Operation Oysterhood: Day Sixteen

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



You know how some people enter your life, bringing a whole heart full of gifts with them? Like their love, wisdom and passions? I have been very fortunate to have many such people in my life. And my partner is one of them. Among all the many gifts he has brought into my life are birds. He taught me how to see them. So this morning, when I was watching the Wild Earth live safari feed again and a Bennett’s Woodpecker was spotted, a new bird for me, I was reminded of all the woodpeckers we saw together in the Białowieża Forest two years ago when we travelled to Poland. And this made me happy.

Bennett's Woodpecker

After the live safair and an unhealthy dose of international news, I decided to go outside, coffee mug in hand, and despite misty and cold weather, and to have a garden safari of my own. Glinka accompanied me, of course.

We said hello to the spiders and inspected our coriander/catnip crop (still not sure which is the one growing; no sign of the other yet, so hard to decide), and saw for the first time the exquisite flowers our delicate ferns have, and smiled at the ‘bottle-cleaner’ tree next to the garden path and smelled the incredible scent of lemon blossoms near the pool. It was all good until it started drizzling and we thought that it would be better to go inside, make more coffee and read in a warm bed.

Last night, after writing the Oysterhood blog post, I also wrote one for Karavan Press: “Lockdown musings on survival” – the topic has been on my mind from the moment I took the tough decision to cancel a literary event (the celebration of the Philida Literary Award) I was organising even before the President announced the state of disaster. I had been watching what was happening around the world, and knew roughly what to expect, so I decided to call it rather early. And even though I had no idea exactly what would follow, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I still have no idea what the future holds, but writing my Oysterhood and Karavan Press blog posts yesterday, I knew that I would want to share one more Oudrif photograph with you today:


We have seen water cascading over the ancient stone formations in this spot near our cottage at Oudrif only once. I was mesmerised. This is where the idea for the quote – “Ancient paths. New literary journeys.” – comes from. A place of wonder and sustaining memories. And I was thinking about it again this morning when I spotted another picture of a lockdown book pile posted on social media. I don’t want to point fingers at the specific post because it was not the first of its kind that I have seen in the last two weeks. But it seems that I am not alone in my observations because when I tweeted about it, my comment found resonance with quite a few readers:

“There’s a justified call out for support of local industries now, including the local book industry, but many pictures I see of lockdown book piles on social media, also by prominent booksellers, have very few or none local titles in them. More local lockdown book piles please!”

I am the last person who would want to restrict anybody’s reading interests. I read as widely as I possibly can. But we find ourselves in a crisis that is unlike any other we have experienced during my generation’s lifetime. And there is only one way we are going to make it semi-intact beyond the pandemic: together. As I wrote last night on the other blog, we need to understand our own expectations and responsibilities right now. If we want the local publishing industry to survive, we have to support it in any way we possibly can, even if it is just by posting a picture of a lockdown pile of books that says “I believe in our local authors and I love reading them – thank you for writing the great books that you do”.


After all the online reading and watching, it was time for my Easter egg breakfast and more coffee and a new local book: Leaving Word by Steven Boykey Sidley. I started reading it the first time quite a while ago, but then, when I was about forty pages in and had to read another book quickly, one of my friends said that she was desperate to read Leaving Word and went off with my copy. Luckily, just before the lockdown, I was sent another copy for reviewing and could start on it again. It’s a bit weird reading about a character named Karina when you know that she has that name, if nothing else, from you (Steven told me that my name inspired the name of the character when I tweeted about it still thinking it a coincidence – but it wasn’t). How cool is that!? I promise this will not influence how I feel about the book. I can be ruthlessly objective like that; you have to be when half of the books you read and review are written by people you know personally.

At about 1pm, I felt that it was time to get up, shower, get dressed and do stuff. So I did. I cooked. There were a few strange things hanging around my fridge without a real purpose and I decided to put them all together into a dish. No recipe, just wild cooking while I was listening to the wonderful Sara-Jayne Makwala King on CapeTalk. Towards the end of the show, she was contemplating buying the modest new house a real estate agent was offering to her – for only R92 million. “I’ll take two, please,” she said, and I had a good laugh. I used to listen to Sara-Jayne’s voice while falling asleep when she was on the radio late at night, and it always soothed me, but now it is lovely to hear her during the weekend. She is a bloody good writer, too. But anyone who has read her knows that. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

While my food was in the oven, I decided to do a little drawing again, this time for Andy, who kindly commented on my previous drawing, and for Melissa, because I always think of the two of you together when I think about surfing. So here is an Easter 2020 Karina original for all the lovely surfers I know:


Andy, if you are reading this, I can’t wait to read your latest book. I don’t surf, but I love your books about surfing. And Melissa, I don’t know whether Karavan Press will it make through all of this for sure, but I can’t wait to read your third novel and to publish it. You and I have made the seemingly impossible happen before – I think we can do it again!

After lunch, I had my coffee on the stoep and Glinka wanted to be in the picture. The sun was shining a little bit, but it was still quite cool, so I wrapped myself in a blanket and enjoyed the light. Then it was time to write again: another review that will take a little bit longer than usual, because there are books that need a while to think about before one can do them justice.

My love and I usually talk on the phone when we can’t see each other, but we decided to have a dinner Skype date tonight. For the occasion, I opened a bottle that I wasn’t too convinced about, but one that I knew he would have encouraged me to give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised. He does know his wines, too! I always think of Pinot Noir as a wannabe white wine, and I like my wines unequivocally red, but I loved this one from the very first sip.

I hear that many relationships are being tested during these difficult times. In this respect, I don’t feel tested at all. I had done some really stupid, irresponsible, even dangerous, things in the past, but I can no longer imagine being in a relationship that could not deal with the present crisis.

What I do find difficult to deal with – and it was something that we spoke about during our Skype dinner – is understanding what is actually happening around the world right now. I find myself researching the population numbers of the places I had lived in and comparing them to death tolls in different countries. It is the only way I can comprehend what is happening, by imagining a whole of Salzburg, or Jelenia Góra, or Aberystwyth, or Warwick, NY, disappearing. It frightens me to such an extent that even though I could theoretically go out to get groceries, I feel paralysed. I had planned for three weeks of lockdown, so I am still okay for a few days, but I will have to go out at least once more, for myself and the my Furry Ones, until the end of the month, yet I can’t just simply go out without a plan. I am making a list and making sure that I don’t forget anything essential. I simply don’t want to be like any of the characters in the story I recently wrote for the Sunday Times. Any of those roles freaks me out.

Today, I would like to end with a shout out for another Twitter account that I have been following for as long as I can remember, one that always makes me smile: Damien Kempf. Senior lecturer in Medieval History at a university in the UK, Damien Kempf posts pictures of figures he finds in medieval manuscripts, adding the wittiest comments to them.

This is my all-time favourite image:

Damien Kempf

And inspired by the medieval delights, I recently looked up a replica I have of The Sarajevo Haggadah to see what treasures are hiding in there. There are many, but this one immediately reminded me of the brilliant mansplainer tweet Damien posted on his timeline a while ago.

The Sarajevo Haggadah

Damien has a new book coming out soon and I can’t wait to see/read it when books can travel across continents again. Until then, let us all try to make one another smile in whichever way we can, so that none of us feels that we are alone in this madness.

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

PS It is raining in Cape Town, there is a cat on my lap while I am writing, and the Pinot Noir is still good.

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