The Oddest Christmas Ever

Several years ago, my parental agent passed away a couple of weeks before Christmas.

My Mom’s second husband. They’d only been married for four years. The love-struck couple tied the knot when Mom was 73 and Keith was 80.  The whole relationship was lovely, and we were all thrilled for them both. My own father had sadly been snatched away more than 20 years earlier, and Mom had been alone all that time.

We hoped and prayed that they’d have at least five happy years. They had four.

Due to circumstances, finances and a million other things, we had to fly home to Pretoria straight after the funeral. As a result, we could not make it back to Cape Town to spend Christmas with Mom.  She wasn’t ready to leave their home and the memories of the previous Christmases and fly up to join us either. So, Mom decided she would spend Christmas Day with her sister and family instead.

The rest of our family were either in Cape Town or scattered worldwide.

I wondered bleakly what kind of a Christmas my lovely husband and I were going to have, all alone. The first time ever that our immediate family would be apart. Our respective children were in Cape Town too. Chris’s parents live in the Eastern Cape – we simply didn’t have the finances to drive there either.

Of course, if you are with somebody you love, you are never alone, but Christmas is a time for families and sharing.

One night (I have insomniac tendencies), I struck upon a brilliant idea. Although we were a tad financially challenged, why not buy a few gifts for some poor children instead of buying something for each other. Bounced this off my lovely husband, and he, too, thought the idea wasn’t too shabby.

I had in mind buying a few gifts to go under those Christmas trees that you often see in malls. Where they are given out to needy children before the big day. But it was only a few days before Christmas, and I couldn’t find a single one. The gifts had all long since been distributed.

Undaunted, I went on a quest to find a source of underprivileged children.

After various inquiries and copious text messages, I was beyond chuffed to finally find a sort of orphanage-cum-shelter type place.

Visions of dashing off to go shopping at Christmassy craft markets for interesting stuff, lovingly wrapping them up in brightly coloured paper and depositing them under a huge Christmas tree danced around in my addled brain.

You know what they say – life happens after you make other plans.

Turned out that what the children really needed were pajamas.

Pajamas! Seriously? She had to be kidding. It’s not fun buying pajamas – or receiving them. Those are not Christmas presents. Are they?

27 children lived in that particular home, and they all needed summer pajamas.

I gulped. There was no way we could only buy half the children’s pajamas. We’d have to provide everybody with some good old PJs. The budget would be somewhat stretched, but what the heck! It was for a worthy cause, and besides, I was sure to feel the warm fuzzy glow of Christmas spirit afterward.

Off my long-suffering hubby and I went, armed with a list of different ages—ranging between 4-13. We also had the quantities needed for each age and whether they were for boys or girls. My aim was to buy them all different jammies, so they couldn’t get mixed up. To make them all feel special when they went to bed.

Turned out this dream was nigh impossible.  We trekked through the shambolic Christmas-crowded malls; to as many different shops as possible, looking for similar quality yet different night-ware. I hated the thought of one child being disappointed or unhappy because they felt that the other children had nicer stuff.

Eventually… weary and exhausted, our ears ringing with one Christmas jingle too many, we returned home. Vaguely satisfied that we had a pretty good array of pajamas.

No way was I only going to give those kids boring old PJ’s, so I made little packages of sweeties to go in with the jammies and wrapped them all up beautifully with the utmost love and care.

No names had been supplied. So, I got creative, making little individual boy and girl glittery tags with the different ages and attached them to each gift.

Then added in a few extra goodies for the adults. Christmas isn’t only for children.

All correspondence had been via email. We were given the address of the institution and had organized a drop-off time. 

December falls in the middle of South African summer. It was already one of those hot, sweaty days when we set off early in the morning – we had about a two-hour drive. Turned out the directions were a little dodgy, and only after much circling and backtracking, we eventually found the place, tucked away and eerily silent.

There was not a child to be seen.

In fact, there was nothing that even remotely looked as though children lived there at all. Not a swing, jungle gym or even a sandpit.  Nevertheless, when we rang the security intercom, they were expecting us. The matron, who I had been corresponding with, was away for the day, so we handed over the brightly coloured parcels to another staff member, and I signed a book.

I also handed over an envelope with all the sales tags and slips I’d saved. In case anything needed to be exchanged. (Had the horrors that one of the kids might get a pair of pajamas that didn’t fit them.)

There was, obviously, not a Christmas tree in sight either.

As we drove away, my husband and I looked at each other and giggled. Had we been royally scammed?  We truly hoped not. We bounced around various ideas of where the kids could have been and fervently hoped that they were all out having fun somewhere.

The warm fuzzy Christmassy feeling never did materialize that year.

To cap it all, some vagabonds stole the telephone cables in our area, and we were without landlines or internet for the whole Christmas period.  Thank goodness for cell phones.

About six weeks later, I did get a one-line email from the matron thanking us for our donation.

We made very sure that Christmas the following year was different.

The Easter Bunny that got away

Happy Easter everybody! Thought I’d give you all a giggle and share my humiliating humping bunny story…

Many years ago one of my awesome teacher friends asked me if I would dress up as a bunny and hop around the little forest that perched on one of the corners of their school grounds (it was a fabulous private school).

I would also have a basket filled with Easter Eggs which I would toss out and  “hide-in-plain-sight” for the kids to find. Then they’d share them equally in class afterwards.

It seemed like a simple task.

The due date arrived and I wriggled into the full, furry (very musty smelling) bunny suit. Ronelle pointed me in the direction of the forest. There was a gate at the far end which she had unlocked for me and a getaway car was waiting on the road to spirit Mrs Bunny off.

Ronelle envisaged that the kids would be a tad nervous and would be more interested in collecting the Easter eggs.

So I set off, merrily hopping around – feeling like a 24-carat, grade-A idiot. But hey! Anything for friends – right?  I had not hopped far when I spotted a dog.

A big dog.

I like dogs.

A lot

But I’d never really hung out with them before looking like a bunny and smelling like a dusty, mouldy old heap of matted fur. I started getting a tad nervous when said dog bounded up and started sniffing me.

“Nice doggy, now shoo,”  I mumbled through my bunny head-gear.  “Lovely dog.  Seriously… now bug off and let me do my job so I can get out of this smelly suit.

Was starting to sweat and the pong was getting more disgusting by the second.

But noooo….

Said dog liked Mrs Bunny so much he wanted to have her babies – literally. He started humping my leg.

I tried to shake him off.

He was having none of it. The harder I shook the more he humped.

By now I had an extra worry. Ronelle was going to give me a few minutes to get into the forest and hide some eggs and then she was going to let her kids out of class.  They should have just had a delightful glimpse of Mrs Easter Bunny – calmly hopping from tree to tree.

Not be traumatised for life by witnessing cross-breeding in action.

I could hear the kids chattering wildly – they weren’t far away.

I bonked the dog on the nose with the egg basket and started running.

To hell with all this hopping stuff.

The dog followed—hot on my fluffy bunny tail.

I was about halfway through the forest by now, the gate was almost in sight, but my basket was still fullish.  Stopped for breather behind a large tree.  Mr Dog grinned up at me, fangs glinting, tongue lolling, as he eyed my furry leg again.

I let rip with some choice language and once more bopped him lightly on the nose. Dashed to the next tree – heart pounding.

This was supposed to be a mythical, mystical, Easter surprise for the kids.

They were not supposed to find out that the Easter Bunny was in actual fact some old (okay – I was not so old then) auntie in a fusty smelling suit.

Started dropping the eggs on the pathway. In fact, I tossed a few at the dog in the hopes that they might distract him. What dog does not fancy a bit of chocolate? (Yes I know it’s bad for them – but I was desperate.)

But this dog was not to be distracted in the slightest.

Round about then there was a shout, one of the kids had spotted me. 

So much for them being afraid of a wo-man-sized bunny. They sprang into action and charged.

Now I had a dog a few metres behind me and kids gaining on me by the second. They were not one bit interested in the eggs – they just wanted to catch the Easter Bunny.

I decided discretion was the better part of valour, flung the whole basket over my shoulder and ran like hell. Skidded through the gate,  jumped into the getaway car – yelling, “Go, Go, Go!”

Thought I might actually die from laughing that day.

Happy Easter everybody.

Bag Lady

Up for a challenge? Only for the brave-hearted or the locked-down bored.
~ Ginny Stone

It’s day three of lockdown in South Africa. Ladies (and any men who have one-like my Uncle Rob), I have a challenge for you:

Clean out your handbag!

And… if you want to trot down the lint-lined carpet of shame, share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever social media tickles your fancy and tag it #HandbagChallenge.

Or just do it quietly and feel good.

I shall trot first, seeing as I did mine on day one.

It was shameful I tell you. My cheeks burned and there was nobody to see. I went about it very scientifically and took photos to prove just what a slobby old baggage I really am.

First, I weighed my bag with all the contents in it. As you can see from the pic, it weighed damn near 2kgs. This is something that I carry around on my shoulder daily. There’s a nice dent where each new bag fits perfectly after all these years.

Then I tipped all contents out and weighed my bag again – 402 g – all by itself.

This is what I found:

  • Cell phone (224 g)
  • Purse (289 g)
  • Kindle (262 g)
  • Water bottle (344 g)
  • 7 hair thingies
  • 3 notebooks + 1 piece of blank paper (I write)
  • 6 pens (I said I write, didn’t I?)
  • R13.50 loose coins rattling around in various pockets
  • 2 boxes of smokes + 1 lighter (don’t even smoke ffs – Emma does)
  • Spare car key for Chris’s Peugeot (in a bag)
  • Business cards (old and new)
  • Sewing kit
  • Lucky marble (Luan gave this to me when he was about 8)
  • Revolting pile of old manky tissues and receipts
  • Teensy mirror (from MTN Sciencentre days in Canal Walk)
  • Magnifying glass (for when Chris forgets his glasses and can’t read the menu)
  • Credit card pocket knife kit
  • Hand cream (13 years old – never used)
  • Lip ice
  • Mozzie repellant (thanks Toni)
  • Plasters (in a little container that Chris brought back from Belgium many years ago)
  • Assortment of pain pills
  • Bag in a bag
  • Toothpick (covered)
  • Nail files x2
  • Empty container (for when I ‘come across’ seeds in public spaces)
  • Tissue pack (clean)
  • Odd sweets – mom gets a dry mouth often
  • Torch (can’t get caught short during load shedding)
  • Paper clips
  • 1 cable tie
  • Cool puzzle that Mike Bruton gave me 13 years ago
  • Spar Saver card
  • Woolies voucher and envelope
  • Letter from Dr to go for a mammogram (2 years old)
  • Municipality bill (proof of address)
  • Address book
The contents of my bag…

Years ago, when the kids were little, my friend’s teensy daughter used to sidle up and whisper in her sing-song little voice, “Aunt Gin, whatchoo got in your ba-ag?” Back then, I used to have a never-ending supply of snacks and sweets (yes, in addition to all the same sort of crap above) that would magically appear in times of need. Now that she’s big, I wonder what she has in her handbag?

I threw away all the cruddy bits of tissue and receipts. They only weighed around 45 gm – did not make much difference weight-wise, but made one hell of a difference in volume and mankiness.

Then I put everything else back into my bag.

Now it’s your turn.

Building fences… with a difference.

Creating barriers with recycled stuff! ~ by Ginny Stone

After a quick brush with cancer a couple of years ago, the gardening bug really bit me. When we moved into our house in August 2017, the back garden was a leafy green oasis, but the front was a sea of red earth. Literally. Single handedly I converted that bare earth to the picture below. In those months, I gardened myself back to sanity. 

My social media gardening process was a bit like a remote TV series for friends and family around the world. They were quick to tag me on any interesting things that they thought I could incorporate. Some were quite challenging – but I’d change things around – make them my own and stash them in some little niche in the garden.  More on that here.

My lovely husband was checking Facebook one evening-he pounced on a YouTube video and called me over to watch it. It was a fountain for a fish pond that involved cement and polystyrene blocks that were covered with a sort of calico cloth.

Oooh! I exclaimed I can do that. I dashed off to the hardware store and bought 1kg of cement. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to make, but sure as hell, it was going to be something a lot cooler and less square.

Around about that time my step-son came home with a box of disposable mop caps – the type they use at the hospital when operating. He’s in 4th-year vet school and helps out at a clinic nearby. The hats had expired and were being chucked out. He knows me well.

Our little garden fence that hides the heaps of composting leaves looked like this. It had a lovely archway but the fence – eish!

We have trees in our garden. Lots and lots of trees which dump literally millions of leaves each year. It’s a never-ending job gathering them up but the end result compost is awesome. Figured I would fill the hats with leaves, pile them on top of each other and cover the whole lot with cement. The video said that the cement should be a wet sludgy consistency that you painted liberally onto the cloth.

Never being one to try things on the small scale first, I decided to make a new fence.

Filled up the hats with leaves and piled them precariously on top of each other. Then slopped on the wet cement. I sloshed some water into a bucket and added cement until the mixture looked sloppy enough. Note: no sand needed in this mixture.

At this point I should tell you that washing up gloves are rather useless, they break very easily, and those heavy-duty black ones only seem to come in XL and XXL. My hands are small. I went through several pairs of gloves.

I quickly realised that I did not have enough hats, and the amount of cement I’d bought was totally ridiculous. Tootled off to the hardware store and got a 50kg bag. Of course, that posed a problem too (a) how to get it out of my car when it weighed the same as me, and (b) where to store it so that it stayed dry – this was October and we were approaching our rainy season. We made space in one of the wendy houses.

I used bricks that were lying around and incorporated some plant pot-type things into the fence. Big coffee tins are useful, too.

I’d left the horizontal rail on the fence, and quickly realised that it would take forever to build it up to that level, so decided to get creative.

My daughter makes the most divine dream catchers and often uses ivy vines for the base. I did the same and covered them with calico. I dipped the calico-wrapped circles in the cement and hung them up to dry. Quickly discovered the material was not absorbant enough and all the cement simply (and sadly) crumbled off. I think the material I had was not pure cotton – more nylon-based.

Remembered I had metres and metres of weed cloth (Bidim) that I’d given up using in the front yard (involved way too much planning for my pantser gardener soul).

Discovered that the weed cloth covered in cement hardened to an almost fibreglass consistency when it dried.

I cut a supply of strips and squares of various lengths and sizes. (Somehow, no matter how many you cut, you never have enough.)

To begin with, I layered the strips onto the base and painted them with cement. This was laborious, and I quickly realised I could soak them in the cement mixture and then either wrap the skinny bits or apply the same technique as papier-mache for the larger bottom bits. You do need to do a couple of layers for strength.

I filled in the gaps with boxes and plastic bottles, stuffed bits of cardboard in-between and taped it up where necessary so it did not fall to pieces. (Sorry – I forgot to take photos after a while – it’s a messy business).

I’d ripped out most of the old fence. A mistake, I discovered, because having a few supporting structures, albeit termite-chewed ones, would have been rather useful. I didn’t make the same mistake on the other side. Wrapping them with cement soaked cloth restored them to their former glory.

As you can see, Jack, our rescue cat, did quality control every step of the way.

Because I’m compulsive and could not wait to see the end result, the first side of the fence took about three days to complete, allowing for drying time in between.

Once it was dry, I painted it all with a sloppy mixture of dark brown grout and tile bond to make sure that it was totally waterproof. Not sure that you need to do this – but the grey cement colour was ugly, and grout comes in nice colours. You can mix up different coloured grout to get different effects.

Must also say – it was a tad scary working down in this area of the garden. There are loads of spiders, bugs and other creepy crawlies that regularly came to see what I was doing. One afternoon, a large, long-legged bright green spider scuttled out of the section I’d made the previous day, whizzed straight over my foot and dashed to safety. My heart nearly attacked me.

We had some tree branches stashed from when one of our Japanese Stinkwoods had come crashing down earlier that year, and I used those on the other side, wrapping them completely in a couple of layers of cement weed cloth. Then filled in the gaps with more curly stuff. It is easier to make these first and then attach them when they are dry – also using cement cloth. Those big flat bits at the bottom were pizza boxes.

The end result is rather effective. It’s now six months old and still rock hard, has been rained on, bird-pooped on and the summer sun has beat upon it fiercely. The plants have grown in their pots and all manner of creatures hang out on it. (We just need to get the grass to grow under that tree now.)

By the way – that fence probably cost less than R500 (excluding my time).

Just to show you the versatility of this method – I then went on to make this birdbath and flower bed for the Easter Lillies that needed some space. This took a day to make. One to dry and a few hours to paint with grout. My lovely husband moaned because the bottom edges were not neat – I just covered those with soil later.

My mom bought some gorgeous purple lilies for my birthday last August and they desperately needed a pot – with all the trees, everything gets root-bound, except the irises and clivias. When I planted them early Feb 2020, they were darn near dead and down to one or two leaves. Look at them now!

This little fairy garden took an afternoon to make.

Below is an example of a pot before you slap the cloth on – junk taped together. Those tins will become separate little pots on the side with their own soil. Just remember to make holes in the bottoms.

Built the little gnome homes into the tin – toilet roll inners covered with weed cloth and dipped in cement. The roof is just a semi-circle of cementy cloth.

Covering tins is a great way to start out. Simply cut several strips double the length of the tin (not too wide) soak them in cement and work your way around the tin. (You don’t have to do the bottom. If you do – make the holes while the cement is still wet, otherwise… get your drill out!) Gives a sort of log-like effect. Mosaiced on some stones and stuff for added interest.

This was a store-bought pot that had broken. I simply fixed it with a few layers of cloth. The fire-stick had fallen over, so I thought I’d take a chance, lop it off and see if it would grow. It’s doing great.

Got gifted this palm earlier this year and it needed a pot – so I made him one. It’s doing really nicely and has new leaves already. As you can see, I built in two separate pots on the corners, so as not to steal the palm’s space but to make the pot look more interesting. We are lucky enough to have succulents galore in our garden, so I just break bits off and stick them into the soil.

Sorry if I got carried away with this blog – the hazards of being a gardener who writes, or is it a writer who gardens?

You are welcome to ask questions.

Scammy ploys

Beware of free events – you always pay!

Last week, a free event advertised on Instagram penetrated my early morning fog. It was about how to become a mega speaker/coach/author and make money. I won’t lie—it intrigued the hell out of me. No details were given as to where the event was going to be held, except for… in Johannesburg.  I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw, after signing up, that it was at Gallagher Estate. Not so far away.

I enticed my daughter to sign up too. We discussed the event, fully aware that it would involve a lot of bullshitty selling pitches but we’d learn as much as we could. We both don’t have issues with public speaking but it’s the how to get out there that stumps us.

I envisage giving talks about my experience with melanoma last year and maybe selling some copies of my book—Out Damned Spot—along the way. After all, according to CAN/SA South Africa has the 2nd highest incidence of skin cancer in the world after Australia and in particular one of the highest incidences of melanoma worldwide, as far as Caucasians are concerned.

People should care and be aware, shouldn’t they?

My ex-boss once told me that if you learn ten per cent at a workshop, seminar or conference, you’ve done well for yourself. I was planning on snatching at least that or more.

We got the odd email with snippets of information about the event. One of them said we were to dress for success. I pondered… heels? Did that mean heels? I’m not a heel-type of person.

Then a ticket for the event magically winged its way into my inbox. I briefly scrolled through it, looking for the exact venue. Gallagher Estate is huge: there are five halls, each with their own little (I use the term loosely) seminar rooms. There was no exact information. I figured it would be divulged closer to the time.


The night before, I consulted Google—it would most certainly shed some light on the exact location of the venue.

But it turned out to be an Eskom moment; no light was shed at all.

My lovely husband took pity and agreed to help with my search for the exact venue. He started with the ticket, “Scroll down, Gin. Scroll down,” he commanded.

I scrolled.

There was bloody nothing and I knew it but my eye hooked on a bit of information in small print. Roughly summarized, thou shalt say nothing afterwards about the event. Hmmm… why would that be? Wouldn’t they want a person to rave about it on social media—at least? Or is it that they don’t want you to rant?

Now Mr Foxx, I don’t want to be an author, I am one. One of the things that writers do is research. I also happen to be married to a physicist and they are professional researchers.

Suffice to say we uncovered enough information to dull the edge of my enthusiasm for the event.

Then, only after reading the enlightening stuff, I watched a snippet of the video that accompanied the event advert. The camel’s back broke. Sent my daughter a text and told her not to bother getting up at the crack of dawn, we were not going.

Spent more time pondering… if people have so much money to throw away on being coached, what are they actually trying to achieve in the first place? Call me naïve, but I was also slightly shocked that he’d pay celebrities mega-bucks to appear on his shows and then ambush them. Or pay them to say how great he was.

I was slightly disappointed but vastly relieved at the same time. At least nobody was going to brainwash me into buying stuff.

My daughter scoffed, saying that she’d have been with me and would have kept a tight rein on my credit card.

I’ll have to find another way to up my marketing skills.

The same day, I was trawling through my junk mail, checking that there wasn’t anything important when I came across one of those nasty threatening emails

I am a hacker who has access to your operating system.
I also have full access to your account.
I’ve been watching you for a few months now.
The fact is that you were infected with malware through an adult site that you visited.
If you are not familiar with this, I will explain.
Trojan Virus gives me full access and control over a computer or other device.
This means that I can see everything on your screen, turn on the camera and microphone, but you do not know about it.
I also have access to all your contacts and all your correspondence.
Why your antivirus did not detect malware?
Answer: My malware uses the driver, I update its signatures every 4 hours so that your antivirus is silent.
I made a video showing how you satisfy yourself in the left half of the screen, and in the right half you see the video that you watched.
With one click of the mouse, I can send this video to all your emails and contacts on social networks.
I can also post access to all your e-mail correspondence and messengers that you use.
If you want to prevent this, transfer the amount of $500 to my bitcoin address (if you do not know how to do this, write to Google: “Buy Bitcoin”).

Blah ad nauseam blah…

After I’d picked myself up off the floor laughing (remember I have a writer’s imagination), I felt a bit miffed that sick weasels waste time trying to threaten people with ridiculous shit like this. How many people do they catch? Are people really so paranoid and stupid? I suppose if you’ve been “satisfying yourself” you might be a bit worried though. 

Was further amused to read a blog on the very same topic this morning—Tom Kane hits the nail on the head. The only problem is, I don’t think our police would be very interested. They have bigger crooks to catch.

How many times do we have to tell you? Don’t fuck with us writers.

Marvelous Magoebaskloof

2018 was a tad tough and when December rolled around once again we woke up too late, knowing that we needed to get away for a few days to recharge, but had not booked to go anywhere. We realised we’d have to wait until early January. We live in a house with extended family and a bit of down time is necessary every now and then.

Chris grovelled around on the internet and came up with a couple of places. He called me to come and look when I was busy hefting rocks in the garden. I sighed. Really. Now?

They all seemed very attractive and we settled on The Birders’ Cottages in Magoebaskloof for two days. To be honest, I’d only looked with half an eye and was later somewhat horrified when Chris proudly announced that he’d booked the highest cottage on that bit of the mountain and forwarded me the instructions of how to get there.

Aaaargh! I hate high mountain roads. I’m not a 4×4 fan and my last experience of the rolling , lush Limpopo hills was just nasty. Nico and I got lost on the way to Penge during the roll-out phase of the heat-stress mining game and we ended up on a teensy back road with spiders and baboons.

To my credit, I said not a word to my lovely husband. Thought I’d pull up my big girl broekies and deal with it all in an adult manner when the time arrived.

We left bright an early on Sunday morning. Chris had wanted to take the byways instead of the highways, but we ended up taking the N4 anyway. Fortunately for us, the other side of the road was filled with end-of-holiday cars and our side was mostly open, apart from plenty of big ass trucks.

We stopped for breakfast in Haenertsburg, thinking we might also find a deli and stock up on some interesting goodies—sadly not, although Chris did find a little gem in the book store – a genealogy dictionary!

We drove past the turn off and decided to continue on to Tzaneen to fill up with petrol. We still had an hour to kill before the two o’clock check-in time. I peered through the driver’s window trying to get an idea of where we were going to be staying and gasped when I noticed some cottages perched precariously on the mountainside.

“Holy crap! Is that where we’re going?” I screeched in alarm.

“Um… no… I don’t think so,” responded my lovely husband calmly, negotiating the twisty turny bends of the twentieth steepest pass in South Africa.

“Hope we don’t bump into Lynne and Neil—they’d kill us if they knew we were in their dorpie and didn’t let them know,” I said to Chris as we filled up, shiftily eyeing out the people in the petrol station. I had no clue where my long-time friend stayed but Tzaneen did not look like a very big place. We had made plans to visit them for a night after our stay in Magoebaskloof.

We did our business in Tzaneen, laughed hysterically at the ‘Beware of Hippo’ sign on the outskirts and trekked back up the mountain, stopping here and there because we’d realised we only had one very tiny loaf of bread, since the deli thing had not panned out. Turned out none of the farm stalls along the road had interesting bread, but there was a place right opposite the turn off that we needed to take and we thought we’d try that.

We parked and climbed out of the car. The sound of two million six hundred and ninety seven cicada’s echoed around the farm stall, assaulting our ears. It was like hearing crickets on crack.

The place was more or less closed due to a power outage, but we did check out the most delightful little nursery attached to the farm stall. I longingly eyed out a carnation pot, but realised it was not the time to be buying plants.

“Come back and have the best coffee on the mountain!” were the dude’s parting words.

Chris sped across the highway and turned into the road leading to The Birders’ Cottages. It was nicely tarred and I heaved a huge sigh of relief—a tad prematurely. It quickly turned into a winding, twisty, grass-verged dirt road, not quite a track, but close. Gulping, as I checked out the steep inclines on the passenger’s side, I quickly fumbled in my bag for my cell phone and glued my eyes firmly to the screen.

Panoramic view that does not do this wonderful place justice!

But the scenery was so incredibly beautiful I had to look anyway.

It had been raining and the road was a bit squishy. There were some steepish inclines and once Chris misjudged and had to roll back down and start again. We’d been warned not to go anywhere near the owner of A45.3 as they had absolutely nothing to do with The Birders’ Cottages.

Chris was a bit confused. He’d originally worked out that it was around two and a half kilometres from the main road to the cottages, but we saw a sign for 4.5 km quite early on and my heart sank further into the foot well.

The road…

The cottages were well signposted and eventually we crept our way to Narina’s parking spot.  It was all green and lush, freshly washed with rain. We weren’t entirely sure how the whole key thing worked, but it turned out to be pretty simple, the sliding door slid open; the keys were on the table. We raced around the cottage like big kids, delighting in everything we saw.

River walk

Must confess I had delusions that because it was high up in the mountains it would have scary bits of woodwork with spiders lurking in crevices, waiting to pounce. Not a single one of either. There were platoons of mozzies, armed and ready to bite, but the excellent cottage owners had that one covered—tins of Peaceful Sleep stood sentry, waiting to annihilate those pesky little critters.

One of the features that had appealed to Chris in the first place, apart from the obvious attraction of remoteness and the lovely hiking opportunities, was the outside bath. My husband is a fan of baths. He can wallow for hours in our shitty little bathroom.

We both stood at the door and gaped; lying grandly in a bed of frothy greenery, open to the skies, yet surrounded by an unobtrusive wooden fence for total privacy, was a magnificently huge bath. There were bottles of Radox perched on the side and the whole thing looked like it had escaped from a magazine page.

Looks like Radox advert

We had bite to eat, then decided to go for an exploratory walk. Chris had looked at the map, but you know what it’s like with a new place, it does not always make too much sense when you don’t quite have the lay of the land. We headed off to the Waterfalls. That took two seconds (unless we took the wrong path) and so we turned tail and headed off towards the river walk. It’s like a tropical rain forest walk (not that I’ve been on one of those—but I imagine that must be similar).

We gaily traipsed up hill and down dale, delighting in the waterfall and hopping back and forth over the river. We discovered, to our mirth, when we got back to the cottage sweaty and gasping an hour later, that we had pretty much done the longest walk! A dip in the splash pool restored our body temperatures and we decided to have an early braai to avoid yours truly falling asleep at the table like I did the last time we went away.

Waterfall on the River Walk

We had a choice of braaing in the little rondavel attached to the cottage, but opted to have our fire outside. True, the mozzies did try to make off with our ankles, but I discovered some citronella incense sticks stashed in the kitchen that kept them at bay. The attention to detail in the cottages is truly amazing.

We spent most of that evening ogling the most enormous pine tree.  Okay, it’s not so big but it is immensely tall. We wondered how old it was. Chris hauled his physics brain out and dusted off the holiday cobwebs. He paced around a bit and decided it was probably not more than sixty or seventy years old. But sneakily we both figured it was really a hundred years or more.

By the time we’d eaten it was thinking about raining again.

We didn’t wait for total darkness; we ran that bath and hopped in, giggling like children at the sheer luxury of being all warm and toasty under the water, whilst it drizzled on our faces. The steam kept the mosquitoes away, although we could see clouds of pesky creatures hovering, they did not bother us in the slightest. We could see the same tall tree and resumed our pondering, accompanied by waterfall music and other night sounds. Eventually the water cooled down and it started to rain in earnest. Reluctantly we went inside.

It rained all night. I can vouch for that because I’m a terrible sleeper and despite the fact we’d had a long day, a bracing hike, good food and a fabulous relaxing bath—sleep eluded me. Chris, on the other hand, slept like a log.

It was still raining the next morning, but that did not deter the birdy choir from serenading us. I leapt up, yanked open all the blinds and generally made a fair bit of noise thinking it was time to get up. Chis blearily asked what time it was.

I snorted out laughing when I discovered it was only 05h15. We went back to sleep for an hour.

 I’m not a good gas person, so Chris figured out how the stove worked and boiled the kettle, although I pointed out later that we were a bit stupid because there was indeed an electric kettle.

“Nope!” exclaimed Chris. “They are trying to get these cottages off the grid as much as possible and we’ll go along with that.”  Apart from using the lights and one power point to charge our cell phones and Chris’s lap top we did exactly that.

Chris figured out how to get the wood-burning fire inside going and we hung around the cottage all morning, congratulating ourselves on having done the river walk the day before, just in case it never stopped raining. It wasn’t really cold but the fire added atmosphere.  We’d decided, if it stopped, that we’d walk to the main road and have some of that ‘best-on-the-mountain-coffee’ that the dude had boasted about. Plus maybe he’d have some bread. 

The drizzle finally abated around midday and we took off, fully expecting that the road would be a five kilometer hike. The air was crisp and the scenery simply majestic.  I soon realised that the road was not half as scary as I’d imagined the day before. We also gathered that it definitely was a lot less than five kilometers, more like the original two and a half.  We figured those signs were for something else, the Warrior camp maybe?

Some monkeys and a lone buck entertained us along the way.

It turned out the farm stall was closed on a Monday, but we’d thoroughly enjoyed our walk and were not the least bit disappointed—there was plenty of coffee at the cottage. Chris fried up some chops for a late lunch and we sat outside enjoying the bird life.

They are not called The Birders’ Cottages for nothing. There are literally hundreds of birds flitting around.

I had a nap. The rain held off and we had another braai for dinner

The next morning I giggled wildly when I saw all the paraphernalia on the sink in the bathroom. Ice-cube tray, the whisk and a wooden spatula!

“Sheesh Chris, if anybody saw this they’d think we’d had some kinky session last night.”

In actual fact, I’d used the spatula to mix the hot water with the cold in the bath—the wood-burning geyser is extremely effective. Chris had whisked up the water to make bubbles, and we’d thrown ice-cubes into the bath to try and cool it down enough to get in. This time we’d also taken a bottle of ice-cold wine, instead of the red wine from the night before.

We’d lain there scheming how we could possibly have such a thing at home. Eventually the prognosis was not bloody likely—if the family didn’t spot us, the neighbours would, or the birds would poop on us for sure.

I’d posted a pic of the outside bath on Instagram the day before, an author friend, Julia Blake, had commented “That is something I’ve never ever done and I’m so British I’m not sure I ever could bath outside. Or is it just I know my luck. I’d be lying there and some tourist will blunder in who took a wrong turn back down the road, oh, and they’ll also know my mother.” I tried to explain that was not very likely in this particular place. By the way, her latest novel, The Forest, would be the perfect book to read in such a place.

It was one of those clear crisp gorgeous days, and for the first time, we saw the sun. We decided to go for a pre-breakfast walk and took the Valley View path first, a steepish hike through a majestic Yellow Wood forest, but doable for a city dweller like myself. The view was totally worth it.  Chris and I are not big selfie takers—as you can see —but we did have a go at taking one up there.

Then we trekked along the Yellowwood path. It was wet, squishy and a tad spooky in places with sun glinting on mossy boughs and spider webs. As a keen amateur gardener I kept pointing out plants to Chris that we have in our garden, but they are about a tenth of the size. The lushness of the vegetation has to be seen to be believed.

On our way back to the cottage for breakfast and a shower, we were treated to the brilliant sight of a Knysna Loerie pecking away at the top of a tree.  I must add, my lovely husband has since downloaded the Roberts Birds multimedia app for android and is becoming a bit of a birder in our own tree-filled garden!

We left our lovely cottage on Dragonswyck Farm just before 10h00 and had an interesting episode on the drive to the R71. Coming around a bend we encountered a dude in a smallish truck—probably on his way to stock up with avocados, seeing as it is avo country. Chris hugged the side as much as possible. The dude kept on driving, making ‘get-out-of-the-way’ motions with his finger, indicating that we should climb further up the side of the road. Chris tried, he really did, but it a steep bank and we only have a Tucson not a freaking tractor. With not a glimmer of a smile, the dude inched his way past us, so close that Chris had to twist the side mirror in to avoid it being snapped off. Not the friendliest of locals—we assumed he belonged to A46.3.

On our way down to Tzaneen we took a slight detour to the Debageni Falls and dunked our feet in the crystal clear pools. There were very few people around, but there was evidence that the place had been heavily populated over the holiday season. I damn near had a heart attack when I stood on a long green water snake on the way in, and thereafter kept a wary eye out on everything in case it wiggled. We later found out that they are not very common little critters and we were lucky to see it.

A lovely relaxing afternoon and evening was spent with our long-time friends, Lynne and Neil, in Tzaneen. They were most impressed that we had finally managed to visit, after empty promises for more than five years. They live on a beautiful smallholding and their litchi trees were dripping with fat juicy litchis. We did not hold back—they’re my favourite fruit in the whole world and I’d never eaten them straight off the tree before. Our timing was perfect because the fruit pickers came the next day and stripped every last dangly bit of fruit from the trees.

Funny how small the world is, we discovered that one of their sons was friends with the owners of The Birders’ Cottages and he had just made a charming video for them.

After plundering Lynne’s stunning garden—snippets of exotic stuff like air plants, bromeliads, ferns and lilies—early the next morning we hit the road and took the long way home via the Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window. Three provinces in one day: Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng!

We left home early Sunday morning and returned at sunset on Wednesday, only three days away, but our souls and spirits were restored, ready to tackle a new year.

Must say I was a tad disappointed when Chris sent me an email a few days later with info pilfered from his new bird detection app. I’d been envisioning that Trogon and Narina were dragony names, seeing as the farm’s name is Dragonswyck. Being a writer with way too much imagination, was busy plotting and planning a story based on the farm involving fiery beasties.

Turns out that a Narina Trogon is a very pretty bird!

Fuel for my dragon imagination!

You CAN see THE FOREST for the trees!

The Forest by Julia Blake.

Often, while reading a book, one fondly imagines that you’ll write a review the moment you’ve finished, because it’s so damn good and you know you’ll be sorry that there are no more pages to turn – you want to let the author know that you simply loved their book. You’ve been living in their world for the past few days and when you close the cover, harsh reality kicks in and you think Well holy shit! I don’t want to go home yet.

But then somehow days pass, you start reading something else and all good intentions fly out of the window. Shameful really, because we all know that reviews are very important to writers.

So this time I thought – why not start writing the review whilst I’m actually still reading The Forest.

One of the things I adore about social media is that you get to know fellow indie authors as people, and so their books seem more real, if you know what I mean.

I’ve read quite a few of Julia Blake’s books – except the poetry – I’m not really a poetry fan (which is a tad bizarre seeing as most of my Sibo books are written in rhyme). I loved Becoming Lili – could related to that story on so many levels, except for having pots of money that is. Lost and Found had interesting twists and turns  as did the Book of Eve.  In fact, my far-away friend Marie aka Mum the Owl is currently slumming it in Jamaica as we speak, which is where Eve starts and finishes.

If we did not have our own divine beaches and booze in South Africa, I’d be sorely tempted to hive off to Jamaica and I know my lovely husband would not mind sampling their rum.

What I’m saying here people, is that if you have not read Julia Blake – get up off your ass and go find her books because they are fabulous reads. (Oh. Wait. No need to get up – just click the links.)

Back to The Forest… it’s one of those ye olde thyme tales that you can’t help  reading to yourself in a spooky voice. A measured, even-toned, mysterious voice, if you get my drift.  It just begs to be an audio book (not that I’ve ever read… erm…. listened to an audio book but I can imagine this as one).

You know something shitty is going to happen, but she’s drawing it out and making you wait. But not in a boring oh for sucksfake get on with it way. Definitely not.

Am desperately hoping that nothing happens to Ruben, but then I feel sorry that Jack has had such a crappy life.  I want to shake the shit out of his moping father.  As for that bitch that works in the store… I’d cheerfully wring her smug little neck.

Crap – I’ve just realised I won’t be able to post this whole thing on Amazon – so will have to write a blog instead.

Am supposed to be working, have a million conference-related things to do, stories to compile in the gratitude anthology, not to mention my own book ‘Out Damned Spot’ that is sitting sighing in my laptop, waiting patiently to be fixed after the lovely EditElle knocked it into shape and gave me such positive feedback. But instead, I’m about to sneak off to the loo with my kindle and get further engrossed in  The Forest.

Blake is so darn good at describing her characters. After a few pages they become real people in your head. None of those wishy-washy dudes that lurk around some pages- those ones that irritate the living pooh out of a person, and not in a good way.

The other night I saw the name Sally on one of my social media sites and thought ‘Oh yes! I must be friends with Sally.’ Then realised what a wally was I  because the Sally I was thinking of lived in a book. Felt rather flat because Sally is actually somebody I would enjoy being friends with.

Okay – I’ve finished the book now and it was a fabulous read. Can’t tell you any more otherwise I’ll be spoiling things. Just know that it’s one of those holy shit ones that I talked about right in the beginning. Go read it. Okay!


Flirting with Cancer – Part III

This was the little blob that started it all.

If you’ve started the journey on this blog – you might want to start at the beginning – otherwise it might not make sense.

By now my nervous levels were amped and darting all over the place. Was in full  corny joke mode and started chatting to my ward neighbours. Did not get to torture everybody for too long because another dude pitched up.

Show time.

Said good-bye to Chris and watched nervously as we tootled off into the lift and ascended into a part of the hospital I’d never seen before.

Pre-op. It was chilly as hell in there. A nice dude came and tucked a warm blankie-type thing around me. Stopped me shivvering – not sure if it was from the cold or with fear.

Several other people popped up waving forms around, checking my signature, was this mine? Was I sane and of sound mind… huh? Was I ever? Asking questions about nail polish and false teeth and when I last ate. Was I wearing the sexy undies? They gave me another pair of bloomers (okay not really but looked a lot like them) to put on my head.

The anaesthetist was running late and had not pitched up yet. 13h00 came and went. There was a giant-sized clock on the wall so I could see each minute ticking away. At some stage I pulled the bloomers down over my nose and shut the shitty world out.

I so badly wanted to get this whole freaking thing over with.

Eventually the dude pitched up, apologized for being late and the show got on the road. Apparently they like to double check that you are not talking shite and have not lied to the nursing staff. Really? I mean if you do something stupid like eat – it’s your life on the line. Who does that?

A beefy orderly wheeled me into the upstairs bowels of the operating area. Chilly as hell became even chillier.  We arrived at the venue. I had to scoot onto an icy slab and feel that I was in the middle – I guess they did not want me rolling around and falling off mid-op now – did they?

There were three bright lights above and it was fucking scary.

My doctor loomed into view. I’d already had a jab of something to make me drowsy and the dude had said sometimes people got truthful. Not me. I just started bitching about how his useless receptionist had booked me for a boob job…

Next thing I knew a nurse was tapping me telling me to wake up.


Everything throbbed and burned and hurt like shit. Tilted my head to check that I still had my whole arm and hand. (Yes really – I had been very worried that they might chop it off in my sleep – stupid hey? Chris laughed like a drain when I told him.)

She asked if I was in pain. Fuck yeah. Took a million years for her to scome back. She rolled me over and jabbed me in the bum. That was sore too.

Lay there looking at the same big clock and realised I’d just lost more than an hour and a half of my life, as well as bits and bobs of body.

Eventually they wheeled me back to the ward. When my eyes lit on my lovely husband they filled with tears and leaked down my face.

My mouth felt like a thousand camels had trekked through it – was finally allowed a sip of water – 17 hours later.

Every little movement hurt like hell. Chris sat there and held my good hand – beaming love and support into my bod.  Feeding me with sips of water every so often – it’s a shite feeling when your teeth stick together!

Eventually they brought me supper – at some ungodly early hour of the afternoon. I took one look and decided perhaps not but slurped down some  shitty hospital coffee though that tasted fabulous.  We waited eagerly for the doctor to appear and give me the all clear to go home.

He arrived, greeting me with “How are you. Sore? I supposed that’s a silly question!” I replied – Fucking silly question! Can I go home now – with some industrial strength pain killers and a sleeping tablet please??

But noooo…. he thought it would be a much better idea for me to stay the night in hospital and my ridiculous husband agreed with him. Better pain control and the nurses could monitor stuff.

Did you ever!

Did not have the strength to argue. Besides I was attached to those voluminous blue knickers – was not ready to hand them over yet. Okay – I lie – was too sore to even contemplate putting clothes on and walking any distance. So I wimped and agreed to stay the night.

Chris went home, promising to bring me pizza (which I had bizarrely been lusting after) for supper later.

I dozed. The pain was quite interesting – and I have a very high threshold for pain. There was a feisty old lady in the corner bed – who was a survivor from the camps in the Second World War. She kept telling the nurses interesting stories and the other two ladies in the ward and I eavesdropped unashamedly.

Chris Whatsapped  later and said he was on his way back to the hospital. I texted furiously back and nixed the pizza- a ham and cheese homemade sandwich would be just lovely. True, I’d been lying there in bed, drooling for pizza, but could not for the life of me figure out how I was going to actually sit up and eat it without dripping greasy stuff all over the bed – besides – both arms were sort of incapacitated. One with a drip and the other with a chopped out forearm section and goodness only knows what was going on under my arm. I had yet to see. There was a drain too with an interesting looking concertina type thing attached to some tubing… attached to me.

In fact – I had no arms for the blood pressure thingy – they had to use my leg.

It should go on record – that was THE most delicious sarmie I have ever eaten.

I finally convinced Chris to go home and sleep. He’d had a horrendous day just sitting around worrying about his pain-in-the-ass wife. He was beyond exhausted.

Got doled out two pain killers and a half a sleeping pill around 22h00. Thought yay me – for once in my life I will sleep. Not so. Was awake again at 01h30. Mind you – it’s not very peaceful in hospital. They are always waking you up to poke and prod you and stick things in your ear.

Next morning finally arrived –  woofed down the breakfast that the other two ladies looked disparagingly at. It was totally delicious. Chris pitched up bright an early – after all the doctor had said that he’d release me when he did his early morning rounds.  Early my backside! He took his own sweet time.

Everything was still sore but bearable. The drain was removed, the hole covered up and I saw that there was an enormous track that had been cobbled up under my arm. I later found out – when the doctor removed the stitches, that they had removed the entire lymph node under my arm. That part of the operation was very much bigger than the excising of the melanoma bit.

Later that night, when I stripped and got into bed, I found this was still attached to my back. We had a good laugh and Chris peeled it off. The wound under my arm was incredibly uncomfortable. The next morning when I showered, I was horrified to discover that the whole of the back of my shoulder and arm was completely numb. Except for the bit  above my elbow where it felt like it had pins and needles – sort of.

Apparently this is normal and it takes 3 to 4 months to get the feeling back. A bit of warning would have been nice.

Waiting for the results was just horrible. Everybody was telling me to be positive – but it had not occurred to me that the mole could have been a melanoma in the first place – and I’d been incredibly complacent. So I was not going to make that same mistake. Was cautiously optimistic.

We’d been told he’d give me a call on the Wednesday or Thursday. Life went on and I started driving on Tuesday (the op was the Friday before). Mom needed pills. I do confess, that when I had to go back to the shops on Wednesday because Clicks had messed up mom’s pills and she’d not checked – I had a meltdown. Stomped into my GP’s rooms and demanded to know what had happened to the histology report – who had screwed up and then promptly laid my head on the desk and wept. Then fled . (Called Chris and told him that there should be a support group for people who had to live with their 84 year old mothers, damn near broke my cell phone with all the snot and tears.) It’s not always easy. For any of us. But mom not having her license makes it a little harder. Had to take her a PS- I’m sorry choccy the week after and apologize. At least the waiting room had been empty because I had let rip with some choice words.

On Thursday – 6 days after the op, I emailed Miss Thang at “My doctors” office, reminding her to remind him that he was supposed to call me with the results. Par for the course there was no nice little reply back. She has absolutely no people skills at all.

The doctor called a few hours later and gave me the all clear.

Chris brought home champers that night and we all celebrated. Well not quite. It had been very stressful on everybody – tippy-toeing around a person who was branded with the dreaded C. Once I got the all clear, Emma fell to pieces and had a hissy fit. I could understand it.

On the 4th of June (3 days late because the dude went on holiday – check out the lovely professional emails). I had the stitches out of both places. My arm looks pretty good – specially if you look at it from above. From the side it looks a bit like a lop-sided camel.

8cm of cut!

The place under my arm is not half as neat. Think whoever sewed that up was practicing to be an upholsterer. In fact, I’m sure they used the opportunity to check out the insides of my elbow with the gamma camera whilst they were grovelling under my arm. Or that’s what it feels like, anyway.

The entire month of May 2018 was filled with stitches, worry, panic, more worry, jubilation, pissed-offness and being incredibly thankful that that I got the all clear – well – put it this way – that particular node was clear.




Flirting with cancer – Part II

If you missed the first bit of this dastardly cancer journey – start here.

The 18th May finally arrived. D day.  I’d set about 6 alarms because I’d been sleeping unbelievably badly and sometimes fell dead asleep around 5ish. We had to be at the hospital at 07h30.

Not being allowed anything to eat or drink meant no coffee. But the furries still needed to be fed.

It was one of those crisp wintery mornings where everything smells of a brand new day – with a hint of exhaust fumes.

There were only a couple of people at reception and so the booking-in process was a doddle… except for the fact that I noticed – after they had already printed 60 stickers – that the Medical Aid member code was for Chris and not myself. We groaned – perfectly sure that this was going to cause plenty of hassles later on.

Turns out all my doctor’s patients get put in the gynaecology slash urology ward. We were given directions how to get there.

Fuckydoodle! I thought to myself as I saw what number bed I had been assigned to – really – number 13?  You’ve got to be kidding. I want another bed.

But no – 13 it was. Seemed pathetic to make a fuss and ask for the bed by the window. (Those are the best spots – by the way… if you ever do have a choice.)

The nice sister pitched up with a gajillion forms and a receptacle covered with a crackling baggie. She pointed to the bathroom – samples were needed. It’s hard widdling into a bottle when your hands are shaking.  I got weighed and measured. The nurse oohed and aahed over my lovely weight.

Chris sat next to my bed feeling very much like the odd man out in the ladies ward. I offered him the choice of breakfast at Wiesenhof but he declined.  It was warm in the ward after the brisk chill of the morning outside and I shed layers of clothing including my boots and made myself comfy sitting cross-legged on the bed. It was going to be a freaking long time to 13h00 when the op was scheduled.

Two seconds later a dude pitched up with a wheelchair. I was needed in nuclear meds.  Somehow I had fondly imagined that another nice nurse was going to pitch up with a needled full of toxic stuff that would be injected into my veins… not so.

No really… I protested – I can walk. It was, however, not an option. Hopped back into my boots and into the chair. We were half way down the corridor when I asked if I could take my book. He sighed – yes – I could have my book. So I leapt out of the chair before he could object and started running back… a few steps away I stopped and said – well could I have my phone too – else how was I going to be in contact with Chris. Double sigh – clearly he realised this was going to be a high maintenance patient.

Chris saved the day and dumped my entire handbag on my lap and the journey began again.

Down the passage (back the way we’d just come) and into double doors marked “nuclear medicine”.  My trustworthy driver parked me in an empty section and departed. I gave my name to the receptionist and pointed out that the number on the sticker was wrong. She rectified it – for their section anyway.

I sat, heart thumping. Not knowing what to expect.

I should mention here – the answers that I had gotten from “my doctor” were sketchy and not really satisfactory – but I’d decided it wasn’t important – I could surely find all the information I needed on the internet. Turned out this was not the case. I was frantically messaging my friends from iThemba LABS days – asking how it all worked – and trying to figure out what the procedure exactly entailed.  How did removing or biopsying a sentinel node work. What did it involve?  There was loads of info on certain things and absolutely nothing on others. The best I could come up with was this really scary video the night before the op. Then I really panicked. Have no clue if I was just  a crappy Googler or if people don’t tag with the correct keywords – but I was unprepared to say the least.

A nice lady came out and introduced herself. She asked me either when, or where, I’d had the mammogram.


My chin dropped onto my knees. Gobsmacked! Really? I was supposed to have had a mammogram for this op? WTF? Nobody told me.

Never – was my reply.

She crossed her arms – a bit shocked.

Well… how do you know you’ve got breast cancer then?

The receptionist nodded. Yes – you’ve been booked in for breast cancer nuclear meds.

I exploded – that bloody woman had fucked up again. Seriously! (According to the receptionist it was not the first time either. Apparently she was new.) I didn’t care what she was – I was really miffed.

The nice lady had to go off and recalibrate her machine or whatever it is they do – with the correct dosage of nuclear meds. I sat there fuming. Imagine if they had not had the right meds available and the whole thing had to be postponed again because of one person’s stupidity.

A few minutes later I was ushered into the inner sanctum. A snazzy white gamma ray camera was the focal point.

Oh. Right. Fabulous. Nowhere in any of my googling had this little baby shown up. (I snitched this pic off the internet – leave a message below if you recognise it and want some credit – I’ll happily give it.)

She explained that she was going to inject either side of the now-non-existent mole. The meds would travel up my arm and land up in the sentinel node – or something like that.  I dutifully handed over my arm.

She foofled and fiddled and rearranged things for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then positioned me under the gamma camera. The box like plate with the camera came down close to my face – actually it touched my nose at one stage but I objected and it went back up a few millimeters.  She was really sweet and kept checking that I was comfortable. I had a fluffy thick blanket covering most of me – thought it was a bit over the top in the beginning but turned out it was necessary in the end.

I’m going to leave you here for 30 minutes – she said.

OMG! Really – 30 minutes – lying still. What happens if my nose itches or I want to sneeze. Sneakily slid my eyes over to the monitor to see if I could interpret anything on the screen. Nada. Wickedly wiggled my fingers on the injected arm to see if it made a difference. There was a little star burst on the screen a few seconds later. Tried it out again – but then there was nothing – must have been a coincidence. Got eye ache after a while and retreated into my head. This whole episode was going to be blogged. I started then.

The 30 minutes passed in… well… 30 long minutes. Time does not fly when you are not having fun. It drags.  My jersey sleeve was all wrinkled and was pressing on my elbow bone – it had started to hurt like hell. Was a relief to be able to move again.

The relief was short lived.

She wiggled me around some more and horror of horrors – zooted me further under the camera. My whole head was now under the plate-like box thing. It was even closer to my head. Thought about panicking… then gave myself a strict talking to. How old are you Virginia? 12? Buck the fuck up!

Closed my eyes. It made the claustrophobia worse. So opened them again. The floaters in my eyes drifted off to the side of the plate – out of sight. Hey! Come back – I thought. Play with me. But no – they disappeared. Meanies.

Blinked a few times to see if I could conjure up any more. Nothing. Ho hum… what to do?  I am not a person who likes just lying around doing nothing.

Picked a spot on the plate and disappeared into my head again. The blog blanked – so I retreated to my happy space – a Chris De Berg Concert that my lovely husband had treated us to earlier this year – the one where he touched my hair (no really – he did – but you’d have to read the blog to find out how it happened).  Replayed every single song that I could remember in my head – bitching to myself when I could not remember the words.

That bout thankfully did not last 30 minutes. I was told to go and sit in the reception for 40 minutes and rub my arm a lot – so that the nuclear meds could reach the node under my arm pit. (Don’t think my circulation was that fabulous at that stage.)

I scuttled off on shaking legs and texted my man. He’d come and find me as soon as he’d finished his breakfast.

Breakfast! Jeez – was not hungry but would have killed for coffee.

In the process of the nuclear meds imaging, I had gleaned another little gem of information. The gamma probe that my doctor was going to use to grovel in my lymph node was broken (that could also have been why the op was postponed – but why the hell didn’t the dilly woman tell me that) and so the rep was coming out with a new probe and was going to demonstrate to my doctor how to use it… ON ME!

Holy shite! Was starting to feel very nervous about this whole operation. Chris and I agreed we might need a discount if this was going to be a learning operation. Literally.

The second bout in nuclear meds was not too bad – or too long – thankfully. She drew under my arm and stuck plasters on the blobs – apparently this would enable my doctor to find the node – somewhere in that region. She also told me that she would be there – during the operation to provide information or help interpret the scans… or something. I was relieved – at least they would not be lopping off my boob or anything.

Chris and I grabbed the blanket off the wheelchair and opted to walk back to bed number 13. By now it was around 11h30.

I’d been handed the pictures. In a sealed envelope – with my doctor’s name on it.

Back in the ward I was given the hospital garb to don. That sexy gown with the open back and the ever sexier knickers. Went off to the loo and stripped.


Bit crazy really because the ward’s warm but the toilet’s freezing.

Put the gown on – wrapped the ties completely around me and considered tying them under my boobs. Refrained.  Put the knickers on.  Clearly the wrong way round. Took them off again and put them on the other way.  Took them off yet again and gave them a shake. Maybe I’d used a leg hole for the waist… hmmmm…  fell around giggling in the loo – WTF?  Could have fitted three of me in that one pair of bloomers.

Zooted back to No. 13 and leapt in. More forms needed to be filled in.

After the nurse had departed, Chris picked up the envelope and held it up to the light. We could not see much. But my lovely  husband is not a genius for nothing – he hauled out his cell phone, flipped on the light and positioned it behind the envelope. We could read everything. Of course, it didn’t make much sense to us, but at least we stopped feeling excluded.

By now my nervous level was sky-high and darting all over the place. Was full into corny joke mode and started chatting to my ward neighbours. Poor Chris was doing the cringy thing again.  Did not get to torture everybody for too long because another dude pitched up.

Show time.

Read how it all works out

Going Nuts!

Jack, Gemma and I swished through the carpet of fallen leaves this morning, on our way to the bottom of the garden.

Our destination…  the pecan nut tree.

Off to gather nuts.

Round about this time last year we started looking at houses. The very first house we went to see had a gorgeous garden. Having lived in a complex for more than nine years, after a cursory look inside my lovely husband and I made a bee line for the leafy green area outside.

Crunch crunch went something underfoot. I raised an eyebrow at the estate agent.

Pecan nuts, she replied.

I looked at my man… we must have this house.  And so we bought a pecan nut tree!

Of course, by the time we moved in a few months later, most of the pecan nuts were finished – just the odd solitary one clinging to the bare branches above.

We watched and waited with baited breath. Slowly, but indeed surely, the bare branches turned to leafy green boughs. Teensy green bud-like things eventually appeared. These  too grew slowly, oh so very very slowly.

The first few nuts fell early in April. We pounced on them. However,  green nuts do not taste so fabulous. After a few weeks the quality of the nuts that dropped improved – they ripened to perfection. Fresh off-the-tree pecan nuts taste beyond divine.

The washing line is down by the pecan nut tree and I had this stupid little OCD thing going on in my head – every time I went down there – I needed to come back with a nut, or three, or maybe even four.

Slowly the coffee tins in the kitchen overflowed and bags of nuts were dispensed to people deemed worthy of sharing in our bounty.

This week, the end of May 2018, we had rain – twice – not really what you’d expect when it’s almost winter in Pretoria.

It rained nuts too. Literally. Not one, but two 500ml tubs were filled to overflowing on one single gathering.

This morning Jack, Gemma and I braved the elements and went down to the tree to do a nut inspection.  Gemma immediately snagged a pecan nut and weaseled her “worsie” way under the Wendy house to crunch her loot. (We inherited Gemma the sausage dog with the house. She’s fond of pecan nuts – although unlike her previous owners, we don’t feed her vegan food – so she’s not as hungry as she was last year.)

Jack and I were in mortal danger – the nuts were crashing down around us as we gathered. Jack, in his usual catly fashion, was leaping around trying to catch them as they bounced around on the ground.

We’ve had conversations before about being smacked on the head by a plummeting nut. In fact Luan (aka vetboy) offered to hurl one at me, which I not-so-politely declined. Am sure one would feel a bit like Chicken-Licken when the sky fell on his head.

Spot the nut?

Collecting nuts is a bit like spotting wildlife in the bush. They lie nicely nestled amongst the leaves – camouflaged. Often a bump underfoot indicates that you’re standing on one that’s been sneakily lurking in plain sight.

Isn’t that enough to crunch it – you ask?

No. It’s my test for the ones that feel suspiciously light (usually indicates they’re bad).  A healthy nut does not crunch under my weight on the soil.

Of course it’s compulsive and one’s eyes search further and further afield. This resulted in my getting a boot full of Gemma poop the other day – also camouflaged amongst the leaves.

This cold, wet morning I piled our muddy bounty onto the garden bench.


Jack jumped up and looked at me. Like really? You’re just going to leave them there? Alone? He started pawing at the nuts – sending them zooting around the wet planks, whizzing back down to earth!

One can always count on Jack to assist – no matter what the task.

And all the while we were supervised by our four resident hadedas at the other end of the garden.

Hadedas supervising.

A tad frozen, we returned inside to write this blog. Once again Jack pitched in. He jumped onto my desk, tracked muddy paw-prints all over the place (the mouse is still making nasty scrunchy noises as I move it). He then proceeded to note his comments on a piece of paper next to my laptop.

Jack’s contribution to the blog.

He washed himself, ordered pizza from Domino’s, then curled up and went to sleep in his usual spot… my “In tray”.

Every now and then the cracking sound of a pecan nut hitting the corrugated iron roof of the Wendy house has him extracting his head from his bushy tail and sleepily starting at me – wondering if he should go off and investigate or not.


Jack orders pizza.

It’s just the pecan nuts Jack, I tell him. Nothing to worry your furry little knickers about.

He tucks his head under his tail again and goes back to his twitchy slumber.