Operation Oysterhood: Day Thirty

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

@HaggardHawks

WildEarth18

A migratory night. Fell asleep in front of the TV, moved to the bedroom, woke up at 3am (don’t know why) and could NOT go back to sleep, so moved back in front of the TV, watched one of my favourite series until close to 6am, and fell asleep again. Basically, exercise for the weekend done.

Wild Earth live safari kept me company while I had coffee and an almond croissant – fresh and hot from the oven. I ordered a few things from the Ou Meul Bakkery yesterday, delivered to my gate by Mr Delivery within thirty minutes. Simple. Delicious.

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I loved every second of the safari, but I was most happy to identify the birds on the buffalo’s back in my bird book.

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After the safari and some reading in the morning, it was time for another official address, clarifying level four. A few phrases stuck with me.

“The things are in our hands.” Indeed. And how!

“Touching is a thing of the past.” Sadly.

“We need to move towards a blue map; blue is good.” I am all blue in other ways, but blue has always been my favourite colour, so I like the idea of moving towards a blue territory.

“Collective challenge; individual sacrifices.”

Yes. And then, of course, the thing about books. Educational books. Education is essential, no doubt. Educational books are level four essential – also no argument. But…

Many years ago, one of my plays was published in an educational book.

The winner included was my play, A Change of Mind. The award was a lot of money (R7500), for which I was extremely grateful. Up to that point it was the single largest amount of money I’d earned from my writing. I paid a few bills with it and bought myself one thing that always reminds me of this wonderful win: a quilt. Every time I wrap myself in it, I remember that feeling. I also remember my first royalty statement a year after the book was published. When it arrived, I thought that I wasn’t opening the file properly, so I sent it to my IT brother to examine. He opened it on his computer and phoned: “No, you did get it right, it does say R4.63…” It was actually transferred into my account! The following year it was about ten times as much. The year after, I manged to buy a bottle of cheap bubbly with the royalties to celebrate the statement passing the R100 mark for the first time. The statements stopped coming after that…

It’s not easy being a writer, not even if you contribute to educational books.

And yet: are books essential? To me, yes. They are my bones, my flesh, my blood, my soul, the air I breathe. But in general? Not to many people. I live in a bubble of readers and writers, but I understand that books are not important in any way to many, many people. And this will always be my deepest literary sorrow. But I get how reality works and how privileged I am (even with all the battles that had to be fought by my parents and by me to arrive at where I am today).

I can think of many creative ways of how to get books, any books, SAFELY to readers desperate to have them during level five or four of lockdown, but in the greater scheme of things, I know that the logistics of it cannot be a priority at a time when people are hungry and have no roofs over their heads. Books should not be a luxury item, but in our economy they are, and the reality of it is what it is. We still need to find ways of supporting each other as writers and readers and of looking after the networks that allows us to share books. We are creative people, so let’s be creative. I hope that we won’t have to wait until level three after all, but if we do, let us be patient, suspend our disbelief, and do whatever we can to keep up our spirits and to keep the booksellers, distributors and publishers we depend on alive. Donations, vouchers, pre-orders. Whatever it takes. And in the meantime, let’s look at the treasures of our libraries and keep reading. Reading is allowed at any level. And so is writing.

By staying at home, we limit the movement and interaction of people. For now, that’s the only way we can keep the infection rate low and not overwhelm the fragile health care system.

Today, we have reached 86 confirmed Covid-19 related deaths. If we don’t follow the regulations, this number will explode and we will not know how to live with ourselves for having been responsible. If we survive ourselves, that is…

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After the official address and a small lunch, I read and sunbathed and watched birds in my garden and thought about the different levels and what they mean for the future. All warm from the sun, I managed to get into the pool and had the longest swim of the lockdown yet. It cleared my mind and soul and, as it often happens when I am immersed in water, I had an idea. I will be channelling two great women writers I admire to make it happen. We just need to get to level four, so that I can get a few missing essentials… Watch this space.

Mozart came to say hello and to cuddle a bit and then settled in his nest next to the pool while I was swimming.

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Once I was finished and had my shower and made myself a drink, Mozart visited again on the stoep to see what I was having and what new books I was about to open.

I started reading Katherine Stansfield a few years ago when a friend I met during my year in Wales sent me her debut novel. She also studied in Aberyswyth and became a writer. Her debut, The Visitor, was exquisite, and I have been a fan ever since – of her fiction and her poetry. I have had her latest two novels for a while, but they were on that much loved, always growing, to-read pile, the one that will keep me going for a long, long time now, if necessary, and I am so pleased to have them.

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My drink of the afternoon was an experiment. I have quite a few bottles of alcohol in the house (don’t hate me) and I am not a heavy drinker so the booze will last forever, but I thought that maybe I should start trying out new recipes. This one was based on the one I tried out on my poor literary salon crowd last year: “Surfer on Acid”. I didn’t have one of the main ingredients, but I improvised with lemon cordial (which was a gift from a writer who attends the literary salon). The result was “Surfer on Lemon Acid” and it was absolutely delicious. Better than the original, to be honest… Tom Cruise, move over!

I tuned in to Wild Earth only for a little while in the afternoon, but was rewarded with this beyond-cute sighting. Baby hyenas. Irresistible.

I will leave you with a quote from the book I finished reading today. I first heard Garth Greenwell speak at the Open Book Festival and loved his debut novel, What Belongs to You. Cleanness is his second book. I hope to review it properly soon; for now, I will share the quote that moved me the most.

“They could make a whole life, I thought, surprised to think it, these moments that filled me up with sweetness, that had changed the texture of existence for me. I had never thought anything like it before.” — Garth Greenwell

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

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