The day before my life changed..

Today’s date was always less significant than tomorrow’s.


24th July.


The day before mum died.
It was a day of breath holding for the past 28 years. Dread for the big day, the 25th. 28 years because the 29th year mum was still alive. It was the day that I actually dropped my shoulders with relief, with no idea of what was a few short hours away.

24/7/1991.
The morning started off with caution.

It had been a week since we got the news that mum had had a ‘mild heart attack’ while cycling to work. Her bike being pushed over 9km every morning to her ‘little job’ at a small manufacturing business on the other side of town. A rush visit to the doctor’s with my older sister and then admission to hospital gave us all the terrifying news. But she reassured me on a quick midweek visit that she was fine and I was to continue with our weekend plans to visit my then, fiance’s parents at the coast. I don’t think I relaxed at all those 7 days, and I was doubly concerned about me traveling 700km away from the crisis back home. But I couldn’t say ‘no’ in those days and I reluctantly went along dreading any horrible call, during the two day trip.

We returned from the coast and back at work after a quick stop at the hospital on route home, I continued to worry. The morning of the 24th was the first genuine exhale, I caught myself doing, after her phonecall. Mum was home and feeling great. Not having smoked a cigarette in the past week must have been stressful on its own, but she reassured Dad that she had stopped and told me cheerfully that Dad was going to return to work the next day. I can’t remember the full conversation sadly, it’s been wiped out of my memory but today I tried to recall what we must have said to each other. I know I told her that I would come down on Sunday after I worked on the big rugby match that was going to be played on Saturday. A few pleasantries would have been shared and I know I breathed heavily out when I put down the office phone. If only I knew that that was to be the last chat with her. I would have lingered longer, I would have asked her all sorts of questions, I would have told her I loved her and I would have asked her to tell me that she loved me.
I knew that she did love me, but I never knew how much I needed to hear the words until she was no longer here to say them.
I have reread my birthday cards, the letters written to me on my gap year and examined the thin blue airmail paper hoping that the ink won’t ever fade, to read her signing off
“Love Mum”
No clear ‘I love you’ but a very definite unwritten and unsaid message.

That 24th day of July in the year my life changed forever, was a day of hope. A return to normal after the scare. Plus, a life without Mum in it, was unimaginable. The relief spread over me, and no doubt I chatted to all the other sisters in the network. There was no cell phones yet, so landline calls were the extent of conversation at that time. Sadly the rest of the day remains insignificant. Much like all the other ordinary days when Mum was alive.

Now almost 29 years later, I can’t believe that it has been so long without her. An unimaginable future became my reality. My adult life has gone without her to witness it. I wasn’t able to think of her as anything other than Mum, because I was busy being young. It’s only as I appreciated the path of life, that I started to wonder what her young dreams were, the questions I could have asked about her own mum and who she was before she met Dad.

This time of year always comes back to the trauma, the shock and the havoc that the 25th wreaked.

29 full earth orbits around the sun. The first few years were indeed without light, full of the shadow of death. But now it’s more a case of loss of what could have been. The missed chances to get to know her, for her to know me, to watch her age into the wise council of elders in our home town. I’m sure she would have enjoyed my skits, my dressing up and the laughter at my characters.
I sometimes see her reflection in my face, her footsteps in my slippers and I feel her in my heart.

Once again, I get reminded..
I am, because she was. xxx

Christmas run on 1 May


Traditionally, the first day of May is Worker’s day in South Africa and in many other countries worldwide, but for many of us locals, it meant Freedom day. Albeit that Freedom Day was on Monday… But the names of days and months have shifted dramatically in the 38 days of our Level Five Lockdown.

Today we moved into Level 4. This means that more retail shops are open as well as take-away food stores but the more relevant aspect is, running is allowed in a 3 hour window period!

I hadn’t planned on ‘going out’ to run. A part of me was a little nervous, to be honest. Agoraphobia can kick in quickly if a person spends too much time at home. But I am an impulsive person and if the feeling is right, I do things. 

I jumped in my running shoes, and was glad that they still fit, lol. Put my dusty Garmin watch onto ‘running outdoor’ mode and I could almost hear it gasp. I opened the gate and started waving Mel Gibson arms in the Freedom fist punch, and I saw a fellow club member running with his son. 

I chatted across the road, glad that this verbal function still does work without a smart phone screen in front of my face. I started out to the bridge that is under construction and was impressed to see that some big work had been done. I greeted some dogs, who looked dazed and confused but very excited to have some different visuals past their gates to their own constant prison. The hadeda’s were going mental, I swear I heard them ask what was happening with all these feet in the street. 

The pavements look long grassed and undisturbed, the trees look sad with their Autumn colours fading, the sky was a cobalt blue, like I have never, ever seen and not likely to see again. I deliberately crossed the pedestrian bridge over the highway, to marvel at the clean air and lack of traffic. I stood in awe at how nature seems to have had a big relief from the rush, smells, fumes and angry energy that we humans spew into it. People ran, cycled, walked alone or with their doggies who were wagging their tails so much they looked stationary. Masked people, unmasked, friendly, people and some militant types eager on keeping the strict rules in place. I did big body swerves when I overtook, (yes I know 😉 ) I have been Comrades social distancing since 2008, I know how to steer clear of germy beasts. It felt so liberating to be outside and being able to do this thing, called run.

I ran up the Marathon Cul de Sac street, just because it’s there. I probably woke the dogs up and 5 Jack Russels were super thrilled that I went by- their owners maybe not so much. I decided to run past one of my house sitting jobs to catch a glimpse of my foster pups. And there she was, young Olivia standing guard at the gate, I started calling her name, and she was a bit hesitant at first, but when she smelled me (yes, I could expand this, but won’t) she recognised me and started excitedly grinning and barking and calling the others. Benji had forgotten me, but she’s young, and eventually Chucky was let out the front door, because he’s not running around, while there’s commotion at the gate. Owner, Karen came out and we tried to chat across the gate, or at least shout over the barking of the three beasts, who realised that I wasn’t there to walk them. Leaving them was a little hard, but I caught myself smiling at the houses I recognised, as I ran by.

I was very thankful that my calf felt absolutely fine with it’s new scar, and pleased that my legs managed to keep supporting me, instead of shouting out all the chocolates and puddings that have been piling up in my thighs. I had dressed too warmly with my double long sleeved top, and the morning seemed to be showing off in it’s glory, as people were acknowledging just how much we missed the world. Now I need to readjust my early mornings to be able to fit in my short runs, but if I get a repeat of today’s experience, then I will become the most disciplined runner… haha!

Another birthday without my friend

It still seems strange that my friend is not here to celebrate her birthday. I am sure she would have found some way to entertain me through this lockdown period because she was so used to living a solitary life. Not necessarily her Choice, but her health issues made it difficult for her to find a partner that could cope. She was a fascinating charmer and made everyone feel special. Yet the life she visualized and imagined and dreamed of, eluded her in her last few years.

I never knew her when she danced ballet, tap and contemporary style and I believe she was very good at it. I never saw her embrace and develop the ‘troubled kids’ in her classroom as she impressioned their young minds forever. I never saw her when she faked her cycling skills to her boyfriend as they planned a cross-Europe trip, but didn’t dare mention her saddle blisters on her first day of cycle. I never got to see her flirt ridiculously with older MD’s of companies and took credit for winning the advertising brief for her boss. I never saw her when she visited the super-rich households and charmed both the married hosts and the butlers. I never saw her when she taught her art, gave her reiki, nor conjured up images with her crystal ball.

But I felt like I was transported to all these events as she shared her younger days of glamour and adventure. I knew she had shone the brightest light in any room. She shone her glittery love all over every hospital room I ever saw her in, every doctor she boisterously hugged, and nurse she confided in and then usually comforted. It was an honour to share her place on the planet and I know the ripple of love she gave me, will always fill my heart.

Miss you hen. Now stop charming Kenny Rogers and Sol Kerzner, you are too young for them.

Cathie

Before my mum got the name I knew her as, she was known as my name. Ok, I got her name but you get the idea. Before she was loved by my ‘dad’, she was loved by Alfie. And before that she was loved as a sister, a daughter. It’s hard to think differently about someone you know as one role only, especially as her ‘name’ defined that role.

Cathie Oakes sometimes showed up when I had moments of curiosity and I asked her questions. She seldom offered conversation or glimpses into her inner life. Now I wonder if she was always quiet and private, or did the burden of her adult role silence her in her exhaustion? I know if I had seven children I’d probably be a lot quieter. I think she had the ability to pause before responding whereas I am only learning how to do this in my later life. I remember her chatting about her school days and that she was ‘able’ to stay on an extra year. I thought it strange, I mean who wants another year at school? Now I reflect on how women were not encouraged to get educated and how children in general were put out to the workplace to help the large families cope. My dad left school to help his family survive but Mum stayed on. I wish I had paid more attention and asked her about her subjects, her interests and her young dreams for her life. I know she liked art, but I don’t know when she learned her craft of sewing. She never seemed like a perfectionist but looking at some of my siblings and their need for order and my need to understand that origin, I recall how impeccable her sewing was. She didn’t seem to make mistakes and never, ever cursed her sewing machine, like this Cathie did. When she sat behind the machine she seemed to merge with it, the creative process became one and now I can recognise what I saw, but I remember being frustrated as a youngster because there was no interrupting her when she sat in her cigarette-smoke filled cocoon.

My dad talked about her being a ‘looker’ which I couldn’t understand as a youngster. Who thinks their mum as a looker? But the rare photos of before being a glamorous bride, a proud mum and a tired parent, I see it. That chic ‘Jackie Kennedy’ look, with dark hair and wide smile that I saw in two of my sisters. I wish there were more photos of the young girl so I could form a bigger picture of her first 21 years of life.



The 35 years after marriage meant sacrifice, and no place for individuality. She became mum. Her individuality sometimes gets unearthed by friends who remember the women from a different perspective. Her quirks and habits seen as unique which used to surprise me when I heard them. A reminder of how one dimensional my perspective is.


She never got the chance to become old. Today is her 85th birthday. Almost 30 years that she didn’t get to explore her world, her hobbies and possible interests. I wonder if she would like the history tours I find myself on. I wonder if she would have cycled across Britain like her son and son-in-law did last year? How would she have managed cellphones? Would she check in on her grandchildren on video calls? Would she have done art classes or line dancing or gone on coach tours? All the opportunities that are available to me simply because she was.

Her life, my gift. Happy birthday Cathie Oakes!


The Ignorance of Innocence

In the middle of winter in 1991, I was protected by not having instant access of modern day technology. There was no internet, cell phones nor wireless technology. I was ‘modern’ simply by having a telephone answering machine at home. And it was this rapid blinking on the machine that made my heart quicken.

It was an unusual day in many ways. I had attended an important meeting at work, for an upcoming rugby match, that I wasn’t required to attend. I sat around my workplace without really having anything to do. Instead I whiled away the hours helping Nic and my other friends with their projects. Oblivious to the frenzy going on at my parents house one hours drive, away. To add to the strangeness of the day, I even went to gym after work and watched Nic flex and tone his muscles, all the while dodging my own yawning reflection in the massive mirrors.

After our dogs had howled us our welcome home song, I made my way over to the blinking phone. For six hours I had lived my life intact, without the knowledge that Mum had died. I was the last of us seven kids to know. Even my brother and sister living 8000 miles away found out before me.

The bliss of ignorance. The innocence of a world without instant messaging, instant information and unknown impatience. I have been reflecting on the trust of life that I had then. That for a few hours I still had a mum while grief had shattered my family. I was intact. Whole. Unscathed by the tsunami of grief that was making its way to my life. I think about the day in the silent slow motion way that we recall an accident. I now know it’s because we access the slow frequencies of our subconscious, trying to replay the trauma to prevent future hurts from doing the same. Futile attempts at trying to prevent tsunamis, however very necessary for our survival.

My survival is evident, my adult life lies behind me now. But future is still unknown. The new ‘normal ‘ of life without mum took a long time to settle. Today I am thinking about the spread of panic and fear regarding the Corona virus. I think back to the innocent times, when newspapers were my Facebook and the TV news was Dad’s gospel. The time in between the unknown was longer and the comfort of the unknown made us breathe properly. Somehow I survived 1984, Y2K, the various Apocalyptic events including 2012, SARS, Swine flu, and recently our deadly polony virus. I had my own Apocalyptic events in my life that didn’t have global dates. But my first scar of life was delayed by a few hours because Instant Messaging was yet to be invented.

Today’s youngsters don’t have that luxury, unless the internet goes down. Remembering how to trust an afternoon ahead without checking for updates every 5 minutes seems almost alien. The excitement of getting an airmail letter and savouring the moments unread. The joy of hearing a scratchy long distance telephone call but the disappointment at the swiftness of the expensive conversation. Waiting excitedly on a Saturday evening for the Pop Top 20 on the radio, armed with a not quite blank cassette ready to press record. The confidence of paper airplane tickets and the constant checking of all the carbon copies. The giddiness of walking into a massive public library knowing that so many words lie unread. Watching a silent video and seeing Mum’s smiling face while clutching her cigarette at Mary’s wedding has also become a memory. But at least I can somehow unearth that video. The other moments of an unhurried past are now just recollections of my world gone by.

As much as I love the ease, variety and speed of modern technology, I sometimes miss the ignorance of innocence.

Today

I woke up to wagging tails and smiling faces
I was gifted an opportunity to see my city in a different way
I shared my space with an old friend doing new things
I saw the transformation of a public place by one man and his dog
I marveled at the beauty of paint on a wall
Stood fascinated at seeing people’s imagination come to life in the form of wood, beads, paper, wool, shell and copper wire
I saw the regeneration of a trendy street that a couple of years ago looked sad
I was mesmerised by a life well lived and a sense of adventure for the future
I salivated while opening an overseas treat
I caught up with friends far away without uttering a word
I witnessed birds ending their day by chitchatting with each other
I watched big threatening storm clouds blow away to the far horizon
I felt the last ray’s of a setting sun glow through my body on a block of cement
I heard the silence of trail runners as they weaved their way through the dark with a small headlamp
I felt my heart push it’s way to my ears as my body obediently did what I told it to
I appreciated the hot meal at the end of my physical adventure
I relished the hot water wash off the dust of my run
I gratefully curled up in a ball in my own bed.

My own life, well lived.
What will today bring?

A Cape Town treasure

On my recent trip to the Mother City, I looked up details about an art gallery I had caught glimpses about on various social media. I know absolutely nothing about art, but I do get excited about the art of buildings and I knew that I had to explore this gallery more.

The Zeitz Mocaa is primarily an African Art gallery, priding itself on it’s ‘not for profit ‘ principles. They prove this by allowing African residents free admission for a few hours every week. I planned my visit for this time. But the opportunity came the day before, to explore the outside of the building and the fantastic regeneration of the once derelict sections of the Waterfront harbour. I was totally impressed. Luxury apartments, canals, yachts, Standing Upright Paddlers (SUP), water bikes, and canal taxis made it other worldly for this, usually landlocked girl.
I wore a smile for most of the morning when my jaw wasn’t hanging open at the marvel of the architecture, all under the beauty of Table mountain.

The time for my visit to the inside of the gallery arrived and I was beyond excited. After collecting my audio tour headset and showing my Identity card, I turned to look at the inside properly. I had tried not to look too much until the formalities were done, and I slowly let my eyes take in the space. I don’t know what happens internally but my eyes began to leak like they did standing outside Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.I heard myself gasp at the volume of space and the light and the simplicity of the design.

I fumbled with the audio guide and learned that the shape was designed like a magnified kernel of grain. The huge cement slabs scoured away to give it the graceful shape of it’s once inhabitants. I touched the wall and found my way to the spiral staircase, trying to dodge people so that their energy wouldn’t dilute what I was trying to experience. Lots of youngsters were exploring the art exhibition, which for me was purely secondary to the concrete shine and curves that seemed to shimmer at me when I touched it.

I climbed each level and walked through the square block rooms containing the artworks and multi media but I was hungry for the story of the building. The audio device malfunctioned and I only realised it when the tour was nearly over. I was obviously distracted but after a technical reset of off/on, I listened to all the tracks while drinking Aqua (lol) in the top level restaurant with a magnificent view of the bustling harbour.

The windows are cleverly designed too, which add to the feeling of love and thought, by the people who considered this building with such respect. It probably has never experienced such reverence before. It seems like the building is glowing and is smiling from the inside out. It’s more than a building to me. It’s a sacred space of stone, light and humans.

As it should be.

The most dangerous words in the English language.

“I’m fine.”

In all my years of counseling and having friends, or even as long as I have been alive, these words cause the most damage.

For a strange reason us humans, think it’s polite to ask after people. Then everyone lies.

I understand why the lies, because any time I try tell someone how I really am, the look on their faces as their eyes dart away looking for a quick exit makes it tricky to really express how I am.

But I have heard the very same words come from people who are on morphine; lost a love partner; been diagnosed with cancer; unemployed for over a year; suffered unbearable abuse; widowed; in front of a car wreck; minutes from having fainted; staggering after running 70km; recently divorced; put their child into rehab and the saddest of all, standing at the edge of a grave.

“I’m fine”

In a country where sadly our crime statistics are often brutal and un-hollywoodlike, the yardstick for admitting to trauma is often minimized.
“At least you are ok…”
“Well, my car was stolen, I had a gun to my head, I was stabbed in my bed, I was nearly raped… but I am fine”. Of course anything other than death is fine, when every single one of us has experienced some sort of trauma. But in my experience the body will try to minimize the trauma in order to survive and try return the body to normal. Then we compare our traumas to others and of course we will always find someone worse off, so we should be ‘glad’ that it’s not worse. We minimize our pain, our wound, our very essence to be allowed to feel.

These words ‘I’m fine’ turn us into liars. The truth too complicated and painful to admit to others, never mind ourselves. But the beauty about recognising that ‘I’m NOT fine’, means that we take our responsibility back. We take our power back from the trauma, we give ourselves permission to feel the pain. Our basic need- is to be heard. But it starts by listening to ourselves first. It is the hardest voice to hear. But the first vital step towards recovery and healing.

So let me ask you…
“How are you?”

Cullinan

I love stories.

I used to be very scared of going to new places alone. I didn’t like to drive outside my geographical area, unless I really had to. But I began to realise that my search for stories could be far more interesting in person than reading them on the internet. As my fear began to wane, my Smartie and Google maps became a source for new adventures.

I still don’t like driving long trips but recently a series of serendipitous events found me bundled in my chariot on a 90 minute journey to a small mining town called Cullinan. The village has flirted with me over the years on route to other places and I always said that I would be back to explore.

I found myself sitting, very early, in a modern Wimpy across from the Herbert Baker designed church. I had seen the tin houses on my previous drive throughs but didn’t realise that the British architect had built his renowned stone buildings in this seemingly unknown town. Giddy with excitement, I googled the details and hurried my breakfast to go explore this find. No longer an Anglican Church but a nondenominational venue for weddings and funerals. The passionate manager gave me a personal tour, plus a magnificent glimpse into his life in the ‘dorp’.

The interior of the church smelled of candles, wood and sacredness. The simplicity of the space giving the beauty of the stones, pride of place. The rush of curiosity filled my system as I stood in awe of the gentle space. As the manager rang the bell for me, I almost stopped him because of my old respect for not having an occasion to ring. One part of me shouted ‘hey, I am the occasion’. The tour stretched across the new garden into the new build, which historians might not gush over, but I recognised this opportunity to give the space a new purpose as humans release their need on the old and conventional. There is no mistake who is the main star on this property and after a long chat and a big hug, I reluctantly left to explore the village.

The mine is still bustling in its search for diamonds and with a new company owner on board, the energy felt full of possibility, which I enjoyed. I went on a walking tour of the mine which explained the early history of the big hole. This was the home of the early find of the world’s largest uncut gem diamond, the stone was found only 5 meters from the surface. The huge stone was divided into over 50 stones, with the two largest carats being gifted by the old Transvaal (Tvl) government to the British Royal Family. The mine made enough money from the sale of that one diamond to the Tvl government, to build the mining company, the Premier mine, which developed the town in which the stone buildings were built. A sure sign of a longer time investment that the old, pop-up mining towns, used to offer.

I lunched in one of the few open venues, due to it being the ‘midweek weekend’ on Monday and Tuesdays, a lot of places were closed. But the quiet gives me a behind the scenes feel which I enjoy. I spoke to a big Afrikaner with a Scottish surname as he told me about his bucket list wish of visiting my birthplace and we laughed about my Afrikaans surname. I chatted with the young waiter, eager to bring new customers who seemed to bypass his workplace, thinking it was closed. Then I chatted for some time with my hotel receptionist about life in the small town.

My old hotel gave me even more joy when I was upgraded to the best room in the building. The Royal Suite, which was rumoured to have had the Queen sleep in on her visit to the town in the 40’s. Although it was probably her father as she was a princess at the time of the tour. I bounced up and down the stairs in excitement, to uncover more stories in my quest. A drive out to the Italian Cemetery for Prisoners of War found me on the wrong sides of locked gates as I marvelled at the well maintained grounds and stories that lay peacefully in its silence.

Although a very small town, I feel like I have only scratched the surface and it got me wondering about all the other gems in small towns around the country that lie patiently waiting to be experienced. Once I start digging, I realise that the layers of history have created my present moment.

My explorations are tomorrow’s history and I am grateful to be at this very point where my curiosity has woken me up to a new adventure within reach of both my budget and capabilities.

I wonder what my next adventure is?

Music was my first love.

I don’t play any instrument, and I don’t sing(well) but I am a great listener. Music has always been a part of me.

As a teenager, it became my escape, my meditation and my comfort. Dropping into the melody of Mike Oldfield and Rick Wakeman was the closest I have ever gotten to touching the divine. My Nu Romantic passion brought me to the acceptance of men wearing frilly shirts and eyeliner. When eVoid burst into my matric year I was dumbfounded by the fact that they were South African. I was trying to reject anything ‘not mine’ and in my obedient rebellious way against the awful Apartheid system, eVoid became a sort of truce with something from my new ‘home country’.

Bunking school to get Simon Le Bon’s signature

I had been to a few ‘live gigs’, session bands were big in the 70’s and hometown band Helicopters played at our Matric farewell. But my first year out of school the music scene exploded with Ella Mental, Petit Cheval, and many others. My drug of choice became eVoid at the Chelsea Underground. My nurses salary stretched to it’s tiny limit, any time I wasn’t on night shift, I junk jived my place to front right of the tiny stage under my heartthrob’s nose. The live shows connected me to unknown territory, propelling me to indescribable feelings. I looked drunk or stoned, but tap water was all I could afford and besides I didn’t need external highs, the music did that.

I tried to figure out the reasons for this strange connection. I didn’t feel the same when I played the cassette of their music. It was only at their live shows that I connected with whatever this was. But I realised that explanations would be found later, all I needed to do was show up as much as I could and fadget. The huge groundbreaking Concert in the Park made all sorts of imprints in the country. A multi racial concert, with a peaceful, connecting 100 thousand strong crowd showed us youngsters that it can be done. Every name in the music world played around three songs each and I was in heaven. My band came on as a headline act but also announced that they were heading overseas to make their mark. It made their few songs all the more special and in that bittersweet moment I realised that this chapter was over.

My first (one sided) love affair was over. I wasn’t devastated but was ‘lost’. Where was I to get my fix from? How was I going to connect to whatever it was that I was connecting to? The solution came in a very unexpected but even-better-than-I-could-imagine way, in getting a job in the local broadcaster as a Sound Operator in the Outside Broadcast department. I became part of music shows, pop concerts, sport programs, church services and beauty pageants. I was propelled into a world of behind the scenes, watching famous and some not so famous people get on stage and do their thing. It was magic, it was beautiful and it fed my soul.

Nowadays I let music enrich my life every day, and I love to go to shows when I can. I realise that the connection is always there. The inner world of music keeps me tuned (ahem) in. My first love has remained a loyal love. A selfless supply that is with me, in my head, consoling me on my runs, playing through my dreams, murmuring in the background. It always offers me a place of nurturing, inspiring, refueling and comfort.

2014 in London with my first ‘flame’

As John Miles sings, ‘Music was my first love, and it will be my last…’