Category Archives: Memories

Operation Oysterhood: Day Fifty-Four

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



A whole, uninterrupted night in my bedroom bed. Amazing.

Wild Earth live safari also delivered the goods today, not only in wildlife terms. My love, when reading this, please skip the next image and paragraph. It’s girl talk.


[I haven’t been able to watch Wild Earth much in the last few days, so I do not know whether David is a new guide etc., but he, his jawline and The Hat made me sorry that I wasn’t a romance writer, because otherwise he would have been written into a safari romance by the end of this week… Melissa, I hope you are reading this and still watching Wild Earth! I am counting on you!]


To return to wildlife observations: hippos are still shy about wearing their masks in public.

And on a much more sombre note: recently, I heard from two friends living overseas who have family in South Africa – both lost loved ones in Cape Town in the last few days. It wasn’t Covid-19, but because of the pandemic my friends could not be here to say goodbye in person. I cannot imagine the additional pain this must bring. I don’t know how one copes under such circumstances.

Shaken by the latest news, I stayed in bed longer than usual during the last two working weeks and just read for a while. I am reading about the flu of 1918 and, bizarrely perhaps (it is a strange combination), the latest Joanna Trollope, Mum & Dad. I love the descriptions of Spain in the novel. They make me want to put on a summer dress, stroll through vineyards, eat courgettes and drink two bottles of wine for lunch with a loved person… Day-dreaming is allowed.

By the time I got up and got organised, it was time to meet with my Mom and Krystian on Skype.

Skype with Mom and Krystian

It was good to see them and to talk about gardening, an old freezer that Mom needs to get rid of and, most joyously, Krystian’s first outing with his partner to a restaurant since the reopening of the gastronomy sector in Austria. It is reassuring to see that a life post-lockdown is possible.

Before starting work in the afternoon, I checked on the Frog Prince (I haven’t eaten him, but I can’t prove it, because he was very photo-shy today), cleaned the pool, swept the stoep and sat in the sun with Joanna for a little while to soak up some vitamin D. Mozart is sheltering in place in his nest, but he came to cuddle while I was in the garden.

The afternoon was work-related reading, editing, emails and a Skype call with Lester Walbrugh, to catch up and update our plans for his debut short story collection, Let It Fall Where It Will. I have had so much literary joy working on this book. Lester is a brilliant, versatile writer with an incredibly distinct voice. It is an honour to work with him and to be able to share his book with readers in the next few months. We were hoping for an autumn launch, but because it is a debut, we want to be able to celebrate it with all the fanfare it deserves. We have a few great ideas, but they will have to wait for obvious reasons…

Not a very long working day today, but a rewarding one.

In their testimonies, survivors of the influenza pandemic of 1918 in South Africa often mention three things that either helped them to stay healthy or helped them in their recovery: garlic, buchu and brandy.

*She opens the liqueur cabinet in the hope that a gin will do…

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Fifty-Three

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



Wide awake at four a.m. again. I migrated to the TV bed with a hot-water bottle and coffee. Found a weather channel that was broadcasting half an hour of waves crushing over a secluded beach. I fell asleep again, listening. With my eyes closed the sensation was uncanny. In my head, I travelled to all the beaches I have ever loved…


In the night, I saw the news that my lovely neighbours had lost a friend to Covid-19. A number becoming a name. An invisible threat becoming terrifyingly real.

Monday. I took out the bin, watered the orchids (two are releasing new flower stems), cleaned up the kitchen and decided to walk outside. The balmy air was so enticing, I could not resist. And after transferring the bath water from last week’s bath into the pool yesterday, two buckets at a time, I needed some ‘ordinary’ exercise. Sticking to side streets, I managed to avoid people, but the few I saw astounded me: is it really so difficult to put on a mask correctly and to keep it on for the duration of an outing? I passed one neighbour I know and he had his mask on the right way and his dog was very happy to be out and about on his usual route. We said hello from the distance of a few metres, exchanged the latest news and went happily our separate ways.


I saw these two on my walk and envied them, their closeness, their freedom.

Preparing my breakfast, on the radio, I heard arguments for and against the quick reopening of the economy. I think most people are for, but looking at the inability of so many of us to do something as simple as wear a protective mask properly, I have my doubts about our readiness to proceed to level three, even our ability to keep safe already at level four, to keep generally safe during the Covid-19 pandemic – at least as safe as humanly possible…

This message arrived mid-morning:

Refuse collection delay this week: COVID-19
A staff member at our Collections Depot in Woodstock has tested positive for Covid-19. Management was advised today of the result. As a result the facility is shut down for deep cleaning and sanitising. This is the second depot to be shut in under a week and we will have very limited resources available in the next few days. We will therefore not have capacity to service all refuse beats. Residents and businesses are requested to please keep their refuse on their properties until their scheduled removal day next week, when any excess refuse in bags will also be removed. We do apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause.

I tried picturing the faces of the men and women that usually accompany the collection truck in my street. We often talk. They usually make me smile first thing on a Monday morning. Thinking about the risks they are exposed to at work and what they must be going through right now, I felt afraid for them. As a society, we should be apologising to them for the dangers their jobs entail.

The Philosopher and the WolfAnd this is when I remembered reading about John Rawls’s ‘original position’ in The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands, my all-time favourite philosopher. Rowlands asks: ‘How do we ensure that the society you live in is a fair one?’ And explains: ‘Just as we ensured a fair slicing of the pizza by making sure that the person who sliced it didn’t know which slice they were going to get, so we ensure a fair society by allowing a person to choose how it is to be organized, but by making sure that when they choose this they don’t know who they are going to be in this society.’

One could employ the same principle to every business wanting to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic: every business owner/manager should organise the workplace in such a way that they would feel comfortable working at any of the positions available in the company, and just to make them think twice, I would propose that they think of their grandparent, parent, spouse, partner, child and friend occupying the other available positions. If they feel that they have safeguarded the safety of all these positions to the best of their abilities and official guidelines while asking people to return to work in a pandemic, then the company is ready for business.

I had to show something to someone in person today (all level four stuff). We arranged to meet in an open space that we were both allowed to be in, parked our cars a few meters away from each other, wore masks, disinfected hands before handing over the object under discussion, never approached closer than two meters, discussed the business at hand for a few minutes, smiled with our eyes, wished each other well and went home. None of this is easy, but if we want to take care of the people we work with and keep them safe, we need to think, be vigilant and extra-cautious.

And the reasons are simple. Earlier today, my love sent me an article written by a NY ICU nurse: OUR GRIEF: A NURSE’S EXPERIENCE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. Two quotes:

The reality is, the people who get sick later in this pandemic will have a better chance for survival.

This is the tiniest, devastating snapshot of one patient [a twenty-three-year-old at death’s door because of Covid-19] and one family and their unimaginable grief. Yet, the weight is enormous. The world should feel that weight too. Because this grief, this heartbreak is everywhere in many forms. Every person on this planet is grieving the loss of something.

My neighbours lost a friend. 164 other families in the Western Cape are in the same position, grieving for loved ones. While waiting for their test results, the refuse collectors working on our neighbourhood route are fearing for their health tonight. As of today, around six thousand people in the Western Cape are trying to survive a Covid-19 infection.

These are not mere numbers.

I am not asking for a fair society – I am not that naive. But a safe working place for people already working and those about to return to their jobs under level three should be a given. Ask yourself: would you do the job yourself or send a loved one to do it? If yes, we are all good.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home. Have a drink, if you still can.


To health!

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Fifty-Two

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


The Cats and I spent the evening yesterday watching a wonderful documentary on Luciano Pavarotti. I love opera, but Pavarotti was ‘before my time’, and the documentary put his name into context and was enlightening in all kinds of other ways. Loved it.

I slept through the night in my bedroom bed. Yay! The nights are getting colder and my home is turning into its own winter version: a fridge. Soon, for about three months, we will be experiencing temperatures of about thirteen degrees Celsius in the house, unless I light a fire in one of the fireplaces to make a room more bearable. My TV bed doesn’t have an electric blanket, and my hot love is all alone in his own bed across town, so my feet take forever to heat up without help. In the next two weeks or so I will have to move permanently into the bedroom and reserve the TV bed for insomnia emergencies only.

It was a remarkable period, not only because of the high mortality but because, on occasion at least, South Africans rallied round to help one another in a way that has not occurred since.

There were ‘sorrows in the air.’

… was the most lethal runaway disease outbreak in the country’s history.

In effect South Africa was a country under siege. Cape Town’s main streets ‘are almost deserted in the middle of the day’, observed an awed journalist. ‘Business has become quite a secondary consideration, and sight seeing and amusements have lost all attraction … Cape Town is like a city in mourning … and nothing is talked of or thought about other than Influenza.’

In the face of the terrifying crisis, assistance across the deep barriers of race and class flourished briefly as the interdependence of everyone’s health was made abundantly clear. When it came to health, no man, woman or child was an island.

Recurrent in their recollections are words and phrases like ‘bodies wrapped in blankets’, ‘carts’, ‘coffins’, ‘mass graves’, ‘soup kitchens’, ‘pulling together’, ‘pitching in’ and ‘co-operation’.

As one of them remembered, ‘Cape Town was a veritable city of the dead.’

Excerpts from In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa by Howard Phillips (2018).

It is uncanny to read this book NOW.

BTW: I love – LOVE – book ribbons! In a Time of Plague has one :)

Bundesliga_social distancing

I should have been watching ‘my’ new team, Bayern München, tonight, but DStv has not delivered and I am not desperate enough to connect to other sources. I had a look at Twitter a few times just to see what’s happening on the field:


Also saw this:

BeerI could say, ‘Rub it in!’ But I am going to be all smug with my one remaining can of beer and my popcorn, and try live Korean baseball instead. Ha!

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Fifty-One

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



A nearly screen-free day, so I am keeping this short. Had another gap in the night, hoping that it was day already when I woke up, but it was only three a.m. and Glinka was sleeping on my back between my shoulder blades. So I just waited for sleep to return while listening to the familiar white noise of Mama TV in the background.


We only did a tiny bit of work this morning, writing an acceptance letter to an author who will be publishing with Karavan Press. I will do everything I can to keep this dream alive and together with a team of wonderful people to assist me it looks like it will be possible, pandemic, economic apocalypse and all. I am channelling my inner Mary Wollstonecraft, Emily Dickinson, Marie Skłodowska Curie (who is distantly related!) and Virginia Woolf. (While doing this, I promise to stay away from childbirth, radioactive material and rivers. But I will remain sheltering in place – according to the Western Cape Covid-19 dashboard, we have had more than nine hundred! infections in the last twenty-four hours. Deep, deep breaths!)

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading, braaing, drinking wine and loving the sunset. I read the wonderful article about Poland in the latest Getaway magazine and it filled me with travelling longings. Mozart had another longing – he wanted to have his tummy rubbed while I was reading.


Auntie Helen, we really enjoyed reading Nancy Richards’s interview with you. We are considering LISTENING to Charlotte, but don’t know how yet… And we are definitely ordering a hardback copy for my Mom to keep until I can visit her in Austria again. This is one of those books that I insist on having as a hardback!

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

— Jane Austen

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Fifty

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



Yep. Fifty.

Last night, another three hours on Skype with my friend Michela. Girls’ talk. We met at university in 1996. She was the South African pioneer in our department. I followed in her footsteps. She still teaches SA literature at the university in Vienna. A love impossible to deny or forget.

I think my headaches might be the result of too much screen time. I slept through the night, but had important Karavan Press admin to get through in the morning, so I got going shortly after waking up. With lots of coffee. Lunch, some more emails, more work, and then a short visit with a cat who had an operation yesterday, but her only human is an essential worker and could not look after her in the afternoon, so I offered to check up on her. She was all fine, purringly happy to see me.

I read an upcoming poetry collection in the afternoon. Poetry always restores me to myself. Pamela Power asked a few authors to share their favourite rereads with her and posted the results on her Go See Do Reading Matters today:

The Joy of Rereading

I didn’t think of poetry, but yes, I return to poetry all the time. And my all-time favourite poem, by Rilke, still gives me goosebumps, no matter how many times I read it.

Lösch mir die Augen aus: ich kann dich sehn,
wirf mir die Ohren zu: ich kann dich hören,
und ohne Füße kann ich zu dir gehn,
und ohne Mund noch kann ich dich beschwören.
Brich mir die Arme ab, ich fasse dich
mit meinem Herzen wie mit einer Hand,
halt mir das Herz zu, und mein Hirn wird schlagen,
und wirfst du in mein Hirn den Brand,
so werd ich dich auf meinem Blute tragen.

Melissa A. Volker luckily remembered poetry and said: “I re-read poetry. I have a thirty year old anthology and I always read the same poems.  Robert Frost. Robert Herrick, Louis Macneice. Especially Meeting Point. I love that one.” No wonder the descriptive passages in her prose are infused with a poetic sensitivity.

My favourite Aunt is celebrating her birthday today. I am drinking a glass of lovely wine to her health! I hope she was able to celebrate despite everything.

The global numbers are crushing. 4.5 million confirmed infections. Over 300 000 deaths. Almost four times the number of inhabitants of Jelenia Góra, the city I was born in.

Just in case anyone was wondering why we are sheltering in place…

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Forty-Nine

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



Your Honour, the Mermaid made me do it! And I hope that all the Water Spirits of the world, especially of the dry Cape, will forgive me my water-sinning last night. I was desperate.

After the President’s address, which I, unlike many others, found pitch-perfect, I was torn between gratitude and anxiety: gratitude for the now, anxiety for the near and distant future. I understand that it could have been much, much worse, and I am grateful for the lockdown with all its imperfections and blunders, but the high infection and death numbers in the Cape are deeply depressing and do not bode well for our future in Cape Town. Like the President said, every number is a life – a life surrounded by loved ones and dreams. Illness and loss precipitated by something as simple as a conversation with a friend… It is tragic.

Mr Mozart, once again, knew that he was needed and sat with me throughout the address and then watched over me late into the night. He allowed me to kiss his head and hug him after the President had said that bit about kisses and hugs being things of the past…


I watched Cyril Ramaphosa apologise to the nation and felt humbled. I cannot imagine what it must feel to have this burden on one’s shoulders. How does he sleep at night?

I fell asleep sometime after midnight, and slept deeply, but when I woke up just before six a.m., I found it impossible to open my eyes for nearly two hours. One of those days when I did not want to face the world. Eventually, when I did, I was rewarded with the sight of the Cat Ladies sleeping peacefully next to each other at the bottom of the bed. And they allowed me to join them for a while.


Coffee, some reading, and then work, work, work (plus headache) until the end of the day with only a short break for lunch.

My first book delivery of the level four lockdown arrived via courier in the morning, a most fitting title, me thinks…


But the most exciting book news of the day belongs to the breath-takingly beautiful Charlotte!


Helen’s debut novel – sheer joy! One day, soon, we will hold her in our hands, and she will be hugged and kissed and treasured. Even if we won’t be able to hug her author for the foreseeable future – the book will have to stand in for Helen.

Dear Helen, if you are reading this, please know that we will throw a huge party for Charlotte when it is safe and allowed to do so, and we will celebrate in style. Until then, I send you and Charlotte love and some flowers from my Mom’s garden:

Congratulations and HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY, dear Friend!

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Forty-Eight

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



Mozart came to visit late last night, but did not want to stay after Salieri hissed at him from the other side of our TV bed. Sleep came eventually, but not for long. Yet the gap sometime after midnight wasn’t as bad as the previous one. I just listened to the voices on the TV and enjoyed the warmth of my duvet and thought of very little until Morpheus welcomed me in his arms again.

By the time I woke up, the light was bright outside and even though my motivation was not exactly soaring, I got up, made coffee and treated myself to yoghurt and honey in my bedroom bed where a novel I had to abandon for a manuscript (report written and sent today) was still waiting patiently with some beautiful lines:

If their hands should touch as they walked, their fingers brushing as if seeking the heat and scent of each other still on their skin, well – who was to know? Only those two – a secret shared.

I had known her. But that didn’t matter. What was between us wasn’t silence. It was speaking without words. It was breathing without breath.

It was us. It was we. And on we went, together…

I suppose that depends on your point of view… If the truth brings opportunity or merely pain.

This is what happens when a poet writes prose. Thank you, Katherine Stansfield.

I wish I could have continued reading, but a lot of work was waiting today and I had to get going.

At lunchtime, I skyped briefly with Mom and Krystian. He is visiting again and Mom asked him to cut her hair. He did a brilliant job – she looks stunning! Some of us will discover hidden talents in this Covid-19 chaos. Then, I braved the outside world and got into Topolino for a ride around the neighbourhood and food shopping again. The ride was wonderful, the food shopping just depressing. I need to find a less crowded shop next time. It was horrible where I went.

The experience made me think of the latest clothes shopping regulations. I understand that some people need new clothes right now, but I will knit, crochet or darn before I enter a shop without a good reason. I am still wearing some of the clothes I wore when I was a teenager, so I will be fine for a while yet.


I am most excited about all the lovely magazines I bought today. FAIRLADY has an article by Cathy Park Kelly that I have been looking forward to reading, and COUNTRY LIFE includes a Nancy Richards interview with my dear friend Helen – always a treat! And GETAWAY features an article about Poland. Yay! I just need more time for leisure reading again…

After all the hand disinfecting and washing today, I realised how much I enjoy simply washing my hands for a few seconds when it is just me in the house and a piece of chocolate melts in my fingers and I can lick them and then wash them without thinking of life-saving, hand-washing techniques…

The proofs of the next Karavan Press book arrived today, but there was so much other work to complete first that I will only get to look at them properly tomorrow morning. Ooooh, but the book looks lovely at first glance!


A few days ago, I registered for a UCT webinar in the ‘Unlocking COVID-19: Current Realities, Future Opportunities? series with Dr Iraj Abedian and Professor Alan Hirsch that took place today. A strange experience again, but I was interested in the topic, “The economics of pandemics”. Glinka, of course, wanted to be part of the conversation. Professor Hirsch emphasised trust and cooperation in the process moving forward and the phasing out of the lockdown. It all made a lot of sense.

Upcoming UCT online conversations also sound fascinating:

  • Wednesday, 27 May: ‘Ethical reporting during times of crisis’
  • Wednesday, 10 June: ‘What is the new normal? Future scenarios’
  • Wednesday, 24 June: ‘Community leadership in times of crisis’
  • Wednesday, 8 July: ‘The role of young, African entrepreneurs during COVID-19’

But now, it is time for another address by the President, and I have my G&T and tissues ready.

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Forty-Seven

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



Small hours blues. Quite a gap in my sleep between three and five a.m. and it was impossible not to feel sadness and anxiety, thinking about the world at that time of the night when everything is a deeper blue than usual anyway. A stranger told me on Twitter to take antihistamines to make me sleep – not that I was asking for advice. Friends commented differently, saying that they also have poor nights, sit and stare at the dark sky outside with a cup of tea to keep them warm. Sometimes we voice our distress to share and not to feel alone; we are not searching for ways of how to drown out our emotions. Reading the stranger’s comment this morning, I remembered many friends and my doctor wanting to give me medication to help me with my grief after André died – I understood their concern, but I also knew that some things hurt because they are meant to, because losing a loved person is so catastrophic that it rearranges your DNA. I also remembered telling the psychologist I was seeing for a while four years ago that, as long as I was coping (barely, but I was), I did not want any medication to dull the pain I was feeling. What I was going through was bone-breaking and it hurt like hell, but the cause of the distress was so horrific that I understood why it was breaking me and intuitively I felt the need to experience it. That agony taught me a valuable lesson I will never forget. I am sorry that I had to pay such an excruciating price for knowledge, but in the end it saved my life and was worth it. We are in the middle of a lethal pandemic – distress, nightmares, insomnia are only a few of the reactions many of us experience when confronted with the enormity of what Covid-19 means for us today and in the future. The reason why I cannot sleep and why I feel an overwhelming sadness at four a.m. is gigantic and valid, and I would be only worried about my response if I felt no distress at all. Fear can be life-saving. Carelessness is potentially fatal right now. Our infection and fatality numbers are rising and it is hard not be feel freaked out.

I slept again until about eight, made coffee in my beautiful rat cup and started work. Another garden walk around lunchtime: I noticed one new plant with beautiful purple flowers has moved into my wild garden. And the sunshine flowers were smiling at me and the delicate ferns reminded me of the time I worked at a florist’s when I was still at university.

Mozart came to say hello when I sat down. As is his usual rhythm, he is gaining weight for winter and his coat is getting thicker. Because of this transformation (much more pronounced in him than the Lady Cats), I call him Winter Version during the cold seasons and enjoy cuddling with him even more when he is so fluffy.

Already during the walk, I felt the weather and atmosphere pressure changing, the day turning grey, but I was still okay throughout lunch and a lovely Skype conversation with the writer Penny Haw. Soon afterwards, however, a headache exploded just behind my eyes, blurring vision and thoughts, and this was a pain I had no interest in experiencing, so painkillers to the rescue. I lay down next to Glinka for an hour and just listened to the radio until the ache behind my eyes disappeared and I was ready to resume work.


The release of the first South African edition of Malibongwe: Poems from the Struggle by ANC Women, edited by Sono Molefe, was announced today. Another stunning title from uHlanga.

That the unborn child
May not see what I see
Or taste what I’ve tasted
This is my journey

(from “I must go: do not mourn” by Fezeka Makonese)

A new uHlanga title always makes me happy. The press and its founder, Nick Mulgrew, have been an inspiration for many years. And this particular book, after its initial publication in exile in the early 1980s, has been waiting for nearly forty years to be published at home in South Africa. And now it is here, finally. A homecoming worth waiting for.

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Forty-Six

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



A looooong working day. And I survived being put on hold by Telkom for half an hour, trying to get my latest bill sent to me by email. All other options (text, website, Twitter) failed miserably, so phoning was the last resort. Once I got through to a human being, the matter was resolved within two minutes. I know that this has been the way of the twenty-first century – reducing face to face customer service – and now with Covid-19 nothing will ever be the same again, but I miss being able to go to a counter, speaking to another human being about my problem and having it resolved that way instead of the faceless, often automated kind of help one can mostly expect nowadays. Then, after Telkom, I took a deep breath and dialled another number (fifteen minutes on the phone to Discovery, trying to resolve an issue with a claim – the doctor got paid twice and I got nothing…). This phone call was also a success once I spoke to the nice consultant at the end of the line, but sjoe, I REALLY DON’T enjoy talking on the phone with strangers! It’s sheer torture.


I started work early today, at around 8am, continued until lunchtime and then subjected myself to these two conversations. Walking was the only option afterwards, around forty-five minutes in loops around my garden. It was lovely outside and I felt restored. Then another four hours of computer work. At the end of the working day, a few lovely emails were waiting in my inbox to be answered. Throughout the day, weekend leftovers kept me fed and litres of coffee kept me focused. And Salieri, as always, catssisted by sleeping on one of my books (she is still in the same spot as in the photo above now!).

We sent a book to the printers today! But I am too tired to even celebrate with a nice glass of wine. (Don’t hate me. I grew up in a country notorious for the levels of alcohol its citizens consume. Not feeling like a drink always feels reassuring, especially under our current circumstances.)

Are we expecting any rain this week? I really want to walk on the Common again. Maybe very early one of these mornings before everyone else gets up…?

Current mood:

Damien Kempf

Bed. Mindless television. Good night.

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

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


Operation Oysterhood: Day Forty-Five

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



A Sunday mostly like this. I did nothing that could be counted as productive, and it feels good.

Another attempt at sleeping in my own bed, which was mostly successful, but I did have a weird gap somewhere between 3.30 and 5am, but was too tired to move and not tired enough to sleep. So I read stuff on Twitter (as one does). But the most interesting comment was sadly deleted shortly after being posted. Luckily, I took a screenshot, but won’t credit the author, since they clearly changed their mind about the text (although it might have been a quote from somewhere for all I know): “Ethics: the branch of philosophy known as economics” (Twitter, 4am).

Nechama Brodie’s comments about media reporting on the pandemic and re-opening of the economy later in the day also struck a chord in a similar fashion: “There have been threads/tweets recently […] pointing out that the groups who are pushing a ‘re-open the economy’ narrative are the ones for whom re-opening is low-risk & high return. Whereas, for many others this may be the opposite.”

I have been thinking a lot about defiance. My life has been marked by it in extraordinary ways since my conception. My parents have an age gap of nearly ten years between them, my Mom being the older partner; they had me out of wedlock and refused to get married for two years, despite pressure from Catholic families on both sides. Hugely uncommon at the time. At their wedding, my Mom remembers, I apparently cried out to her in the middle of the ceremony, shouting, “What are you doing?” Years later, she often told me, “If only I had listened to you.” I grew up in a country where everyone broke the law by simply breathing. That is how totalitarian regimes function. As long as you disobey under the radar – and you have to disobey to survive – and are not a nuisance, you are allowed to continue, but if you dare too much, speak too loudly, and become uncomfortable to the authorities, there will be, obviously, a million things that they will be able to hold against you, because it is simply impossible to lead a decent life without breaking the rules. It’s a vicious cycle. You are damned either way. To escape this, my parents broke international laws by illegally crossing a border when my brother was six and I was ten and by seeking asylum in a foreign country. Those borders did not cease to exist even after the Berlin Wall fell, and to cross them one often had to break many other laws, repeatedly. I was a smuggler in my youth; a pretty good one, although nothing major. Got caught only once, but not entirely because of my own mistake – on my own, I never got caught. I am more ashamed than proud, and I promise you, when the EU expanded and the borders across Europe disappeared, I celebrated the end of that adrenaline life with a bang. There are many ways to break the rules. And there are many reasons why we do it. Now that I am going grey and wrinkled and a little bit of life’s wisdom has begun to sink into the few grey brain cells remaining after endless bottles of pink bubbly, I understand one thing: if you do it, do it for love, or kindness, but don’t break the rules for money only.

There was no rule breaking in the mall I visited today, my first mall since the lockdown. Masks, distance, crowd control, disinfectant – the lot. I had to go into a computer shop and decided to do some advance shopping for the Cats at the same time, so as to use the trip to its full extent. I was also hoping for coffee capsules, but the mall I went to had that particular shop closed. Online order it will be then. I had never been big on shopping. Apart from bookshops and museum shops, I’d found shopping mostly boring in the past, and now Covid-19 has taken away the last bit of whatever small pleasure I might have gotten out of it. The long queues, the fear, the constant vigilance – it’s too much. It was difficult to hold back the tears. But knowing that touching my face would not be allowed until I was back home and safe, I swallowed them.

What helped was speaking to people I love today: my Mom, my love, my brother. I am about to meet my friend Charlotte on Skype. A little bit of gin with Mozart in the late afternoon sun on the stoep was also a joy. We had a rare moment today: all three Cats on the stoep in close proximity without any hissing breaking out.


The Cats have been in physical distancing mode among one another for as long as I can remember. But I am so grateful that they have no problem with being close to me – all the time. In days like these – with a pandemic rewriting the rules of our human social interactions – the company of Furry Ones is one of the greatest blessings. (Salieri has just arrived on my lap as I was typing this.)

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


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


Unless you are part of a pride of lions, then you can indulge in closeness and grooming as much as you want.