When Cape Town Burned*

Fire is devastating:  we had a fire in the mountains above our village in spring (September) 2014.  It burned for what seemed like a month and because, to start with, it was in inaccessible parts of the mountain, it could not be effectively fought.  So it spread and threatened prime agricultural land and vineyards.  So it was with the Cape Town fire which started on the 1st of March 2015.  Fire is devastating and scary.  As I learned two or so years ago.

Cape Town surrounds the iconic Table Mountain – a national park and wilderness area – something residents often forget and take for granted.  I know.  I lived there for nearly twenty years.

Courtesy of Hilka Birns

So when the mountain burns, as it must, effectively in the centre of a city, the events that unfold are beyond imagination.

Although the mountain must burn – as part of the most diverse floristic kingdom in the world – this fire was started through human negligence.  And, while the fire burned, and homes were threatened, people criticised the work of the various fire services, the authorities and the outpouring of support.

A crisis teaches one about humanity and community.  The good and the bad.  So it is, I have learned in the virtual community in which bloggers “live”.  Fiona’s Favourites started on a whim, and I chose a platform.  Little did I know that it is not merely a platform;  I discovered that the blogosphere is a microcosm of any community with all the power dynamics and politics that characterise real life.

My journey into this new sphere was precipitated by a very simple motivation:  when I posted pictures of dishes that I cooked on social media, friends asked for recipes.  On the back of this, and years of “made-up” dishes that I often couldn’t replicate and The Husband unsuccessfully suggesting I write them down, Fiona’s Favourites was born.  If I am to be completely honest, the conception of Fiona’s Favourites also coincided with a time of very little work and few prospects.  Not a good place to be if one has been self-employed for more than twenty years and if one’s area of expertise is quite specialised.

What could I do to begin developing a body of writing that was quite the antithesis of my professional life?  Trawling the internet and freelance websites all seemed to suggest that a blog was a way.  I might, if I were to find the right “recipe”, even make some money out of it (that, is still a pipe dream and no longer a driving force).  More importantly, I was tired of the heavy, intense, argumentative type of writing that is my mostly “professional voice”.

I have always enjoyed the writing process.  Writing, for me, has been both healing and cathartic at different times of my life.  Not that any of that writing was shared – with anyone.  The prospect of personal writing was one thing, but how to walk the fine line between personal and private was a huge challenge.  The Husband is intensely private and cyberspace, the great unknown, is potentially full of dragons and many-headed monsters.  He is also fiercely protective of what he sees as my intellectual property:  “You can’t just put your recipes on social media and the Internet – they’re yours!”

A “website” of my won seemed to be a potential compromise.

My first posts were tentative and quite sterile; I was aware that recipes are two-a-penny on the World Wide Web;  just typing up a recipe is, in a word, boring; reading recipes can be equally boring.  This, and actually having known the original intended readers, almost all my life, even if they are now scattered all over the country and the world, resulted in my, almost sub-consciously writing “around” the food.

Then I ran into a friend in the village.

“I really enjoy your blog,” she told me, “I love the stories!”

I was blown away.  I didn’t even know that she had been following the blog!

Knowing that people eat with their eyes, photographs of the food I cooked were important.

Pictures also tell stories and, in text, they play an important role in breaking up dense material.  I have also long “fiddled” with taking pictures and when we moved to McGregor, I began looking at things around me with new eyes.  I wanted to capture and share what I saw.  So, with that, the content began to go beyond what I had originally conceived.

Initially, I was nervous.  Would “my” readers like the change?  Well, again, I learned something – people began commenting and the stats told me what I needed to know:  they did.

What have I learned about blogging?

The blogosphere is a virtual village, filled with people and personalities, rule makers, rule-breakers, nice people and nasty people (trolls, I learned they’re called) – just like in any community. They scrap and bicker, live and laugh together (or not), just the same.  They live in my computer but came from all over the world to partake of the fare I shared.  We all have blogs;  not all of us enjoy writing;  we’re all motivated by different things and we certainly don’t always agree.  And that’s not just ok, that’s good.

At the core, I’ve learned that Fiona’s Favourites is all about my favourite things and that’s what my readers seem to enjoy – surprisingly, to me.  From this learning, and from advice from bloggers like Opinionated Man*, I have created a set of rules for myself:

Fiona’s blogging rules

I’m a wannabe fulltime blogger.  I do this because I enjoy it – when I no longer enjoy the process, or it becomes a burden, I’ll stop.  Which I did for a while in 2017 when my world seemed bleak.  My rules:

  • I only claim photographs as my own if they are.
  • If I’m not sure of my facts, I’ll check them and acknowledge the source.  If I discover that something I thought was true, is not, I’ll correct it.
  • The stats interest me;  they don’t drive me.  I’m delighted with every new follower and every comment is appreciated and acknowledged.
  • I follow blogs that interest me, make me think, laugh, or both!  I don’t get irritated if I don’t agree with the blogger’s view, or if a topic doesn’t interest me:  I just don’t read it.  No offence intended and I’m sure, none taken.  It’s not realistic to read every post from everyone one follows.
  • I comment if I want to, and I’ll share my thoughts.  I don’t get mean – there’s no need.  Life’s too short for all that negative energy.
  • I don’t blog about blogging – on Fiona’s Favourites – anymore.  My readers don’t care if that they’re reading my 75th post or the 175th.  Nor do they really care how many likes or views I’ve had.  Why would they?  I reserve that for opportunities like this*, and only fourteen months into it, was thrilled with my 200 “likes” and just over 4,200 views from 78 countries.

Life lessons and the blogosphere

I was quite shocked to learn about bullies and trolls.  Quite naïve of me, I suppose.  Still, I don’t get it that people have nothing better to do than to stalk others and to be mean for the sake of being mean.  That said, the blogosphere “real” people do look after their own, as we saw when the Opinionated Man was forced to take a sabbatical.  Caring people power prevailed and a phoenix rose from those ashes.

And so it was in Cape Town.  Hilka, who took these photographs, and whose home and family were threatened with destruction, posted this on Facebook:

At the height of the terror on Sunday night, I was wondering whether it was worth living here, considering that this has been the 2nd major mountain fire we have been lucky enough to have survived in the 18 years we have lived in Noordhoek. Any brief doubts I may have had have been wiped away by the amazing community spirit and response to the crisis. People have really pulled together and supported each other and the firefighting efforts! I love this place! Wouldn’t live anywhere else!

So it will be for the moonscape the fire left on the mountain.

Some final thoughts

Firstly –

* This article was originally published in 2015 on Jason Cushman’s A Good Blog is Hard to find, who blogs under the pen name, Opinionated Man.

The nom de plume perfectly describes Jason;  he is unapologetically so, and often deliberately provocative.  All of that said, he is a crusader for new bloggers and very generous with his time and his space.  This has been abused by someone who decided to publish something s/he had plagiarised, on his blog, then called HarsH ReaLity – as a guest.  As a consequence, Jason has had to deal with the repercussions and has taken the regrettable decision to no longer offer space (and, of course, his time), to guest bloggers.

I don’t get all of Jason’s posts and yes, there have been times I know I would have been offended if I had read some of them, but this belies someone who has encouraged and supported hundreds of novice bloggers.

I remain, all these years later, appreciative of his time, his space, his tenacity and his sense of humour!

Secondly –

There has been some bullying and trolling happening on Steemit, and which has had a nasty impact on people I care about.  Simultaneously, there has been an interesting discussion on Narrative and where I shared a little about why I blog, earlier today.

Revisiting and sharing these thoughts seemed appropriate.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Thank you to Hilka Birns for allowing me to use her photographs.  Follow her on Twitter @Hbirns
The photographs of the proteas are courtesy of Boesmanskloof Accommodation, McGregor


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