Dump the old and laugh in the new

It was a humid New Year’s Eve in 1998 in Zimbabwe. Rain was threatening the skies over Bulawayo, and our family was settling into my sister’s home after a wonderful Christmas break at a small, private game reserve outside the city.

There were 22 of us together that year: my parents, my three siblings and all of our families. Some of us stayed at my sister’s house in Bulawayo, and some in friends’ homes around the neighbourhood. We gathered during the day and for meals and outings and arguments; not all of the above were planned. Hey, we’re family.

After a week or two in Bulawayo, we’d spent an amazing five days at the reserve, celebrating Christmas and the rare and welcome opportunity for us all to be together. We arrived at the reserve armed with food and drink to sustain an army. My brother-in-law’s family were at the reserve when we arrived; it was planned that Christmas Day would be our overlap day and 45 of us sat around the same celebratory table for lunch. A marquee doubled as a dormitory for the 18 children in sleeping bags that night, while the adults enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in thatched rondavels (round huts) overlooking a small dam. As they say, it’s hell in Africa.

After a further few idyllic days of horse-riding, fishing, swimming, walking, reading and enjoying good food and family time – including a spontaneous concert that we siblings put on for the incredulous children, and a wonderful awards’ ceremony that one of my brothers orchestrated to mark the unique contribution to the holiday of each one of us – we returned to the city to celebrate New Year together. It was on the day before New Year’s Eve that, one by one, 14 of our clan of 22 fell ill. (My original family plus two sturdy youngsters remained either completely or relatively untouched.) My sister – who is a nurse – took great care of each patient, ensuring everyone was well-hydrated and fever kept at bay.

The next day we took my elder son to see the doctor. Before she examined him, we told her that we had 13 more like him at home; whatever he had, they all had too. Tests revealed that shigella dysentery was, well, running through our family. All 22 of us had to have treatment for this notifiable disease, and so it was that we celebrated the dawn of 1999 quietly and, I guess for the most part, gingerly.

The medicine took effect quickly and within a day or two, all the cousins were gathered around the dining room table sharing stories of their experience of the disease. For the young boys – aged between about 8 and 14 – the conversation was not repeatable, and much laughter rang through the house; it made a change from those other sounds.

Part of the family left soon after the New Year and 12 of us remained to travel to Hwange Game Reserve and Victoria Falls for a few more idyllic days. We travelled in a pack, enjoyed incredible game-viewing and sight-seeing, and found that hysterical laughter can hurt your stomach almost as much as the disease. As we visited two of the most beautiful places on the planet, our memory banks filled with stories that will follow us around our whole lives, and shared memories of joy and discomfort that bonded us in a way you could never imagine.

We’ll never know where the disease came from but we do know that love, laughter, family and brown paper packets filled with bullet-sized tablets took it clean away.

So, as I sit in my London flat on a chilly, grey New Year’s Eve and await the dawn of 2012, it warms my heart to think of this time 13 years ago and all the interesting adventures of our family reunion. We bought a beautiful wooden carving of a giraffe who we named “Relly” (for relatives), and he stands proud in our home (currently in my parents’ home) as a reminder of that holiday.

Reflecting on the past year, I feel anxious to press on into the new. I miss my family and home and friends – I always do at this time of year – and my heart feels heavy with nostalgia. But I guess – like the shigella – that feeling too will pass and I look forward to rediscovering the laughter that will make my belly ache.

As I wish you all a wonderful and happy New Year, and every good blessing for you and your family, what is it that you reflect on at the dawn of this New Year? And what are your hopes for 2012?

Happy New Year to you all. Sunshine signing off for this year!

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!

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 🙂

Not just another winter’s tale

He was born on the winter solstice in Edinburgh in 1926. He died on Christmas Day in 1992, on the warm tip of Africa. A lovely, gentle, talented, troubled, kind soul he was. He was my father-in-law and this is his story.

As life and breath poured into his infant body on that cold and wintry December night in Edinburgh, so life and breath drained from his mother’s. She breathed her last and died that day. Life and loss. His young father was stricken with an overwhelming grief that veiled his joy at this brand new life.

My father-in-law was adopted by a family whose name we now bear. They lived on the island of North Uist in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. This new family ran a hotel and my father-in-law spent his days living the life of a young, country lad: fishing and hunting and finding the best that the beautiful, bleak, cold island could offer. His days were underlined with sadness and a constant wondering about his father on the mainland. He knew who he was, he knew where he lived and he so longed to meet him.

As a young man he met and fell in love with a beautiful young woman from the mainland. They married and lived on the island, going over to the mainland for the birth of their first son. With the hope and promise of seeking their fortune in Africa, the three of them chose to join her brothers in Zimbabwe (southern Rhodesia as it was known then). He travelled ahead of his wife and son and, before he left, went to Edinburgh to meet his real father. He wondered nervously whether or not his father would welcome him. His fear of rejection turned him round again and off he went to begin a new life in Africa.

Son number two (my husband) was born in Zimbabwe, and the family enjoyed living in the warm, friendly heart of southern Africa. My father-in-law was a talented musician – a self-taught pianist and accordion player – and he played in a Scottish band. He would lose himself in his music, and played the piano with a gentleness of touch that kept me riveted. I often wondered where the music took him as I watched him play. When he died, I inherited his piano. Such a gift it was; such a gift.

He loved his sons and watched, with pride, as they grew into young men and created lives of their own. His daughters-in-law became part of his family, and he loved us with a gentle passion that I will never forget. His heart beamed as his grandchildren started to appear, and each of them loved their “Pops”, with his ready laughter and unconditional love and pride.

One day, when he was almost 60, he received a letter out of the blue. It opened with, “You don’t know me, but we’ve known about you all our lives…”

The writer of the letter told him his father – who was also her father – had been 23 years old when he was widowed. He had married again and had had some children, but she didn’t elaborate. She wrote of her father’s longing to meet him, but how, for fear of rejection, that had never happened. She told him his father had died in 1976. Oh the sorrow that both men had felt the same way, and their perceived fears had kept them from meeting each other.

The writer concluded her letter by saying she’d send him more detail of the family if he so wished. She added, however, that if the communication had made him uncomfortable, she would not continue and would, with respect, leave it at that.

He was amazed. My father-in-law wrote back immediately and asked to know more. He soon got a letter with details of his family tree. It turned out that at the time of his birth, and his mother’s death, he had an older sister. She was three years older than he was, and was raised in Edinburgh by a grandmother (we have yet to discover which grandmother this was). His father then remarried and had seven daughters and two sons. She shared some detail of the siblings, their names and where they lived.

The correspondence continued for a while. It wasn’t long before my father-in-law decided to travel back to Edinburgh to meet his new family. A brother travelled across from Canada to meet him. Most of the other siblings lived in or around Edinburgh. Great excitement, anticipation and a huge nervousness accompanied him on his journey.

He spent a number of days with his new-found family of half-siblings, and met his full sister too. This is the part that always gives me goose bumps: the siblings he met all said, without exception, that having him around was like having their dad back in the house. He had the same mannerisms as his father’s, he coughed like he did, he walked like he walked and he talked like he did. If that isn’t one for nature versus nurture, then I don’t know what is.

He returned to Zimbabwe with tales of his new-found family. A man of few words, he had plenty to say about his family and father and the joy of blood ties. It seemed to fill something of a hole in his heart.

Not long after that, he became ill with emphysema and struggled with ill-health for the rest of his life. He and my mother-in-law moved to Cape Town soon after we did, and enjoyed their retirement in the city nestling beneath the beauty of Table Mountain. Our boys have vague memories of their Pops, as they were both very small when he died. My older son, who was three when Pops died, told me Pops had gone to heaven and had been given a brand new body. I loved that thought.

So there it was that we celebrated Christmas in the warm sunshine of a Cape Town day in 1992. And as we celebrated the birth of the Saviour who breathed his first on that day so many many years ago, my father-in-law took his last, painful breath and we mourned. Joy and grief. So much joy and grief.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Why banking was never my bag

My father worked in the bank. As far as I know, he started out as a messenger and worked his way through the ranks to management. He retired after over 46 years of service. That’s some kind of commitment.

He never worked with technology. He poo-poo’d the idea of using an adding machine, preferring to trust his accuracy in casting the numbers manually. A bank lived and died on the quality of relationships it developed with its customers, and personal service was unquestionably its biggest asset. Customers would go into the bank to withdraw or deposit funds, would get to know the tellers and would meet with the bank manager to discuss their accounts and requests for loans or overdrafts or new accounts.

A bank manager wielded much power and my father, jokingly, would talk about meeting customers at the doorway to his office. He would welcome them, shake their hands and invite them into his office. As he took his seat, he would invite his customer to take a seat opposite him. The response would be, “Thank you, sir, but I’m quite comfortable here on my knees.”

Apart from visits to my dad’s hallowed office, I, too, enjoyed two brief forays into banking. Although I am clearly my father’s daughter, banking was never going to feature big on my horizon.

My first taste of banking was a short, holiday job I took when I was home from university. Along with a bunch of students of similar ages and persuasions, I worked for a few weeks in the musty, upstairs offices of the Bulawayo branch. I have no clue what our task was, but I do remember loads of boxes of forms and paperwork, and we had to do something with them. Watching paint dry would have been riveting in comparison.

We’d shoot the breeze as we ticked boxes – or whatever it was that we did – and we took far too many coffee breaks and watched the clock till we could take lunch, or knock off. Three weeks passed by in slow motion and, happy with the money we’d earned, we bid each other a relieved farewell.

Another holiday job presented itself during my Christmas holidays that year. The bank was hugely busy and under-staffed during the frenetic Christmas period, so they called in some extra pairs of hands. My job, strange as it was that I chose to accept it, was deposits-only teller.  With no training and some brief instruction, I took to the wooden counter like a duck to, um, treacle.

I didn’t suck at maths at school, but it was not a subject that brought me much thrill. I can do things with numbers, but I’ve never really wanted to. So taking on a job that required me to count money and balance the books with monotonous, daily regularity, seemed a bizarre way of spending half of my summer holidays. The money must have been good.

The large, gracious banking hall in Bulawayo was an architectural masterpiece from a bygone era. High ceilings, wood-panelled walls and a sweeping, wooden horseshoe of telling booths welcomed customers into the hushed heart of the bank. A security guard would guide customers to a single line where they waited for one of the tellers to become free. The telling booths were open, allowing face-to-face contact between tellers and customers. This was before the need for tellers to have reinforced, bullet-proof glass protecting them from their customers.

A second line was formed for deposits-only customers. My heart sank as the line grew daily and, as Christmas Day approached, my line dwarfed the other. It might also have been because I was slow. Heaven help me.

I had regular customers who would bring their cloth bags of loot and pour it out on to the counter: “Knock yourself out,” they would say to me. Or words to that effect.

I had one regular customer who worked in a furniture store on the next street. He would mince excitedly over to my counter every day. He would take the money out of the bag, hand it over to me, with his banking book, and then begin his daily gossip. I’m pretty good at multi-tasking but to listen and respond to gossip while I’m having to count money, record it accurately, add up all the totals and try and work out what I’m really supposed to be doing, was beyond me.

He was a delightful character, however. Always nattily dressed with hair over-styled and under-stylish, he would shift his weight from foot to foot as he trilled his long, frilly fingers together and told me what was happening behind the scenes in his store and with his customers, or where he’d partied the night before. He’d always give me an opportunity to “give the goss” from my side, but I usually looked up at him with an exasperated blank stare and wished he’d just be quiet. Fortunately he never got that I felt that way, and, once his book had been tallied and rubber-stamped, he’d twirl round and mince out of the bank like he was walking on air.

I also had regular visits from the newspaper sellers and hawkers who plied their trade on the streets outside the bank. These customers would usually have their loot tied into an old handkerchief and stored in their sock, or at least that’s the impression I got. I called those interactions the “smelly deposits”. Say no more.

One of my most embarrassing moments happened while I worked at that counter. Occasionally – like about a hundred times a day – I would need to leave my telling booth to go and ask someone what I was supposed to do in a particular situation. Or to take money to the safe. Or to fetch something. Each time I left, I’d have to make sure the bank’s rubber stamps were out of reach of the customers, retrieve my keys for the booth door and excuse myself as I went to look for some direction.

On one occasion, I did two of the three requisite things and left my booth. As I closed the door, with its Yale lock, I realised I had not taken my keys. I had just locked myself out of my booth. And I had a stranger-customer at my counter, waiting to complete his transaction. I broke into a cold sweat. I completed my enquiry mission, and then wondered how on earth I could discreetly walk into the banking hall and climb over the counter back into my booth to continue working with my customer.

For one who was not exactly a natural at telling, and who struggled most days to balance her books or do her job even vaguely well, this was a whole new challenge.

I am not the world’s greatest lateral thinker, but occasionally flashes of brilliance do cross my mind. I thought of a less embarrassing way to get back into my booth that didn’t involve pole-vaulting from the banking hall. I grabbed a chair, put it outside the back of my telling booth door, climbed up on to it and leaned up and over the top of the door – on tippy toes and probably groaning as I stretched to reach the lock – to unlock my door. I walked nonchalantly back into my booth to let my customer know what I had just found out for him.

It was difficult to maintain my dignity when I knew that the entire, busy banking hall was watching me. I tried to ignore the muffled giggles and guffaws from customers, security guards and fellow tellers. I glanced fleetingly at my watch and calculated – without the use of an adding machine – that it was only half an hour till closing time and in my mind I defied anyone to breathe one single word to me about what had just happened.

I finished with my customer and prepared to hold my breath; another customer was taking something out of his sock as he walked towards my counter.

Sunshine signing off for today!

My true colours

My hair is naturally blonde. My hairdresser works hard to make sure it stays that way. And while I do my fair share of dumb things, I don’t like to refer to them as blonde moments. On behalf of all my fair-haired brothers and sisters out there, welcome to my world of brunette moments.

I’ll start off with a London one. Some years back, my husband and I came over to the UK and Europe for a three month holiday. We had planned it to be longer and a working holiday, but it ended up being three months. Holiday? Yes. Working? Not so much.

Our time in England was spent with my husband’s best friend from school. He took us around and about, and we spent plenty of time in London, seeing shows and sight-seeing and enjoying the outrageously vibrant city that was nothing like we’d experienced before. Our friend would tell us to close our mouths, as our Africa-shaped jaws kept hanging open. We usually walked a few paces behind him, looking about and soaking everything in. We were two little nosy puppies, looking about and following him everywhere.

On one of our visits into London, the scene was as I describe above:  our friend striding ahead with local confidence, our following behind trying not to stare at everything and everyone. He turned around to say something to us but we didn’t catch what he said. When he turned to go down some stairs, we thought he had been letting us know we were going to the tube station. We followed him down the stairs and I couldn’t figure out why people coming up the stairs were looking at me strangely. Maybe we looked well forrin; that’s what I put it down to.

We got to the bottom of the stairs, and I thought it didn’t look like a typical tube station. As I took in the view ahead, I thought, “Oh wow, they even have little seats for you to sit on while you wait for the tube. Those are funny-looking, low, round, porcelain ….” and then all the blood drained from my head as I realised we had followed him to the gents’ loo. Those stairs led nowhere else. No wonder I’d had those looks. I ran up to the pavement in one leap and had to fan the life back into my lungs … I was so embarrassed I thought I was going to faint.

Another brunette moment happened some years ago BC (before children). Our phone rang one Saturday morning at 7am. That hour doesn’t exist before you have children. As is usually the case, my husband plays dead and then asks me who was on the phone. I’m sure plenty of you can relate. I jumped out of bed and answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, can I speak to Sarah please?”

“Sorry, you must have the wrong number.”

“Is that not 88…….?”

“Yes. You have the right number but the wrong person.”

I am sure that caller still scratches his head, wondering what on earth I meant. Me too.

In one of my previous jobs, I had an allocated parking space in a central city parkade. I got to know my parking neighbours quite soon and we would always wave hello to each other. One morning, I was getting out of my car as my neighbour drove into his parking. We waved and smiled at each other, and he drove his car into the wall. Gently, but loudly.

My less-than-gracious thought was, “What a dork! I can only imagine how embarrassed he feels.”

And off I went to carry on with my day.

The very next morning, he was locking his car as I arrived and pulled into my parking space. We waved and smiled at each other and I drove my car into the wall. Gently, but loudly. Karma can be a b***h.

I’d love to hear about your differently-coloured-hair moments – we’re all friends here, remember?

Sunshine signing off for today.

I’m not quite as old as Corrie

Today marks the beginning of the 50th birthday week for a huge British institution. Its official birthday is December 9, but this whole week will see drama-filled episodes, celebratory quiz shows, live action from the set and a whole lot of partying. Happy birthday, Coronation Street!

It’s been so heart-warming to see the place that Corrie appears to hold in the nation that is gripped with frost and snow, spending cuts and student riots, spy allegations and leaked documents, a beleaguered coalition government and a failed bid to host the 2018 Football World Cup. In the midst of all of this doom and gloom, the soapie that is Coronation Street continues to intrigue with its familiar, topical storyline and cast of well-loved local actors.

I’ve not watched this soapie, but I know many people who do and they love it. The celebrity campaign running on host television channel, ITV, bears further testimony to its viewership of 12 million faithfuls: stars of stage and screen talk about how Corrie has been a familiar and well-loved part of British life over the last half-century.

I understand that Coronation Street has been among the most financially lucrative programmes on commercial television in the UK and, on 17 September 2010, it became the world’s longest-running TV soap opera currently in production. Cadbury’s provided advertising support from 1996 until 2007 and I remember some years ago seeing the chocolate model of the famous street at Cadbury World, the chocolate factory’s museum in Bourneville, Birmingham.

In my teenage years, living in Zimbabwe, we became hooked on the South African soapie, The Villagers. Our Sunday evenings revolved around the exploits of the funny, gossipy and delightful characters that populated the fictitious mining village of the title. I’m not too sure how long The Villagers ran, but its successor,“Isidingo”, premiered in July 1998. With daily episodes, it continues through to today, covering topical issues and fording controversy and scandal with entertaining relevance. My parents number among their huge fan base, and they can’t bear to miss an episode ever.

Some of my friends I worked with in Cape Town were hooked on American soapies, and their evenings just weren’t the same without All My Children, Days of Our Lives, Santa Barbara and a clear favourite, fondly known as The Bold. (The Bold and the Beautiful.) One of my friends told me that when she caught a mini-bus taxi home, if she had not been safely delivered to her door by 5.30, she would jump out of the taxi wherever it was at 5.30 and run into the nearest house to watch The Bold. Everyone in her neighbourhood felt the same way, so unexpected visitors were always welcome.

So here in London, I watch with a twinge of envy as the nation cheers on its well-loved soap opera and cast of cherished, household characters. Many happy returns, Corrie! I look forward to being your age.

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

Clear as Mud

It’s snowing in London today. I went out in the snow for a while this morning, but for now I can watch the snow falling, from the warmth and dryness of our flat. It’s been a bleak late-autumn week for the UK, with many parts of the country experiencing thigh-deep snow and temperatures around -16 degrees C. Traffic chaos is inevitable.

We had traffic chaos of another kind around the time of my elder son’s birth. He was born in the summer in Zimbabwe, in the season of wonderful, dramatic, electric thunder storms. The heat becomes unbearable as the storm clouds build and, as you smell the rain coming, the huge drops fall loudly on the red soil, bringing relief and life to the earth.

My son and I had come home in the humid mid-day to a rousing welcome from the women in our neighbourhood. They all sang to us in their native Shona, ululating and thanking my husband and me for the beautiful baby boy and, as is their custom, assured me that the baby looked like my husband. That, apparently, was an important reassurance.

My parents had come to stay with us, to meet their new grandson. They were such a joy and a treasure, bringing just what we needed in unconditional love and grandparently doting.  I remember my Dad holding my baby son in his arms, turning the tiny-baby fingers over in his big hands, and saying to me, “You know, God never forgets anything.” My Mom made me feel like I was the best mother in the world, and that all my decisions were exactly right. She was by my side for the midnight feeds, cheering me on as only she can. Bless their cotton socks.

We also had a dear friend from the UK visiting us at that time. Another bonus.

The first Friday night we were home, we had invited my brother and his family to come and have supper with us and meet the new baby. A few hours ahead of their scheduled arrival, the heavens opened and the rain tumbled down in torrents. A knock on our back door alerted us to their arrival, but also to the news – from my completely sopping wet brother who looked like someone had just emptied a bowser of water over his head – that their car had got stuck in the mud on our driveway.

We rented a house on a smallholding, with a long, winding, dirt-road driveway up to our house. In the rain, the dirt became thick mud. My husband and his friend donned raincoats and went to help rescue the vehicle from the mud. My brother sat at the steering wheel while my husband and his friend tried to push the vehicle out of the mud. As the wheels spun, the vehicle went nowhere. About twenty minutes later, three men arrived at the back door – two were drenched in mud from head to toe, and one was still just sopping wet. The car was still stuck.

Sympathy was in short supply as hysterical laughter overtook us all. The three men went and scrubbed up.

Our friend was about to go out for the evening and he called a taxi to come and take him into town. My brother called a car breakdown service to come and tow his vehicle out of the mud. The tow-truck arrived about half an hour later, and it too got stuck in the mud. Our friend’s taxi seemed like it was never coming so he called to find out its whereabouts, only to be told it had turned back down our driveway as it couldn’t get past the tow-truck and the other vehicle.

At this stage, we were all crying with laughter. The tow-truck had to call in another tow-truck to rescue it from the driveway, and, given that it was a stormy night, tow-trucks were in short supply. We invited my brother and his family to stay the night, as we imagined tow-truck after tow-truck getting lodged in the mud along the entire length of our driveway.

Our friend ended up walking into town for his evening’s entertainment; the second tow-truck arrived at about midnight and managed to rescue both the other tow-truck and my brother’s car; and our new baby boy had a wonderful night’s sleep, oblivious to the chaos that unfolded around him and snug in the joyful arms of family.

So as the London snow continues to fall on the frozen dock in front of me, I smile and warm my hands on these precious memories.

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.

So this is where I learnt to speak funny

Moving country and home so often during my youth, I always worked hard to blend in. To learn the local slang. And not to sound like a stranger. Living in London I realise I have a new perspective. I’m okay with being and sounding forrin.

I like that I have a strange accent and I speak funny. I like that I say now and now now, that I say off as if it’s spelt orf. I like that I say shu and use hey far too often and inappropriately, and that when I say shame I mean sweet, or pretty much any other word that might fit into that sentence. I like that I have to explain certain words that I use that have no place in local usage, and that I have to ask the meaning of a local word or expression that I haven’t heard before.

You see, London is full of people like me. Yes, Saffas and Zimbabweans, but also people who are living far from their home, their language and their custom. So, while I don’t blend in, I blend in just fine. We all do. It’s like that in the Big Smoke.

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard the latest gossip about an X Factor contestant. My first thought was, “Sheesh, what a waster.” Which took me back to my high school days in Zimbabwe … I thought about my teachers and my friends, and how we used to speak. So allow me to take you on another trip to Bulawayo in the mid-1970s.

I went to an all girls’ high school. Moving from a small, private boarding school to a large, government school was a shock to the system. I soon settled. I always did. I had a few teachers that I will remember always.

Our English teacher, Mrs E, was a Jean Harlow lookalike. Her hair was lily white. She was meticulously fussy about grammar and the correct use of English. We were NEVER allowed to say different to or different than. It was compulsory, in her class, to say different from. Hopefully could only ever be used as an adverb and all hell would break loose if we talked about quotes rather than quotations. She was a delight, she loved her subject and, with her guidance, we all did well in our external examinations. (Not exams.)

In my early years of high school, we had ONE male teacher in the school. Two things about him were so not in his favour: firstly, his surname was the same as our school’s name. And secondly, he had a lisp. His subject was maths, which he pronounced mathth and he would regularly call us naughty goblinth and throw chalk at us. He didn’t stay too long at our school, but he did marry one of our other teachers. Bleth.

In my last two years at school, a few new male teachers joined the staff. Our new English teacher was SO cool – Mr K was his name. He would walk into the classroom and, to begin with, we would all stand as he entered. The first few times he said to us, “J***s, sit down, I’m not God.” He would then take his place at the front of the classroom, stand with his left foot on his desk, lean his elbow on his left knee, and talk poetry. Or literature. He wore short safari suits; he was clearly a fan of the King as his blond hair was expertly greased and coiffed into a snazzy Elvis flick and duck tail. He wore long socks and tucked his comb into one of them.

Our French teacher, Mr B, looked quite similar. Except his hair was black, and the grease was natural. He was always quite sweaty and struggled to push the words out of his mouth without a little spittle. Our favourite challenge was to get him off the subject, which we managed to do with regular monotony. We would feel so self-satisfied if we’d spent a double period of French learning about his exploits in the army, and giving French grammar a miss. He would protest with much saliva when he realised he’d been hoodwinked. Again.

So back to waster… here’s another mini-lexicon of Zimbabwean slang from my high school era:

  1. Waster – a good-for-nothing.
  2. Skate – at high school, our uniform was a striped dress, short socks and brown lace-up shoes and a straw boater/hat with a school ribbon on it. If we had long hair we had to tie it back and we had to wear school-colour ribbons. If you were a skate you’d wear the boater as far back on your head as you could balance it, you’d wear the shortest ankle socks you could find, you’d wear non-regulation shoes with buckles, and you either wouldn’t tie your hair back or you’d not wear ribbons. And you’d always go out every weekend and party and meet all the cool guys. Skate = a slight reprobate or rebel. But mostly in a harmless way.
  3. Hood – similar to skate but perhaps less harmless, and always male. My dad might refer to this type as a wide boy. I had a boyfriend who used to drive an old truck. He would stop outside our front gate and hoot for me. I would run out, jump in the truck and go out with him. He was a hood, but my dad used to call him … actually in that instance he used a different expression from wide boy.
  4. Tune – this verb means the same as say, tell, chat up, mock, make fun of, lie, flirt or stir. If someone tuned you, you could be angry, flattered, informed, misinformed or provoked. It all depended on the context.
  5. Own/oke – this noun means guy. I went to the disco and this oke was tuning me.

I guess that’s the end of the Zimbo lesson from London for today. There is more to come, so keep your notebooks handy. Someone once said that when the world ends, all that will be left will be cockroaches and Zimbabweans. Do you think she was tuning me?

Sunshine signing off for today!