Thursday, 31 March 2011

God still performs miracles

There is a lady from Jeffrey’s Bay who has been suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome since July 2010.   For those of you who don’t know, it is a debilitating disease that attacks the nervous system and paralyses the muscles, and the healing process is sometimes painfully and agonisingly slow.   The first time I heard about her was in August 2010, and even though I have mentioned her plight before, I would like you to bear with me while I run through some of the statistics again.

This lady, Christa, was in ICU at Greenacres hospital since July 2010 until February 2011 when she was transferred to the Aurora Stimulation Centre here in Port Elizabeth.   My friend, Veronica, and I have been calling on her regularly once a week when we do our rounds at Greenacres and St Georges hospitals, visiting members of our church who happen to be in hospital.   We have followed her progress from the beginning when, hooked up to monitors and breathing with the aid of a ventilator, she wasn’t even aware of our presence.
            The healing process has been painstakingly slow, but Christa has been quite remarkable throughout it all.   There have been many frustrating moments, but she has been extremely patient, taking each tiny improvement as a blessing from God.
            I confess that there were times during these weekly visits when I would have a difficult time convincing myself that I could see an improvement in her condition.   I was beginning to feel impatient and frustrated for Christa’s sake.   I knew that God was healing her and that it was His will and not mine that was important, but I would ask Him to please let me see a visible improvement in Christa the next time I saw her.   And, sure enough, next time there would be a visible sign that the Lord was working his little miracles.
            I have been at a spiritual low just recently.   This past Wednesday morning, before leaving home, I was talking to the Lord and saying that I don’t even know what I believe anymore.   The doubts were crowding in and I was really feeling as though I was walking this road on my own.   I left it there and didn’t think about it again, but when Veronica and I arrived at the Aurora Centre I once again had that feeling of ‘what’s the use’.   We entered the building and when we were walking down the passage to Christa’s ward I said to Veronica, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could walk in one morning and find that they’ve taken away that awful tube into her throat so that she can speak to us?’
            Well, we walked into her ward, and there she was, without the tube, and if we listened carefully we could even hear a bit of what she was saying.   We were also told that she had been up and walking between the bars.   It was such a joyous moment that I became quite emotional.   It was as if I could hear God saying, ‘See, I’m still here, and I can still perform these little miracles you’ve been asking for.’
            Yes, I needed to be reminded that I’m not alone, that the Lord is always with me, and that he hears my sometimes disjointed little prayers.   I have also realised that life itself is a miracle, and that we are surrounded by little miracles every day of our lives.   If we look for them, we’ll find them.   God is all around us, performing these wonderful miracles for us.   If only we would remove our blinkers and take a proper look.   Often the miracle is in an unexpected smile.
            I am truly blessed.   Praise God.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Writer's Reality

The First
            Practice makes perfect.   So they say.   I had forty-four romances published, the first in 1975 and the last in 1992.   Today, when I read the first one I think, okay, not bad.   And when I read the last one I think, did I really write this?   The improvement is glaringly obvious; it’s there in the style, the narrative and the dialogue, and yes, practice does bring about an improvement that will be noticeable to yourself and your readers.   If you have any doubts about your work then try this exercise and you might be pleasantly surprised.

             Writing can be a very lonely occupation, it just depends how you look at it.   Authors will tell you that their characters become so real that they almost write their story themselves; that they’re like friends they’re reluctant to say goodbye to at the end of the novel.   Tell this to someone who isn’t a writer and they think you’ve got a screw loose.   If your characters are real to you, then they’ll become real to the reader.   And yes, they do become like old friends; friends you never forget.
The Last

            To get back to what I said about writing sometimes being a lonely occupation – I can’t say that I ever found it so.   My characters came alive for me the moment I started writing about them, they popped out of the pages and took on a life of their own.   In that way I was never alone, they were always there, egging me on to write more about their activities, whether joyful, passionate or sad.   Those friends have never left, they’re still here, ever young, and part of a family to which I will always belong.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Looking Back

            I have been going through all the short stories and articles (published and unpublished) that I have written over the years and I have been editing those that were never published so that they won’t appear so rough and unfinished – which, in fact, they are.   The idea is to have them all bound together in a book instead of having them lying around in drawers and filing cabinets where they serve no purpose.
            I have worked through most of them during the past two months and I must confess that some of my youthful attempts at story writing were not so bad.   I was about to pat myself on the back, but then I took a peek at the three stories that I left for last, two of which were written during the early 1960s before I went as far as taking a course in short story writing.   Reading them now I realise I was a complete novice where writing was concerned.   The heart was there, but the skill needed some drastic sharpening.   Why did I keep these stories?   Well, they were sweet and innocent, and they were very much a part of a dream I was nurturing.   And the dream did come true … eventually.
            Three short stories.   I’m inclined to call them the dregs because I deliberately left them for last.   I couldn’t face them in the beginning when I started this project, they made me cringe, and I also knew that working on them was going to be extremely taxing, mentally, emotionally and physically.   I can’t avoid it now.   They’re there; they’re the last on the list, and they’re crying out to be a part of this volume of memories even though they’re untitled and unfinished.
            Of the three there is one that was written in the latter part of the 60s.   It has a beginning, but no middle and no ending.   It strikes a powerful chord, but I haven’t the foggiest where I intended to go with it, so I shall somehow have to pick up the threads, put on my thinking cap and attempt to finish it in the same vein that it was begun.
            One of the two stories written in the early 60s is partly written and partly just dialogue with an important scene missing in the middle.   And the last one is a real Cinderella story, partly typed and partly handwritten and without an ending.   I didn’t think of it as a Cinderella story when I wrote it all those years ago, but that’s the impression I get when I read it now, and it has also become my worst nightmare.   I can’t put it in as it is, with or without an ending, and I can’t alter it too much for fear of losing the simplicity of the storyline.   It’s a more modern version of a handsome prince saving a young maiden from a life of drudgery, it’s a “feel good” story, and I can’t help liking it, but the style, though sweet, is archaic.
            So what to I do?   I haven’t decided yet.   I shall have to read it again, and perhaps it would help if I was less critical.   I have to try and remember when it was written, and under what circumstances.   I can’t help but think of my published work, and as I do so I realise that it might be good to look back at where it all began.   And, believe me, it is a humbling experience.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

My Cats

Double Trouble - Tandy & Tiggles
            Having animals is a commitment one shouldn’t make lightly.   You have to be prepared to be there for them from when you take them into your home and through to the end.   It’s a heartbreaking business, and after one such parting I told our vet, “Never again”, but two months later I was back with a new little kitten and he greeted me with the words, “Once an animal lover, always an animal lover.”
            I think I must be a sucker for punishment, but I love my animals (cats and dogs), and cats are such dignified, loving and often impossible creatures.   They own you, and not the other way around.   If you want to get along with cats then it’s important to remember that.
            Well, after losing my two Persians within a matter of months, I was persuaded to bring another little cat into the home.   In the effort to find a suitable kitten we ended up at the SPCA in Vereeniging.   There, instead of finding one kitten, I decided to take two so that they would be company for each other.   Two sisters; the one black and white (Tandy) and the other a silver-grey and white tabby (Tiggy/Tiggles).   Their mother was a Siamese of mixed breed, but the Siamese is very prominent in Tandy.   She has the pointed face, the body shape and the loud, “I insist on being heard” voice.   These two cats are as different as chalk and cheese and they sometimes have their spats, but you will very often find them curled up somewhere together.
            Tandy is the brazen one who commands attention and also demands it from strangers, but Tiggles is the little shadow that disappears when people arrive.   They are both extremely loving and want to be stroked and touched, but don’t try to hold them.   Even when they were still tiny kittens they didn’t like that.   It seems to frighten them even if I put my arms around them without touching them.   They will get up immediately and step out of the circle, but then again they will settle themselves on top of me when I’m in bed or watching TV.
            The next addition to the family was a white tom with a bushy grey tail and a few black spots here and there.   My females were all neutered, but that didn’t seem to bother him, and I always knew when he was around because the ladies would come screaming into the house on a high note of panic.   I used to chase him whenever I saw him and Vernon would put the hose on him if he happened to see him in the garden, but somehow nothing helped.   Snowy had chosen us, and there was nothing we could do to change that.   It was obvious to us that his owners must have dumped him and so he stayed, but first he had to be neutered.   I took him for all his injections and the vet judged his age to be around one year.   It took a little time for Snowy to adjust to becoming a house cat.   He also had to adjust to the fact that there would be
a steady amount of food coming his way twice a day.   He couldn’t stop eating at first, it was as if he was afraid the food would disappear, so he became extremely fat during those first few months, but then he settled down.   I also learned something with Snowy.   I was concerned that I wouldn’t love him because I didn’t have him from when he was a kitten, but I surprised myself.   I love him today just as much as I love the others.
            The last addition to our cat family is Muffy.   I named her ragamuffin when I first saw her because she looked like a dirty oil rag, and so she became Muffin (as it says on her card at the vet), but now it’s just Muffy.
Muffy - soon after arriving
            It was in May 2005 that Vernon went to the municipal dumps with our garden help, Abel, to get rid of garden rubbish, and there, amongst all the rubble, was this tiny little kitten in serious danger of being injured or killed by the huge bull dozers that were scraping up the rubbish to load on trucks.   She was not a feral cat, she was extremely tame, so we can only assume that
someone must have dumped her there.   It makes me want to weep to think that people can be so heartless.   They have cats but they don’t have them neutered and when the kittens come along they dump them if they can’t find a home for them.   Well, I didn’t want more cats, but the moment this little thing was placed in my hands she just landed straight in my heart, and she has given us so much joy that we just adore her.
Muffy - Settled in
            Muffy is our baby.   She went missing once when she was still a little kitten.   I immediately went into panic mode, but when I walked into our bedroom I saw this little bump in the centre of my bed and, when I lifted the duvet, there she was, our soft little ball of fur, sleepy-eyed and purring.   She had already put herself to bed.
            I admit that she is spoilt.   Besides her pellets she gets all the tasty little bits off our plates, and it’s a regular thing to jump up on to my lap at the breakfast table to drink a little bit of milk out of my saucer while we’re having our tea.   She is also the only one to get on my kitchen cupboards; not to steal food, but to look at what I’m doing.   She will sit there and watch me move about, and when I happen to pass her she will reach out and touch me as if to say, “I’m here.   Take notice of me.”   She can be jealous and bossy at times, but Tandy quickly puts her in her place.   She is also playful and loving, and she just loves to cuddle up close when it’s cold.
It's love
            My other cats didn’t want to know anything about Muffy when we introduced her into the family as a tiny little kitten.   They hissed at her and slapped her.   They didn’t want to be friends with Snowy either, and so a remarkable thing happened.   This tiny little Muffy ran up to this huge big male cat and threw herself down in front of him with her neck exposed, and my heart almost stopped beating.   I thought, “Uh-oh, here comes trouble,” but Snowy took one look and was smitten.   He started licking her, and right there a strong bond was formed that still exists today.
            My cats all have different natures, but they somehow all blend in to make a whole.   They are a family, and sometimes they can be really cranky, but each one is special in his or her own way.   I, of course, love each one of them for their own special qualities, and I receive a lot of love in return.   What more can one want from your animals?
Pearl (R.I.P)
Athena (R.I.P)
Gizmo (R.I.P)

Friday, 11 March 2011

From one extreme to the next

            We’ve been having thunderstorms just lately, which is something unusual here in PE.   We lived for so many years in Gauteng and Natal and my cats were so used to the racket that they didn’t even stir.   Now, suddenly, they are terrified and crawl into the tiniest hole to escape
the noise of the rain on the roof and the thunder.   Our little Jack Russell, Foxy, is experiencing it for the first time, and he is absolutely terrified.   When I’m sitting down he wants to be on my lap, panting and tongue hanging out, and when I get up to go somewhere he walks so close to me that he steps on my feet.   He does the same with Vernon.   He just needs to be near a human.   Poor thing.
            The thunderstorms here are, however, nothing like the ones we experienced in the provinces I mentioned.   There it was sometimes a daily occurrence, and so violent that you could smell the sulphur in the air.   I can remember that we never went to bed at night during the summer without unplugging our modems and computers in case a storm erupted in the night.   Neither did we go anywhere during the day without doing the same in case one of those sudden storms built up and knocked out everything  before you could get back home.
            I was playing bowls in the Ladies Spar Pairs at Vanderbijlpark once when there was a thunderstorm.   Now you’re not allowed off the green until the organisers make it an official announcement, but on that particular day the organisers all ran into the clubhouse to escape the storm.   And there we were, playing out in the rain with lightning flashing all around us.   We were all scared, but my Skip was the first to crack and walk off the green.   When we reached the entrance to the clubhouse everyone else had followed suit and were crowding in behind us.
             I was also playing in mixed trips in Dannhauser (Natal) one Sunday.   When we left Newcastle that morning we could already see the dark bank of clouds in the distance down Ladysmith way.   But, in case you don’t know it yet, bowlers are quite crazy.   We play in all kinds of weather.   Well, as the morning progressed the weather got worse.   By lunchtime it was already so cold I had difficulty holding my knife and fork.
            We were hardly back on the green that day when it started raining.   It was like fine sleet.   No amount of grippo on your fingers or on your bowl could stop your bowl from slipping out of your hand when you delivered it, so you had to use both hands to prevent this happening, and as the bowl travelled across the green it would kick up a fountain of water behind it.   My nose started running from the icy coldness, and the dampness on my handkerchief made it freeze in the pocket of my raincoat so that it was impossible to use it again.   The organisers finally called a halt to the game at three that afternoon and, after drinking something to warm the innards, we drove back home to Newcastle.
            What followed was the worst snowfall in history for Newcastle.   The weight of the snow on the shade cloth bent the steel framework Vernon had had erected in our vegetable garden, and all over in the town the car dealers had cars damaged under mountains of snow and steel.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Down Memory Lane

            I was watching a good movie last night and, no, it wasn’t on TV.   When was the last time you’ve seen anything really good on TV?   I pay a small fortune every month for the dish, but somehow there is very little that I enjoy watching. 
            So, as I said in the beginning, I was watching a good movie last night.   It was “STAR!”, with Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence and Daniel Massey as Noël Coward.   It came on circuit for the first time in 1967-68 and was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, but, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t a wonderful box office success.   Perhaps people found the story-line boring as it was based, more or less, on Gertrude Lawrence’s rise to fame, but for a music lover, like myself, it was a dream of a movie.   There was lots of singing and dancing with numbers by Noël Coward, Cole Porter, the Gershwins and plenty more, and it took me right back to the 1940s and 1950s when musicals were very much the rage.
            When I think of all the old musicals I think of actors like Doris Day, Gordon McRae, Shirley Jones, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Marge and Gower Champion, Ann Miller, Red Skelton, Fernando Lamas, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, to name but a few.
            I think of movies (many of which were originally stage plays) such as Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, Show Boat, Annie Get Your Gun, Tea for Two, An American In Paris, Royal Wedding, The Great Caruso (with my all-time favourite singer Mario Lanza), Singin’ In The Rain, Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Desert Song and … oh, I could just go on and on.   The list of musicals is endless and each one is an absolute gem.
            When I think of these movies I find myself smiling.   In the 40s and 50s when you came out of a bioscope (movie house or cinema for those of you who don’t know) you would be smiling.   There were lots of “feel good” movies during and after WW2.   And every now and then there was a real good drama that would have you in tears.   I can think of one in particular – “Madame X” with Lana Turner – they handed out tissues at the door as you went in to watch the movie.
            I find that I can’t always stomach the movies we’re shown today.   It’s heart-stopping action all the way through with all manner of violence spiced with plenty of blood and gore.   Yuck!   Who wants to remember movies like that?   It’s no wonder the world is in such a state today.   These kind of movies are fed to the children from small, and then some of them go and act it out in their schools.
            Oh, well … I’m glad I grew up in those good old times.   I have lots and lots of wonderful memories that fill me with great joy, and sometimes a little nostalgia for what is past.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Story Behind The Story

            As a writer I have found that certain things lend themselves to the mood of what I am writing and, in some cases, even act as inspiration.
            When I was a teenager I used to find that the creative juices would flow better and faster on a cloudy, rainy day, or on a cold, wintery day when I could curl up in bed under my eiderdown with a notepad and pencil.
            Those were still the days when I needed to be inspired to write something worthwhile.   When you start writing professionally it is quite a different matter.   It becomes a disciplined art.   You get up in the mornings, you go into your study, you pick up the threads of the story where you left it the day before, and then you write.   This doesn’t mean that you’re not inspired to write, it simply means that you don’t wait for the inspiration to make a start.   You start and the inspiration will be there quick enough.   Think of “Inspiration” as a slow, lazy fellow that rouses himself now and then when the mood is right.   But “Inspiration” is also a willing and obedient fellow when he comes face to face with determination.
            Writing is a combined effort of the heart and the mind.   The mind can do it on its own; it knows the technique and it knows how to use words creatively, but when the heart isn’t involved then what you’ve written has no soul.   I think this is what it’s like when you go through the motions of being a Christian, but Jesus doesn’t feature in your everyday life.   Your worship is hollow, meaningless, and of no use to anyone – least of all to God.
            I have always said that everything I committed to paper always started with a feeling.   It might be sad or happy, nostalgic or melancholic.   I never detailed the feeling, it just came with the story and sometimes even led to an idea that finally took shape in my mind.   I love music, especially the classics and opera, and many times the feelings awakened while listening to the music would lead to a story that simply had to be told.
            I have been spending every available moment lately editing stories and articles that were written many years ago.   Many of them were unpublished, but the reason they were never discarded was because of the story behind the story.   The story might not be very good, in fact some of them are quite silly, but as I am reading through them and editing out the glaring errors I am also reliving the feelings and the circumstances under which they were originally written.   There are memories and emotions woven into the words on those pages, many of which I cannot share with anyone either because they are too personal or run too deep, and so they are going to be bound together in a book where they might end up meaning nothing to anyone but myself.   Whatever the case might be, I am spending a memorable time reacquainting myself with the person I used to be.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


            Whoa !! … Stop the bus, I need to get off and do some serious walking.  Have you ever stood on the beach with a shallow wave washing over your feet only to feel the sand being sucked out underneath you moments later, threatening to make you lose your balance as the wave pulls back to once again become a part of the ocean?

            There are days when everything becomes too much; days when, figuratively speaking, we feel as though we’re losing our balance, our grip on life.   To maintain that balance in our lives there has to be an ‘ebb and a flow’, a ‘coming and a going’, a ‘giving and a taking’, a rhythm, or an oscillation, if you will.   It’s when we start moving out of that natural pulse of life that we start losing control and fail to cope.
            This is when we need to put on the brakes, before we go into an almighty skid  and end up crashing, emotionally and physically.
           Take a break, look around you, and draw a deep breath.   Let God’s peace flow through you, let it heal you and refresh you.   Feel the sun on your face or the rain on your tongue.   Listen to the birds, smell the flowers, and think about the wonder of being alive in this awesome world that God created.
            ‘There is a time for everything,
            and a season for every activity under heaven.’
                                    Ecclesiastes 3:1