Songs Mom Still Plays – 3

Mom has played the piano for about eighty years. First Granny Bland’s Ottobach, then her own Bentley she bought from her aunt Marie Bain. She can no longer read her sheet music, so doesn’t play her classical music anymore, but she still plays our favourite popular singalong and dance songs.

I thought I’d know the names of the songs – I don’t! I’ll find them and come back and add them in.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lockdown Lookback -4

Here’s a stirring tale of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and my family. It also obliquely references a lockdown and social distancing. In fact a much longer lockdown than we have endured: From 13 October 1899 to 17 May 1900, the people of Mahikeng – which the Poms called Mafeking – were locked down and besieged by the locals during the Anglo-Boer War. Theirs lasted 217 days.

In Oct 2018 I wrote: Whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet singing Pencil Thin Mustache I think of my uncle Dudley, oops, my cousin Dudley.

Dudley Bain was a character and my second cousin. I had known him over the years when he used to visit his old home town of Harrismith, but really got to know him once I started practicing optometry in Durban. He was very fond of his first cousin, my Mom Mary – and thus, by extension, of me.

Dudley worked in the Mens Department of John Orrs in downtown Durban back when there was only downtown. Anybody who was anybody worked in downtown. Anywhere else was “the sticks”. Even in 1980 I remember someone saying “Why would you want to be out there?” when optometrists De Marigny & Lello opened a practice in a little insignificant upstairs room on the Berea above a small gathering of shops called Musgrave Centre.

Dapper, hair coiffed, neatly dressed, often sporting a cravat, Dudley had a pencil thin moustache and definite opinions. He was highly chuffed he now had a pet family optometrist to look after him when I first hit downtown and then Musgrave centre.

Fitting his spectacle frame was a challenge as he got skin cancer and his surgeon lopped off ever-bigger pieces of his nose and ears until he had no ear one side and a tiny little projection on which to hook his glasses on the other side. He would hide these ala Donald Trump by combing his hair over them and spraying it carefully in place. I am glad I wasn’t his hairdresser.

He would pop into the practice frequently ‘to see my cousin’ – for me to adjust his frames by micro-millimetres to his satisfaction. He walk in and demand ‘Where’s my cousin?’ If the ladies said I was busy he’d get an imperious look, clutch his little handbag a bit tighter and state determinedly, ‘I know he’ll see me.’ They loved him and always made sure I saw him. He’d ‘only need a minute; just to adjust my frame, not to test my eyes,’ and half an hour later their knocks on the door would get ever more urgent. Then they’d ring me on the internal line, and I’d say ‘Dudley, I got to go.’

I would visit him occasionally at their lovely old double-storey home in Sherwood – on a panhandle off Browns Grove. Then they moved to an A-frame-shaped double-storey home out Hillcrest way, in West Riding.

We had long chats while I was his pet optometrist and I wish I could remember more of them. I’ll add as they come floating back. I’m trying to remember his favourite car. One thing he often mentioned was the sound of the doves in his youth. How that was his background noise that epitomised Harrismith for him. The Cape Turtle Dove . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dudley married the redoubtable Ethne, Girl Guides maven. I found this website, a tribute to Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide – so that’s what me link this post tenuously to our lockdown:

Olave St. Clair Soames, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., World Chief Guide, died in 1977. In 1987 her daughter and granddaughter, Betty Clay and Patience Baden-Powell, invited readers to send in their memories of the Chief Guide to The Guider magazine.

They wrote:-
Everyone who knew Olave Baden-Powell would have a different story to tell, but if all the stories were gathered together, we would find certain threads which ran through them all, the characteristics which made her beloved. Here are a few of the remembrances that people have of her, and if these spark off similar memories for you, will you please tell us?

Here’s Ethne’s contribution:
3 West Riding Rd, Hillcrest, Natal 3610, South Africa
When I was a newly-qualified teacher and warranted Brownie Guider in Kenya in 1941, our Colony Commissioner – Lady Baden-Powell – paid a visit to the Kitale Brownie Pack. Due to an epidemic of mumps, the school closed early and Lady B-P was not able to see the children, but she took the trouble to find me and had a chat across the driveway (quarantine distance) for a short time.

A year later at a big Guide Rally at Government House in Nairobi, the Guides and Brownies were on parade, and after inspection Lady B-P greeted us all individually, and without hesitation recognized me as the Guider who had mumps at Kitale. Each time we met in the future, she joked about the mumps.

My next encounter was some twenty years later, on a return visit to Kenya, in 1963, with my husband (that’s our Dudley!), our Guide daughter D. (Diana) and our Scout son P (Peter). We stayed at the Outspan Hotel at Nyeri where the B-Ps had their second home Paxtu. We soon discovered that Lady B-P was at home, but the Hotel staff were much against us disturbing their distinguished resident. However, we knew that if she knew that a South African Scout/Guide family were at hand she would hastily call us in. A note was written – “A S.A. Scout, Guide and Guider greet you.” Diana followed the messenger to her bungalow but waited a short distance away. As lady B-P took the note she glanced up and saw our daughter. We, of course, were not far behind. Immediately she waved and beckoned us to come, and for half-an-hour we chatted and were shown round the bungalow, still cherished and cared for as it had been in 1940-41.

Baden-Powell house Nyeri Kenya
– ‘Paxtu’ at Nyeri –

It was easy to understand her great longing to keep returning to this beautiful peaceful place, facing the magnificent peaks of Mount Kenya with such special memories of the last four years of B-P’s life. From her little trinket-box, Lady B-P gave me a World Badge as a memento of this visit which unfortunately was lost in London some years later. Before leaving Nyeri we visited the beautiful cedar-wood Church and B-P’s grave facing his beloved mountain.

My most valued association with Lady B-P was the privilege and honour of leading the organization for the last week of her Visit to South Africa in March 1970. Each function had a lighter side and sometimes humorous disruption by our guest of honour. The magnificent Cavalcade held at King’s Park, PieterMaritzBurg deviated from schedule at the end when Lady B-P called the Guides and Brownies of all race groups to come off the stand to her side; they were too far away. A surge of young humanity made for the small platform in the centre of the field where she stood with one Commissioner, a Guide and three Guiders. Without hesitation, Gervas Clay (her son-in-law) leapt down from the grandstand two steps at a time and just made Lady B-P’s side before the avalanche of children knocked her over. Anxious Guide officials wondered how they were going to get rid of them all again. The Chief Guide said to them, “When I say SHOO, go back to your places, you will disappear.” Lo, and behold, when she said “SHOO, GO back!” they all turned round and went back. You could hear the Guiders’ sighs of relief.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Steve Reed wrote: Hilarious – I reckon every family worth its salt should have had an uncle like that. Something for the kids to giggle about in secret at the family gatherings while the adult dads make grim poker faced humorous comments under their breath while turning the chops on the braai. And for the mums to adore the company of. Good value.

And funny Steve should mention that!

Sheila remembers: “After Annie’s funeral, in our lounge in Harrismith, Dudley was pontificating about something and John Taylor – married to Sylvia Bain, another cousin of Dudleys – muttered to me under his breath ‘Still an old windgat.‘”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Family tree: (Sheila to check): Dudley Bain was the eldest son of Ginger Bain, eldest son of Stewart Bain who came out to Harrismith from Scotland in 1878. My gran Annie Bain Bland was Ginger’s sister, so Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel and Dudley Bain were first cousins.

Lockdown Lookback -3

Another random re-post from way back called: “Uh, Correction, Mrs Bedford!” from my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com – chosen as I was recently sent 48yr-old evidence by a classmate!

In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match – Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be his last game.

Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith English-as-second-language teacher and – Springbok captain’s Mom! Hence our feeling like special guests! She was up in the stands directly behind us. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.

Tommy Bedford Springbok

Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”

We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right.’ Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.

jane-bedford-portrait

“corrections of corrections of corrections”

Mrs Bedford taught English to people not exactly enamoured of the language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!

Stop Press! Today I saw an actual bona-fide example of this! Schoolmate Gerda has kept this for nigh-on fifty years!

– genuine rare Harrismith Africana !!! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Much later:

In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.

So I didn’t.

It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of any real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.

~~~oo0oo~~~

ou Vis – nickname meaning old fish – dunno why

Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford;’

~~oo0oo~~~

Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world, and sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.

Songs Mom Still Plays – 2

“Poor Little Angeline” – by (maybe) Will Grosz, Hugh Williams, S. Wilson & Jimmy Kennedy – 1936

~~~oo0oo~~~

She was sweet sixteen, Little Angeline, always dancing on the village green, as the boys went by, you could hear them cry, Poor Little Angeline. Oh her eyes were brown and her hair hung down, laddered stockings and her old blue gown, but she dreamed we’re told of a lover bold Poor Little Angeline. Then one day a prince came a-riding, and he stopped right by her side, very soon she heard him confiding, I want to make you my bride. What a pretty scene on the village green, when the prince was wed to Angeline. Now as his princess, she’s a great success, Poor Little Angeline

New Book Coming!

Johnny Vassilaros is a courageous mensch. And an author. And I can’t wait!

Foreward by Advocate Peter Rowan
I have known Johnny since 2003. I have spent many long hours with him, in meetings, in consultations, in Court proceedings, in open debate and in argument (even between us). He is a man of the utmost integrity. He is a man of high intelligence, a man of conviction and undeniably strong character. He has values and standards to be admired, a man of good, fair and even judgement, a family man, a music lover, a historian and environmentalist. A spade is a spade, and he calls it that way. Nothing in the civic domain is done for his own ego, or his own pocket. What he does is motivated by distinguishing between principles of right and wrong, and then, resolutely pursuing what is good for the situation that lies before him. He is disciplined, tough and unrelenting in pursuing his goals.

The nucleus of this book is the story of the Durban Paddle Ski Club, of which Johnny found himself as chairman, during the most taxing period in its history, and which was to have a profound effect on the plight of a most valuable public asset – Vetch’s Beach. This book has many interesting stories to tell. It brings colourful characters back to life by their amazing and often insane deeds in their pursuit of big fish on their little boats. And then, the anecdotes, historical facts about Durban, the pioneers of this city, shipping, the once dreaded “Bar” and shipping disasters off our coast, only a few life spans ago. For the fishing fanatics – just read it!

– Johnny Vassilaros and Pete Rowan – men of principle –


But this book is more than that. It also covers a most serious topic, that being the biggest and most expensive and controversial coastal development in the history of this city – the Point waterfront development. Having read the book, all I can say is “Wow!” The meticulous attention to detail and irrefutable accuracy on the facts is immaculate. Yes, some 250 pages are devoted to the tragedy of Vetch’s, where those who would like to know what truly happened, should read and read again. Johnny does not mince his words. He slaughters politicians, prominent municipal officials and powerful businessmen, decimates major role players from certain water sports clubs, all so justifiably, through their unethical deeds committed throughout the long Point waterfront years. If you don’t know who these individuals are, read about them in this book.

But the author doesn’t go at people simply for the sake of doing it. He acknowledges good and good people and good deeds. He despises bad or useless incompetent people, and most of all, reveals the wrongdoings, the corruption and skulduggery, all of which, we see aplenty in his book. He also provides more irrefutable facts, explaining how all this has led to the loss of the watersports clubs’ premises and the cost to the ecosystem at Vetch’s. 

Johnny writes both from the head and from the heart. He adds comment which is well founded, and where he castigates the unfortunates and criticises others, he does so because it is relevant to the story he unfolds. His words amount to fair and justifiable comment and criticism, made for the public good, all within his constitutional rights and freedom of speech. The events that he describes involved matters that could so easily have been laid to rest around a table with sportsmen and women, as we were all meant to be, acting reasonably,  in the interests of all our wants and needs of our respective sports. That’s what reasonable and civilised people with any sense of decency and good sportsmanship would have done.

But that was not to be. Not this bunch with whom we had to deal. Six individuals, who, as a committee, snuck off and formed a “Point Watersports Club”, with a “constitution” not remotely relevant to the aims and objectives of the water sports clubs, and, most importantly, in total contradiction to a legally-binding agreement they had all previously signed. And, staggeringly, with no mandate from their members and without any of them having any inkling that this was going on. And yet, this continued for years and the members still say nothing to this day.

How much in litigation costs did all of this amount to for the clubs, and ultimately the members? Johnny raises this in his book. I would conservatively estimate that between this “PWC”, whoever they may be, the DUC and the Durban Ski Boat Club, must have paid in the region of R5 million if not more. Look at what it cost the Paddle Ski Club and Save Vetch’s Association to save the beach, whilst others stood by – millions. What a waste! And how much irredeemable human and tangible destruction took place whilst all of this was going on?

And for me, one of the most dramatic standout points. How and why and on whose mandate did Hall, Kidger and Donald come to give away, in 2015, all the clubs’ rights to invaluable freehold property, to arguably own the highly valued land on which they were to build their clubhouse? Were these self-appointed directors simply dancing to the tune of the developer, giving away land that was worth millions, without a murmur? One can only be left wondering whether anyone was ever rewarded, for this act of “high treason”. No matter how one looks at this, it stinks. Rotten to the core. Should we not all be digging deeper into this? If we do, some people might just land up in jail. Johnny’s book lays this bare. Read it with care.

There is one last thing that needs to be published. The man I chose, during difficult times to put my money on, ahead of a multitude of erstwhile friends, the Geriatskis, and all of those who paddle with them. When I teamed up with the Geriatskis, paddling and socialising with them at DUC, it became one of the most motivating factors in my life. It was pure fun and pleasure. What camaraderie, banter amongst, what I imagined true friends to be! But when crunch time came, when it was clear that Hall was leading them down the garden path, and I started to ask questions and take a strong stance, where were these people? It seemed easier for them to step back and drift with the tide or blow with the wind.

Taking a strong value judgment call or a moral stance, or simply for the stark ecological sake of saving the beach, was not for these folk. But they paddle across that stretch of water, saved by others making huge sacrifices, day in and day out – conscience free, having done nothing to save the reef they so guilelessly now use. They went along with Hall because it was convenient and expedient. As tough and as sad as it has been breaking away and being excised from a strong group of wonderful erstwhile friends, and sad as the lonely situation is that I have now found myself in, I would suppose a gregarious fellow by nature, I wouldn’t swap Johnny Vassilaros and his solid principled fishing ski guys as friends for any one of these fickle souls – in my view, may they forever hang their heads in shame every time they paddle across the Vetch’s basin. Read about it.

I associate myself with all the facts set out in this book and with the words of the author, having been part of the action and privy to the multitude of documents and the voluminous court papers, which I still have in my possession. I am in the privileged position of being able to support or refute either the content of the book or any further comments that may arise. I challenge those who disagree with the content to revert, by way of constructive written exchanges, and back their views with adequate proof. I also challenge any one of you to take us to Court on whatever cause of action you may wish to rely upon.  

I salute this man, Johnny Vassilaros, for his tenacity and his courage in disclosing the truth. He is a man who I would want alongside me if ever we were to go to war. 

Advocate Peter Rowan SC       (Durban February 2020)

~~~oo0oo~~~

Songs Mom Still Plays – 1

Over on my blog about the olden days in the Orange Free State – you know, when knights were bold and nights were cold – I’m running a series on the classical music pieces Mom Used to Play on her piano while we were growing up. Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and fellas like that. Those are mostly played by ‘guest artists’ as we have very little of her classical pieces ‘on tape.’

Here it’ll be different. Mom will feature in person! playing the popular songs she knows by heart – reading her sheet music has become just too hard, but at 91yrs old she can still belt out some of her favourites. Quality varies – cellphone video’ing by sister Sheila and myself – and as she has good days and bad visually and cognitively. But she has fun and people listening generally love her playing.

Well, Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat – Let’s go! ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ is a 1930 song composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Some authors say that Fats Waller was the composer, but that he sold the rights to the song.

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET From the Monogram Picture “Swing Parade Of 1946” (Dorothy Fields / Jimmy McHugh)

Grab your coat and get your hat, Leave your worry on the doorstep, Just direct your feet To the sunny side of the street. Can’t you hear a pitterpat? And that happy tune is your step, Life can be so sweet On the sunny side of the street. I used to walk in the shade With those blues on parade, But I’m not afraid, This rover crossed over. If I never have a cent I’ll be rich as Rockefeller, Gold dust at my feet, On the sunny side of the street. (Contributed by Ferda Dolunay, lyricsplayground.com – April 2005)

Here’s some of her repertoire in her own handwriting – Sheila has more. I see our first one is No.9 on the Quick Step side:

Recorded by: Ray Anthony; Louis Armstrong; Chris Barber; Count Basie; BBC Big Band; Tony Bennett; Les Brown; Dave Brubeck; Benny Carter; Frank Chacksfield; June Christy; King Cole Trio; Nat King Cole; Harry Connick Jr.; Bing Crosby; Doris Day; The Dorsey Brothers; Jimmy Dorsey; Tommy Dorsey; Roy Eldridge; Duke Ellington; Dorothy Fields; Ella Fitzgerald; Helen Forrest; The Four Freshmen; The Four Lads; Judy Garland; Erroll Garner; Georgia Gibbs; Dizzy Gillespie; Benny Goodman; Stephane Grappelli; Lionel Hampton; Coleman Hawkins; Earl Hines; Billie Holiday; Jack Hylton; The Ink Spots; Harry James; Louis Jordan; Bert Kaempfert; Stan Kenton; Diana Krall; Frankie Laine; Brenda Lee; Peggy Lee; Jack Lemmon; Ted Lewis; Liberace; Nellie Lutcher; Manhattan Transfer; Barry Manilow; Shelly Manne; Dean Martin; Johnny Mathis; Billy May; Jimmy McHugh; Glenn Miller; The Modernaires; Rita Moreno; Ella May Morse; Willie Nelson; Anita O’Day; Charlie Parker; Les Paul & Mary Ford; Oscar Peterson; The Pied Pipers; Louis Prima; Leon Redbone; Don Redman; Django Reinhardt; Marty Robbins; Artie Shaw; George Shearing; Frank Sinatra; Keely Smith; Dorothy Squires; Jo Stafford; Art Tatum; Johnny Tillotson; Fats Waller; Dinah Washington; Chick Webb; Clarence Williams; Teddy Wilson; ….. and many more.

Lockdown Lookback -2

Re-posting ancient content as a lookback during lockdown.

This post from my matric (or senior high school) year back in 1972. I chose it as just yesterday Sheila discovered letters I had written home from the course! So I added one 48yr-old letter and re-posted it here from my early days blog – http://www.vrystaatconfessions.com

Veld & Vlei at Greystones on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972, my matric – or senior – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said.

Veld & Vlei Greystones Wagendrift
– Veld & Vlei leadership course July 1972 at Greystones near Estcourt –

Memories of a busy week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!

Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs:

Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!

Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!

Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! By bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.

Photographic trip to Giant's Castle Vulture Hide with Helen

We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source. It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!”

Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early!
We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.

But our rucksacks were packed . .

mt-aux-sources_rucksack_2

  • – my rucksack – seen here on Sheila’s back –

. . and our wanderlust aroused, so we headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut.

Mt aux Sources_2 (2)

Mt aux Sources ca1970

  • same hut – different time –

~~~oo0oo~~~

I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.

But then I found a website by someone who had been on the same course – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast – and he had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also had his course report and certificate, which I no longer have.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Stop Press! Today got a letter from the dim and distant past: A letter I wrote my parents soon after getting to the course – on the second evening, it seems? This, written 48yrs ago!

Veld Vlei letter 1972_1

Veld Vlei letter 1972_2

Giants Castle pic from howieswildlifeimages.com – thanks!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lockdown Loaded

Sundry garden fauna and flora! Not having pets helps – especially with the mongoose, I’m sure.

– Top L African Monarch?; Bottom R Blue Pansy – Brown Pansy –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Neighbours bordering the Palmiet Nature reserve (we have a road between us and the reserve) have also seen seeing some amazing sightings during lockdown:

– “shifrafred” – banded mongoose family – plus bemused dassie onlooker –
– someone’s bushbuck – nkonka –
– Roger Hogg’s White-eared Barbet nestling –
– Lellos mamba –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Be a Cynic – It’s the Decent Thing To Do

It’s claimed that at the age of 44 our cynicism starts to grow. But being cynical isn’t necessarily a bad thing, argues Julian Baggini. It’s at the heart of great satire and, perhaps more importantly, leads us to question what is wrong with the world – and strive to make it better . . .
Test how cynical you are

Thanks to Julian Baggini with added emphases and additions of my own!!

If there’s one thing that makes me cynical, it’s optimists. They are just far too cynical about cynicism. If only they could see that cynics can be happy, constructive, even fun to hang out with, they might learn a thing or two.

Perhaps this is because I’m 44 (um, I was once!), which, according to a new survey, is the age at which cynicism starts to rise. But this survey itself merely illustrates the importance of being cynical. The cynic, after all, is inclined to question people’s motives and assume that they are acting self-servingly unless proven otherwise. Which is just as well, as it turns out the “study” in question is just another bit of corporate PR to promote a brand whose pseudo-scientific stunt I won’t reward by naming. Once again, cynicism proves its worth as one of our best defences against spin and manipulation.

I often feel that “cynical” is a term of abuse hurled at people who are judged to be insufficiently “positive” by those who believe that negativity is the real cause of almost all the world’s ills. This allows them to breezily sweep aside sceptical doubts without having to go to the bother of checking if they are well-grounded. In this way, for example, Edward Snowden’s leaks about the CIA’s surveillance practices have been dismissed because they contribute to “the corrosive spread of cynicism”. So the spread of truth – the revelation of evil! – is blamed on ‘cynicism!’ “If you catch me doing evil, you’re a cynic!!” Think about that lie!

In December 1999, Tony Blair hailed the hugely disappointing Millennium Dome as “a triumph of confidence over cynicism”. All those legitimate concerns about the expense and vacuity of the end result were brushed off as examples of sheer, wilful negativity. “If I spend a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money on a half billion-worth white elephant, you’re a cynic!!” WHY THANK YOU, TONY!

A more balanced definition of a cynic, courtesy of the trusty Oxford English Dictionary, is someone who is “distrustful or incredulous of human goodness and sincerity”, sceptical of human merit, often mocking or sarcastic. Now what’s not to love about that? AND IF TONY BLAIR MOCKED CYNICISM IS THAT NOT A REALLY GOOD REASON TO HAVE A SECOND LOOK AT IT?

Of course, cynicism is neither wholly good nor bad. It’s easy to see how you can be too cynical, but it’s also possible to be not cynical enough. Indeed, although the word itself is now largely pejorative, you’ll find almost everyone revels in a certain amount of cynicism. It can provide the impulse for the most important investigative journalism. If Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had been more trustful and credulous of human goodness and sincerity, they would never have broken the Watergate story. If our amaBhungane and Noseweek investigative reporters just nodded when politicians and – ESPECIALLY – businessmen gave them their press releases, we’d be up Shit Creek! Um, further up Shit Creek!

It can provide the impulse for the most important investigative journalism. If we were all habitually trustful and credulous of human goodness and sincerity, then there would be no questioning of dubious foreign interventions, infringements of civil liberties or sharp business practices.

Perhaps the greatest slur against cynicism is that it nurtures a fatalistic pessimism, a belief that nothing can ever be improved. There are lazy forms of cynicism of which this may be true. But at its best, cynicism is a greater force for progress than optimism. The optimist underestimates how difficult it is to achieve real change, believing that anything is possible and it’s possible now. Only by confronting head-on the reality that all progress is going to be obstructed by vested interests and corrupted by human venality can we create realistic programs that actually have a chance of success. Progress is more of a challenge for the cynic but also more important and urgent, since for the optimist things aren’t that bad and are bound to get better anyway.

This highlights the importance of distinguishing between thinking cynically and acting cynically. There is nothing good to be said for people who cynically deceive to further their own goals and get ahead of others. But that is not what a good cynic inevitably does. Whatever you make of Snowden, whistleblowers and campaigners such as Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich are both cynical about what they see and idealistic about what they can do about it. For many years, I too have tried to make sure that the cynicism in my outlook does not lead to cynicism in my behaviour.

That’s not the only way in which a proper cynicism challenges the simplistic black-and-white of received opinion. The cynic would surely question the way in which the world is divided into optimists and pessimists. Optimism has various dimensions, and just because some people take a dim view of human nature and some future probabilities, that does not mean they are hardcore pessimists who believe things can only get worse. Cynics refuse to be typecast as Jeremiahs. They are realists who know that the world is not the sun-kissed fantasy peddled by positive-thinking gurus and shysters.

Indeed, the greatest irony of all is that many of the people promoting optimism are unwittingly feeding a view of human nature that is cynical in the very worst sense. Take psychologist and neuroscientist Elaine Fox, who is on Horizon tonight talking about her book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain. Like many, she traces our tendency to make positive or negative judgments back to our brains and the ways in which they have been cast by our DNA and shaped by our experience. Her upbeat conclusion is that by understanding the neural basis of personality and mood, we can change it and so increase our optimism, health and happiness.

The deeply cynical result of this apparently cheerful viewpoint is that it encourages us to see what we think and believe as products of brain chemistry, rather than as rational responses to the world as it is. Rather than focus on our reasons for being optimistic or pessimistic about, say, the environment, we focus instead on what in our brains is causing us to be optimistic or pessimistic. And that means we seek a resolution of our anxieties not by changing the world, but by changing our minds. If that’s not taking a cynical view of human merit and potential, I don’t know what is.

So far, I have avoided the easiest way to defend cynicism, which is to point to its illustrious pedigree in the ancient Hellenic school of philosophy from which it gets its name. But I would be cynical about that too. Words change their meanings, and so you cannot dignify the cynicism of now by associating it with its distant ancestor.

Nonetheless, there are lessons for modern cynicism from the likes of Diogenes and Crates. What they show is that a proper cynicism is not a matter of personality but intellectual attitude. Their goal was to blow away the fog and confusion and see reality with lucidity and clarity. The contemporary cynic desires the same. The questioning and doubt is not an end in itself but a means of cutting through the crap and seeing things as they really are.

True cynicism is a protest against corruption, luxury and insincerity. Diogenes, the story goes, was called a “downright dog,” and this pleased him. He said a dog bites its enemies, a cynic bites his friends to save them!

The ancient Cynics also advocated asceticism and self-sufficiency. There is something of this too in their modern-day counterparts, who are aware that we waste too much of our time and money on things we don’t need, but that others require us to buy to make them rich. People who live rigorously by this cynicism are often seen as grumpy killjoys. To be light and joyful today means spending freely, without guilt, on whatever looks as if it will bring us pleasure. That merely shows how deeply our desires have been infected by the power of markets. It is the cynic who actually lives more lightly, unburdened by the pressure to always have more, not relying on purchases to provide happiness and contentment.

Finally, the Cynics were notorious for rejecting all social norms. Diogenes is said to have masturbated in public, while Crates lived on the streets, with only a tattered cloak. Whether anyone is advised to follow these specific examples is questionable, but it is surely true that we do not see enough challenging of tired conventions today. Isn’t it astonishing, for example, how, once elected, MPs continue the daft traditions of jeering, guffawing and addressing their colleagues by ridiculous circumlocutory terms such as “the right honourable member”? It comes to something when the most controversial defiance of convention by a politician in recent years was Gordon Brown’s refusal to wear a dinner jacket and bow tie. People would perhaps be less cynical about politicians if the politicians themselves would be more (decently) cynical.

Perhaps the biggest myth about cynicism is that it deepens with age. I think what really happens is that experience painfully rips away layers of scales from our eyes, and so we do indeed become more cynical about many of the things we naively accepted when younger. But the result of this is to make us see more sharply the difference between what really matters and all the dross and nonsense that clutters up life. So as cynicism about many – perhaps most – things rises, so too does our appreciation and affection for what is good and true. Cynicism leads to more tender feelings towards what is truly lovable. Similarly, doubting the reality of much-professed sincerity is a way of showing that you respect and value the rare and precious real deal.

It’s time, therefore, to reclaim cynicism for the forces of light and truth. Forget about the tired old dichotomies of positive and negative, optimistic and pessimistic. We can’t make things better unless we see quite how bad they are. We can’t do our best unless we guard against our worst. And it’s only by being distrustful that we can distinguish between the trustworthy and the unreliable. To do all this we need intelligent cynicism, which is not so much a blanket negativity, but a searchlight for the truly positive.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Be a courageous cynic. Thanks again to Julian Baggini

Who Spreads Fake News? You! Me!

WE are the problem.

There’s an instinct to point fingers; to find someone to blame for the information hellscape in which we now find ourselves. Every day one tech giant or another is forced to play defense, whether it’s Facebook being called out yet again for letting advertisers exclude audiences by race or Twitter bending to the whims of white nationalists who want to target reporters. Because we can’t quit the products, we become desperate for the companies to save us from ourselves. For more, read this article on WIRED.

When something “sounds right” to us we forward it – we promote Fake News. When something “sounds wrong” we ignore it. If it was true even though we didn’t like it, we promote Fake News. Unless we get into the habit of being careful and – at the least – waiting for more info, we’re part of the problem.

It usually takes only minutes to check. Until you have checked – whether that’s quick, or you can’t find it – WAIT. Don’t forward! Adding ‘Dunno if this true, but . . ‘ doesn’t help. Don’t Forward. Just as we are in lockdown and social distance, so we need to Break The Chain of information that we don’t know is true. Don’t Forward it. Let it die in your ‘inbox.’ Rather write your own post to trusted friends asking ‘Do you know anything (not just ‘heard of’) about the rumour about ‘X’?’

There are many ways to check: Wait to see if the story comes up on News 24 or Mail & Guardian or Eye Witness News. Or go to specialist fact-checking sites like these (remembering always that ALL humans have bias – no site magically gives THE ONLY CORRECT viewpoint – keep reading, keep checking):

snopes.com – ‘the definitive internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.’

Africa Check: Africa’s first independent fact-checking organisation with offices in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and the UK checking claims made by public figures and the media in Africa.

RMIT ABC Fact Check: An IFCN-accredited fact checking organisation, launched in 2017, jointly funded by RMIT University in Melbourne and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

USA:

  • Politifact Pulitzer Prize wining site run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times (Florida) newspaper. “PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by U.S elected officials and others who speak up in American politics…. The PolitiFact state sites are run by news organizations that have partnered with the Times.” Read about their principles under ‘About Us.’
  • FactCheck.org “FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania….a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for U.S voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.”
  • FlackCheck “Headquartered at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, FlackCheck.org is the political literacy companion site to the award-winning FactCheck.org. The site provides resources designed to help viewers recognize flaws in arguments in general and political ads in particular.”
  • OpenSecrets.org “Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S politics and its effect on elections and public policy.”
  • Fact Check (Washington Post) “The purpose of this Web site, and an accompanying column in the Sunday print edition of The Washington Post, is to “truth squad” the statements of political figures regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local.”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Duke Reporters’ Lab: Fact Checking Includes a database of global fact-checking sites, which can be viewed as a map or as a list; also includes how they identify fact-checkers.

International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles The International Fact-Checking Network “is a forum for fact-checkers worldwide hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.”

Tom at the German Club

You can tan me hide when I’ve died, Clyde, and hang it up in the shed. ‘Cos I have developed a quite – not a very, but a quite – thick skin. I meet Bruce for a beer at The German Club, which has become a bit more like an Old Rhodesians Club. This is some years ago.

I think Bruce phoned ahead and asked to speak to the chairman. The man who’d answered said ‘Chairman? Ve’s all blutty Chairmans HERE!’ I think he did, but I’m not sure.

– Germans, Rhodesians and us. Tom sucks his lollipop in a beer bottle! –

I’m with TomTom who sticks out a bit in this euro-centric, deathly pale, colonial atmosphere. There are some stares. Tom has a blue lollipop which he pops into my empty beer bottle and raises every now and then for a suck, which looks like a swig! Ah, well, we’re used to stares.

Hell, in the years since then its got way more challenging and my skin has thickened even more. I have an Epic Epidermis. Since I became a Mom, I have loitered around many a lingerie department asking store ladies to please measure Jess and make sure she gets a good bra fit. I have discussed panty sizes with skeptical shop mamas. I am quite used to ‘Ja, Right!’ looks . . I just give a huge smile, make a joke, ask nicely, act matter-of-fact. Most people are just fine. Some are simply magic and ‘adopt’ Jess and take her under their wings for a brief while. They’re the STARS!

Where they act weird I just let it go. It’s like a duck’s water off my back.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Early Selfie

Back in 1640 Rembrandt decided to take a selfie, so he whipped out his pigments – lead white, bone black, charcoal black, a few ochres and vermillion – and took the selfie you see here.

He called it Self Portrait at the Age of 34. He had tried out a similar pose in an etching of 1639, Self Portrait, Leaning on a Stone Wall, looking rather more rakish.

Rembrandt-Self_portrait_leaning_on_sill

These are two of over forty self-portraits (or, um, selfies) by Rembrandt van Rijn and, like most selfies, they depict him in a favourable light, at the height of his career, richly dressed and self-secure.

If it had been now his second one would have been Self Portrait, Leaning on my Porsche.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Edit: Rembrandt was a johhny-come-lately.

Albrecht Dürer’s self-portrait of 1498 was probably ‘the first independent self-portrait ever produced.’ A German artist is thus said to have introduced the process of artistic introspection that has fascinated viewers ever since.

This from a new book The Self-Portrait edited by Tobias G. Natter.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Of course I myself was also an early adopter, getting going with selfies back in 1973 . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Selfies!

You have to marvel. Awesome wonder and all that. Be gobsmacked. Cameras were invented around 1826 and the first personal cameras were sold to the general public around 1900 when Kodak Brownies cost $1.

1000memories blog tells us this –
By 1930 about a billion photos were being taken a year
By 1960 about 3 billion photos a year
By 1970 10 billion
By 1980 25 billion
By 1990 57 billion
By 2000 86 billion

And then we decide ‘Fuckit let’s REALLY start taking us some pictures!’ – let’s all carry a camera around all the time. And even if there’s nothing to photograph, let’s just take a picture of ourselves. That way we’ll ALWAYS have a subject.
Brilliant, aren’t we?

So today we’re taking about 380 billion photos a year AND we’re keeping them. Many early photos got lost, nowadays most don’t! Not even the ones where you cut off Aunt Enid’s head. Nor the close-up of that sandwich you ate. Holy guacamole!

My kids add to this treasure trove of priceless art:

– Jess does it –
More selfies
– Tom does it –
LoddersSoutars Baldy
– I have done it –

Here’s where this ‘fine art’ is stored:

– facebook has the most photos BY FAR – then flickr – then instagram –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lockdown Lookback -1

An old post from my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com

My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

The plot was was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries filled with racing pigeons, then later with fancy pigeons.

I was there from when I was carried home from the maternity home to when I was about five years old, when we moved into the bright lights and traffic of the 1955 Harrismith metropolis.

1955 Koos with aviaries
– those pigeon aviaries – and me –

I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch – meat and veg – and a siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1 o’clock sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2 o’clock sharp. I now know the trip was exactly three kilometres door-to-door, thanks to google maps.

Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway with big sister Barbara waving out the window – four seconds of action:

birdhaven

1. Birdhaven and ruins of our house; 2. Glen Khyber, Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit.

None of those houses on the left were there back then.

Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night. Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in west-facing stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo
– Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondawel –

Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.

Koos
– Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956 –

Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-now-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen
– Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990 –

I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda
– 1990 – Mom & Dad sit on the stoep –
1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg
– fun on the lawn – and Bruno the Little Switzerland doberman –

Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilkovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave him a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.

~~~oo0oo~~~

rondawel – pr. ‘ron-dah-vill’; circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;

spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?

stoep – veranda

donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;

bakkie – pickup truck

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

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