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.


Last dance…

I can’t believe that it was twenty months ago that I wrote –

I keep on saying that I don’t “do” contests; and then I do. I claim I’m not competitive; by and large I am not, but I do admit to being happy to win – when it happens. So let me declare again that I don’t participate to win, but rather because the topic resonates for me. It also means that I won’t don’t always follow the rules….

It was the second of what became a 21-month run of fun contests in which, unusually, I often participated and it prefaced my first entry.  The team that launched the contest are entirely to blame, and it has been fun.  As they say, all good things must come to an end, and this is the last iteration of the contest – for the moment – I hope.

Going out with gold

I did think I’d make a point of having a final entry, but when I read the post with the final theme, I knew that not only would I “do” the competition, but I’d be hard pressed not to give it, what has now become known as “The Fiona Treatment”.

Oh dear…


Choosing one’s favourite Oscar-winning film is a challenge.  I confess that the first film to jump into my head, was Out of Africa, which I have seen more times than I can remember.  I even had it on VHS tape.

Then I had to go in search of a list:  to be sure that I was on the right track.

Oh, boy!

Childhood musical memories

The list is long and, of course, goes back to the beginning of time before I was born.  I was delighted and startled to see that films that I love, including some that bring back memories: those childhood days when we all went to see films in the cinema.  My parents were smokers (as so many people were, in the 60s and 70s) so we always sat in either the back third of the cinema or in the circle.  I never understood why it was called the circle.  It wasn’t.  Not even a half circle.  It was a balcony.

It was from that balcony that I watched Gigi (1959) and loved Maurice Chevalier’s singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” – because I was one.  Then.  In his top hat and tails and the pony and trap.  Looking at the lyrics, now, I have no doubt that in our suspicious, postmodern world, there would be suggestions of dirty old men and paedophilia…

While on children’s films, musicals and soundtracks, I cannot not but mention The Sound of Music (again) – also an Oscar winner – and which I will watch again; and again.  Even though I remember virtually every scene, including some of the dialogue… This was the era of big musicals, but given that I might either not have been born, or well, whatever, the only other one that made sense to the little girl was My Fair Lady.


I couldn’t wait to dance all night in a beautiful, sparkly frock ball gown.

High school Oscar memories

There are two Oscar-winning films that remind me of high school (in the late 1970s), and both of them pre-date that – and me.  One is the classic, Gone with the Wind and which I saw on television.  It must have been one of the first I saw on the box after it arrived in South Africa in 1977.  My favourite line, and which I use, often, is not Rhett’s famous, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” but rather Scarlet’s

I’ll think about it tomorrow…

The other, also not a contemporary film and one we were compelled to see, was the adaptation of Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for all Seasons., which we studied in year 10 (or in our parlance, Standard 8).  Its themes of integrity and ethics, and Paul Scofield‘s portrayal of Sir Thomas More, a man of both passion, devotion and stoicism, resonated for me as much in the film as did the character in the pages of the play.  I do admit that our teacher – Mrs Colqhoun – probably had a great deal to do with this, too.

Paring down the list:  keeping it on the stage

Looking at the list of more contemporary winners, there are so many from which to choose.  Two I have seen on the stage in South Africa.  In some ways, those performances made greater impressions on me than the film versions:


In my second year at Rhodes University (1982), and when I was working at the National Arts Festival, I saw a Pieter Toerien production of the Peter Shaffer play.  The South African actors, Bobby Heaney* and Richard Haines,  who played Amadeus and Salieri, respectively, were outstanding.  I can still picture them in my mind’s eye:  the evil, cold, ailing Salieri, and the apparently flighty, inordinately talented Mozart.  When I subsequently saw the film, for some reason, it simply didn’t live up to my expectations.

*This reference says that Ralph Lawson played Mozart, but not in the version that I saw.

Driving Miss Daisy

Looking at the dates of the stage production at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg – the same year that the film was released (1989) – it would have arrived in South Africa in 1990.  I would have seen Driving Miss Daisy on the stage – the same year that it was released.  I am an unashamed John Kani fan.  I first saw him on stage when I was a twenty year old, and in Athol Fugard‘s Master Harold and the Boys.  Also in Grahamstown, at a National Arts Festival.  It is a brutal play and made an enormous impression on my young mind.  Eleven years later, Hani played Hoke Colburn, making an equally indellible impression.  I have also seen him in other stage productions, including Othello.  He plays a stupendous Othello.

Sorry, not sorry, Morgan Freeman.

Another aside (or two)

Nineteen eighty three was the height of apartheid and the beginning of what became known as the total onslaught.  It was illegal for folk of different races to share a stage – anything – for that matter.  Fugard’s play reveals the complexities of relationships between, not just masters and “servants”, adults and children, complicated by a system that demeaned black Africans.  These dynamics that were as relevant then, and as they are, now:  themes very similar to those in Driving Miss Daisy.

Fast forward to 1986, and I’m working in Johannesburg. A regular Friday night “thing” included partying in Soweto.  One of my fondest memories is talking the evening away, playing music, with Kani’s co-star from Master Harold, Ramalao Makhene.  I’ve never seen him since, other than on stage in Sophiatown in the 1994 production with Patrick Shai, also there that evening.  I followed his career and have warm memories of whiling away time discussing music with an interesting, gentle, articulate man.

Top 3

There were a few contenders for my top three Oscar winning films.  The deciding factor was whether or not I’d watch them again, and why. Two have African or South African connections.  All are biographical.


Even as a child, Gandhi fascinated me.  My British parents were very colonial having met and married in Uganda in the 1960’s and as I was growing up, Indira Gandhi was India’s Prime Minister.  This film came out and arrived in South Africa at the cusp of my political awakening.  Gandhi and his family have long and strong political connections with South Africa and there is a scene in the film, set on a train in South Africa, and where he’s asked to vacate a compartment. Because he (a practising attorney) is not white European. It’s not apocryphal.





Ask me to select three individuals who’ve made an enormous impression on me, Gandhi would be on that list.  With Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.  My meeting her is a story for another time.

Out of Africa

Yes, this is a chick flick.  And a whole lot more.  Karen Blixen‘s story is one of resilience, friendship, bravery, love and loss.  Universal themes.  I’ve not watched this for a while, but even so, I recall thinking about the strength of the woman who defied the social mores of the time and who was, at the same time, their victim.

I rue the day I lent my copy of Out of Africa to somebody.  It has never returned.




Another story Blixen story, she wrote using the nom de plume, Isak Dinesen, made into a film and which won an Oscar (best Foreign Lanugage Film, 1987), is Babette’s Feast.  It’s a classic and worth watching.  Again.




The King’s Speech

This is one of the few films that didn’t disappoint in the reading of the book.  While the book gives more insights into Lionel Logue – himself a fascinating man – the film gives insights into King George the VI and his struggle as monarch following the abdication of Edward VIII.  It’s a period that fascinates me.  Perhaps because my parents remembered the abdication;  perhaps because my father told stories of, as an apprentice at Kew, having to shoo a young Prince Charles from a teasing fish in a pond.  Perhaps because they disapproved of what “Mrs Simpson did”…

I’m a conflicted royalist and as I get older, I have greater and greater sympathy for the fact that the people that are royalty often have to sacrifice so much in a paradoxical world of so much.




This is probably Colin Firth’s best ever role, and I’ve seen him in a few.  Including as Mr Darcy which, I’m afraid, did not live up to my teenage imaginings of the dashing, devilish rake.


QJust in case he was asking

Of the films that have won best picture, my top three, in no particular order, are

    • Out of Africa
    • Gandhi
    • The King’s Speech

Last Dance

I began, saying that it’s twenty months since team of @gaz, @foxyspirit, @plantstoplanks and @nickyhavey launched the monthly “Top 3” contest.  I haven’t “done” it every month, but when I have, I’ve gone at it hammer and tongs.  I’ve loved the way the topics have made me remincisce, reflect and flex forgotton synapses.

It’s no mean feat to dream up  topics and manage contests – let alone every month.  They have done it with aplomb.  It’s been fun.  I shall miss it and hope that Q (@yourtop3) will return after a well-deserved break.  #nopressure #justsaying.

At the risk of beating a boring old gong, this Oscar-winning song had been one that was on my list of possibles for that first entry – and possibly some others – but as I was spoilt for choice, and could only choose three, it just didn’t get a mention.

So, from the Queen of Disco, this is for the team and for us all…

An apt way to dance into the sunset.  For the moment.

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

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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 coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
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