Operation Oysterhood: 5 August

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

— @HaggardHawks

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HARU – at last! I feel awful about neglecting this wonderful restaurant during lockdown for such a long time (I had good intentions in the beginning, and then lost focus), but I finally placed an order and received the most heart-warming welcome from the owner and the staff today when I went to pick it up. It was great to see them and to find out that they are somehow coping and still offering eye-smiles above their masks. And the food was delicious, as always.

I also got another facial from Melissa’s Sunrise Beauty Studio – a treat for the weekend ahead. Yay!

Work-wise today, I witnessed the complete opposites of what people are capable of. On the one end of the spectrum, I watched someone’s ego dig their own grave for them, completely unnecessarily. It is so sad to see such a waste of energy. On the other end, someone who sent me an invoice for a job done, asked me to donate two-thirds of the amount due to them to two worthy causes: Rape Crisis and the Book Lounge Library Project. This request moved me deeply. Working with people like this is not only a pleasure, but an honour, and it is such generosity of creative people I know and work with that has kept me going through the rough time of the last few months (and always).

I struggled to get warm all day today – can’t wait to get under a hot shower and into a warm bed.

Good night.

Be kind. Wear a mask.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 4 August

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

— @HaggardHawks

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Not sure whether the above poster is to be found in all EB bookshops; I saw it in Cavendish today. I was strangely moved by it. It was also good to see people reading at the large desk inside the shop again, physical distancing and all.

Even more heartening today was the news that the CNA shops are recommitting to selling books on a mass scale again and they are planning to offer at least fifty per cent of their bookshelf space to local and African books. I can’t wait to see these plans in action, especially since they are also going to open more shops across the country. More outlets where authors and their books can reach readers. This gives me hope.

What was less heartening – actually devastating – was watching the Jonathan Swan interview with the Tangerine Troll. I am in awe of what psychopaths can get away with. I wouldn’t put that creature in charge of anything (and I really mean ‘anything’ – tried to think of something one could safely entrust him with and I just could not find a single thing) and he is the President of the USA. And I have this horrifying feeling that he is going to be around for another four years. I truly trust Americans to reelect him. The rest of us will have to go into an extreme state of oysterhood/hibernation until 2024 to survive.

A rainy, cold day of mostly working in bed with Salieri catssisting, also accidentally deleting some of my writing (thankfully it was saved and could be retrieved again). A long work Zoom meeting after dinner. I am tired now, but it is good to see things developing in interesting directions.

Dinner included pistachio ice-cream for dessert. About twenty years ago, I developed the Ice-cream Flavour Theory of Men. Basically, it compared men to ice-cream. (Hey, I was young!) It explained, in the most non-scientific way, that you should never settle for your second-favourite flavour, even if your favourite was unavailable or difficult to obtain. In the last while, I have realised that my favourite (ice-cream!) is no longer chocolate, but pistachio. When I bought it today, the pistachio ice-cream made me think about love – how it grows and transforms with time. And if you are lucky, it tastes like your favourite pistachio ice-cream.

In the morning, my publisher, Protea Book House, asked me for an inspirational quote for a campaign they are running for Women’s Month. I said: “Be kind. All else will follow.”

Wear a mask, too. Please.

And if you are allowed to vote in the USA this November, please save the world!

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 3 August

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

— @HaggardHawks

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Another day without photographs, so I am sharing one more from yesterday’s excursion to Elgin.

Now that intra-provincial travel is allowed and there are ways of travelling without endangering others, or at least reducing the risk to an absolute minimum, and at the same time contributing to the saving and sustainability of what is left of the local tourism industry, we are thinking of exploring the possibilities. And one doesn’t have to go far in the Western Cape to enjoy the best of what being away from home can offer. I have an idea that a weekend stay in a self-catering cottage in one of the numerous secluded beauty spots of the Western Cape is much safer right now than going to the crowded beach in Muizenberg (which, technically, should still be empty, or not?). Walking in Elgin yesterday, the splendour of the landscape sinking in and with not a single other hiker in sight apart from us, I felt restored to myself. And I even had some decent sleep last night – a gift not to be sneezed at (especially now!).

Monday. Bin (collected after a two-week pause). Orchid bath (new flowers waiting to burst open). A day of computer work.

I am adamant about squeezing in a few book reviews into my working schedule, even if they are mostly unpaid at this time. I sent off one today.

Writing-related highlight of the day: a writer I admire is interviewing lockdown diarists for an article, and she interviewed me about the Oysterhood Diary in the afternoon. It was intriguing and fun to reflect on the last one hundred and thirty days (!) of daily Oysterhood blog posts. She asked how long I plan to continue … Well, by now, I have decided that I am in it for the long run, i.e. until the official end of the lockdown.

Brace yourselves, poor, dear Readers!

Be kind. Wear a mask.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: Karina Day

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

— @HaggardHawks

Karina Day excursion with my love – hike and picnic – in Elgin, one of my favourite places in the Western Cape.

Be kind. Wear a mask.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 1 August

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

— @HaggardHawks

758

Another long, weird night, and it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is causing all this restlessness. But, the morning had coffee in it, and Alma Café buttermilk rusks. I have been avoiding rusks for quite a long time now, but I felt the need to return to them again. Another little step in healing beyond grief.

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The restlessness still allows me to do my work, but my leisure reading has suffered in the last while. This morning, however I had the huge joy of completing my trip Around the World in 80 Words. Salieri catssisting, of course.

And guess what!? The author of Around the World in 80 Words, who runs @HaggardHawks – one of my favourite Twitter accounts – has followed me back today. Coincidence? Some would say that there is no such thing. One way or another – I am very happy. I have been a fan for years. I love his books and the wealth of knowledge he shares with us about words.

Haggard Hawks

I went to Kalk Bay today to see Dawn Garisch and discuss the next book we will be publishing together (it is beautiful and I can’t wait to start working on it) and was hoping to visit the newly reopened Kalk Bay Books, but the shop will open only next weekend. Such a relief that we won’t be losing this book world treasure. Kalk Bay was busy today! And the traffic impossible. It felt like a summer day in the famous seaside resort.

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During my walk in the area I found a R5 lucky coin. I find coins all the time, but R5 doesn’t happen often. We are in dire need of good omens, so I am grateful to the universe for this one.

The wonderful broadcaster and author Sara-Jayne Makwala King celebrated her fortieth birthday today. And Mika du Preez turned nineteen. You might not know who Mika is – yet – but it is only a matter of time. And I can’t wait for the world to discover this talented, super-intelligent, funny, kind young man, who plays the accordion, writes inspiring poetry and prose, and wants to be a Waldorf teacher one day. He is the kind of person who will make a real difference to others’ lives – he already manages to brighten any day with his mere presence. It is easier to be optimistic about the future when one knows young people like him, and I feel fortunate to know Mika and to be able to call him and his family my own.

Another good day. Now, for one good night. Tomorrow is, after all, Karina Day.

Be kind. Wear a mask.

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

— NICD

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A sexy feline strikes a pose on Topolino.

Operation Oysterhood: 31 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

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Occasionally, a book cover is difficult not because of lack of ideas, but because the existing ideas are many and all brilliant, and it is nearly impossible to choose which one will be best for the book. The next Karavan Press title is in the making (cover reveal to follow soonest) and the author, designer and I just couldn’t decide on the final cover while communicating by email, phone and Skype for days. A meeting in person was suggested. I offered my garden and arranged a table in the middle of the lawn, with chairs around, but each a few meters apart. There was a tea and coffee corner. Between sips of our drinks, despite the distances between us, we still wore masks, and had the most lively and productive discussion about the design drafts and possibilities on the table in front of us. By a process of careful elimination, we arrived at two options and then debated those two again. Two hours into the meeting we had a winner and celebrated with a bottle of bubbly, still standing meters apart form one another while discussing the project and the final choice, which is stunning! (Even if I say so myself. And the bubbly was delicious – haven’t had any for weeks now and I was saving this bottle for a special moment.)

I managed to renew my car licence disk online, and it arrived in the post today, which feels like a double-miracle. I would have been ready to pop the bubbly just to celebrate this little everyday success. Not only the city, but also the post office delivered! Yay!

Emboldened, I rushed to the post office to send off some parcels for New Contrast. The rest of the day was admin, some editing work and tons of coffee, because last night wasn’t exactly blissfully restful. I had a nightmare about being robbed. And no matter how horrible it is, I had to admit to myself today that every time I leave the house, I expect the alarm to go off, and even though it would be really stupid of anyone to steal my one-of-a-kind car, every time I park it somewhere outside the garage, I also expect it to disappear before I return. Permanent high vigilance and anxiety levels. It’s exhausting. 

Yet, our troubled city is no longer the epicenter of the pandemic in South Africa, nor the murder capital of the country. Dubious crowns that had been passed on to other places. It’s impossible to celebrate such facts when one knows that others have to deal with these terrible titles. If only … But that is not how the world works.

My love treated me to a dinner of tapas from Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia today. I had to pick up the box he ordered at the restaurant. It was lovely to drive up there again and admire the view. After sanitising and list-checking, the restaurant staff walk you from chef to chef, each one explaining the little dishes to you and how to finish preparing them at home. It was such a surreal experience. I am getting used to all these new ways of doing things, and yet, there are these moments when I almost have out of body experiences and watch myself from a distance and think, ‘Is this really happening?’ Standing in front of one of the masked chefs who was grating fresh Parmesan onto one of the dishes I was about to take home, I just wanted to sit down comfortably at a table and order the food at leisure, have wine, wait for the individual plates to arrive freshly prepared from the kitchen, and admire the view and relax (it is this last component of the brief vision I had that seems unattainable for now). One day again … Today, I just memorised the chefs’ individual instructions, grabbed my takeaway box, added a ridiculously expensive box of bonbons to the order and was home before six.

It is only when I am alone at home that I feel a semblance of my reality restore itself to itself. Everything else has become surreal.

The end of July. The days are getting longer. There is still light at six in the evening, and I don’t have to wait forever for it to appear when I wake up in the morning. The balmy weather lifts the spirits, too.

And now, the leftover sips of bubbly, a page or two and a warm bed await. Good night.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 30 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

‘Look at us, the first and last Mrs Brink, discussing brooms,’ Estelle, André’s first wife, once said to me when I was staying with her for a few days in her Grahamstown home while doing research at (back then) NELM and she was showing me her fancy new broom in the evening after one of our dinners together. We laughed a lot about that moment in years to come. She loved her home, still the house she and André had shared during their marriage, and her amazing garden. She was a botanist, worked at Rhodes University, and continued assisting with identifying and classifying plants well into her retirement. She and André had remained friends until his death and she was always kind to me. When he passed away, she came to Cape Town to be with me, to mourn the man we both loved together and in our own separate ways. But we hadn’t managed to stay in touch and the last time I heard from her was about two years ago when we spoke on the phone.

Today, my friend Erika sent me an article that must have appeared in yesterday’s Die Burger, reporting that Estelle had passed away suddenly on Tuesday, three weeks after moving away from her home into a care facility. She was 84. I do not know what her circumstances were like in the last two years, but I can imagine that, like an old tree with deep, strong roots, she did not take well to transplanting. I can still see her in her favourite chair in her lounge, telling me about the olden days in the early evening light. Or walking in her garden and teaching me about different types of grass. I know she will be missed by all who knew her. May she rest in peace.

It is one of those strange coincidences that the news of Estelle’s death reached me on a day when I spent most of the morning in my own garden, mowing grass, weeding and sweeping old leaves out of the main path. There was a strong scent of lavender in the air and many birds came to investigate the freshly disturbed lawn. It was so relaxing to watch them from the stoep.

The rest of the day was work, all literary stuff, small steps forward on several projects I am involved in.

A quiet day, flooded by sadness, and memories, at sunset.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 29 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

oznorMO

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a mousebird!

Not just any mousebird, or rather not just anywhere: a small flock of mousebirds visited my street today. First time ever that I spotted my favourite bird in my favourite street. And first time ever I managed to take a picture (no matter how inadequate) of one. Still smiling.

Not much else to report otherwise, apart from the morning mousebird walk, a lovely lunchtime chat with Mom and Krystian and work, work, work all around until it was time for dinner. I made a potato salad again today. It will last for a few days. The Cats were delighted with their chicken kebabs leftovers.

I was awake for a lot of the night last night, so fading fast tonight and hoping for some decent sleep again. Maybe.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 28 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

752

To all of you who have been wondering: the frogs are fine. They have both survived my pool ministrations. And a creature has moved into my bedroom wall, and another one lives under my study’s floor. More szczureks? Maybe … The Cats and I are certainly never alone. (It might also be that I am beginning to hear things …)

I don’t want to be reading manuscripts during this time because the odds are stacked completely against them, but I understand that authors need answers, so I am pulling up my sleeves and returning to the manuscript piles. This morning was thus spent reading, and trying not to dream.

I had too much coffee and forgot to eat my breakfast. I only remembered when my stomach started making strange noises while I was driving to town to pick up some books from the Protea Bookshop and the Book Lounge. On the way back, I stopped at Frankie Fenner to buy something for a braai.

The rest of the day was spent at the computer. At the end of it all, it was wonderful to light the fire and just wait for the sun to set. I had my wine out of a wine glass, but I just love the story of restaurants apparently offering their red, white and pink tea menus to customers and serving ‘tea’ in tea cups. I understand that there is an alcohol problem in the Cape, and beyond – I am Polish after all! – but there are ways of enjoying alcohol responsibly, and there are ways of making sure that there is enough joy in people’s lives so that they don’t have to drown their sorrows in pink tea. Instead of banning tea, how about making sure that no one wants to forget their miserable lives by drinking it …?

Last night’s numbers were quite disturbing again, fewer cases, but only because of fewer tests conducted; and the death toll close to three hundred. Over seven thousand people all together. And that’s only the official number. What about those who don’t get counted as Covid-19-related deaths, but clearly are? Tonight’s numbers different again, less official deaths, but hundred and ninety are so many people – and what about their families and friends …

Every day, I repeat to myself: be careful, wear your mask and visor, sanitise everything you can, wash hands, think and think again. Be rather paranoid than sick. And there are moments when I think that I might get through it all unharmed, last long enough for a vaccine to arrive or a Covid-19-proof cure to be mastered by the medics taking care of our lives … Sometimes, I think that maybe I have already had it, with no symptoms and no lasting effects whatsoever. Although, can anyone who has lived through this collective trauma claim that they have suffered no lasting effects of this pandemic-lockdown-madness? And there are moments when I forget that all if this is happening – for a few blissful seconds, I don’t think about death …

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 27 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

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An ordinary Monday. Not the best of nights, and this evening, my cheeks are sore again, but the day itself went well, with most tasks set also accomplished, at least the urgent ones. Highlight of the day: a visit to the art shop. I needed materials for a project and had the most wonderful time choosing the paper and colours. A new challenge. And a small drawing came to me again (but still on old paper, with my usual pencils).

‘Don’t get it,’ warned Alan Winde on the radio this morning, when asked about what he had to say about being ill with Covid-19. Someone I haven’t heard from for many months wrote to me today, saying that she’d also been infected. I know most people survive and are well. But … Fortunately, as far as I can judge, the numbers in the Western Cape are stable to falling, and our province might have the worst behind it. At least in terms of infections. The impact on livelihoods will continue haunting us for a very long time.

Every day, people ring my bell, asking for food. When I direct them to the place where they will be assisted and given food for free in our neighbourhood, they always have a story why they can’t go there and why they need my help. It is hard to know whom to believe. Impossible to explain why I will never open the gate to an unannounced stranger ever again.

My own worries pale in comparison, but they also exist. I keep forging ahead, believing in my dreams, but the reality out there does not allow one to be too optimistic. I read, write, review, publish and dream books for a living, and I continue supporting books and authors on all possible fronts, but right now it feels like an impossible quest. And then I get inquiries from people who want me to publish their books, but they haven’t even read a single thing I have written or published – they just assume that I could be a means to an end, I suppose. It saddens me. Anyway. I still can feed myself and my family, so I shouldn’t complain. And apart from anything else, I love what I do. That in itself is a huge gift. I just need to learn how to say ‘no’. And to say it gently. Because being cruel always comes back to haunt one.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD