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The recipe for banana loaf says 45 minutes preparation time, and 45 minutes cooking time. Wrong on both counts.  More like preparation time 3 weeks, cooking time more than 1 hour.

It all started when we had 3 vrot bananas.  So I hauled out the old favourite – Magdaleen van Wyk’s ‘Complete South African Cookbook’.

The recipe called for 2 eggs.  That was the first problem.  We aren’t egg eaters. So eggs got put on the shopping list and the bananas got turfed. Two weeks later we had more vrot bananas and eggs.  We have liftoff! Except that by now, Mr Muffin had polished off the 120g butter.  So butter goes on the list and the vrot bananas go into the bin.

Sunday night arrives.  Lovely time to bake while watching ‘Strictly come Dancing’ on the side.  Vrot bananas, check. Three week old eggs, check. 120g butter, check. 1 cup sugar. Oh heck. I used the last of it in the latest bird feeder mixture. So sugar goes on the shopping list, and I raid the pantry for caster sugar. Success! The flour, despite being 6 months old, is weevil-free, thanks to bay leaves.

The bicarb is not so lucky though.  I had no idea weevils fancied bicarb. The mind boggles at the digestion ramifications – of the weevils, that is. Seeing as the recipe called for 5ml, I took a leap of faith, fished out an apparently uncontaminated teaspoonful, and dissolved it in the required 65ml water.  It didn’t froth, as I expected it to. Oh well.

I sallied forth and mixed everything as instructed. All went well, except for the moment when the mixer toppled out of the bowl, switched itself on and spattered banana batter over the cookbook, kettle, toaster and fruit bowl (ever tried wiping a pineapple?). 10 minute break in proceedings to clean up the mess.  Time for a glass of wine.

I am pleased to report that the olive oil variant of Spray and Cook works well for the ‘pour the batter in a greased loaf tin’ part of the recipe.

‘Until done, about 45 minutes’ is very optimistic.  I pierced the loaf with a batter-spattered knife after 3/4 of an hour, and it came out very wet.  It took a few 5- and 10-minute stints in the oven (and another glass of wine for me) before said knife came out dry.

Despite all this, a delightfully moist loaf has been produced.  And in the time it has taken me to write this, Mr Muffin has gobbled half of it.  Now I’ll let him read about its origins…

I still find it hard to believe that a simple question I asked on the blog over four years ago has grown a life of its own.

On 4 June 2007, I asked David van Wyk if he had heard of Luka Jantje. Much discussion followed (all the posts are under blog category ‘History’), and as a result, several descendants from both sides of the Langeberg Campaign have commented on the various posts, and have been able to contribute in a very small way to ‘Luka Jantjie – Resistance Hero of the South African Frontier’. It all came to a head when the publisher, John Aldridge, found the blog in December last year.

When I held my own copy of the book for the first time last week, I had a little cry. For my dad. He would so have loved to have been part of these discussions. But he died in February 1995, sixteen years too early.

There has been an incredible sense of serendipity throughout this whole project – as far as the blog is concerned (and for Kevin Shillington it seems, from what he writes in his prologue). The moment one thread dried up, another would start. It’s almost as if the ancestors have been prodding us to take it further. And they started prodding over twenty years ago:

My dad’s letter to the Albany Museum, dated 4 April 1987*:

The museum’s response, dated 21 April 1987*:

Another letter from the museum, dated 27 April 1987*, in response to Michael Searle’s query on the same matter:

I’ve just noticed that Micheal Searle and my father used the same post office. They probably lived close to each other, yet neither knew of the other’s existence. But I digress…

The book was launched in Kimberley last week, as part of a 3-day conference: Resisting Colonisation: The Northern Cape Frontier 1850-1900. Many of the Setswana chiefs were there, including Luka’s descendants. I have heard that it was wonderful to be part of the whole experience – plenty of interesting information in a great atmosphere.

And now the book is being launched in Cape Town – tomorrow! At the District Six Museum Memorial Hall. If you can make it, it’ll be great to see you. I’ll be the one with the camera, all bug-eyed in wonder at being surrounded by so many clever people.

*If you can’t read the letters, and believe that without this information you won’t be able to sleep tonight, let me know and I’ll transcribe them in the comment section. My pleasure.

Broken Keyboard

At least two novels have been published in English that did not use the letter “e” in the main body of their text. One was an English translation of a French novel that didn’t use “e” in its text. So this challenge ought to be simple, no?

Write 25 to 50 words that tell, show, or evoke a complete story of any kind, on any subject, entirely in English… without using the letter “e” even once.

One entry per author. No charge for entering.

Deadline: 11:59 PM Eastern Time, Wednesday, August 31, 2011.

Hyphenated Words: If the hyphenated word is generally considered a single word, it counts as one word. (Like “twenty-five” or “jack-o-lantern.”) Otherwise each part of the hyphenated word counts separately.

To submit an entry, use the SECOND contest shown on this link? (it’s beneath the main contest) and follow the instructions. If you don’t already have a Submishmash account, you’ll be prompted to make one.

.oOo.

SCIENCE FICTION

“It’s a UFO!” was all around town. “Such a light at night isn’t common, so high up, swaying, sashaying.”

Paul sat still, smirking. Fabric and wood and string out of sight in his room. His flying oil lamp was a triumph.

HUMOUR

I’m standing, waiting to pay. Mr Muffin is nagging for chips and biltong and sugary cooldrinks. I say no, it’s bad for him.
“Want a bag?” asks shop assistant, Thandi.
“No thanks,” says Mr Muffin, thumbing my way, “this bag will do.”

MEMORIES

A photo of a smiling child on a swing is on my windowsill. It’s of a young Dusty. It’s not particularly good, as my dad’s shadow is in it. Prompting us that, although not with us, dad’s always part of our days, still living, knowing, capturing our moods.

FAMILY MATTERS

- Mum, I’m marrying my cousin, David.
– You can’t.
– It’s not that uncommon nowadays.
– David’s not your cousin. David’s my son.
– What?
– I was drunk, long ago.
– Oh God. No.
– What?
– I’m carrying his child.

The Ashtray

He flinched as the ashtray hit the wall behind him, creating a kaleidoscopic constellation as the shards scattered across the room, caught in the early morning sunbeams.

“Why did you do that?” His nostrils flared, white. “You know I wanted it.”

“You don’t even smoke.” Her lip curled as she spoke. “You only want it because you know that I want it.”

“That’s crap, and you know it.” He stepped gingerly over the debris, towards the broom cupboard. “I wanted it because it reminded me of special times we had. We had. Together.”

“Oh spare me.” She turned and blocked his way. “Leave it. I’ll clean it up.”

He watched her take out the dustpan and brush, aware of the telltale twitch in his jaw. He took a deep breath, and waited. Waited for the rage to subside, waited for the rage to be overtaken by the grief at the inevitability of their separation. The helplessness and hopelessness that was now so familiar, enveloped him like a shroud, and he felt the tears pricking behind his eyes.

He cleared his throat and she looked up at him. “What?” Despite her anger, she was still so beautiful.

“Nothing.” He turned away, knowing that whatever he said would unleash a fresh torrent of vitriol. What had he done to turn her into this monster? He thought back, and remembered. And the memory made him give a wry smile, He snorted. It was the ashtray. That very same ashtray that she was now sweeping into a crystalline pile at his feet.

John and Angela had given it to them as a housewarming present, and they’d argued about it even then. She wanted to put it on the coffee table, filled with those hideous marbled eggs her mother gave her each birthday. He wanted it for the pub. Where it would be used . Used by his mates when they came round to watch the rugby and play darts.

In the end, they compromised. He could use it if he returned it to the lounge table, washed and odorless, afterwards. Sometimes she even joined them in the pub cheering and jeering at good and bad play alike.

He’d only used it about four or five times, when he dropped and broke one of her precious eggs, while he was transferring them to a Tupperware dish for the evening. She had gone ballistic. Whatever he said had incensed her even more, to the extent where she’d stalked out, slamming the door on the way to her mother. He’d bought one that looked much the same, but she wasn’t to be consoled.

Since then, she hadn’t allowed him near anything precious, claiming he’d break it. He took it. Took all her abuse and bitterness, because he loved her so much. But it wasn’t enough. It was like those eggs were her children. Symbolic of the children they couldn’t have, because her own eggs were shrivelled, from the chemo she’d had as a child. The more he tried to get close to her, the more she withdrew.

It had all come to a head this morning. He’d woken at 5, and unable to sleep, he got up, and started cleaning the kitchen, quietly, so as not to wake her. By 6.30, he was dusting in the lounge, waiting for the freshly mopped kitchen floor to dry, so he could make her a cup of coffee. He’d puffed up the cushions and was running the duster over the coffee table when she came into the room.

“What are you doing?”
“I was up early, so I thought I’d clean up.”
“Why?”
“I thought it would be nice if we could go for a walk on the mountain, instead of being cooped up inside the flat, like every other Saturday.”
“Oh, so I keep you prisoner, while I clean up your mess?”

It had gone downhill from there. By 7 o’clock, just when the sun was dancing with the dustmotes, they’d become embroiled in a vicious row.

For the first time in six years, he fought back, matching her insult for insult, knowing how he was hurting her, unable to stop himself. She’d threatened to leave, and he hadn’t tried to stop her, like those other times. But she didn’t miss a beat. She started listing what furniture she’d take with her.

He retaliated. “Don’t forget your eggs. Take all of them. Bloody useless dust collectors. I’ll keep the ashtray.”

She froze.

He knew he’d gone too far.

He flinched as the ashtray hit the wall behind him, creating a kaleidoscopic constellation as the shards scattered across the room, caught in the early morning sunbeams.

A new thread of correspondence has arisen from my blogs on Luka Jantjie*.  It deals with medals and badges relating to the Bechuanaland Field Force, and in particular with the Lang(e)berg Campaign.

WordPress does not permit the posting of pictures in comments, so I have created a new blog in response to Robin Scott, who commented on 29 January and later emailed a photo of the badge to me:

Robin does not know the history of this badge, but perhaps one of the readers of this blog may be able to help him.  Robin, perhaps you could sign up to one of the websites dedicated to badge collecting, like this one.  There are a lot of knowledgeable people on these sites and they seem like quite a friendly bunch too.

John Aldridge responded to Robin’s query and emailed a picture of this badge to me:

Interesting to note the different spellings** for the same campaign.

John has also been researching memorials to the men who fell in the Bechuanaland Campaign, and has discovered virtually identical memorials in Kimberley and Cape Town. (St George’s Cathedral).

Bechuanaland Field Force Memorial

We are currently investigating the possibility that there is another one in Grahamstown. Does anyone know of any other, similar, memorials in South Africa?

*In earlier blogs, I have used the spelling ‘Jantje’, but have since discovered that the correct spelling is ‘Jantjie,’ with the ‘i’.

**On a lighter note, my maiden name was also subjected to various spellings.  Once, I was asked to spell my surname, and responded, “Cooke, with an e”. A few days later I received a letter addressed to Miss Koek.

Can someone develop inertia?  It sounds a bit like reversing backwards.  Well whatever it is, I’ve got it.

When my mum died, my happy pills kept the black dog at bay for the first few months.  Its departure was replaced by an emptiness, a desire to do nothing.  So that’s what I did.

Now, twenty months later, mum’s boxes are still littered around the house, their only movement being from the spare room to my study when Clare came to stay for a few weeks.

Each time I open a box, I am assailed by memories and doubts.  How can I disrespect my mother by throwing away her memories, her cherished possessions?  So instead, I spend hours on Facebook, playing stupid games, surrounded by boxes.

The only thing that motivates me is a deadline.  So, in the last year, I’ve performed, directed, designed and built more sets than ever before.  And while I’m doing it, I love it.  But when I get home, I go straight to the computer and kill vampires, harvest crops and hunt for treasure.

Then, last week, I was chatting to a friend whose mum died late last year, and she remarked how, since then, she’s had no desire to work in her garden.  She despairs at how bedraggled it looks, remembering how much she used to cherish it.  She wasn’t very impressed when I started smiling, and was even less impressed when I laughed at how many boxes she’s got in her spare room…all filled with her mum’s belongings.  What’s more, she said, all I want to do is read.  And even then it’s only because I’ve got to get the book back to the library before due date.

Sound familiar?

So we’ve come up with a plan.

Each week, for two hours, we’re going to take turns visiting each other.  The visitee will decide on the highest priority – emptying boxes, weeding or clearing out cupboards.  The visitor will comply and be rewarded with tea and chocolate biscuits.  Or red wine, if we’ve done really well.

I went to her house yesterday.  It was great.  There’s a long way to go, but it’s a start.

Who knows, I might even be able to empty a box or two myself before she comes around next week…

Ordinary People

Earlier this year, I saw a production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 2005 play, ‘Improbable Fiction’.  It’s not often that an audience claps during a scene, but apparently the following passage elicited applause every night:

Brevis:  Being on the internet proves absolutely nothing.  I tell you the internet is probably the biggest repository for junk, rubbish and useless information ever known to the human race.  Every lunatic opinion, every crackpot theory …

Clem:  It’s an opportunity for ordinary people to express what they feel.

Brevis:  Exactly.  Ordinary people.  I’m sick to death of ordinary people, you know that?  What do you think makes them ordinary, Clem? They’re ordinary because they don’t have any original opinions of their own.  They don’t have a single interesting thing of any importance to say.  And now we’ve got that bloody internet thing, they’re all saying it.  What’s worse, they’re all talking to each other. Exchanging their batty views.  They’re proliferating, breeding ever fresh lunacies.  And, as a result, the whole world, the whole of civilisation is spiralling down, down, towards the lowest common denominator, till we have people like you, who have never even heard of John Buchan.

And yes, the irony of quoting this piece is not lost on me.

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