Monthly Archives: June 2017

Laura meets the judge

When our daughter Laura was fourteen years old she spent the first half of the year at the St Cyprians Boarding School in the leafy suburb of Gardens in Cape Town. She enjoyed the experience so much that she badgered us to send her back there for the duration of the following year. Laura generally gets her own way and it was no different on this occasion.

My wife and I travelled to South Africa in June of that year, accompanied by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. We spent some time in the Kruger National Park before driving south to Cape Town, where we lingered for a few days.

When the other family members travelled on to England I remained behind with Laura. The two of us went to stay with my brother Charel and sister-in-law Marlien, who live near Hermanus, a picturesque coastal village on the east coast 120 kilometers from Cape Town.

At that stage Laura had not met any of my relatives in South Africa, apart from Charel and Marlien and their children, so I decided to take her to meet my uncle André Botha, a retired judge, and his wife Mara, who lived in a house named Langbaai in Hermanus. Their living room overlooked Walker Bay and during the whale watching season one could see the whales frolicking in the ocean from their porch.

My mum, known by the family as Sus—an abbreviation for the Afrikaans term for “sister”—was the eldest of five children. My uncle André was the youngest of her four brothers and was one of my favourites. In common with his other siblings he was highly intelligent. He was also a soft-spoken and gentle person, unlike one of his brothers who would be quite moody and aggressive at times, and another who was, in my view, just plain nasty.

We arrived at Langbaai on a lovely, crisp winter’s morning in time for morning coffee. André and Mara made a big fuss over their young Australian niece, whom they were meeting for the first time. Mara had baked a scrumptious cake, which we enjoyed with our coffee while we did the normal catching up and gossiping that families do when they had not seen each other for a while. It was all very pleasant.

Since I had last seen André he had developed a serious eye condition that was impairing his vision and rendered everything he looked at a vague blur.

“Could you please do me a favour and describe to me what Laura looks like?” he asked Mara.

“Well,” she replied, looking Laura up and down, “she has dark brown hair and brown eyes, and she definitely has Sus’ nose. You can clearly see that she that she is related to the Bothas.”

We chatted for a while longer before Laura and I got ready to depart. My uncle André looked in Laura’s direction and asked her, “Would you mind very much coming really close to me so that I can try and see for myself what you look like?”

“Yep, that’s fine,” she said and walked towards him.

My uncle stretched out his hands, cupped her face and gently drew her very close to himself, peering at her intently.

“Oh, yes,” he mused, “she definitely has the Bothas’ features.”

Then he turned towards Mara and said to her in a slightly accusing tone of voice, “But when you described her you didn’t tell me that Laura is so beautiful!”

Laura and I said our farewells and reversed out of the driveway to head back to my brother’s house. As we were taking off, Laura said dreamily, “I really like your uncle André, Dad. He is such a nice man.”

10,000 steps

Now that I am at the stage of my life where I can faintly discern the skeleton figure holding a scythe in the distance, I have started thinking about where I would like my ashes to be laid to rest. My daughter told me she was going to keep them in an urn in her house. I can’t think of anywhere worse to end up than being cooped up in an urn on a shelf, gathering dust, so I had to start thinking of more palatable alternatives that I could foist onto my family.

My initial idea was to have my ashes scattered in our garden. Then I recalled disposing of my father-in-law’s ashes in their lovely rose garden in the village of Marlow in England, only to find some years later that the new owners of the house had converted the rose garden into a boring lawn. In any case, the thought of ending up in a garden eventually owned by total strangers does not appeal.

Having considered the matter further, I decided my ashes should be taken out to sea and scattered at the Devil’s Cauldron in the ocean at Hermanus, a small coastal village in South Africa where I had spent many happy holidays with my family as a child. The Devil’s Cauldron is a group of small rocks jutting out of the sea. Through all the twists and turns in my life over the years, this was a constant familiar sight to me since early childhood. One of the first things that I do whenever I visit Hermanus is to stand on the cliff and gaze at the Devil’s Cauldron.

099 Hermanus 5 - The Devil's Boiling Pot

The Devil’s Cauldron, Hermanus

A while ago I met up with my old aunt, Mara, who lives in Hermanus. She is a born again Christian who is well aware of the fact that I am an infidel. When I told her of my wish to have my ashes scattered at the Devil’s Cauldron, Mara looked me straight in the eye and declared, “Yes, that would be right!”

But recently I changed my mind again when I came to realise what bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and expense I would burden my family with if I insisted on the Devil’s Cauldron as my final abode. I was still trying to resolve the matter of my ashes in my mind when I met my friend Alan the Wandering Philosopher earlier this week on my daily walk along the Diamond Creek.

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My obsession with walking 10,000 steps per day started fourteen years ago, when I was working at Moreland City Council in Melbourne. Our CEO had decided to encourage the members of the corporate management team to adopt a healthier lifestyle by walking 10,000 steps each day. He gave us each a step counter to wear on our belts so we could monitor our number of daily steps. At that time my job was all consuming. I spent most of my time sitting in meetings or in front of a computer at my desk. Due to work pressures I normally worked through my lunch hour and rarely ventured outside.

The first three days I wore the step counter I barely made it to 2,000 steps each day. Horrified by this result I started going for walks at lunchtimes and after dinner. I also began to park my car at the far end of the car park at the supermarket, instead of as close to the entrance as possible. Over a year or so I gradually changed my habits and increased my number of steps until I averaged 10,000 steps per day.

My wife calls me obsessive and I am not denying she has a point. “I’m just popping outside for a few minutes,” I would say after dinner.

She would roll her eyes and ask, “Still a few steps short of the 10,000 for the day then, are you?”

To which I would reply something like, “Yep, I still have another 327 steps to go. I’ll be back soon.”

When she remarks on my obsessive bent I tell her, in my own defence: “At least my obsessions are healthy ones. I could have been obsessed with chasing other women, or with getting drunk, so don’t complain.”

As part of my daily routine I walk along the Diamond Creek footpath every day. There is a spot just past the crest of an incline, before a long sweep in the path towards the west, where the local Council has done some repair works to the footpath. There is a cross-lying strain-relief groove across the path and the colour of the path changes there to a lighter shade of grey, where a section of the path has been replaced. It is exactly 4,800 steps from the car park to this point. It is here that I turn around each day after carefully stepping over the groove, in the knowledge I would make up the rest of my daily 10,000 steps by going to the supermarket and through normal other daily activity.

Alan the Wandering Philosopher, whom I often run into on my morning walk, knows all about my obsession. He texted me recently:

“I was walking along the creek path this morning. When I reached the exact spot at the path where you always turn around on your walk I couldn’t help wondering whether obsession might not be nine tenths of the law.”

“Closer to 99% in my case”, I texted back.

Earlier this week I ran into him again along the creek path and we walked together. When we got to the spot where I always turn back, he joked, “Make sure you step right across the groove before you turn back, eh.”

Suddenly a light bulb flashed inside my head.

“You know what? I think I’m going to ask my family to scatter my ashes right here after I’ve carked it.”

To which he replied: “Good idea! Just make sure they know to scatter them on the far side of the groove.”