Not only did she cycle to work on a hellish road in brutal Vaal Triangle winters, but she somehow stuck at it, being nagged at by dad and complained to by us hungry kids late afternoons. Somewhere over her brood of seven ( beautiful-I must add) kids, she had a broader vision. A vision of more than merely survival, she planned and saved and sorted in her quiet unassuming way. She made provision for the long term which she never got  the honour of living but she did it anyway.

This information has changed me, my life, my love for her and my future. I am looking forward to discovering more about this remarkable, beautiful woman that  I share the honour with my six siblings, to call mum.

Cheers mum. Love you x