Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Six

Someone I care about very much waited all afternoon long for her beloved husband to come out of a serious surgery. He was admitted to hospital last week and is in ICU now after the op. His recovery begins tonight.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat at a woman’s table who has faced cancer head-on and will not give it the satisfaction of ruining her life. She, too, is brave beyond words.

I have had to take my little Glinka three times to the vet in the past week. Today, she was there for eight hours. This is the longest she has been away from home since her sterilisation almost fourteen years ago. She had to have some more tests and a procedure done, and it wasn’t certain whether she would be able to come home tonight, but she is back, has already eaten and is on my lap. I couldn’t face the idea of sleeping tonight without her in the house.

I tried not to think too much in the last few days. Did my work and enjoyed every smile, beautiful word and sunray that came my way. The FLF happened and it was amazing. I am supposed to write about it. But that will have to wait until tomorrow. Or maybe even the next day …

Tonight, we sleep, and heal.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Five

My washing machine is broken. It has been for quite a while. In the beginning of the year, the municipality was fixing the ancient water pipe system in our area and the repairs caused prolonged disruptions to our water supply. We hardly ever received warning when the water would be cut off. It was difficult to plan anything. One day, the washing machine was on, the water went off, no one noticed, and, running on empty, the pump broke. (I think.) Everything came to a standstill and no matter what buttons I pressed and dials I turned, the machine seemed dead.

The washing machine is ancient. It was in this house before I arrived in South Africa. It might be even more than twenty years old. But: it had served me well, and I love it. I really do. Sadly, I have been busy and broke and just as broken, so making a plan to fix or replace it has not featured highly on my agenda. The facts that my mother gave me a suitcase full of new clothes recently, and that I’d had enough clothes and linen to last forever anyway have encouraged the decision non-making about the poor, old thing. Anyway, there is a nice laundromat nearby, and my friends have functioning washing machines, and I have no problem with washing a few items by hand. Time is on my side, too.

After the breakdown, the machine did not respond to any attempts at revival. It needed to lick its wounds. A few weeks, I tried a settings or two and discovered that even though the pump was broken, the machine could perform other functions. It just needed a bit of help, and understanding, and time. I studied it, assisted a bit, fiddled some more with the settings, showed patience and did not expect miracles. I could do a pre-wash by hand, transfer the laundry to the machine, help with the pumping of water, and the machine would wash and spin like it used to. Gradually, we found a way. Together. I am not saying it’s easy. Nothing really changed: we are still both broken and need to be fixed, but with a bit of kindness and care, we manage – the ancient washing machine and I – and piles of freshly washed laundry are waiting for ironing.

Big family news: I am going to be a step-great-grandmother.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Four

The fifth wave is rolling in. I oscillate between gratitude and despair. Gratitude, because I am still here, still standing. Despair, because I feel the weight of what has been lost in the process. Both have to be acknowledged. I am noticing something else, too. I know of a few people who have managed to thrive – personally and professionally – under lockdown. The stars aligned in such a way that this time of loss and heaviness became a time of opportunity and lightness for them. It is heartening to see. But it is rare. So many others have had to survive the impossible. Many didn’t. And I am beginning to understand that even those of us who’ve managed to get to the other side seemingly unscathed – who are still here, still getting up in the morning, still carrying on – are running on empty. The act of getting here has exhausted most of our resources. And not enough time has passed, not enough has been recovered and cultivated, to replenish those non-existent reserves, to nurture our resilience back into shape. We are somehow still getting on with it, but the smallest hurdle can derail us. There is nothing else left to draw on in order to overcome. This is not a safe space.

When the hurdle is not small, our world collapses around us. And it’s nearly impossible to explain why. (Please don’t ask.)

I still manage to get up in the morning, to get on with some things – although everything, absolutely everything, is a challenge right now. All I really want is to lie down and rest for a very, very long time. I don’t know how else to heal.

My Mom gave me a new summer dress. I love wearing it.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Three

A war-torn, flooded landscape of desolation. Ruins, no signposts, a weak moon rising on the horizon. A lone figure at an unmarked grave. Too numb to weep.

I know who lies buried here in the country of my soul. I don’t want to pretend otherwise. But I have no words to explain. (Please don’t ask.) It is a time of mourning.

I cut my lockdown hair.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week One

Wrapped in my Mom’s love

The season is changing, the house is cooling down, as is the water in the pool. But the days are still sunny and warm, and if I sit in the sun for a while after lunch, I can jump into the pool and enjoy an icy swim before the rest of the work day unfolds. I try to do it daily, because my walking routine refuses to return to normal and I do need the movement.

I am enjoying the return to group activities even if many people are ignoring the mask and numbers rules. My love and I went to the theatre again – the magical Firefly, which captures the essence of stage magic, at the Baxter; we went to FYN for another birthday celebration and realised that by pure chance this was the last restaurant we went to before lockdown, and the first after; I attended a highly successful book launch – Liz McGregor’s Unforgiven at Wordsworth Sea Point – and had dinner with authors and friends afterwards; on Saturday, I was at the first post-lockdown Women Zone CT Book Club meeting; and I was invited to a 70th birthday party, where the person celebrating is connected to me in strange, literary ways, and even though we hardly know each other, we are literary family. I registered for one online event: the Tongues Book Club with Alexander Matthews and Alistair Mackay. It was great, but I hope live versions of the gatherings will follow. And I can’t wait to read It Doesn’t Have to Be this Way. (Indeed, it doesn’t.)

Work has continued, but in a vague manner. I stare more than I write or edit. My thoughts have been elsewhere since my Mom walked herself into an emergency room because she thought that she was having a heart attack (she wasn’t, but the symptoms were similar and she was frightened for her life) and has been in the hospital ever since. She is stable and there is no threat to her life, but the doctors are still doing more tests to determine what had happened. We message a lot and meet on Skype during visiting hours when it is all right to talk. These are the moments when I hate living ten thousands kilometres away from her.

The only thing I am truly enjoying right now is reading. I have started Finuala Dowling’s The Man Who Loved Crocodile Tamers and am simply loving it.

Think a peaceful writerly thought, I told myself. I imagined that I was a medieval woman who had chosen to enter a convent, taking her fortune with her. The simple yet comfortable room I’d have, the silence. No phone. No email. I could write a book without interruptions, except for occasional prayers I suppose. Constant kneeling would be a drawback. On the plus side, if someone wanted to complain, they’d have a long ride to Rupertsberg. And even if they got there, I’m sure there’d be a drawbridge. A home improvement every writer should invest in. Could I order boiling oil to be poured over an approaching complainant? No, an abbess shouldn’t do that. Hildegard, Hildegard, watch over me.

The Man Who Loved Crocodile Tamers

I am working on my drawbridge.

Operation Oysterhood: 4 April

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

From midnight South Africa will no longer be in a state of disaster. Some transitional regulations will remain in place before we are solely guided during the remainder of the pandemic in terms of the National Health Act.

750 days since the state of disaster was declared. 738 since the lockdown began. It all ends tonight, apart from the pandemic.

And completely coincidently, I am home alone again. My love is back at his place, and my lovely houseguest is on a flight to Europe (she no longer required a PCR test to board the plane home).

Not an ordinary Monday.

But after weeks of no shows or delayed appearances, the refuse truck was back on time this morning. And, as for the past thirteen weeks, I went to see Joanne to write with her today – and three other writers; our group is growing – again. My memoir is growing, too. And as I go along, it is all falling into place. I am encountering challenges every week, but every week solutions present themselves alongside the challenges and I am soldiering on. It is an intellectual, creative and emotionally volatile battle field.

I did some research about Carlos Alcaraz Garfia’s historic Miami Open win, and while reading up on it, I came across a former tennis player I really enjoyed watching on court before he retired from the sport a while ago: Alexandr Dolgopolov, who was born in Kyiv and returned to Ukraine now during the war. I clicked on his social media accounts and saw his outrage and despair. He mentioned the five Ukrainian women who were raped and murdered by Russian soldiers. I do not know why since the war in Ukraine started I – totally naively – did not think of one of the oldest weapons of war. I should have known that rape would become part of this horrific story, but Alexandr’s brief mention of the crime caught me unawares. And all day today, no matter what else was happening, I have been walking around feeling wounded. Writing about violation only exacerbated the feeling of helplessness, and disconnect. I know women are raped all around me, every day, relentlessly. Yet, there’s something about the layers of trauma – loss of control and narrative – that a madman, a war, displacement and all imaginable violations of human dignity, integrity and freedom bring into one’s life, no matter how distant, that are beyond grasp. That wound.

I am grappling to find words to articulate the horror, even though I am writing from my relatively safe space, my home. Surrounded by love, purrs and kindness. I understand that my words change nothing. I am just grateful. I am still here. I’ve survived the pandemic. No soldier is knocking on my door. I will never take that for granted.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local. Get vaccinated, please. Live.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”


Operation Oysterhood: 3 April

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

The surest sign of autumn: The Cats are – reluctantly – sharing my bed again. And Glinka always wants to be as close to me as possible. I like our double chins (although, officially, she isn’t allowed even one) in the selfie.

We had a leisurely morning in bed, with coffee and books, and then I cooked for my friends. All these amazing, talented, kind, lovely people around my table and my heart swelled with happiness. I am grateful. I know we have been living in lockdown for over two years, so I should be used to this reality, but I cannot help feeling estranged, and I often have moments of awe that I have survived, that I am now as safe as one can be, and that we can have Sunday afternoons like today. I am deeply grateful for all these possibilities.

Good night.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local. Get vaccinated, please. Live.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”


Operation Oysterhood: 2 April

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Any excuse to go to Elgin will do, but when there are great wine and food and Liberty Books on the menu, there is basically no stopping me.

We went to The Melting Pot at Oak Valley for lunch today. Our first visit, but certainly not the last. The food was exquisite, and they make the only Pinot Noir that I will open with gusto. I am usually not a fan; to me, Pinot Noir tastes like a wannabe red, and I like my reds properly red, but I had my first taste of the Oak Valley Pinot Noir during lockdown and I have loved it ever since. To top it all, there were oysters. Fresh and simply divine. A different kind of oysterhood :)

And then, just as we were about to leave, someone from another table, where he was celebrating his birthday, approached us and said hello, recognising my love and asking whether we would perhaps join the party for a glass of something to toast the occasion. The young man was so charming that we agreed, and the rest of the party turned out to be as fascinating. Going home we felt like we’d met new friends. The fact that the young man is an oysters purveyor was a truly happy coincidence. And they deliver oysters to one’s door … No need to tell you what I’ll be ordering in the next few days :)

No visit to the area is complete without a stop at Liberty Books, where Cleo was on duty again and sold us a book.

Iga Świątek is not only going to be world number one on Monday, but she actually won the Miami Open today, her third 1000 Masters event win of the season – impressive. Tomorrow, another fascinating final. I hope to watch. But first, I am cooking Sunday lunch for friends. And I can’t wait.

A real weekend, and it feels good.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local. Get vaccinated, please. Live.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”


Operation Oysterhood: 1 April

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

I had every intention of writing last night, but then I fell asleep watching TV … When I woke up Carlos Alcaraz Garfia was about to get into the Miami Open final. Exciting to watch this young star rising.

Yesterday began with a fashion show. My Mom’s language of love are gifts, and she particularly loves giving me clothes. When I now saw her, she gave me a suitcase full of new things. They had accumulated over two years of me not visiting her. In the morning, I finally had time to go through it all to see what fits and what doesn’t. I have permission to give away what doesn’t to charity. I put on a fashion show for Salieri and, as you can see, she had her definite favourites. I doubt I will get to wear this evening gown any time soon, but among my new clothes is a beautiful dress that I can wear at a friend’s wedding next year. And there are a few warm garments for the upcoming SA winter (always a challenge). I hardly ever buy clothes for myself, but my Mom continues to take care of me :)

Afterwards, I got through some heavy-duty admin and some lighter, more rewarding, work. And the pool needed cleaning and I had to visit the local printer. Another day that just somehow disappeared into the past. But it did end in style on the rooftop of The Silo Hotel, where my lovely houseguest invited us for drinks, sunset and a light supper to say goodbye before she leaves for distant shores again. Good news is that she will be back soon.

She is going back to a country where every tenth person is sick with COVID-19 at the moment. We are no longer dying from it like flies, but this virus is not done with us yet. And judging by the increase in infections locally, I suppose our fifth wave is in the making …

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local. Get vaccinated, please. Live.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”