Operation Oysterhood: Day Ten

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



Even the standards that I didn’t have are slipping. I hardly got out of bed. I didn’t get out of my PJs. I did, however, brush my teeth.

One gets used to it. I know. One can get used to almost anything. And one can survive a lot. And I am one of the very lucky ones. I’ve survived a lot. Not war, or famine, or fire. But a lot. Sometimes I wonder how come that I am still standing, smiling (most of the time). My cheeks are not too sore, so stress level are nearly imperceptible, and I’ve actually had a very good day. Lazy, slow, full of being. But I thought a lot about how we adjust, get used to anything, survive, keep moving. Or keep still.

It rained in the morning. And for most of the day the sky threatened to seep some more, but without much success. ‘Not even the rain’ … could get out of bed.

Salieri and I started reading an uplifting book. Written just before the present crisis, so no reflection on what is happening to us NOW, but still applicable in a more general way, especially when, like me, you want to see the positive side in most things.

After a painkiller-induced sleep and endless cups of coffee, I did not feel like much food. But I did make an effort with the first meal of the day: fresh tomatoes from my latest home delivery and divine smoked duck prosciutto from the Richard Bosman delivery in the beginning of the lockdown. Then the culinary standards started slipping, too.


But there was a glass of wine in the late afternoon, enjoyed in Mozart’s company and in the presence of the last of the sunshine roses.

He hardly ever comes up on the bed any longer, so this was a truly special treat. Highlight of my Sunday.

Natalie Rae’s inspiring outfit for ‘taking out the trash’ nearly got me into my princess dress, but it was too late in the day to make an effort and I decided to prepare my bin for tomorrow’s (or Wednesday’s) collection just as I was.

But I think I will have a shower and change into fresh PJs before getting back to bed and watching the next recorded episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries.

Good night.

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

Operation Oysterhood: Day Nine

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


I have been worried about this since the declaration of the state of disaster: online predators. Not even the real thing, the ruthless psychopath that will target you when you are at your most vulnerable and drop a nuclear bomb in the centre of your life (those too, but they ALWAYS pose a threat). I am specifically thinking of the seemingly benign kind, the ones just looking for a bit of a thrill because, you know, life under lockdown is suddenly too boring for them.

An example. At the beginning of the lockdown, I wrote online that I was anxious (understandably so). Someone who had tried his luck a few times before, but always understood when to back off, suddenly offered his ear (via DM, of course), in case I needed to talk. Still giving him the benefit of the doubt, I politely said thank you, but did not make use of the offer and did not engage further. Two days later, out of the blue, a blatant attempt at flirting followed (via DM again). I shut it down immediately. But if I didn’t? What if I had fallen for the lame compliments and the fake sudden interest in my well-being?

Then the real offer of help: Two days ago, I wrote something online that could have been interpreted as me feeling ill. A woman, on the open timeline, for everyone to see, offered her assistance and her ear if I needed to chat via DM. When I sent her a DM saying thank you and explaining that I was actually fine, she said she was relieved to hear, and that she understood I lived on my own, and she gave me her phone number just in case, wishing me well. And that was that. A genuine offer of assistance, all done in the open. She was fine with me dialling the number she gave me at any moment, obviously knowing that she would not have to hide the fact from anyone around her. No weirdness, no secrecy, no threat.

Many of us are anxious right now, many of us are open about it online; there is nothing wrong with that. There are many kind, beautiful people out there who are willing to interact, exchange, have fun together without ulterior motives. They won’t slide into your DMs with lame excuses, so that they can have a little bit of fun with you at your cost and drop you like a hot potato when they feel like it. They will have no problem with engaging with you openly for all to see. There is no reason not to express interest or delight in what others are doing, but if you really mean it, and if you have nothing to hide, do it openly. If an exchange via private messages is needed, that’s also fine. But if you truly care, keep it appropriate, say what you really mean. Otherwise: fuck off.

I hate to think how many people are signaling distress right now and are going to be targeted by predators who don’t have any scruples. And I understand that there are many lonely, bored people out there. And they might be fine with some online flirting, but there are appropriate and respectful ways of initiating such exchanges.

With that preamble out of the way, let me signal some more distress and not have to worry about some creep initiating inappropriate advances… I warn you, I am protected by lionesses!


Salieri is a wonderful nurse. She spent most of the morning purring on my cramping, sore tummy. We had a terrible night, had to take painkillers sometime after midnight, but did not want to continue with them before breakfast. And breakfast was sweet delight. My freshly delivered strawberries with a little bit of leftover cream and condensed milk in the company of Vincent.


The beautiful spoon was a gift from my love when we travelled together two years ago. We both love museum shops.

I did not get out of bed until around 1pm again. Read most of the time, on paper and online. Eventually, hunger called, so I got up, ate a simple lunch, showered, washed my hair and decided to dry it while doing my garden loop walk. This time the reward was a Smartie after every three rounds. The small packet of Smarties contained seventeen, so fifty-one loops, with four steps up and four steps down at the two ends of the stoep, and a knee bend after each Smartie.

I did some laundry, cleaned up in the kitchen and then contemplated opening a bottle of rosé and a new book, but decided that despite feeling really sorry for myself for most of the day, I actually needed to do some work again.


So I did a gentle edit (Salieri assisting) of a short story left in my care and sent it to the author for comment. In the meantime, I had a small dinner (the rest of the bratwurst, this time ‘brat’ed in the pan) outside on the step with Mozart. I watched the sun setting and the sky doing its colour thing, and Mozart offered me his ears to scratch and rubbed against my legs as he always does when he is pleased to sense me in the garden.

Today, one could watch sleeping lions on Wild Earth.


And the Emily Dickinson Museum is offering virtual tours of Emily’s bedroom. I have been there in person, and nothing will ever be able to replace the experience, but this is not a bad second. The beautiful scarf on her bed, the small desk on which she wrote her poetry…

Emily Dickinson Museum_bedroom tour

I spent some time in this virtual space and felt inspired, calmed, more human.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home. Don’t let the online predators get you!

Operation Oysterhood: Day Eight

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


Mark Hamill liked your tweet

No, I am not bragging. Not. At. All.


I have been a Star Wars fan since my birth; Star Wars and I both arrived on this planet in 1977. And Luke Skywalker has ALWAYS been my favourite character. There might have been a bit of a crush involved at some stage – when I was thirteen or thirty or something – and NOW this happened! It was the first thing that I saw on my phone this morning. Despite mostly having a shitty day, I am still smiling when I see it. Thank you, Mr Hamill. When I was thirteen, I did not understand the difference between actor and role, and I promised myself one day to travel across the galaxy and marry you, or rather Luke Skywalker. In a galaxy far, far away…

The little Twitter like-heart is a happy-enough ending to this story for me. Yay!


On days like today, I should not be driving. Not that I am driving anywhere nowadays. I haven’t been anywhere since 26 March. Topolino is all lonely and sad in the garage. But a few years ago, on a day like today – a day of monstruosity of note – I caused a small accident. No one got hurt, there wasn’t much damage, the other party was super-nice about it, but I knew: no driving on days like these. Actually: nothing on days like this. But, of course, I usually take mountains of painkillers and carry on (no driving though). Today, I decided for the first time ever that I will just do nothing that does not ease my monstrual misery.


So I lay around, had more leftovers for lunch, walked a few garden loops (without counting), swam a lot (great against cramping), read, listened to the radio, watched Wild Earth’s live safari for a while (hyenas, spiders and elephants – a herd with little ones bathing – bliss), and received another food delivery, this time of fresh fruit and veggies from SHOP2YOU. I placed my order on Wednesday and voila, everything arrived fresh and beautiful today.

The sun was soothing, the sky blue, the water balm for the body and soul. A day of being and waiting. I am writing earlier than usual because I will have a very early night tonight, but before I get into bed, I am going to sit on my stoep with a glass of nice wine and watch birds in my garden. I can identify quite a few by now, so this gives me great pleasure.

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

Operation Oysterhood: Day Seven

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



What is it with all this policing? As if the official lockdown did not impose enough regulations on us. Let’s stick to those: STAY AT HOME. That’s all that is required of most of us right now. Keep as healthy and as sane as you can. That’s it. But why all this advice along the lines ‘write this, don’t write that’, ‘post this on social media, don’t post that’, ‘follow this protocol, don’t follow that’, ‘reply to this email along these instructions, and forward to these people’, etc… In one way or another, the present is tough on all of us who are taking the global situation seriously. Staying at home has its own individual challenges, whoever and wherever you are. If baking banana bread is what makes you happy right now, and sharing the success of your efforts on social media gives you a moment of joy, please do. Whatever works. If it doesn’t work for others, they don’t have to look, like, read or reply. (The unfollow button is an option we are all free to exercise.) And if a banana bread picture works for someone, great! Any positive energy we can generate right now is encouraging. And I am saying this while being allergic to bananas, so I really mean it! Processing change via creativity – including baking (see the Toilet Chocolate Cake by Kate Pritchett!), sewing, gardening, and, and, and – is human nature and we are undergoing a seismic global change right now, so let us just indulge in whatever activities make this bearable, banana bread included. And all that exercise. And diary writing. And whatever.

Just brilliant!

Last night, I visited Jenny and Nick in Edinburgh. That was a good dream. But I did not get to meet their new puppy (you can see pictures of the new addition to the family here: Jenny’s and Nick’s adorable puppy on Instagram).

To see my Furry Family, you just have to follow me.


Morning coffee with Glinka.

The skin on my fingers has finally healed and is not peeling off. Three weeks ago, I helped build a fence for a large goat enclosure (a long story) and despite wearing good gloves, ruined my hands, especially the tips of my fingers while working with wire etc. All the constant hand-washing before the lockdown did not help the recovery, but now it is all behind me and my fingertips are all smooth and smiling again.


I am sinking into nearly intolerable laziness. One of my friends said: “This is a blessing, you have been working too hard.” I am not sure, but I do remember working myself into a month-long illness publishing a book last year, and I simply refuse to feel guilty about resting, or “momentary resting”, something I have read about recently in South African Writing in Transition (my review of the book appeared on LitNet today).


I watched TV all morning, read for a while, and, inspired by two Twitter posts, got busy with spine book poetry (see above) and ‘recreating famous paintings with stuff that could be found at home’. In my case, I asked one of the Felines to pose with me and recreated my favourite Egon Schiele: Seated woman with bent knee, and cat

Lunch was braaied bratwurst leftovers. Still a delicious mouthful. Then I had a swim and a reading session in the sun. I am getting a proper suntan for the first time in years and it feels good. Long chat with my Mom on the phone. She is doing great, thank goodness! She left the house today to say hello (from a distance) to the new postman, a young man from the Ukraine, who is as happy living in Austria as she is, he told her. Then it was time for emails and admin again. And I washed the floor in the passage. Dinner, and now, with Glinka on my lap, I am typing this, my way of chronicling our bizarre time, coping, exercising the writing muscles in a gentle way without performance pressure…

There is one rule/command/directive/regulation/law – whatever you want to call it – that I would like to see enforced like no other, now and always: DON’T FUCKING RAISE YOUR HAND AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN! DON’T. AN ABSOLUTE NO TO VIOLENCE OF ANY KIND, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND/OR PHYSICAL. I heard Pippa Hudson talk to representatives of Rape Crisis and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children today on CapeTalk and it broke my heart. I couldn’t help myself and I cried. It’s bad enough to experience lockdown, but to have to survive it in the same space as your abuser…? Rage. Tears. Helplessness. And I am safe. However, from the safety of our homes, we can do something: donate to these institutions which are performing incredible work. Every bit helps.

Please be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Stay at home or seek shelter at a place of safety, if you can. Here is a list of all vital institutions and numbers compiled by Drs and Helen Moffett and Tlaleng Mofokeng: FACING THE MONSTER: DOMESTIC AND CHILD ABUSE DURING LOCKDOWN

Good night. (I hope.)

Review: South African Writing in Transition, edited by Rita Barnard and Andrew van der Vlies

South African Writing in TransitionIt has been a while since I’ve read, edited or contributed to an anthology of theoretical essays on South African literature. But, occasionally, I still have academic longings; therefore, I approached South African Writing in Transition, edited by Rita Barnard and Andrew van der Vlies, with great anticipation, and found the collection most engrossing. The individual contributions focus on a fascinating and relevant selection of primary sources, mostly novels and short stories, reaching as far back as Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi (1930) and incorporating contemporary texts into the diverse readings of the South African literary canon. The work of other South African literary greats – Njabulo S Ndebele, Zakes Mda, Mongane Wally Serote, Nadine Gordimer, Marlene van Niekerk and Ivan Vladislavić among them – is discussed along with an array of new, equally exciting voices, exposing striking continuities and departures.

By its very nature, theoretical writing takes time to compose and publish. South African Writing in Transition is the result of several international conferences which took place between 2012 and 2017 in South Africa and overseas. Most contributors are not based locally, which perhaps limits the scope of the inquiry as a whole, but the collection testifies to South African literature’s continuous appeal to international scholars. Also, the anthology’s topics are pertinent to our present in highly productive and sometimes uncanny ways. As Barnard writes in the introduction to the book: “[I]t is now time to consider the many loops and twists, the stasis and acceleration, the paralysis and hope of postapartheid experience.” We find ourselves in an unprecedented global reality in which the interest in world literature, its contributions and theories, will become more significant than ever, and understanding the South African experience, past and present, socio-historical and literary, as part of it could be of notable value.

Continue reading: LitNet

Operation Oysterhood: Day Six

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



I don’t have a personal Instagram account, but I run the one for Karavan Press. And via that account I follow a few accounts that are not strictly literary, but rather food-related. One of them is the account of Richard Bosman, or “Foodie, charcutier, Jedi knight, frustrated musician, personal chef of Commander J”. A while back, I attended one of Richard’s meat curing courses and was astounded what quality of bacon I could cure myself at home, but now… Unless pigs start roaming the streets of Rosebank like the goats of Llandudno, and my hunting instincts awaken, the chances for self-prepared cured bacon look slim. So, when I saw this post on Richard’s Instagram account on Friday just after the lockdown, I smiled from ear to ear and placed my order immediately. My cured meats and bratwurst were delivered – very professionally, tailored for our times – yesterday. Thank you, Richard and Patrick! You saved this meat-eater’s bacon, that’s for sure!

When he was here in February, my brother decided to give me a new frying pan (his sole comment on the state of my kitchen), and this morning I could fry my newly acquired bacon in my gorgeous new pan. Salieri, watching all of this, was very fussy about her own breakfast, and I ended up sharing both my bacon and the yolk of my egg with her. She doesn’t understand the concept of limited resources and that I won’t be able to share her food with her at crunch time… I can always explain to myself why there is only a sixteen-year-old vodka bottle (a gift for my twenty-seventh … no comment!) and mustard in the fridge; it’s impossible to explain the lack of food to Salieri.

Last night, I had a bizarre dream: I was in my early twenties and still living with my parents, but the dream had me at a party, socialising with Mirka and Roger Federer, and then going with my boyfriend (a complete stranger in reality), doing voice-overs for Star Trek, to his place and feeling super-cool. Dr Freud is turning in his grave.

At this stage, I had given up on the garbage bin. Someone had gone through it yesterday despite lockdown. I’d decided to try my luck next week again.

After my bacon-and-egg breakfast, I made a few attempts to read in bed, but my mind wasn’t obliging. Luckily, my wonderful friend Debbie phoned to discuss the artworks that she will be doing for one of Karavan Press’s titles later this year. She is reading the manuscript and coming up with brilliant ideas. I love her work, so this was exciting to dream about together. One day, when books can be printed again…

Talking to Debbie, I realised that I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet. The fact that I was still in my PJs wasn’t that unusual. But the teeth non-brushing was unacceptable. After years of neglect in other countries, under South African oral hygiene standards, I was finally taught at my dentist’s here how to take care of my teeth and I haven’t had a single issue with my teeth for about a decade. This is not the time to go back to the old bad habits of dental neglect. It was around 1pm, so high time to get going. I brushed my teeth and was ready for the day. I looked at my stepper, then at the sunshine outside, and went for a swim. I am getting high doses of vitamin D nowadays.

It’s the first of the month, so time for flea repellent for The Cats. They all watched me swim (one of their favourite pastimes). Then, one by one, they were subjected to the flea repellent application. The Ladies HATE it with a passion, and they usually take out all their frustrations on poor Mozart, the only one who doesn’t care about the application whatsoever, but because of The Ladies’ puffing and hissing in his direction, eventually, I didn’t have a single friend in the house – the entire property! During lockdown, this was rough.

But lunch was being served in the kitchen, so I was forgiven my flea trespasses.


In the afternoon, I did some ironing, one of my favourite pastimes. The phone rang: my lovely neighbours alerting me to the refuse truck tumbling down the neighbourhood’s streets – yay! At least I did not have to run half-naked in my nighty after them, hair flying, slippers falling off my feet (yes, it has sadly happened before).

Satisfied with some kind of normality returning to my weekly schedule, I touched up a beautiful, moving piece of writing that Sue Brown had sent to me on Monday evening. I asked her whether I could put it up on the Karavan Press website and she kindly agreed. Do yourself a favour and take a few minutes of “being still” to read it:



Twitter highlight of the day: the EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM followed me back!!! Yes, it deserves three exclamation marks. I have loved this account for as long as I can remember. Needless to say I am a huge fan of Ms Dickinson, have visited the Museum in 2011, and hope to return one day… Until then, I am happy to delight in the virtual engagement.

Emily Dickinson Museum

My brother was there when we visited Ms D’s home in 2011. When he visited me in 2018, he left behind three sweet potatoes. Now, I am not fussy about food. I am probably the easiest person to feed. I am only allergic to bananas, and I cannot – CANNOT – eat licorice. Otherwise, I am easy. But, I can do without sweet potato. In the end, after a few months of staring at me, the poor sweet potatoes started sprouting in my kitchen, and I finally decided to plant them a few weeks ago, just before Krystian’s most recent visit. They have turned into this remarkably beautiful treasure in my garden:


Who would have thought?

But: I was somehow disheartened when I found two new sweet potatoes abandoned by Krystian in my kitchen cupboard at the end of February. This time, I decided to eat them. Tonight was the night. I had bratwurst (also part of yesterday’s meat delivery) in my fridge. No charcoal, no firelighters, but some firewood and old candle stumps – a trick I was taught by Bill of Oudrif – they are celebrating their twentieth anniversary of existence today! HAPPY TWENTIETH, dear OUDRIF! To think that we were supposed to spend Easter 2020 together… Sigh!

Anyway, sigh, “I have made a fire!” (all Tom-Hanks-Castaway-style), and braaied bratwurst (now, that’s a mouthful: braaied bratwurst) for dinner, and thought of Oudrif and the day when we will be able to travel and celebrate together again…

Listening to my favourite Austrian radio station tonight, I finally discovered which song the dancing friars () used for their video. Soundtrack for my own attempts sorted.

Glinka has been waiting for me in bed for something like three hours now. A positive day. I got almost nothing of substance done, but at least there won’t be any sweet potatoes begging to be eaten for a year in my kitchen. The small successes of a lockdown.

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

PS Floss and brush your teeth.

Operation Oysterhood: Day Five

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


Erika Viljoen

A day of mixed news.

My own screams woke me up in the middle of the night. Nightmares I don’t remember. I slept again. Woke up early to take out the bin again and wave at the street (no garbage collection yet, the bin is back in). The clouds curdling on the horizon, bees humming like crazy in one of my trees. Away from them, silence.

Coffee. Twitter: the dancing friars ()!, goats, squirrels. We are all trying to survive, not only physically, but especially in our heads. I have two left feet, but I am seriously considering doing a video of myself dancing to that same energising tune. If the friars can do it, so can I! Everything about it would be a challenge, including the video making. But this is the time for reinvention of the self. Maybe.

Reading until my Mom phoned and we had another good, supportive conversation. She is fit and healthy and coping well, but I fear for her. A lot. She has dug up her sewing machine and I have placed an order for two skirts. To be picked up when I see her again. Soon, I hope.

Die vyfde mevrou Brink

Then the great literary news of today: the cover of the Afrikaans translation of my memoir has been finalised. A dream come true. This book could have never felt complete without an Afrikaans translation, and the fact that it was done by my dear, dear friend Erika and will be published by my wonderful publishers, Protea Book House, is sheer perfection.

Grant Wood_American GothicThe cover photograph is by Philip de Vos (among his many amazing achievements is the translation of The Gruffalo into Afrikaans: Die Goorgomgaai – one of the BEST WORDS EVER). The cover image has always reminded me of a very famous painting… Yeah, that one! Can’t help it. The photograph in which André and I look like two poor, but very happy, orphans is one of my favourite ones of all the ones that were ever taken of the two of us, and I am infinitely grateful that it finally found its proper place. The cover design and typography is by Hanli Deysel and this is the fourth book we have worked on together. May there be many more.

After the delightful news, there was only one thing to be done… Toilet cleaning. My eyes hurt after a lot of reading, so I decided to focus on the house today, starting with the bathroom and bedroom. All the cats assisted diligently by staying away from all the hard work…


Can you blame them? But strangely enough, they were very eager to share in my lunch treat today…


After lunch, I was waiting for a Skype chat with my brother, when another of those chain mails popped into my inbox, asking you to send a poem or something to the first person on the list and then do other things with the second name on the list and involve twenty of your friends and and and. I know these are meant well (or are they?), but I just can’t right now. Especially since I hardly know the person who sent the email and they did not even include a poem for me, just the instructions. When I complained about it on Twitter (sorry!), a poet from London responded with similar feelings. So in a way, the chain mail did something good in the end. I connected with someone who has given me enormous poetic pleasure by publishing the book London Undercurrents. And the exchange reminded me of this beautiful quote from the book, so fitting for our times:


Began to sew. Began to write. The pull of community.


A year ago my Mom bought me a 1kg-Lindt chocolate bunny for Easter. When I visited her shortly afterwards, the bunny looked threatening, especially to my fully packed suitcase. With a heavy heart, I had to leave the bunny behind. At Christmas time, when I visited again, we thought that we might manage to eat the bunny, but there was simply too much other food (Polish Christmas in Austria and my Mom CANNOT cook for just a few, she always cooks for an army). Eventually, my brother brought the bunny to Cape Town when he was visiting this February. The bunny did not survive the journey in its original form and was finally butchered. Talking to Krystian on Skype today after lunch, I was munching away on the remaining pieces (it looked like the bum) and still laughing.

These are the before and after photographs:

As you can see, my Mom does not do small measures. But boy! am I glad to have around 0,5kg bunny chocolate left right now. Especially just before Easter. My Mom had the right idea, she just got the year wrong.

After all that chocolate, it was time for another garden loop walk. This time, I marked each loop counterclockwise with a glass pebble and then clockwise again (I only have twenty-seven glass pebbles). Half an hour, fifty-four loops.

Then I listened to story-time on CapeTalk at 15:50 (absolutely delightful!) and sat in the sun with Mozart, continuing with A Poor Season for Whales.

I haven’t noticed before my cuddle with Mozart that my poor pomegranate tree, which has never given me more than one fruit a year, has done it again. We have one small pomegranate!


I cleaned the kitchen before cooking dinner, another simple pasta affair.

Emails, a bit of admin, blog writing, and now time to sleep. Not to scream.

The day has also brought news of two fights, one for justice, one against illness. Both have begun quite a while ago and will continue for a long time to come. Both have to be won, but the strength and courage needed are gigantic. At a time like ours, even bigger. In my own non-religious way, I pray that The Good and Kind prevail.

A poor season for gentle dreaming, and yet: Good night!

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

Operation Oysterhood: Day Four

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



No dreams, but an early wake-up to more worrying news. Maybe I should not be watching eNCA first thing in the morning, yet I am even more concerned if I don’t…

But no time to wallow in worry on a Monday morning. The bin had to be put out (it hasn’t been collected though; I just brought it back in), the stoep plants had to be watered, the orchids always get their weekly bath on a Monday, and it was time to do some laundry. Coffee first, of course. Taking the bin out, I waved up and down the empty street and smiled at Devil’s Peak, all glorious in the morning light. My first twenty seconds outside the property since Thursday. It felt amazing.


I spent the rest of the morning reading in bed and then had a shower and washed my hair. All energised and clean, I sat down to my computer to write two book reviews. In the meantime, I made lunch and hung up laundry. Once the writing was fished I continued with reading in the sun. Today, I did not feel like moving a lot, but the sunbathing was soul-restoring. Apart from showering, there is not much that I can do without the assistance of at least one cat in this house (and even the shower is not always a place they stay away from – today I sprayed the shower cubicle with mould buster and there is something in the spray that makes Salieri go cuckoo; it’s hard to explain, but I think she would be embarrassed to have videos of her reaction to the substance posted on the internet … if mould buster was prohibited during the lockdown, Salieri would have a problem!).

While I was reading on a blanket in the garden, Glinka came for a scratch behind her ear and then settled in my shade for company.

We are really enjoying the latest Michiel Heyns, A Poor Season for Whales. I was supposed to interview Michiel at his book launch tomorrow at the Book Lounge, but… it is A Poor Season for Book Launches, too.

I adore Michiel’s writing and I am so pleased that I was asked to do the interview. I hope it will still happen. One day. It will be a pleasure to at least write about the book if I have the opportunity. When Michiel and I were regular reviewers for the Sunday Independent, I used to read his book reviews every week with awe and I am still hoping that, one day when I grow up, I can write like that.

After all this literary laziness, it was time for emails and updates and more work and dinner. Today’s meals were all simple, but I did make an extra effort with the potato salad which includes a secret ingredient tip given to me by my very dear friend Erika (her Family: Kobus, Roland and Mika – my Family – mean the world to me). The tip was passed on to Erika, as all worthwhile tips are, from her mother.

All in all, a calmer and more successful day than yesterday, but my cheeks are sore again and, even though I had hoped to skype with my cousin in Poland, I need to get into bed and just relax.

After dinner, we all got in front of the TV to watch the President speak. I am Polish by birth, Austrian by citizenship (and the Austrian consulate has been in touch with me to make sure that I was all right, which was very comforting in all kind of ways, but…) and, for the past fifteen years, I have been South African by heart, and when I watched Cyril Ramaphosa address the nation tonight, I felt that he was my President, too. Because South Africa is my home.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that we will overcome.” President Cyril Ramaphosa on 30 March 2020 in his address to the nation

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

Operation Oysterhood: Day Three

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


Keith Tamkei's illustration for Toni's Touch

The woman in the white dress by Keith Tamkei. More about her in a second.

First there was an alarming sound in the middle of the night, like something crashing or breaking. It woke me up; I grabbed my phone and the panic button and proceeded slowly around the house to investigate. Nothing. Silence. I did not dare go outside. I have had two break-ins in the last five years; I don’t think that I need to explain more. Returning to bed, I thought: not now, please. Sleep came back eventually, but I was happy to open my eyes again. Especially since I knew that something was about to happen that hasn’t happened in quite a few years. I am the (co)editor of four short-story anthologies, and back in the day, I used to write my own stories that diverse literary magazines and story collections deemed good enough to publish, but I haven’t written one in just about forever (I am scared to look at the exact date). So, when the call came from the Sunday Times – write us a story about how the coronavirus pandemic will play out – I wasn’t entirely sure whether I still had in me. But it came, almost immediately, first as a feeling, then as an image, and it flowed from there like magic. The story, “Toni’s Touch”, was published today, and the first thing I looked up online in the morning was whether there was a link I could share with readers. It was amazing to see it and to know that it would be available in print, too:

“TONI’S TOUCH” by Karina M. Szczurek

I absolutely love Keith Tamkei’s illustration for the story. He just got it, everything that was important for me to convey poured into one image. If you would like to see more of his work, here is a link to his Instagram handle: @ktamkei

The Lifestyle section of the Sunday Times featured a few more stories by excellent SA writers such as Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Fiona Melrose, Mark Winkler and Fred Khumalo, among others. Stories by the latter two were included in Water: New Short Fiction from Africa (the SSDA anthology of 2015 I co-edited with Nick Mulgrew) and I had the enormous pleasure of working with them on their pieces back then.

It was tempting to rush out and get the printed copy of the newspaper, but I knew that it would not be a responsible thing to do, especially since I had all the essential food items that I need for the moment. But my love has a paper copy of the real thing and sent me pictures.

On a high from knowing that a story of mine was once again in print, I indulged in Glinka’s “Occupy Karina” mission of the morning. I did not have the heart to remove her and just continued lying still while she purred softly on my chest, nightly anxieties dissipating as the sun came up.


But then the calls form the kitchen grew louder. “Karina… Karina… Karina!” I can never say no to coffee in the morning, so Glinka had to move and coffee had to be had.

Luckily, there was water in the coffee machine from the day before, because there was hardly any coming from the taps… We have had some water supply problems in the area for a while, and the drought has taught us all a thing or two, so I did have almost two full buckets of grey water ready for the loo and I immediately harvested the last of the water in the pipes to keep me going until restoration of services.

I have known how to live on very little water since the days my family spent in refugee camps between 1987 and 1989, when early on we were accommodated in a place where we did not have running water for several months. When my Mom phoned this morning (all excited about us being at least on the same time line, if not on the same continent again) and I told her about the water shortage, we had quite a long chat about the “good old refugee days”. I then proceeded to my sponge bath in a bowl of water and returned to bed to read. I decided that my hair could do without a wash for at least another day or two. It’s not like I was going anywhere…

I had to do justice to my new quarantine name, Lazy Chevre, and had breakfast in bed.


My Italian friend, Michela, and I did not manage to speak last night, because I faded away before she was ready, so we had a date for Skype coffee at 11am. I even got dressed and tied my dirt hair into a bun. But then, in the middle of our conversation, I was suddenly overcome by hormonal waves of nauseating coldness. They always come out of the blue, always in the last few days before I am supposed to menstruate, and I know that when they appear, I have about a minute to two to get to safety, because what follows is indescribable pain which leads into fainting oblivion in many cases. I did not coin the word ‘monstrual’ for nothing. Michela has known me since university days, so I did not have to explain much. We ended the call, I got on all fours (safer that way in case I faint), crawled to where the painkillers were, took them, and crawled to the safety of my bed, grabbing my phone on the way. I called my partner to tell him what was happening and to ask him to phone me in twenty to thirty minutes to check up on me. That is the time the painkillers need to kick in. Salieri also knows me, so she was on my cramping belly in a flash, purring love and care until the spasms and the chills and the nausea all passed. The phone rang. I was okay. But then I thought of all the people going crazy being locked up with their families right now and I once again understood how lucky they were after all, how rough the loneliness of living alone in such moments as today was: I could have fainted earlier, I could have hit my head during the fall, I could have never woken up again. These attacks don’t happen every month, but when they do, I am always in danger. The last one was quite a while ago at an amazing lunch party that my dear friend Helen Moffett hosted in Noordhoek. She also knew what to do to keep me safe.

The amazing thing is that when it passes, it is as if nothing had happened. Within half an hour, I just return to normality. But today was different. I felt more vulnerable than usual. And I still felt cold. I made a simple salad for lunch and went to read in the garden in the sun. Mozart came to cuddle. When it was no longer wise to sit in direct sunlight, I moved inside. But the cold in my bones persisted and a gentler version of the cramps returned. I think it’s the residues of shock. Don’t know. I longed for a hot-water bottle, but my old one had a leak and I haven’t replaced it yet, so I returned to a method I’d been taught by a flight attendant, although she’d used a plastic bottle and I used a nice wine bottle and filled it with hot water.


I read until it was time to skype with my other friend in Vienna, Charlotte, who has visited me a few times in Cape Town and promised to do it again as soon as possible, because we haven’t been to Cape Point together yet and it’s on her Cape Town bucket list.

Dinner was a simple soup. I am having a glass of red wine as I write.


It’s still early, but I long for bed. When I am anxious and stressed, I have a terrible habit of sucking on my cheeks from the inside. Sometimes it’s so bad that they hurt like hell at the end of a day. It’s one of these days, so I know I need to take care of myself. May there be no strange sounds in the night (I think it might have been the geyser when the water went out), may my dreams be of foreign places in the light and may tomorrow be easier.

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

PS I have running water again.

Operation Oysterhood: Day Two

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



My “Pratley Putty Standard Setting” went on a mission to the moon. According to the package. I have no reason to doubt it, because my pool is no longer leaking. I feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway.


“I have fixed the leaking pool!”

But before this wonderful discovery, I woke up quite early and, not being able to open my eyes properly, I lay around for a while, listened to the 6am news on eNCA, and fell asleep again. And slept until way past 8.30am, which doesn’t happen often. Salieri was not amused. She is used to earlier breakfast times. During that short morning sleep, I had terrible dreams in which I was screaming at people in a long queue outside of a supermarket not abiding by the rules of social distancing: “You are going to infect us all and we are all going to die!” I don’t ever scream in reality, so this was just as unusual as the long sleep, and perhaps just as necessary.

Coffee. I am predictable that way.

But then: a walk in the garden, in my night-time finery, bathrobe and witch’s hat. As one does. That was when I discovered that my pool was okay again.


The cats were surprised to see a witch in the garden, but they are beginning to understand that it will take a lot to preserve our sanity in these days.

Apart from the wild feline life, some lovely things were spotted in my wild garden. The hibiscus growing on Anya’s (Mozart’s sister) grave is blooming again. As is the lemon tree.

And when I say my garden is wild, I mean wild.

Back to bed and reading. Until just after noon. My eyes have started hurting from all the reading, so I decided to execute an idea I had just before the lockdown, garden loop walking: out the door onto my stoep, down four steps, towards the property’s entrance gate, left, up four steps, back to the stoep, continue on the stoep and start all over again. I knew that I would swim eventually, so I did not bother to get dressed properly, put on my swimming/sunbathing outfit and walking shoes only, and off I went, marking each loop with a leaf found in the garden. About thirty minutes in total.

On my walk, I heard birds and discovered a nest in my garden I did not know existed. There were bees. And – Sally, don’t look now, if you are reading this – the spiders are back. They seem to return in full force every few years. There was also a big rat in the small palm tree, showing the Szczurek (= ‘little rat’ in Polish) that she was not alone!

Lunch was chicken soup leftovers. I hate wasting food in the best of times, but doing it now would be obscene. I shudder to imagine how much food from the reckless stockpiling will end up in the bins…

Despite being an orchid whisperer, I don’t have green fingers. My Mom has, but not me. But I decided to try to plant and nurture two things during this time, something for the cats and for me (catnip & coriander).


That was done after lunch and before swimming, sunbathing, more reading, drinking beer, being forgiving towards my neighbours still hammering away on one side and playing DJ on another. When silence returned, I fell asleep. It might have been the lovely combination of sun and the beer too.


It was finally time for some work. Not much, just some. Earlier in the day, Richard de Nooy challenged us to disclose our quarantine nicknames.

Quarantine nickname

I am not Lazy Chevre for nothing.


I bought the chevre at the Peregrine Farm Stall at the beginning of March. It reminded me of the Elgin Valley and how much I have come to love that place, its people and its wines and all good things, in the last three years.

At dusk, the light was so gorgeous and it was so perfectly wind-still, the longing to go out for a walk around the Rondebosch Common was overwhelming, but the Common, the Mountain, the Sea – they are patient creatures and they will be waiting in all their glory for when it is safe for all of us to go out there and be again. It is just a few weeks. Today, I was also flooded by memories of the refugee camp in Traiskirchen, where we were placed under quarantine in 1987, when my family sought asylum in Austria. A different time, a different world. And yet…

Dinner was a simple affair. Pasta, a glass of Jordan’s “The Long Fuse”, a gift from my love for the lockdown.


I hope to meet on Skype with an Italian friend living in Vienna before sleep tonight. I recently reviewed an academic book of essays in which one of the contributors quoted her and it made me smile. A small world. Smaller than ever perhaps. And yet, it is still all out there, surviving, waiting for a gentler return.

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