I have just made a long-distance phone call to a person very dear to me, somebody who has known me as a child and adult. Somebody who is trying to pick herself up off the floor, after being flung there by life.
She tried to rise again on her own, without telling anyone of her distress or of her mess. Until she just had to reach out for love and support. Which duly came. In many forms and from many sources and with great abundance. She is not alone. And she is not alone in this. And she was not alone in getting it wrong. She is getting help. And she will be fine.
I never thought I would tell her this but, when we spoke this morning, I told her of the six weeks I spent in my London flat many years ago, six weeks spent almost entirely in bed. Unable to get up. Unable to rise again. Unable to ask for help. Until I did. I embraced change. And the learning. Learning to be kind to oneself. Learning to be one’s self.
Learning that our perception of the expectation of others is not our truth. Learning to be true to our self. To be ourselves. To be nobody else but ourself. To honour our own needs, our own wishes, our own dreams. Our own bodies. Our own minds. Our love for self. I am still learning this.
I read somewhere recently that “no matter what value we put on ourselves, there ain’t nobody else who is going to come along and raise that amount”… or words to that effect. We are all worth far more than the value we dare put on ourselves, our lives, our love.
When I was young, my father would often pack us all into the Ford Cortina (with round rear lights and tailfins) on a Sunday. And we would head for the ocean. Nobody had picked up on my astigmatism then and I would lie like a descaled and reddened crocodile in rock pools, with my begoggled eyes slightly submerged and, sight magnified by the refraction of sunlight on the water’s surface, watch the tiny fish flit about and the crabs beady-eye me from their shadowed nooks. Boy in a bubble. I wear glasses now. But no roadtrip in Lucille is complete without a snuffle around South Africa’s magnificent coastline. To submerge myself in the sights and sounds and sand and salt. And, while seagulls skirl overhead, to lie meditatively in rock pools. On my back. Like a seal. And drift off… and be washed away. And washed.
My “Out of The Hat” column, first published in Stanford River Talk, the quite extraordinary little local newspaper that serves (and I mean serves) my village – April, 2013.
I STEP out of the shower I share with large frogs, even bigger spiders, any size and number of exquisitely hand-painted moths and and am immediately enveloped by the heat once more.
Sipping the dark, bitter remnants of last night’s sweet, black tea, I feel the mountain-dew breeze diffusing through the fly-defying mesh of the screen door and on to my chest, prickling my still-damp skin with it’s early autumn cool-creep.
The vista from my front door is the same, as always. In that is is constantly changing. The aimlessly scudding clouds, the groping, gripping mist and the love of the light all conspire to create new mountain edges, resketching a familiar landscape in my mind. Doves clatter inconsiderately through the leaves into the tree, just outside my wonky gate, where they have chicks to feed.
It doesn’t say much for humankind when a stray dog is buried alive in the grounds of a school. And when this cruel act was carried out on the orders of the school’s principal, one wonders what message this sends to the children being educated under the supervision of that principal. Who then sacks the school cleaner who dared to alert an animal welfare organisation to the plight of the dog.
It does, however, say a lot of the compassion of Bukelwa Mbulawa, the humble cleaner and sole breadwinner of her family who is in sufficiently in contact with her conscience to blow the whistle on her heartless colleagues.
And it says a great deal about the good works of Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha that they are doing everything in their power to heal the crippled body and traumatised mind of Warrior. Hats off to Jane, Gemma, Daryl and all of the others at Mdzananda who perform miracles daily with limited equipment to save countless township dogs which don’t enjoy the comforts of your or my lucky Fido.
My friend Helen, who has volunteered to help Mdzananda, and I went out to Khayelitsha yesterday to give some assistance… and to check on the progress of Warrior, the brave dog which has thrown the spotlight on how animals are often treated in the hard environment of South Africa’s townships…
This is Warrior. She's now in very good hands... but she is in bad shape and has a long way to go. She barks in terror whenever a stranger approaches her cage...
Let's zoom in on the eye of a Warrior. I'm sure you will see the distrust, the pain, the fear of a dog which was buried alive. Simply because its presence annoyed a man in power, a man who is a role model for the children he is responsible for educating.
Warrior barked in terrible fear when I went close to her cage. Vet Gemma says she doesn’t trust males…
... but Helen, who has a beautiful way with dogs, had a chat and managed to calm her down.
Warrior is, of course, not alone. Countless dogs lose limbs after being knocked over by cars in the township. And this little guy is just one...
Geordie, a pointer-ridgeback cross, is another who was run over. He faces life on three legs but has a gentle temperament and loving nature.
Gemma tells me that is almost impossible to rehome dogs with just three legs. There is a stigma attached to owning dogs that don’t have the full complement of limbs.
Go on. Say it. "Aaaaah..." And, "ag shame!"
So, when Helen was done doing a full makeover of the clinic’s charity shop and I had held dogs firmly in place while Gemma treated their wounds, we went off to do a “mobile” at a squatter camp. There we helped with giving the community’s dogs their routine injections and rounding up those which are taken away in a cage-trailer for sterilisation…
Helen fell for this cutie-pup...
... while my job was to squirt two shots of deworming muti into the mouths of a legion of hounds.
All the while, we were watched intently by the children, happy that their pets were being kept healthy…
And I somehow knew that this little character would provide us with a comedy moment…
And he didn't disappoint!
This is how caring for the health of animals in townships looks…
And Helen and I can’t thank the team at Mdzananda enough for allowing us the opportunity to help in some small way… it was a humbling and rewarding experience.
They - and the animals they treat and save - need your support...
There are, of course, many distinctions to be drawn between people who somehow exist in the city and those who live the life of Reilly in the countryside.
I lived in inner-city London for 13 years. I loved it. Then. I have now lived in Stanford for the past six months. Stanford? It’s OK. Reasonable question. Twenty-three kilometres the other side of Hermanus, Hatpeople. If you’re coming from Cape Town. Which you will be. Unless you live in Vermaklikheid of iets. Which you don’t. So don’t argue with me. Because I’m irritable.
I’m touchy because I’ve been looking after a friend’s house in Cape Town (while she swans about the shifting sands of the Namib with her man) for the past week. It’s noisy. It’s over-populated. It’s discombobulated. It’s nincompoopulated. It’s smelly. Too many cars. Far too many people. Too many airs and disgraces. Not enough air and graciousness. Too many millions of refrigerators humming around my eardrum. It’s kak.
As you may well know, there are myriad top-notch brands that are just gagging to be associated with the fredhatman.co.za success story.
Every morning I wake up to an inbox chock-a-block with offers of free suites at premier hotels, free dinners at top-rated restaurants, free round-the-world cruises, free clothing, free wine, free i-Pads, free tickets to absolutely everything, including VIP invites to glamorous international parties jampacked with supermodels, and the occasional offer of a free smack about the head from somebody very upset about something I’ve written.
These super-brands want “visibility in the most desirable market segment”, the exposure that will “fit their profile”, indeed the “insane coolness” that would come with being associated with South Africa’s only “diagnosed SA-positive” blogger.
But I don’t roll like that. I’m a country blogger. I get the shakes when I leave Stanford for longer than two hours (to go shopping in Hermanus). So when I received an offer to engage freely in some “land art” here in Stanford, I jumped at it.
I went down to the river to meet Leli Hoch and Andrée Bonthuys, who run these “art in nature” sessions, and local artist Sanette du Toit Upton, whose work I have admired at the Stanford Galleries Art Cafe.
We were told to “try to get as one with nature, see everything as a piece of art and collect things to make something that will express whatever it is you want to express”.
With the issue of our press freedom being under threat gnawing at my mind, I was immediately drawn to the piece of a Cape Times’ front page I found littering the wandelpad. Then I saw a piece of red plastic cable that seemed almost to form part of a plant with red flowers.
Ah, I could make a noose from which I could “hang” the Cape Times, I mused. Symbolic of a possible execution of a free South African press.
I found a clearing partially surrounded by bush – a “village square” – and got to work. I’ll show you what I made.
Hardly a work of art, you may say... but it speaks to me Pic: Hatman
OK. So that may be seen as an interpretation of what might happen to our press freedom if the government’s Protection of Information Bill is not resisted with our every ounce of strength.
But, while I was creating my little masterpiece, I felt something else bubble up within me. My motive for wanting to create a symbol of the public hanging of South Africa’s press began to shift. It became – and it was deeply emotional for me – also a need to bury my past, my 25-year career in newspaper journalism.
Attaching a piece of newspaper to a noose and hanging it from a branch stuck in the earth stirred up feelings, old resentments, and I found myself stabbing small “bullet-holes” in the paper, burning the edges of the Cape Times front page and tying a length of blue twine I had found earlier tightly around the body of my soon-to-be-lifeless newspaper career.
Whoo! This exercise had taken on a whole new meaning for me. I was putting to rest two and a half decades of my life in the world of newspapers. I felt no anger, just a calm determination to finish what I had started. And then I felt relief, an inner peace, a release from the weariness of battles fought with editors more enamoured with indulging the wishes of advertisers and politicians than with meeting the needs of readers and the public interest.
But my work was not complete. I went in search of flowers and the material with which to make a rudimentary cross. I wanted to pay my respects to the corpse of my newspaper career. It seemed like the right thing to do. Once this was done, I felt a huge sense of release.
The others found me in deep contemplation and speculated on the intensity of what I had made. And then we walked back up the river to examine their work.
Sanette du Toit Upton's beautiful artwork Pic: Hatman
The afternoon had been a wonderful exercise in how to create something beautiful and meaningful from what is available to us in nature. And I was very moved by what “land art” had given me, an opportunity to express and release something that I didn’t realise was impacting so profoundly on my life.
* Leli Hoch (of Stanford Valley Farm) and Andrée Bonthuys (of Baardskeerdersbos) give half day, full day or weekend land art workshops. They offer sessions on demand along the Klein Rivier in Stanford and along the cliff path in Hermanus. For more details, and to book, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / 072 622 3456 or email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org / 082 350 0253
* If you scroll up to your right on this page, you’ll see a big fat badge saying something about the 2010 South African Blog Awards. I’ve entered your “diagnosed SA-positive” blog into three categories: Best New Blog, Best Personal Blog and The Kulula Best Travel Blog. I wouldn’t be at all offended if you clicked on that there badge and nominated http://www.fredhatman.co.za in any of these categories (be sure to type in your e-mail address on the blog awards site for your nomination to be registered). In fact, were I to amaze all of us by winning something, the Birkenhead is on me down the Stanford Arms! Cheers!
I’ve always been an “SA-positive” South African. Especially since 1994 and that small matter of us becoming a democracy. But this most stunningly beautiful of all World Cups has the bell at the top of my Positiv-o-meter clanging like Oprah Winfrey running wild and loose in the Durban Philharmonic Orchestra’s brass section.
I want to have a word in the shell-like (ear) of the editor of London’s Daily Star, a rag for which South Africa as host country of the world’s premier football competition was total anathema. A gutter-press tabloid which trotted out every potential disaster it could think of as reason why a World Cup in our chaotic, useless cadaver of a country at the southern tip of parlous Africa would fail.
Then I would take him into a padded cell, truss him up in some seriously heavy-duty rope, hold a blowtorch close to his left big toe and firmly tweak his lying nose every time he blinked. No, I’m not all that happy with him.
Um. Where was I? Oh, yes. I was at the Fifa Fan Fest on Durban’s beachfront for Brazil vs Portugal last Friday afternoon. I want to run you through that a bit, if I may.
First, the huge area cordoned off for fans to watch the match on a ginormous screen happened to be almost entirely comprised of warm, golden sand. Beach bliss. The weather, as is typical of Durban in mid-winter, was warm, even sultry. Everything was fantastically well organised and I didn’t have to wait long to get my hands on a boerie roll (boerewors roll, a kind of hotdog but only way better).
Most people wore shorts with their vuvuzelas and were impeccably behaved despite many drinking vast quantities of beer. It was a blast and only Brazil v Portugal, neither having to try too hard to qualify for the final round, let the side down.
Oh, I’ve got a couple of pics to portray the general vibe of the elated throng enjoying the beach party while watching a bit of World Cup football. Here we go…
Thousands had a jol (party) as the match played out on the giant screen. Nice.
And nobody enjoyed it more than The Popsicle, who made sure she had the best view of all the action
It's not all bad watching World Cup football on warm sand just a handful of metres from the Indian Ocean
I made a new friend in Luyanda (2) who was dead cool in his outsized spectacles. All pix: Marcelle Delew-Kappen
All in all, not an entirely shabby afternoon/evening. I thought I coped quite well with it. No problems, a beautiful vibe. South African ubuntu (togetherness) at its very best. Well done to Durban’s Fan Fest. Wait. I’ll go further than that. Well done, South Africa. And I mean all of you. All of you “SA-positive” people who have embraced this World Cup and offered the traditional warm hand of friendship to our foreign guests.
You are all beautiful. So wonderful that I’m going to give you the rest of the week off work. Just tell your boss that I said so. Just do it. He’ll understand. You deserve it.