I changed my mind. I got the jab


Health is a personal matter until it’s a matter of public health. Like when the world is in the grips of a pandemic as it is now. I would not normally (I don’t think) share the sordid details of my illnesses. I qualify that because I suffer, happily, from rude health. The rationale for what I’m about to share is also not to change anyone’s mind, but rather to share why I did. Your choice remains your choice; your beliefs, are yours, too. I respect both.

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

When talk of the vaccine started, last year, I was anxious and skeptical. Through the work that I’ve done over the years, and again last year, I’ve learned the lengths (and time) it takes to get medicines from development to market. Partly because of this, and also living in South Africa, where we have the highest infection rate in the world, I’ve tracked the thirty-plus year journey to develop a vaccine against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Again, through my work, I’ve been exposed to had to work with the data.

Not enough information

I am not a scientist, but understanding the processes was enough to make me skeptical and scared that things – developing a vaccine – were being done in a rush. Mostly, I kept my own counsel. The Husband and I, both, at some point, said to ourselves each other:

Nope. I won’t get vaccinated, I’ll take my chances.

Like so many, that was before we knew, or knew of, people who had been afflicted, survived and/or worse still, died. That was also before there were known variants. A development that only surprised us in the rapidity with which changes are happening; all viruses mutate. That shocked us, as did the fact that with each mutation, this virus seems to get more vicious.

Besides anything, it was becoming increasingly evident that dying from, or living with, the long term effects of Covid disease didn’t bear thinking about. Two people in our local friendship circle, that we know of, have had the Delta variant, one after her first jab; both were very ill. The daughter of an acquaintance, remains fatigued. None of them wishes the disease on their worst enemies.

Paying attention to the news – some of it good

Like most people, I’ve paid more than passing attention to numbers and, as I mentioned, the vaccine “race”. More than that, though, are the stories reports of the extent to which this pandemic has stretched countries’ health systems: in South Africa, particularly in poor and under-resourced areas, as well as in other parts of the world.

More telling, though, is the fact that among the cohort of health workers who received the JnJ vaccine, and where there were breakthrough infections, only point zero five percent (0.05%) resulted in severe illness and death. The results are similar for those of us who have received the mandatory two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The work started donkeys years ago

For at least the last twenty years, there have been public service announcements exhorting the population, particularly over a particular age, and with co-morbities (now we all know what those are…) to get the flu jab. Influenza is also a member of the corona virus family. All the research that has gone into the vaccines for Covid-19 is built on this solid foundation. And then some. The research into messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is not new, or confined to Covid.

People developing the vaccine

In this country, we are privileged and proud – well I am – to be home to some of the world’s leading public health academics. They are doing important work on the pandemic. One, Glenda Gray, whose name I remember from the early 1990s and early (and ongoing) work in HIV has not only helped to secure vaccines for South Africa’s health workers, but is a leading researcher in the JnJ trial. Another, and who, until recently, played a significant role in advising the South African government, is now a member of the World Health Organisation’s Science Council.

Their calm, reasoned discourse has had a profound impact. That and constantly adding to my little bit of knowledge:

I began to change my mind. I did.

Then the vaccine roll-out

Here, as in most countries, the vaccination programme was rolled out in a triaged way, beginning with anyone over 60. The initial timeframe, saw me getting vaccinated sometime in 2022. I, like so many South Africans were disheartened, especially those not a “special” group like mine workers, teachers, or…. However, that has changed and just in the last two weeks, anyone 18 years old and up can get vaccinated.

Putting my phobia behind me

I am both needle phobic and have a terror of most things medical. Thanks to a bad experience in childhood and a three-week hospital stint after a car accident in my early 20s. In early July, just a day or two ahead of The Husband’s scheduled appointment for his jab in Robertson, the window opened for the over fifties. We decided that I should go along for the ride.

The near empty Callie de Wet Sports Centre converted to a vaccination site. Virtually empty early in July 2021.

With so few people turning out, it was a quick and easy in and out. Despite my phobia, I got my first jab. My Instagram “report” is here.

Six weeks later, as even more vaccination sites had opened up, I was due for my second dose and was designated to go to the local clinic. We both went.

The McGregor Public Clinic overflowing (in a socially distanced way) with folk getting their second jabs. The queue for the “first jabbers” was outside in the sun.

With many more people, it took a little longer, but it was still a relatively speaking quick, easy and mostly painless experience. That IG report is here.

Side effects

Neither of us has had a reaction. Other than tenderness on the injection site and for me, the first time round, a pretty sore arm. My sister-in-law, a health worker, experienced fever and headache after the JnJ jab. Another friend, fatigue after her first Pfizer jab. Yet another had, what the doctors suspect was a minor stroke, on two occasions, and each time, about three weeks after each jab; happily, she’s now recovered. We, and they, all say, rather that than severe Covid or death.

A reprise

In less than ten months last year, between March and November, I wrote eleven pieces that had either this virus, the pandemic and the associated fallout as the central theme. There’s a full list of them here. By and large, my views, other than on vaccination, have not changed and the fallout continues. And will for some time to come.

Part of an experiment

I acknowledge that we are all part of a global experiment learning: scientifically and socially. We can rail against it, but unless one has real power, there’s not a lot we can do about it. That said, there is some logic and sensibility to many of the restrictions. So, we (have to) obey the curfews and stick with the non-pharmaceutical interventions, stay safe and go with a sensible flow.

Getting the jab does not mean life has gone, or will go back to normal, or that we can drop the masks and consort with strangers. We are still in the throes of a third wave. There’s talk of the fourth – potentially in December. Again, for hospitality and tourism, the timing could not be worse.

We are fortunate in our little bubble to have been somewhat insulated from the pandemic but, as we have learned, first hand, breakthrough infections do happen. What the jab does, is prevent one from getting really, really sick, needing hospitalisation to be sedated and intubated or dying. Equally significantly, if I do get Covid disease, I am less likely to spread it to those around me, near and dear (especially) and not so dear. The vaccination means that I will have a lower viral load so I will not transmit the virus as easily.

I would still rather not – get the virus, be ill or spread it.

Looking forward

I want the village – and the world – to resume its normal traditional activities; to dance in the street again and wave the old year good bye. Hell knows, we’ve all had some bad ones.

The annual village tradition of dancing in the streets on New Year’s Eve. It has not happened since 2019.

I want the economy to recover. I need to work again. I want young people to be able to live and let live. I want to be able to celebrate milestones and inconsequential birthdays. I want to do more than share virtual meals. I want to want to put up the Christmas tree. We want to be able, and have the inclination to, invite folk around to break bread or for a gathering in the garden. Just because. We. Can. Again.

Herd immunity

The people who know, tell us that 70% of the world’s population must be vaccinated before this virus will be conquered. This COVID-19 Vaccine 101 Card and which you are welcome to download and share, helped to firm up my decision about getting vaccinated. It’s easy to understand and includes references and sources of more, and current constantly updated, information.

Looking back through my old photographs of times that were happier and more carefree, I realise more than ever that I want that – happy and carefree – for all our futures, again.

Getting vaccinated takes me (and us) one step closer.

Final word

This is just my opinion based on my reading, listening and learning. I made an informed choice and have shared some of the links to the information that made me realise that just a little bit of knowledge was dangerous.

For even more information –

In South Africa, visit the Department of Health’s Covid portal and/or the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. For readers from other parts of the world, the Center for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins are useful starting points.

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 appplications.

    • 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
    • I also share my occasional Instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click here or on the icon, and give it a go.

I’m tired….

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being in lockdown.

I’m tired of people supporting the lockdown.

I’m tired of people not supporting the lockdown.

I’m tired of people railing about “the situation” before they’ve read all the facts.

I’m tired of the mixed messages from our leaders – local and international.

I’m tired of listening to learned people telling us that they’re learning that they don’t know what they don’t know. Every day.

I’m tired of hearing the numbers. Every day. They are awful.

I’m tired of people dying. All over the world. All day. Every day. So far, none of my near (or far) dear people have died. But I’m hearing of people whose dear ones are ill and might die.

I’m tired of this virus. It has developed a vibrant life of its own that has taken over mine. I’m not ill, but it’s making me sick. It’s the last thing I think about as I go to sleep. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up.

I’m tired of spending every day – and I mean every day – and a signficant portion of it – in front of the laptop. I’m trawling the interweb for work, bearing my soul listing my skills for all and sundry. Because my business has gone down the tubes. Just when things were looking up. Every gig has come to an end.

I’m tired of having to reinvent myself. Again.

I’m tired of stretching each penny as far as it possibly can.

I’m tired.

One in 58 million

I’m only one in 58 million in this country.

There are many in that 58 million for whom I feel and, today, one in particular. Last evening, following a week of clamouring, the President addressed the nation.

Did he impress me?

No. Not this time.

I did learn, though, that the level of preparedness has improved.

I appreciate the acknowledgement and apology that the government has potentially overreached and contradicted itself.

I hear that things are under review and that the country could be moved to level 3 at the end of May.

It’s not enough. I’ve said I don’t agree with everything he’s done. Yes, I think he’s missed a few things and is lead astray often overruled by pedants.

Think about this: we’ve been locked down for 49 days. It’s 70 since the first case was diagnosed. That’s more than two months. He and that team, responsible for 58 million souls, have probably had no days off.

And they’re dealing with a moving morphing target.

Would I like the job?

When I watched the president last night, I saw something else: I saw a man who is exhausted. He’s worried. He stumbled over the numbers. I would have. He stumbled over that big word, death. I would have. Palbable sighs punctuated parts of his speech.

I also saw another side of the man: when he mentioned masks, he involuntarily smiled. Really smiled. With his eyes. Remembering the last time he addressed the nation and donned the now mandatory mask. You have to admire that.

So, no, I’d not like his job.

Today, we should cut him some slack. At 8.30 pm, last night, he should have had his feet up catching up with his wife, or having Facetime with his grand children.

I’m tired

I’m tired of being in lockdown.

Today is day 49. Theoretically We’re in level 4. That means nothing if one has no work or that the work one did prior to lockdown was in and/or associated with hospitality and tourism. Or domestic construction. Or cleaning someone’s home or tending a garden.

I’m tired being one of the missing middle unable to apply for government support.

Who knows when we’ll get to level 2, let alone level zero when we can associate with as many people as we please, and travel freely. Locally and internationally.

I’m tired of the new normal.

Not the 9 o’clock news

I’ve stopped listening to the news. Except mornings and evenings with the odd article from reliable sources during the day. I do need to stay informed and up to date.

I have to stop this “Corona crud” from making me sick. I do worry how it will all end up: for the people and our democracy.

I have to get on with things and do what I can. Reinvention of Fiona: version 500.

I’m tired, but I have to take these lemons, sour as they may be, and turn them into lemonade, marmalade, lemon curd, pickle and pie.

I just have to.

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain. Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem with the occasional post on Medium.

Balancing Act or Slippery Slope?

I’ve had a hiatus from blogging.  Some of it because I’ve moved to a new host – a story for another time.  Most of it, though, because I’ve been through a bit of a low patch.  I can’t say that I’m out of the funk. I’m not.  Things still look and feel bleak.  I am, however, getting angry.  I am confused.

When I last wrote about the Covid-19 pandemic, I shared facts and little opinion.  I said I’d save my thoughts for another time. That time has come.  Be warned:  it’s a long read.

Before I do, a factual update:

The stats

Covid-19 figures as at 30 April 2020: The world and South Africa

The centre of the South African epidemic is now Cape Town.  In the 38 days since the first case was reported, an average of 148 new cases has been reported per day.  However, in the last three days, the number of confirmed new cases has averaged more than 300.

The South African curve is still rising.  Potentially exponentially.  Unlike originally hoped.  The peak is still expected in August or September.  So the numbers will go up, as will the need for hospital beds.

In our minicipal district, Langeberg, in the 14 days since I last wrote about Covid-19, we’ve gone from 1 active case to 4.

Effective today, 1 May 2020, South Africa moves out of a total lockdown and into stage 4.  A summary of what we may and may not do, is here.

What the President said

Last Thursday, and in anticipation of the end of the extended lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation.  For the majority of people in my circle, there were three things that were top of mind: excercise, booze and smokes.  Not necessarily in that order.

The president was unequivocal.

The people 

  • will be able to buy smokes.  Again.
  • won’t be able to buy beer.
  • will be able to exercise
    but umm…well…my people, will get back to you on that.

Let’s talk about alcohol

The logic behind the ban on the sale of alcohol can be deduced and, to a degree, understood.  Yes, overindulgence does impair one’s judgement and one thing can lead to another.  Yes, South Africa does have a problem with alcohol abuse and binge drinking.  It’s common knowledge that alcohol contributes to domestic and gender based violence as well as motor vehicle accidents.  South Africa has more than her fair share of these.

Following the lockdown, there was a more than 60% reduction in trauma cases – stabbings, gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents.  Reports attribute this to the ban on the sale of alcohol. Nobody mentions that traffic levels over the Easter weekend were also much reduced because people had to stay at home.  The corollary, and in the same report: there was no “major shift” in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence.

The devil and the details

On Wednesday, on the eve of the eve of the lifting of the ultimate lockdown,  the relevant ministers briefed the nation.  We all waited with baited breath.  Smokers, enjoying the last of the eked out stash of ciggies, waiting to learn what “exercising” would mean.

School, universities and work

Certain people are back to work; certain mines, factories and enterprises are operating again;  restaurants may deliver food between certain hours.  Schools may open on 1 June.  The colleges and universities will not return to campus-based classes this year.  Except for final year clinical medical students.  They’re needed on the “front line”.

The rest of us, especially the “elderly” must stay at home.

An exercise gap

Individuals may walk, jog or cycle between 6 and 9 am.  We’re going into winter and South Africa has one time zone.  At 6am, it’s pitch dark on this (west) side of the country.  In the towns and cities, this is exactly the time when those who may, are going to work.

Why just this two-hour window, is a question that is vexing everyone.

  • It’s easier to police. Especially in the townships and informal settlements.
  • Because we won’t be tempted to have a catch up on the corner like we would between 4 and 6 pm.

It was our local police captain’s partner who posited these reasons on the community Facebook page.  Some villagers were placated.  Others incensed.  Having ventured out during the alotted time this morning, here was much acatching-up-on-the-corner….  The social media is awash with misty morning photographs of joggers on the Seapoint Promenade in Cape Town practising social distancing.

I am concerned about –

  • solitary women cycling, walking or running in the dark
  • homes, desserted by exercise fanatics people exercising their right to exercise, that are vulnerable to the criminal element that thrives on routine

Oh, and for pet owners:  their dogs can walk them.  They can’t walk their dogs.

De ja vu

It gets better.  I said that the rest of us, especially the elderly, must stay at home. We may only leave home for essentials, excercise and for medical appointments.  If stopped by the police (or army), we may be asked to prove why we’ve ventured out.

Workers are on a tight leash:  they may only leave home at 5am and must be back at home not later than 8pm.  Or else.  You must have a permit.  Or else. Oh, and a permit to move between provinces. Or else. If you must. Or else.

I hear bells ringing.  South Africa has a national curfew.  Again.

The dompas is back. Again.

That’s not all.

The about turn

On Wednesday, as the minister was rambling on, I wasn’t paying attention because I was faffing in the kitchen.  The Husband was watching the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen and suddenly said, “No cigarettes!”


I checked Twitter.  Sure enough.

I sat down to watch. What the Minister of Co-operative Governance, went on to say was, at best, laughable. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a medical doctor, former Minister of Health and an rabid anti-smoking campaigner:  she advised that more than 2,000 submissions opposed the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products.  The health rationale is a given.  Partly.  I’ll come back to this. Then she said –

the way tobacco is shared does not allow for social distancing…When people zol, they put saliva on the paper, and then they share that zol


zol is a hand-rolled cigarette which often includes marijhana.  It’s not having a joint that’s the problem;  we may grow our own ganja.  We just can’t sell it (which has nothing to do with Covid-19 or the lockdown…).  In the time of Covid-19, according to the South African Command Council, it’s sharing a cigarette that spreads the disease.

I’ll come back to this.

Who is old and at risk?

Up to this point I have, by and large, been enormously proud of the way the South African government has managed the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have endorsed the lockdown, in principle.  I said so. I spoke about the significant proportion of the population at risk because of HIV and TB.  What I didn’t delve into was overall life expectancy and the incidence of deaths from non-communicable diseases – just over 26% of all deaths.

The table below suggests that if one is over 60, one is old.  Women live, on average, three years longer than their male counterparts.


I am approaching 60;  The Husband is over 70.  It’s quite a thing to be told one is old because the demographics say so.  Especially if one is healthy.  In this village, we are surrounded by sassy over 60’s who could put many 40 and 50 year-olds to shame.  We won’t talk about the 70- and 80-year olds who have the stamina to boogy the night away and bang a ball around a tennis court two to three times a week.

Old people must stay at home

Does this include our Minister of Health who, himself, along with many in cabinet, are well over 60?  Oh, and speaking of Mkhize, he’s asthmatic….

Although these data are from 2016, they do paint a useful picture of the population’s characteristics.  Other than being old, which one can’t help, it’s the chronic conditions that make people particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.  At a briefing on Tuesday,  the Minister of Health said that most of the deaths in South Africa were among people with comorbidities.  He specifically mentioned hypertension and diabetes but added a third:  obesity.  This adds another risk factor when one considers the proportion of South Africans who are overweight:


This is a significant proportion of South Africans;  obesity is a burgeoning problem.  What these figures do not show, is how many of those who are overweight are also diabetic.  It’s common knowledge, though, that the two often go hand in hand.

Back to tobacco

The logic behind the ban on the sale of tobacco and vaping products is perplexing.  To say the least.  I am not a smoker; never have been.  However, I grew up with smokers and I’m surrounded by people who do.  I, and they, are all aware of the health risks associated with the habit.  Like many addicts, they don’t care. Even if it does put them at higher risk of disease.  Including Covid-19.  At least one smoker in my friendship circle has said so.

The experts do say that there is an almost immediate benefit to the lungs when someone stops smoking.  However, I also know, from having lived with people who have quit, that in the six to twelve months after, they seem particularly vulnerable to colds and flu.

With all that in mind, let’s have another look at the actual proportion of the nearly 58 million South Africans who smoke.


Those figures mean that there are fewer people in the country who smoke than there are people who are overweight.  Yet, as some wag on social media suggested, there’s been no ban on sugary drinks, chocolates, sweets, confectionary….

The ban on the sale of cigarette and tobacco products defies logic.

It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that seems to pander to the members of the local temperance society.  Or does it?


South Africa’s history is full of prohibitions.  That’s what Apartheid was about.  Prohibiting certain groups of people from doing, accessing, and generally being human beings.  It criminalised normal human behaviour.  Including the home-based manufacture of alcohol.  Virtually every South African community has stories of making one form of moonshine or another, from mampoer to umqombothi.  Not all good.  Especially when it came to the heavy hand of the law.

Prohibiting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes has, on one hand, robbed the government of desperately needed cash.  On the other, it’s contributed to an existing black market – with all the nasty things that go with it.  Violence and extortion.  As with all black market commodities, it’s a case of who one knows and price.  Said a friend who lives in a suburb of Cape Town:

I can give you the names …. and who they allow the selling of alcohol through or even which shop and which items to ask for in order to get your stock. Everyone and everything has a price.

It’s the old story of supply and demand.  Those who don’t have access to those channels resorted to mobbing and looting.  The existing gang leaders probably don’t need lessons from Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.

Oh, and since then, it would seem that she who made those pronouncements, has an association with that ilk.

Cigarettes: a symbol of oppression?

As more and more people, far more learned or erudite than I, question the rationality of this decision, questions are also being asked about the deeper significance of aspects of the restrictions associated with the lockdown.

When the lockdown was just being mooted and the fear and paranoia of this invisible enemy began to seep into our conversations, there were laughing suggestions that the gates of the village should be closed.  The fear of the unknown, and unseen is how it begins. We get caught up in the headlines and soundbites and don’t delve into the mire beneath.  We should.  It’s as scary as it is enlightening.

Yes, the numbers are scary.  Yes, this disease is ugly, horrible and has no cure. No, I don’t want to get it.  No, I don’t want anyone I love to get it.  Yes, they might. That frightens me.

It’s these emotions that are fed by the numbers that are spewed out and not interrogated.  We need to remember that the mortality rate is between 1 and 5% depending on the population.  That means that many, many more people survive the virus than succumb.

Tools for Control

It’s this perspective that neither governments nor the news media foreground.  Instead, they frighten us so that we want to set ourselves apart from people who might be contaminated.  That is how stigma begins.

Fear is one of the tools that governments use to control their subjects.

Another is the big data that they collect: the information we readily (and not so readily) give away in our internet searches, social media activities and with out mobile phones.  The ubiquitous mobile phone has become a critical mechanism for the tracking and tracing of potential Covid-19 cases.  You don’t have watch CSI or Criminal Minds to catch my drift.

Yes, they need to find potential super-spreaders. They need to find, treat and heal people who are ill.

After Covid-19

When all this is over, what will they do with the data they’ve collected?  Our data.

Edward Snowden is concerned.  He says we should be, too.

Will we be able to legally buy and enjoy a glass of wine and a fag?  Where and with whom we please?

Will we be able to do more than break virtual bread and have virtual birthday parties?

These are vexing questions, not just for South Africans, but for other countries, too, where civil liberties have been severely curtailed.  In the interests of public health.

Bastardising another cliché, there may be short term gains, but one does have to wonder about the longer term implications once this disease, as the Spanish flu did, peters out.

Is it a fine balancing act, or a slippery slope?

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

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd and with the occasional post on Medium.


Ducks, Drakes and Croc Socks

Today is the fourth Saturday of our enforced lockdown.  We should have been “free” yesterday.  Instead, last Thursday, they added another fourteen days to our enforced stay at home.  If one reads between the lines, as I have said, there’s no guarantee that 1 May 2020 will see emancipation.

I admit that yesterday was a difficult one.  The ick on village social media (again) highlighted the mean, dark side of humanity.  It insidiously wears one down.  Crises don’t always bring out the best in people.  Then I remembered my Irish blog pal’s challenge to find or create some humour to make each other smile.

That’s kinda hard when one’s feeling down.  Then I remind myself that others have it much harder than I.

Making friends in solitary confinement

A friend is literally in solitary confinement.

Unhappily, about the only humans she’s seen have been Messrs Plod.  That’s a story for another time, perhaps.  She has, though, created am army of pals.  Not imaginary ones.  Real ones that hang around the house and garden with her.

Asked for her favourites, she was hardpressed to choose between Shamus and Tut:

Shamus, the swiming pool sea monster.  Apparently, he’s very sweet.  Once you get to know him.

To Tut, I cannot do justice, I have to use her own words:

He used be a Pharaoh, like real important like. Now he’s a zombie mummy. He’s a very happy little guy with a wicked sense of humour.

Check out more of Pixie’s pals, pretty kitties and fabulous food on Instagram.  You might just spot the brass animals she snapped when she went on her garden safari.


Me, I’m just trying to keep my ducks in row.

I’ve not entirely succeeded.  Mr Drake and Ms Duck, are too busy playing boomps-a-daisy.  Duckling? Well, does what ducklings, do….

Practise what I preach?  Hell, yes no!

I have tried to practise my own freely offered advice, but not entirely succeeded.  I’m trying to cook with out wine cooking with less wine.  Hoping that the stash will outlast the enforced stay at home.

I did not cut my hair in anger.  I had to do a major repair job.

Three days into lockdown. Lopsided, bad hairday angry haircut (L). Running repairs a couple of days later (R).

Good thing, too, because suddenly I had a video conference.  I had to be respectable (at least from the waist up).  Beltrack pants that don’t stay up because they’re so comfortable that …

Cold toes + laziness = Crocs and socks. Never before seen outside The Sandbag House.

Now, that’s a confession. As is the fact that in the last three weeks, I have taken and shared more selfies than the entire time I’ve been on social media. Including this one of me dolled up for the video conference.

Me, above the Crocs and socks.

I suspect my friend and hairdresser will be politely disapproving of the hatchet job when she is actually freed to fix my head.

Oh, and guess what?  The video conference ended up being a webinar where the screen was never shared.  There I sat, lipstick and all.  For whom?  The Husband and the cats.


Anyhow, that selfie has become my profile picture for an online platform where I will be teaching English.

Speaking of our feline family:  Princess Pearli was off being the strumpet she is.  Stay at home doesn’t apply to her. Of course.

Gandalf?  Well, he is dealing with this whole lock down thing as only he can:

Until next time, keep your ducks in a row (or try) and be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • Corona Virus feature image: CDC on Unsplash
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd


Countering Covid-19: South Africa 21 days in

The world seems to have stopped and united over a single concern: Covid-19. In the six years I’ve been blogging this is the first time I’ve ever written serveral posts on a single topic in such quick succession. I’ve gone from mentioning Covid-19 as a tangential aside, to actually writing an update. Only one burble was a little tongue in cheek. Writing this is part of my own processing what’s going on and also because South Africa is not often mentioned in the global statistics. So often, too, Africa gets a bad rep. On April 4th, I got this WhatsApp message:

So this is how the British press are reporting SA handling of the virus?? Is it correct??

My honest answer was “yes” and I sent, in return, this link to share my thoughts on the lockdown.

My son from another mother’s response:

Will you write an update?

So, now

Just 24 days ago, South Africa had fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and no deaths. Now, there are more than 2,500 and 34 deaths. That’s an average of just under 105 new cases confirmed every day.

Bad news or good news?

As I write, I’m wondering whether I should start with the bad news or the good news. As I’m not really sure, I’ll begin with an update on the figures. Just four days ago, there were 1,8 million cases in the world. The number of confirmed cases, globally, is more than 2 million. It looks, though, to my layman’s eye, that the curve is beginning to be just a little less steep.

Total confirmed Covid-19 cases: 9 January to 14 April 2020 (Source)
The number of deaths does not bear thinking about. They are far too many for the burdened health systems of the three most affected countries. What we all do think about, though, is what if it happens to us? What if one of those “deceased” is someone we know? In my virtual, world wide friendship circle, I know people who have lost loved ones.

What of our near and dear who fall into the risk groups? Yes, there are recoveries and although those figures are important, what is worrying the health authorities is that this is more than a pretty lousy bug. It’s virulent, has crossed species (more than once if you count how it ended up in humans). Humanity has no real protection from it.

Meanwhile, in South Africa

We should have been ending our 21-day lockdown tomorrow (Friday). We are not. This is a summary of the last two and a half weeks:

  1. At the end of week one, a national screening and testing programme was announced and rolled out. Mass screening is centred on the so-called hotspots identified through geotracking of cases.
  2. Where tests are positive, they are followed up with aggressive contact tracing which includes the use of mobile phone geo tracking. Where individuals are unable or unwilling to self-isolate and quarantine, arrangements will be made to help. There are cases where individuals have been arrested for refusing to do so.
  3. Towards the end of week two, on the eve of Good Friday, the President told the nation that we’d be staying at home until 30 April.
  4. The figures for testing, confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries look like this:

    South Africa’s Covid-19 statistics as at 16 April 2020 (Source)
    I’ve been working on this post since yesterday, and my notes show what’s happened to the figures over night.
  5. There are three focal points for the disease in South Africa and these are, expectedly, in the three major economic hubs. The numbers, in ascending order, in the densely populated metropoles of Johannesburg, Cape Town and eThekwini (Durban). It was in this province, KwaZulu-Natal, that South Africa’s patient zero was recorded.

    Map courtesy of Johns Hopkins University and the data courtesy of the National Department of Health, South Africa. Annotations added.
  6. Closer to home, in the broader Western Cape and specifically the Cape Winelands district into which our municipality, Langerberg falls, the picture looks like this. There is a single case in our broader municipality which consists of five towns and villages, Robertson, Ashton, Bonnievale, Montagu and McGregor.

    Courtesy of the Provincial Government, with my annotations.
  7. In a virtual public meeting on Sunday, the Minister’s Advisor, Prof Salim Abdool Karim told us among other things, that South Africa’s curve has been atypical. It’s been a steady rise with a blip, ironically, the day the lockdown began.

    The exponential rise in cases has been arrested.
  8. In addition, Karim summarised the three waves of the South African epidemic, contrasting what was expected (top two graphs below), with what has actually happened (bottom two graphs below):
  9. He concluded that the flattening of the South African curve is not cause for celebration or complacency. It just provides breathing space: time for preparation for an anticipated and inevitable second wave following the lifting of restrictions.
  10. Just two or so hours ago, there was a government briefing on the ongoing lockdown and restrictions. My takeaways:
    1. continued prohibition on the sale of tobacco and alcohol
    2. no relaxation on the sale of cooked food
    3. children may be moved (with papers) between the custodial parents’ homes
    4. mines, with restrictions may return to 50% production
    5. certain warehouses and associated trades (plumbers, electricians) may operate
    6. the lockdown will be eased incrementally in an “orderly” manner.
    7. restrictions, still to be defined, will continue into May and beyond.

Meanwhile, “at home”

So, while many of us have been good children, and stayed at home, many have not. In the village our police captain was inundated with questions ranging from dog-walking to overnight hikes into the mountains. On day ten, the police issued eleven fines to people at home and who abused members of the police force. Yesterday, The Husband saw more fines being issued to people who thought that by wandering around with a bag, “shopping”, was an adequate “cover”. Countrywide more than 2,000 have been arrested, including a wedding party.

In the poorer parts of our village and in the rest of the country, especially in informal villages, social distancing is a mere dream. People live cheek by jowl and are hungry. This is fomenting unrest and violence. Even though it’s widely reported that there has been a significant drop off in trauma cases at hospitals, there’s been a significant rise in gender based violence.

Further from home, and in the rest of the country, there are incidents of army brutality, looting and similar patterns of I’ll just do what I like, when I like. Then there are the folk who genuinely don’t understand what all the fuss is about: an invisible threat.

Good News and Bad

Today, I am enormously proud of what South Africa has achieved in managing the pandemic locally. That the tide has been stemmed allowing for preparation for what might still come is a win. It’s time to prepare beds, purchase equipment and for South Africans to adapt to a “new normal”. A delay also means that the clever people working behind the scenes may also find better treatments, drug combinations and in time, a vaccine.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s clear that the lockdown will certainly not be lifted on 1 May. Life, business and especially hospitality and tourism will not go back to normal. The truism “the virus doesn’t move, people move the virus” also means that travel restrictions will stay in place. International travel will take years to go back to what it once was. I am imagining that “covid-free” areas may take steps to stay that way. Whatever that might mean. On a personal level: it may mean that I won’t be rushing into Cape Town in a hurry.

At this point, I’m not sharing my thoughts on the implications of lockdown measures and how they’re implemented and managed. I will. In time. Along with how I think it’s going to affect our daily lives.

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • Corona Virus feature image: CDC on Unsplash
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd

A re-imagining: life after this Corona

Imagine – can you – a new world?

It’s incomprehensible that less than a hundred days ago, no-one had heard of the Novel Corona virus now known as Covid-19. Corona is no longer just Selma’s favourite beer. It represents the biggest threat to the world’s population since the Black Death (plague) and, potentially, the Spanish Flu of a century ago. The latter, like the current pandemic, was a corona virus and one that had crossed from animals into humans: a bird flu (N1H1). It killed about one third of the world’s population. The CDC describes it as the deadliest pandemic of the 20th Century.

Just 23 days

In my opinion, we are watching something similar unfold around us: in just 23 days, the world has gone from the first recorded death to 1,8 million cases and 103,536 deaths.

By comparison, and over a two year period, the CDC estimates that in 1918 pandemic, about 500 million people were infected and that at least 50 million people died. Over a two year period.

This is what the infection rate looks like now: the confirmed number of infections has gone from one thousand to nearly 2 million. In just twenty three days.

Total confirmed Covid-19 cases: 9 January to 9 April 2020 (After Source)

As at 1 April, there were fewer than 20 countries (of around 200) in the world with no recorded infections (Source). These are remote, like Vanuatu.

In South Africa

Covid-19 hit South Africa in March. Within 22 days of the first recorded case, the we are all locked in at home. It was to have been for 21 days. Just 11 days in, it’s been extended to the end of April, making it a 35-day compulsory stay-at-home.


Until pretty recently, I had kind of sense of what I was: a gig worker – mostly in hospitality and tourism – if one wants to get technical. Included among these was my stall at the market and hosting Sunday Suppers in our home. Less technically, I’d do anything legal – for a fee – of course. Yes, I used to have a regular day job as a consultant and researcher. For reasons irrelevant now, I folded that tent a while ago.

Reading the signs

The tourism sector in South Africa, even before Covid-19 had been slowing: a function of the slowdown of the global and local economies. In our region, it was a lagging but knock on effect from the possibility of Day Zero. The 2019/20 “season” was the slowest many of us in the village can remember.

This drop off precipitated my brushing up my English language and teaching knowledge by getting an advanced certificate to teach English as a foreign language. I have also registered for a course to specialise in online teaching. This had always been my intention, but not to teach children, but to work with my preferred demographic: adults who want to improve their written and spoken English.


Just in the last one hundred or so days, we’ve seen a shift from the real to the virtual – of many aspects of life, including learning. People who hadn’t dreamed of being online teachers are, now.

With half of humanity at home and not working, the world economy is going to go from slowdown to reverse. In my layperson’s opinion, I hasten to add. It leaves me wondering what will happen to international trade and engagement. What will be the impact on language schools? Will the market saturate with teachers and tutors available to teach online?

What I do know, is that the number of jobs available in my selected niche seems to be limited. Or I’ve not found the one. I shall persevere.

What now?

Some things haven’t changed: I remain the Cats’ Mother. I don’t have a choice, and occasionally, I find myself trussed up in bed rather like a cat’s mummy. Wedged between to very heavy, small, large cats.

Meet Gandalf. The high maintenance non-wizard imported from Johannesburg. The hope was, that his feline masculinity would protect our then two girls from a marauding tom.

Photo: Selma

Gandalf’s lack of wizardry means he’s now more commonly called Gandy. He’s very much a mama’s boy and has a love-hate relationship with his sister who is every bit a princess.

Photo: Selma

Pearli is only a homebody when it suits her. She’s also known as the Smith Street Strumpet: as a kitten she’d go with anyone. Now, she’s known to visit up and down the road. Welcome or not.

I mentioned that Gandalf was supposed to have protected two. Well about a eighteen months after his arrival, Melon went to kitty heaven. She will be remembered for her magnificent tail and her penchant for lauding it over all – from great heights.

Cook who writes

The kitchen is my happy place. It takes a great deal to prise me away from the stove. This blog, started six years ago, is a direct consequence of my cooking. The other bits came later. My enjoyment of cooking and feeding people was part of what gave me the courage to start Sunday Suppers.

Selma took this photo of me in my kitchen not long after we started Sunday Suppers. She documented the process.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve preferred to cook meals from scratch. The meals I cook are simple and it’s the presentation (which I’ve been learning) that makes them look and (they say) taste better.

This brings me to the writing bit.

Melange: Favourites from Fiona’s Kitchen

Over the last three or so years, as well as since I began to blog in 2016, people have been asking about a recipe book. I admit that I’ve begun to pay a little more attention to quantities and making sure that recipes always turn out the same. I’ve been making notes. Spurred on by blogpal Allen (@blockurator), I actually have the beginnings of a structure. I’m delighted that Selma has said I don’t need to look far for a professional photographer. With this quality, why would I?

One of Selma’s “action” shots

Until then

Part of my blogging journey includes sharing my rants musings on crypto blogging platforms which has the added benefit of monetising my writing. Another part of the journey has been two discoveries: I really enjoy writing – it seems to come naturally. There seem to be a few people who quite like reading my rambles.

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

Photo: Selma

Post script

  • As I mentioned, my writing is shared on a couple platforms so in addition to some self-reflection, it serves as a self-introduction (belatedly) on Hive and on Uptrennd where I shall be exploring a new set of opportunities for engagement.
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.

Comforting Creamy Parsley Fish Pie

Today we started day fifteen of what is now at least a thirty-five day lock down.  I want to be sure of my facts…. Although the prospect of having to stay at home, is less than thrilling, I do think that looking at the evidence, it’s the right thing to do.  I will write more about why, and what I think about it, in time.

When our enforced stay at home was mooted, I began thinking about inexpensive, relatively easy meals to cook.  Covid Comfort food.  Food that can be made (and served) with frozen ingredients and which are relatively easy to make.  Notice I didn’t say quick.  Flavourful food, in my opinion is rarely quick – it takes time for flavours to develop.  They are also meals that can be frozen and, I admit, I was also thinking about people I know, who might need a square meal and don’t have the means to cook this type of food.

A saucy affair

This creamy fish pie continues the somewhat saucy theme of a couple of days ago:  it’s a Bechamel sauce that pulls it all together.  This was a meal that rarely appeared on our dinner table when I was a child. My father disliked fish and loathed parsely sauce.  The former, a function of his wartime childhood.  The latter, I now realise, was because he wasn’t fond of warm, milky things.

I love white sauce and one of my favourite winter meals is fish with peas and parsely sauce.

Pan fried fish with herbs, parsley sauce and peas.

One dish fish pie

This creamy fish pie doesn’t include the peas but combines the fish with the parsley sauce topped with creamy mash and baked in the oven to make a pot pie.

The recipe, which you can download here, is for as many as eight people, but is easily adjusted.

I did say it wasn’t difficult.  What I will say is that it takes a lot of dishes and must be done in stages.  Make it ahead of time and/or freeze it for another time.

First, poach the seasoned hake, cod or any white fish in milk.  Like for any bechamel sauce, enhance flavour by adding a bay leaf, peppercorns, a clove of garlic and chunks of a carrot.  When the fish is cooked, drain off the liquid and set aside.  Flake the fish and discard bones and skin.

While the fish is cooking, prepare the potatoes for the topping.  I like my mash rustic. I like the look and flavour of the bits of skin, so I don’t peel the potatoes.

Using the reserved poaching liquid, make a bechamel sauce and then add a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of finely chopped parsley.  I like a lot of parsley – and if you think you’re short of leaves, chop the stems and add them, too.

Once you have the three components ready, either combine the fish with the sauce, or place the fish into an oven proof dish and pour the sauce over it.  Finally, top with the mash.

At this point, the pie can be refrigerated or frozen.  To reheat, dot the top with butter and bake in a moderate oven until browned and bubbling.

Individual portions

I do make individual portions:  it freezes well.  Potatoes, however, need a little TLC:  make sure that the pie is properly heated through and brown on top so that the potato is not watery.

Add a little decadence

If you have some frozen seafood – shrimp and mussels – in the deep freeze, add a little luxury to this simple supper.  Do this either at the end of the poaching – perhaps with a little white wine – or when you assemble the pie to bake.

Serve with seasonal vegetables.  Or peas.  For me, it’s always peas.  With mint from the garden.

The flavours of warmth and comfort.   On one plate.

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

Photo: Selma

Post script

  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”… and… it’s fortunate that today I had something to get off my chest!  And…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.

Lockdown survivors’ guide

In the last two weeks I have written two long and very serious pieces about how people and the world are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. I will write another – to keep a promise. The first was ahead of the lock down.

Half way there?

South Africa is halfway through the period initially set for the country’s lock down. It’s not impossible that we might be forced to stay at home for longer than the 21 days that take us to just after Easter.

Last week, I reflected on how learning to live alone (again) and working from home can be applied to an enforced stay at home.

Ahead of our shutdown and all over the world, it seems, people’s brains fell out of their heads. I know mine did. I went shopping to discover no chicken to be had and when I got home, I added another packet of cornflour to the two (!) already there, among other crazy things…



Anyhow, as I said, we’re half way through our compulsory stay at home and the weather’s turning.

It occurred to me, now that we’re settling into a rhythm, to follow-up to my survivor’s guide to load shedding with a kinda, only half, tongue-in-cheek survivor’s guide to an enforced stay at home.

Fiona’s lock down survival guide

  • Pray the Internet never goes down.
  • Save toilet paper.
  • Ration the wine. *
  • Cut your own hair. If you must. But don’t do it in anger.
  • Stop smoking when the ciggies run out. *
  • Every time you see an item is nearly finished, put it on the shopping list – just in case you lose your brain again when you shop.
  • Save toilet paper.
  • Learn to make natural yeast (see the last but one point).
  • Send your friends virtual flowers.
  • Share a virtual toast – only one sip – with the guys and gals who are independently locked down.
  • Learn to cook without wine.
  • Hold a virtual dinner party: sharing pictures of one’s food is a sure fire way that they visit (or stay away) after lock down is lifted.
  • Try not to kill mother. Uncle Richie died. Auntie Doris is still alive.
  • Save toilet paper.

* In South Africa, the regulations prohibit the sale of alcohol and tobacco.

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

Photo: Selma

Post script

  • This is my cheeky entry into this month’s @yourtop3 contest – now on Hive.
    And before I get into more trouble, here is the list of my actual three must-haves while staying at home: Internet access, toilet paper, and, of course, wine! No explanations required….
    Read more about this month’s contest here
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”… and…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.

Variations on a theme: mac & cheese three ways

Not only is the weather turning, but because we’re locked in thanks to Covid-19, we’re looking for comfort food.  I shared these ideas way back in 2014.  I was reminded about them the other day, when there was a “debate” on the merits (or otherwise) of macaroni cheese.  There’s an even split between love and hate.

Funnily enough, this dish rarely appeared on our family table – my father did not like white sauces – a foundation of any good macaroni cheese. The Husband, when I first met him, viewed macaroni cheese with great suspicion: his mother’s version, he says, was bullet proof!  It was that solid.

Variations on a theme

Over the years, I have made various versions, partly because it’s an easy and warming meal to make.  Because one can have too much of a good thing, I have at least three variations on this universal favourite.  None of them actually with macaroni except, perhaps the last, now that I make fresh pasta.

Not negotiable:  Béchamel

All three of the variations have two things in common – pasta, obviously, and a Béchamel (white) sauce. The choice of pasta is personal and depends on the variation. The secret to a really flavourful Béchamel sauce is to infuse the milk with a bay leaf, carrot, clove of garlic and a couple of peppercorns before making the sauce.

Depending on the quantity I need, take 250 – 500ml of milk, and add the bits I’ve mentioned.  Blast it in the microwave for one to two minutes and then leave it to infuse for a while.

In case you need a reminder – white sauce is butter, melted, to which you add flour to make a roux; then add the warm milk and cook to the consistency you want.  Finally, add the cheese and other ingredients.

My Mac & Cheese Epiphany at the Brooklyn  Diner, NYC

A few years ago, on a rainy Sunday in January, when I was in New York City for a conference, colleagues and I were cold and hungry after a day of site-seeing. We needed supper and happened on the Brooklyn Diner, off Times Square.  As we sat waiting for supper, I remember watching the Nasdaq ticker and the constantly rising US debt through the window.


Although a lone South African among a group of Aussies, we had one thing in common: we hated the cold.  Two of us, at least, just wanted the kind of food we could make at home.  There it was: Mac & Cheese!

When it arrived, it wasn’t what we had expected: it didn’t look very appetising.  Tagliatelle smothered in the palest of creamy sauces, slopped on the plate.  It’s not the baked Mac & Cheese that appears on the current menu.  While they say you eat with your eyes, this was just the most delicious, macaroni cheese I had tasted in years – creamy, cheesy and tangy. Just what the doctor ordered. I make my own version and there are two secrets: fresh, egg-rich pasta and the sauce that is made with whole milk, butter and at least three cheeses – and hot English Mustard.

Through trial and error, I have worked out that the best cheeses are cottage cheese, and a really mature, tangy cheddar.  Finish of with some Parmesan or really mature, hard, sharp Boerenkaas to grate over the top. Full cream yoghurt in addition to milk, it adds a certain depth and piquancy to the flavour. In terms of quantities, that’s a matter of taste, and how tangy you like the sauce.  I also help it along with the addition of a quarter to a half teaspoon of hot English mustard powder.


Make sure that the sauce is not too thick – you want it to coat the tagliatelle. This is a saucy meal that is not dry. Cook the pasta, drain it, and serve, generously coated in the rich, tangy, creamy cheese sauce.

Enjoy it either with or without a salad.

Broccoli Mac & Cheese

This is the healthier variation of macaroni cheese.  I make it with a mild cheddar cheese sauce.  Before I made my own pasta, I used penne. The variation, here, is the broccoli and the blue cheese. Break the broccoli (or broccolini in this case) into florets/steam and then toss with the pasta and cheese sauce.

Pile into a large dish so that people can help themselves or into individual bowls. Either way, top with blue cheese.

Fiona’s “famous” baked mac & cheese*2014-02-09 09.53.17-1

This is my “original” recipe “created” before I happened on the Brooklyn Diner or invented Broccoli & Blue.  Of course, it includes white sauce and either farfalatte (bow ties), penne or macaroni, depending on what’s in the cupboard. As with the other two, it takes a good quantity of cheese sauce.  What makes this different is that I usually include sautéed onion and sweet bell peppers (red and green), chopped bacon (optional), a little garlic and some fresh oreganum. If I have onions in the garden, I skip the onion at this stage and use the green leaves and add them later.

So, to assemble this, cook the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions, drain and return to the pot; add the sautéed vegetables (and the fresh onion leaves if using) and then stir in the cheese sauce. Place all of this into a large oven proof dish. If you like, top with a layer of sliced tomatoes followed by a generous layer of cheese.  End with a sprinkling of Parmesan which will give the top a lovely crunch. Place under the grill until golden brown and serve!

*The “famous” bit is because we have had spur-of-the-moment invitations to supper and taken this along and it turned into the hit of the evening….

If you’d like these ideas and they work for you, buy me a coffee?

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

Photo: Selma

Post script

  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain.  I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”… and…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right?  For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.

Living alone, gigs and working from home: lessons for lock down

In the early 1990’s, after living in Johannesburg for eight years, I moved to Queenstown, a small farming town the Eastern Cape.  It’s probably best known for its schools (my ex-husband-to-be was a teacher), and sheep.  Mostly for wool.  I had no job and although I’d trained to teach, hadn’t.  I didn’t want to.  The upshot was that I had to make work for myself.  At the time, I had a couple of voluntary projects that could move with me,  for which I was getting paid.  They’d be known as side hustles today.  They formed a launch pad for others.


Although the move was one I wanted, I had not anticipated the sense of isolation:  from colleagues, friends and familiar places and spaces.  I had to make a conscious effort to maintain relationships and build new ones.  It was not easy.  At the same time, I baked lemon biscuits.  To sell at a little family-owned cafe in the next village.  They were first to bear the Fiona’s Favourites label.

I digress.

My point –

I had to find a way to earn a living.  The ex-husband-to-be, at that stage, wasn’t even the husband-to-be.

Networks and offices

Just before this life decision happened, I had bought myself a little ICL Elf personal computer and a printer.


It helped with the volunteer work I did and when I occasionally worked at home.  Armed with those and a telephone line, the only other essential was a fax machine – with an answer service.  Home office sorted.  In its own room.

Equipping an office is one thing:   one cannot work when there’s nothing to work on, and nobody with whom to work.  The internet was still science fiction, so communication was in person, by telephone, snail mail and fax.  The social media and mobile phones were beyond imagining.

Fortunately, I had a prodigious network that was a function of both professional and voluntary activities. I had no choice or compunction in using it.  The telephone and professional standing (also recognised in hindsight) were my only allies.

Stick to standard business hours

Once I settled, and folk knew I worked from home, that presented other challenges.  New friends just dropped in for tea or a chat.  They’d be miffed if one answered the phone and interrupted their visit with a work conversation.  They didn’t get it when invitations for fun times were turned down – during work hours.  Working from home is still a job.

Folk began to say that I was very disciplined.  The truth is, that I was not:  I had work to do, and it paid the bills.  I prefer to do it during business hours – when most people also work.  I like having downtime when my friends and family have down time.  Logical, isn’t it?  One doesn’t readily drop into visit a friend at work – during office hours, does one?

So, I established a discipline which has, by and large, defined my working day since 1993:  into the office at around 08h30 or earlier.  Break for lunch – often short, and then back to work.

Understanding one’s body clock

As a child, I always hankered after my own space.  Except for a short spell, when I was about seven (and as punishment), I shared a room.  A room to myself was not punishment.  The real punishment?  Well, that’s a story for another day.  Five years later, I went off to boarding school. This meant sharing a room with three other girls: complete strangers.  I was the only girl from Grahamstown – in the boarding house and in the school.  I adjusted and learned to live quietly in my allotted space.  In my head. Fortunately, seniors were allocated double or single rooms.  A single room was always my aspiration and my eutopia.

Front row, first left: Fiona at 13

Similarly, my not objecting to my mother’s insistence in my going into residence for university, even though we lived in the same town, had less to do with studies the social life than it did with control over my own being space.

There’s a pattern here:  surrounded by people, yet yearning for my own space and devising strategies to make it so.  It’s a pattern I only recognised years later.

When I started work, I left Grahamstown and moved to Johannesburg.  After a very short stint in a house share, I moved into my own apartment.  My criteria included not living (cooking, entertaining) and sleeping in the same room. If I could avoid it.  I have very fond memories of that first apartment, even though it was more than a little down at heel.  After six months I moved into a house share again. It was also short lived and after about nine months, I went in search of an apartment with similar criteria. Again, I have very happy memories of that apartment and those times in the glory days of my youth.

I lived alone until I was nearly thirty and moved to Queenstown.

However, there’s a big difference between choosing to be alone and, for want of a better way of putting it, ending up alone.  The latter, for most people, is the consequence of the end of a significant relationship, and it presents a new set of challenges.

Living alone, working from home

After settling in Queenstown, the ex-husband-to-be and I (reluctantly) moved to Cape Town.  The “ex” bit came to pass and I was living alone again.  It was not a prospect that filled me with horror.  On the contrary, I relished the idea.  I was, however,  very conscious of the potential pitfalls of working from home, for myself, and living in the same space.  Again, I made some conscious decisions that have stood me in good stead:

Get up, get dressed and go to work.

In other words, have a routine and a space that is dedicated to work work, i.e. the drudge for which you are paid. The Husband, when we first got together, was fascinated that I would not just get dressed, I’d do the work gear and war paint thing.  Even if I didn’t have a meeting.  It was part of taking myself seriously.

Get out at least once a day.  Even if it’s just a walk around the block or to the corner shop.
Don’t eat breakfast or supper at your desk.
Stop work at a reasonable time – overtime happens – but don’t make it a habit.
If something’s not finished, that’s not just ok, it’s good.

Unless, of course, there’s a looming deadline.   I’ve learned that if I go back to that unfinished work outside my peak time (you’ll read about this below), the synapses do their thing because there is a foundation on which to build.  A good night’s sleep gives perspective and a fresh eye.

In that framework, develop a system that works with your brain’s best times to work.

Change the routine for weekends and time out. This is contrary to what sleep experts say, but over the weekends, I wouldn’t set the alarm clock.  I’d wake up when I woke up.  Sometimes I’d have breakfast in bed. Sometimes I’d take myself out. I’d mooch about, read, get a video (yes, it was that long ago) entertain and, generally have a weekend.

Have a social life fun and treat yourself

Last but not least:  enjoy life and the odd treat. Why deprive yourself just because you’re on your own?  Why not have good coffee, or a glass of nice wine with your dinner?   That was one of my resolutions:  in my first single life, I didn’t have alcohol in the house unless I was entertaining.  In my second single life, I consciously decided that I would enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner.

Understanding one’s peak learning times

At boarding school, our compulsory study time was from around 4 pm until about 8.30 pm with a break for supper.  For some reason, that time would just whizz past.  Homework and study were a breeze.  I didn’t think much of it at the time.  At university, when everyone else was studying during the morning, it was all I could do to stay awake.  I resented my concentration being broken for supper – our main meal.  In those days, we had set meal times, at long tables.  If you were not there, you didn’t eat.  There was no keeping meals for students, nor was there a possibility of dining earlier or later, let alone collecting supper and eating it in one’s room.  I studied best when most of my peers were watching TV or down at the pub.  Good thing I was mostly socially rather shy and awkward.

It was only when I was an online writing tutor, twenty odd years later, that I became aware of the notion of peak learning times.  Analysing one’s study habits was a standard topic of the Writing 101 papers that I reviewed.  Then I discovered Howard Gardener’s 1992 Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Suddenly,  things fell into place and structuring my working day significantly impacted on my creativity and productivity.  It’s why you still find me in the office “in the zone” between 4 and 7 pm.  It’s 5.22 pm as I write this sentence.

Lessons for Lock Down

Today is day nine of our lock down in South Africa.  As things stand, we should be able to get out and about on April 17.  However, that’s not cast in stone.  Although the curve is still rising, it’s not as steep, but as we enter week two, that’s likely to change.  And there are other challenges and it’s not impossible that the lock down will continue after April 17.

My takeaways from having lived alone and worked from home for nearly thirty years:

  • Consciously take control and make decisions – even in the limited constraints of enforced confinement.
  • Create structure which gives you purpose (however banal) and a routine:
      • Do get dressed – even if it’s just into schloomf  clothes.  Do make your bed.
      • Plan to do at least one thing every day.  Do it.  If you’re not working, that could be anything from cleaning out a cupboard to doing the ironing or starting a free online course.
  • If you’re allowed to leave your property to go for a walk, do.   We aren’t.
  • Cook and eat a proper meal once a day.  Even if it’s just for you.  Make meals you enjoy and if you’re worried about waste, make enough for a second helping. Freeze it or have it for lunch.  I used to have cook-ups and portion meals to re-heat or to reconstitute into “leftover dishes”.  As I still do.
  • Talk (not text) to at least one human being every day – either on the phone or video chat.  Hear a voice, see another person.  Get that virtual hug you need.

Bringing things into the 21st century

That the Internet and the social media have shrunk the world is no more evident than in this time.  It also makes us aware of how important physical touch is, and how often we do.  A handshake; a pat on the arm; a nudge and a wink. We took them all for granted.

I have a love hate relationship with the social media.  I’ve often acknowledged that our move to McGregor defined my relationship with Facebook.  I was able to share our journey with those dear and not near.  I won’t befriend anyone with whom I haven’t formed a profound connection outside that forum and with whom I’d happily share a glass of wine.

All of that said, in this time of lock down, the social media make a big difference to folk isolated and on their own.  Just today, I heard of an eighty year old who’s just discovered Facebook and connecting with friends and relatives all over the world.  WhatsApp has connected me with my son’s mother.  We’ve been friends for more than thirty years and our brief interactions only miss the tea and lemon biscuits we shared when we both lived in the same apartment block all those years ago.

I’m in awe of what folk are doing and I am delightedly embracing some of these – for fun, and for my own mental health:

  • A dear friend in the village, who’s in lock down on her own, started a WhatsApp group of Independently Locked down people.  In the group are those of us who’d connect – and hug – at least once a week.  Her daily, or twice (sometimes thrice), lock down jam, the serious and not-so-serious group chats with the attendant repartee, keep us in touch.  Out of sight is definitely not out of mind.  We also share evening toasts and a virtual breaking of bread.
  • A foodie friend and chef – also in the village – has started what’s for dinner on Facebook.  It’s a small group of mostly foodies and village friends, and friends of friends and has a world wide reach.  There’s ribaldry and recipes all in one group.  And real learning.  I’m trying my hand at making a sour dough mother….
  • Also on Facebook, and further reaching, is What do you see from your window? #StayAtHome which is forcing us to look out: potentially with a different lens.  Some people’s circumstances are gut-wrenching and, the messages of support heartfelt.  I guess, right now, it’s all we are able to do.

The first two often make me laugh, the second is teaching me things too, and the third reminds me that the majority of humanity is confined to quarters.  All are helping me to retain some semblance of sanity and a little more “outside” The Sandbag House.

Every day feels like Sunday

From inside The Sandbag House, every day has the feel of a Sunday.  There’s no real reason to get up.  The village streets are mostly deserted;  there are few passersby, and only sporadic agricultural traffic.

McGregor’s main road on day 2 of our lock down. It’s never this deserted. Even mid-week when the village is at its quietest.

The village is full of the sound of birds and frogs that click and croak.  As it was when we first started visiting the village nearly 15 years ago.  It’s wonderful.  It’s awful.

We, too, need to keep some semblance of routine.  I have to come to the office:  check mail, go online and do what I normally do – or try.  Obviously, there’s no Saturday market so I’m preparing one person, one dish meals for folk who can’t cook and who are assessed as at risk and in need.  I’m grateful to make even a small contribution as well as for the little bit of money it will earn.

Provencal Chicken on the ready

It’s hard to establish a rhythm and routine when you are locked in, and the only creature nagging you to get up is the cat.  Even when there are two of you, and you’re used to being at home and working from home.

That one is not permitted to leave the house does things to one’s head.

Acknowledge it. Then make it a project or series of projects.  I have a mental list.  I hope I have time to finish them all.

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

Photo: Selma

Post script

  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain.  I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…I’m already behind, and hope to catch up….
  • Seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right?  For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.