Words of a feather flock together

I came away from seeing the movie Conviction inspired and humbled. Not only did I get an inkling of what a truly amazing brother-sister relationship might be like, I also m3_baw_1sht_V2.qxd:MECHANICALacquired the word ‘setback’ for use in my daily life. In the past I have used the word ‘disappointment’ (as in ‘life is full of little disappointments’) far too frequently. I now realise my world-weary attitude is a cop-out because I can then stop trying; contemplating a ‘disappointment’ gives me permission to be miserable.

Thanks to Conviction I realise that all the little disappointments are in fact nothing but setbacks to be overcome (a la Hilary Swank as the lawyer sibling on steroids). The French word ‘contretemps’, now also in english dictionarieshas a wonderful elegance that implies a similiar obduracy, but it’s not as durable or as down-to-earth as a setback.

Today my husband asked if anything exciting had happened in my day. I replied that a whole lot had happened but nothing that he would classify as exciting. ‘So you had a lot of niggle,’ he said. Apparently ‘a lot of niggle in the game’ in rugby parlance means there’s been some rough stuff like the odd punch thrown here and there and an altercation or two or three, but nothing major enough to change the course of the game. Don’t you just love words? Who could get depressed about a whole lot of niggle in their day? And that setback I mentioned? I’m working on a publishing contract for my second novel as we speak…


Postnote: The movie is based on real-life events. There are plenty of novels with the title ‘Conviction’ but they have nothing to do with this marvelous movie.

Pink is the new Blue

Well, not so new actually. Apparently, according to a book review read along the way, baby girls’ rooms decorated in blue were all the rage before the first world war, and a baby boy dressed in pink was the norm. It’s an intriguing thought; that a daily reality we treat as fact might be viewed as the wrong way round in an earlier age.

The international SlutWalk phenomenon with all its controversy has finally hit South Africa. While pondering my own point of view on the great divide between the ‘proud to be a slut’ and the ‘keep your slut word to yourself’ brigades, I came upon Joanne Hichens’ thoughtful riposte to the ‘common sisterhood’ line of argument (Cape Times, Aug 29, 2011).

And that got me thinking about the whole pink debate. There’s an organisation in the UK that has its knickers in a knot (some might say) over little girls dressed in pink from top-to-toe, playing with pink toy ponies, riding pink bicycles etc. These strong women have devoted themselves to convincing politicians, business moguls and unaware parents that it’s best to avoid pink for the nation’s daughters, thereby challenging society’s views on little girls who are only supposed to like sugar and spice and everything nice (aside: my first memory of pink for girls was pink candy floss; the boys got blue) and encouraging the girls themselves to avoid being pigeon-holed.

Could it be ‘slut’ is a pigeon-hole just like the colour pink? To paraphrase Hichens we not only have to challenge the attitudes men have towards women, but also have to discuss attitudes women have towards themselves and their sexuality. Odd thing is I disliked pink growing up, but these days I have plenty of pink items in my wardrobe. Does that make me less or more of a feminist? Have I perhaps come out on the other side as a fully liberated human being who wears pink and blue with equal abandon?

PS. Read ‘In the pink’ on MercatorNet for an interesting viewpoint on the link between breast cancer and reproductive risk factors, including oral contraceptives and induced abortion.

Thank you, Harrison

Harrison Ford to interviewer Margaret Gardiner (The Good Weekend, August 20, 2011): “… I thought the trick to this business was that they pay you fairly. Since they respect you based on how much they pay you, I’ve never been shy about asking for money… I also mean it when I say that I’m in it for the money. That is to say, this is my job. I don’t have another job. I don’t do it for free any more than a plumber does it for free.”

Any book publishers out there listening? Any literary agents out there listening? All you gung-ho wannabe authors out there, I dunno if that would be a wise career move… Consider the energy expended to potential income ratio: a friend of mine paints; it took her about a day to finish a painting she later sold for R12 000 to an American; that’s what I would call a decent return for her time.

How long will it take you to complete your first book? Double that. How much of your own money will you spend on learning your craft and editorial advice? Triple that. Before you leave your boring/stressful/dead-end/impossible/unsatisfactory paying full-time job take a long cool sober look at a standard publishing contract. What kind of book sales would you need just to get you through the month? Never mind, there’s always acting… Or plumbing.

PS. Have I broken the cardinal writers’ rule? The comment above is intended to be full of wry wisdom gained with not a note of whine but it’s a fine fine line and easily crossed.


Okuribito_(2008)Departures is the cool name of an astonishingly beautiful Japanese movie (academy award for best foreign-language film) about an out-of-work cellist who ends up working in a funeral home by mistake and proves to have a calling. It makes one think of a Departures lounge at an airport – as if we’re all just in transit from here to somewhere. In the movie the father bequeathes the wonderful idea of stone letters to his young son; he disappears out of the boy’s life but the quaint story remains behind.

I experienced the pang of writer’s envy – what a fantastic idea… wrapping the fingers of the mother of your unborn child around a stone you have selected… a simple powerful image to weave past and present together, as well as make the emotional high point (see the movie!) –  a potentially corny moment – totally believeable.

In The Good Cemetery Guide the only thing Anthony Loxton’s father left him was the ability to speak to the dead; imagination and a reaching out for grace was not permitted; so Anthony unloaded onto a Mexican puppet and dreamt of Mexico which was as far away from Kalk Bay as any place he knew. Being the kind of person who picks up random stones and rocks everywhere she goes the delightful idea of the look and feel of a stone evoking unspoken thoughts and emotions – a wordless letter – resonates with me in a big way.

One can almost hear the beating heart of a stone as it rests quietly in one’s hand; it’s 41uD0FfHGTL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_sometimes warm and sometimes cold but always oddly mystical, this nugget of rock created by cosmic activity and ancient weather patterns. Hence the borrowed category title: Stone Letters. The entire significance always seems to escape one: the felt whole is always greater than the sum of words written on the page. Maybe stone letters will work better…

It turns out that the movie is loosely based on Coffinman: The Memoir of a Buddhist Mortician, by Shinmon Aoki.

Graves gardener retires

On BBC tonight shocking scenes of burning cars and homes, daylight looting and rioters attacking police –  the worst riots in the UK in 30 years. Brought to mind a recent BBC insert about Jean “John” Moodie who’d spent practically his whole life (joined his dad as a 16-year old) looking after the Battle of the Somme (1916) english war graves in France.

Apparently the British have around 320 gardeners in 27 teams looking after 500 000 war cemetery headstones in France and it costs the British taxpayer a tidy sum. Years of dedicated gardening have produced meticulously tended memorial gardens. According to the about-to-retire head gardener (whose son is also a graves gardener) no flower or shrub is ever allowed to obscure a soldier’s name. In contrast the Germans have opted for a low-maintenance approach with stark plain headstones for their war dead.

It got me thinking; in The Good Cemetery Guide funeral director cum moonlighting guitarist Anthony Loxton, who understands all about future generations continuing the work of their elders, surprises himself by becoming an advocate (or is it an activist?)for park-like cemeteries where the dead can lie in peace and the living can experience comfort in the midst of nature’s ongoing beauty.

All well and good, I’m with my hero in principle but looking after cemeteries is expensive and we’re living in super-difficult economic times (as today’s news clips of rioting and looting prove). The British apparently had their fair share of criticism for celebrating carnage with blooms but they forged ahead with their war gardens regardless. One has to ask though is the “Forever England” approach still appropriate nearly 100 years later? Isn’t it perhaps a tad twee for today’s tough reality of 20% unemployment amongst youth aged 16 – 24 in the UK?

Shouldn’t the British get with it like the super-practical Germans and start cutting back on expensive war cemetery gardens in faraway countries? But I know what Anthony Loxton would be thinking: imagine if we could turn all our ugly depressing cemeteries into beautiful super-safe parks in a picturesque setting where the living could conduct their recreational activities? With utmost respect, of course.

We could take the time to watch the birds around us and bees collecting the nectar of flowers and go jogging on paths next to bubbling streams, with grave headstones just a throw away, and death might not seem so terrifying, so alien, so incomprehensible, but rather part of the natural order of things.


In the case of those flowery war cemeteries in France there must be many an english soldier and survivor (and war cemetery tourist) comforted by the thought that their government honours its debts. Still, maybe an anachronism to the unemployed raging young people burning and pillaging in the UK right now.

P.S. I would have started blogging earlier if I’d known you can edit past posts. Had this idea that what’s posted is posted! Guess I was thinking of a physical mail box…

If you are talking about P.S. when used in writing, it stands for postscript, from the Latin post scriptum, meaning “written after.” It is generally used in letter-writing to indicate something added after the body of the letter was completed and signed.