Two bridges rideAfter a week of rain, my cycling excursion now seems a little like a delicious dream rather than a reality. But it definitely happened! Last weekend was sunny and I really did go on my first bike ride in absolutely ages. I even got a bit of a tan!

It was a glorious almost-spring afternoon, perfect for a ride around the two bridges. It’s only a 7.4km loop – although the extra 6.3km (each way) to and from the bridge turned it into a 20km round trip. Not an epic ride, certainly, but a personal best for some time.

As I started down the first hill and started to pick up speed, I felt indescribably free. For no clear reason, the mental soundtrack to my ride was  I’m Free – from the Pete Townshend musical, Tommy.  The opening lines encapsulated the moment perfectly: I’m free… I’m free… / And freedom tastes of reality!

Freedom is generally understood to be the ability to think or act as one wishes, whether an individual, group or nation state. In a world where so many people have so few personal freedoms – where they are denied freedom of movement, religious belief, political outlook and expression – my taste of reality may seem exceedingly superficial.

However, in the particular, freedom has specific connotations for every individual – and I’m very conscious of my good fortune. The freedom to do something like hop on my bike and go for a ride – just because I feel like it – is a gift beyond compare.

        If I told you what it takes / To reach the highest high, / You’d laugh and say, “Nothing’s that simple”.

But, for me, it is. Those two hours on my bike and on the river bank provided me with a mindful appreciation of my environment – which included seeing a small group of dolphins frolicking in the river, exercise, time to think, and renewal. Time well spent.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you use an expression that fits perfectly, but isn’t part of the local vernacular? A word or phrase that you’ve picked up somewhere, perhaps when living in another country or from popular culture/friends/associates?

Most often when I find myself doing so, the context makes the meaning apparent to others – even if the word/phrase isn’t in a language they’re familiar with. Sometimes, though, I get an odd look – admittedly this is usually when I make some obscure exclamation out loud to myself in public.

For example, when I try to carry too many things at once and end up dropping something… as often as not I end up exclaiming something along the lines of ‘Ja, jy wil mos!’ Unless another ex-South African is around, this sort of exclamation generally results in variations of the odd look. I guess I could use the English equivalent, but somehow it doesn’t feel as though it means the same thing. When I say ‘Jy will mos!, what I mean is Oh, come on, you knew that was stupid, but you would just go and do it anyway, wouldn’t you?’ And, seriously, who says something like that to themselves in the heat of the moment? 🙂

This use of random wordage came to mind earlier in the week, on one of my increasingly rare free-from-puppy-duties days. I’d crammed the day full of appointments, gym visits, shopping and so forth – racing from one to the other in order to get everything done before picking Cassie up from the vet after her sterilisation procedure.

CassieMolly_nap time

provitaOne of my stops was at the local Tastes of Africa shop, to pick up some of my favourite crackers (Provita) and to enjoy a vetkoek lunch. For those who have no idea what that is, vetkoek (pronounced fet-cook) is a traditional South African bread product made from yeast-based dough, shaped into medium-sized balls and then deep-fried. The result is something rather like a bread roll, but crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. You then add your preferred filling and eat it piping hot. I chose to go all traditional and have mine filled with delicious savoury mince, chutney and grated cheese. So much yum in every mouthful!

But I digress…

Having placed my order, I took my table number over to my chosen seat. When I put it down on the table I had to laugh out loud – the table numbers are all South African expressions or place names, and mine expressed to perfection in one word my general take on the day.

EishEish is another weird South Africanism – it encapsulates exasperation, disbelief, resignation – and a whole bunch more. It’s not a word I used when I lived there, but I found that I picked it up when travelling around Tasmania with my brother last November. He uses it quite a lot as we had a number of eish-moments, many ending in laughter. Perhaps that’s why it’s embedded itself in my vocab and made me smile over my (very tasty) lunch. Nostalgia’s a funny old thing.

Thinking about this later, I realised that there are quite a few random expressions in my lexicon: some Afrikaans-based ones from my childhood, some Yiddish from my high school years and so forth. This is just the start of the list and it’s by no means comprehensive, but it may help people who experience my occasional odd comments / outbursts in public places 😛

  • Aarde Genade (good heavens!) – actually a combination of earth+mercifulness, which makes no sense at all!
  • Oy vey (dismay) – a lot of this at high school
  • Chuzpah (cheek/gall) – and a fair bit of this too
  • Great Zot! (good grief!) – BC comic meme from my youth
  • Padkos (travel provisions) – literally: road food
  • Klutz! (clumsy twit) – usually what I say to myself immediately after saying Jy wil mos…
  • Jy wil mos (yeah, well, you would go and do it, wouldn’t you)
  • Muchas gracias (thanks heaps) – one of the few Spanish phrases I retained after our visit in 2007
  • Now now (soonish) – this one confuses the locals regularly 🙂
  • Oh my giddy aunt! (amazement) – I blame my friend Vicki for this one!

On a recent rainy afternoon (rather like today) I went hunting for something to read. As always, I had heaps of must-reads cluttering up my bedside table –  but none of them appealed. They all seemed too weighty or too complicated. Basically none of them fitted what I was after… so I went trawling through our library for something that felt right.  What I found was our remaining three Dick Francis paperbacks.

Dick Francis novels

I don’t remember when exactly started reading Dick Francis thrillers, but it was sometime in my teens. What I do remember is just how much I loved them. The writing style was clear and clever, the protagonists easy to identify with, and the detail on all aspects of the racing world intensely believable. I also remember that I was both surprised and gratified to discover that Dick Francis was a retired champion jockey. No wonder his words seemed to hold the ring of authenticity!

Over the years I’ve continued to read his books, some from the public library, some from stock – and even buying them from second-hand bookshops when on holiday. The man was a prolific writer, producing over 40 novels, along with an autobiography and the official biography of racing legend Lester Piggott. It’s been fun to discover and rediscover his version of the racing world each time I’ve delved into one of them.

Not long ago, we swapped many of our paper copies for eBook versions – and I confess I do miss those well-thumbed old paperbacks. Even so, Kindle in hand, I’ve romped through Banker, Bolt and Come to Grief over the past few days – revelling the adventures of Kit Fielding, Sid Halley and Tim Ekaterin, all top blokes and very dashing protagonists.

It’s been a bit like coming home after being away for ages – the feeling that I’m reacquainting myself with people I’ve half forgotten but who’s company I enjoy each time we meet up. I’m looking forward to spending time with Neil Griffon in Bonecrack next, then Gene Hawkins in Bloodsport. I’ve got the rest queued and ready to go – and if the rainy weather persists, I may make it through them all 🙂

Have you read any? If not, you could try your local library for a taster – it really doesn’t matter in which order you read them.

What builds resilience in individuals – and what diminishes the capacity for resilience? I’ve been thinking about this a bit over the last few weeks whilst trying to manage the turbulence that is life-with-puppies.

First of all, what is resilience? Well, it’s generally considered to be the capacity individuals have to cope with difficulties/stress, ranging from personal tragedy or trauma to issues at home/in the workplace, financial pressures or health problems. The more resilience you have, the better you are at rolling with the punches that life throws at you, dusting yourself off and carrying on.

Different people cope with similar situations very differently, and sometimes even those who appear quite resilient in one set of circumstances may be very vulnerable in others. However, experience and observation (very unscientific, I know, but there you go) has shown me that resilience is an attribute that can both be learned and expanded upon with use. The key seems to be to try to avoid being overly change-averse. Or, to put it another way, to focus on having a flexible outlook.

I’ve found that honing my capacity to manage change has in turn made me more able to notice and manage stress when it arises, to think positively and even to learn new skills. That, combined with support from loved ones and a good night’s sleep makes an enormous difference in coping with vagaries of life.

But building resilience takes work and, at times, it can seem insurmountably difficult to achieve. Indeed, after multiple dog dramas and two emergency vet runs in as many weeks, my personal resilience capacity sank to what felt like an all time low. It happens. But T and I managed to accommodate the dramas, move through the emotional responses and, if not bounce back, exactly, at least totter back from the outcomes.

And each time we manage to bounce back – no matter how slowly we do it – we’re better equipped to do so the next time something comes up. We’re building our resilience without even realising it. We certainly know where our local emergency vet practice is located now and that Thursday nights is their busiest time!

Today we rewarded ourselves for surviving another puppy-infested-drama-laden-week with… gingerbread. We all need to be looked after and sometimes self-nurturing is the most useful gift we can give ourselves. Today, that gift is gingerbread. Lots of tasty gingerbread. I feel significantly more resilient with every slice 🙂

Nik’s Gingerbread Recipe

I’ve made this gingerbread loaf countless times over the past 30+ years. It’s never failed to be soft, moist and absolutely delicious. It’s dead easy to make and freezes well – and if you slice it beforehand, you get to have a treat a day for as many days as there are slices. This recipe makes two medium sized loaves or one really big one. Plan accordingly 🙂

Set the oven to 180C (350F). Line two medium-sized loaf pans with foil; lightly coat the foil with oil/butter.

3 cups plain flour , 1-cup sugar (I prefer raw sugar, but use whatever sort you like), 3 teaspoons ginger, pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons mixed spice, 1 teaspoon baking power, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda – mixed with 1/4 cup of water, 1-cup oil, 3 eggs. 1-cup golden syrup (or treacle, if you prefer – both work), 1-cup lukewarm water

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour the mix into the prepared loaf pans. Bake for approximately 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes or so before turning out. Serve warm or cold – and with butter if you like it that way.

Note: if you bake this in one LARGE loaf pan (as I did today), then it’s a good idea to drop the temp to about 160-170 — it takes longer, but the top won’t get that interesting darker-than-dark shade and super-delicious crunchy bits 😛

Last week I was privileged to attend an event entitled Recovery Stories by Candlelight, as part of the WAAMH Conference, held in Kings Park over two days.

The story event was the culmination of many weeks of preparation, during which 20 individuals took part in a series of professional storytelling workshops. Nine people were selected at the end to be part of the live performance evening, telling their stories of the lived experience of recovery from mental illness.


The evening started with (delicious!) gourmet paella, made in ginormous pans, followed by a selection of decadent desserts. The Spirit of the Steets Choir then took the stage and performed four songs.  A few of the choir members shared their own stories of recovery through music, each of which was touching and heartfelt.

Then we got the featured stories – nine brave and amazing people who shared their hurt, struggle and determination to live life as fully as possible. The challenges that each individual had faced – that many still face – and the way they were articulated, left me speechless. These included coping with PTSD, postnatal psychosis, chronic anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, self-harm, schizoaffective disorders and eating disorders. The evening was an emotional roller coaster, many of the stories moving me to tears.

Stories unify us, providing us with insights – not only into the lives and experiences of others, but into our own complicated (and often unaddressed) issues. It’s often the spoken word, the heard and remembered stories that have the greatest impact.

Things I thought, en route home afterwards:

  • Humans are fragile
  • Wounded storytellers sharing their journey of healing wield power to shape the world around them
  • People need to be kind to themselves. Life can be a struggle and your inner you might make the difference to your survival.
  • We need to accept that whilst aspiring to more in life is fine, stepping back and being grateful for what is has value too
  • Take stock and be grateful – that you (I) have enough, whether it’s enough to eat, enough love, enough energy or enough strength

Thank you, WAAMH, for hosting this powerful event. Thank you, brave and beautiful Karen, for inviting me to share it with you.