Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

A tale of two women

When the Roman Pope visited the USA last week, two women made the headlines, and were all over the social media. One was a celeb, the other a saint.

Guess which one got more attention?

Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Kim Davis, a minor celeb, met Pope Francis briefly at a function, and dominated Facebook for the next three days.

I’m not exactly sure what her claim to fame is, but clearly it was sufficiently well known to many people in the USA that it needed minimal explanation, though it seems that the Vatican was moved to give a great deal of explanation, to judge by all the clarifications and denials and explanations and whatever.

And these things were plastered all over Facebook in great profusion. I don’t know about anyone else, but they certainly dominated my newsfeed.

And it was apparent that this was related to the current obsession with sex — in the media, in many Christian denominations, and in many other places.

And it was also apparent that all the fuss over Kim David drew attention away from the other woman, whom Pope Francis had held up as an example to the American government and people — Dorothy Day.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

Dorothy who? asked the mainstream media, and many on social media as well.

Unlike Kim Davis she wasn’t a celeb, and nobody knew much about her.

If you’re reading this, and don’t know who Dorothy Day was, read here, and follow the links Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya. I think she deserves more attention than Kim Davis, and I’m pretty sure Pope Francis thinks so too.

As I said, I don’t know much about Kim Davis and her claim to fame. It seems that a lot of people know enough, or think they do, to make judgements about whether she is a good person or a bad person, and think that that is sufficiently important to say so. I’m not saying anything about Kim Davis, and whether she is good or bad, or has done good or bad things. What does concern me, though, is that a lot of people seem to think it is worth making a mountain out of a molehill, stirring up a storm in a tea cup.

And this provides a marvellous distraction from the elephant in the room.

Dorothy Day was no saint, yet she is being considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. To understand why, you would need to read her biography Goodreads | All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest:

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and one of the most prophetic voices in the American Catholic church, has recently been proposed as a candidate for canonization. In this lavishly illustrated biography, Jim Forest provides a compelling portrait of her heroic efforts to live out the radical message of the gospel for our time.

Bad boy

Bad Boy (Inspector Banks, #19)Bad Boy by Peter Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read most of Peter Robinson’s detective novels featuring Alan Banks (now Detective Chief Inspector or DCI), and enjoyed them all. This one stands out as being better than most.

It’s a police procedural rather than a whodunit, so you get to know fairly quickly who the villains are. The plot turns on how the police go about catching them and getting enough evidence to make a charge stick.

It won’t be a spoiler to say that in this one the plot turns on how DCI Banks’s daughter gets involved with one of the villains, and gets in over her head. It tells you that on the front cover: “A policeman’s daughter should know better.”

So the reader is not kept guessing about the identity of the bad guys. What is left as an exercise for the reader is the moral issue of the use of firearms by criminals and the police. This has bean a contentious issue, especially since the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in London in 2005.

Peter Robinson does tend to bring such issues into his novels, and some other social issues are not absent from this one as well — the position of gay, black or female officers in the British police, for example, and relatively new crimes like people trafficking.

But the main issue here is the use of firearms by the police, and the procedures for controlling that use. I’ve noticed that in news stories about crime in the UK one increasingly sees images of armed and armoured police, intimidating Darth Vader-like figures, running around shouting at people with weapons ready to be fired. Here one gets a glimpse of how such things are ordered and controlled, and how things can go wrong.

One of the things I like about Robinson’s books is the way in which they compel the reader to try to exercise moral judgement. I know it’s fiction, “just a novel”, but I wonder whether, if South African policemen read books like this, we might have avoided events like the Marikana Massacre.

The book is not moralising, or morally didactic in the sense of the author telling people what to think. Rather he stimulates the reader to think about moral issues.

From the broad sweep of moral judgement, I descend to the level of nit-picking about Robinson’s use of language.

Peter Robinson was born and brought up in Yorkshire, where the novels are set, but he has lived for many years in Canada, and I wonder if he had perhaps lost touch a little.

Robinson rather selfconsciously draws attention to one of the senior police officials using American slang in referring to one of the villains as a “scumbag”.

But he passes over, without comment, one of them using “momentarily” in its American sense of “in a moment” rather than “for a moment”.

I would have thought that “scumbag”, though it may have originated in the USA, has become fairly universal by now, and is therefore unremarkable. It does not surprise me that a British policeman would
use the term.

But it would surprise me if a British police officer used “momentarily” in its American sense. It is a far more remarkable use of American slang than “scumbag”.

Or have I missed something?

Has the US slang use of “momentarily” spread not only to Canada, but to the UK as well?

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This morning there was an eclipse of the moon, so we went outside early to have a look at it.

Lunar eclipse 28 Sep 2015, about 3:15 amEclipse1

Lunar eclipse 28 Sep 2015, about 3:15 am

And again a bit later when the moon was fully in the earth’s shadow:

Lunar eclipse 28 Sep 2015, about 4:45 am

Lunar eclipse 28 Sep 2015, about 4:45 am

I thought I might be able to get better pictures of it with a better camera and a tripod, but it’s rather difficult.

I checked in my diary to remind myself of other eclipses I had seen.

There was one on 15 June 2011 which seemed to last a long time. There was another on 4 May 2004, where I noted that there wasn’t much to see except that the moon was a bit dimmer and redder than usual.

On 4 December 2002 there was supposed to be an eclipse of the sun, but it was overcast, so we didn’t see much of it.

On 21 Jun 2001 there was a partial eclipse of the sun, the first of the 21st century and the Third Millennium. It was also notable for being on the winter solstice. On 9 January 2001 was the first lunar eclipse of the new century and millennium. We went outside to have a look, but there was a cricket match on TV, South  Africa vs Sri Lanka (South Africa won), and between overs they showed the progress of the eclipse, so there was a better view from inside.

On 16 September 1997 was the last lunar eclipse of the 20th century, but it was cloudy, so we didn’t see it.

On 6 August 1971 I was with some friends watching a film at the Windhoek drive-in. There was a double feature, and for the first one we sat in the back of the bakkie under the open sky. The film was an Italian Western called Kill or be killed, and the eclipse was more interesting to watch than the movie. For the second one, Carry on spying, we turned the bakkie around to face the screen and watched from inside, as it was getting colder.

The first eclipse of any kind that I recall seeing was a solar eclipse which we watched from my aunt’s beachfront flat in Sea Point, Cape Town, which had an uninterrupted view over the sea, and it was a very good place from which to watch an eclipse.

The earliest mention of an eclipse was from when I was still at school. The regular geography teacher was away overseas, and the headmaster, Wally Mears, stood in for him. He wanted to inspect our books. In Robert Mercer-Tod’s book he found a picture of a half-undressed dancing girl, and held it up for us all to see, and asked Tod, “Is this an eclipse?” and then burst out laughing, and so did we all, for about five minutes.







Inklings (book review)

InklingsInklings by Melanie M. Jeschke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up in the library because I was attracted by the title. I’m a fan of the Inklings, so I was curious about the book. The blurb said it was set in C.S. Lewis’s and Tolkien’s Oxford. But it turns out to be a trashy romance, and reads like fan fiction, a fan of the Inklings trying to write a romantic novel like Jane Austen, only without the humour.

I very nearly stopped reading after the prologue.

The stilted dialogue, the preachiness, put me off. It was so twee. A student with a crush on her tutor in 1960s Oxford. Even if it did refer to the Inklings, and was set in places familiar to them, it was badly written, at times even embarrassingly so. But I read on, and discovered that though it may be inauthentic and phony, it is as inauthentic and phony as real life.

It is set in Oxford in 1964, a year after the death of C.S. Lewis. If he had read it, perhaps he would have cringed as much as I did. But then I thought back, because at that time I was a student, and recalled the kinds of conversations that we had, the kinds of concerns that we had, and realised that it was true to life. We had crushes and unrequited love like the characters in the book. Our minds wandered in lectures and tutorials with thoughts of “She loves me/she loves me not”. And we did it all without the wit of Jane Austen or the depth of thought of the Inklings, much as we admired them.

Well, in 1964 I had not heard of the Inklings, nor of J.R.R. Tolkien, but I had read, and liked, the novels of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, though, unlike the characters in this story, our English lecturers despised them, and would rather we turned our attention to writers like D.H. Lawrence and H.W.D. Manson.

But even when cringing at the stilted conversation in the prologue, I had to recall that I admired their project for a latter-day Inklings, and indeed even tried to form such a thing myself, if only on the Internet. So for many of the objectiosn to the book, I could find an excuse. There was a sense in which it was realistic and true to life. Real life conversations and situations are often as banal and stilted and silly as this.

But the excuses could not quite cover the bad writing, and the book did not live up to the title, which was what had attracted me to it in the first place.

It is an American author writing about English universities, and so she provides a glossary of English terms for American readers, But “cheerio” sounds more like 1940s slang than that of the 1960s, and the author does not seem to be aware that an academic gown is a gown and not a “robe”. English people are more likely to say “I’d like you to” do something than “I’d like for you to” do something. In England a “vest” is an undergarment, and so on.

As a romance novel it was not up to the standard of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer. It was more in the Barbara Cartland or Mills & Boon class. I could just make it to the end of the first part, which covered the heroine’s first term at Oxford. The next part was much too boring, and I began skipping pages, and then whole chapters and finally reading the first couple of sentences of each chapter to see if there was anything new.

Fan fiction can sometimes be worth reading, I’ve sometimes urged people to write something in the same genre as one or other of the Inklings. But I don’t recall any of them writing in the Mills & Boon genre like this.

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The Angel’s Game (book review)

The Angel's Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #2)The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third of the books I’ve read in Carlos Ruiz Zafón‘s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, and I’ve just realised that I’ve neglected to write reviews of the other two either here in GoodReads or on my blog.

I read The Shadow of the Wind first, followed by The Prisoner of Heaven. But since the books follow in a series, and share many of the same characters, I think I might need to reread them in the correct order.

There is something about Zafón’s books that is reminiscent of Phil Rickman, with the shared characters, and the undertone of fantasy and horror. The difference is, as I can now see, that Zafón’s books need to be read in order, even though The Angel’s Game is a kind of prequel to The Shadow of the Wind.

In that respect they are more like C.S. Lewis‘s Narnia books, where it is better to read them in published order rather than the chronological order in the sequence of stories. Chronology is an obsession of modernity, and Lewis, in particular, was trying to lead his readers out of modernity into a mythical world.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón has a similar intertwining of the mythical and the modern, though in a somewhat darker and more adult way than Lewis.

Having said that, I’m not sure I can review The Angel’s Game now. I think I will have to re-read The Prisoner of Heaven first, since I have forgotten most of the plot.

So for now let me just say for that the series is about different generations of the Sempere family who run a bookshop in Barcelona, and the different generations of the family are introduced in turn to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where they are invited to leave a book that has been, or is likely to be forgotten, and to take one forgotten book and read it. Behind this lurks the idea that the book has something of the soul of its author and its readers embedded in it.

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What are these rotating doodats?

For several years now I have been puzzled by the appearance of shiny rotating metal pyramids fixed to some buildings in Pretoria.

Strange rotating metal pyramids

Strange rotating metal pyramids

The pyramid on top rotates, and flashes in sunlight, and in some places one can see several of them flashing on different buildings. This one is in Hatfield, on the National Lotto office building, opposite Hatfield station. But there are some fixed to buildings at Unisa, and in various other places. They are usually fixed to the top, on the roof, like this one, but sometimes they are further down, though I’ve only seen them on multi-storey buildings.

So they have a name? Do they have a function? Do they serve a purpose? Where do they come from, and what are they for?


The Good Cemetery Guide

The Good Cemetery GuideThe Good Cemetery Guide by Consuelo Roland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can you say about a book about an undertaker who moonlights as a guitarist in a bar? That it’s a surprisingly enjoyable read, that’s what.

We picked it up secondhand in Hermanus, when we were beginning to run out of the books we had taken on holiday and then left at most of the places we stayed, releading them into the wild on BookCrossin. The copy we bought was even autographed by the author, and was itself a BooCrossing book of sorts, as it had a list in the back of people who had read it, and what they thought of it — three gave it 1, and could not get into it, not liking reading about coffins. Two found it an enjoyable read, and said it wasn’t all about coffins. They gave it a 3+

It is set in Kalk Bay on the Cape Peninsula, and we had passed through there a couple of times in the week before we bought it, so the setting was fresh in our minds.

But it is also well written, and the characters stand out, even though seen almost entirely through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s also got a little bit of everything, sadness and happiness, joy and sorrow, romance, intrigue, humour. It is difficult to think of other books to compare it with, the onl;y one that comes to mind is [nook:Harold and Maud].

There are a couple of jarring notes, little details that don’t ring true, like referring to the Beatles as coming from Manchester, but generally the plot is believable.

I don’t know how easy it would be to get a copy now — this is the only one I’ve ever seen for sale — but if you do see one, buy it. It’s worth reading.

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Oviston to Clarens

Continued from Ghwarriespoort to the Gariep Dam

5-6 September 2015

We woke up at Oviston, overlooking the Gariep Dam, and watched dawn breaking over the water.

Oviston: Dawn on the Gariep Dam, 5 September 2015

Oviston: Dawn on the Gariep Dam, 5 September 2015

The place where we was staying was right next to the pumphouse where the water from the Gariep Dam is pumped out to supply Port Elizabeth, via the Orange-Fish river tunnel.

Pumphouse on the Gariep Dam to provide water for Port Elizabeth

Pumphouse on the Gariep Dam to provide water for Port Elizabeth

We left Oviston at about 7:20 and drove towards Bethulie. We crossed the Orange River again on a road/rail bridge, more or less where it enters the dam, far upstream from where we had crossed it a couple of weeks earlier at Kakamas. We stopped on the bridge to take photos and only one vehicle crossed the bridge while we were on it. It was in quite bad repair on the Free State side, with grass growing in cracks, and concrete blocks covering the pipes carried across the bridge all broken. I wondered who was responsible for its maintenance.

Bridge over the Orange River near Bethulie

Bridge over the Orange River near Bethulie, looking north to the Free state side.

We reached Bethulie and drove in to the town. There seemed to be only one garage, and we filled up with petrol. The garage attendant spoke South
Sotho, and I could thank him in that language. We looked for a place to eat breakfast, but the only one that looked open said it only started serving food at 10:00 am. I wanted to pass through Bethulie because it was associated with my great grandfather William Matthew Growden, who, when he retired from the railways in about 1908, bought a farm, Mooifonein. He was actually based at Springfontein, which was a bit west of the route we were taking, but it was in the magisterial district of Bethulie. Bethulie seemed pretty dead for a Saturday morning.

Entrance to Bethulie in the Free State

Entrance to Bethulie in the Free State

We set out for Smithfield, passing a strange, almost symmetrical conical hill on the way, and wondered if, like, the slab of butter mountain at Vanrijnsdorp, it could be disguising the nose cone of an alien spaceship.

Conical hill near Bethulie -- disguising the nose cone of an alien spaceship?

Conical hill near Bethulie — disguising the nose cone of an alien spaceship?

Smithfield turned out to be a very nice place, bigger than Bethulie, and much better maintained than many Free State towns, in contrast to Wepener, which we had passed through on our last trip to the Cape four years ago, it seemed to be the kind of town where everything worked. There was a place called Buckley’s, open for breakfast, with a very pleasant garden, a friendly waiter called Martin Booysens (he was described as a “waitron” on the cash slip, which seems to be a peculiarly South African term, and makes him sound like a robot. It had good food, which made a change from all the chain restaurants which serve the same predictable stuff.

Smithfield Town Hall, Free State

Smithfield Town Hall, Free State

We left on the road to Wepener, which was a gravel road, crossing typical highveld grassland, and like most Free State gravel roads was in fairly good repair, and there were signs that it had recently been graded. We joined the tarred road to Ladybrand a couple of kilometres north of Wepener, and it was in better repair than it had been four years ago, in that many of the potholes had been patched, but the signs warning of potholes were still up from four years ago, and were now somewhat faded. We began to see fruit trees in blossom along the side of the road, at random intervals, and concluded that they must be from cherry pips that people had thrown out of car windows. Val recalled a vegetable hawker who, many years ago, had given her aunt a sales pitch for cherries he was selling, and assured her that they came from “Ficksburg, Madam, where Jesus was born”.

There are lots of fruit trees growing alongside the road to Ladybrand in the Free State, perhaps spring from pips spat out by passing motorists.

There are lots of fruit trees growing alongside the road to Ladybrand in the Free State, perhaps spring from pips spat out by passing motorists. The picture does not do the pink blossoms justice.

We stopped for lunch in Fouriesburg, and reached Clarens at 4:15 pm, and there noticed, as we had throughout our journey through five of South Africa’s nine provinces, the inequality that still persists 21 years after the end of apartheid. Clarens is regarded as the jewel of the Free State, and middle-class people from the big cities retire there, or go to spend weekends there, but, like almost every town we have passed through, it has a shanty town where poor people live.

Clarens, an idyllic village in the mountains of the eastern Free State

Clarens, an idyllic village in the mountains of the eastern Free State

There was a pattern to development in many towns, particularly noticable in towns in the North West Province and Northern Cape, that as you left the town you passed apartheid-era matchbox houses, then the rather smaller RDP houses of the 1990s, and last of all the shanty towns, or “informal settlements” as some call them. The ones in Clarens were somewhat better than most, in that the number of shacks was proportionately smaller than in the north west, and almost every garden had one or more fruit trees in bloom, and in some places people had planted neat vegetable gardens.

Clarens in the Free State

Clarens in the Free State — the bits the tourist brochures don’t usually show.

We stayed with my cousin Peter Badcock Walters and his wife Toni. Some years ago they bought an old sheep-shearing shed, and converted it into self-catering apartments, now called The Clarens Country House.

The Clarens Country House

The Clarens Country House

Peter has also built an art gallery in the centre of Clarens, The Gallery on the Square, where he exhibits his own art work and that of other artists. He had done many book illustrations, including The Illustrated Bosman.

Peter Badcock-Walters in The Gallery on the Square

Peter Badcock-Walters in The Gallery on the Square

Also on display were drawings from an earlier book Images of War.

The Gallery on the Square, Clarens

The Gallery on the Square, Clarens

Concluded at Clarens, and home again.

Hermanus to Keurfontein

Continued from Cape Town to Hermanus

We left Volmoed at 8:30, after a very pleasant few days, including having time to chat to an old friend Barry Wood, who was a fellow member of the committee of the Anglican Students Federation in 1965, and we spent a term together at St Paul’s College in Grahamstown in 1968, but we had seen very little of each other since then. He had retired to Volmoed, as he was committed to its vision of community, the kind of community sometimes called “the new monasticism”.

Barry Wood

Barry Wood

On the road to Caledon we were suddenly transported to another world. Ten years ago we went on holiday to the UK, and there, as now, it was spring, and all over southern England we saw sights like this: wind farms, fields of yellow rape seed, and sheep.  It was quite surprising to see them in the Western Cape — very, very English!

A very English rural scene in the Western Cape

A very English rural scene in the Western Cape

Travelling east from Caledon along the N2 we passed cornfields with waving wheat, more rape seed, and grazing cows. As Val pointed out, it was bread, butter and margarine. We turned off the national road just past Swellendam and drove up the Tradouw Pass. It seemed better to approach it from this side, as all the uitkykplekkies were on the right side of the road, and one did not have to cross the traffic on blind corners to reach them.

Tradouw Pass, Western Cape

Tradouw Pass, Western Cape

We passed through Barrydale on the R62, now being promoted by Western Cape tourism as the tourist route to follow. We stopped on the hill above to look at the town, and I phoned Dick Usher, a friend we had visited here four years ago, but was told that the number we had dialled did not exist. Last time we saw him he had been having to travel to Somerset West every week for therapy for lung cancer, and the recorded voice on the phone sounded like a death knell.

Barrydale, Western Cape

Barrydale, Western Cape

Somewhere between Barrydale and Ladismith, we passed Ronnie’s Sex Shop, which seems to have made itself famous. There was another spectacular pass between Ladismith and Calitzdorp, the Huisrivier Pass. I’d never heard of the Huis River before, but the geological formations rivalled those of the not too distant Swartberg Pass.

Huisrivier Pass, between Ladismith and Calitzdorp

Huisrivier Pass, between Ladismith and Calitzdorp

We stopped for lunch in Caltizdorp, at Ebenhard’s Restaurant, which had a carden setting. Smaller towns do not usually have branches of be big chain fast food joints like Spur, Nando’s, Wimpy and the like, and it is nice to eat in smaller places where the food is less predictable. Calitzdorp also had a lot of nice old houses.

Calitzdorp, Klein Karroo, Werstern Cape

Calitzdorp, Klein Karroo, Western Cape

We passed through Oudtshoorn, and followed the N12 to De Rust, and then up the valley of the Olifants River (a different one from the one on the west coast), along the line of the Swartberg.

Approach to De Rust, with the Swartberg in the background

Approach to De Rust, with the Swartberg in the background

There were also spring flowers here, including some late-blooming aloes, which usually appear in late winter, but a few of them had waited for spring.

Aloes and the Swartberg

Aloes and the Swartberg

We turned up the N12 towards Willowmore, and crossed into the Eastern Cape province, and stayed at the Keurbook Farm in Ghwarriespoort.

Continued at Ghwarriespoort to the Gariep Dam.


Visiting more old friends in and around Cape Town

Continued from In and around Cape Town: family and friends

On Thurday and Friday last week (27 & 28 August 2015) we visited more old friends in and around Cape Town.

We went to see Sam van den Berg, a former colleague from the Editorial Department at Unisa, and had dinner with him and his son Maritz at the Salty Sea Dog restaurant in Somonstonw.

Maritz & Sam van den Berg with Val Hayes at Simonstown, 27 Aug 2015

Maritz & Sam van den Berg with Val Hayes at Simonstown, 27 Aug 2015

Sam got into trouble with the higher-ups at Unisa for objecting to the poor quality of study material from the Education Faculty, which we believed amounted to fraud — taking money from students for rubbish. In those days (early 1990s) Unisa wasn’t interested in quality control. I hope that with all the talk of “transformation” there has now been some improvement, and that it is not just talk.

Then the following evening, after our usual day spent at the archives, we visited Jim and Jeanette Harris. Jeanette was an old friend of Val’s from primary school in Escombe, Natal, and they had not seen each other for many years. Jim had worked in a similar field to me, theologicval education and training for ministry in the Anglican Church, so we had a lot to talk about.

Val Hayes with Jeanetter and Jim Harris, Diep Riview, 28 August 2015

Val Hayes with Jeanette and Jim Harris, Diep Riview, 28 August 2015

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