Operation Oysterhood: 14 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


The sky reflecting in a puddle of water on the Rondebosch Common.

Fourteen degrees in the house. I worked all morning in bed. I got up only because I wanted to skype with Mom and Krystian around lunchtime and knew that I would be without power from mid-afternoon.

Last night, I fell asleep watching a YouTube video on my laptop. YouTube continued entertaining me for nearly the entire night with random clips until about five a.m., when I woke up, put the computer off, and slept again. I was too scared to check the browser’s history to see what my poor subconscious mind had to absorb at the mercy of YouTube’s random choices during the night …

Today, my dear friends, Erika and Kobus, are celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary. How wonderful is that! Whenever I think of what marriage could be about – love, understanding, friendship, companionship, raising a family not only with unconditional love but also with true dedication, looking at the future always through a common lens, believing in each other no matter what, talking to each other even through adversity and disagreement – I know that it is possible, because here they are, three decades later, with so much that they can be proud of and delight in as partners, parents and individuals. That is quite something, and it is a rare something in this world.

(In comparison, my first marriage also began on 14 July, sixteen years ago, but did not even survive past its first anniversary …)

Exciting day at Karavan Press. The cover reveal of Lester Walbrugh’s upcoming short story collection, Let It Fall Where It Will.

Let It Fall Where It Will by Lester Walbrugh

Lester took the haunting photograph. The car in the image has an incredible story that I hope Lester will share when the book is out. Stephen Symons designed the cover. We have been trying out different images and covers for months now, the lockdown slowing everything down, but when this one came along, we just knew it was it.

To continue publishing as a tiny independent press right now feels a bit like living in denial. It is impossible to get a sense of how sustainable it will be. But whenever I recall the literary thrill I experience every time I read one of Lester’s stories and think of what they will mean to other readers, I don’t care what the market looks like and whether publishing is financially viable – there are stories that need to be in the world, no matter what the odds. Sharing books like this one with readers is the reason I founded Karavan Press.

The moment loadshedding started this afternoon, I left the house to walk around the Rondebosch Common. Then I worked a bit outside to clean up some of the post-storm mess in my garden. Computer work, mainly admin, continued until it was time for chicken soup and starting a fire for the evening.

Day one hundred and ten of lockdown. Close to three hundred thousand confirmed cases, well over four thousand deaths. Conservative estimate: let’s say that each person, on average, is mourned by about a hundred people (family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues) – that is roughly four hundred thousand people in mourning right now, just because of Covid-19. Collective trauma. Please be kind to others.

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


Operation Oysterhood: 13 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


The tobacco ban never made sense to me in the context of the pandemic. In general, yes – smoking is really bad for you, long-term, we all know that (what I did not know were the shocking costs of medical care for smokers – forget the tax revenue from tobacco, it does not nearly cover the costs of medical care for smokers, which has to be mostly financed by tax payers in general). Yet, it takes a while for the benefits of non-smoking to kick in. No instant miracles, so a ban during lockdown seemed purely opportunistic. With the initial booze ban, the effects on the healthcare system, however, were immediate. And the infection numbers being what they are, I don’t know why anyone was surprised by the renewal of the booze ban last night. It did not catch me unawares. But I did listen to the speech with ever-increasing worry. Nothing is changing for me, but as I watch the pandemic unfold, my heart grows sorer every day. And in the international media the news from South African must have been quite bad because even my father phoned to inquire whether I was okay! We are not often in touch, so I dread to think what is being reported about SA in Austria. He did say, though, that the situation in Austria is also escalating again.

If only we had all listened to the experts from the start: stayed at home, minimised exposure, worn our masks, washed our hands and practised extreme caution when interacting with others for work purposes. But so many chose to ignore the safety precautions, not because they had no choice (having no choice I can understand), but because they couldn’t have cared less. People are getting seriously ill. People are dying. And yet, so many of us are experts at denial. And utter selfishness.

I don’t know how our house and its inhabitants survived the night, but we did. The wind was merciless and at times frightening like hardly ever before. In the morning, Glinka came to comfort me.


We read, drank coffee, listened to the storm and procrastinated a bit before it was time to get up, go shopping for a few essentials that don’t keep very long (milk, fresh veggies, meat), cook and sit down to work for the rest of the day.

My back hurts.


Dinner was a simple affair – some of it came from the goodies bag of homemade delights I received from one of the Witches during my last and only visit (during lockdown) in Noordhoek (I miss you!).

A long day. A warm bed is waiting.

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


Operation Oysterhood: 12 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

Another lazy morning. I didn’t even have the energy to get up and watch the rugby and felt strangely guilty about it. If anything, the lockdown has taught us that we really need to appreciate the little and big pleasures in life because there is no way of knowing how long they or we will last …

Last night, I introduced Mozart to his new nest and he immediately settled in it. Cat love at first feel (he has no sight). I was thrilled. Even more so when I discovered him still deeply asleep in his new nest this morning. The joys of a cat mother.

I dared to open the dream manuscript this morning. I shouldn’t be reading it because I don’t know whether there is anything I can do about it, and yet … Ooooh, it has so much potential. I can already feel what I would do with it if I were allowed to edit it … One can read, dream. And be pragmatic – later.


I stayed in bed with books until lunchtime. Stellenbosch was on my linguistic route around the world in eighty days today. Another homecoming. I lived there for a few weeks when I first came to do research in South Africa.

And then it was time to devote some attention to pure pampering. Melissa A. Volker, the author and beautician par excellence, has a DIY facial at her Sunrise Beauty Studio. The package was delivered to my door quite a while ago, but the last two weeks or so have been so busy and tense that I just did not know how to fit in a facial and enjoy it fully. Well! I am so glad that I waited. Today was the day. I had time, inclination, and my skin was starving for TLC. The instructions were easy to follow. Everything smelled like heaven (and it is so reassuring to be able to smell things nowadays) and I just had the best forty-five minutes of me-time. When you go to Melissa’s studio, which is closed for the time being, the levels of pampering and attention you receive are phenomenal. My skin misses her magic touch. But since it is not safe for her to return to full-time work yet, this DIY facial is a great way to pamper oneself. I loved every second of it, and I love the way my skin feels its best now, even if nothing else does. Thank you, Melissa!


After the facial, my energy levels were high and loadshedding was still a while away, so I just made myself a quick pasta  for lunch, got to work and managed quite a lot before it was time to switch off the desktop computer, hang out the laundry (the washing machine finished just in time), witness all the power disappearing, go for a walk in the late afternoon sun, do some gardening, prepare the bin for tomorrow’s collection and then sit on the stoep with a nice Hoghouse beer, thinking of great friends and working on my laptop (a little).

On my walk, I got myself today’s Rapport. Erika told me that a friend from McGregor spotted an announcement of our book in today’s edition. I haven’t been excited like this about my own work for quite a while now. It wasn’t as surreal as spotting one’s book in the wild for the first time, but wonderful nevertheless. It exists somewhere – my memoir, in Afrikaans. Translated by one of the most important women in my life. And a Sunday newspaper is writing about it. This is sheer literary delight.


Another fire, the rest of the three-day-old red wine with dinner and a quiet Sunday evening chez moi awaits.

Yet, when I think of the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, my heart stops. I know we have been dealing with similar infections numbers in the Western Cape for a long time now, but we seemed to have been well-better?-prepared in comparison and were ready to deal with the onslaught. I fear for the other provinces. The President is supposed to speak tonight. I wonder what he is going to tell us now … It is impossible to keep the faith.

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


Operation Oysterhood: 11 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


An early, but lazy start to the day. Coffee, books, electric blanket until nine a.m. when the loadshedding began. I was ready and this time it was right on the hour when it was supposed to happen.


I missed most of the exciting Crusaders vs. Blues game because of it, but the tense ending was great to watch once the power was back on.


More coffee, more books, more electric blanket. I finished reading Malose Langa’s Becoming Men: Black Masculinities in a South African Township. A sobering read. Not much that one would not have been able to imagine or feel intuitively, but difficult to read anyway. Langa captures the insecurities and anxieties that drive many boys towards behaviours that are toxic. He presents the horrific odds that the kids have against them. But he also reveals that simply offering spaces for listening and discussion can make a huge – sometimes life-saving – difference (I had the impression that the fact that these particular boys had taken part in Langa’s study and had him as a sounding board in their lives for many years probably saved or drastically changed a few of these lives). But: how much is destroyed through anxiety-fuelled physical and emotional violence and how often the lack of financial means kills young dreams are staggering. And yet, there are stories of perseverance and hope and professional and personal success. An important read.


Eventually, it was time to get up and do some work. I also spoke to Mom and showed her a petshop-bought cat nest I got for Mozart. He has been sleeping in the house for a while now and I just wanted to make his life more cosy. The Ladies sleep on the bed with me. But he usually does his own thing. I just hope that he will warm to the gift. I will try to photograph him in the nest if he makes it his own. For now, I can only present Glinka turning my lap into her nest.


Working with Glinka.

While eating lunch, I watched some of the news channels on TV. They are still debating whether to wear or not to wear the bloody masks! Really? Why is this such a problem for so many people? If there is even the slightest chance that they might prevent infection, just wear them. And if not, so what? You have got nothing to lose by wearing a mask, but potentially you can save your own or someone else’s life. It. Is. Just. A. Mask. Just wear it. It’s not a witch’s hat that we are being asked to wear in public.


The situation in the US is shocking on so many different fronts that in a strange – and admittedly, very twisted way – it makes one feel slightly less despairing about our own pandemic response, and the moral and political corruption that goes with it (and at all other times). Yesterday, I heard Mike Wills discuss the up-to-date costs of the Zondo commission on the radio. My jaw dropped. If I think how many houses could be built for that kind of money. Or clinics. Or schools. But that is not the way the world works.

Watching the TV reports on the reopening of economies today, I also despaired. Our global economy is built on consumption. And it will consume everything standing in its way no matter what the consequences, it seems. Not even the pandemic has shaken us enough from this stupor of always wanting more, more, more.


I know that we needed these rains for our dams, but sjoe: I have had enough now. I did not feel like walking a lot today, but I had to photograph the Rondebosch Common after the heavy rainfalls.

And now, there is a fire singing in my bedroom and I still have that bottle of red opened since yesterday, and the bed awaits.

My wild Saturday nights in lockdown.

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


Operation Oysterhood: 9-10 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


It never rains but it pours. It had been raining all day yesterday. Just after six p.m., I was close to finishing proofreading a chapter of a new manuscript on my desktop when the electricity went off. F&%^$#! Loadshedding, I thought. When did I last save my work? Did auto-save do its job? The usual questions ran through my mind until I suddenly realised that I wasn’t sitting in the dark. The light in the room was still on … Huh?

Further investigation revealed: a seriously leaking roof, with a puddle forming in my passage. Tripped circuit breakers. My stove and the top lights were still functioning, but not a single plug in the house, including the one where the alarm system is plugged in (there is a backup battery, but only for a few hours, not an entire night … and an entire night was ahead). There was water running down my walls.

The lockdown had been hard until that moment; there had been a few times when I was in despair, but once I had assessed the latest situation and considered my options, the only thing I was capable of doing was lighting the fire in my bedroom, pouring myself a glass of red wine and panicking. On the edge of utter despair.

What to do? I bet you are saying: phone an electrician. Nah! say I. I phoned my Mom. Just telling her what’d happened was a relief. She then got Krystian to phone me and he talked me through the practical side of the situation. He is an electrician, among his many talents. In the meantime, my love had also phoned, and with their help and through a thorough inspection of the situation, I realised that there was still one plug on the property that was functioning: in the garage. Well …

The main objective was to reconnect the alarm to the grid for the night before an electrician could be phoned in the morning (my previous experiences of getting help after hours had been unsuccessful, to say the least, so I did not want to even go that route of begging and sheer frustration; not last night …).

The garage is a separate building on the property, with meters of ground in between the building and the house. The rain was coming down in buckets. But this house and I have been through a lot over the last fifteen years, so I was ready: extension chords galore. Who cares about getting soaked and masking extension chords with leaves and mud in the rain? (I was scared that if discovered, the chord could be cut and I would be a sitting duck again.) Eventually, I reconnected the alarm, made dinner, had more wine in front of the fire, showered, delighting in the hot water (not knowing whether there would still be warm water in the morning as I had no easy way of checking whether the geyser was still on) and SLEPT. A bit. For the rest of the night, Harry kept me company.

First thing in the morning, I searched for more extension chords and reconnected my desktop computer and the modem, so that I could get work-in-progress onto my laptop, write an automatic reply message on my email account, inform a few people I am working with on different projects about my situation and then shut down everything in that room to use the chord to reconnect the fridge in the kitchen. It had been off all night long.

On the phone, my usual electrician said Monday, earliest. He couldn’t recommend anyone else. BUT the good old Yellow Pages could. An electrician in the neighbourhood! Yes, they would make a plan to fit me in later in the day. I made another fire and got some work done and then just camped out in front of the fireplace waiting for the phone to ring.


An then my love phoned to warn me about loadshedding … The real deal this time. I looked up, rolled my eyes and asked, ‘Really?’

I phoned Mom. And Krystian. It helped to talk while waiting for the electrician to arrive.

Just before loadshedding was supposed to begin, two masked, super-friendly gentlemen arrived on my doorstep and got to work: within minutes, they restored power to the whole house, secured the grid from the leak, showed me what to do to keep safe and on their way out, discovering in the course of our conversation that my garage door battery wasn’t working during loadshedding anymore, replaced that too. Five minutes before the power was supposed to go off! I would have hugged them if we hadn’t just danced around one another, physical distancing in masks to protect ourselves. They wished me a safe, good weekend. I was nearly making marriage proposals, but I bet these two are already taken.

Back inside the house, I settled in front of the fire and waited. And waited …

I am not sure what is worse, loadshedding when you are all prepared and ready, or no loadshedding after all when you are all prepared and ready for it. I think the latter.

After half an hour of pointless waiting for the lights to go off again, there was only one thing left for me to do: remove the network of extension chords from all around the house and switch on the electric blanket in my bed.

675Current mood. 

I have been in bed with The Cats ever since, reading books and watching silly YouTube videos on my laptop. The fire is still going strong. The rain is falling. The alarm is on. There are new towels in the passage just in case of further roof leaking. And there is red wine. I am emotionally drained.

Yes, I saw the latest infection numbers.

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


P.S. A dear friend just texted to inquire whether I was all right. She was worried why I hadn’t written the Oysterhood post yesterday. I adore my Friends. With people like this in my life, I can even face faux-loadshedding.

Operation Oysterhood: 8 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


In her eco-romance thrillers, Melissa A. Volker has the protagonists represent different views on a particular environmental issue (fracking in A Fractured Land and wind energy in Shadow Flicker, the first book Karavan Press ever published – which still feels as miraculous as it did last year!), and yet fall in love and have to resolve their differences in ways that are respectful, towards each other and the environment. Love always wins in the end. To launch the two novels last year (the US edition of A Fractured Land appeared a year before and we published both books in SA simultaneously), I had a hundred bookmarks printed with the book covers and the Karavan Press logo represented on either side. For obvious reasons, the one I kept for myself, is my favourite bookmark and I only use it for very special books (right now: Around the World in 80 Words). Today, instead of a book, the bookmark spread all the necessary romance love that was needed to keep the peace between the two ladies on my bed. We spent the whole morning like that, reading in bed. No fighting, just love and warmth of our togetherness. When you read Melissa’s novels that is what you get in the end as well: love and warmth. And she is well into her third one and I can’t wait to see where it will take us.

Apart from the lovely morning with cats, books and coffee in bed, and the walk around Rondebosch Common that followed, today was one of those days when I didn’t really have time to sit down and relax (although I did have a heartwarming phone conversation about heart matters with my dear friend Erika) and was working all the time, yet nothing truly tangible resulted from all the sweat and toil. Although I could list all the amazing things that are in progress, nothing seems finalised or finished yet, and all feels uncertain. But we are getting there, and days like today are also necessary in order to get things done.

The two pieces online that I found extremely valuable reading since yesterday were Koleka Putuma’s “I Would Rather Breathe than Think Outside the Box” and “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate“.

“I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy.”

— Koleka Putuma

That term “forced normalcy” is exactly what has been troubling me all along during the lockdown, but I could not capture it in two words. If you ever struggled to understand why poetry/poets/creatives are necessary … there you have it. Months of agony perfectly summarised. In two words. Thank you.

“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

Harper’s Magazine

I find the attempts at silencing EVERYWHERE so extremely debilitating. Even worse, perhaps, is the refusal to listen and engage with the ideas of someone’s arguments. Instead of clarifying, finding common definitions and grounds, many just fire away and hope that by shouting the loudest, they will get what they want.

Kindness, cooperation, empathy, middle ground, togetherness … Suddenly, they all feel like obsolete ideas. Just the shouting and intolerance get louder and louder.

Anyway …

Alan Winde tested positive for Covid-19. This made me terribly sad and anxious.

And I still don’t know what to think of Takealot selling coffins online, and other outlets even offering a DIY coffin, IKEA-style. I have always been very good about assembling IKEA furniture, and at R2 600, a DIY coffin is a bargain. I also have an attic where it could easily wait for me, hopefully for many, many years to come … At least my loved ones wouldn’t have to spend a fortune on cremating me. BUT: coffins being sold ONLINE???

Do you think that Takealot is sending out coffins for reviewing?

Takealot coffin

The day ended with a braai, the last one before the storm. Mozart catssisted. Note the levels of sexiness involved (winter socks and slippers) … And I can’t even blame it on the lockdown.


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



Calm before the storm …

Operation Oysterhood: 7 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


I worked, walked, saw a snake and froze at my computer. Tuesday in a nutshell.

An early wake-up, but I slept again and resurfaced into the day as occupied territory: Salieri on my chest, Glinka on my legs. I bribed them with breakfast to be able to get my coffee.

On my way out to walk around the Rondebosch Common, I saw my lovely neighbour: another of his acquaintances has just died of Covid-19, one other survived the infection. He says it is impossible for him to be creative right now (he is a sculptor). I can’t blame him. His studio is next to my study on the opposite side of the boundary wall dividing our properties. In those distant days, when I could still work through the nights and he was preparing for yet another exhibition, I liked hearing the sounds coming from his workshop and, he used to say, the light from my window made him feel less alone. We used to discuss creativity and inspiration. Nowadays, we mostly speak about surviving, and wine.

The bounty of mushrooms on the Rondebosch Common made me think of my parents, getting up really early in autumn to go searching (with flashlights!) for edible mushrooms (they are fanatics) before they had to go to work. Mushroom collecting is a national sport in Poland.

Flowers are out after the rains and I spotted a Cattle Egret on the Common, and was all relaxed and happy when I bumped into this lucky charm of the wilds:

The first time I encountered a scorpion in the wild, people never believed me how huge it was. But I had no camera to prove back then that I’d had every right to be freaked out of my wits by the scary creature. Because this wasn’t my first meeting with a really long and impressive snake on the Common, I was prepared and had my phone on me.

The snake made me think of a cover draft that a designer, an author and I are working on for a book right now. One of the ideas is to have a symbolic snake on the cover. It will probably not happen, but I saw the live snake as a good omen for the cover and the book.

And the latest drafts for Lester Walbrugh’s book cover came through today – very exciting (there might be a winner among them) – and Debbie Minné dropped off her original artworks for the cover of Karen Jennings’s novel. I won’t reveal anything yet, just a little teaser …

The artworks are exquisite. I will have them framed when the cover work is done.

A day of cover design then, and manuscript work and emails and admin and positive signs of hope and renewal for Karavan Press. May this warm energy around the press last. I fear that we are heading towards stormy waters. Although many readers are turning to books for solace, guidance, escape, entertainment, joy, and, and, and right now, I have the impression that not many books are actually being bought. The reasons are obvious. How the book market will survive, I have no idea.

Further sad literary news this morning: two Bargain Books branches had to close down for a while because of Covid-19 cases. And a co-member of a board I am on also tested positive. All of us know people who had contracted the virus, or worse, by name now. It feels like the world is shrinking day by day.

It was shocking to read today that Sweden did not register any significant economic gains from not imposing the lockdown. It seems that their economy is just as bad off as the neighbouring countries’ that had a much stricter approach to lockdown regulations. But Sweden’s death toll is horrendous in comparison. All those people died, and it did not help the economy at all. We don’t learn from history. This effect should have been predicted just by examining the ‘Spanish’ flu of 1918. In the book I read about it, In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa, the state of affairs that the survivors described once the flu had reached local shores was in effect a lockdown: towns affected becoming ghost towns and economic dead zones without an artificial lockdown being imposed. People were too sick and too many were dying to carry on as usual … A natural lockdown followed anyway. Pandemics and economies haven’t found a profitable way of co-existing. What we need to learn is that human lives are more important than the wealth of the 1%.

Jair Bolsonaro testing positive is some twisted sense of justice in the world. I don’t wish anyone to suffer from Covid-19, and yet … and yet …

Thank goodness for Sarah Cooper aka Tangerine Lone Ranger: How to mask

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


Operation Oysterhood: 6 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


Salieri sure knows how to strike a pose. Years ago, when she decided to run for matriarch of the household, no one even thought of contesting her claim. We have been in steadfast paws every since.

I had some help sleeping last night, and it was great to just drift off and wake up eight hours later, rested. The morning was all milky darkness outside; I love fog and the way it gathers on one’s eyelashes. Monday, again: bin, orchids, stoep plants, pool cleaning, etc. The usual.

There was a quiet moment during the day right after the bin collection (perfectly on time today!) when I settled back in bed with my coffee and read for a while. Today, I reached Austria in my Around the World in 80 Words travels, Harry was unsuccessful with his attempt at flirting with the FBI agent, and the boys of Alex were still at the beginning of their journey toward adulthood in Becoming Men. Then the working day took over. I managed twenty minutes in the sun at lunchtime (shared my soup with Mozart again), and had two short Skype conversation with lovely friends (one is writing a book I am very excited about and we chat about it every once in a while). Otherwise: nose in my keyboard, juggling several literary projects all day long. I finished at nine and am exhausted. But in a good way. I had excellent catssistance throughout the day, of course.


It is raining again, but the truly heavy rains should arrive on Thursday and continue throughout Friday. I was so cold at my desktop computer today that I will have to reorganise my work in such a way that I can sit next to the fire with my laptop when the even colder front arrives. Like most of Cape Town, I am happy about the rains, of course, as our dams are filling up. (Dealing with Covid-19 is bad enough; a pandemic and a drought would be horrifying to contemplate.)

Our NICD update is not out yet, but earlier in the day, the Western Cape posted a significant increase in daily infections again. We might have flattened the curve, but maybe we are not flattening the peak after all … :(

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



Happy International Kissing Day (in lockdown).

Operation Oysterhood: 5 July

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

— @HaggardHawks


It is difficult to take a reasonable selfie when you wake up with a cat on your back. After yesterday’s scuffle, Glinka decided to stake a claim early this morning. Or she might have wanted to prevent me from seeing the Kanye West news too early … She knows that there is just so much that a fragile soul can take.

In 2020, anything is possible though, so … President West, East, South or North. I will believe anything by now.

I am such a dinosaur that I had to look him up. I’d heard the name, of course, but there was very little I could attach to it apart from another famous name to which I could also attach nothing apart from insane wealth and influence – the kind that had no influence whatsoever on my little life. I missed that boat. Or that boat missed me. The first thing Mr Google revealed about Mr West was that he apologises a lot and seems to land himself repeatedly in situations that render apologies necessary. Oh well, at least he knows how to say ‘I am sorry.’ That’s already way ahead of the Tangerine Troll. And a psychotic break is nothing in comparison to permanent psychopathy. I am still considering whether I should educate myself about the music … Although I might be a lost cause to this particular campaign, too – the first video that came up on Google when I typed in ‘kanye west music video’ was “Follow God”. I already do, but I don’t think that Mr West had @TheTweetOfGod in mind …


Once Glinka allowed me to get up and make myself a cup of coffee, I sat in bed and thought about how small my world has become. And after reading about the billions and the baptisms and the apologies and and the psychotic breaks and the support from Mars (sigh!), I was relieved that I could just sit quietly in my own warm bed, have coffee and travel around the literary world in words on a rainy Sunday morning.

Poland’s contribution to the etymological journey had a heretic at the centre of the story. I can live with that! And because the real world outside looked like this …


… I decided to listen to the rain and stay in bed and read for as long as I wanted to. Harry kept me company for some of the time, but Salieri and I decided to move on to our latest acquisition: Becoming Men – Black Masculinities in a South African Township.


At Exclusive Books the other day, when the vet asked me what I was buying and I showed him the cover, he was surprised. I told him that I found it important to understand this topic in general, but specifically in the South African context. He just nodded. Today, after reading the first two chapters, Salieri decided that, despite her best efforts, she will never understand men, and that the feline matriarchy of our household was the best idea we’ve ever had. Agreed.


The afternoon was devoted to some work, a walk, a G&T and then more work after dinner.

Last night, again a gap around three a.m. – that is when I saw the latest infection numbers: nearly eleven thousand in one day. I also saw a Twitter thread and a video explaining Simpson’s Paradox. I had to watch the video again in the morning to understand it, but eventually it made perfect sense. Numbers, like words, know how to reveal and conceal things – both are always open to interpretation. What counts is the integrity of the writer and the reader dealing with them. And kindness. In the case of the Covid-19 numbers, we need hope. Tons of hope.

Today’s figures: nearly nine thousand new infections and one hundred and seventy-three deaths!

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home. Right now, it is the easiest way to save a life – yours or someone else’s. Just imagine: an entire life.

Each one of us also has the potential to kill just by breathing right now. Please, please wear masks and …

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day One Hundred

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

— @HaggardHawks


In my late teens, someone suggested that I could become a successful diplomat. I thought about it seriously for a moment, but thankfully never pursued that path. I think I would have been good at it, but not for long. Personal and professional politics broke me in my late thirties. The politics of diplomacy would have probably managed it a decade earlier. By choosing the path of the writer, I gained about a decade of wholeness. That’s not a bad life deal, me thinks.

This morning, I was asked to be a peace negotiator while being myself the contested territory. And all I wanted was a slice of cheesecake for breakfast …

A story in seven pictures.

Glinka and I settle in bed, have the cheesecake ready and are about to dig in when Salieri arrives wanting a piece of her human. I grab the nearest book and like a tangerine troll erect a wall between the puffing Glinka and the hissing Salieri. The wait for them to settle down begins.

After a while, I gradually remove the book wall (I am not a tangerine troll!), repeating like I always do: ‘Everyone here is welcome and there is enough love for everyone.’ (I am never believed.)

And then, just as I am about to relax, Salieri starts cleaning her nails, and her movement upsets Glinka so much that she runs off, hissing and puffing all the way to the other end of the bed. Salieri gets all of me; I get the cheesecake.

But! Glinka does not give up easily. She knows her rights and she knows that a piece of me is her territory and hers only.

A few minutes after the cheesecake disappeared, she appeared again and wanted to know all about the book I was reading. So I told her.


I finished Lynn M. Thomas’s Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners today. It is a fascinating study of these products, but also of our relationship with skin – surface, appearance – and beauty in general. For most of my life, I have had a difficult relationship with my skin for all kind of purely biological, inherited reasons. In the last four years, my relationship to my skin has changed drastically because of an a medical condition I struggle to deal with as it has completely redefined the way I feel about my body. And in the last few days, I have been feeling quite unwell again because of it. Stress-related, I assume. So reading this book was strangely healing – comprehending the complexities of a difficult and uncomfortable topic usually does that to one.

In the conclusion of her excellent book, Thomas writes: “Understanding practices that have been shaped by histories of subjection requires humility and empathy. It requires apprehending the world in ways that are more generous and more nuanced.” Beneath the Surface offers this kind of space for discussion and teaches us all about the shocking truth of how much illusion, power and greed can be found in a beautifully scented jar of toxic lotion.


Culinary highlight of the day: Kyoto Garden Japanese Restaurant deliver their fantastic food to one’s door.

And there was a walk, Skype meeting with Mom and Krystian over lunch, some live rugby and live British Premier League, a manuscript, a full moon.

I didn’t think of lighting a fire before I suddenly found myself in front of the fireplace tonight, full of longing. Not so much for the warmth as for the light, the soothing sound. The perfect writing companion. And the perfect bedtime storyteller. Glinka is already sleeping on her blanket in the armchair in front of the fire; Salieri is purring softly on the bed. We might all have an early night. But first: a drink with Harry.

If you were expecting to read something truly profound for Day One Hundred, I am sorry to disappoint. My pandemic brain is in weekend mode despite all attempts at trying to force it to act otherwise.

Yesterday, there was a death in my extended South African family. I heard the news this morning. Not Covid-19-related, but because of the lockdown, family members abroad not only have to deal with their loss, but with the logistics of possibly not being able to be back in the country in this time of mourning when one so desperately needs loved ones around one to cope.

A hundred days of lockdown. No end in sight.

We gaze at the moon. We listen to fires. All this longing, and fear.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home.

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