He was not Mike

Just under two weeks ago, I collected my team for a job.  As she got into the car, C asked –

Have you heard about Michael?



Let me explain:  there are several men in the village whose names are Michael.  There are several who are “Mike” and whose names have additional monikers.  Like “Two Dog Mike” because – you guessed it – he has two dogs.  There were two Michaels.  One, always identified by both first and last names.

Michael – just Michael – with his childhood friend, Billy – was one of the first people we met when we came to the village.  Always reserved, always polite – sometimes painfully so.  Always  in a freshly pressed shirt.  Always, like James Dean, with the collar turned up.

When he dispensed a rare hug – and in nine years, I only had one – I think he was as surprised as I.

Often, on a Saturday morning, as we headed to our market duties, he’d be walking into Tebaldi’s, his restaurant.  He’d always wave cheerfully.  A little before Christmas, that walk was a little less firm and the wave a little less cheerful.  The collar was as stiff as ever.  The Husband expressed concern.

For various reasons, we’ve not had occasion to dine out as often as we used to.  We do, however, have some indelible memories of Tebaldi’s and Micheal.  When we had not long moved to the village and travelling for my day job, the evening I returned from a trip, my kitchen didn’t see me.  Tebaldi’s often did.  One of those was particularly balmy and we asked to sit on the veranda looking on to the rose garden.

We’d not booked but Michael strutted us to our perfect spot:  he knew that we prefer to be somewhat set apart from the crowd.  As he got to the table, he swooped, scooped up the reserved sign and said:

Welcome!  There you are…

We looked at him quizzically as he deposited it on another table.

Oh, they’re visitors.  You’re local.

Leaning against the wall next to the table was a rather rustic, but short ladder.  We didn’t pay much attention but as the late summer sun set, the resident hen hopped and perched and hopped her way across the veranda (and the chairs and tables).  Her final perch: the ladder just above The Husband’s right ear, and where she roosted, her head firmly tucked under her wing.

A fowl of a different variety, and also resident at Tebaldi’s and Temenos

Another, equally memorable evening was in the dead of winter.  Somehow, we were the last guests and Michael presented us with a complimentary post dinner port.  What precipitated the gift, I don’t know.  Perhaps a gentle hint that we were over staying our welcome? It didn’t feel like it.  Unusually, the music for that evening was not opera.  He loved opera – reflected in the restaurant’s name.  Somehow, the two of us – with Billy and, most unusually, Michael – ended the evening propping up the bar and having a rather loud sing-along.  One of The Husband’s fondest memories of Michael.

From time to time, Michael would appear at the market looking for some or other item for the kitchen – in the hopes that he could avoid a trip to Robertson.  Occasionally, I was able to oblige.

My last memory of Michael – a couple of weeks before Christmas – was his sitting and enjoying a  pre-service glass of wine.  I remember asking how he was, and after the walking stick.

The legs haven’t been working so well, but I am much better, thank you.

He did look better than when The Husband had commented a couple of weeks earlier.  Natter led to a more serious question and conversation about my range of products at the market.

He asked me to drop samples of certain items.  I did.  I thought it odd that it was Billy who sent a message of thanks.

Three days before New Year, the President spoke, and the country went back into a lockdown.  Other than the market, we don’t get out.  We did, though, miss Michael and his wave.

It was that other “C” that took Michael.  Mercifully, it was quick, sparing him the indignity of a too long illness.

Cruelly, that other “C” robs us – and many who knew and cared for him – of the opportunity to pay our respects to the man we shall always remember.

Michael, we hope that you are resting peacefully with your maker.  We send our condolences, love and strength to Billy, your family, the Tebaldi’s and Temenos team and to all who love and care for you.

Good bye, Michael.  Godspeed.

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

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Pots and a poet

Just a week ago, our village was bursting at the seams.   It was the second McGregor Poetry Festival which brings many people and amazing poets to our village – including a colleague and his wife.  She and I had worked together nearly thirty years ago and we hadn’t seen each other since those days – and when we had all lived and worked in Johannesburg.  Lots of water under various bridges, children born and grown up, and we bump into each other in McGregor!  So lovely to see them both and to have an all too brief catch-up…

I will confess:  Poetry – she and I are not friends.  When I read English, the novel was my thing.  Still is.  That said, I do enjoy the poetry of song lyrics.  The Doors, Queen, Bob Dylan, Bright Blue, Freshlyground, Dire Straits, and Leonard Cohen, are just some of the artists whose songs and lyrics speak to me in magical ways, and have, for years. If I had taught, as was part of my original life plan, I know that I would have used popular and contemporary music as a mechanism of piquing my charges’ interest in poetry.

As often happens in life, timing could not have been worse for me:  a project on which I had been working for nearly a year was approaching its end or, more to the point, its end had come and gone, but the work just seemed never ending.  The light at the end of the tunnel really had been the proverbial oncoming train.

And then, what relief when my colleague and I had our daily check-in, and she said,  “We’re there!”

All that remained was to tie up the last loose ends.

And that was the day that before the poetry festival began.

And our closeout conversation ended, literally, as the lovely Lara Kirsten, arrived.

She stayed in our tiny guest room while she discovered McGregor and charmed audiences with her words and music.


So, why “pots”, you’re asking.  Well, I had promised a large quantity of ratatouille for a street food stall, and a bit like my project, the ratatouille grew out of its pot (twice) and I ended up with a kitchen that was wall to wall pots and receptacles.  Over two days, I must have chopped about fifty onions because I also (madly) made a batch of onion marmalade, but more of that another time…


Happily, as with so many things, it all works out in the end:  the ratatouille made its way to right place at the right time and, more importantly, McGregor’s second Poetry Festival was a success.

I hope that Lara will be back to share some more of her music and poetry at the 2015 festival.

Lara_CaritasHere, Lara performs in Caritas which is in the beautiful Temenos gardens.

Finally, here are two of Lara’s poems, one in Afrikaans and the other in English.

klou en wag

ek lê in die bed met
‘n pen vasgeklem in my hand
en ‘n papier gekrater onder my elmboog
wagtend dat my drome heel moontlik
die pen sal vat en
die nag se poësie sal
neerskryf in die hoop dat
die griffels die weg sal wys
en die rigting sal skryf binne-in
die stuk wit wat die kaart
van my kreatiewe lewe sal uitlê

sal die swart rots
in die reën en son
en tekens
sal die toekoms
helder in my oë

ek het geen probleem om te wag

pen in hand

‘n stille krag


we are too weighed down by our ideas and our minds

we are too weighed down by our ideas
our minds
our wants
our ideals
our habits and our fears
our shames and our sighs

our minds are heavy
look how we all walk with our heads
trailing like heavy baggage behind us
they just can not keep upright anymore
all these orthopaedic concerns are because of
our heavy heads
i am surprised they have not exploded yet
thanks to all our smartphones, laptops and tablets
they carry a part of the great heaviness
of too many ideas
what would we have done if we could not steer
the overflow into these metal brains?
maybe because we have these metal brains
our fleshy brains just keep on churning the thinking
the computing
the inventing
continual stimulation between inorganic and organic matter

fuck this!
arch out our backs
lift our heads
and shake all the heaviness out
be light and empty
feel the air move between our ribs
our diaphragms
and every cell
feel our feet
losing touch with the earth
start to rise
and float to the lightness of the clouds

Read more of Lara’s poetry, and listen to her music on her blog

Places and spaces – I

Tiny as McGregor is, it is a place of places and amazing spaces.  One such place with amazing spaces is Temenos.

Choose a path – literal or figurative

in the sun, through the fowers
in the sun, through the flowers
shady path
down a shady path
under a flowery bower
under a flowery bower

– to take you to beautiful spaces

a spiral of contemplation
a spiral of contemplation
a glade in the wood
a glade in the wood
of still water
of still water
of meditation
of meditation
of cool quiet
of cool quiet

or with views –


out to the village

out to the village