How I went from ordinary to extraordinary!

I chose to accept the topics proposed, so I accepted this one – I would not have chosen to do so, it is quite personal.

I was never ordinary, I was born extraordinary.

But my parents did the right thing, they treated me as ordinary. So I learned to do ordinary things and didn’t feel different

The fact that I was physically extraordinary just meant I looked different and did things differently.

My family and friends took no notice, sometimes trying to help if I was slow. I rejected these attempts, sometimes rudely. I can’t remember anything my contemporaries could do that I couldn’t. I often wasn’t very good but neither they nor I cared.

They did me right.

Some tasks were perhaps a bit more challenging so I developed some sort of tenacity or determination to persevere. It was sometimes embarrassing – I recall a fancy dinner at the Royal Swazi Hotel with a friend and his parents.

I ordered lamb chops and insisted and persisted on cutting them up myself, rebuffing all offers of help. Everyone, including me, was mortified. I usually order spaghetti if I go out these days.

In some instances I was downright dangerous and once I gave up. I still feel sick about it, even though I know it was the right thing to do.

I was a Personnel Superintendent on a shaft sinking site of a new mine and felt it important that I visited the workplace. During the years 1995 and 1996, Moab Khotsong recorded the worst safety statistics in the mining industry

Eventually sick of my nagging the Mine Manager took me with him.

We climbed into a bowl suspended on a cable and were lowered down the shaft a few hundred feet. It stopped and we dismounted onto a narrow platform on the side of the shaft, which was only about 800 meters deep by then.

The rest of the descent was via a vertical ladder. My hands became so slippery with sweat that I surrendered at the third rung and returned to the platform. I chickened out.

Extraordinary is someone else’s judgement.

I am not extraordinary, I just do things differently. I have no claim to anything but ordinary, except maybe my sense of humour.

Story proposed by Rubes Carter

The ups and downs of immigrating

All my bags are packed

 I’m ready to go …

Taxi’s waiting, he’s blowing its horn,

Already I am so lonesome I could die

‘Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again …

That about wraps the downs. They hit immediately, like jumping out an aeroplane door – you realise you really don’t know anything about parachute landing.

Doubts are huge and the final rituals of departure are agonising.

The children are with you and it doesn’t help them to see your snot en trane – so you have to pull on a brave face and smile.

Immigration is a bureaucratic odyssey of queues, forms, fees and fretful clerks. Fortunately my wife is calm and patient; if it had been left to me we would have been extradited immediately!

For years after you get there, you watch aeroplanes flying west, wistfully. You wonder whether you did the right thing, you feel you have denied your heritage, abandoned your roots and you long to return to your siblings – even though you usually fight with them after a few days together!

The ups are realised only years later, when we saw our children graduate, intelligent and independent and unscarred by the dichotomy of the society we had left, with only happy memories of the land of their birth.

We really enjoyed the high ups of immigration after our second immigration – this time in search of the sun, to a bigger land where our children were settling. This time we were on our own and free to choose without having to leave family too far behind.

Those that stayed were close enough to visit. Our dog came with us.

There was little pain on leaving and happy anticipation of the new promise of The Lucky Country.

So I suppose your emotional buoyancy depends on why, when and where you go and what you leave.

The security and calmness of your new world compared to the degradation, dishonesty and deceit of where you started, is consoling.

It is a gentle emotion, not raw like the verlang for tuisland, which lingers.

Story proposed by Linda Owen Guy and Rose Glen

Umqombothi

It’s a lovely word. The ‘qo‘ just rolls of the tongue onto the roof of your mouth with a soft click and the next ‘o’ comes out as ‘aw’: oohm tk awm baww tea

It is the chicken noodle soup of South Africa especially in the Eastern Cape.

It is brewed for special occasions. For young Xhosa men (abakwetha) the introduction to umqombothi is usually painful. It is brewed to celebrate their initiation to manhood, which involves isolation and circumcision. I have never drunk it.

Beer is of course a staple of most civilisations, essentially because back in the day local water supplies soon became contaminated by poor sanitation and livestocks’ lack of regard for water purity. The alcohol in beer killed most of the germs in the water and the grain was extremely nourishing. That is why most wise people like beer – they are survivors.

In Africa where my soul was born, there are a number of natural brews of which probably the most popular is mahewu because of its simplicity. It is essentially ingrained into the rural dweller’s life and is shared communally. Both these drinks are grain based and only mildly alcoholic.

However, as has no doubt been experienced recently in South Africa, where alcohol sales were banned in the Covid lockdown, people go to great lengths to make alcoholic drinks.

I can remember my father warning me never to drink home brewed shebeen beer, makanjane, as brewers often added dubious ingredients to improve the ‘kick’. Such ingredients included methylated spirits and battery acid, as well as dead rats…. Mind you there is a pervasive myth that the secret Guinness ingredient is a beef hindquarter!

The brewing of pineapple beer was part of the unofficial curriculum for most young schoolboys: pineapple peel, brown sugar and water buried in a jar for a few days!

Once when I had mumps and was in bed upstairs in our house in Mbabane, my brother Mpunzane remembered a jar he had buried and forgot about when he went off to boarding school, three months before.

When he loosened the soil above it, the jar exploded, shooting the lid into the eaves outside my room. Impressive brew!

I think that was when we got the warning from Dad.

Mpunzane, who became a beer rep for a while, tells me it is marula season in Swaziland and he has plans for for some muganu – marula beer to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Those of you who have seen elephants and baboons staggering about after eating rotting marula fruit, will know that a potent beer is possible.

If you are totally teetotal in rural Africa, your other and probably only alternative is amasi, which is yogurt before it was invented.  

Sorry for you!

Story proposed by Mike Ellis

Pancakes

Even though I say it myself, I regard my culinary talents as adventurous, even challenging!

I only married in my 30’s, so had a fair bit of cooking experience in my bachelor days, despite living in Africa where cooks were often employed for most meals. Of course being an African male, I am an experienced vleis braaier, which is Afrikaans for ‘meat guerrilla’.

The braaivleis, known as barbeque in many parts of the world, is a cultural practice which involves the cooking of piles of meat. The cooking often takes place after a few drinks and is not really that important; the meat just has to look cooked. It often does in the evening twilight, after a few beers…

But I am not here to talk about meat, of which, I have realised, I eat too much. Accordingly, I have resolved to give up meat for Lent in accordance with older traditions and instead of beer, …. Maybe next year.

My wife is perturbed as I said that I would eat more fish, which she is not fond of. So I have set out to show her that there is no need to fear, by cooking some fishcakes as a surprise.

In order to ensure a special dish, I used my pilchards in chili sauce, which I had been saving for a treat. I combined it with some bread crumbs of the nutty, seedy bread she prefers. To make the mixture more special and because she doesn’t like raw onion, I used sliced pickled onion, which I thought was quite innovative. To add some colour, I added a couple of sliced pepperdews, small red capsicums in a sweet syrup. I mixed in an egg for binding, salt and pepper seasoning and some finely chopped parsley from the garden. Simple!

Please note, this was my own recipe!

The mixture made six and a half cakes, which I fried in olive oil. Even though I say it myself, they were delicious! (A couple fell apart, so I had to eat them for lunch).

To my consternation, my wife turned down the fishcakes without hesitation – she doesn’t like tuna, chili or my cooking, especially when I try different ingredients…

Looks like I’ll be cooking for myself for the 40 days of Lent.

P.S. I had a nibble of half a cake before I went to bed. I must confess I had a very weird dream about riding an Afrikander bull which was chased by a lion past a lion reserve full of identical lions following each other, holding the tail of the foremost one in their mouths…

Ooops! Sorry… did you say pancakes?

Hey those are easy – I made some on Tuesday. Just add water to the mix, skud die bottel and fry on a hot pan. Delicious with Maple Syrup and Lemon Juice.

I ate them all – no dreams even.

The head in the window

You’re dreaming – there’s nothing there. The house is all broken down, no-one has lived there for ages, it’s dangerous. Look the doors are boarded up.

I saw a man, he was smiling. He was wearing a striped t-shirt and had sideburns.

Oooh! Was he good looking too? Maybe your Prince Charming! In your dreams!

 The girls left and ambled home. They knew they couldn’t tell anyone where they’d been as the house was strictly off-limits.

But the experience plagued, her curiosity itched like a flea-bitten cat. She had to find out.

The next day Patsy gave Ursula the slip, lingering in the library until her friend had gone off with others to hockey. She had a sore toe anyway, so wouldn’t have gone…

It was a rash thing to do, but Ursula had been so dismissive and teasing, she didn’t want to ask her to go back there. So she sang the song her dad had taught her:

I’m a brave, brave mouse, I go marching through the house,

And I am not afraid of anything….

She arrived and stood nervously in front of the window. She took a deep breath and called out:  hellooo, …. anyone there? My name is Patsy and I live down the road. I won’t tell if you want to be a secret.

Hellooo! …. Isn’t it lonely up there with no-one to talk to?

Helloooo …  she saw a flicker of movement at the window, so she waved saying: here I am, its only me here …

Go away, leave me alone! The reply was muffled, but not that emphatic.

Patsy was a bit of a bulldog; when she set her mind at something, she persisted.

I will if you really want me to, but it must get lonely up there with no-one to talk to.

She heard nothing, then faint footsteps and a door at the side of the house opened with a creaking screech.

Her heart leaped into her mouth and she gripped her schoolbag, ready to run. Then she remembered the man had smiled and he had sounded so lonely!  I am a brave, brave… she walked slowly forward and peered round the door.

She was surprised! She recognised the young man who stood inside the room, away from the door, looking nervously behind her.

Who are you, Is there anyone else with you, do they know where you are, why are you here, did they send you?  

His words were gabbled and fearful; he retreated into a corner, where there was a sleeping bag and a rucksack.

Are you hungry? I have an apple and a cheese sandwich in my bag, I don’t like cheese but Mum says it’s good for me…

His eyes lit up and he licked his lips: I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.

I know who you are, you’re from the family who moved in round the corner from my house. My name’s Patsy by the way and I am in year 4 at St Marks, aren’t you supposed to be at uni or work or something, why are you hiding here?

 He was wolfing the food down, clearly famished. Penny was fascinated.

Nobody knows I’m here, I’ll get into so much trouble, but I knew I saw a face and you looked so friendly but all alone. Ursula din’t believe me and said I’m a dreamer…

And are you? A dreamer? I am, maybe that’s my problem..

Well sometimes, not really but …  I do have weird thoughts Ursula says. She’s my best friend. I skipped hockey to come and see if you were real. Why are you here?

I’m hiding from them, they followed me to our new house, I thought they would stay in Mount Pleasant when we moved.

Who are they? No-one saw me come here, I came along the path that runs near our house

They stand in the shadows, but I hear them speak… they say terrible things. It’s okay if I take my pills but I lost them when we moved and they found me.

Well! said Patsy, with all the authority that a 9 year old can muster,  you can’t stay here forever with no food, you better come with me. I’ll take you to our house and my Mum can get your more pills, she’s a nurse and my Dad will go to your house and chase those voice people away. He’s a policeman and people listen to what he says, or else!

The young man balked but without much energy and the child chivvied him to pack up his stuff, which he did.

She took his hand and led him home and all was as she said it would be.

Jack Smythe had been missing for 3 days.

Story proposed by Patsy Youngleson

Working in a mad house

Mimics abound. One can’t clean the windows without a number of offers to help and wide advice on technique. Taking out the trash is hazardous as someone is bound to follow.

Places like this are different, full of friendly, lonely and knowledgeable people. There are some who are unresponsive to their environments, smothered in their inner agonies, but they keep to themselves, sometimes gazing at static screens for hours on end.

Most are happy but bored and seek any stimulation and opportunity to espouse their important advice. At least three or four people ask me to listen to their theories and analyses each day – all for a willing ear, just to be believed.

It’s the data! It doesn’t add up, it doesn’t say what I mean! What can I do next, who can I ask?

Look out for Henry, he’s brilliant but he is a terrible narcissist, I bet he’s a psychopath – he tells such lies! But he’s so convincing nobody challenges him.

Just because I am not computer literate doesn’t mean I’m a dummy – why am I still here, they treat me like a cabbage.

If I have to speak to another nutcase who thinks research is a conspiracy I am going to scream….!

Why are we here?

Everything is so easy for some people – look at him, he just knows what everything means all the time – he’s a bloody genius!

 I think that woman is a nympho, look at the way men are drooling at her, they should lock her up… and them too!

The other day the way in was blocked and no one could get in and no-one could go out. They even called the Police.

Lunchtime conversations are varied and entertaining and disclose a great deal about morale and the culture of the place.

I’m there because I have to clean up afterwards. As I say there is never a shortage of willing helpers – they are not eager to get back to the grindstone.

Working as a cleaner in a research company is worse than working in a madhouse!

Story proposed by Michelle Craik

The Joy of Cousins

If you are broke and in a strange place, you will feel some joy if you have a cousin in town. Somehow it is easy to impose without too much conscience and beg some space to spread a sleeping bag. Of course they are then obliged to feed you.

This can be a tad awkward if they share the house with others or you only met them once for tea 12 years before. Also, if you have been hitch-hiking and travelling you are likely to be quite smelly and probably use all the hot water. To contribute, you buy some milk in return for the dinners and breakfasts you enjoyed.

Pretty sure they don’t mind you using their washing machine and dryer.

Mind you, I have only done it to a couple of cousins – only one was compelled by domestic pressure to move me on after one night. He was embarrassed but I am quite sensitive and sensible.

I spent the next night with a bunch of druggies in a Surrey Docks squat, sharing a room with an intense Canadian jockey who carried a Browning .45 pistol. The floor was sticky because all the carpet had been ripped up. They fed me eggs and bacon fried in hash oil … they didn’t have to ask me to leave.

My posh cousin in the country put me on a train to her parents after one night – she had young children and ponies to exercise. I had a great time in the country with my uncle and aunt and even learned to quite like bitter.

In the long run, it balances out – cousins visiting Africa had a great time with my two brothers. They even sent a lady friend to visit my single brother in Swaziland. She was a barrister, but he was evasive.

We were blessed by a visit from one of their children (cousin once removed?) in New Zealand on her OE. It was good to give a little back.

My best success was a month and that was not strictly a cousin but my brother in law’s brother who let me sleep in a studio when I was homeless and unemployed in Rhodesia. That was a Christian act!

If I met me in those days I might have thought I was a bit of a rough, well diamond in the rough, as I am family…

In fact, I think that my UK cousins must have thought that too.

But they still gave me a bed and fed me – that’s the joy of cousins.

Story proposed by Jane Longshaw

Middelmannetjie Mania

43 hours since lift-off from Musk City on Mars. The rocket’s cameras revealed the desolation of the Serengeti Plain in Africa; the sensors displayed almost zero oxygen and a surface temperature of 67 degrees Centigrade. There was no sign of life.

‘Mythbuster’ C-well had returned to the planet that his ancestors had abandoned in the 21st Century, days before the apocalyptic finale of the nuclear war between China and the United States. All known animal forms of life on Earth’s surface were believed to have been eradicated. This was his last chance to prove life existed on his ancestral planet.

His Martian colleagues in the LifeForm Ministry had scorned his conviction that some forms of life had survived the radioactive blasts and heatwaves which scorched Earth for decades. However, his persistent searches of Earth images over time had detected some remnants of vegetation. It was this evidence that persuaded MarsGov to fund his exploration.

The transit vehicle went into Earth orbit at 300 kilometers and C-well (call sign MbC) entered his drone with his technician and co-pilot Vingers Verranti (VV2). Their destination was the junction of the Mlawula and Black Umbuluzi Rivers near the border between eSwatini and Mocambique.

Many years before MbC’s great grandfather Jaime had been an Ecologist and Game Warden in the region. He had left annotated journals of the animal, plant and insect life in the area. This was the reference material which was to guide their search.

Jaime had affectionately been called Malusa Timfene by the locals, – guardian of the baboons, because of his diligent protection of the ecology of the region.

They had sufficient oxygen and battery life in their suits for 36 hours, before they would be forced to leave or die.

The drone blew up a cloud of dust as they landed. They descended and stood in the shade under its wings. They would search  a roughly square area sided by the Umbuluzi in the North and the Mlawula on the East and South. A dirt track formed the left boundary of the search area.

A few leafless trees seemed just alive in the river beds, which had some wispy grasses growing on the banks.

Every footfall raised a puff of dust, There were no animal tracks and no birds in the sky. MbC felt like weeping, having read of the abundance of wildlife in the area.

In the first 30 hours he must have traversed his section of the area over a thousand times without observing any vestige of life on his monitor gauges or through his magnified, wide angle spectacle visor.

He was growing despondent.

When he looked up he saw VV2 watching him, then breaking into a space age version of the sibhaca dancing they had seen on archive movies. That brought a grin and new energy. VV2 looked like a giant armoured insect capering about.

That brought something to mind from the old journal. Jaime had written in his journal of the plethora of insect life which inhabited the grasses and shrubs that grew in the middle of the dirt roads – known as the middlemannetjie – the little man in the middle.

He had described a life chain starting with the antelopes that slept in the roadways at night, marginally safer than the grasslands as predators could be detected and escape at speed was easier.

Their droppings had fostered a myriad of insect life from carpenter ants, millipedes, ant lions to dung beetles. Those patient, diligent, comic beasties that rolled dung into balls in which to lay their eggs.

He returned to the side track and increased the magnification of his visor to examine the dusty surface.

There were still a few brown grass blades emerging from tufts of stubble in the middle of the road. He gasped! There was a faint double line of dots in the sand – insect tracks! He whooped and VV2 came lumbering over to see what was the cause of his obvious glee.

They searched wider and found more tracks and near the river, bigger insect tracks, somewhat more erratic, leading to a stunted shrub.

Under a root they discerned a round ball – it was a dungball. It had apparently been cached by the female.

Dung meant animal life!

Such joy – MbC’s persistence was vindicated!

As resources were dwindling, they were forced to return to Mars. No further evidence had been found, but the dungball would justify larger expeditions and maybe the re-colonisation of Earth.

MbC’s thesis was published to great acclaim on Mars.

He had entitled it: Middelmannetjie Mania.

Story proposed by James Culverwell