Pretty Prickly

Grief and mourning

I have been very prickly, lately. They say things get easier with time. Six and a bit months later, things have certainly not got easier. They are different. And it’s hard to explain exactly what that means. What is different is having to accept that you never know – really – what will trigger an emotional response.

grief, mourning

At the beginning of December, I was at the opening of the McGregor Art Walk. It’s an event that had been in the planning since February or March, and when that began, it was with The Husband’s full support. He was supposed to have been at that, and other, events over that weekend. Needless to say, I was flying solo that evening. That’s not new, but it’s most certainly different now. People’s conversations with me are different.

Conversation one

Pleasantries dispensed with, “I so admire widows and widowers….” she gushed.

Something in my brain clicked. I have absolutely no recollection of the rest of conversation other than that I somehow had to extricate myself from it, and move on. Once the formalities of the evening were done, I bade the host farewell and confessed, “I have to flee…” Mercifully, she understood.

I retreated to my usual Friday haunt and shared the gist of that conversation with a friend who lost her life partner a few years ago. She was aghast. As I had been. I spent the best part of the next couple of days, vacillating between bridling with incredulity, and reflecting on whether my reaction to the word “admire” was appropriate.

I did what I always do, and consulted the dictionary:

This is what Collins told me about admire:

Word forms: 3rd person singular present tense admires, present participle admiring, past tense, past participle admired
1. VERB B2
If you admire someone or something, you like and respect them very much.
I admired her when I first met her and I still think she’s marvellous. [VERB noun]
He admired the way she had coped with life. [VERB noun]
All those who knew him will admire him for his work. [VERB noun + for]
Synonyms: respect, value, prize, honour More Synonyms of admire
2. VERB B1+
If you admire someone or something, you look at them with pleasure.
We took time to stop and admire the view. [VERB noun]
Synonyms: marvel at, look at, appreciate, delight in.

When I read the first definition, I began to second guess my reaction . Then I read the second and which is the context – and which connotation – I usually associate with the word. I cannot – and could not – reconcile either pleasure or delight with the unwanted condition of widowhood. In my understanding, when one admires someone – like a firefighter, nurse, or teacher – it’s aspirational. Unless one aspires to being a mariticide. And the woman said it with her husband of at least 40 years at her side.

On reflection – I’m doing a lot of that – I realise that she was probably less admiring of the condition than of how the widow appears to getting on with things. It’s taken me nearly a month – and a second conversation – to get to this realisation.

Conversation two

I had a catch-up conversation with a client last week and it included a brief look back at the year, which from a work perspective has been a relatively good one. He thanked me for my contribution – especially given what had happened this year – for not dropping the ball. He concluded that it – how I coped – was an inspiration.

Why, I asked myself, had I not balked at that remark?

Again, I went to the dictionary, and before I did, I realise that the comment had context: he (and the team) – as far as anyone can – had shared my journey. We had much more than the perfunctory conversation that happens when you happen to bump into someone. There was empathy, compassion and concern which, when my house was burgled, translated into practical and material help. And, with all that, they gave me space to work at my own pace which enabled me to continue meeting deadlines – and earning. I needed the work for other reasons, too it was more than a necessary distraction. It helps to give my days, weeks, months, shape. A real reason to get out of bed.

More reflections

So, when I reflect on the context of both conversations, I’m struck, again, at the power of language – to break down – and build up. It also reminds me of the sports’ rule: play the ball, not the player. Yes, I am now a widow, and perhaps that’s why I had such a knee-jerk reaction to that comment. One doesn’t sign up for widowhood and if one has the misfortune to lose a life partner, even though you think you are, you’re never prepared. Nor is one prepared for the journey that is mourning. It’s different from any other, and until one embarks on that new

sunrise mourning grief

path, one cannot even dream of beginning to understand.

Now, I must look to the sunrise each day, and start all over again. On my own.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script
If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised application’s.

    • From WordPress, I use the Exxp plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here to sign up.

    • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink

Different people. Different grief.

The other day, someone asked me,

Do you miss him?

I was a little girl – probably nine or ten – when I first encountered a death in the family.  My father’s mother.  We called her Wee Granny.  I don’t remember her.  Hardly surprising because the only time I did ever meet her, I was an infant and she never left Scotland.  Glasgow, to be precise.

Next, it was Big Granny.  Now, I do remember her.  I have vivid memories of her trip to South Africa.  I also have vivid memories of my time with her – as that three-year-old – on the eve of our departure from the UK, en route to Johannesburg.  She’d been ill, and my mother had been called to her deathbed in England.  About a month after her to South Africa, Granny died.  I was about 16.

Neither of those deaths had a profound impact on my young life.  Mainly because neither of the grannies had been part of my everyday life.  Ever.  In a world without the Internet and social media, intercontinental, trans-hemisphere communication was by letter.  Trans-Atlantic telephone calls had to be booked and were reserved for life – and mostly death – emergencies.  And telegram.

Because we were so far from blood family, my parents built close friendships with contemporaries. Members of their inner circle substituted for grandparents.  So, the death that first really hit me was Uncle Ritchie.  That time taught me two life lessons.  Firstly, that death hurts.  And secondly, that bad news really does travel fast – via routes least expected.  I wasn’t living at home and was in the throes of my first-year university exams so they decided I should not be told.  Little did they know that among my circle of friends, was somebody who had also known Uncle Ritchie.  I didn’t believe her.  I rushed to the payphone.

They didn’t want me to go to the funeral.  They couldn’t stop me.

In the years that followed, I lost friends, colleagues and acquaintances:  car accidents, illness and suicide.  With each death I learned that grief is as individual as the person for whom one grieves. That lesson was hardest when my parents died within eleven months of each other.  My mother, unexpectedly after a short illness.  My dad, although of cancer which only emerged after Mum died, The Husband and I always believed, of a broken heart.

It’s no secret that my mother and I were not friends, but she was my mother and her death hit me like a sledgehammer.  I wept for months.  Dad and I, on the other hand, had a special connection which deepened after she died.  I miss him and wish him here more than I do her.  Nearly a quarter of a century later.

The death of a parent, even as a thirty-odd year-old child, changes one’s world.  Suddenly, somebody who, from the beginning of one’s memory, was always there, and integral, is just gone.  That is an enormous adjustment.

Nothing, however, prepares one for the death of one’s life partner.  Oh, you can prepare in your head.  I knew, in my brain, that with a significant age gap, biology and statistics suggested that he would die first.  But the brain and the heart don’t work together very well especially when the older person is healthy, fit and never got ill.  Especially when the stock response to hearing his age was an incredulous, “Really, I thought you were ten years younger than that!”

The Husband died exactly a month short of his 77th birthday.  He went to hospital to get better.  The operated and removed what had made him suddenly ill. He came through the surgery with flying colours.  So well that the medical staff called him their miracle man and even with all the post operative pain and discomfort, his lust for life had not diminished.  Three days after that surgery, he developed a clot, was rushed to ICU and intubated.  On top of that, he had an infection, and he went into organ failure, and I was called to his death bed.  Not ready to give up, few hours later his body had rallied, and he’d turned the corner and continued improving.  Until.  A series of hospital-based infections eroded his already compromised body and, eventually, his life.  For the last 37 days, thanks to being ventilated, he could not speak.  He could, though, communicate, and in our last conversation, he was still determined to come home.  That was his plan.  That was our plan.

Three days later, he died.

For seven weeks I had been home alone and visiting him in hospital.  I put stuff on hold because he was coming home.  This could wait.  That could wait.  He was coming home.  I put the laundry away.  I ordered a chicken for a Sunday supper.  He was coming home. Knowing he’d be weak and not be able to climb stairs, I began planning to move ourselves into the guest room.

Marriage is “in sickness and in health”.  They warned me it would be a long path after six weeks in ICU and the extent of muscle wastage.  If it meant his coming home and – again – grabbing the brass ring, it was what I had signed up for.

I chose to sign up for a life with him.  It was a choice.  And we made a life.  We scrapped and disagreed – as all married couples do.  But he was the person I bounced ideas off.  The Husband was the last person I saw as I went to sleep, and the first when I woke up.  I’d reach over in the night to see that he was warm and still breathed.  My worst nightmare was waking up and he’d be gone.

I am living my worst nightmare.  He is gone.

I am not alone.  I am not lonely.  I am lonely for him.  For my friend.  The person I chose to spend my life with.

I miss him all the time.  I shall miss him always.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


This day, 23 years later, will never be the same

For the first time in 23 years, I celebrate The Husband’s birthday without him. He didn’tFiona blog “do” birthdays. I did. That photograph, I took of him in 2016 and used it for the invitation to celebrate his 70th birthday. Seven years ago.

Exactly a month ago, on 5 June, I said goodbye to him forever. I left him knowing that while I was gone he was likely to breathe his last breath. He hadn’t been breathing without help for 37 days. He had been living – if you could call it that – his worst nightmare.

I had been home an hour when they called to say his time was close. A quarter of an hour later he left.

Six days later, the village – I mean the village – said goodbye.  It was an old fashioned wake at the local – where he had intended having his first beer when he came out of hospital.  It was not to be.

I did not have the strength to say what was in my heart and a friend read it for me.  I share it here.


My first conversation with Tom was over a pot of potatoes.  No, I wasn’t cooking.  He was.  He had his rear end in the air and I heard a frustrated expletive from behind a cupboard.  Cigarette hanging out of his mouth, he was managing very dodgy electrics to cook the perfect roast potatoes. I was just passing through the kitchen. He hadn’t seen me when I asked in even more colourful language, whether the potatoes were ruined.  He was more than startled. 

He never let me – or anyone – forget that conversation, especially the bits that followed:  a highly intellectual discussion about the meaning – and use – of the swear words for sodomy and fornication.  I subsequently discovered that he was a little nonplussed when he worked out that I was also that very annoying woman who kept on wailing, “I’ve lost my drink…”

It was a party – Tom never forgot the date:  Saturday 30 October, 1999. A housewarming of friends and who had been former neighbours of both of ours, at different times in our respective lives.  It was also that evening, that we danced together for the first time.  Not really together, although that’s what he’d have liked. Because I fled.  He was too interested.

As I think back on that evening, and it feels like yesterday, not the nearly quarter of a century that it is. Our meeting and what unfolded was – is – the Tom we know and love:

– Happy to help where he was needed

– Quick with a quiet riposte

– Always ready to hit the dance floor

He worked hard over the next few months. 

Just as he always remembered the date we met, he never forgot the date when, the following February, our “together” journey really began.  I didn’t make it easy for him.  Another long term relationship, let alone a marriage, was not in my life plan. Then.  He accepted that, and me, with all my foibles, and set about courting me.  Yes, that’s an old fashioned word, but it best describes how he gently held me as I grieved my mother, and set about earning my trust just by listening and doing.  Thinking and caring.  Just being himself.

Tom was not my other half.  He was a whole vibrant, strong, healthy person. The hardest part of the last 37 days of his life was that for most of it, he was robbed of his independence, agency, and autonomy. 

People laughed when I referred to the co-management, but that was how we did things – we discussed and reached an agreement.  Or tried because we didn’t always agree.  There were times – a lot – when we didn’t agree – mostly on work issues.  When the other knocked heads, we just picked up each other’s pieces and carried on.

Most people know Tom as a man of few words.  He was – unless he knew you well.  Then, he was hard to shut up.  He told stories and one of our Sunday Supper guests one evening exclaimed that she hadn’t known that he was such a raconteur – her word.  I’ve never forgotten.  I know there are so many of you here today who will miss Tom’s stories.  I, and others, asked him to write them down.  He never did.

There’s one story he never told at a dinner party, but which we discussed.  Often.  It epitomises the man who loved people and had the capacity to talk to anyone – and build bridges.  The specific details are not important, but here are the broad brush strokes:

Either shortly before or after independence in Zimbabwe and although back on the farm, he was still part of the police and some cattle had been stolen.  Everybody knew where they were, and with whom.  Things were still tense but protocols had been set in place for this kind of engagement. Tom volunteered to lead the group and negotiate for the cattle.  One of the conditions for the expedition was that nobody was to be armed.  It bothered everyone else.  Not Tom.  He was simply going to meet with people to have a conversation.

When the two groups ultimately met, they all recognised each other from having been on opposite sides.  Individuals in their respective forces who had been counterparts and enemies.  What ensued was a long and engaging conversation about hostile contacts.  There was one, in particular, and during which, the two men discovered that by some slight of hand or crack of stick, the one had not assassinated the other.  They discussed “who” (and what) the other had been during hostilities  and that they had known “of”, and encountered each other for years.  With no hard feelings, and much mutual respect they shook hands, and Tom returned to the farm with the cattle.

His gift with people explains why, during the hostilities leading up to Zimbabwe’s independence, their homestead was never attacked despite their cook, who lived in the compound, being a senior political leader.

Tom had a wicked sense of humour and given half a chance, full of mischief.  He was an adventurous and mischievous child.  One of my favourite stories is of the mice he wasn’t supposed to have had.  His mother discovered them because when he’d taken them to school – on his bicycle, inside his shirt and in his blazer – they ate bits out of his school uniform.  He graphically described how on a winter’s morning, he took them to school to sell. I know it’s impossible, but in my mind’s eye, created an abiding image of a little boy, peddling to school with a mission of mice clinging to the handlebars of his bike.

Then there was the time he and three of his mates built boats and raced them in the nearby stream. They waterproofed them with bitumen they encouraged to ooze from the edge of the tar road… They did it often because, between regattas, they stored boats by sinking them in the stream…

Then, there’s his telling – with all the actions and appropriate animal sounds – of when he tried to encourage an errant herd of cattle back into their camp. In the dead of a night with no moon. Such were his storytelling skills that listeners hung on every word, and when he eventually explained that the glowing eyes and warm snuffly snorts were coming from a herd of wild buffalo, everybody would be crying with laughter.

He loved a party, and to dance. Often, at his insistence, we’d be the first up and dancing. And the last.

Please dance for Tom. With Tom in your heart. At least one more time.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.



Some September Stuff

Fiona Cameron-Brown Canva

There are some days that one never forgets.  What happened, where you were, what you were doing and what followed.  I was standing in my kitchen starting to get supper ready when I heard the news that Queen Elizabeth II had died.  It got me thinking about how, in my life, I’ve lived history.  It’s not something one thinks about as a six-year old, sitting on the floor, listening to a crackly radio broadcast as the first human walked on the moon.

Similarly, when the 1976 “riots” broke out in South Africa and a year later, Bantu Stephen Biko was murdered on 12 September.  I was at boarding school and television didn’t exist in South Africa then.  Because of that, and because at school, unless you were a senior (I was not in 1976/7), the only source of news was the local newspaper.  Every week day, a copy of the Daily Despatch arrived on a table in the common room.  After school, almost ritualistically, I’d read it.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was one of the few South African newspapers to document – in detail – the inquest into Biko’s death.

That, with hindsight, was my first significant September date.  There are others.

Not actually a royalist, but…

I’m not  a royalist and my views of monarchies are conflicted.  We have monarchies in South Africa.  Nelson Mandela was a member of the amaXhosa royal family.  Here, too, the notion is contested and, frankly, a bit confusing. Unlike in Britain, they are quite parochial and play no role, formally, in international relations.  Interestingly though, just today, the recently installed King of the Zulus extended an olive branch to their former colonisers.


I did, however, grow up with an English mother who, after her own mother’s death, found a book that documented the family’s tree back to landed gentry and royalty.  She claimed.  I don’t know what happened to the book. I wonder, now, whether that story is apocryphal.    It does, however, explain why I remember November the 14th 1973.  I was 10, it was a hot, early afternoon in the kitchen at home.  Making a million sandwiches. There was some or other school event later that day. My memory isn’t sure, but says that it was a prize giving.   What my memory is very sure of, is why the radio was on, and there was no conversation:  Princess Anne was getting married.  My mother was hanging on every word.

Some eight years later, and Charles married Diana, I was at university.  A bunch of us piled into a friend’s car and headed to our house.  When my parents came home for lunch our lounge was bursting at the seams with young people, glued to the television, watching the royal wedding. We were all – to a boy and girl – roughly the same age as the girl-woman who became the People’s Princess.

September, 16 years later

As vividly as I remember that July day, I remember the morning of Sunday, September 1st, 1997.  I had gone through to the kitchen to make the ritual cup of tea and turned on the radio for the news.  It was heart stopping.  Princess Diana was dead.  She was only two years older than I, and over the intervening years, my empathy for a woman who on that 1981 day, had no idea of the poison chalice she’d been served, had grown.  My own marriage at the time, was on the rocks.  That she seemed to be getting a second chance made it all the more tragic. To me, anyway.

Then, five days later, Mother Theresa died.  Yes, she was old, but I felt it in a way I hadn’t for Princess Diana.  That news was buried in the public outcry, controversy and pomp an ceremony that surrounded the Princess’s funeral.  My memory sent me back to that day in 1988 when I’d had the privilege of meeting a saint.

Living history

Little did I realise, following the Biko story as a 14 year old, that the newspaper I was reading was part of history, documenting history.  I think it’s really something that dawns on one with hindsight.  As do the ironies of life.  Like, for example, from whom I heard about Nelson Mandela’s imminent release in 1990. I wrote about that here.

There are other dates that remain indelibly in my memory, and one of these is 9/11.  The Husband and I weren’t yet married.  We were at work – on a joint project.  Not long after lunch, a colleague said her mother had phoned to tell her that an aeroplane had flown into a building in New York.  My initial reaction was one of utter disbelief.  It was in the early days of the internet and I had a dial up connection in the office.  I simply could not connect to any of the international news sites to verify what sounded like a bad story line.

By the time we went home – earlier than usual – we new “it” had happened.  We unlocked the front door, and for the first time in our shared life, dropped everything and turned on the TV.  How long we sat watching that horror unfold and repeat, I can’t remember.  I do remember a sense of incredulity that something unimaginable was happening and that the world would never be the same again.  Nor is it.

An internationally insignificant, significant September day

21 September 2002

There is a third September day that I shall never forget, and for very different reasons.  It didn’t hit the international headlines, but twenty years later, my memories of that day are as vivid as they were then.  It feels like yesterday and in others, it’s a lifetime ago.  Only because we’ve made a life.  It’s been an eventful one and, I’d like to think, a happy one.  May we have as many more happy and healthy years together.

Back to the Queen

Over the last week or so, I’ve been wondering about my fascination with happenings in the United Kingdom.  I am.  Anyone who has lost a parent or someone close to them, can only but empathise with the family’s grief.  Could I grieve publicly, stoically and as gracefully as that?  No.  I didn’t.  When my mother died, I took one of her friends to church.  I’d been holding it together for my father.  Condolences from my mother’s friends and comparative strangers to me, and from the pulpit, sent me into a paroxysm of weeping that I could not control.  Nothing very stoic or graceful in that.

The ancient ritual, pomp and ceremony fascinate me.  That some of them, like the coronation, hark back to prehistory in a modern world keep me glued.  The people, the scenes and the buildings fascinate me and while there’s a part of me that feels a bit like voyeur, this is history unfolding in real time, and scenes I doubt, I shall ever see again.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


Six decades, only six songs? Impossible

musical memories

Whenever I hear Abba’s Waterloo, my eleven year old self remembers the first “pop” song that appealed to her – the very first time she heard it.


It was a weekday afternoon and the radio was on – we had one of those radiograms that had the radio in the middle, a turntable on one side, and a cubby hole for the records on the other.  No, Waterloo was not the first seven single I bought.  That was this song from a local singer, and about not my father, who was also a Jimmy, but rather he who sang about his Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. My mother subsequently developed a long lasting love affair with Abba and bought each album as it appeared.  They were played to death on that record player.  In my teenage and adult years – and still in some circles – it just wasn’t done to admit that one was an Abba fan.  My mother was NOT a Waterloo fan, but she loved Chiquitita

As a fourteen year old, I remember a drilling – gymnaestrada – competition at school.  Every class participated in it each year.  I only remember 1977 and the song:  Knowing me, Knowing you.  We won.

Not quite the task

I’ve not really begun, and already I’m way off track.  The task set, here, was to select one song that best reflects for each decade of one’s life.

A confession

I recommended the theme, and the Silver Bloggers’ team agreed.  I should have known better.  Music – popular – I admit – has played an important part in my life – with a little jazz on the side.  Going on five years ago, someone challenged me to pick my favourite song.  I simply could not and, instead, wrote a kind of musical “back story” to my life.  Similarly when I tried and forced myself, eventually, to pick my top 3 lead singers. I couldn’t.

It’s that old story:  be careful what you wish for.  I had created a tall order.  For myself, anyway.


Reading those posts – you need to, for some of what follows to make sense – I confirmed a suspicion:  I’ve written a lot about my favourite songs.  That backstory to my life, though, is a combination of musical memories and poetic license:  I did have to search for some songs to weave into the story. Just for fun.   I do conclude with some real, and for me, iconic favourites.  In getting to my top 3 lead singers, on the other hand, I picked songs and people that take me back to people and places at specific times in my life.  Or, which reflect – with hindsight – what was happening for (or to) me, in that phase of my life.

So, in thinking about the six decades from the 1960s to the 2020s, I realise I have set myself a hard task.  In thinking about it, I had to create a framework for myself.  I tried to divide my life into phases and thought about what song takes me back there.  In some parts of my life, a lot happened in ten years and at others, there’s an almost ten year blank.

So, as usual, I’m taking liberties and I shall be doing phases rather than decades.

Pre-school:  the 1960s

One of my earliest musical memories is Sandy Shaw’s Puppet on a String. Somehow, it always takes me back to the first home I remember in South Africa:  an apartment in Port Elizabeth.  I don’t have vivid memories of the place other than of some of the things I did with my Dad.  He worked for the municipality and St George’s Park  was within walking distance – even for a wee girl of about four – and I’d occasionally go with him when he had a weekend duty.  I think, though, that this is the song that marks that phase:

Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, it seems, is a song I’ve always known, although I didn’t really get to enjoy or understand his music until I was in my 20s.  I have a funny feeling that my mother’s decision that yellow was my favourite colour, was based on my probably constant humming of this song.

I loved singing and would often ask my dad what I could sing for him.  His stock answer:

Over the hills and far away…

And he meant it.

Back to Donovan: I had a colleague in the mid-80’s who had a yellow tie, and whenever he wore it, I’d greet him with a

They call me mellow yellow….

He was a dyed-in-the wool Afrikaans South African.  His expression told me he’d never heard the song…

Primary school:  1970 – 1975

I have already mentioned my Waterloo moment.  There is though, another 1970s song that will forever take me back to this part of my life.  My parents had friends who would invite us to lunch at the military base and in the mess.  There was, of course, “piped” music and one Sunday, I distinctly remember singing along (much to my mother’s horror) to a song, in the middle of which she exclaimed:

I cannot stand this!

Charisma’s Mammy Blue, now rarely heard on the radio, never fails to take me back to that time, my little frock and bobby sock, as well as of course, my very irritated mother.

High School: 1976 – 1980

I was twelve when I went to boarding school in 1976.  Happily.  I escaped my mother and home where I felt trapped.  While boarding school was very rigid and I was considered a goody too shoes, I lived in my head, doing my own thing within those rules.  There were difficult times and one of my most horrible memories was the initiation.  The “newpots” had to dress up as bunny girls and dressed like that, we were subjected to all manner of humiliation and finally compelled to perform at a concert.  For an introvert it was traumatic.  To this day, dressing up and opening myself to that kind of humiliation fills me with horror.  Nor will I be part of anything like that.  If I were to pick a song that summarises that time, it would probably have to be this one:

I did relate to Sandra Dee, but never saw myself finding my Danny.

University: 1981 – 1985

Each of these five years is a lifetime.  I started growing up and started the journey to becoming myself.   Choosing just one song from that phase, was difficult.  The 80s was, seriously, my era, so in selecting, I’ve chosen, again, songs, the titles of which reflect what I was learning to do and be.  That said, I do love them both.  For different reasons.  Both have elements of brass and big bands, a love of which I shared with my dad.

First up, Joe Jackson.  Many of his hits punctuated the first couple of years at uni – as I was learning to step out, myself.

Not only do I enjoy the ska that was Madness, but I was also, in my own way, learning to go one step beyond…


Work and more: 1986 – 1990

I think I had more fun, and did more partying in my first year as a working girl than I’d had in my entire life.  Every Friday, the party began at around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  A bunch of us would adjourn to an establishment about four or five blocks from our inner city Johannesburg offices, for our weekly “seminar”.  We’d put the grand sum of R2 into a pool and that would buy the bunch of us at least two rounds of beer.  Yes, I drank beer in those days.  Who didn’t?

We’d hang around there until we discovered who was playing that evening.  If we liked the band, we’d stay.  We always stayed for The African Jazz Pioneers.  This transports me back to those evenings – instantly.

In 1990, after Nelson Mandela’s release, but before democracy, they were one of the first mixed groups to play at the Nico Malan Theatre (now Artscape) in Cape Town.   I was on holiday in Cape Town and dating (sort of) a then member of parliament and we went to see the show.  It was weird.  There was that huge band, all formal, in dinner jackets, playing to a seated, un-dancing audience.

Returning to the 80s, and that same venue, another iconic local band we never missed, was Bright Blue.  Their iconic Weeping is embedded in the soundtrack to my life but the song that takes me back to those heady nights when we literally danced till dawn, either at Jameson’s or at some or other illegal shebeen in Soweto, is this one:

It was a happy, dancing time and I met genres of music that this little white girl had never experienced (too many and much for now).  I was enchanted and hooked.

Democracy and divorce – 1990s

The 1990s is the decade that, when I looked back, seemed like a complete blank.  Of course, it was not.  South Africa went to the polls for the first time – as a united nation. This always takes me back to that time.

I left Johannesburg and followed my heart to the Eastern Cape where I started an entirely new life as a self-employed gig-worker.  With him, I moved to Cape Town. Married.  Had to start a new work network.  Again.  Then.  Divorced.

This was an essential and defiant anthem.

2000 and beyond

Sanatna, of course, featured for me in the 2000s.  Although this song came out in 1999, the album won a load of Grammy awards in 2000.  It was also in the last decade that Santana performed in South Africa.  A highlight, which I enjoyed with The Husband (we married two years into the new millenium – another story…).

At that show, Santana played not only Smooth, but one of my favourite – ever – guitar instrumentals and which I shared in that other post.

If I did have to pick a that sums up South Africa (and perhaps the world at the time) for that decade, it would be this one:

Then, for the current decade – which is still a toddler – dominated by nothing but probably world’s worst pandemic since the Black Death, if not the Spanish Flu.  I began the decade filled with hope for (yet another) new beginning… It’s a song and dance that somehow seemed to lift not just South Africa but the world.



I admit:  I’m not really “into” new music.  That said, we love local live music gigs – when we can.  We (The Husband and I) have a reputation of being both first. And last.  On the dance floor.

Long may we (all) dance.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


The quest to use less plastic

plastic free

Jars and lids for cleaning and repurposingThe Husband groans every time some of my regular customers arrive at the market, bulging bag in hand and make a bee-line for me.   I take great delight in these deliveries: they’re usually glass jars (and the odd bottle) that they have emptied and saved.  Sometimes for me to refill or to fill afresh.  Before I can use them, the labels must come off, the glue cleaned and the branded lids sprayed black.  Jars and lids, from time to time cover entire surfaces – like the dining room table – as I clean, sort and save similar jars until I have enough of a particular size and shape for a batch of something.sorted, recycled jars

Saving jars is not new.  I’ve been doing it ever since I can remember and each time I’ve moved house, I’ve had to throw lots out.  I hated doing it because it goes back to the days before recycling depots existed.

Newspaper, brown paper and string

I remember a time before polystyrene trays, cling wrap and plastic bags.  My first memories of grocery shopping – my mother did a monthly shop – and everything came home in large, brown paper bags.  Then, when I must have been about ten, the groceries started coming home in yellow and black plastic bags.  They crinkled and squawked and just couldn’t keep quiet.  Paper bags were much gentler on the ear and we folded them up to store for re-use – if they weren’t  wet or torn. Actually, we seldom threw any paper away.

Newspapers were a fact of life:  at least six, if not seven, days a week.  They, too, were never thrown out after they’d been read.  They piled up for lining the refuse bins, padding, packaging, cleaning windows and starting the fire.  Newspaper is still the best thing for the final touch to the clearest, cleanest glass windows.  Consequently, newspaper, because it’s so rare, is a precious commodity in The Sandbag House.

A trip to the butchery

When I was in primary school, my mother worked only in the mornings.  The between-monthly-shops happened on a Thursday. One of these included a visit to the butchery.  When we went with my mother, it was a highlight.  The butcher, or Uncle Vic as we knew him, was a hulking Yorkshireman with a twinkle in his eye.  The shop had large picture windows and if he was behind the counter – he usually was – by the time we were through the door, he was handing us kids, a Vienna sausage each.  Yes, those red ones nobody admits to eating anymore and which they made in-house.  We loved them and frequently embarrassed my mother by demanding our sausages if they didn’t appear in time.  They came in long strings…and, in my opinion, made the best hot dogs.

That reminds me of my last birthday party at home and before I went to boarding school:  it was in the early evening and my mother prepared hot dogs and home made tomato sauce for a hoard of 12 year old girls.  A fond memory: more for the hot dogs and sauce than for the party, itself.

Vegetable shopping

When I first moved to Johannesburg, and found an apartment, I had not a stick of furniture, let alone a fridge.  Vegetables actually do manage to survive without a fridge and there was an old fashioned green grocer on my route home.  I think that lovely old man was Spanish.  I clearly remember his little shop:  shelves filled with bunches of carrots, parsnips and spinach.  Bins of potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions.  Loose green peppers and tomatoes.  I could buy one of each or ten.  It didn’t matter.

He weighed my single sweet potato, two onions, a green pepper and three tomatoes on an old fashioned scale, and wrapped them in newspaper.  The bunch of carrots – tops and all – were tied together with string as were the bunches of anything: spinach, turnips, whatever. Yes, then he put all my wares, so wrapped, into a plastic carrier bag for the walk home.

After all, it was 1986.  A time when everyone bought and read newspapers and plastic bags were the best invention since sliced bread.

Compost, litter and plastic

compost binRe-wind fifty-odd years to my first memory of living in a house.  My parents built it, and the first part of the garden to be developed was the vegetable patch – with a compost heap – remember, me mentioning my father and the allotment?  From then on, there was always a compost bowl.  There still is.  All vegetable peelings, egg shells, discarded leaves, stalks and the heel of the bread, all go into the compost bin en route to the compost heap.

When I have occasion to cook in someone else’s kitchen and there’s no compost bowl, it feels, to say the least, weird.  Like something’s missing.

In the early days of my market journey I used quite a lot of single use plastic.  I didn’t like it, but it was easily accessible (for me to buy or get delivered) and it was cheap.  My soups and pâtês were all in plastic.

Shifting to glass

Then, three, going on four years ago (I’m not really sure because Covid’s screwed with my clock and my memory), I changed things.  I realised that the market was a fixture in my life. I really wanted my products – my market presence – to reflect my concern for the planet.  I knew that it was likely to cost me more because not only is glass (and metal for the lids) more expensive, but I’d have to factor in the cost of delivery.  My little home industry would never qualify for a free delivery from a factory that routinely delivers to multinational breweries and wineries.  I knew from a previous life, that even small businesses that would buy several hundred of an item, didn’t qualify.

Jars paper bagsI did a lot of homework:  volume, shape and, of course, cost.  I did spreadsheets.  Thought, agonised and bothered The Husband with my thinking.  I figured I could entice locals who bought, to return the jars and get a discount on their next purchase.  I bit the bullet, ordered and around the time of the year that The Husband suggests we to review my costings, made the change.

Real advantages

As it turns out, not only do regular customers return the jars (locals and regular visitors alike), they bring more.  There has been another are some real advantages that I hadn’t expected:  all the products last longer in glass.

Let me explain –

  • Hot products bottled hot in sterile jars means they’re effectively “canned”.  The shelf life of my chicken liver pâtê has almost doubled since I’ve been potting it.  The soups that used to go into plastic, I now put into old mayonnaise and pickle jars.  They’re also sterilised and I pour the soup into them when both they and the soup are hot.  Then the lids go on.  As they cool, as happens with the pâtê, the jars seal to form a vacuum.
  • Cold products, like the salads or the curries that I sell and which have fresh leaves as accompaniments, also last longer.  When I’ve not sold all the meals at the market, a week to ten days later, I’ve gingerly opened the jars to be pleasantly suprised  delighted at how little the contents have deteriorated.  We’ve eaten them with relish and they’ve saved me from cooking for more meal than one!
  • Berries, like strawberries, also last longer in glass.  Our strawberry patch is little and we have to compete with the birds for fruit.  That means we must often save several pickings to have enough fruit for something meaningful.  I rinse them, not just of the dirt they might have collected, but in vinegar and pop them in a jar and into the fridge.  Again, and at the risk of repeating myself, they stay fresher than in plastic. Even Mr Tupper’s ware.


My awareness of the environment, as I’ve mentioned, goes back to my Dad.  My Standard 8 (year 10) Geography teacher entrenched it.  That year, 1978, I have distinctive memories of my first encounter with the greenhouse effect, heat (and pollution) domes as well as the danger of rising sea levels if the polar ice caps melt too much.

That’s how many years ago?


Nobody was listening.  The world wasn’t listening.  The energy crisis of the same era, rather like now, was an economic rather than environmental issue.  Different from four decades ago, the energy crisis, certainly in South Africa, is partly being used as a way of introducing renewable sources of energy. That’s not enough.

Theoretically, the move away from fossil fuels would see the end of plastic.  But would it?  Nope.  Plastic is recycled and in comparison with a standard human life, indestructible.     And all the information about recycling is confusing.  And plastic – even single use plastic – is incredibly useful.  This Forbes article says it more eloquently and clearly than I ever could.

The intruder

I am often freaked out and angry at the amount of plastic that finds its way into our home.  It’s neither welcome nor do we have a choice.  Products that used to reach the shelves in glass or tin, like Colman’s mustard- and baking powder, are in plastic containers.  Finding loose, unwashed vegetables is well nigh impossible.

Did you know that unwashed potatoes last longer – especially kept in the dark under newspaper – than washed potatoes?  They’re less likely to go green.

Often, there is more than one layer of packaging – polystyrene trays and cling wrap.  Then there’s the vacuum packed (in plastic of course) product that’s wrapped – again – often gently laid on a polystyrene tray and smothered in cling wrap.

Speaking of which, did you know that if you instantly liberate the mushrooms from their plastic and polystyrene prison, and store them in a brown paper bag, they don’t go slimy, and last very well in the fridge?

This begs the question about what happens to the discarded packaging.  Some of it goes into our recycling bins.  Not all of it may:  if it’s contaminated by food, it may not and ends up in landfill.  And that’s the best option.

In my small corner

The magnitude of the problem compounded by how pervasive single use plastics are, might suggest that doing something it at an individual level is entirely futile.  Sometimes I think it is.  Then I think it isn’t.


Fiona's Favourites paper carrier bags I cannot not.  It’s in my genes.  In my quiet way, at the market, and as far as possible, I choose to use paper and glass.  Sometimes, like with pickled fish, I have no choice and every time I make it for the market, I agonise.  Jars, the right size for that product, would make it prohibitively expensive.  One solution – for orders – is to ask customers to provide their own containers.  I do.  They do.

So, at the market, I pack bread, koeksisters and rolls in brown paper bags.  If folk need a bigger bag for all their wares, they can buy a brown paper carrier.  It’s all paper and entirely biodegradable.  Better than that, it’s robust enough to use again. And again.

If folk say, “Oh, I love your packaging,” and ask why I use glass, I’ll tell them.  It’s just my small bit in the quest to be plastic free.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.


The dying memories of the 1980s: looking back to look at the now

For the last couple of days, I have been musing on the heady, awful and wonderful days of the mid-1980s.   At the moment, there’s a kind of pall hanging over South Africa which is a function of the nearly fifteen years of electrickery drama, ongoing corruption and impunity, only the surface of which Zondo has scratched. This is compounded with a growing sense of unease.  The crime rate is burgeoning country wide.  Closer to home, in the village, it seems rife.  That is contradicted by the actual statistics that the local police presented at a recent village meeting.  However, in a small community, each crime seems personal:  the perpetrators are often habitual criminals who grew up here, and we know by sight, and have fallen by the wayside.  The victims – rich and poor – are often people we know.

It began on Sunday

My reflections began on Sunday with the news that Jessie Duarte had died.  Not quite ten years my senior, she was a significant character the South African political landscape – that the general (white) public knew about – just before and since 1994.  My connections with her are vicarious:  I had reason to deal with both of her brothers in the 80s.  One, because of his drive behind establishing a coalition of non-governmental organisations.  The other, well, it’s not important now.  What is important is that at the time, we all had a single goal:  a South Africa where people of different races had the same rights and suffrage.  Somehow, through it all, we were young people who had fun and lived life to the full. Regardless.


Monday, that’s yesterday, was Mandela Day.  For the first time since its inception in 2009, I did nothing remotely connected with its spirit.  I can’t remember what I did in 2020 – blame it on Covid.  In 2021, and when we were in yet another lockdown, I played a minor role in a client’s campaign for the day.  At least.  This year, I sort of reflected more on how Nelson Mandela would have been profoundly sad at how his legacy has been destroyed.

A death on Mandela Day

Yesterday afternoon as I thumped away at my keyboard to meet an already missed deadline, I heard the announcement that gangster-turned-poet, Don Mattera, had died.  I only had one encounter with him.  I was all of 22 and it was in 1986 and on a day that was significant in the “struggle” calendar.  As I carry on reflecting, and his particular brand of politics, I think it must have been Sharpeville Day in March.  He addressed us – staff of a “struggle” organisation.  I don’t remember what he said or the poem he read, but I remember things about that day like it was yesterday.  Of the man, I remember his presence.  Not because he was a hulking man but rather because of his loud, clear message of peace at a time when South Africa was on fire.  Already a devout Muslim, he had a gentle strength about him that gave a lie to his past life as a gangster.   The room was filled to bursting – probably nearly a hundred of us, hanging on his every word.

Why is this significant, today?

Much of what we did at work in that organisation, every day (and at home), in 1986, was illegal in South Africa.  It was illegal for people of different races to work together.  It was not the done thing to create equal education for folk of other races.  What that meant:  an education that encouraged questioning, free speech and genuine intellectual development.  It was illegal, that day, for many of the folk in that room to gather in numbers greater than 10, let alone sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. And we did.  Both.  With sombre delight and gusto.

Work and play hard

This photo is of me, sitting at a black colleague’s desk, that same year.  We were young folk

Sitting at a colleague’s desk in 1986

from across the spectrum of South Africa’s race groups who worked together and had fun together.  We’d have “seminars” at  Jameson’s on Commissioner Street each Friday afternoon. When we were done, and the band was not to our taste, we’d adjourn, often to Soweto and continue the discourse and debates party until the wee hours of the morning.  White folk were not supposed to venture into the townships, period.  Let alone young white women – as one policeman at a road block one evening delighted to advise.  He also tried to terrify my friend and I with stories of what would happen to us if “black men got their hands on you.”  We figuratively closed our ears, let him finish his tirade, wound up the window and drove back to Yeoville in silence.

Part of my “play” included volunteer work with Johannesburg’s street children.  The detail’s not important and again, we were an eclectic bunch of people living the future South Africa.

Friends and colleagues enjoying a day in the country with the street kids in our care – 1986/7

Looking back to look forward

I’m grateful for the reflection that the news of both Duarte’s and Mattera’s death foisted upon me.  Yes, things are difficult – very difficult – in this country.  But there are things that today’s young people – mercifully – will never experience:

Whites only sign Getty Images

Two particular memories live with me.  One, as a child, I never understood why, when my father took our helper home on a Saturday at lunch time, she – a grown woman – had to sit on the back seat and I, all of about 7, sat in the front next to my father. Just in case, I learned as an adult, they had “relations” across the “colour bar”.

Johannesburg bus circa 1896

The second is more like a series of bad dreams and they’re all associated with buses like the one in the photo.  We used public transport.  Sometimes, colleagues from “another” part of town headed to “our” side of town for a visit after work.  Some bus drivers simply looked the other way.  Others – one in particular, and whom we referred to as the nazi – took great delight in making sure they couldn’t get on the bus.  Except when in the company of white colleagues.  One afternoon, a friend (the tall one with the white hat among the street kids) and I hopped off on the way because he said –

Why don’t we stop for a beer?

So we got off in Hillbrow which, at that time, was already quite cosmopolitan even though it was designated as a “Whites Only” residential area.


The first only place we chose didn’t turn us away, and although I knew it was an all hours joint (for e-ver-y-thing), the server said we could only have lemonade.  We left.  Got back on the bus and went to my house.  And ate, drank (beer and wine) and made merry.


That is the type of experience to which South Africa’s youth can never be exposed – or shouldn’t, anyway.  That kind of discrimination is now illegal.   They never have to spend their lives looking over their shoulders for fear of just living their youth.

This is Mandela’s legacy and which we should celebrate.  Every Day.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.



Sourdough – it’s a journey of constant learning

Sourdough bun recipe

I have a to-do list of promises that is as long as my arm (and the other and both legs) of recipes that I’ve said I’ll write up and share. This promise was made two years ago. It’s weird that it’s two years ago. It also seems that the phrase “two years” is running through so many conversations at the moment.

Two years since we were sort of let out

It dawned on me just yesterday, after the market, that it was this weekend, two years ago, that we resumed the McGregor Market. Restriction levels were 3A. Whatever that means. They seemed to change every week.

McGregor Market on a wintery 4 July 2020: Level 3A lockdown restrictions

I remember for three reasons.

  • It coincided – by a day – with The Husband’s birthday. Which we could not celebrate in any meaningful way.
  • The reunion of market pals was happy – almost like a family reunion. It was tentative, though, because we were all still caught up in the fear of this unknown thing that was the pandemic.
  • I added sourdough buns to my regular market fare, and I’ve been baking 24 of them – sometimes more – every week since. I have a customer who has a standing order for between 6 and 10 a week.


The first thing I learned about making sourdough, was that I had to keep mother alive. I have successfully managed to do that for more than two years. At the market the other day, someone actually asked me how old “the culture” was. There was no response when I said just over two years. I wonder why he asked. I had other customers, so I didn’t enquire.

Natural yeast is good for you

A few years ago – I’m not exactly sure how many – I stopped eating commercial bread. I felt hugely better for it and lost weight. A lot. Since I’ve been making bread with natural yeast (sourdough) – I’ve resumed bread eating – daily. In truth, I’ve eaten more bread in the last two that I ate in the previous two years. I’ve not regained the weight I lost. That tells me something a lot. I have certainly experienced the benefits.

Two years later: a confession

In January, I shared my first bake using sourdough with mother. It wasn’t a bread, and which is why I’m only now claiming chapter two with this post. And I am also going to confess: although I promised this recipe to Katie (my plantbased food fiend friend), especially after I re-created it in a vegan version, I didn’t. I just wasn’t sure that I’d perfected it. Truth be told, I hadn’t. Somehow, each week they were different and I was just not sure what I was doing wrong. Two years, and, I guess, about 104 weeks and more than two thousand rolls later, I feel more confident.

What I’ve learned

Sourdough bun recipe

The rolls are never exactly the same each week and you need to watch every step of the way. It’s trial and error and one has to be open to that. I will admit that just in the last six weeks to two months, something has just clicked and I’m getting them consistently “righter” than before. I am so much happier with them now.

What is it, I hear you asking?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’m leaning towards adjusting some of the quantities and instead of using a liquid measure for mother, I’m now weighing her instead. I am also not allowing myself to be tempted to add more water than the recipe says.

The results: much, much better.

McGregor Market
My sourdough offering at the market every Saturday

If you’d like the recipe for these rather delicious (even if I say so myself) buns, you can download it here. If you do download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

As that photo confirms, those buns are not the only sourdough bread I’m doing. I’m doing those loaves, too. I’ve been doing them for about nine months. I’m still not getting things right there, so when I’ve learned what I’m doing wrong, I’ll share that recipe too. Oh, and I’ve also made naan breads – that recipe, too, I shall share. Possibly before the loaves because they are super delicious and given that it’s winter, I’m hankering for a good curry and naan.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.

Musings on Mothers, Motherhood and Choices

It’s Mothers’ Day today.  Growing up, Mothers’ Day was not a thing.  I do, though, remember sermons about Mothering Sunday.  Until I went to boarding school where peer group pressure made me pay attention and “do the right thing”.  My mother’s response was less than enthusiastic which, with hindsight, I still don’t understand.  Was I hurt?  I don’t remember.  I do remember that my peers looked at me funny when I said that in our home we didn’t “do” Mothers’ Day – or Father’s Day – for that matter.  I was used to the funny looks.  They have quite a lot with why, for a patch, the adolescent and young adult Fiona worked hard at two things:  conforming and being invisible.

Mum was not my friend

It’s no secret that my relationship with my mother was difficult.  I don’t miss her or think about her very often, the way I do my father. I’m no longer envious of women who are friends with their mothers.  At one time I was and longed for that sort of relationship.  It took years to recognise that during my young adulthood, I had been blessed with friendships with women who cared for and comforted me in a way my own mother never did or could.  It was they with whom had some of those very uncomfortable conversations that I think daughters should be having with their mothers.  Similarly, it was with them I shared some of my most happy life events and experiences.

Motherhood and universal kinship

As I approach the end of my third score, I remain constantly perplexed at what women expect of each other.  It also astounds me how some assume that within minutes of what will most definitely be a passing acquaintance, they may ask, “Do you have children?”  Some women welcome that question and will happily wax lyrical about their children and/or grandchildren.

Others dread it.

I am one of those.

Because no, I don’t have children.  And the person – usually a woman – asking, generally does.

A negative answer doesn’t end the conversation.  If she’s smart, she’ll change the subject.  Regrettably, that’s not often my experience.  After her face registers confusion and sympathy, she believes that she now has license to quizz, “Why?”

Because women have an inherent kinship, right?


I sometimes wonder whether, if the boot were on the other foot, and she were asked why she has children, her answer would be an honest or comfortable one.  I suspect, in some cases, not.  I know some women who, if they are brutally honest, will say that having a/that child was not their preferred choice.

That confession is not something shared with a comparative stranger.  Nor is it expected.  Why, then, should a childless woman be expected to explain that she might not have had children because:

  • she’s infertile
  • her partner’s infertile
  •  she just does / did not want children

Each of those (of a myriad other) answers opens new cans of worms, some of which bore their way to the very core of women’s intimate spaces.

Choices  and judgement

Women most easily “forgive” first two possible answers.  It’s the last one that is confusing and often not forgivable. It confuses me because what is so unforgivable about making a conscious choice?  Judgements range from (and these are not exclusive to me) from –

“How can you be so selfish?”


“You would have made such a good mother!”

and the piéce de resistance —

“You don’t know what you’re missing!”


Society hasn’t really changed

Biology aside (which we know has not changed over the eons), “we” like to think that in the 21st century, society is more “advanced” than it was a century ago.  In some ways it is, but it really depends on where women find themselves – even in the same village.  I remain astounded at how so much social and other media reflect a world in which a woman can only be happy if she finds a man, marries (preferably) and has children.

The burgeoning wedding industry and the rise in popularity of uber romantic destination weddings does nothing to dispel this, either.

Sutherland Farm Wedding Expressions Photography 142
Source: Expressions Photography

Granted, there are well-documented correlations between socio-economic level and these expectations, which are also often connected with both religious beliefs and level of education.  That said, women who eschew some of these conventions – and I’m one of them – find themselves constantly judged for, and defending, their choices.

Freedom to decide and choose

It’s partly Mother’s Day, and partly the leaking of the possibility that the seminal Roe v. Wade judgment could be overturned, that has me pondering.  I know four women who had pregnancies terminated in South Africa in the 1980s.

Each one of those women agonised over that dreadful decision.  I’d go so far as to suggest that it was the single most difficult decision any of those women have ever made in their now nearly 60 years of life.

Only one of the terminations was legal and that by virtue of her economic circumstances and access to medical professionals who knew how to work the system.  The other three all had backstreet abortions.  Relatively speaking, they were safe – also by virtue of their economic status.  They had the connections to be able to find a “practitioner” and managed to afford to have the procedure – at night – in what was probably a private day clinic. There were no follow-up visits.  No checks to see that all was ok.  All three knew that if there were complications, there were other potential consequences, other than not having an unwanted pregnancy.

Two of these women went on to have children.  One has three boys – now grown up.  Another, that I am aware of, subsequently went on to marry and have a child.  Divorce and then have another.  She’d resolved never to have another termination.  As did one of the others and who is not unhappily childless.  I lost touch with the fourth.

Where were the sperm donors?

In the case of the legal termination, and one of the women, I have no idea whether the sperm donors played any role in the decision. In the third, he simply ended the relationship.  The fourth abdicated any involvement in the decision:

Whatever you decide is fine with me.    I will support you.

It’s unfathomable that an opinionated, educated man had no opinion on something potentially lifechanging – for two, potentially three, lives.  He did, once she had made a hard, solitary decision, contribute half the cost of the then illegal procedure.

The death statistics

In 1997, the year that abortion was legalised in South Africa, a study showed that 95% of women hospitalised were admitted because of incomplete abortions.  Of that number, another 95% of those in public hospitals died of complications associated with abortion.  The study concludes that “methods used in this study underestimate the true incidence” – because the procedure was then illegal.  Statistics that have significantly dropped since that legislation was implemented.

Why Roe v. Wade reverberates for women all over the world

Most women who are pro choice are only too familiar with the symbolism of that 1973 judgement.  Its rescinding will be as symbolic.  It’s less about defining when a foetus can survive – and thrive – in the big wide world than it is about women’s autonomy.  It’s about our being able to make choices that affect our lives – and bodies – every moment of our lives.

As astounding as I find the questions about progeny, I find the pontifications of women who are happy mothers, and who chose to procreate. I am equally flummoxed by their damning judgement of women who chose differently.

How fortunate are they who have not been confronted with having to make a different choice.

Making it illegal for women to choose is not going to stop us choosing.

Deciding to terminate a pregnancy is a choice as old as history.  A change to the US law will have a knock on effect around the world and particularly in the global south where the US supports public health initiatives as happened under the Trump administration.  It’s a change that will result in death for many women.

My parents didn’t want children

I grew up being blamed for my parents not going to Australia.  Somehow, I was conceived and that plan was scuppered so they sailed back to England.  After my mother’s death in 1999, my father told me that he’d never wanted to marry, let alone have children.  The marriage, he happily blamed on my mother.  The first child remained a mystery.  They had taken every precaution.

How did that make me feel?

I admit to having been a little startled.  An irrational emotion because had I either not been born, or he’d kept that secret, I’d be none the wiser.

It’s moot.

I was loved – by them both.  Even if my mother was not my friend.

Whether she had a choice, or made a choice, I do not know.  I never will.  Either way, it’s a choice that was entirely hers to make.


On this Mother’s Day, spare a thought for those women for whom it’s a day that evokes all sorts of thoughts and emotions.  Sadness for mothers no longer around, unknown, not understood.  Or for those women who are again forced to confront – again – their decisions about motherhood.  Whether or not they have had the freedom to choose.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.



The soundtrack to my life – a kind of musical “back story”

An opening word – or three

I wrote this post as an experiment in November 2018 in response to a challenge:  pick one favourite song.  For me, that is a virtually impossible task.  I have favourites depending on my mood, what I’m hearing, the context, where I am… I delighted in rising to that challenge to which I rose.  A couple of years later, I responded to another challenge:  to write about my favourite lead singers, because when my erstwhile webhost disappeared – also in 2018 – this post went along with it.  When I “reconstituted” it in 2020, we were in the throes of a Covid lockdown.  It was a black period and I did little more than copy and paste it from the blockchain and repost it.

This time

The expriment worked – I’ll explain in a bit, but first, I’m revisiting it now for two reasons:  my blogpal, Traci, also plays in the crypto social space.  Twice a year for the last four years, she hosts Hive Blog Posting Month.   I have been a regular contributor for a while and have not just had fun, but have made new blogpals along the way.  She also offers a set of useful prompts.  I write what I like, generally, only occasionally checking in on the prompt.  One was about music that resonated.  As usual, I’m late to the party because not only did Traci’s own life soundtrack resonate with me, but it reminded me of mine and thought I should revisit it which was reinforced after reading this post from a self-proclaimed Mad Scot whose music seems to track (ha!) mine.

About this iteration

I mentioned that first reprise of this post was a copy and paste excercise.  With hindsight, I realise that I wasn’t really in a space to properly revisit it.  As I mentioned the other day, lockdown was a difficult time.  I – like the rest of the world – seemed to have been just marking time and going through the motions.  This time, I’m looking at my sound track with new eyes and listening with a clearer ear.

I am as interested as you (I hope) are, to see how things have changed or unravelled….


I wrote this in the third person:  it’s the first piece I ever wrote about myself using that technique.  I tried, and I think, succeeded in weaving my life story out of song and album titles.  I do use a little artistic license.  It was fun and, I’m told, makes a good read.  I hope it stands the test of time.


With her parents, she arrived On a Jet Plane (John Denver) in Johannesburg, South Africa – a little Puppet on a String (Sandie Shaw).  With a Locomotive Breath (Jethro Tull), the family took a train to Port Elizabeth (and got locked in a lavatory.  There, she made friends with Jennifer Eccles (The Hollies) and another Jennifer, Juniper (Donovan), but didn’t find Atlantis (Donovan).

The house my parents built in East London 1968. Originally, it consisted of the gable, and the chimney and the two windows to the left. This photo was taken in 2010.

After a while, the family moved to East London where she started school and met Pretty Belinda (Chris Andrews) whom, full of Sorrow (David Bowie) she left behind, when the family moved.  Again.  At the new school, she was Only the Lonely (Roy Orbison), and just had to Get Down (Gilbert O’Sullivan), and face her Waterloo (Abba), until she headed to boarding school.

So you think your schooling is phony….

Hostel dance – 1976 – only just a teenager

Boarding school was all about putting Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd) and avoiding the Bad Moon Rising (Credence Clearwater Revival).  ZX Dan (The Radio Rats) kept her company while she yearned for an African Sky Blue (Juluka).

In those teenage years, she was a bit like Sandra Dee (Olivia Newton John) looking for Someone to Love (Queen).

Then, like Greased Lightening (John Travolta), her Rhinestone Cowboy (Glen Campbell) rode in, but he had a Heart of Glass (Blondie), leaving her with The Sounds of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel) in the Purple Rain (Prince).

Asking, I want to know what love is? (Foreigner), she finished school and the Wild Thing (The Trogs), Like a Virgin (Madonna) headed to university.

There she found herself in the Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), saying, Papa don’t Preach (Madonna).

On the beach…

What a Feeling (Irene Cara), those years of Ebony and Ivory (Stevie Wonder) when, with a lot of De Do Do Do De Da Da Da (Police), Time after Time, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper), it was a Never Ending Story (Limahl).

Days of “study” and fun at university

Following her heart, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, in someone else’s (Silver Dream Machine), she nearly ended up as a Crash Test Dummy(s).  That episode did end up with her Making Love out of Nothing at all (Air Supply), and singing the Redemption Song (Bob Marley).

(Wo)Men at Work

Working 8 – 5 (Sheena Easton/Dolly Parton – take your pick)

The Long and Winding Road (The Beetles) led to Johannesburg – Starting Over (John Lennon) which ended with Love on the Rocks (Neil Diamond), making her Brown Eyes Blue (Linda Ronstadt).

It was also time to start working Eight Days’ a Week (Beetles), joining the Men at Work (Down Under).  So, Here comes Tomorrow (The Dealians).  In Sugarman‘s (Rodriguez) company, her Last Dance (Diana Ross) took her to Meadowlands (Strike Vilakazi) where she did the Pata Pata (Miriam Makeba) and pleaded, Give me Hope, Joanna (Eddie Grant).

The odd Weekend Special (Brenda Fassie) didn’t go amiss, either.

After a while, it was time to Beat It (Michael Jackson), take the Paradise Road (Joy) and Go West (Pet Shop Boys).  Not the best decision because Another one Bit(es) the Dust (Queen) because of a Careless Whisper (George Michael) – Tainted Love (Soft Cell).  Again (Doris Day). This time, Weeping (Bright Blue), she headed to Mannenberg (Abdullah Ebrahim/Dollar Brand) and found That Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen) that was Simply the Best (Tina Turner).

Love over Gold

It felt like Another Country (Mango Groove) in a Mad World (Tears for Fears) where Love is a Stranger (Eurythmics).

She Put(tin’ )on the Ritz (Taco), and began another Walk of Life (Dire Straits).  It was totally Perfect (Fairground Attraction), for which there could be no Substitute (Clout) and best of all, in a Funky Town (Pseudo Echo) that would keep her Forever Young (Rod Steward and Alphaville).

That Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler) didn’t last.  He was a Karma Chameleon (Boy George).  It was time to go Out there on My Own (Irene Cara), and with London Calling (The Clash), she headed for Barcelona (Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé).  From then on, Believe(ing – Cher), it was going to be all Livin’ la Vida Loca (Ricky Martin).

It was More than a Feeling (Boston).

It was definitely The End of the Road (Boyz II Men).  She told him Don’t Bring me Down (ELO) and Jump (Van Halen).  She took The Long Way Home (Supertramp) after what felt like The Crime of the Century (Supertramp).  No such thing as Love over Gold (Dire Straits).

Against All Odds

The Husband and I, exchanging vows – 2002

Then, My Oh My (Van Halen), completely unexpectedly, at the end of a long Telegraph Road (Dire Straits) she found A Groovy Kind of Love (Phil Collins) that was full of Honesty (Billy Joel) that had her Dancing on the Ceiling (Lionel Ritchie).  Jabulani (PJ Powers) – happiness was the word.  She had found her Charlie (Rabbit) and he wasn’t a Man on the Moon (Ballyhoo).  He did want to Kiss her all Over (Exile) on a Bed of Roses (Bon Jovi).


Firstly, did you pick up the group, album, song title or lines from songs in the section headings?  If you didn’t this is each of them – in order:  Arrival – Abba; So you think your schooling is phony….is a line from Supertramp’s Crime of the Century (song and album); Men at Work – the band from Australia and, finally, Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold song and album. And finally, that iconic Phil Collins song, Against All Odds…

Secondly, I did stop the story where another story began 20 years ago.  I guess I might have to consider doing another post about the last two decades…

Finally, as I said, I was hard pressed (notice the joke, those of you who remember vinyl) to choose just one.  I have favourites that apply at different times and others that I hated and now love.  I thought that in my revision, I might change things.  I haven’t.  I have added more, and not just in the headings which I did with version two….

There are songs missing from this list and which I’d love to have included, like Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela]), but I really couldn’t work it in, but couldn’t leave it out, either.  It is up there with another evocative song from my youth, Bright Blue’s Weeping.  Both are iconic songs of the struggle against Apartheid.

However, I have saved my absolute favourite to the end.  It comes from one of the world’s greatest guitarists and whose music underpins virtually every stage of my life – from my teens, and until now.  Why this song?  I have no idea, but it resonated for me the first time I heard it in the summer of 1980.  At the time, I did not know that it was Santana, or the name of the tune – it’s instrumental.  It haunted me for years, and one of the first records I ever bought, was the Santana album that included this song.  I now have it on CD – the same album – along with a number of other Santana albums that are all precious and special for different reasons.  One of the memories and experiences I shall treasure forever, was seeing Santana live in South Africa – I had waited nearly 40 years.  It was worth the wait and every penny.  Especially when he played this.

If Santana visits South Africa again, I’ll move heaven and earth – again – to go.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

I am participating in @traciyork‘s twice-yearly Hive Blog Posting Month.

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.