Levitating under stress

I think I’ll write about levitating.

I have levitated twice in my long life, both times under extreme stress. I have tried to levitate in normal conditions but it doesn’t work! I do have a witness for both times that I did rise up and forward.

The first time I levitated was many years ago in Africa. It was just before Christmas. We were looking for a particular prickly fern that grows wild in the bush. We used it as a Christmas decoration. The long tendrils draped nicely over pictures, doorways and window pelmets.

images.jpg
climbing asparagus fern – a weed in Australia

A few of the farm dogs were with us as we walked down the gravel track leading from the main road into the farm. Among the dogs was my mother’s fox terrier, Kleintjie. Roughly translated, Kleintjie is ‘little one’. In fact, all my mother’s foxies were called Kleintjie. As one departed this life another Kleintjie took her place.

Walking back to the Big House, Kath – who had recently learned to walk – ran a little way ahead perhaps thirty metres. I noticed movement next to her on the gravel. Dear God, my heart leapt into my mouth. The movement was a banded cobra rising up to strike directly into my daughter’s face. So, I levitated from where I was standing to Kath. As I landed, Kleintjie ran between the striking cobra and Kath drawing its attention away from her. Even as I write this I can feel the hairs on my neck prickle. Death was so close. Kleintjie evaded the snake, which then slithered off the track and into the bush.

Egyptian-banded-cobra.jpg
photo by Peter Wright

The second time I levitated was in Cape Town. I think it was in 1977. We were living in a flat in Camp’s Bay on the side of the mountain. Because of the angle of the ground, the block of flats was perched atop tall pillars and we were on the top (third) floor. We were more or less level with the ground at the back but had the most astonishing views over Camp’s Bay and the ocean from the front windows.

big_camps-bay-beach-38.jpg
Twelve Apostles. Camps Bay. Photo by FromJoanne on Flickr

Anyway, early one morning I was standing in the kitchen looking up at The Twelve Apostles through the kitchen window. I heard an extraordinary sound, like a massive pantechnicon that seemed to come from the street behind us. I couldn’t see one and wondered to myself what was a pantechnicon doing up on the mountain at this hour? Then I realised that the stove was moving and rattling. Objects were falling off the shelves. The floor was shaking too. Shit, an earthquake! So, without further ado, I levitated from the kitchen to the bedroom and into the bed. I pulled the blankets over my head although, under the circumstances, that may not have been the wisest thing to do.

If you don’t believe me, ask Roland!

Levitating under stress

Monkey’s Wedding

Liana and I are standing in the doorway of the hall looking out at the rain. The sun shines through the rain and the rain keeps falling. I say, “Monkey’s wedding”. Liana looks at me, “I haven’t heard that expression before?”
“It is something we say in Africa when the sun is shining the same time the rain is falling.”

IMG_5421

Saying, “Monkey’s wedding” is a quaint memory from my childhood. It is something I taught my own daughter and my granddaughters too. It isn’t something one deliberately sets out to ‘teach’ but one of those sayings that children pick up because you use it in a certain identifiable situation. It is a colourful phrase that appeals to children – that appeals to people of all ages. The image of a monkey bridal couple complete with fluffy white dress and flowers, top hat and tails, sparks the imagination.

vervet-337539_960_720

It has never entered my head that Australians don’t say, “Monkey’s wedding” when the sun shines through the rain. We have so many expressions in common but this one has slipped past the keeper. I wonder if it is because there are no monkeys native to Australia? I’ve had a look at Google and Wiki. It seems that the original phrase comes from the Zulu language – “… a loan translation of the Zulu umshado wezinkawu, a wedding for monkeys”. There is also a link to Portuguese casamento de rapôsa – vixen’s wedding – which then changed to casamento de macaco – monkey’s wedding.

monkey-2302915_960_720

The term ‘Sunshower’ seems to be the most commonly used expression in various parts of the world. Topically, The Word Detective says that in “In New York we used to say, “The Donald is fixing his hair”. Whether that is the POTUS Donald or not is a moot point!

There are so many places I could go with this blog entry. For example, Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens and the instinct of play that nourishes so much of our philosophy. But that will turn this into a Sociology essay and bore most people witless. So, I’ll leave it here and just say … Next time you see the sun shining through the rain try saying, “Monkey’s wedding” – it’s guaranteed to make you smile.

Monkey’s Wedding

Writing and Research

Thinking about what to write in this week’s blog, I mull over the events at the Lessons with Persephone Retreat at the weekend. In the quiet of the Retreat, writing came easily. At the moment, this blog is going nowhere.

IMG_5422

When we were talking about if, and when, we had been published, I mentioned that I had only published in a couple of academic journals and one chapter in a book. This chapter was a shared enterprise with my PhD Supervisor, Prof. Jenny de Reuck, and a colleague who was also one of Jenny’s Post Grads, Sharifa Ahjum. The title of the chapter is “The Remembrance of Things Past”: Memory and Migration as Tropes in the Construction of Postgraduate Subjectivities. (You can see we didn’t resile from long and involved titles). When I reread it now, I am struck by the clarity of the writing and the sense of community we shared.

The book is Bartlett, A & Mercer G (Eds) (2001) Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R)Elations. New York. Peter Lang. pp 233-245.

book

The paragraphs that I want to bring to this blog are my own.

In the beginning my doctoral research was to follow my own background – about the women who went to Africa, not from England. That was the intention. In the event, I didn’t follow that research – a common enough story for any PhD Candidate.

In this essay, I moved to writing about Jenny, Sharifa and I – our positionality and affective ethnicity. This is what I wrote: “Where do I stand to Jenny? Where do I stand to Sharifa? How are we so inclusive of each other? It is our coming out of Africa that is our ‘affective ethnicity’. Our form of ethnicity is beyond blood and colour. We draw our connection from our African origins, shared memories of experiences from a country we have left. ‘Affective ethnicity’; meta-ethnicity! Affective pedagogy!” I drew on the work of Moshe Shokeid (‘An Anthropologist’s Work between Moving Genres’ in Ethnos. Vol 57, 1 – 4, 233- 44, 1992.)

Following this I bemoan the fact that I have such difficulty in understanding some of the texts such as Foucault and Bhabha. Sharifa can read and understand these but I battle to make sense of such abstract concepts. Here, again, I quote myself, “Is it my age that stands between me and truly understanding these readings? Has my mind closed the doors—atrophied in the cells? Am I trapped in ignorance? Sometimes I bang my fists against these closed doors, “Open up! Open up!” I call, then, “Think Woman! Think!” Who is the teacher who can lead me to comprehension? Where is the insight that I deny myself? Self-proscribed knowledge, self-proscribed wisdom.

Finally, back to the beginning.

The first entry in my PhD journal reads thus:

Some of the things I want to include:

The spiritual aspect.

The sense of self.

The sense of place.

Identity as a fragile, contextual thing … I worry about my rigidity.

Can I sustain the energy?

The essence is this, researching and writing a doctoral thesis is a lonely thing to do. It is atonement for curiosity; an exercise in humility; self-inflicted isolation. Nevertheless, this is my search for an identity in an alien space. I was never brought up to be an academic. I was never brought up to be an Australian. I catch a glimpse of myself and ask “Who are you?” or maybe, “Who do you think you are?” And then I continue—because what else is there to do?

So, I did continue and eventually, a couple of days before I turned 60, I was notified that I was through. I was now a bona fide doctor.

Writing and Research

Stockings and suspender belts

Today at the shops, I saw a young woman with a tattoo that brought back a few memories. The tat was of seams up (or down) the back of her legs finishing at her ankles in a pretty scroll.

IMG_20170628_0001

In the days when women wore nylon stockings with seams, it was a battle to get the seam to run straight up and down (or down and up) one’s legs. Add to this the likelihood of snagging the sheer nylon fabric – usually on a rough nail thereby starting a ladder. Quickly, out with the colourless nail-varnish to stop the run from ruining the stocking. Do you remember?

One benefit of stockings was, if you did ladder one, you only had to replace one. That was if you happened to have one in the same denier and the same shade. Nylon stockings were expensive so this was seldom the case – hence the use of nail-varnish at both ends of the run. Naturally, the nail-varnish went through the stocking and the stocking then stuck to your leg.

Stockings stayed up, most of the time, because of a suspender belt. I’ve just Googled ‘suspender belts, images’ and I have to say the modern suspender belt looks nothing like the chastity belt style that we used to wear! The fashionable suspender belt now is, possibly, only available from an Adult Store. They still don’t look very comfortable and the feminist in me says they are more for the “male gaze” (as per John Berger, Ways of Seeing.) Nevertheless, I found this image and if you can extrapolate a thick, unattractive cotton instead of the rather fetching lacy garment pictured, you’ll get the idea.

LC140_1_Zoom

At the girls-only Anglican Church school that I attended in the 1950s, we were required to wear thick lisle stockings, the colour of toffee, especially on a Sunday. Lisle stockings are not particularly suited to the subtropical climate of Africa. They were decidedly uncomfortable and invariably sagged and bagged around the ankles. Indeed, these were not the ‘sexy’ fashionable nylon stockings beloved by the women during the Second World War. Neither were the suspender belts attractive or even comfortable. They were inconvenient and, for the most part, we loathed and detested having to wear them. Add to this the regulation school bloomers, made from a thick, unforgiving cloth and, if memory serves, dark brown in colour. Tight elastic at the waist and at the top of the legs didn’t help either. If you happened to have your periods, and being an all-girls-school most of us menstruated at the same time, you then had the belt that held your sanitary napkin in place under your suspender belt and your bloomers over the top. There is no way the bloomers would fit under the suspender belt! The strategically placed hooks, front and back, on the sanitary belt were incredibly uncomfortable.

Lisle stockings also had to have the seams straight. Many times, lining up for chapel, a student would be pulled out of line by an officious prefect because the seams of her stockings were crooked. Somewhere between 1957 and 1961 we were allowed to ditch the lisle stockings and wear nylons instead. Of course the seams still had to be straight. Rules were easily breached and punishment often followed – usually out of all proportion to the misdemeanour. Punishment ranged from demerit points, writing lines, learning by heart the most boring chapters in the King James Bible to whatever else the prefect could think of to humiliate you.

Once, I was caught reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover – although carefully covered in brown paper, I was sprung. At that time the book was banned in Rhodesia but I had somehow managed to get a copy. My punishment was to read one of the chapters aloud to a group of prefects. I do believe, in retrospect, that they were more embarrassed than I was. I’m not sure why the book was not confiscated but it wasn’t and I still have it to this day!

Photo on 28-6-17 at 5.07 pm.jpg

Stockings and suspender belts

Into the city: a memory

Digging around in the box of photos I found this one. It brought back memories of going shopping in town when I was a little girl.

IMG_20170623_0001.jpg

A trip into the city, or ‘going to town’, was an adventure. Mother would wear a hat, stockings and sometimes she’d wear gloves. ‘Town’ was Salisbury, the capital of Southern Rhodesia. The road from the farm to town was mostly a gravel track and if the  Makabuzi River was up over the drift, well then you turned around and went home.

This photo was taken by a street photographer. I’m not sure what the black streak is – probably ink. This is an old photograph. Mum, Graham and me walking down the street with the Christmas shopping wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

IMG_20170623_0002

Graham is my oldest brother. I think going to town was not a popular occupation for either of my brothers or my older sister (my younger sister was yet to make an appearance). I was taken along willy-nilly being the baby in the family. I see my mother has a tight grip on my hand. I have been told that I would often make a dash for whatever took my interest and I had the road sense of a caterpillar. Of course I did! I lived on a farm.

In the shoe shop we put our feet in a strange looking machine and the shop assistant would peer down a tube to look at the foot bones. This was probably a form of X-Ray machine and may account for some of the foot pain that I suffer as an old woman. I’ve only just thought of that! Shoes were not high on my priority list, most of the time I was barefoot – but not in town. Never in town.

I did disappear on one shopping trip and was found under a rack of dresses. We were in Sanders, one of the original department stores in Salisbury. Mum must’ve been shopping for clothes for herself and, being thoroughly bored, I remember dragging myself around on the floor. I remember because one of the shop assistants said, “Oh, so you’re cleaning the floor for us!” I missed the sarcasm but heard something that made me want to hide. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed the fuss when nobody could find me because I did the disappearing act quite often after that, in town and on the farm.

Going home was the worst part of going to town. Mother would make us gargle with a Dettol mixture in case we had picked up any germs. I can taste that mixture just thinking about it.

 

Into the city: a memory

Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler

Ghost EmpireGhost Empire by Richard Fidler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ghost Empire ranks among the best books I’ve read this year. Richard Fidler brings to life the history of the Byzantium Empire. Many aspects of this history are mind-boggling and give the reader a deeper understanding of the present situation in Syria, Turkey, and the whole Middle East. Richard Fidler shows that, really, there is nothing new in the dreadful war situation there. The cruelty, the massacres, the subjugation of people were, it seems, always happening. Starting with Constantine who renamed Byzantium, Constantinople in his own honour in the year 330, right through to the sacking of Constantinople by the Ottoman Emperor, Mehmed, in 1453, thus bringing about the end of the Roman empire.

I originally heard about this book when Richard Fidler was interviewed (by Gillan O’Shaugnessy) on the local radio station here in Western Australia (ABC720). He explained how he and his son Joe, travelled first to Rome and then to Istanbul to follow the traces of the Byzantine Empire. How Fidler weaves the story of his travels with the history is masterful. Richard Fidler is, himself, an interviewer of note and there are many listeners who seldom miss his daily interview.

I recommend this book to anyone who may have even the slightest interest in the present situation and the conflict that affects nearly all of us one way or another.

View all my reviews

Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler

Feeling the fear

My last blog entry was not very long or interesting. However, in it I flagged a trek I did in Zimbabwe, New Year 1996/97. What is interesting (to me) is that when I had my astrological chart for 1996 drawn up, Gail told me that I would end the year on a physical high.

I was in Zimbabwe to do research for Honours. I stayed with family in Harare until Christmas and then at my brother’s farm.

After Christmas my brother and sister-in-law took me to Aberfoyle in the Honde Valley to spend New Year with a group of friends. The valley is beautiful, there are tea and coffee estates, mountains, cataracts and some pretty scary treks. The plan was to walk up to a waterfall on New Year’s Eve day. I have to say I was not keen. I’m scared of heights, snakes and rickety bridges and ladders. Nevertheless, I said, “Yes!” After all, what did I have to lose?

 

Honde Valley.jpg
A recent photo of Aberfoyle in the Honde Valley (thanks Fen)

Mozambique is a stone’s throw away. The countryside was (and probably still is) wild and woolly.

The first part of the path was not difficult but quite soon it became rugged, broken and uneven. The first crossing seemed to be reasonably easy … although, as you can see, I was a tad apprehensive (that’s me hanging back, arms akimbo, thinking about giving it a go). The bridge was wobbly but not as wobbly as some of the others that we crossed.

bridge

made it.jpg
Made it!

scary bridge.jpg

This crossing was a question of balance and hanging on for dear life.

Then there were ladders that had to be climbed to get to the next level …

ladder.jpg

another ladder.jpg

There were cataracts to be crossed, wet and slippery and so damn exciting!

crossing cataract.jpg

The destination was an amazing cataract but I have to admit that by this stage my courage had deserted me so I waited on the other side while braver friends crossed over the final bridge and stood under the waterfall. I was, if I remember, shaking from the exertion and the adrenaline.

waterfall.jpg

rough path.jpg

Not forgetting that as we went up, so we had to come down again …

Later that evening we celebrated New Year and I danced until I fell down on the floor, totally exhausted. Someone took this photo of me and I’m grateful because how often do you get such a candid shot of yourself? And for those who thought I was dead and/or drunk – I wasn’t!

exhausted

And then most of us jumped into the pool and had a swim.

Aberfoyle.jpg
Aberfoyle 1996/97

It took me days to come down from the high and I made a vow to myself that I would in future say “Yes” if these frightening adventures were offered. Life is too short (or too long?) to be sitting home and turning into a couch potato.

Unfortunately I have no way of crediting the photographers. My camera decided to stop working and never worked again, ever. I do thank you all for your photos and for my sister-in-law and my friend, Fenella, for passing on the photos to me. Twice. I lost the first lot and only found them again recently.

 

 

 

Feeling the fear