Category Archives: Creative Writing

Bad News Psalmwich

When the Day of Judgment comes, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done.” Thomas á Kempis (The Imitation of Christ)

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I received bad news, the other day. This had me reflecting; what do other people do when they get bad news? Surreptitiously I have been observing or asking people this week how they handle bad news.

 

I discerned, observed or had reported to me the following methods;

Get it over with, with a dramatic episode; kick the cat, spouse, road rage.

Coldly channel the negative energy; gym, running, sport, furious knitting.

Indulgence; food, alcohol, sex, nails.

Escapism; TV, Romance novels, Porn.

Activity; Overtime, disassemble car.

Withdrawal; depression, silence, worm-eating.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You may be able to pick out one of your own from the above. I’m sure the psych guys have all sorts of advice for us and I’ve read a sufficient share of pop-psychology literature to tell you that you can save some money and read the Psalms.

 

I had a great Pastor, no really I do.  I’m so grateful that I go to a small enough church where I could drown my sorrows in good coffee with my pastor. No five-year plan; no spiritual dagga, no maniacal grinning. Just “oh this is really bum news. How are you feeling?” More coffee. After some soothing noises, the shepherds crook appears from under the table. “So where do you go when you get bad news?” He queries, off the cuff. “To the minor prophets.” I lamented. “Hmmm,” pastor (experienced at dealing with nutters) controls his mirth. “I prefer the Psalms,” he comments.

 

Have you spent time in the Psalms lately? The book of Psalms is the ‘secret place’ of the scriptures. Don’t look that one up in a commentary it won’t be there. If you can’t find God when you’re furiously knitting, eating worms or grumbling to yourself, or doing something unspeakable – head for the Psalms I say. That’s where God makes all the necessary ooh-aah noises.

 

I never thought I’d see the day that I would be kissing little girls’ toes saying “ooh…..aah, wasn’t that awful, poor little frozen chicken, ag…shame, poor little hamster dropping.” But then I had some daughters, who, whilst performing Pavlova type leaps, sustain no small number of injuries. Since one can not concentrate on the gripping editorials contained within the bowels of the Isle-of-man-shoemakers-monthly magazine, with the deafening shrieks of amateur ballerinas in the background, the abovementioned empathizing is necessary.

 

Back to the Psalms; well when I stub my toe, or worse, whilst performing amateur ballerina maneuvers (okay the metaphor is wearing a bit thin.  Imagine me and thin being in the same sentence.) I head for the Psalms. I confess that the Minor Prophets do appeal to my sense of self-flagellation but they can do it for me too. Let me not fool you into a false sense of my saintliness. (Oh do stop laughing.) I have and do end up on the heap of sin and sulkiness when I’m on the receiving end of bad news too. But sometimes I get it right. Try and get it right – aim for God’s Word especially the Psalms in times of trouble.

 

So what’s so special about the Psalms? There is not a single emotion, urge, temptation, elation, delight, praise or passion not mentioned in the psalms. I challenge you to find one and let me know. (Actually, rather don’t.) The Psalms is where God empathizes with us through the experiences of the likes of David. This is where God says “there, there it’ll be all right, I’m in control.” Or “For goodness sake, pull your finger out.” Words we need hear sometimes.

 

I just love the variety in the Psalms; as the book opens with Psalm 1 (strangely enough, doesn’t miss a trick does He.) which sagely reminds us about where we should find ourselves in the economy of God; delighting in His Word, not in the seat of mockers – In the Jerusalem Bible it renders that “cynics”. Then waxes on about how the wicked will all end up in deep yogurt. If you like that sort of thing.  Then there are those Psalms of ascent journeying through the seasons of the heart. There’s pleading, begging for forgiveness, boasting, delighting in the triumph of the victorious, self-encouragement and so on. As a Grande finale, the last 10 Psalms do a sort of Sound-of-Music type giddy dance over the hills delighting in God whose majesty is beyond our most eloquent idiom.

 

What are you waiting for? Add the psalms to your devotions if you don’t already. Next time you’re tempted to throw your toys, or the bones for that matter, rush for the Psalms, rather than the knitting, or the remote.

 

“Okay so you’ve got my attention, what do I do with these Psalms?”

Once my daughter caught me pretending to play the piano whilst listening to Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano concerto – one of my favorites. Rather embarrassing for me, not so strange for her. I coughed a little and began dusting ebony and ivory with an imaginary duster. “Oh I do that.” She inflected with five-year-old nonchalance. Don’t be a wimp about reading scripture out allowed. So what if you look silly. I’ve seen grown men cry at the end of cricket matches. (Probably with relief.) I’ve seen 150kg rugby fans leaping about screaming like fairies from a Peter Pan movie, talk about camping-it-up. I think that the Psalms should be wept over, danced upon, bellowed out, laboured with, announced and proclaimed, quietly considered and gently treasured. The Psalms are the gentle whisperings from a lover and the angry commandments to the disobedient. They represent God’s heart of mercy and grace as well as His fierce wrath as expressed by the Psalmists. So Copy & Paste the words of the Psalms into your prayers, your worship, your crib notes for the tests of life and into your favorite tunes. There’s no copyright on God’s Word.  Enjoy!

 

 

Try these Psalms for size

Distress; Psalm 121

U2’s favorite; Psalm 40

Fed up with the corrupt about you; Psalm 37

In need of transformation; Psalm 25

Comfort; Psalm 23

On your knees; Psalm 38, 39

Under Pressure; Psalm 54, 55

Beautiful women; Psalm 56:1 (NIV)

Reflective: Psalm 63,112

Historical: Psalm 106,

Hysterical; Psalm 140-150

Fighting fear; Psalm 91

Awe: Psalm 78

Cranial: Psalm 119, Psalm 18

Relief: Psalm 4, Psalm 64, Psalm 68

Deliverance: Psalm 141, Psalm 43

Fascinated: Psalm 19, Psalm 93, Psalm 104

 

Now make your own list, cut it out and put it in your Bible.

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In Memory of Miss Cara the Cat

A Tribute to Miss Cara: a beloved Waterfall Cat.

Picture“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-PoohIt is well documented that animal companionship from horses to gerbils has a positive influence on human society in general and a therapeutic effect on people in particular. Everyone from small children to the elderly seem to benefit from the companionship and shared affection.  Cats are said to have been worshiped by the ancient Egyptians and domesticated by the Assyrians and Babylonians. Cats are an acquired taste for some and as irresistible as chocolate to others.

“Cats will amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw.” ― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

Although cats are maligned for their apparent haughtiness and accusations are made as to their selfishness, cat lovers will testify to feline submissiveness in private not to mention their devoted loyalty. It seems to me that cats are great actors. I’m reminded of the Billy Joel Song: “Always a Woman to Me.” In the song Billy Joel narrates how ‘…the most she will do/Is throw shadows at you/But she’s always a woman to me.’ Cats are just like this.  At first impression and often in the company of others, your cat is aloof and distant. But when she’s comfortable in her surrounding and especially when  alone time, kitty rubs your feet in worship and purrs like a didgeridoo and makes loving eyes at you that speaks  volumes in otherwise unenunciated devotion.

“I have lived with several Zen masters — all of them cats.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Such was the nature of our beloved Miss Cara. A very pretty light grey cat, slight in stature and quietly spoken. Carey had decided that after the death of her very dear exquisite Tortoise shell, many years before, she wouldn’t get another cat since losing her was too painful. However the years passed and we lived in a new location, the girls had grown up a little, the time seemed ripe for a new feline friend in our midst. We did the ‘right’ thing and supported the SPCA and were introduced to the youngest mother of kittens you could find retreating, perhaps a little overwhelmed from the attention of her litter, at the back of a cage. Carey just knew this was the cat for her in flurry of intuition that only certain types of people understand.

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”  ― Leonardo da Vinci

Miss Cara was a juvenile and still had some playful kitten in her (which she never lost), though it was clear that before we met her she had been habitually kicked either accidentally or on purpose since she remained fearful of anyone in shoes all her life and big feet were watched suspiciously from a safe distance. She loved to play with the standard, shop bought, catnip filled mice. She became quite hysterical having imaginary hunting and wrestling games with them. Best fun of all for Miss Cara were her boxes. Our house became not unlike a Mondi Recycling drop off point with shredded boxes littering the house. Our daughters began to notice a distinct disparity between the level of discipline aimed at their untidy rooms compared to Miss Cara in hers.

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 “No matter how much the cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens. ” ― Abraham LincolnThe cat Beds: I’m not sure to whom the importance of beds lay: us or the cat. At first makeshift beds were made out of old jerseys on the couch, and then treasured old baby blankets in boxes. Then one day I was minding my own business like a good husband waddling around Mr. Price Home Store admiring the completely useless, superfluous, unnecessary items on the shelves that appeal deeply to some people. My wife and daughters were ferreting through this mound of must-have cushions and swooning over throws and surplus bric-a-brac when they discover much to their delight a cat bed. Now we aren’t just talking some beige basket containing a colourful cushion with paws motif. Oh no this was a square, stuffed bed covered in two-toned pink silk. The bed was festooned with silk pink ribbons and was as gaudy and camp as a drag-queens hand bag. Worst of all since my wife decided to rush off with the girls to do some or other errand I was instructed to wait clutching my high camp paraphernalia in the very long Saturday morning queue. I haven’t grown hair on my chest since that day.

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” ― Robert A. Heinlein

But back to Miss Cara. The best thing about her presence in our lives was the incredible joy she brought to us all. She was certainly doted upon though never spoiled with non-cat food except for little morsels of cheese. Oh yes if we were eating tuna she would polish off the leftovers in the tin. But I digress, Miss Cara was not a cat that you could cuddle, she didn’t like sitting on your lap and had to be trained to enjoy being cradled like a baby which she tolerated whilst rubbing your chin with her paw. Miss Cara, like all cats, loved to sleep and beds were made from old out-door chairs in the sun and shade alternately, with a cushion folded in a square so she could climb inside.

 “Ignorant people think it is the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it is the sickening grammar that they use.”  ― Mark Twain

We will always remember Miss Cara as a friendly and spritely cat full of little chirps and very much in charge of her life, who could touch her and who her friends were. Alas in May this year she was killed. There is something devastating about losing a young beloved pet in the prime of its life. Evidently someone went speeding around the corning near our home and wiped her out without a thought. We try and encourage people to drive below the speed limit in roads like ours where old people take walks and children ride bikes and pets roam freely. But it’s all about ‘me and my rights’ and so there are casualties. Regardless it’s done now and we still have our memories of a little comforter to my family who brought joy into the room whenever she sauntered in.  Adopt a cat today they’ll change your life for the better.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying: “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

A Man and His Butcher are not Easily Parted

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The ever helpful and courteous Emil from Waterfall SuperSpar Butchery

There’s something very masculine about meat, isn’t there? The immediate image that comes to mind is the braai. Generally and mostly it’s men standing around advising other men about how often to turn the meat, what adjustments the fire needs for different meat and so on. That’s why male vegetarians aren’t really complete men- kind of like missing a testicle.

This is not to ignore the fact that it is actually mostly women that prepare and cook meat but without the fanfare and drama that male meat interaction seems to involve.

An example is the poitjie. Men who wouldn’t know how to boil an egg for dinner and practically strain themselves to find the cereal or burn themselves making toast become experts on all matters culinary when preparing meat for the potjie, its tenderisation, the slow cooking of, flavouring, what spices and herbs to apply, the works.

In fact rarely does one see the high level of sophistication men embrace when it comes to meat outdoors. Wives who try to solicit an ounce of assistance with the evening meal preparation during the week are met with nonplussed expressions and glazed eyes when asked to: “just toss the salad while I:- go to the loo, shift grandpa, change this nappy, move the house to the left.”

Then there’s biltong – do women and children eat it, sure. But who’s the expert on what biltong is the best, most flavoursome and assuming the correct shape – the man. If a woman offers an opinion on biltong, men assume embarrassed looks or bow their heads, and that’s the polite response. What could a woman possibly know about biltong? And let’s not get started on the intricate equipment that men have invented to cut, shave, slice and dry biltong in the luxury of their own home.

This possibly explains something: men and butchers. Men may not be able to find the right deodorant, two-ply loo-rolls, a ripe avo or correct baby formula at the supermarket, but they can be found congregating around the butcher on a Saturday morning. Dozens of them standing around discussing the length of their boerewors, different flavours, contents and uses. (This is the same butcher that housewives have been consulting nonchalantly during the week.)

One may venture that in our society a truly masculine man knows his local butcher – this is the closest men get to hunting in the 21st century. Butchers are the druids or medicine men of the modern western culture. Butchers are greeted with special reverence. Various cuts of meat are discussed, advice is sought and opinions are given. “Would it do better in the Weber, should I debone them before putting them in a potjie, is sixteen table spoons of salt too much, what percentage of fat is optimum in a good wors,” questions that any housewife would come up with a common sense answer for. But men respect the views of their butchers.

So meat is very important to men, it’s a reminder of those cavemen days when bringing home a carcass ensured hugs from small children respect from adolescents and long romantic evenings with Mrs Caveman. Today even bringing home the paycheque is obsolete never mind bringing home the bacon. It’s all done over the net. So ladies give your man a break, when you see him lurking about the butchery for that exciting moment when the butcher comes out, don’t nag, let him enjoy being as close to the kill as he’s ever going to get.

Oh Wither are we Bound?

fghjklRemember those old printer’s trays that young girls, mostly, now a little older, used to put on their bedroom walls filled with the most hideous useless junk. I think the trays then moved to more sumptuous parts of the home and became centre pieces for more ornate and tasteful knick-knacks as the girls grew up. If you have printers trays in the house you now know what to buy for Christmas at the end of this year and if you were the recipient of some irksome little trinkets last Christmas, you know where you can put them now.

Well, as a pre-Christmas chore I found myself chipping and scouring away the layers of paint, especially from the corners, from my daughter’s printers trays that she inherited from my wife, that she had as a teenager back in the, never-mind. Clearly instead of their beautiful virgin wood, paint was applied with whimsy and little skill to the trays as often as a new fashionable colour got their attention. Alas the burden of restoration is a heavy one. If you find yourself being asked if you think the current colour of the printer’s trays is suitable, whatever you do gush madly at its beauty in order to avoid hard labour.

This got me thinking about when I was a library prefect at King Edward VII School. I had an unorthodox and engaging library master called Mr Sandom. He encouraged us to read all manner of works from the classics to the then, recently in vogue, fantasy literature.

Just before the Christmas holidays Mr Sandom took us library geeks, as we would be called today I suspect, to the then arty-farty suburb of Melville where we visited a house with a ye-olde genuine printing press, cabinets with draws similar to the printer’s trays that people used to put up on their walls in the 80’s. They were full of letters, numbers, punctuation, and many other characters, as well as space blocks.

We all got into the spirit of the occasion and learned from the Mr Sandom how to create a page that we would print and place into our hardcover books that we had manufactured out of old maps as Christmas gifts the previous week. I distinctly remember that I had Iceland on the back and Nyasaland on the front. We didn’t just learn the rudimentaries of what it took to create a page of text the manual way we came away with a sense of achievement that a print out from our state-of-the art dot-matrix couldn’t do for us.

Which causes one to reflect, wither are we bound? Elsewhere in this magazine you will have read that inkjet technology exists that can produce droplets smaller than bacteria. Talk about sending the ‘flu a message. Then some Japanese guy had the bright idea while putting on his deodorant one morning: “if inkjet printing is just firing liquid at a surface why not spay stuff with perfume and other smells.” So maybe you’ll receive Christmas card smelling of roast turkey. And to think we got all excited in the 80’s about scratch-n-smell.

Whether it was yesterday, today or tomorrow, in the printing world higher and higher resolution seems to be that holy grail or fleeting horizon, reaching ever further, to working harder to produce clearer and better images and text, faster and faster, with less and less, in narrower and smaller spaces, cheaper and cheaper, with fewer and fewer people, using the fewer calories and lower wages, during reduced hours and….okay I’ll stops now.

Colouring Confusion or Confused by Colour

Perusing show-houses on a Sunday afternoon I came across an exquisitely restored Orange Grove house in Johannesburg’s North Eastern suburbs: Steel pressed ceilings, Oregon Pine floors and trims pedantically purged of paint and blemishes, with doors varnished to perfection.

As I admiringly examined the paintwork’s faultless lines and perfect finish I couldn’t help imagining what an annoyingly fussy and fastidious person must have been responsible for this. Yet the choice of paint colour suggested otherwise. I was told by the eager estate agent: “he did all the restoration himself you know.” I didn’t.

The children’s room was delightfully colourful. Not in that proverbial chameleon-on-a- Smarty-box way. The light of the room was wonderfully swept up into the four colours that made up the walls and splashed out a joy that kitsch can’t produce. Funny how too much colour or ‘wrong’ colour is like a fine perfume mixed with cigarette smoke.

But this use of colour was captivating. The children’s toys and bedding were convincingly persuasive of the presence of children, all thanks to four completely different coloured walls. I was converted at once and decided that I too would embrace the pedantic little man who perhaps, resided somewhere  deep within me and apply the same vivid and extravagant formula.

I voiced my plan to my ever-tolerant wife about how I was to apply my new conversion to the world of colour to my two daughters rooms. I have seldom seen my wife’s eyebrow raised so close to her hairline. All credit to her forbearance as I was unleashed. Alas, unlike Mister Perfection-Restoration of Orange Grove, I found that painting four walls different colours, plus the ceiling, infuriatingly, maddeningly and unbearably finicky.

Some say it was my actual choice of colours that was causing the nausea, others that it was the peculiar meshing of colours between the walls, but the effect when walking into the room of the four colours was not unlike entering a cabin on board a ship on a rough sea, where the portholes are just hovering above surface level.

Although my girls’ dreams of rainbows, clowns and female members of parliaments’ hats subsided, they never did quite get over their early years subjection to Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat on their walls. When we eventually moved home and they reached their teens, I was tentatively offered the task of painting their rooms. This time there was a very firm condition: “Daddy, please, only white, paint only white!”

Whether it’s painting or printing, colour is probably having more of an influence on your life than you think. Whether you call it ambience, atmosphere, mood or vibe you can’t live without colour. But you’d better get the best advice on how to use it.

Weeding in Waterfall

Having lived in Johannesburg for 30 years, moving to the thriving metropolis of Waterfall was quite a change of scenery. I loved the fact that I lived in an area named after physical features that actually existed in the area, (Apparently there are 7 waterfalls in Waterfall.) as opposed to Parkhurst where there are no parks and certainly no hurst.

Our garden borders a little gorge created by the Nkutu River. There are three waterfalls at the bottom of our garden. My two small daughters and decided we wanted to find the source of that beautiful sound of rushing water. Thus began the required process of clearing the vegetation between us and river. At my previous residence in Johannesburg I had been used to extracting weeds with a small polished fork (with a quaintly mounded orange handle for comfort) and depositing the said weeds with gentle rhythm and small sighs into a black bag which was inoffensively sent out with the garbage each week. Imagine my horror when I opened my back door on a fateful Saturday morning to the roar of half an acre of Waterfall’s six foot high Lantana, Triffid and Mexican Sunflowers. My small fork fell from my hand with a whimper, prongs disfigured like lukewarm spaghetti as I examined my bleeding hands, this after my first failed attempt at removing a spikey Lantana stem.

I have learnt many things about weeding in Waterfall since those virginal days, I became equipped with a most formidable device which became a faithful companion as I cleared my way to the Waterfalls over those many adventurous months: a mighty Cane Cutter. So I tell you all this oh gentle reader for one reason. Alas my cane cutter has expired after years of good service. But do you think I can find a single cane cutter in a hardware store in the Upper Highway area. No, only those bendy long blades for veld or tiny little pangas. If anyone can tell me where to find a decent size cane cutter I’ll gladly send you my old weeding fork with the quaintly moulded handle.

Golf: who needs a ball anyway?

I’ve never understood why people watch golf, especially on television. I do understand why people play golf. In South Africa I can categorically state that our most manicured stretches of landscape are our golf courses. For those elsewhere in the world I would imagine to some degree that is true for you to too. This on it’s own is reason enough to, at least pretend to play the game and simply enjoy the walks and scenery.

I recall the comedian Jasper Carrot referring to all the camera crew covering golf tournaments as being ex World War II search light operators. “Hours and hours of televised sky!!” He said. I agree, what a bore, all that fuss about a little ball going into a little hole instead of into strategically placed sand pits and ponds. Then in a desperate appeal to people drawn to that other exhilarating sport, bird spotting, they have chosen to use the names of the creatures that represent the only genuine action camera crews ever actually see. I suppose we should be grateful that instead of terms like birdie, albatross and pigeon, or whatever it is, someone didn’t end up calling shots cumulonimbus, cirrocumulus and cirrostratus.

There was once a man, who wishes to remain anonymous, who by reason of circumstance acquired a lone golf club. He lived near to a municipal golf course, not one of those “stuff-the-poor” places, outside which are parked cars that might as well have “stuff-the-poor” bumper stickers on them. This golf course was small and not as well kept as those other more ostentatious institutions reserved for a handful of elite martini sippers who speak and say nothing for so long it just sounds like; “stuff-the-poor darling”, “stuff-the-poor my brother” or “my good man, stuff-the-poor.” Well anyway it wasn’t one of those courses.

It was a lovely day and lets give anonymous a name, how about Garth? Well Garth is very fond of wide-open spaces and enjoys hugging trees and talking loudly to himself. At last he had the excuse to prance about a golf course. Just one snag Garth though, large and gormlos, has never been very sporty. Garth can not play the game required for him to partake in a beautiful day in the wide-open green grass and trees. Ag shame. (If you’re English; oh tut. If you’re American; oh that’s too bad. If you’re an Aussie; aaaaa.)

However Garth is not as dim as he looks, he decided that it was not necessary for him to know how to play since he would not make use of a ball. Golfers, he had observed acquired great rage as a result of this ball and caused many people to get fibersitus in their necks from spending too much time looking at the sky. Garth decided he would pretend to play and walk about with great authority and pleasure like one of those golfers on television. Garth imagined what those golfers must have been saying to themselves when striding about looking concerned as to the whereabouts of the ball they’d hit so hard that it was rendered invisible. “Ho ho” Garth imagined their chuckles as they contemplated all those silly people giving them so much money to hit a ball around a big park.

Garth stirred great curiosity that day among the amateur golfers at the humble course. He donned his finest braces and floral hat that he usual kept for weeding the garden. In leau of plus fours he tucked his trousers into his odd socks and beamed at his new found fellow sports men. Garth has a portly frame and requires regular provender so as not to get giddy. He decided to bring some meat pies to celebrate his virgin golfing experience. What a grand moment as he put down his pies and swung at the imaginary ball. Taking a handsome bite of pie he notice a quizzical face at his elbow. “What’s a good score?” he enquired of the face. It gave a figure. “Would you mind writing that down for me?” Garth said baptising the face with flaky pastry, “I am with pie.” He explained. The face graciously obliged though not without concern.

At the end of the morning Garth had had enough and deposited his impressive golf card at the humble golf club building and trundling home kicking an orphaned white ball down the street. He was seemingly oblivious to the bewildered faces of those he had left behind.