Just Being

A view of the beautiful beach at Gordon's Bay. The blue sea lapping on white sand a few rocks in the foreground, trees and the mountains beyond. The sky is clear and very blue.

Nothing but a beautiful view of my favourite beach today.

A slow walk on the sand, tasting the salty air, the breeze brushing my skin. Strolling over warm silky grains, washed by gently breaking waves; picking up shells and peering in rock pools. Gazing out over the azure ocean, eyes resting on a ruby-sailed yacht. And later, sitting on a sun-warmed rock, waiting for the glowing golden orb to sink beneath distant Table Mountain in a sudden flare of scarlet.

Have a pleasant and peaceful weekend, wherever you are in the world.

Little Inspirations: a tribute

The ‘Team’ on a Christmas trip to see the movie, Long Walk to Freedom. (My photo)

It’s been a sad week. I lost someone who was important in my life. One of the first people whom I met when I arrived to live here on South Africa’s shores. A man I met at the clinic here in Somerset West, where I was part of a volunteer group providing help and support to people living with chronic diseases like HIV and TB, which I talked about a few weeks ago. His name was Johannes and he was part of our team (pictured above).

He had already been living with HIV for some 12 years when we first met, although you wouldn’t have thought he was sick. He was our greatest advocate in the campaign we were running to dispel the myths and the stigma attached to HIV. Within our group was a safe place to speak, a place where people could share their stories without judgment. It was through sharing these stories that I started to get to know Johannes.

In my guest post ‘From the Writer’s Desk’ on da-AL’s blog, Happiness Between the Tails, back in January this year, I talked about how some of the main characters in Song of the Sea Goddess came to be. Johannes was one of them.

“A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. …people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’…

I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity… but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.

So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.”

You can read the full version here.

Our support group folded after a couple of years, but by that time Johannes was working for me as a gardener, painter and general handy man. In fact, there was little that he couldn’t turn his hand to. His stories continued through our coffee breaks – of how he ran away to sea at the age of twelve and worked on the deep-sea trawlers for years, how he came home, got into a fight and was jailed and then, after he was released, how he turned his life around.

There’s a lovely little pen portrait of ‘Jannie’ by Robbie Cheadle in her recent review of Song of the Sea Goddess on her blog, Roberta Writes. I was delighted the way she ‘got’ all of my characters, and these few lines sum up the character Johannes inspired (and a little part of Johannes himself) perfectly.

“Jannie is an ex-convict who has discovered the errors of his ways and allowed his better nature to reassert itself. He is a lover of animals and the stray dog featured in the story, and Toti, the monkey, both love him.”

The fictional Jannie gets his long brown-black dreadlocks, his watchfulness and his willingness to help from Johannes. He gets his understanding, his gentle ways and his kindness too, as well as his ability to fight in the defence of his friends.

It’s ironic that the da-AL’s post was prefaced by her and her husband’s Covid experience. Fortunately, they came through. Johannes wasn’t so lucky and it was he that I was thinking of when I wrote my poem, Last Gasp on Monday. He lost that particular fight late on Tuesday evening.

Johannes wasn’t just a gardener and handyman, he wasn’t just a source of stories, he was my friend and I shall miss him very much. But just as he will live on in the hearts and memories of those who knew him, part of him will live on in the pages of Song of the Sea Goddess, and the so far unfinished sequel, as well.

Sunset over the Berg River ©Cliff Davies 2019

Johannes Williams, 10.03.64 – 10.08.21
May the sun never set on your memory.

Little Inspirations: walking with the ancients

From the very first time I stepped onto the continent of Africa in 2003, that moment when I put my foot onto the tarmac at Cape Town airport, I felt a strange tingle in my bones; I felt I’d come home. So far as I’m aware, I have no family roots anywhere on this huge continent, but nevertheless, I felt an affinity with the land. Even before connections and coincidences led me and my husband to start another chapter in our lives in South Africa, ten years ago, I’d become fascinated with the landscape, the wildlife and the people who’d foraged along the shores and wandered over the wide, scrubby grasslands of the veld.

The story of the original inhabitants of what is now the Western Cape is a sad one of exploitation, displacement and dispossession, all so tragically similar to many of indigenous populations across the world. I’ve followed my fascination with those early people, the Khoisan through works of both fact and fiction – there’s a reference list of books I’ve read at the end of this post – but it’s their legends and customs that have increasingly inspired my writing.

A nod or two to those landscapes and traditions have wormed their way into my most recent novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, and the so far unnamed sequel I’m busy with now, but for the most part my inspirations have manifested themselves in some of the short pieces and poems which I’ve shared here on my blog, like my San Man stories last year, and more recently, my micro-fiction series, Owab and Aquila.

Also last year, when the opportunity arose, I wrote a handful of poems inspired by the legends and landscape of South Africa to submit for inclusion in Creation and the Cosmosa Poetic Anthology Inspired by Nature, edited and published by the talented tara caribou of Raw Earth Ink. I was delighted to have all five of them accepted and to have my words included amongst the poems and photographs of a such a wonderfully talented group of creatives. Here’s one.

.

Call of the maiden

The breeze-caressed veld sways
sending dry waves to break on a distant shore
whirlwind dust-devils dance over bare earth
rising up to be scorched into stillness.

Evening swells across the veld
and the thorn-tree’s shadow
reaches out with tendril fingers
to caress the smudge-blue foothills.

As daylight fades, the breeze quickens
and the new maiden emerges
standing on the threshold of the distant koppie
in that powerful place between hearth and wilderness.

She turns and kneels at the young man’s side
offering herself to him.
Limbs entwine and under the eyes of the ancestors
they become one.

Darkness closes in and the great African she-moon rises
pin-prick stars stab the violet-thick night
and now the once-maiden cries out
her triumphant ululation echoing across the empty veld.

©2021 Chris Hall
from Creation and the Cosmos

Creation and the Cosmos ~ A Poetic Anthology Inspired by Nature

Featuring:
Artists: emje mccarty, Heather Trotter, Steven Bryson
Authors: Braeden Michaels, Brandon White, Robert Birkhofer, Stephanie Lamb, Hidden Bear, Jenny Hayut, Chris Nelson, Chris Hall, Mark Ryan, Mark Tulin, R.H. Alexander, Sarah Licht, Oleg Kagan, Meredith Heller, Rachael Holmes, Kathryn Winograd, fara tucker, CG Tenpenny, Cassa Bassa, Cara Feral, Colleen Machut, Dvon Bridgeforth,
Photographer: Jimmi Campkin
Edited by: tara caribou

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Book List

Voices of the San by Willemien le Roux and Alison White

Praying Mantis by André Brink

So Few are Free by Lawrence L. Green

The Coast of Treasure by Lawrence L. Green

A Millimetre of Dust: Visiting Ancestral Sites by Julia Martin

Rainmaker by Don Pinnock

Eagles, Fly Free by Chris Mellish

To find out more about the books you can find book details and my reviews on Goodreads.

Today’s the day!

What’s in the box?

Hot off the UPS delivery truck all the way from the USA via Dubai to Johannesburg to Cape Town to me! At last, the author copies of my new novel have arrived. They seems to have been on a little book tour of their own since I ordered them from Amazon on 6th December.

But never mind. They’re here now and I’m very pleased with the look and feel of them. And the smell. Don’t you just love that when you open a brand new book?

I gave you a little opening excerpt from the book to whet your appetite last week, but today I have something special to tempt you with. It’s the recipe for Auntie Rose’s vegetable curry, which she uses to fill her famous rotis. I took a tiny peek over her shoulder when she was last making them.

Auntie Rose is always cooking up a storm. Maybe she’ll bring out her own recipe book some day!


e-book and
paperback
now available:
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Rest of the World

If you’re in South Africa and would like a signed paperback sent to you, I have a few copies for you at a special price of R250,00 including P&P – just drop me a line!

Location, Location, Location #10

Location No. 10, Berg River, Laaiplek ©River Tides Guest House

In the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, we’re taking a trip up the west coast of South Africa to a small town called Laaiplek, situated where the Berg River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the spot where my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess was conceived.

A visit to Mike Harvey’s lovely River Tides guest house just after New Year has become something of a tradition for us, although sadly our sundowners with Mike have had to be postponed this year with beaches and rivers out-of-bounds and travel between ‘hot-spots’ actively discouraged. But we will return.

Here I am, back in January 2019, sitting on the shady bench on the right hand side of the photo, busy with pen and notebook, during our customary short summer break. I might well have been writing the very words that eventually evolved into the first chapter of the book, which started as a short story involving Sam the fisherman and his little boat, Porcupine.

Sitting by the banks of the broad brackish Berg River,  fishing boats periodically put-putter past. It was easy to start to imagine a story about one of them. A little blue-painted fishing boat, which I watched throttling past the old fish-processing factory as it set out on an evening voyage, captured my imagination.

I know from reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, that night-time is the right time to catch octopuses, using a little olive oil to ‘calm troubled waters’ and a light to attract them. But then, once Sam had caught his two octopuses, I desperately wanted to save them because, as we all know, they are at least as intelligent as dogs, and I really couldn’t bring myself to let them be despatched. And so the fantasy was created and the adventure begun.

Some of you might remember the original short story from when I put it up on my blog almost exactly two years ago, although it has undergone some reworking and refinement since then. But the essence of the place remains unchanged, for who could fail to be inspired by a location like this?

“Many ghosts of ships and men haunt Laaiplek. A place of adventure and romance.
Coast of Treasure’ by Laurence G. Green (1932)

Sunset over the Berg River ©Cliff Davies 2019

Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’

Sam casts off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers are disappearing behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as he pushes the throttle forward and eases little Porcupine out into the broad brackish river that leads to the ocean.

Gulls wheel noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blink at each other on either side of the bay. Sam pushes the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He runs his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and sets his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.

Sam grew up on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still is. But he’s escaped. He had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he fixed it up with the help of a retired ship’s engineer called Jannie, who spends his days giving advice and watching the activity in the little harbour by the river mouth.

Sam and Porcupine make a great team. He’s brought the little boat back to life and in return she gives him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he’s fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounds the coast to his favourite cove and drops anchor.

Night comes quickly, and within half an hour Sam has two good-sized octopuses in his fishing bucket. He shifts a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam has been busy helping out in the harbour all day. He feels the stiffness of a hard day’s work; he’s tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, Sam slips away into a glorious slumber.

He is awakened by the sound of voices. Someone’s on the boat!

‘Concentrate,’ says the first.

‘I am concentrating,’ says the second, rather indignantly.

Sam holds up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He stands up and turns around sharply. There’s no one. He walks around the little deck, holding up the lamp and peering out into the inky ocean. Then he hears them again.

‘Over he-re,’ the voice calls in a sing-song voice.

‘Over he-re,’ joins in the second voice in a deeper tone.

Sam spins around. Where are the voices coming from?

‘Coo-e,” calls the first voice.

Suddenly a jet of water spurts out of the fishing bucket, wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waves at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waves again.

Sam crouches down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bob up, their eyes fasten upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winks at him. ‘No!” Sam stands up and takes a step backwards. More tentacles appear, waving at him. Sam shakes his head.

‘Let us go!’

‘Please, mister fisherman!’

Sam approaches the bucket again. He squats down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’

‘We’re not fish,’ says the first voice indignantly.

‘We’re cephalopods.’

Sam rubs his eyes; he pinches himself.

‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extends towards Sam’s arm and prods him gently. ‘This is real.’

‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sings the first voice.

‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ choruses the second.

It’s as if someone has taken over control of his body. Sam picks up the bucket and steps over to the side of the boat where he gently inverts it. As the two octopuses slide into the sea, a huge wave breaks over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The empty bucket lands next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobs about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appear above the waves. As Sam tries to find his feet, a vast tentacle reaches onto the deck and grabs the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.


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The return of the San man

the return of the san man by chris hall lunasonline

I return to the cave behind the koppie one last time. I’m alone. My story-teller has finished his story now. Still I am drawn to this place where the veld stretches out to the smudge-blue mountains.  It is late afternoon, when the sun’s red-orange afterglow becomes a purple-haze dusk; when the air is alive with spirits.

Inside the cave, my hand traces the outlines of the eland and the hunter who stands, bow and arrow poised, taking aim at the beast. A shadow moves across the scene and I turn to see the figure of a man outlined against the burning sunset. For a moment I think it’s the story-teller. But no, this is someone else.

He’s dressed in a long blanket; a string of beads decorates his head. He carries a long, stout stick which he lays against the cave entrance before stepping silently into the cave.

The San man.

He points at the eland and at the hunter. He turns to me and our eyes meet. His are the colour of the early morning sky. They tell me that he was that hunter and this was the first eland he ever killed. Killing an eland made him a man.

He beckons me over to another drawing. A lion and a man stand next to a bush which has strips of meat hanging from its branches. The man doesn’t fear the lion, because they are friends. The man shares his meat with the lion and the lion does the same with his kill. They belong to the land and the land belongs to them.

Together we walk to the cave entrance and stand looking out across the veld as the sky darkens; two tiny figures in a vast universe.

When I turn to look at him, he has gone.

Trance

Trance by Chris Hall lunasonline

My storyteller falls silent, staring at the distant smudge-blue mountains. Sitting on the still-warm rocks, he is a ‘there-not there’ presence beside me.

The sun sets quickly here. Now the great African moon, reclining serenely on her back, casts a soft glow over the darkening veld.

All is still.

Soon the broad African sky is star-pricked velvet. Orion, the hunter, with his belt of three she-tortoises hanging on a stick, stalks across the western sky. The frothy plume of the Milky Way is a handful of ashes, cast into the sky by a Bushman girl to light the way for her people to return home.

Long, long ago was that past-time when the great herds roamed the plains: springbok in their multitudes, steenbok, kudu, eland and wildebeest. Then there were lions and elephants in the veld; and jackals, wild dogs and hyenas; great giraffes and rhino, small hares and porcupines. Now only their ghosts remain, painted on the cave walls behind me.

A huge 4×4, lights ablaze, erupts across the highway below, shattering the silence. My storyteller shakes himself and stands. He turns to me, nods and walks away. 

I remain.

All is silent again, but the spell is broken.


In case you missed it, this is the story my storyteller told

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition

Luxury cars displayed, glass-encased,

a stone’s throw from where

people make their homes

under flyovers.

 

Leafy suburbs, all high walls and gated communities,

where the fat pony’s stable

is a step up

from the best built shack.

 

Assuage your guilt by paying someone

to mow your lawn

or clean your house

for a cut above the minimum wage.

 

Turn your head away, un-see them all;

the beggar by the robot,

the thin woman with the baby on her back

picking through the trash.

 

Don’t look back

Don’t glance over your shoulder.

It’s all still there.

 

High up, in your shiny city apartment

overlooking the city-bright lights

you forget the people

shivering on the street.

 


South Africa is the most unequal country in the world and reading this post from Sadje last week impelled me to write this. 

Note: ‘robot’ is what we call a traffic light here.

Random Acts of Kindness Award: an open invitation

Random Acts of Kindness Award

I was nominated for this award by Vicklea who has been very supportive of my writing since I started posting at the start of this year. I’m very pleased because it’s given me an opportunity to share an example of how some people help each other in my adopted country, South Africa.

South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. We have the very, very rich (a small number) and the very, very poor (sadly many more). We may think we’re somewhere in the middle, but the vast majority of the population live on very little.

We are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ a housekeeper, Joyce, and a gardener / handyman, Johannes, a couple of days a week. This sounds quite grand, or at least it seemed to me to be so when we first came over here. We don’t necessarily need the help, although it’s nice to have someone to do the housework and look after the garden. It also gives us an excuse to help them to support their families.

However, this is not about us in our privileged position and what we do, rather I want to share something which Joyce did for one of the kids in her neighbourhood last week.

Joyce was standing by the gate to her little rented house having just seen her youngest child Joshua and her grandchild, Lesego, off to school. She was watching some of the other children make their way to school when she noticed a little boy of about Joshua’s age struggling to walk in gum boots which were much too big for him. She could see by how he was dressed that he came from a family who must have very little to spend on clothes and shoes. She called him over and saw that he was crying. He said it was because the gum boots hurt his feet and made it hard for him to walk.

Joyce told him to wait by the gate. She fetched a pair of Joshua’s shoes. The shoes were in good condition and still fit Joshua, but he did have his school shoes and a pair of trainers as well and Joyce decided that she must give them to the little boy who was struggling. He tried them on and they fit. He was over the moon! Joyce gave him a plastic bag for the gum boots and off he ran to school so as not to be late. On his way back that afternoon, he came and thanked Joyce again.

When she told me, I could see how happy she was to have been in a position to help the little boy, even though she herself manages on a very modest budget as a single mum, with a grown up daughter and son, another son who’s studying civil engineering and the two little ones.


Award Rules

All through life we encounter people who for no particular reason help someone out, or extend a hand when needed. Some do it directly and some do it indirectly.
1- copy or paste image for reward on your post.
2- Write about a random act of kindness, either you saw, was given to you, or you have done. It is okay to spread the love people. You don’t have to name specific names or whatever but tell us about it.
3- Share this award and link to original post or tag the person who nominated you.
4- If you should want to do this then you can leave an open ended invitation, or personally tag others.
5- Pictures are a good share to, if you have pictures to share a random act of kindness, that is great!

I’m leaving this Award open to anyone who might read this and like to share something good. There’s too much bad stuff in the world.