Greetings

Since my Damascus Road doctor’s visit and attendant epiphany over exercise, I am now a devotee of beachfront walks. Being a rather friendly sort, I greet most fellow promenaders and joggers and have been doing my own sea breeze research on passersby: If I smile, will they? If I say good morning, will they return the salute? Are they responding to me or the sweet Lab?

So besides the fact that the pooch wins hands down with children and old ladies, I love watching faces become transformed from grimace to gorgeous. Smiles do that and it’s fun passing on the joy from face to face, like lighting a whole lot of candles. I probably look a bit village-idioty grinning along the path, but it’s fun, and the connection you feel to others in that moment of a shared happy moment makes up for all the grumps who huff past, either avoiding eye contact or ignoring pleasant pedestrians (like me of course).

Life is a bit like this, we pass each other every day on our walk through life. Are we lighting smiles or dousing them?

Smoke and Mirrors

I had a weird dream the other night, in which I was staring into my bathroom mirror which was all steamed up (as it does, because I like a hot shower). What was particularly eerie was that no matter how long the window was open, or how much I wiped the glass, the mist wouldn’t clear and I just could not see my reflection.

Now, one doesn’t have to be Carl Jung or desirous of exploring the significance of mirrors in dreams, to see the symbolism of self in this. As a woman reaches middle age, she has been a daughter, mother, wife, sister and professional for many years, but when the home starts emptying, one is more and more alone with oneself. And that can be scary.

For so long I have been defined by my roles as wife and mother, that my own identity as a human has become shrouded by the mists of their identities. I need to redefine my purpose and find who I am again.

But we cannot actually ever de-link ourselves from our children, nor do I really want to. Did you know that cells from a child may migrate to a mother’s brain:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain/

So we become a sort of chimera of every child we’ve carried. (No wonder my brain seems so crowded sometimes!) And these cells can also be passed onto their siblings. All of this shows that the mother-child and sibling bonds are incredibly strong. We carry them with us wherever we (and they) go. There is actually something comforting in that – if you can get past how creepy it is!

The other symbolism that struck me about my dream was that a hidden reflection can suggest that the self feels unseen. Sadly, that is such a common thing in women that I feel like a bit of a cliché.

Perhaps that’s why Jenny Joseph in her poem ‘Warning’ suggests that when [she] is old [she] will wear purple.’ It’s to stand out and be seen – like Queen Elizabeth of England who always bright colours, so people can spot her in a crowd. Of course that’s not really what it means though to feel ‘unseen.’ It means to feel invisible, unnoticed, a will o the wisp at best.

I say this without a hint of self-pity because in many ways we women do this to ourselves, quietly cleaning up after everyone, washing and packing away clothes; making sure the electricity meter is fed and the bins are emptied, the pets are fed and the cupboards fully stocked; stacking and emptying the dishwasher like a fairy presence (Okay I’m literally too noisy for people not to know when I’m doing dishes, but still you know what I mean.) This martyrdom becomes pointless when it is only your own mess and your feet echo on the tiles in the silent house. And we wonder, ‘And now what?’

At core I do know who I am though and I like focusing on others, especially when I am sad or hurt. We walk this earth together. I am excited to see whom I still have to meet along the way.

Maya Angelou says this:

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Perhaps it is enough to continue putting one foot in front of the other, facing down hardship and loneliness with laughter. The children always come home anyway, and bring with them more young souls to love.

And a splash of colour is not a bad idea either. I think I’ll go with orange! That’ll show them.

Walking for Life

Despite my eternal protestations that if I were ever discovered in spandex on the beachfront promenade, my family was probably being held hostage back home while the abductors were torturing me for my pin number. (Just kidding. If they’d suggested exercise, I would have coughed up all my passwords!)

But now my doctor has said I need to exercise for my health, so even though, I thought it was all a bit blah, I have been trying to walk a few kilometres daily. And so far, I have lived to tell the tale.

The problem with Cape Town is the wind though. The first 3km of my journey is either straight into the teeth of the winter northwesterly, or the last 3km involves being prostrated by the howling southeaster in regular buffets. There is a reason writers of old describe wind as a vicious beast, as the imagery aptly conjures up a demented creature breathing out tiny sandy shards of glass either into your face or onto the backs of your legs. That’s why I wear long lycra leggings and sleeves. I almost miss wearing a mask so my face could be completely covered, making me look like an arctic explorer with my hat and sunglasses, as I brave the driving dunes. Not that you can look into people’s faces in that wind, as you bend over parallel to the road. Once I was so busy gazing at the pavement that I strode right past my own sister who had to call me back with an ‘Oy’.

Sometimes it’s quite mild out though and early morning walkers have the opportunity to notice each other and nod or smile, even if the joggers do it through gritted teeth. (You know, I’ve heard of a ‘runner’s high’ and even experienced a bit of that when I was young, but the runners always look so miserable and appear to be in pain.)

People who walk are a fascinating combination. There are the burly men whose strength is belied by the teeny tiny doglets they accompany, who really don’t need much more exercise than running between couches, but who are obviously the reason (or excuse) for the daily constitutional. Then there are the retired, the pink-suited, I’m-new-at-this exercise thing, eager looking women who seem determined to be jolly as they wobble along (I am one of them, minus the fancy suit); then of course one sees the ‘sisters supporting sisters’ – friends who you can see are mouthing off about the venality of their menfolk. There are scary vagrants who stare and mutter, but are probably ill, and their friendlier counterparts like the two sharing a bicycle ride, whom I saw sailing past everyone with broad, broken smiles, and sheer happiness on their faces

There is a rocky outcrop near the turn of my walk which my eldest painted back in Grade 10 and dubbed ‘Shit Rock’ (… I’m not sure he was referring to its guano covering or his own creation which was often the source of unnecessary insecurity – and, clearly – profanity.) On the shore there is a wooden bench from which one can absorb the full majesty of the Cape Town sunset, Table Mountain, and Table Bay with its many vessels at anchor. It is certainly not a crappy place to be. I have spent many a restful moment there, communing with God and Nature and filling my soul with the glory of our city. There was a time that I thought I would die in a foreign land, trapped by marriage and my stay-at-home-mom misery and penury. When I escaped, and returned to Cape Town, it became my habit to thank God for leading me like Moses out of exile back home, every time I look at the mountain. Then I breathed in for my soul’s freedom.

Now I take a breather from my physical exertion on that bench in my motivation to live. My body is a temple… etcetera…, even if for now it is plump and grumpy shrine to Cadbury’s.

Clever people will tell you that 1 hour exercise per day will result in :

  • decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • increased HDL (good) cholesterol
  • improved mood
  • decreased blood pressure
  • reduced risk of heart disease
  • reduced risk of diabetes

Who knows, you may see me actually running one day.

Don’t hold your breath though.

Raising Men

When I had newly become the single parent of my five precious children, someone unthinkingly gave me a book called Bringing up Boys, the whole premise of which was that in order to raise men from boys, you should have a male role model. I remember closing the book and thinking, ‘Well, that’s a bummer!’

And then, I am pleased to say, I managed to spend the next 15 years raising three young men of exceptional kindness and maturity. And they cook.

Here are 12 things we did:

  1. They took turns with the girls on the chores.
  2. I roughhoused with them – fortunately they switched to sports other than rugby before they could out-scrum me. I made sure we had a house with a garden so there was space to play.
  3. I watched a lot of hockey and football (Stinky boots lived in the garage though). I can easily spot offside now.
  4. Reading was a treat that was withheld at bedtime if they’d misbehaved. They all now write for their living.
  5. I never let them win at games. (Ok that is just because I am so competitive, but when they beat me, there was a huge sense of achievement.)
  6. I tried very hard (and mostly succeeded) to NEVER speak ill of their father to them, no matter how tempting that was.
  7. I kept my word to them.
  8. I remained in charge. There was one occasion though when one of them (who shall remain anonymous) mouthed off at me in front of his father who was visiting. The man announced that that was his cue to leave. Flabbergasted, I marched back inside and made sure that my son knew in no uncertain terms that while it may have appeared that he had been given carte blanche to speak to me as he chose, I was the rule maker and my standards would be maintained.
  9. We talked about fairness and failure, mine and theirs. And always forgave.
  10. They made their beds every day, despite one declaring that the mess in his room was a ‘still life’ – needless to say he had to clean it up before it started to scurry.
  11. We battled for money, so they worked as teenagers.
  12. We debated ideas – although there were times they tried to make (flawed) legal arguments about doing the dishes.

Of course I probably parented very poorly at times (They will tell you about all those occasions – but despite their protestations, they have not been scarred for life). I must also bear witness to the kindness of male colleagues, friends and family members who guided them over rough patches, and who also talked sport for hours and took them hiking (because, as you know, I didn’t do sweaty exercise.)

But moms out there when you are faced with the question, ‘Can a woman raise a son?’

The answer is hell yes!

Antique, vintage or Retro?

My husband said I should write about antiques. I’m not sure whether he was speaking about the sort you can buy and sell… or me. But fyi (in case he meant me) for something to be considered antique, it has to be 100 years old at least, thank you very much, and I am multiple decades short of that… so there.

But having 3 children aged twenty-five and more already, and with the others not too far behind, I do kind of feel old-ish.

There are times though that I really just feel twelve years old still, despite being on record saying that twelve is the worst age ever, and I suspect that that definitely held true for me too, but I wouldn’t want to go back to being a teenager or even a young adult, despite the many mistakes I made then, or perhaps because of them. However, I’d like to be relevant still.

So what keeps us young? It can’t be clothes – no one wants to be mutton dressed up as lamb after all, although I do believe that today’s young women dress far more sensibly than we ever did: I mean comfortable shoes, dresses with pockets at last, no more underwire digging into you like a fashionista’s stiletto, and stretch denim – God bless the person who invented that! (No more lying on the bed to zip up your jeans; then trying to stand up, stiff as a board, and walking around like an android until the denim relaxed a bit!)

In my case, it’s not exercise I am ashamed to say – I used to be super fit as a young person, between ballet, then gym and karate, but now I am so sedentary and laaaazy! Or perhaps it  is the absence of exercise that keeps one youthful – no weather-beaten face for me, nor the need for post- athletics fixes – and I don’t mean of the drug kind. I see so many (mainly men) now having knee surgery and hip surgery following a lifetime of mauling their bodies in sports when they were younger. And yup even footballers actually have genuinely serious injuries that affect them in later life. So exercise is not it necessarily.

I used to remain seemingly girlish and vibrant because I had so many children so the perky young moms in my younger children’s pre-school classes often assumed I was… well less vintage than I was. (Vintage being anything between 20 and 99 years old btw.). Using my offsprings’ age doesn’t work anymore – especially when they’re all graduated, balding or shaving.

‘They’ say age is a state of mind, meaning that staying young in spirit is a cerebral construct. But what is that state?

I think it’s hope.

As long as we are hopeful and positive about a future filled with joy, we shall be youthful in our mindset, even if the body is failing, drooping, sagging, greying or ailing. It’s when we see no future, and despair of either misspent or long-past youth that we miss out on a happy life. That’s when we lose the spark of fun and turn into grumpy old women, discontent with our lot in life.

And that sort of depression can paralyse.  I have felt it, but I have been gifted with an almost naive sense of optimism and have always vowed that no matter what heartbreak I face, I shall always be happy. My revenge on the stones that life throws is to seek joy and that allows for hope to sneak in and fill me. Laughter keeps you young, even if you get crinkle cuts around your eyes and mouth.

So long as the wrinkles turn upwards. 

I’m claiming to be more retro than vintage or antique, but I plan to be a style trendsetter always.

Or, as Ms Ball would suggest, I can lie.

The Misty Edges of Grief

Grief is about loss.

Whether the loss is a death, a divorce, children leaving the nest, moving house, job, town or country, or even a trauma suffered.  According to popular belief there are several stages of grief which can be endured in no set order, ultimately resulting in a return to some plateau of emotion and acceptance of the change. As someone who has experienced all of the above, I can attest to having experienced all of the stages listed below.

The stages of grief according to a good google search:

  • Shock
  • Denial.
  • Pain
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • The upward turn
  • Reconstruction and working through
  • Acceptance
  • Hope

What the pop psychologists don’t tell you about is the sense of impotence and loneliness and an ineffable bereft-ness (I know that’s not a real word, but ‘bereavement’ is too sedate a word for it) that follow a cataclysmic event in your life. These are powerful emotions and cannot be rushed as people try to steer you towards hope again. 

Most loss  is undesired even when it is the right thing, like children leaving home or a sick relative’s passing.  But you are never prepared for it, not even when it is anticipated, and particularly not when it is a sudden passing or a betrayal.

The stark reality of the absence of a person you love(d) creates a void, an abyss, an endless nothingness into which the mourner may slip or fall headlong if she is not careful.

It is the impotence that overwhelms.

Sometimes it rages; sometimes it is numb despair; sometimes it is the outrage at being robbed of something precious. Mostly it is a profound helplessness of having no agency, no way of changing a lover’s heart or bringing back your mother.

Loss offers no way of turning back the clock to change a course of events, doing something differently or preventing the wrenching of your heart from your body, leaving a gaping bloodless pit in your spirit. It is the black hole of the soul that drags all joy into it, excluding all light. It is the negative; the shadow, the nihilism of despair.

When all choices are ripped away without your will or permission, and knowing you have no control over another’s life, love or the ability to alter the course of events,  no angry book or swear jar can contain the venom of the internal fight with the immutable fact of loss.

And in its wake, is profound loneliness as you plot a solitary course: an emptiness where love once lived.   No matter the kindness of friends or the spirituality that you cling to, you go on alone.                                                                             

Even when you come full circle and find a purpose again, the hole remains, like a tear in the fabric of your life that threatens to unravel when you pull it. You can patch it, of course. Sometimes the patch is prettier, but should that repair also fail, the hole in your heart is laid bare again.

Some days the opening up of another person’s chasm can rip open your own fragile mend. That’s why we cry at funerals sometimes even when we didn’t know the deceased that well – it’s the scab on our own wounds being torn off again. And then we start all over again to heal our own pain.

So don’t look askance at those who have loved and lost, yet smile again. They have returned from the edge of the emptiness of grief and found

Hope

And there is God.

Bridgerton Review

The Bridgertons are back in the Netflix ton.

Already they are #1 on the streaming channel in South Africa and I have to confess I binged the series this weekend.

In 2020 we had a Covid Christmas with all we girls down with the virus. On Christmas Day, we were visited by our healthy family who didn’t live with us, along with my son and new daughter-in-law who were visiting Cape Town. We sat on the upstairs balcony and ‘visited’ with them as they camped on the lawn downstairs. Then we went back to bed; ordered Nando’s for lunch and caroused on flu meds and watched the first season of Bridgerton, taking fever nap breaks in between episodes.

We survived Covid and the excess of raised heartbeats , not to mention the weirdness of watching raunchy scenes with my children.

So when the second season landed this weekend, my daughters, now living in their own apartment, laid on some food; I bought the chocolate; my sister bought the doughnuts and we dined out on the first four episodes of the Shondra Rimes epic rom-com-meets-Barbara-Cartland, clashing with modernity and strong women.

(Everyone has of course finished the season already on their own by now.)

There was the usual mix of ‘Oh mys!’ (from we genteel ladies) that accompanied the hilarious subtitles which, for some reason, were on, causing much giggling from our audience of four: from ‘[sighs deeply]’ to lots of ‘[hmmns]’ and ‘[moans]’ (including a ‘shuddering moan]’ and my own personal favourite, ‘[exhales sharply].’

As usual, the sumptuous gowns, wigs and sets did not disappoint, making us all wish we were living in that era, forgetting of course that most of us would have been the servants in those times, not the nobility, not to mention the indignity of chamber pots that preceded the glorious luxury of flushing toilets. (Mind you, a large number of our citizens still have to live with those – that is something necessary to check one’s privilege over.)

The show does of course satirize the lunacy of the marriage meat market that was the ‘season’ in society along with the subjugation of women’s roles by marriage and social standards of behaviour in general: from the widow having to give up her home because only a distant male heir may inherit the property (echoes of Jane Austen there – whom many refer to as one of the first ‘feminist writers); to the need for a woman to marry well to be secure in life – and having to wait to be chosen. As Lady Danford says in one scene, ‘The world is not kind to single women.’ Sadly little has changed for many women 200 years later.

Despite some obvious tropes, like the influence of parents’ deaths on children’s fears and phobias (a la Family Stone) and the rather cliched meet-cute of the protagonists (What’s with Viscount Bridgerton’s assumption that a woman galloping on a horse must be in trouble and therefore in need of rescuing?!), there were some interesting take-homes like how depression and grief play out in people’s lives, with Lady Bridgerton’s words, ‘This is my best.’ summing up how those for whom the black dog is a reality get through each aching hour.

It’s a series that offers some fun and intrigue, and of course we are drawn to the glitter and glamour of it all, never mind our awe at Queen’s Charlotte’s neck strength which rivals a grand prix driver’s as she holds up those magnificent hairpieces.

So pour your Pimms and get ready for the spectacle that is Bridgerton.

I’m waiting for the brocaded gowns of Season 3 already.

Strong Women

I have been watching the US Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson with interest, in the light of our South African Constitutional Court Judicial Services Commission hearings which treated Justice Mandisa Maya so poorly also, and once more feel outraged at what women and, in both these cases, black women in particular, endure despite being highly qualified and respected.

Make no mistake, I do believe that all applicants for judicial appointments, especially those that are ‘for-life appointments, as US Supreme Court positions are, should be rigorously interviewed and their suitability appropriately probed.

However, and it’s a big ‘however,’ these are the things I have noticed as a distant observer:

1. There was an enormous amount of electioneering and very little actual questioning of Judge Jackson on the first couple of days. Congratulations, Donald Trump, for completely severing the ‘united’ from the United States. What a horribly divided nation America is. When Republican senators were questioning her, they frequently referred to ‘this side of the floor’ as if they were actually in Congress, and at other times, one could be forgiven for thinking one was at a Republican campaign meeting, or a GOP political lecture because there were long speeches, clearly about issues wannabe presidential nominees and others were going to exploit as rallying calls in the 2024 elections, but which seldom resulted in actual interrogatories of the candidate for the bench. Every question which resulted in often-interrupted answers by the candidate (It is sooo annoying when (men) do that.) was preceded and followed by lengthy harangues about policies which judges do not have control over, and are clearly political issues, not legal ones.

What was this smart woman thinking as she endured hours and hours of these petty potentates raging on about their own agendas (CRT, pornography, Guantanamo Bay) on her stage? The committee was not supposed to be meeting for them to hijack the public’s right to hear about her competence to act on the supreme court, by using this platform to bang on about their pet political peeves; it was about hearing her, not grandstanding for potential voters.


Ted Cruz trying to make the hearings about Critical Race Theory

2. Men do this around women. When supposedly trying to elicit information from women, they talk far more than they listen, often berating women as if they are wrong before even hearing their opinion. We have learnt to sit still and silently through men’s bombast. It is hard to hide one’s ‘I-don’t-suffer-fools-gladly’ face, but sometimes they believe we have told them what they want to hear at the end of it because we endure their tirades placidly. Judge Jackson was dignified and stoic through it all. Her patience was a model of compusure under pressure.

She should play poker.

It wasn’t only the Republicans though who were so partisan: the Democratic Chairman was quick to use his ‘chairman’s time’ to mansplain what he believed Judge Jackson would have answered. I was struck time and time again by the men’s club that the lefties were nobly allowing a woman to join.

3. And then they turned on themselves in a testosterone-loaded power struggle, forgetting the poised professional in front of them:

This is why women often feel as if they are the only adults in the room.

4. Despite that, Jackson was treated to significant head-patting about how great it would be be if she, as a black woman were to be confirmed, not quite as bad as the saccharine condescension and outrageous sexual innuendo Justice Mandisa Maya experienced in her appearance in front of the South African JSC, but sufficient for it to be obvious. It is one thing to celebrate ‘firsts’ in terms of being the first black woman to join a particular body or institution and indeed we must celebrate these milestones, however to reduce accomplished women to their gender or race alone is to subtly ignore their significant scholarship and stature as highly qualified and experienced, graduate professionals. It’s a nuance that men in high places should take note of because it sends a subtly patronising message to all that the women in their presence are fortunate to join their illustrious company and at the same time sidelining their voice to tokenism, and gives men permission not to take contrary views too seriously. Such patriarchal attitudes rob society of the significant impact that women and people of colour bring to top institutions.

It speaks to a certain insecurity of [some] men around strong women. Some years ago, I was once asked by several men whether I was not concerned that my choice for a manager reporting to me might be problematic because she was strong-willed and that she might be difficult to work with. I was astonished because that was exactly why I had supported her appointment. I wanted someone who could be their own person, and she was not a yes-woman, thank goodness.

5. Women are so often accused of being too emotional in the corridors of power or too irrational to have weighty authority vested in them. Yet, Senator Lindsay Flip-Flop Graham, who stormed out after a rant in which he hoped Gitmo prisoners died in jail, was certainly not a good example of masculine decorum; neither was his colleague, Senator Ted Cruz, who got in the face of the chairman after being told his time was up. In the face of these outbursts, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was particularly gracious. I wonder how many times she thought, ‘WTF?’ Her serenity was exemplary. My face would have given away my outrage.

6. Something that always irritates me when anyone is not hearing what they want to hear, they attempt to browbeat the strong, in this case, female opiner. Senators tried very hard to rattle Jackson suggesting she wasn’t answering their questions, when she had – rather well I thought – clearly and succinctly. I mean, I understood straight away her explanation of the difference between policy making and interpreting it, and judges’ challenges in applying fairness along the sentencing guidelines according to the laws Congress is responsible for passing. (And I’m just a teacher.) It’s not rocket science. It’s logic, however perhaps the interlocuters also clearly did not understand the concept of ‘asked and answered.’ They didn’t come away looking smart – rather they just appeared to be trying to bully a strong woman who stuck to her guns politely.

Notwithstanding Senator Cory Booker’s maturity and ability to bring some sense to the hearings, these were a sad couple of days for America.

Thank goodness though for arbiters of jurisprudence like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. I hope she is confirmed and I hope her educated, experienced, public defender’s (and black female) voice holds sway on the US Supreme Court. Her South African counterpart was not afforded this opportunity. We live in hope still.

sleeping together

Not me.

I’m told I snore.

Now as a fine lady, I deny this allegation completely and submit that should I emit any nocturnal sound at all, it is a mere gentle purring, not the bear-like grunts I stand accused of (despite the evidence on my husbands bedside table: a pack of bright orange ear plugs).

My poor partner suffers from insomnia rather badly though and is often prowling around the house at 03:28, (Why is it that insomniacs always waken at the same time?) having woken up and not been able to fall back asleep. He is also mosquito averse and will always be the one to be bitten, and I do sometimes get pulled out of my dream where I am meeting Brad Pitt in a Cadbury’s factory, to find my beloved balancing on the bed with a T-shirt in hand as he bounces around trying to swipe at the kamikazi insects, who leave little bloodstained epitaphs on our ceiling as they gasp their final farewell whines.

I confess that I have no such problems and if I do get disturbed, I can easily drift off again after responding to the inner calling of an abdomen that has survived five children pounding on its bladder with their little Irish Dancing womb-booties. But I can empathize with his nightly struggles.

Ironically, it is the Maestro in fact who introduced me to the habit of listening to YouTube as I fall asleep. We used to have QI on and enjoyed both the knowledge and humour of it before dozing off. Now, I just hear that music anytime of the night and I’m Pavlovian asleep again. It no longer helps him though, so being disturbed by my soft snuffling must be really difficult for him.

When I was a newly separated young single parent (before the Maestro had the joy of my gentle murmurs beside him) I played the radio all night as company – it made me feel less afraid. So I am comfortable with voices as a soporific aid. I do not need to be a sheep accountant. He has that kind of brain though that once he is awake, he starts to obsess about the next teaching day’s challenges… and… and… and…

The Maestro is tolerant of my musical mouth-breathing up to a point. I know he has reached the moment of considering a migration to the spare room when he sits up and demands I roll over onto my side, insisting, ‘That’s enough now!’ But I have done several things to make it better, like puffing on Vicks inhalers before bed, sleeping on my side, and even using hideous tasting drops; I don’t smoke or drink. To no avail: I continue to saw logs with the artistry of a seasoned lumberjack. They say one should lose weight as well.

So, I may have to give up chocolates.

But that would be admitting I snore.

Family

My grandfather was born in McDonald’s in Greenpoint.

Of course it wasn’t Micky Dees then. In fact way back in the early 1900s it was a house called Race Stand House inhabited by Patrick Markey, a former Irish fusilier who has emigrated to Cape Town and worked as a policemen chasing smugglers around the Cape shores. PC Markey and his wife, Anne (I carry her name in mine, as my father carried his. Although mine has an ‘e’ in it, whereas hers is sans the ‘e,’ a sin subsequent Annes in the family will point out ) raised nine of the surviving eleven children there, of whom my granddad was the youngest.

Subsequently the 167 year old house which originally served as the official grandstand of the Greenpoint Race Track (hence its name) over the years became a golf clubhouse; housed a Restaurant (Seagulls); and was home to the arts as The Cape Town Art Centre.

This history is my only (tenuous) link to anything or anyone famous.

https://sahris.sahra.org.za/sites/default/files/heritagereports/GRANGER%20BAY%20BOULEVARD%202015%2008%2019%20CTS%20GBB%20HIA.pdf

The nine children of Patrick and Anne (nee McFarland) went on to have many children and grandchildren (They were Catholic of course), and ever since the nineties, their descendants have been getting together annually on or around St Patrick’s Day to celebrate our shared kinship.

Last weekend, after two years of Covid restrictions, our cousin, Margie, hosted a get-together at her home in Rondebosch. There is nothing quite like reconnecting with folk with whom you share common ancestors, and it is rather satisfying to look around and know you are related to all the people around you.

Of course one could feel some sympathy for the spouses of all of us who didn’t realize that they were marrying a person more Irish than the Irish (as most immigrant Irish tend to be, no matter how many generations away they may be from the immigrant family, or how stalwart they are as citizens of their new country.) We’re all Irish on St Paddy’s day. Mind you, my daughter-in-law was rather chuffed to hear she is now on the family tree and the keeper of the family tree is the husband of my father’s cousin, having been married to her for almost 50 years, so they don’t all mind.

It’s the sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself as an individual though that is the essence of these gatherings. Seeing my late father’s face in his now-elderly cousin, I felt the bond not only with my uncle (first cousin once-removed actually) and myself, but a link to my own parents, a sense of the collective wisdom of the ages that comes from familial alliance. Even though one of my cousins decried the fact that every time we meet, there are faces he doesn’t recognize – that is precisely the joy in family. Laughing along with him, I wished I’d known him better growing up.

Singing along to the Irish ditties, as we always do (my goodness they are maudlin – everyone dies!) we celebrate the purity of Celtic voices lifted up in song and the talent of the few who can actually sing.

And then we sing our own anthem, with greater gusto.

Mostly though we have fun.

Second cousins, teachers; friends