Hot off the UPS delivery truck all the way from the USA via Dubai to Johannesburg to Cape Town to me! At last, the author copies of my new novel have arrived. They seems to have been on a little book tour of their own since I ordered them from Amazon on 6th December.
But never mind. They’re here now and I’m very pleased with the look and feel of them. And the smell. Don’t you just love that when you open a brand new book?
I gave you a little opening excerpt from the book to whet your appetite last week, but today I have something special to tempt you with. It’s the recipe for Auntie Rose’s vegetable curry, which she uses to fill her famous rotis. I took a tiny peek over her shoulder when she was last making them.
Auntie Rose is always cooking up a storm. Maybe she’ll bring out her own recipe book some day!
In the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, we’re taking a trip up the west coast of South Africa to a small town called Laaiplek, situated where the Berg River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the spot where my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess was conceived.
A visit to Mike Harvey’s lovely River Tides guest house just after New Year has become something of a tradition for us, although sadly our sundowners with Mike have had to be postponed this year with beaches and rivers out-of-bounds and travel between ‘hot-spots’ actively discouraged. But we will return.
Here I am, back in January 2019, sitting on the shady bench on the right hand side of the photo, busy with pen and notebook, during our customary short summer break. I might well have been writing the very words that eventually evolved into the first chapter of the book, which started as a short story involving Sam the fisherman and his little boat, Porcupine.
Sitting by the banks of the broad brackish Berg River, fishing boats periodically put-putter past. It was easy to start to imagine a story about one of them. A little blue-painted fishing boat, which I watched throttling past the old fish-processing factory as it set out on an evening voyage, captured my imagination.
I know from reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, that night-time is the right time to catch octopuses, using a little olive oil to ‘calm troubled waters’ and a light to attract them. But then, once Sam had caught his two octopuses, I desperately wanted to save them because, as we all know, they are at least as intelligent as dogs, and I really couldn’t bring myself to let them be despatched. And so the fantasy was created and the adventure begun.
Some of you might remember the original short story from when I put it up on my blog almost exactly two years ago, although it has undergone some reworking and refinement since then. But the essence of the place remains unchanged, for who could fail to be inspired by a location like this?
“Many ghosts of ships and men haunt Laaiplek. A place of adventure and romance.“ ‘Coast of Treasure’ by Laurence G. Green (1932)
Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’
Sam casts off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers are disappearing behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as he pushes the throttle forward and eases little Porcupine out into the broad brackish river that leads to the ocean.
Gulls wheel noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blink at each other on either side of the bay. Sam pushes the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He runs his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and sets his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.
Sam grew up on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still is. But he’s escaped. He had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he fixed it up with the help of a retired ship’s engineer called Jannie, who spends his days giving advice and watching the activity in the little harbour by the river mouth.
Sam and Porcupine make a great team. He’s brought the little boat back to life and in return she gives him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he’s fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounds the coast to his favourite cove and drops anchor.
Night comes quickly, and within half an hour Sam has two good-sized octopuses in his fishing bucket. He shifts a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam has been busy helping out in the harbour all day. He feels the stiffness of a hard day’s work; he’s tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, Sam slips away into a glorious slumber.
He is awakened by the sound of voices. Someone’s on the boat!
‘Concentrate,’ says the first.
‘I am concentrating,’ says the second, rather indignantly.
Sam holds up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He stands up and turns around sharply. There’s no one. He walks around the little deck, holding up the lamp and peering out into the inky ocean. Then he hears them again.
‘Over he-re,’ the voice calls in a sing-song voice.
‘Over he-re,’ joins in the second voice in a deeper tone.
Sam spins around. Where are the voices coming from?
‘Coo-e,” calls the first voice.
Suddenly a jet of water spurts out of the fishing bucket, wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waves at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waves again.
Sam crouches down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bob up, their eyes fasten upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winks at him. ‘No!” Sam stands up and takes a step backwards. More tentacles appear, waving at him. Sam shakes his head.
‘Let us go!’
‘Please, mister fisherman!’
Sam approaches the bucket again. He squats down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’
‘We’re not fish,’ says the first voice indignantly.
Sam rubs his eyes; he pinches himself.
‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extends towards Sam’s arm and prods him gently. ‘This is real.’
‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sings the first voice.
‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ choruses the second.
It’s as if someone has taken over control of his body. Sam picks up the bucket and steps over to the side of the boat where he gently inverts it. As the two octopuses slide into the sea, a huge wave breaks over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The empty bucket lands next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobs about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appear above the waves. As Sam tries to find his feet, a vast tentacle reaches onto the deck and grabs the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.
I return to the cave behind the koppie one last time. I’m alone. My story-teller has finished his story now. Still I am drawn to this place where the veld stretches out to the smudge-blue mountains. It is late afternoon, when the sun’s red-orange afterglow becomes a purple-haze dusk; when the air is alive with spirits.
Inside the cave, my hand traces the outlines of the eland and the hunter who stands, bow and arrow poised, taking aim at the beast. A shadow moves across the scene and I turn to see the figure of a man outlined against the burning sunset. For a moment I think it’s the story-teller. But no, this is someone else.
He’s dressed in a long blanket; a string of beads decorates his head. He carries a long, stout stick which he lays against the cave entrance before stepping silently into the cave.
The San man.
He points at the eland and at the hunter. He turns to me and our eyes meet. His are the colour of the early morning sky. They tell me that he was that hunter and this was the first eland he ever killed. Killing an eland made him a man.
He beckons me over to another drawing. A lion and a man stand next to a bush which has strips of meat hanging from its branches. The man doesn’t fear the lion, because they are friends. The man shares his meat with the lion and the lion does the same with his kill. They belong to the land and the land belongs to them.
Together we walk to the cave entrance and stand looking out across the veld as the sky darkens; two tiny figures in a vast universe.
My storyteller falls silent, staring at the distant smudge-blue mountains. Sitting on the still-warm rocks, he is a ‘there-not there’ presence beside me.
The sun sets quickly here. Now the great African moon, reclining serenely on her back, casts a soft glow over the darkening veld.
All is still.
Soon the broad African sky is star-pricked velvet. Orion, the hunter, with his belt of three she-tortoises hanging on a stick, stalks across the western sky. The frothy plume of the Milky Way is a handful of ashes, cast into the sky by a Bushman girl to light the way for her people to return home.
Long, long ago was that past-time when the great herds roamed the plains: springbok in their multitudes, steenbok, kudu, eland and wildebeest. Then there were lions and elephants in the veld; and jackals, wild dogs and hyenas; great giraffes and rhino, small hares and porcupines. Now only their ghosts remain, painted on the cave walls behind me.
A huge 4×4, lights ablaze, erupts across the highway below, shattering the silence. My storyteller shakes himself and stands. He turns to me, nods and walks away.
I was nominated for this award byVickleawho has been very supportive of my writing since I started posting at the start of this year. I’m very pleased because it’s given me an opportunity to share an example of how some people help each other in my adopted country, South Africa.
South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. We have the very, very rich (a small number) and the very, very poor (sadly many more). We may think we’re somewhere in the middle, but the vast majority of the population live on very little.
We are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ a housekeeper, Joyce, and a gardener / handyman, Johannes, a couple of days a week. This sounds quite grand, or at least it seemed to me to be so when we first came over here. We don’t necessarily need the help, although it’s nice to have someone to do the housework and look after the garden. It also gives us an excuse to help them to support their families.
However, this is not about us in our privileged position and what we do, rather I want to share something which Joyce did for one of the kids in her neighbourhood last week.
Joyce was standing by the gate to her little rented house having just seen her youngest child Joshua and her grandchild, Lesego, off to school. She was watching some of the other children make their way to school when she noticed a little boy of about Joshua’s age struggling to walk in gum boots which were much too big for him. She could see by how he was dressed that he came from a family who must have very little to spend on clothes and shoes. She called him over and saw that he was crying. He said it was because the gum boots hurt his feet and made it hard for him to walk.
Joyce told him to wait by the gate. She fetched a pair of Joshua’s shoes. The shoes were in good condition and still fit Joshua, but he did have his school shoes and a pair of trainers as well and Joyce decided that she must give them to the little boy who was struggling. He tried them on and they fit. He was over the moon! Joyce gave him a plastic bag for the gum boots and off he ran to school so as not to be late. On his way back that afternoon, he came and thanked Joyce again.
When she told me, I could see how happy she was to have been in a position to help the little boy, even though she herself manages on a very modest budget as a single mum, with a grown up daughter and son, another son who’s studying civil engineering and the two little ones.
All through life we encounter people who for no particular reason help someone out, or extend a hand when needed. Some do it directly and some do it indirectly. 1- copy or paste image for reward on your post. 2- Write about a random act of kindness, either you saw, was given to you, or you have done. It is okay to spread the love people. You don’t have to name specific names or whatever but tell us about it. 3- Share this award and link to original post or tag the person who nominated you. 4- If you should want to do this then you can leave an open ended invitation, or personally tag others. 5- Pictures are a good share to, if you have pictures to share a random act of kindness, that is great!
I’m leaving this Award open to anyone who might read this and like to share something good. There’s too much bad stuff in the world.