Rant

Arrant twaddle and waffle.

She had suicidal thoughts but was told it wouldn’t look good for her to seek help .…. oh poor baba, the wannabe princess nor her gallant prince couldn’t arrange it themselves? Mind you they didn’t even teach her the national anthemn – she had to learn it herself! How absoloutely shocking and racist!

Innuendo and subjective hypotheses, allusions that raise the racist spectre: “concerns and conversations about how dark” the baby would be. Somebody probably wisecracked that a black prince would vary the royal family array on the balcony. Horrors ! That’s even worse than the rapist aspersion currently popular in Australia.

It seems to have been all about what people didn’t do for the TV starlet and what she couldn’t get her snappy, sharpwitted prince to do. He has had to jump through a lot of hoops for his woman. I mean, she has had to tolerate critique about her bridesmaids dresses, how incredibly tragic!

Most of it seems to be about who was going to pay for security. They needed security because of all the loony death threats and horrible letters they had been getting. Selflessly, Her Grace said, if not for me or my baby Archie, just for my Prince… ohh what a squeeze to my heart!

No wonder Oprah is so successful, she knows how to milk scandal and innuendo for headlines. She must be gutted that she didn’t get who said “how dark will the baby be?”. That would have have been the cherry on this sad wedding cake.

Mind you she managed to get in racism, Diana, Daddy didn’t want to take my calls and lots of pregnant (oops!) innuendo and a coy revelation of the sex of the next baby to be. She didn’t get much if anything on Duchess M’s Daddy or Mummy or her previous husband or her apparently estranged siblings. They would make interesting follow-ups I am sure! Oh how exciting! This could go on for years, like “Married at First Sight”.

Enough of that Bollywood B-grade soapie!

The silly cow saga in Canberra just defies belief; if it wasn’t so sad, it would be a comedy. There seem to be quite a few lying cows there! And some real dogs….

An eager, bright young thing, full of wine, is persuaded by a smooth talking serial shagger, to take a ride home with him but a they first go to the Minister’s office. Security is easily negotiated (Heads should deservingly roll there), she passes out and access is gained, if you get my drift. She protests and he eventually desists and abandons her. Security discover her in disarray.

She reports later that she has been raped, then dithers and withdraws her allegations, despite advice to tell the cops. The cad appears to have been fired.

No further action ensues until a serial scandal generating journalist (are there any other types any more?), gets wind of the story a couple of years later. She plans a Cardinal Pell like journalstic bombshell, knowing the cancel culture and a desperate opposition party is fertile ground for vivid reponse and sensational headlines to follow.

And do they jump in, boots and all! Then even better, a sad story of a woman with a history of mental illness, who claims she was sodomised by the Attorney General who promised to marry her when he was 17.

Mud sticks in this day and age of focus on salacious ‘love’ stories .

I am saddened that supposedly intelligent people like the Leader of the Opposition and his desperate crew, seize advantage for media prominence by using such flimsy and shoddy stories to attack the credibility and bona fides of the Prime Minister.

As for the former Prime Minister… how desperately nasty can you get?

We live in a sad and sick society: not even a plague or a possible global war with China can shake our fascination with the sludge of life!

Learning about religion

Story suggested by Barbara Hatfield Tuesday 9 March

Religious rituals imprint emotions and memories early in life, for those raised in religious families. I suppose that is their function.

I am not talking about Christmas Carols and Easter Egg hunts and associated, market controlled commercial events, but family occasions.

Early Sunday was a tough time in our house, as my father hated being late for anything, especially mass. And my sister could never get her act together. I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t an early streak of the rebelliousness which bloomed in her older life. Certainly the nuns at Loreto could not quell it; in fact they probably caused it!

So driving to mass with a smouldering volcano and muttering sister was a fraught affair and my brother and I skulked low.

At mass, we were separated. He sat with Mum in the fourth pew from the front on the right, I was jammed into the space between the organ and the wall in the choir, of which Dad was the bass section. This was after we once had a fight over a holy bookmark card.

The little church was packed every Sunday. The best was when the Bishop came and there was incense and a throne for him. Except we had to kneel and kiss his ring which we didn’t care for.

Our Saturdays too were interfered with by religious stuff. We received religious instruction at Catechism classes, which were held at our house. As the priests and nuns were mostly Italian or Swazi, whose English was poor, my Mum used to take the classes.

A good illustration of Mum’s disciplinary powers was at meals if we forgot about “elbows off the table please darling” our elbows got jabbed by a carving fork. So we two Purcell boys mostly behaved. 

The others were four or five Smiths, mostly girls, a couple of Allardices and the occasional O’Kelly or two. They were wild boys and sitting still was not their forte. Adept at slipping under the tables, they tickled and pinched and generally disrupted proceedings.

They were eventually persuaded by the promise of cake and biscuits afterwards, or the threat of having to recite a decade of the rosary, out loud.

Nevertheless, a number of us duly made out first Confessions, which were always difficult as the concept of sin was so seriously guilty or not guilty. We resorted to a litany of transgreessions like:  bless me Father for I have sinned, I told a lie to my friend and thought bad things and I forgot to say my prayers… It was not easy to sound original every time.

Then Communion and the terror of not chewing Jesus’ body which  sat dry on the tongue or stuck to the roof of your mouth, while you looked pious and holy, which required a great deal of concentration. But I think there was a feeling of grace for a while afterwards.

Confirmation was weird – you had to choose a saint’s name and remember it was you they were talking to (don’t ask me why). We all lined up at a special Sunday parade and the Bishop came along and asked you a  question (you’d been told the answer). Then he marked your forehead with oil and slapped your face – apparently to chase the devil away.

Strange this practice of marking the head with oil and ashes on Ash Wednesday. We have no right to look sideways at the Hindus and their tikas.

For a while I was a devout Catholic, bound by duty and ritual and desire to please my parents. I was often the only boarder from school that walked the two or three miles through the winter frost across the icy river to mass. Then back again, too late for breakfast, if no-one gave you a lift.

I even entertained a fantasy of becoming a priest and saving lepers on a remote island like Father Damien. Maybe it was the island name Molokai that resonated some significance.

As life exposed the temptations of the flesh, duty and the basis of faith were examined and rationalisation gave excuses to avoid. Conveniently, I think, I embraced the mantra of Domine, non sum dignus * to avoid Communion, as I knew  I would continue to commit sins of the flesh like over-indulgence, idleness and neglect of holy obligations. It was sort of a sidestep about which I felt a little guilty.  

Over the years I have come to understand the place and need for religion in society. The vast number of different faiths and rituals seem to me as expressions of need, not the presence of gods in different forms.

Nevertheless the rituals still carry some reverence for me and I am conscious that we must acknowledge sin and need to try to improve. So a little stuck.

Sadly few of my Catholic contemporaries seem to have retained much devoutness. Some of my Protestant friends are more devout, but they have a wider menu and less demanding regime to follow. Generously, they include me in their prayers.

* Lord, I am not worthy

The Green Hand of Overdale

Story suggested by Keith Struwig 8 March Monday

The little boys at our boarding school, juniors ranging in age from seven to twelve, lived in Overdale House. They were under the care of a young Scotsman who was diligent but strict in his exercise of care.

Each morning the prefect awoke the boys with a little bell. No lolling in bed was permitted. All faces were to be washed in cold water (there was no hot); shoes polished, hair brushed, beds made before breakfast. Their appearance and clothes trunks were inspected. Then they were marched off to breakfast.

The housemaster ensured that the senior boys allowed them to get some food at meal times, but like all boys, they were always ravenous.

Every second night they were marched to Duncan House for a bath. On the intervening day grubbiness and dirt were to be removed under the cold water tap at the back, in the shade of the oak trees.

Lights out was at nine o’clock, with only the prefect’s light left on until later. The toilet was an outhouse, under the oak trees and it was very dark out there. But little boys were well aware of the horrible embarrassment and miserable disgrace awaiting those who wet their beds… so braved the dark.

Unfortunately, an idle, wicked prefect, who shall remain nameless, was struck by a brainwave.  He knew how to stop the littlest boys waking him in the middle of the night to take them to the loo, which he was under instruction to do. 

One winter night, just before lights out, he idly inquired if anyone had heard anything the previous night, like tapping on the window. No-one had. He admonished them all not to investigate if they ever did hear it. 

It could be “the hand” that was tapping…. 

He said he had been told by Sikwini, the Head Waiter, that many years ago, a man had slipped and fallen into the saw pit and his left hand had been sliced off. He was rushed to hospital but bled to death on the way. His hand had been forgotten in the panic and it is thought that Fly the school dog had stolen it. 

Now, it was said, usually at full moon the hand came to find its owner….

Boys were dumbstruck and everyone of them slept with their head under the blankets. No-one woke the prefect. 

Over the following days, any visits to the outhouse after dark were done before lights out, in company of at least two others, who took turns to wait outside while business was completed. Nobody moved after lights out.

Inevitably there was a sudden increase in incidents of bed-wetting, surprisingly including one or two older boys.

The canny young Scotsman conferred with the Matron (soon to become his wife) and she spoke to some of the younger boys. She soon extracted the legend of “the hand”, which had now become green and “scrabbled at the tops of windows and would strangle anyone who saw it and they would become ghosts of Overdale too….

Once such terrifying seeds have been planted, they grow unchecked and become rooted, despite pronouncements from the housemaster and the matron and a recant by the demoted prefect.

That is why, until Overdale was no longer a dormitory, chamber pots were used at night.

Everyone who was a boarder at St Marks knows the story and the duty monitors who fetched the cocoa at night always gave Overdale a wide berth, especially around full moon.

life without the fruit of the vine

Story suggested by Christina Forsyth Thompson 6 Mar Sat

This is  a topic very close to my heart at the moment as I have given up alcohol for Lent.

Fortunately, by tradition, I follow the Lent rules applied by my father. As he was a Papal knight he  is unimpeachable as a guide.

The rules are no alcohol on every day of Lent which of course excludes Sundays and other Holy days, such as family birthdays. It being Sunday and my brother’s 80th birthday, I am drinking a beer as I write this, and I shall have another!

Giving up for Lent is not as hard as it sounds as it is a choice and a virtuous one too, so glory can be claimed.

Also, apparently there are a number of benefits attached to not drinking, according to some articles I read after Googling “life without wine”. 

A recent article by Australian (she must be reliable) on stopping drinking  alcohol contained the following testimonies:

  • the depression and violent outbursts which had haunted me for decades gradually ebbed away
  • Pleased to discover it was easy, I felt a lot better, and I was more productive and positive.
  •  The first thing I noticed a few weeks in is how happy I felt all the time. Just content and relaxed.

and my favourite … I’m a rural Irish single person who hasn’t had a drink for about fifteen years, and I must admit that it’s led to me having a very solitary life, but I’m almost never in trouble, and I used to always be. 

and one with a ring of truth: I used to have a booze-free month every year. I stopped doing it because I had to accept that those months were invariably the most joyless, miserable, depressing, empty months of the year.

All I can say is beware of fake news.

Any student of history will tell you that Prohibition by law is just stoopid; people hate being told what they can’t do, especially if they have been doing it for a long time.

Surely the Prohibition era in the US,  less than 100 years ago,clearly  showed that such a move is very bad for a country. It lost the US federal government a total of $11 billion in tax revenue, while costing over $300 million to enforce. 

The law that was meant to stop people drinking instead turned  many of them into experts on how to make it.

The growth of the illegal liquor trade under Prohibition made criminals of millions and exponentially accelerated organised crime. 

So the folly of an outright ban on the sale of alcohol is monumental.

Maybe they did learn about the effect of prohibition…?

The crass stupidity of politicians who do this in the light of history is obvious. But you can’t tell pollies they are stoopid. They know that, but as we all know there is no cure for stoopidity.

I am sorry, I can’t go on with this and avoid allegations of being indelicate, unprogressive, intolerant and rednecked. They are all true.

But it irks not being able to say what I think … or drink if I want to.

Conversation with a hyena

Story proposedby Tom Purcell Friday 5 March

Hyenas are as clever as they are ugly. It is reported that they are cleverer than chimpanzees which probably means cleverer than a lot of guys with whom  I played rugby. They are also meaner than junkyard dogs and hippos with toothache.

Contrary to popular belief, hyenas are not cowardly animals. The smaller ones who are scavengers might be shy and cautious but they fiercely protect their interests if threatened. A bold strategy of the spotted hyena is to lock on to the prey’s testicles and hang on until the victim bleeds out. 

However, if you ever sat down and talked to a hyena, you would be amazed by the variety and self-deprecating humour of the conversation.

That’s one thing about hyenas, they giggle quite a bit. So you giggle too, because its probably a good tactic – their jaws can crack a giraffe femur and they are a bit temperamental (with the emphasis on mental).

The other thing is: don’t mention the smell around hyenas. They have scent glands around their anus and are continuously wiping their arse on grass to tell you they’ve been there.

If you are determined to talk to a hyena it is probably prudent to first get to know the aardwolf. They are the gentlest of the species and usually eat ants, so you should be quite safe. Like most hyenas they sleep in the day so remember to seek them out after dark . Nothing like waking a grumpy dog for a chat, or anyone else for that matter.

The smallest hyena is the striped one and he is very shy and misunderstood and reportedly endures significant bullying. However it is the national animal of Lebanon.

It is perhaps wiser to seek conversation with the male spotted hyena. Males are generally more affable and smaller than females, who are always leaders of the pack. In fact males are at the bottom of the hyena caste system and will probably talk to anyone who shows remote interest in them.

Like most females, lady hyenas (respect goes a long way) have complicated anatomies. When I investigated this I skipped a great deal as it was eye-wateringly uncomfortable sounding.

Apparently the spotted hyena’s extraordinary sexual equipment remains “one of the most interesting mysteries in biology.”

It seems lady hyenas have plenty to be bitter about.

Save to say that they were thought to be gender fluid hermaphrodites but closer observation disclosed this was not so. Perhaps they could be adopted as a mascot of the less certain citizens of the LGBTQ rainbow?

Some people seek out the company of hyenas, so they may well be good company

Probably the best  topic for conversation with a hyena is food. It may be wise to only raise this after a meal, as if the conversation becomes too descriptive they might get hungry. Hyenas can and do take down buffalos so a well fed human would be a piece of cake.

Oh crumbs!

My fondest memory of my son

Story proposed by Janita Purcell Thursday 4 March

I have two sons and three daughters and all or nearly all of my memories of them are fond. I can’t remember any that are not fond, but there must be as nobody’s perfect, except perhaps John Eales. (it’s a rugby joke).

Bringing up five children, we practiced a sort of communist regime – everyone got the same share, first last time is last this time and always check that the dogs have water.

Our children were  and remain unfailingly good, mischievous, serious, loving, clever and beautiful and many other things that it hurts to remember.

They are all bright, talented and independent and love a family braai on a Sunday. They ask advice, listen and even sometimes seem to heed it. I think they ask me just because they know it makes me feel good. They ask their Mum when it’s something serious.

All of them are university educated, paid for by themselves, and have travelled abroad. They all like dogs and are polite and kind to people too.

I suppose the fondest memories I have of my eldest son is his pride in catching a slimy barbel on the farm, when he was about seven and his colours awards for hockey and Academics. 

The fondest memories of my youngest son is him consoling me in my rage when someone else was awarded Best Player when he  should have got it, and him reading to his baby daughter.

This is very difficult as I am somewhat sentimental. I think they all know that I am quite fond of them.

Patting a cow for the first time

for Max 3 months old 3 Mar Weds

Cows are friendly critters. 

They will remember you 

Mind you, there are cow pats and there are cow pats. You can pat a cow, but don’t pat a cow pat. Ask your Daddy to tell you why.

The first time I remember patting a cow was at the Hennessey’s dairy farm. They had a herd of Jersey cows and a few Shetland ponies.

First I will tell you a bit about these ponies. They are very small which is just right for little people to ride. Some can be bad tempered and some can be sweet.

When I was about seven years old my parents gave me a Shetland pony for my birthday. Her name was Sweetie. I will tell you why that was not a good name for her. 

Mum had invited all my friends to a birthday party for me. Even June Rose who had lived next door to us in Bremersdorp was there, looking very smart in  a bonnet and a frilly dress. She was only five.

The best thing about the party was that we all got to have a ride on Sweetie. Everybody was thrilled, except for one person. That person was Sweetie, who was not happy to have to carry lots of little children around the garden on her back all afternoon.

So, she had a huff. 

When ponies have a huff, they toss their heads, then jump forward onto their front legs and throw their hindlegs up into the air. If there is someone on their back, they get tossed off, over the horse’s head to crash down to the ground.

Poor June Rose, she landed in a rose bush and got quite badly scratched. That really spoilt the party. 

Sweetie was sent back to Hennessey’s farm, which is I suppose what she really wanted.

I always thought it was weird that June Rose was bucked off in the rose garden. Perhaps if her name was Daisy she would have been tossed into the daisies?

Anyway back to the cows. Jersey cows are a soft beige brown colour and have big brown eyes and long eyelashes.  They have big udders which give lots of milk every day. 

The farmer showed us how to milk a cow, after we had patted it of course. Cows like being patted and if they know you well enough will give you a big kiss. A cow kiss is a lick across your face!

Its not that difficult to milk a cow. You squeeze one of the teats on the udder and warm milk squirts out into the bucket under the cow. Sometimes the cow stamps her foot  and swishes her tail because she doesn’t like flies bothering her.

We gave some of the milk in a bottle to a calf, which was very sweet with big brown eyes too. It wanted more and sucked and sucked and moo’d  very loudly.

We patted its head and scratched its ears and it seemed to like that.

We didn’t want to go home, but the farmer said the calf had to go to the barn to sleep as it was getting dark.

It was lovely day – we got to pat a pony, a cow and a calf. We also patted the farmer’s dog and his cats. And he gave us a bag of big forest mushrooms called makhowe  to take home for our supper. 

Harry the Chocolate King

King Harry is a big dog. He looks like a king, even if he is quite old. His coat is dark chocolate brown as he is a chocolate Labrador. (It doesn’t mean he is made of chocolate, that is his colour; he is made of dog).

I meet him often as he strolls around the parklands near his palace in Hilliard Park.

He is often in the company of the Duke and Duchess of Hilliard, who are his Lord and Lady in Waiting.

Even though he is a king, Harry doesn’t wear a crown or fancy robes like some other dogs. He is cool and casual.

When I meet him, I greet him in siSwati, and he understands everything I say, which is weird as he is Australian, but then kings are special.

King Harry is getting on in age, but he still has a twinkle in his eye, especially when he meets Miss Lulu, who is Schnauzer who wants to be a ballerina. He will even roll in the grass in some places, to show that he is just an ordinary person, groaning softly, squirming and grinning.

Talking of grinning, King Harry is a grinner; he always has at least a smile on his face. I believe he is a happy dog.

When he walks, without a leash of course because he is a King and well behaved, he has a languid step, never hurrying. He strolls sedately and politely greets everyone who he meets. They all feel honored by his attention and bow and wait until he approaches them before they speak.

Mind you, he will sometimes put on a leash to show other dogs that he is on their side. He hasn’t actually said that people should be on leads not dogs, but I think he thinks so.

If he is feeling particularly happy and his gout isn’t troubling him he will even indulge in a frisky caper, a little dance to encourage the young people who gaze at him adoringly.

It is so nice to know that we have a king living nearby.

Cradle Rock

Story proposed by Tim Jackson Mon 1 Mar

This singular hard rock formation can be seen as an icon representing the ethos of St Marks School in the 1950’s and early 60’s.

The cluster of large granite boulders near the top of a steep slope, looked like a cradle. It nestled on the mountain in full sight of the school, a daily reminder of the challenge it posed every year.

St Marks was a small school with the boarders comprising the majority of pupils. Day bugs made up about a quarter of the school and were generally regarded with a slight sneer by boarders, who had no doubts that they represented the core and backbone of the school.

In keeping with the times, discipline was severe: corporal punishment for boys was administered by the Headmaster and his Deputy, all housemasters and prefects and sub-prefects. One had to be very diligent and careful not to commit some infraction incurring cuts – strikes with a cane, coathanger or in some cases a cricket bat.

Early morning runs in winter and swims in summer were compulsory. As were the cross-country runs after school in summer – about 4 miles of dust, then mud. If you were slow you had a very muddy bath. 

But the real glory was a test of toughness, witnessed by the whole school. It was  a fast cross country scramble across the valley through a gum forest, up the rockstrewn side of Malunge mountain, to seize the cup, placed on top of Cradle Rock.

All boys took part and points were awarded to your sports house depending on your time. To gain points you needed to complete the course in about 20 minutes.

We all ran barefoot in those days, helter skelter down from school, over the golf course bridge, then a choice had to be made. Either shorter but steeper and rougher, straight up through the trees and over the rocks, or around the side on the road past Jimmy’s Pool, then striking right up the hill, longer but faster. 

Michael Connolly won in ‘64 and Mapipa Long in ‘65. I believe the record time was about 14 minutes.

In the mischief and mayhem after year end exams and break-up day, some gentlemen who remain nameless, climbed the mountain under cover of darkness.

There they beautifully enhanced the front facade of Cradle Rock by painting in large white letters “Queens”.

Just in time too, as in 1967 the sports house was re-named Taylor to honour Miss Tilly Taylor, who had served the school for over 20 years.

The Cross of Lorraine, from our school badge, was painted large on the vertical rockface a few hundred yards away on the  same mountain, after Gordon Highlanders painted their badge there.

Those are some memories inspired by the Cradle Rock .

The paint on the rock has faded now and most of the trees are gone; there are houses quite close. But Cradle Rock endures.

(* To see a photo of the view of the rock taken from the school, go to the webpage by clicking the Title)

Photo courtesy of Mike Ellis, of course!