Small Towns

On our recent roadtrip to Joburg and back, we went the "back roads".  Cape Town to Calvinia, then up to Britstown where we joined the road to Kimberley - from there to Joburg, and back the same route.  It was a lovely quiet road, with things to see on the way and no excessive trucks, roadworks or other kak en drama.

We passed through many small towns on the route, some were lovely, and some were simply dodgy.

One of the dodgiest was Britstown (coming in a close second behind Wolmaransstad).  Driving in on the "back road", you turn left to head to Kimberley, and fuel is to be found on your way out at the end of town.  We stopped there to top up, and were immediately accosted by beggards old and young.  They were insistant beggars, made the stop very unpleasant.

On our way back, we headed past our turnoff to the other side of town and found a much nicer, cleaner and friendlier fuel place - but again, beggars everywhere, insistent and pushy.

While filling the tank I got chatting to the young man wielding the nozzle about life in his little town.  About water, weather, how crime is down and he doesn't want any city folk moving in to spoil that.  And about the beggars.  He told me that they are doing road upgrades in the area at the moment, but that once these were done, they would be back to very high unemployment rates once more.  These guys were just the tip of the iceberg.

I cannot stop thinking about that conversation.

How does one go about fixing unemployement, hopelessness and lack of viable future for the residents of a small town isolated in the middle of a crossroads to nowhere?  There are only so many employment opportunities to go around - the garage, the shop, the school - that's about it.

And yet the homes are in need of repair and painting.  The roads could do with fixing in the "suburbs" that we turned through to get back to our exit route.  They don't have the water problems of the Cape despite being in an arid environment - supply and demand is balanced by the relatively limited population.  They're the middle stop on a long road, whether you're heading North, South, East, West or somewhere inbetween.  They're the only town for the nearby farming communities.  They have a boutique accommodation farm a few km out of town.  They have all the vastness and stillness of the beautiful Karoo region.

Surely there should be some encouragement to make the most of these?

Is it a case of no-one knows where to begin?  No entrepreneurial spirit that ferrets out opportunities for service and income?  Laziness - easier to beg than to work?  Or is it that you have to have money to make money, and the unemployed have too little to even start?

So I went looking online for answers as to what was being done. 

And found the usual.  A conference where institutions and charities had gathered to discuss, to make bullet points, to do presentations - and nowhere in all their reports from 2016 could I find a single practical resolution as to what precisely they were going to do.  Not a single indication as to one concrete step that was given to one of those institutions or charities to go out and DO.

Instead they sat around and talked about it.

And those communities are still living with excatly the same problems.

I would love to have the means, the time and the experience to go gently into a place like Britstown, sit with and listen to its residents and hear what is right, and what is wrong about their town.  To find and inspire people who can find and inspire other people, and turn it from a dodgy, begger-ridden hole to the kind of place its people can be proud of.  Not to change its inborn small-town character, but simply to give it hope.


Thought struck me this week.  My mother was my age when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She died ten years later age 56.

Stress and hormonal changes approaching menopause may well have been contributing factors.

I'm living with both of these right now. 

It may be time to pay better attention to my health.

Grind to a halt

100 years ago, inventions and innovations were in full swing.  Think of all the major steps in flying, driving, technology, household goods and office machines etc that happened then - there was simply a gigantic surge in stuff being discovered, made, tweaked, and lightbulb moments.

100 years later, we seem to have ground to a halt.  Every now and then someone comes up with a brilliant new invention or discovery, but most of the new stuff today is merely reworking things that are already discovered, shining them up, and adapting them for a slightly different market.

So where have all our inventions gone?  Why are we not making leaps and bounds, given the incredible wealth of info, collaboration, networking and knowledge every single one of us has access to?

I think it's because we've literally ground to a halt.

When was the last time you were so UN-busy that you had time to sit down in peace and quiet, and finish a thought train.  Or endless hours available to experiment, create, try, or mistakenly blow something up?

Nope, we don't have that luxury anymore.  Instead of all our inventions giving us more time to expand our horizons and delve into becoming richer human beings (both materially and in depth of person), we spend our time running around after the numbers required to keep up with the Joneses, or simply keep bread on the table.  We herd ourselves into cramped accommodation and follow the crowds hither and yon.

A lack of invention?  The daily grind has ground us to a halt.  There are no science labs included in your hours-long commute, there are no libraries and a comfy chair at the office.  Kids are kept running from one extramural thing to another instead of being left to wonder, explore and discover where they fit in to the universe for themselves.  Adults work, sleep and eat.  Leisure time is spent in collapse or distraction, not doing something profoundly meaningful or important.  And that leisure time is limited to mere minutes, hours, or a day on a weekend.

I wonder what would happen if we collectively claimed back our time and our lives ...


I must be getting old.

I don't see the point of Virtual Reality, when you can have Real Reality instead.

I start raising an eyebrow when the majority of the population spends all their time on their devices, oblivious to the world around them.  I don't get the quest for the latest upgrade, the brag-right wars of brands, or the bigger and better (or smaller and better).  I especially don't get their price tags.

I look at our neighbouring "professional gamer" and wonder why anyone would want to spend their days sleeping / do a 3am Burger King every night / live in a virtual hole with a computer and a bed but not much else.

Neighbours having a party?  By 11 I'm hoping they shut up and go to bed.

Reckless driving?  Nope, I'm becoming the speed-limit-sticker-to, who gives you the evil eye if you drive like a doos.  (Though I do ensure I get up to that speed limit at a respectable pace, with due consideration for others on the road)

Night out?  Less noise please, more quiet eclectic experiences - no doef-doef or dragging yourself home drunk as the birds start chirping.

Night in?  Preferable.

I'm watching my health, what I eat, what I drink, how much I sleep.  I'm choosing natural over artificial, whether food, medicine or just living.  Dumbing down my preferences to the purest and simplest forms available.  

I'm getting more and more cynical about the whoring habits of one of our friends, the religious habits of many of our friends, and the quest of most of the planet to integrate themselves with things that track them, call them, watch them, and do stuff they should bloody well be doing for themselves.

I'm valuing the handcrafted, the lasting, the lost-art living skills more and more.

I'm increasingly concerned about our planet, our resources, and how to be self-sufficient.  I may just hit a stranger one of these days for littering or leaving the water running.

I'm developing strong opions on things that didn't used to matter - but have also learnt to keep my mouth shut.

And I'm really looking forward to retirement.

Age - not just a number

You've seen them - the old folk moving their book closer and further, trying to find that focal point where they can read, and hoping it's not somewhere beyond arm's length.

This morning, that was me.  Not a book, but an attempt to re-thread my sewing machine needle.  And realising that it wasn't as easy today as it was a few months ago.

Quite frankly, it's scary.

But I'm starting to understand that there are some things creeping up on me as I grow older that I may not necessarily be able to do anything about.  And that these things can effectively kill stuff I wanted to do when I "retire".

Take the eye thing.  I recently invested in a 2m length of fine silver wire to play around with, to make something delicate and cool out of.  Delicate and cool means it's going to be small, intricate work.  And I fear that I actually won't be able to see to do it.  Which means all the other small, intricate work I had looked forward to doing is also going to fly out the window.  And that'll I'll instead have to learn to crochet like Granny did.  At least you can do it without having to see clearly :-)

Then there are the increasing aches and pains, loss of flexibilty, and tendancy to start a day with good intentions - but tire out by lunchtime.

Yesterday, that was me.  Beautiful Spring day, full of potential.  Got going at a decent hour, worked enthusiastically through the first few tasks, and then started petering out around lunchtime, and ended up feeling so tired and ill by 2pm that I had to go have a lie-down.  I guess I get to look foward to afternoon naps as an elderly.

The aches and pains?  I'm still trying to do everything I did 10 years ago, but finding it a little harder.  I have wrecked veins in one leg thanks to work position, work boots and work activities.  That leads to the kind of varicose veins that burn, ache, and cause you to get out of bed instead of sleeping in on a weekend.  Arthritis.  Yup.  Have worn my hands out and am now on "chronic medication" with a bit of help from natural ingredients. 

OK, I'm not ancient.  I'm somewhere around 46-ish (after 40 it's difficult to remember exactly how old you are without having to calculate it..).  Maybe I'm just worn out?  Maybe when I "retire" and live a bit more gently, eat properly and get enough sleep, these will all go away?

Hell, I hope so.


When you fly, the first thing you encounter is the Safety Speech.  Exits there and there, lifejacket under the seat, oxygen mask above.  And please put on your own mask before assisting other passengers.

For most of my life I've been putting on the other passenger's masks first.

I think perhaps it stems from my Christian upbringing (I'm not faulting it, merely observing).  There's a distinct servant-ministry thought pattern underlying all Christian actions.  Serve others before yourself, put others first, turn the other cheek, wash their feet.  All good intentions, but it's ingrained at times to a point of self-detriment.  More so if you're the "weaker sex", who is subject to the Biblical interpretations of "submit yourself to your husband" and other random verses that give clear advantage to males, husband or not.

Add in a set-in-stone patriarchial society.  From day one as an employee in a male-dominated work environment, I very quickly realized that women are still in a "seen, not heard" position.  Opinions don't matter, pay is lower, and how dare you attempt to change anything!  Instead, your place should be in the kitchen - but we'll tolerate you in the workplace as a secretary or something if you don't make any waves... In the meantime, there's the kettle - go make coffee.

Even in my mid-40s, as owner of two companies, many customers will ask to speak to the men and ignore me.  I even recently had a female customer call in a male to check my work...

These factors have probably built up the habit of putting on other people's masks first I mentioned above.  I find myself giving up my own comfort, my own opinions, my own plans so that others can go first.  I spent many years basically starving myself so the rest of the household could eat when times were tough.  And it's a mentality that is very very hard to shake.

But something changed recently... 

I caught myself reading about an old friend's ambitions online and wondering how I could help to make them happen.

And then I realized that they're old enough to bloody well make their own dreams happen. 

For that matter, I've been helping too many people make things happen over the years and in the process I'm shrivelling up, losing out, weaing out.

It's time to become just a bit more selfish.  To get my own oxygen before I give it away to others.

Will it change overnight?  No.  Will I still spend a lot of time being a people-pleaser?  Probably.

But it's a start.

Survival instincts

I'm truly thankful for the way I grew up.  I wouldn't have known half the stuff I do today if it were not for the circumstances that shaped me.

I grew up in Rhodesia during the "war years".  Spent my first 12 years of life there, then we moved to South Africa.  I probably experienced things many kids today in your average civilized society wouldn't.  The death of my friend's parents in a hacked-by-terrorists attack.  The warning siren going off for anti-terrorist drills in primary school - so scary to a kid that small that I'd be frozen in place by fear and have to be dragged off to the safety of the walls under the windows where we were made to hide, or the inside passages of the buildings out of sight.  The sounds of mortar attacks in the hills near our home at night.  Finding spent (and not so spent) bullets in the bush.  Other friends who narrowly missed being blown up, because they got up to get something from the bedroom instead of staying sitting in the lounge - and on whose cotton farm we rode around in armoured vehicles.  Yet I saw the "tame" bits of that time compared to many I know.

The things I'm thankful for though were interwoven with this existance.  War led to scarcity and sanctions, things you couldn't find in the shops, creative determination and alternative plans.  Which is why I know how to make peanut butter from scratch.  Flavour flavourless TVP (textured vegetable protien) granules into something edible. And that a certain garden flower's stems taste exactly like rhubarb when cooked.

I was the daughter of a pastor who regularly ran large evangelistic campaigns.  So I know how to silkscreen, how to make a meltable film template for the screen with a craft knife, how to create the screens for each layer of colour, and how to blend colours when you squeegie it.  Also not to breathe in the fumes for too long in an enclosed space.  I know how to operate a slide projector, and somewhere in the back of my brain are instructions for weaving film into a reel-to-reel projector.

I helped my uncle work a manual printing press once or twice - I know how to ink it up and place letters, then turn the paper through it to create the magic of words on a page.  In late primary school I worked holidays at a publishing house - I've handled ticker tape messages (though they were phasing out rapidly while I was there) and sorted more printing letters.  Another holiday job was at a pharmacy - I've done sales and cashier work.  A third was stacking shelves in a supermarket - I know about stock levels and rotation.

My mom taught primary school in an age before photocopiers.  I know how to make a gelatin copy template in a baking tray that will give you at least 10 pages of slightly purple writing before you have to craft a new one.

I know how to make a foofie slide.  A teepee.  A rope and tyre swing.  A fort from elephant grass. I know that some reflective silver paint on water pipes rubs off on you when you use them as climbing apparatus and bridges through the veld.  And that always carrying a rope and a pocket knife on your 12-speed bike will get you places others can't go.

I know that you can run into a pack of hyenas and not be eaten.  I've learnt not to let a gas stove explode (repeatedly) next to your one-man tent, and that running from buffalo bare-foot through patches of duiweltjies is not a good idea.  Nor is leaving tomatoes within reach of the monkeys while out.

I know that wild waterberries are edible.  What Marula fruit tastes like fresh off the ground.  I know how to cast a rhino footprint in plaster of Paris, and that one should not get too close to such beasts..  

I know how to hide a tea-chest of semi-precious stones into the cavities of a car (watched a man do it in our back yard, then leave for parts unknown).  I know that tourmaline, marble, vast slabs of mica, quartz, emeralds and tigerseye could be picked up by just walking around in certain areas on a friend's property.  That the driveway of my great-aunt's house was perfect for picking out copper slag.  And that there was a stream in the Drakensberg where you could grab fistfuls of agates.

I know how to make a conglomeration of vases and containers out of bamboo, decorated by burning patterns into it.  I know how to do "one stroke" flowers and leaves, how to make chalk glow in the dark, and how to paint with copper powder and glue on black velvet to create this:

I can track animals in the bush, I can whistle on an acorn lid.  I can shoot a crab at a reasonable distance with a pellet gun.  I can ride a horse and milk a cow.  Row a kayak and drive a 4x4.

I know how to grow food, I know how to read the weather.  I can bake bread from scratch, make pasta from scratch (thanks to a real live Italian lady and a half-length of broomstick), turn most fruits into jam, cure olives, make cheese, I'm even qualified to can a tuna. 

I can operate a microscope, manipulate an agar plate, and mix chemicals without killing anyone (came close once).

I can do basic woodwork and own both a sewing machine and overlocker - yes, I can use them. I can solder and if pushed I could weld - just not as beautifully as my grandfather has for longer than I've been alive.  I can wield an angle grinder (under supervision apparently).  I've seen buildings built, foundations propped up, walls stacked in stone.

I have written for a magazine, for a business or two.  I can play the piano (thanks dad, and church song services..).  I used to be able to sing.  I used to be able to langarm (dance).  Some things are better left to youth...

More recently I've become skilled in climbing towers, terminating network cables, securing and aiming antennas and splicing fibre optic strands.

You may look at me and think there's not a whole lot to me.  That I'm just another human trundling along on the surface of this rolling planet, a boring middle-aged chick.  But I got skillz!  And somehow I know if you dumped me in the middle of nowhere, many of those will kick in (probably quite randomly) to make me a pretty damn good survivor.