Another view of Spring 2021

As is my habit I breakfast in the morning sun on the patio. It is fresh and I don’t switch on the radio, as I want to hear the birds.

Next to me is a kumquat tree with bright orange fruit and new season flowers, which have that lovely citruscent. One of the day’s decisions is whether to turn the fruit to marmalade – I think I will.

The lawn is patrolled by spotted doves and magpie larks. The local magpies pass through to ensure their territories are being respected. They viciously attack any magpie intruders.

A pair of magpie larks,called peewees, are frequent visitors. This morning one of them walked past my chair as I read on the patio after breakfast. I glanced at her and she stopped and eyed me over, then as I was not an obvious threat or interest walked under the table.

She emerged on the other side hopped up onto a chair and then onto the table, only 4 feet from me, looking for morsels. She then stopped, looked at me and sounded her ear piercing tweetshriek. Who knows: maybe defiance, or just a joyful greeting?

In the foliage around the bird feeder, where the pyton often hangs out, crested pigeons kerfuffle frequently – their libido goes through the roof in Spring. Rainbow Lorikeets pop in occasionally, but don’t linger.

Less frequently, we are privleged with glimpses of King Parrots and Pale-headed Rosellas and the occasional galah and cockatoo.

In the syringa tree, figbirds and blue eyed honeyeaters search for flowers or berries almost every day. Noisy mynahs squabble and shriek on the move like gangs of unruly children released from class. Their noise is often pierced by the harsher scrapescreech of the noisy friars who pass by.

Finally, there is a sweet pair of Lewin’s Honeyeaters, who bathe in a patio gutter that needs fixing, carelessly splashing and spraying. They chatter happily as they flit through the trees, playing catch.

Life is not too bad, if we stop and listen to the birds.

Retirement – permission to misbehave?

Suggested by Debra Hall Thursday 18 March

It’s not so much what you can do, when you retire, but how much you can’t do before you do.

From before memory what we hear is: “No” “you can’t have that” ”do what I say” “this is the way we do things here” with sub text “and if you don’t then we are not for you”.

So one would think that retirement would be like letting go of a wound up elastic band: Twwwaaangggg!!! Don’t stop me now…!

Thinking about what you’re going to do when you are free to do it is quite fun. No-one said it better than Jenny Joseph in her “Warning”.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

….and learn to spit

But she didn’t really know, she was only 29 when she wrote the poem.

It isn’t like that, immediately anyway. Stopping the engine from continuing to run at working speed takes time. You can’t just start sleeping in because you are retired. The dog still wakes you at five, your eyes open and your heart starts fast and you leap up to get the day on the go because you know if you don’t you’ll be late for work…. Oh, Duh!. 

Retirees struggle to fill their day. Retirement is a new job; you have to start from scratch again. Finding things to do when you’re used to trying to find time to do things is the world upside down. Getting things done when there is no structure and deadlines is difficult.

Learning to sit and relax and read or do nothing without guilt only comes after years of practice. When you can have cake everyday, it doesn’t taste so good.

You don’t have to shave, but you do. I wear my comfortablest (and tattiest) old clothes quite often. 

I say things which I expect to provoke, but they don’t! Somehow it seems to be expected from the older generation. Anyway what we oldies think is provocative or challenging is not seen as so. 

As we grow older and age, so do the values and attitudes we held. So being provocative is not easy. Its not easy to find that you have not moved with the times and whilst you might have been progressive or even radical when you were young, you find that you are far more conserv ative now.

 I mean I wasn’t quite  a Trotskyite but I was threatened with deportation once. (Mind you that was South Africa in apartheid heyday, so the bar was not very high…) Bit like Australia: if you are naughty we’ll deport you …plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose?

So I am not going to dye my hair (haven’t got enough left) or get a tattoo (so common these days and they look ghastly on flabby old bodies)

But I do have a floppy tatty hat which I love and a canary yellow waistcoat and salmon pink trousers and blue vellies!

I am such a rebel!

Orson Welles suggested: I don’t say we all ought to misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could.

That sounds good to me.

Eating litchis

Story proposed for my grand daughter, Elba Rose, 3 years old Tues 2 March

It appears that some people spell and pronounce the word as lychee (ugh!) 

The litchi is a member of the Soapberry family, but should have been classified under sugarberry. It is a small juicy, deliciously sweet fruit. Accordingly a number need to be eaten at a time.

Delicate people choose to pierce the thin, slightly spiky skin with a knife and peel it off with their fingers, thereby losing most of the juice. For a number of good reasons, I just bite into the skin.

That way, if you simultaneously slurp, you get most of the juice that explodes from the fruit. The rest runs down your chin and neck. I have got used to that and shower after finishing as many as I can eat.

Once the skin is pierced and the first juice splash slurped, delicately peel off the top half of the skin shell with your teeth. Then squeeze the bottom half with your fingers and the fruit pops into your mouth. Savour the soft sweet flesh, then bite softly to the hard smooth pip in the centre and peel off the flesh which can be swallowed without hardly any chewing necessary. Discard the pip and the peel after ensuring any remaining juice has been slurped.

We had great pleasure introducing my daughter’s well brought up young Englishman to litchis.

He is highly observant if somewhat hasty, as young men can be. He skilfully mimicked my bite and slurp with a masterly tilt of the head and salacious slurp. To our surprise and glee, he then chewed and swallowed the pip! He had been too shy to ask, and just assumed!

 It was also the favourite fruit of a Chinese Emperor’s favoured concubine. The emperor had fresh fruit delivered from Guangdong to the capital at great expense by a special courier service with fast horses.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

 

 Litchis contain several healthy minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, such as potassium, copper, vitamin C, epicatechin, and rutin. These may help protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The pip may be slightly poisonous. 

My eldest brother, Mpunzane is a litchi addict. Whenever he noticed a litchi tree in fruit in his suburb, he would send in my brother and me under cover of darkness, to liberate a sample of the fruit. After some close calls and an attack of conscience (our mother’s), he planted a litchi tree in his garden. 

In those days he didn’t have Google to tell him that the trees bear fruit in about three months. Somebody told him it took seven years. We would be taken to inspect the tree each year. It never yielded any fruit, until it was seven years old, at least twenty feet high and wide. After good early rain it gave rise to a myriad of fruit flowers, then cascades of fruit started developing to everyones’ joy.

Yet, no ripe fruit survived. Until on a visit, I awoke very early one morning and went for a walk. I heard noises from the tree and went to investigate. There was the gardener hauling down branches and plucking the fruit which he dropped into a sack. 

To cut a long story short, he had been doing this every year, hence no fruit, since year one.

Well now,  with the thief gone, we could look forward to a harvest. We left them for a few more days to ripen perfectly. The evening before thay long awaited, glorious first harvest we heard an ominous sound – the happy call of a vervet monkey. We rushed to the tree and 30 monkeys scattered. The ground was littered with fruit peels and pips. The total harvest was 17 fruit – the monkeys and thieves got the rest – every year.

That should tells you something about the joy of eating litchis.

Bubbles and veg

 I will confess it now – I am beginning to feel guilty about eating meat. My daughter has become a vegetarian over the last few years, for taste not ideological reasons. My guilt arises from ideological, specifically environmental reasons. I still love eating meat except for the inner organs like liver and tripe.

I guess my brothers and most of my African friends will stop reading this in disgust….

One Wednesday MC offered to make lunch for me – I rarely refuse such offers and sat down to a vegetarian meal, feeling slightly challenged. To give me a little impetus in order to meet this challenge without flinching, I cracked a bottle of bubbly after a pre-prandial lager.

With wide-eyes and a faint air of forlorn hope, she presented a very daunting veggie looking meal – I felt my teeth growing longer by the minute!

Couscous with spiced eggplant and lemony yoghurthow greenie, hippy can you get? I girded my loins with a second glass of fizz and tried to smile as I had my first tentative nibble …. Sapristi!! It was bloody marvellous!!

I finished all there was and licked my plate clean.

Somewhere in my post prandial euphoria I was dared to eat one vegetarian meal a week. I accepted with the boast that I would cook the next one and the Wednesday Lunch Club came into being. We present a meal alternately.

Herself declined to be drawn in – she has had some experience of my culinary skills. Some of my faithful blog followers may recall this culinary foray: https://sillysocksonfriday.com/2017/02/17/fishcakes/

I have not been known to avoid any opportunity to indulge my self – so my vegetarian offering was a seafood paella, cooked on the braai. If I say so myself it was pretty toothsome – my guest agreed, although this may have something to do with the bottle of her fav strawberry fizz.

Week 3 was cunningly designed by MC to indulge my longstanding craving for a burger: Lentil-Chickpea Veggie Burgers with Avocado Green Harissa

Bubbles were now mandatory and afternoon appointments were cancelled.

On Week 4, I indulged a hankering to try a platter of Tomato slices with Mozzarella Cheese and a Balsamic Vinegar dressing. Not bad …

If my brothers are still reading their eyes will be bulging.

MC was feeling the pressure, so she tried to sway me by unorthodox tactics in week 5. Veggie Wraps: Pumpkin, rocket, beetroot, capsicum, feta (plus marinated beef strips for some). One has to keep an eye on these vegetarians – they will go to extraordinary lengths to further their cause. We committed to become purists – no meat henceforth. Sheer love kept me from declining the offering, which was yummy.

I felt that a strong response was called for in week 6 and I was feeling nostalgic, so went for a double whammy: Pasta salad with peanut butter sauce  followed by  tapioca pudding with coconut and mango. (I couldn’t source sago – beloved frogs eggs of childhood). MC was highly complimentary

Week 7 was different: Miso soup, Edamame, Okonomiyaki (vegetable pancake) with Soba noodle salad and light cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries. Ah so desu ka! Domo arigato! おいしい Well done MC!

Week 8 was today and I fretted all week. Fortunately, Herself was in charge of the Commissariat and found all the ingredients for Green pesto minestrone soup followed by gingered Junket (more nostalgia). Declared to be even better than my last effort.

I freely confess that I have enjoyed every one of these meals and I now spend more time reading vegetarian recipes than following Donald Trump in the news!!

Wednesday has become a gleaming beacon day – the food and the company are excellent. Time with my daughter is gold.

I urge you all to consider vegetarianism … in moderation, perhaps.

Should you care for the recipes I am quite happy to include them in my next publication which will be an omnibus of short stories, rants, poems and recipes from sillysocksonfriday – I bet you can’t wait, y’all!

Goodwill in bedlam

Herself and I had the honour recently to be invited to the Citizenship Ceremony of dear friends.

There is rare opportunity for the amorphous body of the State to impress upon its subjects the import and high value of being a citizen.

Australia like most former colonies has suppressed admiration for the pomp and ceremony practised by the colonial overlords of former years, but hides it under a veneer of mateship. State ceremonies should therefore be serious and memorable with an acceptable ritual, but men can wear shorts and women slacks and sandals.

So, on Australia Citizenship Day, as befits serious occasions, we arrived early at the Community Leisure Centre (that could have been a clue), to be greeted by a melee of smart fellow guests and citizens-to-be, under direction of slightly flustered bureaucrats, one of whom was a long serving town councillor.

It appears that nobody had told the local Kung-fu Klub that they could not have the hall for their practice that night and martial arts were in process. The sensei had growled at suggestions by the Councillor that a ceremony of State should have precedence  – he explained to us in  a whisper “they are very big men!”

So we had to make a plan as we were told Australians had always done – set up in a smaller hall and split the function into 2 sessions to abide by the Covid space limit of 35 people.

This was also under the faint anxiety induced by the need to ensure Safe Coronavirus Hygiene was observed and necessary tracking details were recorded as well as issue of all important documents for the Citizens- to- be.

There were not enough chairs to allow for all to be seated so attendees spread around the walls, all decorously looking solemn and anxiously trying to observe Covid safe distancing.

I was quite comfortable on the kitchen sink. When every seat was taken and safe spaces were diminishing dangerously, an explanation and apology was made by the Councillor who kept his cool, even as the walls were closing in…

As is fitting the elders of the land were acknowledged and the event proceeded.

The certificates were given out with only a minor confusion of some Singhs, and the two Oaths of Affirmation (a separate one for non-Believers) were completed with everyone invited to join in.

The old Councillor was so relieved that he despatched us all to tea and cake in the Karate Hall, only to be met with an outcry – we haven’t sung the Anthem!

Everyone was remarkably calm and accepting of this bureaucratic balls-up of a ceremony, waiting patiently for their certificate and posing sweetly for a photo with the old Councillor, clutching their gift of a spindly indigenous seedling and a Labor Party holdall.

The Guest of Honour, a state MP who made an inaudible speech, was soon forgotten and slunk away into a corner.

Everyone sung the Anthem with serious demeanour and then we were released.

It was an interesting batch of new citizens, mostly European but with some Filipinos, Middle Easterners, Chinese and Indians – all on their best behaviour to avoid losing the prize at the slightly vague finishing line.

They weren’t yet Australian enough to barrack at the bureaucrats for stuffing up what should be a smooth, sedate ritual reinforcing the competence and effectiveness of a modern State.

People seemed genuinely happy if somewhat bemused by the awkward shambles – it was almost heart-warming and definitely memorable in an unintended way.

Am I grateful?

Some people will resist the powerful temptation to read another of my almost irresistible musings. I am eternally grateful to those who feed my ego by reading and indicating their appreciation or outrage (comme ci, comme ça, c’est la guerre!)

For some of us, gratitude just doesn’t come easy. It is an emotion, so is frequently at odds with intellect. Beware the emotional vampire!

One of the reasons for resisting gratefulness is genetic make-up, another is brain size or it may be our personality. I suppose we shouldn’t forget nurture either! Some people are taught pride and learn to perceive kindnesses as charity, which is not acceptable to the proud! … and often irritates the charitable, no doubt!

Nevertheless, intellect, being more modern, considered and cautious can coax gratitude out of its shell, to bloom and brighten one’s life and the lives of their nearest and dearest.

Research has shown that making conscious efforts to count one’s blessings is therapeutic: grateful people are indeed less likely to have mental health problems like depression.

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy — we will always want to have something else or something more (Br. David Steindl-Rast). He also believes that the human response of gratitude is a part of the religious worldview and is essential to all human life.

According to Cicero “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”

I get all this and I dig it. We don’t know how lucky we are!

I wrote this on my birthday a couple of years ago: https://sillysocksonfriday.com/2018/11/09/introibo-ad-altare-dei/

Sursum Corda*

(*Lift up your hearts)

I get up just before the sun to walk Lulu. My Dad called staying in bed after you wake up ‘scugging’, – I am not a scug.

The first few minutes are  mostly muzzy: where are my shoes? Fill the bird feeder or the bird shrieks until its fed, waking herself… why am I doing this thoughts begin seeping up….

Then Lulu woofs and I go to her room and she kisses me and bounces around making soft growly joyous sounds.

As we step outside the cool freshness is sublime.

Morning skies this week have been blue with high wispy wind clouds tinged pink by  early sunlight. This morning they were swollen, lowering grey with a hint of purple. Maybe it will rain.

stone curlewAt the end of the street, two stone curlews freeze and pretend invisibility. Lulu suspects something but is not sure.

We are heralded by the butcher birds who whistle and chortle from tree to tree. The kookaburra leads us across the park.

Under the big gum tree that is shedding its winter bark and displaying its new pastel green skin, two crows are examining something on the path. They shout squawk off  but flee as I approach. Their interest was not a blue tongued lizard as I had thought, but an Australian wonder: a squirrel glider.

squirrel-glider.jpg

Such a pretty little thing! It hopped towards me miaowchirping as if to say thank you, pleasecanIwalkwithyou. I said No and herded it to a tree waving away a persistent crow. It scrambled up  and was soon safely out of sight. A lovely little animal – I have not seen one before.

We walk on under a fig tree quivering with breakfast birds and past the water-dragon.jpgsilly ducks that think I am a feeder. I am not.

Two water dragons stretch their necks, frozen to bathe in the morning sun.

magpie goose

Three magpie geese waddle away from us as we walk down to the bridge.

purple swamphenLulu tries to ignore the purple swamp hens (pukeko in New Zealand) who gallump across the path on tbush turkeyheir long feet and the bush turkey scuffling on its mound of leaves which it uses to keep its eggs warm.

Back up the path, we meet Harry a big grinning chocolate Labrador for a sniff and a smile. Then home again.

Let us give thanks and praise.

Dignum et justum est. It is right and just

 

 

 

Cockatoo

Crocodile Dundee calls it the Kakadu; the place where he bewitched water buffaloes and baffled crocodiles.

That’s where herself and I spent a few days camping in a tent – once next to a billabong in which we saw three crocodiles. freshie

Alright, they were only freshies, but they are not exactly toothless or harmless you know. One of our camp neighbours was over three metres long!

We were lucky enough to be invited to join friends doing a Grey Nomad trip through the Territory in their caravan. We sourced a tent and self inflating mattresses and hopped on a plane. Such spontaneity for 65+ year olds is invigorating!

The Kakadu National Park is part of the Northern Territory and very much on the caravan route which could be called the grey fringe of Australia because of the  continuous flow of  middle aged caravanners, campers and tourists which clog the camps and roads.

That is,  in the dry, up North; in the wet monsoon and cyclone months most of the area is under water or subject to flooding at a moment’s notice.

In the summer months 75% of the area is burnt off. The result is a open  savannah with burn scarred trees, rejuvenated grass, anthills and lots of  cycads. Sadly, we saw almost more roadkill than live animals: a few feral pigs and wallaroos. Despite lush grasslands, there were not many water buffalo in parks and a few cattle in areas outside of parks. I was reminded of the rocky ridged cattle country near Nomahasha in Swaziland.

Waterways were busy with birdlife and crocodile seeking tourists. Every roadside, park entrance and river bank is posted with warning signs about the danger of salties: the ubiquitous and lethal estuarine crocodiles.

Paradoxically, the most popular tourist venues and camps were those adjacent to beautiful billabongs, pools and streams where swimming was deemed safe. Nevertheless these places were studded with signs advising that estuarine crocodiles were know to visit all waters, but were removed when observed; freshwater crocodiles were always present and harmful if provoked!

The waters were clear and refreshing with gushing waterfalls and darting fish. Everyone swam, including herself, who has a known aversion to chilly water.

There were quite a few birds, many of which were clearly kin to African counterparts:

rainbow pitta

Cockatoos, storks, coucals, cormorants, flycatchers, bee eaters, ducks, geese and rainbow bee eater

hawks and eagles. I think I saw a Rainbow Pitta, which I have not seen before; my dream birds, the bee eaters, followed me all over the North.

The best bird was the Jabirua black stork, with a powerful bill said to be strong enough to pierce a croc’s skull. Certainly they were ignored by large passing salties.ro jabiru

If you are brave enough to fish, the Barramundi, provides fine sport and is a very tasty fish dish. The only one I saw caught was a ten kilogram plus beauty, snapped up by a huge crocodile.barra-croc.jpg

We had a really good trip with our good friends and tenting was quite fun; certainly no hardship. Beer and wine seemed to go down quite well despite the fact that it is more difficult to buy alcohol in the Territory than it was in Alabama during Prohibition.

There are huge social problems with Aboriginal communities as a result of generations of drink dependency which necessitate such measures.

I was left with a somewhat surreal impression of empty land with crowded roads and camps, lovely waterways and an economy greatly dependent on a population of crocodiles, once nearly exterminated by hunting, now nearing over abundance!

The Kakadu must be very interesting to see in the wet, but with temperatures in the 40’s and humidity consistently close to 100%, I will rather read about it.

 

 

 

 

A living will is a dying wish

“The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die and you to live. Which of these two is better, only God knows.”

-Socrates

Such clarity of mind and absence of fear, when faced with imminent death, is remarkable and unusual. His last words were a reminder to Crito to pay a debt for him.

I am not dying, nor do I intend to do so for a number of years yet. However, I suspect when that Spectre is nigh, that I might not be possessed of the coolth and clarity of Socrates. So I will tell you now about how I would not like my dying to occur.

My intention is to inform my kith and kin and doctors to avoid the involvement of lawyers, who insist on making simple statements complex in order to guarantee certainty … and fees, no doubt.

In accordance with our will, my estate and all my possessions are to become my wife’s property and in the event of her death, before or after me, will be divided equally amongst our five children.

A simple concept was developed in Florida, USA to encapsulate the how I want to die / don’t want to die situation, called the Five Wishes, which met the approval of even Mother Theresa :

  •  My wife is the person I want to make care decisions for me when I can’t. If she can’t, then I wish one or two of my children to do so.
  • I do not wish to receive Medical Treatment that will prolong my life, unless I would be able to enjoy a good quality of life thereafter. Don’t keep me alive as a vegetable, don’t resuscitate me unless I could go swimming unaided and sing songs thereafter.unplug me.jpg
  • I like the idea of pain relief and maintaining dignity, even if it might not be good for continued breathing.
  • I do not wish to be a burden on my family, especially if /when I become demented. Place me in care and only come to see me if I will recognise you.
    • There is a Catch 22 here which you will need to resolve: the cost of care will come from our estate, which may diminish your inheritance. Let your own quality of life be the guiding principle.
  • I would like a memorial gathering where people can offer prayers, tell stories, laugh and cry.
    • Above all I would like to hear the singing from wherever I may be;
    • I wouldn’t mind a wake – in any event, I would like people to have a bit of a hooleyd'ya tink Im dead
    • I would like my ashes to be the growth medium for an umVovovo tree (huilende boerboon / tree fuschia).

tree burial

Bollemakiesie

The young can make us young again too.

beer and braai

As is our habit we braaied at the weekend, well on Easter Monday. It was our usual family gathering with dear friends and some visiting rellies from across the ocean.

Somehow there was a slightly more festive spirit than the norm which seemed to make the beer and fizz go down easier.

We were a somewhat eclectic crowd with some in their sixties, fifties, forties, thirties, three dogs and a four year old sprite.

Normally a fairly shy child, on this day, she was filled with the energy of a March hare and the command of a Ringmaster. While we chatted and kept up the level of our liquids in the early stages, she inspected the toys and her dolls house, engaging the dogs in a number of role plays. A bit later, I noticed the dogs had gone missing. I found them in the dolls’ house, waiting patiently to resume the game.

However, the young queen bee had moved on and was engaging the adults, commanding their participation in a number of exercises and role plays, including  catch-the-grasshopper and a tea party.

Her timing was impeccable and her enthusiasm and commands were charmingly irresistible. The new activity at Playschool was yoga so all were instructed to participate in yoga exercises. Peer pressure enforced participation, which should have been more wisely considered in some cases.

Head over heels (bollemakiesies in Afrikaans) were the exercise for men and all surrendered their dignity to roll around on the grass in pairs. The last pair included a grandfather who was proud to have been in his primary school gymnastics team and remembered well his star turn of a somersault over a wooden horse…

His bollemakiesie was very well executed, symmetrical and straight. However, the total effect was spoilt by the unfamiliar pressures on reasonably airtight gaskets. The resultant lapse of the system was quite a blast.

dogrofl.jpg

A nervous glance sideways revealed that it had not gone undetected.. two people were crying and the dogs were trying to run away…

Growing old does not prevent infection by the rashness of youth, it merely impairs the ability to maintain dignity and integrity while under its spell.

My granddaughter is quite a lot older and wiser now.

finger pull fart