cyril's musings

arbitrary stuff that comes to mind: whenever I feel like thinking aloud

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April 5th, 1986

Last year it was 25 years since my mom passed away
25 years!
Now its 26.
A tiny pang under a fading scar
sharp and unexpected
liquid and deep
gone before I could find it
pick at it
scratch it
make it bleed.
I would have liked to savour it
But it retreated too quickly, back into my flesh.
Who would have thought,
After all these years,
I could still miss her?
Who would have thought

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Keats, 2 Odes, and 2 Things to avoid in Relationships

Most of us struggled with poetry in school.
So much heavy lifting, and really, all the poet's saying is "I'm feeling depressed because the girl doesn't fancy me any more". *sigh*. *deeper sigh* "Anyway, I'll keep on loving her and then maybe it will be all right or I'll just end it all" *deepest sigh of all*.
All pretty straight forward, now let's get Adele to set it to music and we can all listen to it and Feel Deep About Life and Stuff.

Sadly, the academic world doesn't want you get down to the guts of the matter, they want you to be intelligent about it. Never mind about them, I ended up liking Poetry despite the best efforts of all those Teachers.

Let’s talk Keats and Relationships instead

Its 1819 and Keats is struggling with the idea of Beauty.
As life and chance would have it, he ends up in the London Museum in front of this great big vase with a number of scenes engraved on to it. The Grecian Urn. He walks around it, and there's a scene from a hunt, another of a bull being led to sacrifice and then there's a young man promising love, life, and the pleasures of the body to his girlfriend. This is it! Beauty! Everlasting, unchanging! A frieze perfectly frozen for eternity!

But then he has an oh-oh moment. He changes his mind about this Meaning of Beauty thing, because - well basically because there is no fulfillment. The hunt will never end, the bull remains unsacrificed, the couple never get it off. So, like - hey, what's the point? It’s all an abstraction and we get stuck in that moment and ... who needs that?

This depresses him (as most things seemed to) and he is left with no answer other than that it is what it is. After a Great Deal of Agony he writes his Ode to a Grecian Urn.

Some time later (weeks/months/days?) he is sitting in the park in this state of depression when he hears a nightingale sing. The song is so real, he finds himself so moved by it that he is convinced that he has found the Meaning of it All. But, oh-ho. (there's always an oh-oh when it comes to Keats). Oh-oh ~ it dawns on him that the bird can fly away, leave him, drop him back to the place he came from. Like any number of girls I have known, this bird can fly. And so he pens his "Ode to A Nightingale".

what do we learn from this?

Don't be his Grecian Urn ....

What is it with some people that they want you to be stuck in that time zone when they met you, only stripped of everyone else who was in it? What is it with them? While they carry on living and changing and growing, the only thing you are allowed to be is congruent with them. Which is another way of saying it's OK for them to have careers, find new challenges, friends and so on, but your role is to adapt to them and Stay the Same as when We Met.
Be the Muse.
Like I want to live the rest of my Life as your Muse?
We all know what happens to the Muse 5 years down the track ...

Why are you so Afraid I'm your Nightingale?

There's something so wrong in the idea that if I meet new people, build a career, go ANYWHERE without you that I'll turn into a nightingale and take the song away forever. Where do you get such a low self-image? Trust me, if I'm going to hop off, fly away and never come back to the nest it won't be because we're not permanently joined at the hip. To the contrary, joined to your hip is the best way to lose my song.
And I happen to like my song.

A couple grows together, or it grows apart: that's the homily ~ but the truth is we all need space to grow ... so let's take a message from Keats and his struggles with Beauty:

  • Being someone's Grecian Urn - not on. Get out of it! It's dark and lonely and sad stuck inside a Vase, no matter how beautifully its engraved; and,
  • If you're being treated like a Nightingale, then it’s probably best to fly away before your wings are permanently clipped and you find yourself in an iron-clad, not-so-gilded cage ...

You deserve better.

Sadly, Keats himself died shortly hereafter from Tuberculosis, lost in love to Fanny Brawne.
But he left us a legacy, and an unwitting message for Relationships in general.

All images under wikipedia's Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Day in the Life: The passing of the Boekehuis

Champagne and Cake, Goodbye and Good Luck

"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone" **

The Boekehuis has closed, it's gone: Goodbye.

It's passing will be mourned for many years to come, not only by those who visited it regularly, but also by the occasional visitor, looking for something specific. I can picture them arriving, and then wondering "Now where on earth are we going to go?!"

There is a distance between author and audience that's rarely narrowed. The commercial imperative of a book signing, the hidden agendas of TV and radio interviews ~ these create and maintain the distance.

If you dropped down the hill from Melville, travelling along Lotherbury Avenue, then turned left at the first traffic light, you would have found yourself at the Boekehuis. For 12 short years, this is the place that you went to if you wanted to narrow the Gap. Most Saturday mornings between 12:30 and half past one, and often well beyond that, the Boekehuis played host to an array of South African talent and their works. And yes, they sold a lot of books afterwards; but not because of hype: no, you bought them because you understood enough to know that you really had to have them.

The formula was simple and straightforward: a 10 to 15 min reading from a particular work, followed by a panel discussion, then an open discussion with whoever was in the audience. The audience was not chosen, the agenda was not fixed, and the interaction between all the people there spontaneous, revealing, often deeply insightful; but never trite, commercial or (most important of all!) boring.

There were special occasions ~ a conversation with a person or group whose work and life had contributed in some meaningful way to the enrichment of the South African landscape: Politics, Art, the Struggle, Literature, or even just Social engagement.

How do I explain the experience? There is so much to be gained by sitting in a small room crammed with deeply interested and engaged people and listening and understanding what drives them to do what they do, how this has changed them and the communities that they live in, and then seeing how this played out in our own lives.

But the space itself is not enough.
The intention, no matter how well conceived counts for little unless you have the right people driving the process through. Rudyard Kipling has his Roman General say to his two young lieutenants "It is always one man's work—always and everywhere!" – before giving them the impossible task of defending the Wall from the Barbarians.

For these last 12 years, this has been the work of an extraordinary person~ Corina van der Spoel is an artist at getting the most out of people: persuading them to take the brave step of engaging directly with a spontaneous, critical, and sometimes aggressive audience. And then ensuring that the whole process is rewarding to all the stakeholders, prompting questions, stepping back when needed, and engaging firmly to keep the conversation at its best level.

Corina keeps a watchful eye:
standing, as always, and
ready to step in when needed
There is a peculiar talent that some people have, of being able to lift or lower their conversation to the level of the person they are talking to, so that the person feels its all about them, that they are being heard: and so they open themselves up. Corina has this knack, whether it is the author, the panelists, or the audience. No matter who you are, you feel you have a voice, and its a valuable voice.

Drive, energy, commitment: a large network of people whose lives have been touched directly by her; the demands to take forward some new project will come streaming in from many sides. I should say her difficulty will be in choosing between opportunities, not in finding them.

I'm not sure what persuaded Nationale Pers/Media24 to bring the project to a close. Maybe the economy is biting too deeply. Maybe they think it's not part of their core business: maybe, maybe, maybe. Who's to know?

What I do know is that so much of what I have absorbed about South Africa, its culture, its people, its failures and successes has been given context from the understandings gleaned from arbitrary Saturday mornings, listening to people who have researched our world, reflected on it, or merely speculated. From the funny to the serious, I will miss them all. Let me say this: for a while I became somewhat reclusive: the only place where you would find me out and about would be the occasional visit to (where else?) the Boekehuis: at 12:30 in Auckland Park for an hour or so, before slipping back to my hidey hole.

Now, like Joni Mitchell, at last I know what I've had.
And that it's gone.
But unlike the singer, we are the richer for the experience: and we can ignore the parking lot :)

All Images copyright © the author
** From Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi Cab song

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Day in the Life ~ My one wish for Rosebank

It's a short walk from my apartment building to the Rosebank mall.

It's a particularly rewarding walk on a late Sunday afternoon.
Especially in spring and summer, when the jacarandas are either in full bloom or bursting into a canopy of spring purple. Stretching from either side of the street and touching at the centre they drop just enough dappled shade to soften the Highveld sun.

I couldn't help but compare it to the other malls that I spent most of yesterday fruitlessly travelling backwards and forwards to while I hunted down a decent Bluetooth mouse. The biggest of them all, the Sandton mall, well you'd expect it to have everything, wouldn't you? Not a chance. Lots of the same stuff in a hundred and one different shops, just different markups, different salespeople, different storefronts. But that's another conversation for a different time!

Aside from Rosebank, there's not a mall that you can get into without going in by car. Even the short walk from the high-speed Gautrain terminus to the Sandton mall is fraught. There, even the pavements disrespect feet! They are small and cramped, often dirty and populated by the people who keep the place working, not those who shop in the mall. No, you wouldn't see a consumer (with or without kids or partner!) walking along those pavements. Its a place of work, not a thoroughfare for shoppers. Shoppers enter by way of the car parks ~ pavements are for workers or people who can't afford cars.

These malls are built like fortified cities: Everything from tasteless Tuscany  to faux Tudor, and not forgetting the gleaming blandness of glass and steel.

In Rosebank, however, feet are respected. Its pleasant walking there, and no great shakes going home either:

All the major entrances have wide avenues and open doors expecting people to come in from the surrounding suburbs, hotels, and B&Bs. Residents of the area can walk from one tree-lined avenue into the mall and then right across into another. The open-air restaurants, cafes, and sidewalk coffee bars are open both to the sky and to the avenues and walkways that lead to them.

So, if I have one wish for Rosebank, it would be this: that developers will always remember that people are more important than transport, and make sure that all of the people who come in by car or rail do so in a way and using routes that leave the rest of us using pavements that respect ordinary people's feet :-)

There is nothing more satisfying than being able to stroll up into the mall, have a quiet a cup of coffee, drop in to the grocers, or supermarket, bookshop or store and then stroll on home in quiet of the evening.

Please don't change it until after I die, no, definitely not a moment before!

all images copyright (c) the author

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Day in the Life: a Monster Muscles in

(click image to enlarge)
 There's an old Saying that goes ~ you can take the country boy out of the farm but you can't take the farm out of the country boy.

Johannesburg is a Mining city. The City has left the mines behind now, but you'll never take the Mines out of the City. A place is being prepared for this big fellow. He's 80 tons if he's a penny weight, in fact he's so heavy that they had to build a special foundation for him to rest on.

He's arrived early, before the area has been cleaned and the sign erected ~ but what would you expect? When they found gold here, they didn't wait around for the town to form first. Oh no Sir, they just got in there and started digging. Who arrived early went away rich, who arrived late never ate.

That's about the sum of a mining town, and it hangs around for only as long as the gold can be scratched out. But this one didn't hang around and die the death of ghost towns the world over: oh no Sir.

Oh no Sir, it sprawled and bawled and went on to become the Financial bully of Africa, the biggest city not on running water: and along the way (by the way) built the largest man-made forest on the planet. It's a city now, but its still a mining brawl at heart. The mining spirit and culture will always be found here. we don't hang around and wait for the world to decide. We move on and make things happen.

So when I stumbled on this monster muscling in down at the end of Anderson, well I thought to myself, that's just about right. You have to be tough to live in Africa. You have to look out for yourself and your community, because this is not a world of soft pastels and gentle rains. When the rain comes it crashes down, and the thunder and electricity reminds you that you are alive. Even the 6 day Peach rains have that edge to them.

Its a rough and tough area that he watches over, and its a rough and tough city that welcomes him. But walk a short distance East and you will find the largest Financial institutions in Africa, and due North are the Mining Houses that kicked it all off. And just to the left: the Magistrates court. Just in case anyone gets the wrong ideas about whose the who in the zoo. Or veld.

Don't you just love this city?

All images (c) the author.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Day in the Life: Window Boxes in the City

Its a long steady walk up Ferreira street from 45 Commissioner.

Its a walk I do often enough, several times a week, and its always a there and back between 45C and the Simmonds street Superblock complex. To the left and right are the magnificent Anglo American buildings ~ some built in the earlier part of the 20th century during the Oppenheimer hey days: low and powerful and redolent of the Mining Magnates who once held sway in downtown Joburg; and one at least, to the left, the stunning Anglo Head Office structure built in the late 80's shows the shift to corporate respectability.

Normally there's not much time for reflection, you head on as quickly as you can because at the nether end of each trip is a meeting room and a waiting group of people. I could take the shuttle bus: but unless I have a laptop under the arm I prefer the walk.

Yesterday I nearly stumbled into the granite "decoration" around the pavement trees, and that started a train of thought. I was headed North down towards 45C, and today, as I made my way back up South, I was wondering about those window boxes.

Well, there you see how blind you can be to small touches of beauty along the way!

Now, my mother loved Geraniums and Pelargoniums.

There wasn't a holiday or a trip where she didn't embarrass the family by taking cuttings, and she would snip them carefully (as all good gardeners do) and bring them back into one of the many pots and corners of her garden and verandas. Even at their scraggliest, the flowers are rich in colour: making up for their lack of perfume, I suppose. And if you watered them often enough, then the greens of the branches are a pleasure in themselves.

So there I am striding South, and blow me if I don't have a mommy moment ...

Up against the walls of the Ashanti building, doing their best to cover the steel mesh burglar protection, are 6 window boxes planted with my mom's favourites. And there they have been, if the bird's droppings are any indicator, for any length of time.

And all that has kept me from seeing them in these many months (years?) of walking backwards and forwards has been the meeting rooms at the ends of a long stride up and down Ferreira street.

And we have, I suppose, the answer to the window Box question: accross Anderson Street and not 40 meters from the Rocks in the City the answer is ~ Yes, Joburg is getting soft in some of it's corners.

And all the better for it, I should say.

All images copyright (c) the author

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Day in the Life: Rocks in the City

Look at them ... just a pile of rocks around a nice shady tree.
You'd know all about it if you stubbed your toes on them, let me tell you!
Which I nearly did ...
And which made me think ...

What does a pile of Rocks tell you?
Especially a pile of rocks in the city centre?
All neatly arranged around a tree trunk, and every tree on the pavement with its own community of pet rocks?


Well now, these are granite rocks, Crushed to size after being blasted and brought up from the depths of the gold bearing reef, deep below.
mini Boulders really, as you would quickly tell if you tried to pick one of them up.
Stop you dead in your tracks if I tossed one at you!
Yet you wouldn't notice them, just to walk by, so tastefully arranged around their trees.
The Pavement runs the length of an office block, and fronts a residential hotel in the heart of the City's business district, right around the group of buildings which the Anglo American corporation owns and has its people in.
... and a short walk from the Johannesburg Magistrates courts, where unruly crowds have been known to congregate. Although, not so often any more.

So, maybe the Building owners don't want you to walk too close to the trees?
Possibly, they like the artistic effect of the stark granite against the bark?
Maybe they are aligning themselves to the mining activities which they service?
Maybe all, maybe nothing at all.
Certainly, it would have taken a pick up truck to deliver the payload. There's more than a wheelbarrows worth there, and they would've been carted quite some distance!

Rocks around trees ...

So what should we read into that pile of Rocks?

That's what I read:
I read progress.
After all, whose going to stack piles of granite-hard rock in handy sizes if they thought -
if you thought for even one moment -
that someone might pick them up and chuck them back at at you.
or your nice plate glass windows!
or cars, or ... or ...
So is our uncivilised, dangerous, scary city centre being tamed then?
(truth to tell ... it never did feel that scary to me, but, well -
 - you know -
tourists and the media do know best ...)

They do look rather nice, though - don't they?
All we need now is a flower box or two ...

All images copyright (c) the author

Friday, December 16, 2011

Look at the Clown …

Look at the Clown
Tumbling his balls
You don’t see his heart
How loudly it calls

He smiles cos’ he’s happy
And a little bit vain
It keeps him from going
Entirely insane

And his Heart?
Well its given
And given to you
Now isn’t that interesting,
Crazy mad thing to do?

image from a portion of an 1878 drawing by C. M. Newton in Sporting and Dramatic News, of a performance of The Forty Thieves

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More Cricket and Limericks plus a touch of the Weather

Some more Cricketing Limericks for fans of them (both Cricket and Limericks ;) )

Cricket is a byword for Weather conversations. Its all about water from the sky, wind from the west, and how the tide affects the pitch when the moon is full. In fact, I'm sure that the reason why English conversation is so skewed towards the weather is because it has such a deep effect on their cricketing psyche. And I'm equally sure that when they go out on tour they carry their damned weather with them. If only we could harness that!

So. All frivolities aside, please.
Serious Question time: How to beak the drought, please?
Answer: Schedule a 5 day test match.
(Of course, since cricket tours are agreed years in advance, you have to know where the droughts are likely to be at that time, natch.) Having said which ...

There's a heat wave thats baking my brain
My body's burned red & my skin is in pain
But there's nothing to fear!
Cos the Cricket is here!
It'll be bucketing down once again

Which satisfies the farmers and the Ducks.
But what about the spectators?
What about the spectators indeed ...

the rain's keeping us all in the shelter
Its cats and its dogs and its helter and skelter
no matter my son
when the cricketing's done
the sun will come out as a belter

All this talking of Rain reminds me, there's one person who makes bowlers and fielders pray for it.
Lots of it. Especially in India.
Especially in, Well, actually ... everywhere ...

the bowlers are praying for rain
Tendulkars at wicket again
a six through the covers
at the end of the overs
sees their averages flush down the drain

But there's always at least one bowler who doesn't seem to mind whose at the crease :)

a fast bowler (we'll call him Dale Steyn)
sends his balls down again and again
if its not past the nose:
its down by the toes
you want runs? there's no gain without pain

Limericks, Cricket, the Weather ... who needs a girlfriend?
I thought I was here for the cricket
drinking beer and pondering the wicket
but the girls in their shorts
cause ungentlemanly thoughts
and most of them perfectly wicked!

yes I could ... yes I could yes I could yes I could ;)

Images (c) the author

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Past is an Old Man's country

The Past is an Old Man's country
landscaped by memories and dreams
hopes and fears now bordered
by children's laughter and screams

The Past is an Old Man's country
memories and dreams entwined
hopes and fears portraited
left hanging in memory's mind

The Past is an Old Man's country
the highways clear in sight
the byways weave through fog and mist
dimly distant through fading light

The Past is an Old Man's Country
but it won’t be visited by me:
Release me at the turnpike!
release me and set me free

Image: from The Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dali)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thoughts at my Son's wedding

the present is in our children's hands
their race is well begun
the future is their children's lands
uncertain, unspoken, undone.

the baton has been handed
the transformation complete
spectators now and relaters,
our Glory days are done.

the karma bequeathed to the future
awaits our children's children's hands
we shape their thoughts, (and so hope, restore)
our broken landscape our damaged shore

As I stood watching and taking part at my son's wedding I couldn't help but reflect on the courage youth always has in it's future. When we set out ~ when? 1972! the world had just stepped back from the Cuban missile crisis, France was recovering from student riots, the iron curtain more firmly divided the world than ever before, China seemingly ready to collapse from it's cultural revolution, and Capitalism stood poised to smash the unions and separate the rich few from the many poor. And here in South Africa, an increasingly recalcitrant and truculent apartheid Government was deepening its hold and its propaganda on its citizens, poisoning the few and disenfranchising the many. The collapse of our society seemed at hand.

Such a morass the world was in!~ who would raise a family in that?
Who would tackle this mess before us?
Yet we lived our moment and waited for our time when we would have the means and the ideas and the courage to give the future generations ~ our children ~ the world we would have liked to have had.

So many things are so very much better now: yet so many more seem irreparably damaged: Climate, Economy, and the deepening divide between the haves and the have-nots, new things seems so threatening once again.

Yet when I looked at them, and the wedding guests, it seemed to me that they had that same courage and hope, and these new challenges would find their generations ready to deal with them. And the question of division is addressed at the personal level, and it seemed to me that there was still a role for us, the fading generation: one of bringing together communities, of breaking down cultural and ideological barriers ~ who better to show how to live than those who have survived life?

And I can't say that this thinking was a sequential process, but it tumbled around in my head, and the words above took shape and have been sitting with me: now they have their own space. They seem to pull together all those thoughts.

All images Copyright (c) the author

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lazy Sundays composing Limericks at the Cricket

Last Sunday Niranjan and his family persuaded me at last to spend another day watching the cricket at the Wanderers.
Of course, there are always moments of silence and daydreaming at cricket matches. That's a whole big part of their charm! (Goes without saying ...Five-day matches, not those frantic short games!)
The commentators, also having time on their hands, (in those long stretches of deep concentration and dot balls) decided to call for Limericks. Which gave me all the time of the world to come up with this lot:

Commentary on commentators:
Have you heard of ze Commentator's curse?
Please send us your limericks diverse!
  Just mail us some rubbish
  Mit your name ve vill publish
Vitch is verse? Ze curse or ze Verse?

The referral system:
The umpire's scratching his head
"Is he in? Is he out? Is he dead?"
  With this newfangled referal
  I can do some deferal
"Third Umpire, Its your problem!" he said.

Billy Bowden and his crooked finger:
Billy Bowden still thinks of the girl
made his finger go up in a curl
  the this that and the other
  that he got from her mother
was worth all her giggles and twirls!

Fancy a bit of spot fixing?
I'm hoping that you'll play the game
I'm hoping that you'll think the same
  Leather Jackets, plane tickets
  are better than wickets ~
You're the Cops?! No No! It's a frame!

Clark's first test lament:
An Australian captain called Clarke
Thought this cricketing thing's just a lark
  forty-seven runs later
  he needed a 'gator
to get his team back on the park ...

Legspinner's tactic:
Oh I know of a spinner or two
who make cracks on the pitch with their shoe
  See, it isn't enough
  to talk about stuff
If you're quick, you can find "What to do"

Shane's a pain
Mr Warne's on his way back again
He longs to call out this refrain:
  (when it's pitched in the rough,
  and it's turned just enough),
"Howzat! you're on the next plane"!

She's had it with the cricket!
She picked up his bat in mid-winter
and "Whack!" she caused it to splinter
  Now when nature calls
  his old cricket balls
keep apart his suppurating sphincter

Five-day tests in a nutshell:
I know what you mean my old friend
5-day cricket seems never to end
  the interesting bits
  the wickets and hits
only happen when you're round the bend

All Images (c) the Author

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Love affair with Music: Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane & the White Rabbit

Grace Slick was the original Acid Lady, and she paid dearly for it. She took something over an hour or so to write White Rabbit, so they say ~ and this is her singing it at Woodstock. Prescient, maybe: But that was the 60's, and we never knew what was to come, or where all that tripping was leading to. Jefferson Airplane may have taken the Credit: But this was Grace's song, in every way, it was also her. And you can see it here in this performance, at (where else?) Woodstock.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Marriage: it's not about me, it's not about you: it's about us

The Value's in the picture
the photograph, not the frame
Velvet, Teak and Silver
do not recall their names

To keep alive the memories
of friends and colleagues past
renew their smiling faces:
look through beyond the Glass
Thursday, December 9: just after 5:30 in the evening Lanie and Jacques will tie the knot, and I will have the great privilege of being there, to observe and celebrate that most important thing we do: commit to a future.

What is the thing that we do, this marriage?
And is it still relevant?

"Up till now, to just this moment before, to know you, all I had to do was to know you". This is what my grandmother said, and she continued "but after this moment, to know you I must also know this person next to you".

There is something subtly profound about that.

In this age, where it's all about you, all about me, all about self-expression and finding ourselves: marriage takes a different view. Marriage is a coming to terms of difference. The bringing together of two lives in the hope, in the prayer that much more will emerge from the union than could be had from the separation.
It is not just about finding your soulmate, it's not just about love ever after: although of course we all hope that that is what you will ultimately gain. It's a knowing, it's the knowing that you are planting the seeds of a garden, and a belief that if you look after that garden, a flowering will endure through to the ends of days.

Having said all that I was wondering: I was wondering about wedding presents. What do you give to a colleague? The strength of the relationship grew through the interaction of many people, not just the two of us. When I stand in the church tomorrow, and listen to the vows, the shadows of others will be around me, the colleagues in the team, a small community who I had the privilege of being a part of for such a short, much too short a period of time.

In memory of them, and as a way of having them with me, my gift to Lanie and Jacques is a framed photograph of the engagement party that we had after she announced that the journey had begun. You can see it there below :-) Doesn't she look cute? Not to mention happy! Don't we all :-D?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

advice for the boys (who would be men)

Listen up!

A girl of an age never changes her age
and her friends who know better
are her aides and abettors

The young girl she knows
she blossoms forever
The cougar she proves that with age she improves

The girl will be mistress of every man that she kisses
keeps age under cover when she hunts for a lover
(watch her friends who conspire to corral desire)

what of we, other gender?
Ah, we.
just accept the ageless gift:
for a girl whose every favour will have no downstream labour
becomes a timeless beauty
just assume the easy duty
... and ignore that growing number ....

Listen up!
Stay on the page!
a girl of an age ~
she's always the same age


Friday, November 19, 2010

On having her on my mind, afraid of what is being dusted off

You Climbed into my head today
and stayed there,
poking around
those dusty,
unfurnished rooms.

Nobody invited you

gave you the key
to the back door
(the front door being long since locked and barred
With heavy beams of Mental Oak).

I hope you locked up behind you when you left.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My grandmother said: about regret, and forgetting, and living in the moment

Some years ago, I found myself in that unusual space: letting go and moving on.
This is not an easy thing to do, we all know that!

On the spur of the moment, I took a bit of a holiday and went down towards Plettenberg Bay, kind of sorting my head out. And I thought about letting go, and moving on, and all the while I was spending quite a bit of time looking back.
Something my grandmother had said to me many many years ago came back, as these things often do.

Here is what she said.
"You only regret what you remember."

At the time I thought, "That's so easy!" If you forget there will be no regrets.
But I soon discovered this is not the case. It's not possible to completely wipe out the past, and the memories keep flooding back.
So I went back to her, and I said to her, this doesn't make sense to me. She gave me that odd look that older women give when they are feeling wise, and said "There is no place for the past in this exact moment. Right now, in this moment. If you are putting everything you have into this moment, then there will be no need to forget, and there will be no room for regret either. The past will simply be what led up to now, and of course you would not have now without it."
But one forgets these lessons, until one day it all comes flooding back.

So I drove up to Storms River, which I had been avoiding, and I spent some time there assimilating the past while taking in the moment; and you know, I have never felt so alive.

And I have never again had to live with regret.
And best of all, my memories stay intact.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Father, like so many fathers of his generation, kept his silence about the war

My father fought in the Second World War.
He did not speak much of it.
In those far-off days, it was uncommon for men to admit to emotion, let alone show it.
Instead, they would hold it inside.Occasionally they would meet at the old Moth Hall in downtown Johannesburg, and in the company of other survivors let alcohol loosen their tongues and their memories. But that is as far as it went.

But there was one day of the year that he might put on his jacket, and the medals of service, and go down to the Centopath to pay his respects, and, occasionally, show publicly his memory of loss.

That was on the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th minute of the 11th hour: at the appointed time and day when the promise was kept: "we will remember them". In my own time, as a member of the Transvaal Scottish, Second Battalion, I too have marched up to the war memorial, and stopped there to pay the respects that every generation always pays in its turn, the respect of this generation given to those who have gone before.

If there was one thing which would bring the spark of emotion visibly to my father's face, it was this: the poem that brought to life Poppies Day. I hope that it moves you to. Here it is, in full.

"In Flanders Fields"

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John MacRae
the image is of  his original handwritten copy 
About the poem: The making of 'In Flanders Fields'

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Echo Remains, the song won't fade

Is it so wrong hanging onto your song?

Was I just mad?
that time - the best ...?

And if not plain crazy
Was I just lazy?
How did I lose?
Did I just fail to choose ... ?

Of course I survived.
what stayed alive?

Deep in my head,
like a book I've just read
the story returns

an echo which burns

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My grandmother said: Sorry? Three steps: the Mouth, Hands and Head

I'm Sorry - but am I really? Three steps to genuine forgiveness.

The Mouth, the Hands, the Head

We all learn it when we are very young: "I'm sorry Mommy!" "I'm sorry Daddy!"
And if you aren't saying saying it, then someone is saying to you "Say you're sorry now!"

What does it mean, all this saying sorry?
It's a sorry state of affairs that we don't look at the kernel of being sorry: Really, we want to be forgiven for something we did.  How to get forgiveness?. That's the crux of the matter.

Here's my Grandmother's take on it

After the umpteenth time of saying sorry (for the same old thing of course!) she took us kids aside and said:
"Look at me"!
"To be really sorry, you must remember the Mouth" (pointed to her lips) "the Hands" (clapping them lightly in front of her) "and the Head" (tapping her temples quickly). She then proceeded to explain:

The Mouth

The first thing you have to do to show that you are sorry for what you did is to say it out loud. Tell the person. As soon as possible. Its best to do it face to face, that works best of all because the other person  sees it, but sometimes it's not possible, so you send a message. And if you have left other people with the wrong impression with what you did, then they have to hear it too.

The Hands

Its not enough to say sorry.
We all know the phrase "Lip Service". Don't pay Lip Service:
Something is broken, its got to be fixed.
The hands are a symbol for that.
Spilled some coffee? Say sorry - and clean up the mess. Properly.
Spread some gossip? Say sorry - and now go to the people who you told the story to and tell them the truth. And say sorry to them for creating that bad impression.
Broken something? Say sorry - and fix it, or replace it, doing your level best to replace it with the same one.

The Head

But that's still not enough.
Why, you could be breaking someones cups, telling lies, using their stuff without permission and so on over and over again - would saying sorry work? Of course not. they would pretty soon get tired of it all.
No, the only way to show that you are truly sorry is to not do it any more.
In other words, you have to change your behaviour, and sometimes, even how you think.

So that's it.
You show that you are truly sorry by not doing it any more, and by talking and behaving in a different, better way.

And I remember it all by those three quick little motions she made, as she touched her lips, clapped her hands, and tapped the side of her head all the while repeating the Mantra "the mouth, the hands, the head"

The path to true Forgiveness is a 3 step process: and if you follow it, everyone will know that you are truly Sorry.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Its not personal: Value and Need

(prelude: I was thinking ...)
What I do not need: it has no value
I have it, own it
then another's need imposes
but if
I do not need the the offer in return
Then give away what has no value
Or be entrapped by that which has no value
(well, that  seems easy, doesn't it?)

I do not need her
Does she have no value?
I do not need her yet I have her
Will another’s need attract her?
Will I feel the need to keep her?
I do not need her
Yet I keep her
Am I possessed by that which has no value?

(Interlude ...)
time imposes value from the past
I did not need it then
I did not need her then
I did not see what was before my very eyes
I did not need yet there indeed was value
Will I now pay the price of careless loss?
Am I possessed by that which had no value?

Image (c) Copyright Cyril Souchon

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Pearl as a Symbol of Commitment

 There is a story told, probably apocryphal, about a wealthy couple, their wedding day and his wedding gift of natural black pearls to her. On the eve of the wedding, she caught him kissing one of the servant girls. Angry with him, but not angry enough to lose her love, they went ahead with the wedding, but she refused to wear the pearls. Instead, she left them unopened in their box, and there they lay for the 70 years of their marriage. The family of course knew about the famous pearls which were said to be both beautiful and extremely valuable.
 Thus it was with some considerable interest that the family gathered at the reading of the will to see them brought to the light of day for the first time. The box was opened: the flannel cover unwrapped and there was revealed ~ a small pile of dust. With no one to care for them, they simply disintegrated away.

The Pearl and Commitment and this little anecdote
What does this little story says to us? And why am I telling it?
A pearl is not like any other jewel. It is not a hard and cold crystalline mineral or piece of rock. You could say it remains alive, and it needs love and care throughout its lifetime. This is why it has so often been a symbol of love.
The gift of the pearl holds within it a message of commitment.

From the past to the Present to the Future
Ten years ago my good friends Niranjan and Nimi brought into the world a little baby girl: Nimesha.
Now she stands on the threshold of a Commitment: On Sunday the 7
th of November she takes her confirmation vows.
And since Religion is itself a deep commitment, a commitment of faith in the face of a disbelieving world, this is the gift I have chosen for her ~a little string of freshwater pearls, and a locket.
Here is a note that I wrote her: maybe it says something to you too.

Nimesha's letter
Dear Nimesha,
Today is your confirmation, the day that you confirm your faith openly for the first time.
So here are some thoughts to take with you after the ceremony.
Of all the things that we commit ourselves to, Faith is at the same time the closest and the furthest.
Unlike your parents, or your friends, or even a boyfriend!, you can’t argue with it or confront it anywhere but inside your own self.
It must sustain you even at that time when it seems to be the furthest from you, and when everything in the world seems to be dragging you away from it, somehow you must find yourself returning.
But this is not something that happens on its own. To love a thing you must look after it, care for it, even, and especially, when it is furthest from your mind.
Pearls are like that: you can't just leave them in a box with all your other jewelry, they have to be kept separately in a special place and regularly taken out and kept moist and clean. You have to put yourself into them, and you have to do this all through your life: just as you have to do with your Faith. Always growing it, always looking after it, always including yourself in it.
With this pearl necklace, there is little locket. This is what you can do with it: whenever you feel that something important needs to be remembered, something that might be slipping away, either a person or an idea or a cause: write a little note about it, and put it in the locket and then take it out occasionally from time to time to re-affirm your commitment to it.

With love,


all images (c) cyril souchon

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Climate Change: From Mae West to Einstein

Somehow, from somewhere two delicious little stories, one about Einstein and the other about that Man’s Man’s Girly Girl Mae West, come to mind.

Mae West! She never invented curves, she just put them out there on show and nothing's been the same since.
You'll probably say this story is apocryphal. Whatever. It goes like this: somewhere out in the mid-Atlantic on one of those marvelous mid-war cruise liners that used to take people from New York to London, Mae ate something that didn't quite agree with her. The captain called for a doctor to come and assist. The medical doctor was beaten to it by a Dr. of Economics, one of Divinity, and three others hoping to play doctor-doctor! You see, when you have a deep interest in a thing, it doesn't matter how little you know about it: you're going to get stuck in.

Just recently, and to the bitter sound of his decreasing research funds, Professor Harold Lewis, the Emeritus professor of Physics at the University of California threw a hissy little fit and publicly stormed out Of the American Physics Society. Like the eager doctors who had degrees which were several degrees South of medicine, self-interest is not going to stop him from meddling in another discipline, even if the world comes to a sloppy slurping washed out end. Not when it means losing out on all those research funds.

The sculptor Jacob Epstein tells the story: "when I was doing Prof Albert Einstein's bust he had many a jibe at the Nazi professors, one hundred of whom had condemned his theory of relativity in a book. ‘Were I wrong,’ he said, one professor would have been enough!’"
One would have been enough ...
Ironically, he would of course have had to be a professor of Physics.

Unlike, ... Oh what the heck! Just enjoy the pictures of the perfectly curvaceous Mae West
(Try to ignore poor old Albert stuck in the middle again!)

Oh, and Salvador Dali Designed and Built a two-seater Love couch in tribute to her lips
... who could resist that?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In the shadows of relationships: “Notafrend” and “Justafrend”

“Notafrend” and “Justafrend”
Such a world of difference between them!
I've been both, and I guess sometimes I returned the compliment.
So picture this in your mind for the moment:
You're walking down the road with him or her, and someone sees you.
Oh, is this your new boyfriend?
"No, no - he's just a friend".
You've just become a "Justafrend".
Someone's not ready to acknowledge the relationship yet, and a small pin prick of hurt might just find its way through. Or maybe they don't even notice that there is this budding relationship, and you wonder momentarily whether they ever will.
Any half decent soapy can spin this scenario out into several seasons :-)
Well in the movies and in the soapies things always work out, don't they?
And sometimes it works its way out in real life too.

What about the other one?
The “Notafrend” situation?
How do you know you're one?
Well actually, it's not that difficult.
Small things tell you, for instance:
You find yourself being bcc’d in e-mails.
(Now, this is not to be confused with a secret romance!
That's a completely different situation ...
Of course you're going to be under the radar there!)

No, this is something different.
You find it in the voice when you're with them and someone phones.
You sense the question being posed, and the answer comes out:
"oh, no one really! Who? ummm"
And as they drift away to somewhere a bit more private you hear the voice saying, somewhat quietly, "oh, no - he's not really a friend, just someone I know".
So there you are. You're a “Notafrend”.

Maybe cultures are clashing,
maybe it doesn't do to know this person better.
Maybe you were close to once, and life has brought you back together again. But he or she doesn't feel comfortable with acknowledging their feelings openly, maybe pride holds them back: the fear of looking foolish. Maybe, maybe you're even little happy to go along with it.
“Notafrendz”: when they're gone and you miss them, you wonder how it might have worked out.
Maybe, you think.
Just Maybe.

all images (c) cyril souchon

Thursday, September 16, 2010

one new message! but its not from you.

one new message! but its not from you.
I miss you.
dormant, an undercurrent,
now it feels real again.
"when you miss me close your eyes and enfold me ..."
I can't do that
People would see me self-absorbed and no more work being done
no more play  possible
just an endless vanity of virtual hugging
yet still
still at the never-ending
end of it all ...
still I would be missing you.
One new message ... but its not from you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Arising: beyond body, belief, and into the meaning of it all

My Grandmother and knowing yourself, reaching towards your soul

Stephen Hawkins has plonked himself firmly on the side of Physics in the battle between pro- and anti- God Factions.
Of course, he assumes the constituent parts for Universes to evolve exist, so that knackers his argument too, as it begs the question where do those constituents parts spontaneously erupt from (his answer is nothing coming and going to nothing)? ... it's a circular argument that supports every opinion.
And, since it's a fight no-one can win, let's digress away from that and reflect on the steps that spiritual people might go through to become able to rise above the arguments.

When someone says to me "I don't believe in mourning" or "I don't believe in wasting my time pining over a relationship" I look askance and I look askancer. Because what I am really hearing is that this person is not mourning, or pining. Their feelings were never that deep about the missing person/object/pet/whatever in the first place. Belief has nothing to do with it; turns out their feelings were just plain shallow to begin with. Otherwise they would have to go through a period of mourning or pining or whatever. In the same way, atheists just don't need that communal religious thing, their religion is atheism. Go figure.

My Grandmother, who had a thing or two to say about a thing or two, was once put in the awkward situation of explaining life's progress towards God: a sort of phasing of the soul, as it were. Explain that to the under 8's. So this is what she said (as best I remember - although I paraphrase and use my own words … obviously …)

There are three stages to the liberation of the Soul.
The body, the idea, the spirit ~ that's pretty much as I understood it.

The Body
We are born, she said, with what we are born.
So far so easy: If you believe that you have a Soul, then it is contained within your body, and what you've got is what you've got (despite the best efforts of Change Artists, be they stylists or surgeons!).
For example. If you have a bad temper, it's there, isn't going away. No amount of "get rid of your temper" is going to help. "Control your temper" now that'll work ~ if you keep trying sooner or later it will come under control. The message is: Learn to cope with your body, it's the base animal encapsulating you, and until you learn to master it, it masters you.

The terrible tragedy of Abusive/abused people is that their abusive/accepting natures have never been brought under control. They are both victims of their natures, and the villains too. (It seems that culture vs nature has plumped down on the nature side, which would have been satisfying for her had she lived. "In the blood" is more correctly phrased "in the DNA …")
Back to the point. Our Parents, Teachers, Friends, Society, and the rest *should* be helping us to learn the vital art of Coping with our bodies: their physical state, their natures and temperaments.

Until we have mastered our bodies, the animal natures will dominate.
When (and only when) we have mastered that, we are ready to tackle our …

Our Beliefs
We are immersed in a myriad of interlocking belief systems: the backdrop to our lives and cultures. As a small sub-section include Religion, Nationality, Race, Gender, Language, Local custom, etc. etc. etc.
Where do we learn, take on these beliefs?

From wherever we were born to wherever we travel, of course.
They stream in early: Parents, extended Family, Teachers … in fact the same crowd who teach us to control our animal natures use these belief systems to be the agents of control. Since it worked the first time round, we naturally assume this is good too.
Here's a generalization: Most people accept beliefs blindly and are contained within them for most or all of their lives. What does it mean if you never challenge your beliefs? Necessarily, you remain in blind obedience of them. Maybe that's because it's the safest position to be in, vis-à-vis the communities you must interact with and survive in.
If you never challenge your beliefs, then you are the servant of them.
It seems to be a perfectly natural thing to challenge them. From late teenage to mid 20's, all of us, to a greater or lesser degree "rebel" against authority. To the degree that society lets us, to the degree that our upbringing supports it, to the degree that the spark in our breasts demands it, we challenge.
By the time we reach our early 30's most people are patterned into, have accepted the basic truth of, their belief systems.
For most, this is a lazy acceptance of the status quo.
For the rest, the journey can result in a radical change in belief systems.
And it can happen more than once too.
For those who have never contained their baser natures, the combination of a powerful animal nature and unchallenged beliefs is a monster that behaves outside reason. Sorry for them, sorrier for those under their sway …

So here's the important thing:
  • The best we can do about our animal natures is to learn to cope with them;
  • We have the power to take on or let go the beliefs taught to us: they can be challenged, modified, discarded, assumed…

Once we have done that, we are ready to approach …

The Spirit, the Soul, the Meaning of Life
In whatever way you would like to express it.
If there are Eternal Truths, if there is a God, it/they certainly do not need anyone to stand up for it/them. By definition, being omnipotent, it is beyond existence and time, is what was before the physics of Universes became possible.
So here we stand at a threshold. For those who truly believe, their belief systems are utterly immune from challenge. To be utterly immune from challenge requires a good deal of thought and introspection, and will only happen after the side tracking body has been dealt with, and the beliefs imposed accepted and rejected with conviction.
This is that point at which one can truly approach one's place beyond the Universe (which, after all, lives and dies and rebirths like anything else we know).
To approach God, whatever that might be, we must rise above the physical animal that is our container, the self serving beliefs that govern us, into a space where the mind and body is accepted and accepting of the search.
Wisdom, Spirituality, the meaning of it all, my old grandmother implied, will only be for those who have mastered their bodies, stripped and examined their beliefs, and are then ready to move forward into those Eternal Truths.
And for those who will come with, come with.
And those who do not, well their pain and fear will be a constant threat.
Its hard work, consumes that spark of life, and in ,most parts of the world - dangerous, to go beyond.

So, Back to Stephen Hawkins!
It’s not a new position for him, but it is a rather silly one – having no religion he is better off with pure Physics.
Truly spiritual people aren't concerned with the nature of the Universe, with whether a button initiated it, even whether it exists.
They are concerned with whether the infinitesimally small spark of life contained within themselves has a purpose, and having assumed that is the case, with how to fulfill it. And that is a far, far cry from evolution debates, after all.
In fact, got nothing to do with it …

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Ties

November 1986.
It's an age of an age ago, yet it sits clear in the memory.
At the time I had been working for the QPac group of companies, then the owner/developer of the most widely used payroll system in the Western world, and after many years there I headed up the Financial Software division, QFin. QFin held the agency to the leading Financial Software Package of it's day, and our customers were a who's who of South Africa. When we held our user conference, 85 of the top 100 companies on the JSE were represented by their Financial Managers, Directors and Management Accountants … there wasn't a sector of Business that we did not straddle. SAP and Oracle would come later, but that was later. And on the Payroll side we ran even deeper. The model of pay-for-usage with affordable implementations kept our eye firmly on the goal of customer service and the pot-of-gold was a flood of recurring income.
Another company in the IT Sector was rising. Data Trust was the pre-eminent Software consultancy, and in the months leading up to November the two companies were locked in merger negotiations: my boss Des Gers led the Q team and Piet den Boer the Data Trust team. With the final talks done, the due diligences completed, the 2 companies were merged into a single entity called QData, and the success story of the SA IT world was underway. In its heyday the Q group employed 4500 highly skilled IT staff and even today, after many changes and re-arranges, BCX continues the tradition. In 1995 it was the winner of the Top 100 award and remained in the top 3 until it merged with Persetel.
In the Boardroom chosen for the day, all the Q and DT directors were gathered. Piet and Des had brought us together to meet: the listing had been a success, and QData was stretching it's wings. It was a curiously muted occasion, and what with the predominantly Afrikaans speaking directors from Piet's side and the largely English speaking Q people, the difference in language and culture held us back a bit: but we shared a common culture with regards to our view of the customer and this would pull things through later.
Brief introductions, a handshake, followed by an exchange of ties. That's them up there in the photo, the original ties from the first joint operational meeting of the newly formed QData Group.

From the Q side, a QPac tie and aQFin tie.
From Data Trust, their signature Blue and Red ties.
We came away from the meeting believing that the future was bright, but Piet came away wanting a whole lot more. He wanted to own IT is South Africa, and he near as dammit did: driving us all forward and extending the company's reach. He did it all from a little notebook that he used to keep in his shirt pocket, along with his cigarette box. We used to joke that the perfect design, perfect system, perfect anything could be described sufficiently on the back of a cigarette box, because that was as much as Piet ever needed, and look where it took him! Not too many people called him out, and survived it. I know one such, we met up in Sanlam's offices towards the end of 2009.
René's Story
She tells this story of Piet's comeuppance. She was a Business Analyst back then, and had been given a Business Case to work with. "Who wrote this piece of crap?" she asked. Piet's head popped up from behind a cubicle. "I did" he said.
So René, as one of the few people who has crossed Piet and survived, will now get one of those original ties :-). I guess she deserves it.  Two of the original set of four, one from each side, is enough for me, after all.
QPac was founded in 1967 by Des Gers and Ron Warren
Data Trust was founded on April Fools day in 1981 by Leen van der Bijl,and Bushy Bester ~ Piet (as I recall) joined them in January the following year.
Together in 1986 they were to be the driving engine of the most successful IT company in South Africa’s history.