Operation Oysterhood: 13 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

Isn’t she a beauty? The first of the flowers are open and I am awed.

I also had a closer look at my mad Olive Thrush, whom I have renamed my ‘Rosebank Glasspecker’. He is still at it, relentlessly fighting off his reflection rival in one of my windows. I cleared most of the branches in front of the window, put up post-it notes all over the glass to break the reflection, but he does not give up. I am not certain he can still see the ‘other’ bird, but he is really worked up by the idea of the rival – imaginary or not. And there he still was this afternoon, huffing and puffing, throwing himself against the glass and pecking away at it as if his life depended on it. If I did not know better, I would say he was trying to get inside …

A busy working day, but without tensions. In the morning, I briefly visited the Book Lounge and that made me feel better about the world. Bookshops do that.

I had every intention to swim today, but the day ran away with me. I did prepare a simple braai for my love after work – and the fire and the company also made me feel better about the world.

I lighted a candle. There was nice wine. Right now, I will take any little joy that comes my way.

I did not know Phumlani Pikoli, but many of the people I know were his friends and they are in pain. It is a time of unbearable loss, impossible to comprehend.

Yesterday: no water. Tonight: no power. (At the worst possible time!) Deep sigh.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 12 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

A mystery about to be revealed …

By tomorrow, I will know the colour of one of my rescue orchids which is going to bloom for the first time in my care.

In the early morning, I met a friend at Kirstenbosch for a walk, but we ended up sitting on the grass near a stream and catching up while her son was fishing for tadpoles. We haven’t seen each other for over a year because of diverse lockdown circumstances. And in a while, we won’t be able to see each other at all, or very seldom: she and her family have decided to emigrate. I know way too many SA families who have either already emigrated in the last year or are about to. I look at my Austrian passport and I hear the word ‘Sauerkraut’ on TV and can’t help asking myself, who am I to think that I know where I belong?

It was wonderful to see her. And deeply distressing to think about the reasons they are leaving. Because I agree with all of them.

The mountains of loss are accumulating. There is no way to process any of this.

Otherwise, a day of manuscript/book proofs pick ups/deliveries and discussions. And a day of having to communicate on a different front: ‘thus far, and no further’. Sometimes I feel that I am too kind, too understanding, too patient and I get punished for it by people taking advantage of my time and expertise. A young writer thinks that he has the right to dump all his frustrations on my doorstep, offend me, and then tell me what is wrong with my dreams. Another writer asks me for assistance on a project and then completely misrepresents everything I have tried to explain and gets me into serious trouble with other people I have professional relationships with. A creative person working on a project I am involved in ignores all communication begging him to deliver his part of the job for months and has no decency to explain or apologise for the impossible delays. But he does send an invoice.

The last twenty-four hours have made me think of something I once heard: “I am like a landmine. I lie there, patiently, sometimes for years … It’s fine, I can take it … But don’t step on me.”

Eventually, pink wine was had in the late afternoon just to take off the edge of the tension and to celebrate the lovely achievement of the day: the first proofs of the beautiful photo sections of a book we will be publishing soon. The book is stunning. One of the pure joy projects of the last year.

I cooked supper at my love’s place, because I have had no water (again) since mid-afternoon. Old municipal pipes, no new solutions. The cooking did not go entirely as planned either, but luckily there was enough salad and cheese to forget about the disastrous main dish. There was also wine.

The part of dinner that was not a disaster.

The latest episode of Last Week Tonight has become available. I am off to watch it. I might have a sponge bath in the five litres of drinking water I got at my love’s place, or wait for a swim in the pool tomorrow morning to ‘clean up’ … Good night.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 11 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

My love served me coffee in bed this morning, friends cooked the most delicious Greek meal for lunch for us, our team won against a tricky opponent, there was pool cleaning (the/a Frog Prince is still hanging around – he seems somehow bigger, so I am not sure he is the same one), some gardening, ironing and skyping with my family, and there will be reading before bed. A real Sunday.

Tomorrow, the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters begins and Rafa is playing. I might not always be available during the week …

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 10 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

There is so much loss that it is impossible not to lose oneself in it, but there is also friendship and love and a will to go on, together, against all odds, no matter what. Tonight, we told grief to hold on, we had some great wines and good food to taste, and we sat around a table with dear friends and knew that we are not alone, and that time heals, and that some day the pain will become bearable.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 9 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

I did not have much hope for this day, I just wanted to get through it somehow. Only the evening was something to be looked forward to.

In the morning, to keep myself on track, I compiled a to-do list and would have been happy if only half the items on it had been crossed out by the end of the working day, but I somehow, miraculously, got through it all and was finished by five-fifty p.m., just in time to change into fresh clothes and drive out to a friend’s house where she and her family prepared a delicious socially distanced dinner on their patio for us. It was wonderful: the company, the stories and the food. We had a really good time and a few great laughs.

Today was the day when I, or rather The Fifth Mrs Brink, became a bargain, selling for R70 at Bargain Books. The lovely news is that there are still readers out there eager to read the book. Thank you.

A prince and a famous rapper passed away today, but I hardly knew anything about them before this moment. I am just thinking about a woman who shared over seven decades of her life with a man, and now, she is alone, probably more than ever in her life.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 8 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

Dreaming of Oudrif …

I woke up and listened to the radio until I could open my eyes properly, got up, made coffee, read. Mid-morning, I took one of my love’s cats to the vet for her monthly checkup – she was not impressed.

Afterwards, I briefly visited a friend who is in a lot of pain as she has to watch the person she loves most suffer through a horrific loss.

The rest of the day was work. In the evening, I met two fabulous women for drinks at Incognito and we spoke about books, writing and death for four hours.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 7 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

A friend came for coffee on my stoep this morning and brought sunflowers – a great symbol for how her company feels: bright, beautiful and happy-making.

My love also visited before going to the office and helped me with some of my work first. Two Skype meetings with authors, a visit to the post office, a few deliveries, some admin work and, in the late afternoon, I was simply exhausted.

I managed to exchange the mattresses on two of the beds in the house and now my own bed has the best available mattress. I have been meaning to do this for quite a while, so it feels like a great achievement to have this accomplished at last.

After work, my love and I went to the opening of TTK Fledglings, a new remarkable Luke Dale Roberts venture: “AN UPLIFTMENT PROGRAM | EMPOWERING PEOPLE TO LEARN TO COOK | SERVING DELICIOUS FOOD | CREATING OPPORTUNITIES | TEACHING HOSPITALITY SKILLS | DONE WITH LOVE”.

Everything was delicious, but the Japanese pancake, the beef carpaccio and the loaded fries were on another level of delectable. Finger-licking-divine.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 6 April

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

— @HaggardHawks

The stay at Oudrif was blissful, the return home filled with sadness.

Throughout my life, I have lost many homes, but until recently there had been one that our family could always return to no matter what else fate had in store for us. It was the place where my paternal grandparents used to live in Kowary, near Jelenia Góra (where I was born). When my grandparents passed away, my Aunt Iwona continued living in the beautiful flat on the top floor of an old tenement with a view of Śnieżka, the highest mountain of the region. She decided to sell the flat a few years ago, but my connection to the place still continues through a dear childhood friend who lives on the ground floor of the building. She wrote to me over Easter to say that her mom, a caring, wise woman who always had a generous smile ready for me when I arrived for a visit, passed away because of Covid-19. And the neighbour living above them, also a strong presence throughout my childhood, succumbed to the disease too. Just before Easter, Poland was reporting around 30 000 new cases and around 500-600 deaths every day.

It is impossible to take in. Shock after shock, tragedy after tragedy, and a strange kind of numbness. My friend sent me pictures of their beautifully decorated Easter table with all the traditional dishes set out for the meal and she wrote of the emptiness the family is feeling, that the reality of their situation refuses to sink in. Grief intensifies on these occasions, I know from my own experience. And I know exactly how acute the pain must be for them right now. I am overcome by sadness, but I also know that I am somehow blocking the full impact of what is happening to strangers and people I have known my entire life alike. It is a survival strategy, and it is another form of loss. We don’t allow ourselves to grasp fully what is happening. Not at all times. We carry on. We get up in the morning, our hearts heavy, and we take care of our families, do our work, meet with friends, laugh, survive. Anything else would probably be unbearable. At least that is how I seem to cope (when I manage to).

We hope, continue believing in miracles. Here is proof they happen:

My dear friend Helen could celebrate Easter with her sister and niece. She posted this photograph on Twitter and said: “Picture of a miracle. My sister and her daughter today, visiting me for Easter lunch. Sister’s 1st outing since getting Covid 4 months ago – month on a ventilator, 9 weeks in ICU, 3 weeks in nursing home. This is resurrection.”

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 2-5 April

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

@HaggardHawks

Sunrise at Oudrif

Oudrif. Oudrif. Oudrif. Visiting for the Easter weekend has become an annual tradition for us. And once again, we basked in every second of it.

Jeanine and Bill welcomed us with the usual warm smiles and cool drinks, and from the moment we arrived the world seemed a better place. Our straw bale cottage, the surrounding hills and their stories, and the now shallow Doring were waiting.

The days have a simple routine: morning coffee, walk, breakfast, rest, light lunch, rest, drinks, evening braai, sleep. Most of the food is vegetarian (best imaginable), but – if wanted – there is always a chop or a steak waiting at the end of the day for carnivores.

Jeanine and Bill are amazing cooks and hosts. A few days in their care and one simply feels revitalised. They are super-conscious of the environment and are completely off the grid. They live with a few rescue animals with inspiring stories. Over the years, these animals have also become very dear to us. And this time, Mafutha decided to adopt us (always a great honour) for two nights and slept in our cottage when invited. (Do not tell The Cats!)

For many years now, Jeanine has been involved in CLAWS, the Clanwilliam Pet Sterilisation Project, which helps control the feral populations of cats and dogs in the Clanwilliam area. They do stunning work and improve the lives of many animals and the humans who take care of their four-legged friends. Lockdown and the resulting lack of usual funding have been disastrous for the project, and many animals suffer. At the moment, Jeanine is hand-rearing six abandoned kittens. And although I nearly – accidentally! – became a kitten assassin (long story!), of course, I fell head over heels in love with all of them (The Cats know).

Behold: the unbearable cuteness of kittens!

For most of them, Jeanine has already found good homes, but there will be more little ones in need of love and care and a roof over their heads. Not all will be lucky. That is why the sterilisation project is so vital.

As always, there were also a few very cool humans visiting at Oudrif: a couple we have met before and adore, so we were very happy to see them again; a famous journalist and his amazing wife; and another fascinating couple who had great stories to share (and a bottle of incredible bourbon). One of the guests was celebrating a birthday, and Jeanine and Bill made their famous chocolate cake on the fire to mark the occasion. It is the ultimate chocolate cake, a culinary treat like no other.

Morning walk with Bill

I have seen the rock art sites we visited this time already, but they never cease to amaze me. I could stare at and think about them for ever. The aardvarks are my favourites.

Connecting with our ancestors

Most of our time was spent simply relaxing, and there is no better place that I know of to just be. No cell reception, no wifi, all you can do is talk, walk, sleep, swim, sunbathe, play board games, stargaze, read and eat. Occasionally, drink bourbon and devour chocolate cake. Bliss.

We are back home, but my soul has stayed behind at Oudrif – somewhere next to the river, or with the kittens, or the ancestors who whisper their stories through the rock art to us.

“Winter Special from 1 May till End July 2021 R1000 per person per night all inclusive,” says the Oudrif website. I think I need to look at our diaries and start planning the next trip …

Sunset at Oudrif

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 1 April

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

@HaggardHawks

There is a place I often go to in my head when I want to feel at peace: it is the shower cubicle in our cottage at Oudrif where veld visitors come to say hello through the fiberglass and not only the dust and sweat of the day get washed off, disappearing down the drain with all world’s worries. Sometimes, I stand under my own shower, close my eyes and think of the picture above, and everything calms down inside.

You can think of me standing there for the next few days – not only in my head, but in reality. There is no internet and no cellphone reception, so I won’t be blogging over Easter, but I will be in the safest headspace possible.

Tragic news reached us today, and it is very difficult to think beyond it, to know that someone you care about is utterly shattered and nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever be the same again. And there is very little you can do about any of it.

I met with an author today to discuss the final editing notes on the manuscript we have been working on. We had a socially distanced lunch in the garden, talked manuscript, books, life and loss. Afterwards, I couldn’t visit my dear friends living nearby because they are isolating due to possible Covid-19 exposure.

I cleaned the pool and mowed my small lawn in the late afternoon and sat in the garden with a glass of wine in the evening, thinking about the frailty of life. A friend stopped by to say hello. I spoke to Mom and Krystian on Skype. I replied to a million emails.

Grief is unpredictable. After a shattering, how do we ever pick up the pieces? How do we ever leave the safety of a shower cubicle at the end of the world – where the devil says good night, as the Polish saying goes … How? Especially now, when most of us are heavy with loss.

All that remains is the casting of spells: Oudrif. Oudrif. Oudrif.

Stay safe, please.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

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

— NICD