Crossing boarders

This morning I woke up and saw that it was 6.13am. The alarm hadn’t gone off and I wondered why. I turned the radio on and tried to shake myself awake. Then I remembered it was Saturday. I lay back and fell again into delicious slumber land. Relief.

That feeling took me instantly back to my childhood. I was very young when I went to boarding school in another country. When I was nine, my 11-year old sister and I travelled by aeroplane or bus from Zambia to Zimbabwe to go to school. Going home for the holidays was the most amazing and wonderful thing in the whole world. I remember waking up in the mornings, expecting to hear the clang of the rising bell that the matron rang to wake the city, and then I’d feel the soft sheets of home and remember I was not at boarding school. That feeling, for me, defines relief.

My mom would come and peek around the bedroom door to see if we were awake and then she’d come and sit on one of our beds and chat to us until we got out of bed. Ah, precious memories.

When we lived in central Zambia, on the Copperbelt, travelling to boarding school was a simple bus trip. Then Zambia closed its borders with Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was called in those days) and our bus trip became tricky. We travelled by bus literally to the line that divided the two countries, to be met by a bus on the other side of the line. We got off the bus, walked across the line to the other, the drivers exchanged contents of the holds (trunks and suitcases and bags) and we continued our journey to Harare.

Thereafter it was easier to travel by air. However, because the borders had closed, we couldn’t fly directly from one country to the other so we had to fly via Malawi. Then we moved further north, to a small town called Kasama, close to Lake Tanganyika (where we holidayed once – what a beautiful, unspoilt paradise).  Our journey from northern Zambia to Harare usually involved about four or five separate legs. We’d start with one or two flights in very small aircraft that left from rough and rural airstrips where the “airports” were small, dome-shaped buildings made from corrugated iron.

Those short flights would take us to the relatively massive airport in Ndola and from there we’d fly to Blantyre’s Chileka Airport in Malawi. And it was there that we – two little girls – would sit for up to six hours waiting for our connecting flight to Harare. The airport shop (there was only one) would close between scheduled flight arrivals and departures. So we’d sit on a wooden bench and swing our legs and talk about our holiday memories and what awaited us at boarding school. It was a boring wait, although sometimes my sister would imagine her next home-theatre production that she would write, produce, direct and star in. I loved travelling with my best friend.

And then we would board our flight to Harare where we’d be met by a matron, for our onward journey, by car, to our school.

The return journey was equally circuitous, but somehow when our hearts were filled with hope and longing to be home with our family, the journey seemed so much shorter.

So today is Saturday, I’m not at boarding school any more, and we’re about to go and explore the day, by bus. Today we have no borders to cross.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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Boys and Girls Come Out to Play

Relationships are always important to me. Never more so than now, having been through such a dark time, where I’ve so needed the support of my friends and family. And I have never leaned so heavily on my husband as I do now. He is a rock and such strength. What on earth did I do to deserve one such as him?

I’ve been reflecting on my history of relationships, and the journey that brought me to my husband. We have been married for nearly 27 years, and we’ve always enjoyed interesting, challenging and hugely fun times together. We laugh and we cry together, and we love each other’s company. 

Our giddy newly-wed years soon morphed into reality, as they always do. Suddenly there was bad breath, the five o’clock shadow, mussy hair, grumpy moods and dramatic sulks and door-slamming. And that’s only me. But we came through all of that and began, as M Scott Peck describes it in The Road Less Travelled, “the real work of love”.

When I was about 10, at home in Zambia on holiday from boarding school in Zimbabwe, we went to a friend’s birthday party. I can still imitate my friend’s mother’s laugh – ask me, and I’ll show you! We played games and we swam and it was loads of fun. However, a boy kept following me around and commenting on everything I did. 

I dived into the swimming pool and he said, “Wow, what style!” I hope his chat-up lines have improved since then. (At least he didn’t ask me if my dad was a thief. Why? “Because he must have stolen the stars and put them in your eyes.”) 

Anyway, he just didn’t leave me alone. He hung on my every word – which wouldn’t have been many in those days – and he watched me and commented on everything I did. I’d never had such attention from anyone before.  I quite liked it and I quite hated it. I was 10.

I don’t remember giving him my phone number, but he called me a few days later and asked if I could meet him in “town”. Dusty Mufulira didn’t have a hectically vibey CBD, so I wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind. And I was painfully shy. I said no.

He called back and asked if he and his friend could come and visit me at my house. I said yes and went into panic mode. Half an hour later, the two boys arrived at our gate, on their bicycles. I did what any 10-year old girl would do: I ran and hid under my bed.

My sister welcomed them at the gate and did what any older sister would do in such a situation: she told them I was hiding under my bed.

Not only did she tell them that, but she brought them into the bedroom, pretending not to notice me cowering under my bed. They spoke as if I wasn’t there, and my suitor told my sister – in a stage whisper – that it was a pity I wasn’t there, as he had some biltong* for me. They then left the room.

I loved biltong. And I was 10. So I ran out from my hiding place and went to find them in the lounge. I was so. disappointed to discover I had fallen for his decoy: he had no biltong.

Tempted as I was, I didn’t retreat to the safety of the floor under my bed, but stayed with them and began, kind of, to enjoy the overwhelming attention of a boy. And we did what youngsters of that age always did: we drew pictures and played Monopoly.

I think I saw him a few times more those holidays, and we maintained a short relationship-by-correspondence for a while when we went back to our respective boarding schools. After while there were months of silence, and I discovered he had moved his attentions elsewhere. I was unphased. His friend, however, continued to write to me and send me drawings for some time thereafter.

I was at an all-girls boarding school. When it came the time for our leavers’ dance at the end of my junior school career, the boys from our brother school (an all-boys boarding school nearby) were bussed in to keep us company. I can remember standing against the wall, all knock-kneed and awkward in my first long dress, waiting for – yet dreading –  some boy to come and ask me to dance. Ballroom Blitz, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, You’re So Vain, Cum on Feel the Noize, Crocodile Rock and Shambala all blasted from the DJ’s turntable. I danced with a pimply-faced adolescent boy in Oxford bags, but I’ve no doubt our teachers watched and laughed at the gangly and self-conscious antics in the school hall that night.

And then I began my high school years. I have memories of cameo moments with boys: my first kiss (YUCK!); many school dances with boys I was glad to be there with, other boys I wasn’t so glad to be with but they had cool friends; leaving a school dance with a boy whose VW beetle wouldn’t start and I had to push start it in my long dress and everything; a partner at another school dance opening a bottle of champagne in my general direction and soaking the front of my dress.

I had boyfriends who hooted for me at my front gate, boys who drove past my house at midnight and hooted (prompting my Dad to ban them from our house) and boys who would call me from the security fence phone at their boarding school and speak to me for hours.

All of those brief, embarrassing and heart-breaking relationships have prepared me, I guess, for the best. I am married to the kindest, most wonderful man in the world and I’m blessed out of my socks.

Sunshine signing off for today.

*Biltong is dried, spiced meat. Kind of like beef jerky, but South African. And better 🙂

It’s Only Words

The pen is mightier than the sword, so we’re told. But the pen would be pretty ineffective without words. Words and language. We use them to encourage, to destroy, to belittle, to praise, to teach, to instruct, to entertain, to sing, to praise, to mobilise, to raise awareness. Sometimes we use them wrongly and miss the mark. Other times they just make us laugh. Let’s laugh today.

Firstly, I make myself laugh with words I use wrongly. I think of words past and present that I have got quite wrong:

  1. When I was little and living in Zambia, I used to run outside when I heard my Dad’s car rolling into our driveway at home. I was always excited to see him and tell him what I’d been doing and show him new things I’d learnt. Like how to put a record on the gramophone player, all by myself. Or how I’d learnt to read my new school book. My Dad would come inside, greet everyone and take his seat in the lounge and exhale. He’d ask me to use my new-found skill and switch on the radio. He’d tell me to look for the ivory button with SW1 written over it, and then I had to push the button down and wait for the dulcet tones of newsreaders sharing information worldwide. I remember hearing their words booming through the fabric-lined speakers on our gramophone player. Topical in those days were issues in what I thought was the Serviette Union. I always imagined a nation filled with napkins, and I couldn’t work out what they could possibly be squabbling about. Who’s laying the table?
  2. My sister and I were bathing together one night, when we were very little. My Dad came to tell us to hurry up because we were going to the pantomime that night. I don’t remember which one of us said this, but my Dad overheard one of us saying, “We have to hurry because we’re going to the pant-of-Daddy’s.”
  3. When I’d pour myself a glass of orange and water (we weren’t allowed fizzy drinks), my Mom would always caution me, as I thought, not to fill the glass “to the broom”. I used to wonder what the broom had to do with the glass and the juice, until I discovered brim was probably the correct word.
  4. My enthusiasm was sometimes tempered by my Mom’s saying, “Don’t go at it like a bulletagate.” I never knew what a bulletagate was, until I heard the expression “bull at a gate”.
  5. One of my husband’s favourite albums, when we were students, was Cher’s “I Paralyse”. The first time I heard him mention it, I thought he said it was called “Five Barrel Eyes”. He’s never allowed me to forget that!
  6. More recently, we’ve discovered a fabulous singer/songwriter here in London, called Rumer. One of her recent hits is a song called “Aretha”. Do yourself a favour and check her out here – she’s really quite special. I had heard this song on the radio for months, and I thought the opening line was, “I’ve got a reason, in the morning.” I didn’t really think beyond that. When we saw her live, I realised the line was in fact, “I’ve got Aretha, in the morning. High on my headphones and walking to school.” Go figure.

And, of course, there are things other people say that make me laugh. Here’s a smidgen of these:

  1. My husband and I travelled on the bus the other day. We sat upstairs, alongside a lone other commuter, who was engrossed in a mobile phone conversation. That meant there were just three of us upstairs. My husband and I eavesdropped her conversation so unbelievably, we were discussing it when we got off the bus. I said a few words to my husband every now and then, to stop myself from asking the woman what she had just said, or what she meant. I guess we need to get a life, yeah? This is what we overheard:  “I fort I would call ‘er and conversate wif ‘er, yeah? She’s bear shy, yeah? So I AKSED what she meant when she said that, yeah? And I don’t know much, but I know, yeah? And if the cap fits on my big head, if it’s not too big or cockeyed on my head, then I’m gonna wear it, yeah?”
  2. I spilled some salad dressing on my cardigan last night. Not being much of a domestic goddess, and not having any stain remover at hand, I Googled possible solutions and, quite honestly, I am none the wiser and my cardigan still bears a stain.  “Many people prefer things stain removal alone is not engaged in, and use the services of dry cleaners. Other mistresses, by contrast, prefer to do everything yourself, believing that it accurately to your stuff no one will treat. Whatever it was, useful tips to remove fat and oil stains may be the way, if you suddenly spot a need to withdraw immediately.”
  3. Before my husband and I were married, we were gathered together at my family home with all of my siblings. We decided to play Trivial Pursuit, which, in our family, is as much about asking the questions correctly as it is about getting the answers right. And all the chirps and banter in between. My family is merciless. (No comments, I know what you’re thinking!) It came to my husband to read out a question: “For which feature film was Duelling Banjos the theme tune?” My family, to a man, collapsed in a hysterically laughing heap. You know when you look at a word and it looks well forrin? Well, my husband had looked at the song title and pronounced it: “Dew-elling Ban-Joss”. Needless to say, he has never been allowed to forget that slip of the tongue. He needed the movie title in more ways than one: Deliverance.

I’d love to hear about your funny words, misheard and mis-pronounced. Words keep us connected in so many ways, but they also tear us apart and crack us up. I’d love to hear your examples of the latter.

“Talk in everlasting words, and dedicate them all to me. And I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me. You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say, It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”    (Words, The Bee Gees)

Sunshine signing off for today!

Three Cheers to You Two

It’s not quite clear when they met. History holds that they met as children. According to their records, they met as young adults. He was in Cape Town on holiday from his banking job in Northern Rhodesia and she was working in the Reserve Bank.  It was love at first – or second – sight.

photo from crowhurstpark.co.uk

He swept her off her sporty feet and asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted gladly and agreed to travel with him wherever his work would take him. He was soon transferred to Hermanus, not far from Cape Town, and it was there that they started their married life.

Through years of travel through South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia (southern and northern Rhodesia of those days), they bore four offspring. Two boys followed by two girls. Months of separation from their children as they went to boarding school was the price they paid for the expat adventure.

When their children were small they embarked on an overseas adventure. They flew, with children ranging in age from six to 13, from Zambia to the United Kingdom. For three months they explored London, travelled on a boat up the Thames, spent six weeks in a motorised caravan travelling around England, Scotland and Wales, and then travelled by ship from Southampton to Cape Town. There they picked up a car for a friend and travelled up to Zambia. Brave, intrepid travellers they were, and their adventures and travels continued through their retirement in Cape Town.

Her gentle yet firm manner has always been balanced by his strong command of the family. Their lives centred around sport as they travelled here and there – she excelled in tennis before taking up golf, and in their retirement they enjoyed playing bowls together.  They now watch sport together and, I reckon, could give some commentators a run for their money.

A kind, loving and precious mom to her brood and granny to her grandchildren. A funny, loving and protecting dad and grampa whose wonderful storytelling will live on through the generations.

Kindred spirits. Best friends. Parents in a million.

Happy Anniversary, my precious Mom and Dad. I am so proud of your 57 years and counting. May God bless you always.

Sunshine signing off today.

Why I didn’t like record shopping with my older brother

Today is Art Garfunkel’s birthday. The curly-haired half of one of my childhood favourite bands turns 69 today. Bridge Over Troubled Water takes me right back to our home in Mufulira in Zambia. And to records. Remember them?

An awesome album

I loved Simon and Garfunkel. They were not wild like the Rolling Stones, they didn’t wear tight pants like Tom Jones did, they were just right. To a young girl living in Zambia, who didn’t like wild, or tight pants, they were super cool.

I remember two brothers coming to visit my sister and me in Mufulira. It was one of those complex situations that brothers and sisters can relate to – I liked J, he liked my sister, she liked R and R liked me. No win situation. Anyway, I told them both that I liked the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water and, maybe to impress J a little, I said that I especially liked the words. R said he knew them off by heart (show off) so he could tell me them. I got my pencil and paper at the ready. He proceeded to tell me the words, but I didn’t realise those were the words – I thought he was telling me a story. I listened, and I remember thinking, “Where is this all going? Tell me the song words already.” Was my face red when I realised what had just happened. Duh.

My husband and I were lucky enough to see Paul Simon on his Graceland Tour in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987 at Rufaro Stadium. It was an amazing experience. But I couldn’t help feeling sad that he and Art Garfunkel had by then headed off in their own directions. I watched the DVD of their recent reunion concert and even all these years later, I can understand why I liked their music then. They were really pretty special.

So fast forward to Cape Town in recent years. My brother-in-law is as mad about music as his younger brother (my husband), and both have formidable collections of CDs and vinyl. Different tastes, but identical passions. In an effort to keep vinyl alive, we gave him a turntable for his birthday a few years back. Since then, he and my sister-in-law have had a series of vinyl evenings at their home. They invite about 20 people round to share a meal, a few beverages, and to bring along their favourite record.

The first time, we all had to bring both our best and worst track, and then each person had to vote for each track in turn. Which became increasingly hilarious as the evening progressed and we discovered how different everyone’s taste in music was. Nutbush City Limits by Tina Turner (along with Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love) is on my top ten worst songs list, and it was played as someone’s favourite. One person had Tiny Bubbles by Dean Martin as his worst track of all time. He hated it so much he didn’t have the record, so his forfeit was to sing it to us. His rendition was far more memorable than it was tuneful.

My husband chose Bridge Over Troubled Water as his best track. No-one could say anything bad or negative about it. It shot to the top of the list and won the best track prize of the evening. I guess the song is like that. For me it’s part of the soundtrack of my life, and I will always love it.

The song that won the un-cherished award of worst track of the evening was Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road. If I’d still had that seven single (remember those? 45s?) I would have brought it with me for the same category. When I was about nine, I was given a record voucher (I think I might have called it a record vulture when I was that age) for Christmas. I was so excited because it would enable me to buy my first. record. ever. How cool was that?

My brothers, sister and I headed off into the centre of dusty Mufulira to the big departmental store to redeem our vouchers for stuff. I was beside myself. I had enough to buy an LP and a seven single. I chose a Springbok Hits album. If you are from the sub-continent, you will remember those hideous compilation albums of very badly rendered cover versions of current hits. I was thrilled. Come on, I was nine.

Now, on to the seven singles …. hmmmm, what to choose? What to choose? Along came my elder brother to help me choose. With his encouragement, which may or may not have come across as a threat, I bought Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. I can still feel the deep disappointment I felt at having to buy such an awful song. Those were my first record purchases. Pretty bad. And even worse.

Just before we left Cape Town last year, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had a farewell party for us, in the form of another vinyl evening. It was a really wonderful, memorable and special evening where we all ate well, drank better and laughed more than ever. The hard rockers among us insisted on playing air guitar and “dancing” (you have to air-quote there) along to their numbers; some played air guitar on their legs, another played air drums with two pencils just above a bald guy’s head, one shared stories of heartache at a high school dance, when he introduced his track of choice, and all the while our laughter provided backing for tracks like Radar Love by Golden Earring, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water and Neil Young’s Harvest. After a track-off, Neil Young emerged as the evening’s winner.

So, happy birthday, Mr Garfunkel. Thank you for the music and, today, for the memories.

Sunshine signing off for today.

You can find out more about these tracks at www.allbutforgottenoldies.com Seriously.