Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Archive for February, 2014

Orchestral Manoeuvres Hit the Mark

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Are our preferences and mannerisms inherited or acquired? When Kimberley’s age was still measured in days going into weeks I noticed an interesting trend.

A brief explanatory regression :
My paternal grandparents lived a short stone’s throw from us at Botha’s Hill ; my grandmother was a teacher by profession and had a willing pupil at hand. Throughout my school years I was only aware of one contemporary who had attended pre-school ; in those days schooling started with “Class One”. There was also some flexibility in the age of first-time schoolgoers so, although my birthday is in August, I started school  just short of five and a half years of age. By that time my grandmother had taught me the rudiments of reading and I responded like a proverbial sponge. We grew up with plenty of reading matter at hand and by high school the librarian made an exception and allowed me to join the Library Club although this wasn’t generally open to “Standard Six” pupils. I thrived in the environment and in retrospect it seems almost inevitable that I started working as an administrative assistant in the local university’s main library straight after I left school. That was some thirty years ago but my fascination with the administration of a system that makes so much information accessible with the least amount of effort (on behalf of the borrower or visitor) has never dwindled.

Kimberley settled into a day/night routine more quickly than many babies but it still took some weeks. She was born six days before my birthday, of relevance at this point : almost mid-winter. This meant that all nocturnal walks with a crying baby were undertaken inside. And so we patrolled out of the bedroom, down the passage, around the perimeter of the lounge, looped around and back up the passage . . . After a few nights she quietened discernibly at one particular point along our route. A couple more loops of detection and I slowed down at the zenith to confirm my suspicion. There was no doubt that as we passed the tallest bookshelf along the way she relaxed while it was in view. Maybe I relaxed unconsciously and she picked up on it. From the time of her birth I made a point of adding at least one new book to her ‘library’ on every payday. Now that she’s an adult she has a track record of bookwormishness. Inherited or acquired?

Moving back a generation

As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a line of serious  musicians and thank the same grandmother deeply for being the only other family member that inherited no apparent musical ability. This corner would be very lonely if not for her. Don’t mistake me, I appreciate music but generating it is beyond my capabilities. I was still in a pram when my folks moved to Durban to accommodate my dad’s position as flute and piccolo player with the Durban Symphony Orchestra. Apparently my mom used to take me for walks to coincide with some of the rehearsals in the Durban City Hall. Family lore abounds with stories of this period but, in this context, I was exposed to genres of music very different from that of most of my peers.

The KZNPO (KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra) visits Pietermaritzburg periodically throughout the year and I do my utmost to attend at least the annual Concert in the Park. Emails pop up periodically with news of the most recent offerings and ten days ago I decided to get back in the programme, so to speak. Kimberley and her boyfriend accompanied me to the Pietermaritzburg City Hall for the sole local performance of Viennese Nights. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening and feeling so much in my element has been the spur I needed to make me determined to attend these events more regularly. Inherited or acquired? In this case, probably some of both.

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Rain on the Plain

Although I learned to drive in the mid Seventies (we lived out of town), my driver’s license was issued in 1980. About a year later, coming back from Pretoria on the N3 near Estcourt with my parents, I drove through what for thirty years has remained the worst cloud burst I’ve driven in. Visibility was down to a few metres. My dad’s advice was to change down to second gear, stay in the right hand lane and keep moving slowly to avoid cars that had simply stopped in the left lane. That advice has stayed with me over the years and I’ve applied it on a number of occasions, albeit not in such treacherous conditions as yesterday.

We’ve had some appallingly hot days in Pietermaritzburg in recent weeks, not unexpected at this time of year but thoroughly unpleasant. Yesterday was in the upper twenties but not unbearable. When I left the office at about ten to five I chatted for a minute or two to one of the young guys who works below us ; we were both surprised to see a single ominous pitch black cloud over the Edendale valley area. It wasn’t particularly big and my route generally doesn’t take me further south-west than College Road so I joked about having to pass it. However, it has since come back to me a few times that Edward’s last words were to wish me a safe trip home.

Ten minutes later a couple of negligible rain drops hit the windscreen accompanied by  the first peals of thunder. Wind had sprung up and I decided to cut through the back of Maritzburg College rather than sit in traffic below it. By this time leaves were being tossed up and the rain was starting in earnest. Not even two hundred metres later it started bucketing down. By the time I reached the University it was obvious from the detritus in the road that this was a mean storm, but alarm bells still hadn’t started ringing. I was anxious to pick up Kimberley as she was waiting for me on the Life Sciences campus under a lot of trees and I wasn’t happy about the possibility of lightning in the area.

As she got in the car the wind picked up even more. We crossed an intersection about a kilometre further on and everything around us disappeared in a blur of rain.

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Even with the windscreep wipers on maximum speed

Fortunately the kerb in that area is angled because I put two wheels up it accidentally as I tried to get to a railway bridge about twenty metres ahead. Kimberley had to open her window so I could judge where the edge of the road was. We pulled up under the relative cover of the bridge with a 4×4 immediately behind us as it wasn’t coping in those conditions either. The wind buffeted the car around with thumps that sounded like minor vehicle accidents. After five to ten minutes the weather seemed to have eased up and I pulled off again. We passed very few pedestrians, some of whom made vain attempts to shelter under improvised umbrellas like the advertising board below.

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We passed numerous broken and uprooted trees.

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My sense of humour was still present when we noticed a lone Witness poster that had withstood the storm when almost everything else was being flailed. I tweeted that photo along with a few others and smiled again when The Witness retweeted it shortly before ten o’clock last evening ; but a lot had transpired in the interim to put a temporary damper on my smile.

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We stopped at the traffic lights at CB Downes/Gladys Mzansi (formerly Murray) Road intersection and pulled off behind another 4×4. We did wonder why it was moving so slowly but put it down to traffic in front of him. With no warning at all we found ourselves almost bumper deep in water. This road is well known to television viewers of the Comrades Marathon as the runners come along it once they’ve crested Polly Shortts on the ‘up’ runs. It is well above the water course and if anyone had told me it was flooding I would have been hard-pressed to believe them. I still wasn’t overly worried as I assumed water had run off from the businesses on our right and was crossing to continue down the bank on the left. As the water got deeper I realised this was serious and not of just a few metres’ duration.

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There was no oncoming traffic so I was able to move into the middle of the canal/road and prayed that the 4×4 would keep moving and that our car wouldn’t stall. Two cars further ahead pulled off into a petrol station on the right but by then we were about fifty metres from our turn-off so I continued. All in all, we had driven through about twenty-five or more centimetres of water for a good one hundred and twenty metres.

Kimberley took all these photos ; this one was taken looking back at what we were driving in.

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The last of these photos was taken as we turned off the main road near Eskom.

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Looking at the area on our way in this morning, foliage on the lower side of the road is still bent and buckled from the flow of water about a metre above ground level. I am totally mystified at where such a large volume of water could have come from not far from the top of a hill. Had I been able to see what was ahead of us I doubt very much that I would have chosen to try and pass through, even though we would have had to drive about six kilometres to find an alternative route. It is just as well we hadn’t turned down into the dip in Gladys Mzansi Road as that must have been totally impassable.

A number of huge branches and some small trees at home had snapped right off and water had come into my bedroom through Libby’s window but we escaped relatively lightly. There were branches and other signs of storm damage right through most of Scottsville this morning, although I believe Oak Park and other northern suburbs were bypassed. Ironically our electricity stayed on throughout, while at least parts of Oak Park were in darkness last evening because a car had crashed into a substation.

An earlier blog post spoke of my respect for fire and water and I’ve always wondered at people who drive into flooded rivers and are swept away. Yesterday taught me that water isn’t always found where one expects it and I’ll be a lot more cautious in future.

This incident too comes full circle as it was indirectly a mini-cyclone that lead to our home becoming available in 2010. That can wait for another post.

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Note added on 26 February 2014 :
Today’s Witness reports winds of up to 180 kilometres per hour in the area we were in during the storm, describing it as a “category four storm, with the highest category rating being a five” “which registered 12 on the Beaufort Wind Scale”, “hurricane force winds”.

I Want to Break Free

Generally I like to start the week ahead of schedule but this week business necessitated a short trip out of town early on Monday morning. The drive to Wartburg couldn’t have taken much more than twenty minutes, even at the leisurely pace the friend with whom I’d accepted a lift was driving.

Although depressing fences and telephone poles interupted my view and subsequent photos, I know the alternative was having livestock and wildlife straying into the road, and the green landscape on the other side more than made up for the posts. A bigger problem was the number of bumps in the road and, on the Pietermaritzburg side, the number of potholes.

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Choosing to imagine those are binoculars atop the poles surveying the countryside cheers me

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A bit taken aback to find
two ghostly kneecaps had also been captured.
At least mine are in floral camouflauge

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The fence in the foreground
is more picturesque than most along the route

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Pollution cloud hovering over Pietermaritzburg which we’re usually quite oblivious to

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Not big on sugarcane fields since travelling
through the Free State regularly in the Eighties
and I would swear there are more than 100 stalks in this frame, but who am I to argue

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As none of the buck, cranes, goats or other wildlife we saw chose to be photographed,
I contented myself with these placid trees

The micro-break was a great way to start the week and put the resulting backlog in perspective. If the urge to run away gets too much later in the week, this is one of the directions I might take.

Zing Went the Strings

I would like to think that I have developed an industrial strength memory because it puts in fleets of hours and faces a constant barrage of daily challenges. It is certainly a contender for the most useful tool of my trade. Like many others I worry about short-term memory loss when it wobbles and up the crossword ante like some kind of amulet when the grey matter, unbidden, not only perfectly recalls my birthdate but increases the font and props it in front of my mental image sensor. This is totally unnecessary and petulant as the information resides in a node clearly marked “selective recall only”, “see also : ‘irrelevant’ ”.

One of the aspects that fascinates me is the ambit of stimulants that can bring memories flooding back. Kimberley is now twenty-one but to this day even the whiff of an aftershave I can no longer name makes me as nauseous as when I was in the pits of morning-sickness and Rob used the same brand. For the following few years very hot weather also set me off as the worst of the morning-sickness had happened in mid-summer.

Sounds are in a league of their own. The colleague who shares my office space and I also share the recurring problem of getting “Pumped Up Kicks” stuck in our heads. When it strikes I try and dilute the problem by telling Kerwin about it ; watching his attempts to free himself makes me feel better. Yesterday I tried a different approach, subtly asking if he remembered it and, when alarm flashed over his face, telling him that I wished it would get back in my head because I’ve been battling to eradicate “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” for the last few days. This ploy was doubly successful because I told Kimberley about it last evening and she started berating me at the top of her voice in an attempt to keep me and the kangaroo out of her head but I don’t think she succeeded. This backfired badly on me this morning when I realised the folly of trying to exorcise a song by whistling it to extinction at the washing line – in range of the new neighbour’s parrot. I’d forgotten he was there until the first few experimental bars whistled back at me. The curse of a memory lapse.

Are you battling too now, Sport?

There are two pieces of music that I still cannot bear after decades. It wasn’t long after we moved to Pietermaritzburg in the early Seventies ; one of the neighbours’ teenagers had a party at which they played “Viva Espana” nonstop for about six hours. Twenty years later another neighbour didn’t need a party to play “Achy Breaky Heart” for *days* on end.

Classical music still reaches me at unnamed levels. With my dad having been a musician in the Durban Symphony Orchestra during my early years this isn’t surprising as there are plenty of memory strings to pluck.

What brought the current flood of thoughts to life was a news article I came across earlier today about Torvill and Dean (ice-skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of the 1984 Winter Olympics and their enduring performance to “Bolero”). Apparently their perfect score has not been equalled in thirty years and they were invited to repeat the performance this year in Sarajevo. “Bolero” has also been played to death over the years but, combined with the video footage, it has brought back overwhelming emotions I can’t name. The fact that Torvill and Dean are now in their fifties makes this footage even more remarkable.

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Words fail me so I’ll end on an unprecedented silent note.

Ladies’ Knight

Last week it seemed Storm was wildly in lust. He has had his moments in the past but it would be disrespectful to recount those. Being just a teeny bit otherwise, two tales have slipped through the net.

Georgie, the gentle little soul who kept digging her way under the fence until one day we weren’t in time to get her back, was the object of his desire. They’d rattled along together and chased each other around the garden like best buddies for months. One day I came home from work to find Georgie standing on the front lawn gazing agonisingly at me from one eye through her long fringe. Storm’s hormones apparently don’t activate in slow release form but in potent detonations. A clutch of these must have ignited simultaneously on that afternoon and blinded his inner compass. Deeply engaged in catering to his carnal urges, he failed to notice that Georgie was facing the wrong way and in danger of losing the other eyeball. Maybe affronted by the combination of discouragement and badly muffled human snorts, he desisted from further activity on that front for months but a week ago he became quite naughty about running a few houses down the road whenever the gate was open.

We have a rather nice looking neighbour who owns a Husky female that was the object of his desire. The ludicrous nature of a stolid Jack Russel gazing lustfully up at a Husky in a raised garden behind a significant wall was lost on him. Unfortunately for me, I met the neighbour who was a lot further over the fence than his pet, howling with laughter. I’ve chosen to assume it was because of Storm and not me shamefacedly snatching the delinquent and plonking him in the car (I’ve given up running down the road after him or the neighbour would have been comatose but still laughing). It wasn’t the first time I’ve promised to take Storm home and make him watch educational TV to purify his thoughts (not *that* kind of educational).

For a few days Storm became quite serious which we put down to threatened canine paternity claims arising from the wicked thoughts emanating from our property. And then the new neighbours moved in and Storm’s priorities moved in an entirely different direction.

We have two new (female) Ridgebacks on the property, along with a (female) cat to go with our (female) cat. The new pet that amuses me the most is an African grey parrot who has such a repertoire of sounds and moods that he deserves a post of his own.

Apart from recognising a logistical improbability, Storm has shown no indication of anything other than good neighbourly intentions. The girls are settling in rapidly but have very inscrutable expressions. With a gaze like the one below, I’m sure he recites his seventeen times table backwards during any eye contact in case they mind read.

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As far as I know they have both had litters, but with gazes like that we’re inclined to think they arranged surrogates or turned off the lights.

All in all, we’re settling down comfortably while Storm watches his bees and queues.

In a surprisingly athletic feat, some navel-gazing

Looking back, I have remarkably few regrets in life. There are events it would have been infinitely more comfortable to have avoided, a few others I would very much like to have turned out differently, but wishing isn’t going to change anything and, at worst, I’ve learned lessons that will influence future decisions.

Like so many others, too much of my earlier life was devoted to trying to appease the expectations of everyone around me. Having found the strength in my mid-thirties to pull free and stand up for myself, it is unsurprising that being independent became so important in my life. As recently as May 2011, I blogged somewhat facetiously about wanting to close my own doors.

Closing doors was one of many life lessons I learned at the time of the divorce. It had taken four years to accept that, almost fifteen years in, nothing was going to improve a rocky relationship and moving away to a different playing field had quite seriously become a matter of survival. Making that move set off a string of decisions that left a trail of hollow friendships and associations behind me. It was far from easy at times and I didn’t have a game plan to guide me. One of the only things I remember resenting about the failed marriage was the difficulty I had in finding my own identity and interests again.

Two years ago today I ended a relationship of four years because it wasn’t going anywhere. I felt I would be happier on my own than with someone who wasn’t able to stop looking back over his shoulder to the extent that his failed marriage travelled the road alongside our relationship and sometimes sat between us and behaved badly. That is not a decision I regret but the last week or two has given me reason to look back at how I’ve handled the period since. I still relish my independence but, in closing one door, I unintentionally closed a whole row of them by cutting myself off socially, surrounding myself with myself.

After hours I’ve become absorbed in solitary hobbies and our pets and have felt little need to have people around me. It was recent unexpected correspondence that brought home to me how fully I’ve isolated my personal life from the wider world and how inept I’ve become at letting people in. I don’t know if a fledgling friendship has been blown out of the water but the laughter and feeling like I’d met a like mind has been the incentive needed to rethink the island I’ve become.

And so, with toes unfurled, I venture forth into forgotten waters.

We All Screamed

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[On loan from WikiPaintings]

Pottering around among the herb containers on the verandah last evening, the silence was rent asunder by Kimberley who was showering. Even allowing that the bathroom butts on to the verandah (I know, but sometimes I’m weak), the rent was impressive. A parent never loses the ability to tell the character of a yell and this one suggested I respond at my earliest convenience, like immediately.

Rounding the doorframe, I was met by
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The size of my eyeballs slowed the thinking process or I’d have thought to ask which of the two had screamed.

As a child I’d a huge unexplained fear of spiders which I learned to control as time passed. By the time we married I’d progressed to capturing any spiders I found inside in a cotton duster and moving them out to the garden before I did housework. This usually involved Daddy Long Legs and other more easily conquered types. Fortunately I rarely encountered sizeable specimens.

Life events have made me more self-sufficient than I would choose to be but the feeling of empowerment that comes with each new boundary conquered is some consolation.

Hairy eyeball to hairy eyeball with the most recent non-rentpaying tenant tested my resolve. There is a shame-faced conviction that had either our new neighbours moved in or Peter (the existing neighbour) been home, my self-sufficiency would have dropped a percentage or two.

The choices were simple : leave Kimberley showering for forty-eight hours until the neighbours arrived or relocate the whiptail scorpion. Leaving the visitor alone was extremely appealing. We have a gas geyser so it is unlikely that Kimberley would have run out of warm water ; this counted in favour of Option A. What swung Option B into play was partly that I wanted to shower too but mainly that there was no way the lights were going off leaving The Whipper to go wherever he liked under cover of darkness. The fact that my bedroom is closest did influence me, I admit.

We stared at each other. I could tell that inside his head The Whipper was screaming. The echo was in mine. Kimberley didn’t scream inside her head.

After encouraging Kimberley to vacate the shower (I didn’t see her pass but she had been in there when I arrived and she wasn’t in there shortly afterwards), the plan swung into action. To cut an adrenaline-laden account short, I lifted the shower curtain rail out of its socket with the hitchhiker enfolded (stressful because he’d moved to only a few inches from the rail by then) and carried everything up to the garage. It didn’t take much negotiation to get The Whipper running for the safety of anywhere away from us. I will deal with the garage on another occasion.

There is no denying that had he surprised me in the shower instead of Kimberley, his scream would not have been silent.