Category Archives: Water (Personal)

No Lady

I haven’t learned my lesson and I’ve chosen the cheapest hotel I can find in Manhattan, in the Chinatown district.

I get to my room on the 2nd floor. A gloomy corridor leads to a tiny window, facing a wall, and there are countless doors dotted on either side of the passage, with about a doors-width of wall between each door.

I enter the room. It has a tiny single bed, too short for me to lie without resting my feet on the wall. The entire room is smaller than a double bed. I can sit up with my back against the one wall, resting my feet on the far wall. I won’t have been the first person to do this, as three of the walls are covered in streaks from weary feet/shoes. There are no windows, but the streaks on one wall are broken by a carefully positioned plastic artwork.

The view
Floral masterpiece

The bathroom is smelly. A friendly cockroach comes out of a drainage hole in the middle of the floor to greet me.

The rooms have a chicken wire roof, so the area is more like a dorm with tiny walls between them, with every sound from the neighbouring guests broadcast across the floor. “No lady” said the sign outside, and I’m not sure whether they’re more concerned about disturbing the other guests or about the wellbeing of the lady as she contorts to fit on the bed along with the guest. Or perhaps it’s the walls they’re worried about – they don’t look like they could withstand much activity.

The roof
It may be New York, but the roof aims for that Alcatraz style

The wifi is not working.

I meet a Serbian artist. “Terrible, terrible place. I will never come back here, never!”

“You hear everything, and the man next door, he’s an ex-convict, he tell me to switch my light off. ‘I’m reading’ I say. He threaten to kill me, say he stab someone to go to jail and if I don’t switch my light off, he kill me. Terrible, terrible.”

“I snore, he shout at me to keep quiet. But he snore like steam train!”

The artist leaves to go to his exhibition, where he will put on a helmet in order to control a giant robot arm that will wave him in the air, apparently controlled by his brainwaves.

I like this place already.

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A Visit to Home Affairs

My passport expires soon, so it was time to brave the horrors of Home Affairs again. But wait, could things have improved? Since I last had the pleasure of experiencing their welcome, Home Affairs in Wynberg has moved to Maynard Mall, and this post gave a glowing review.

Arrive at 11-ish? 8 people in the queue, smoothly in and out? Glowing comments corroborating the experience? What alternative universe have I arrived in!?

I arrive at Home Affairs about 11h30. There’s a queue snaking right out the door to Capitec Bank. Heh, those poor suckers are probably applying for an ID. I go to the front. Am stopped from going in and told to get a number for the passport queue at the back. No problem, I can already see the envious looks as I’m called in to the passport queue, leaping ahead of the poor saps who’ve probably been waiting since dawn.

The guard at the back is in deep conversation with someone else. Tells him he needs photos. What? Already a spanner in the works, what happened to the new biometric application system, digital photos taken right there? No problem, I don’t mind getting photos, we’re well situated in a mall, should be easy to get.

Eventually there’s a small queue by the guard, playing gatekeeper at the back of the large queue. He turns to me. “I’d like to apply for a passport” I smile. He starts laughing.

“What, hahah, no, we’re full. You must come back tomorrow!”.

“Er, OK, what time tomorrow” (I’d done well getting there by 11h30 I thought).

“Before 7am”.

“BEFORE 7am!?!?”

“Yes”. He’s already done with me, moves on the next person.

Before 7am? Not only am I no longer in the utopian universe of 8 people in the queue, I have moved into another universe where the laws of physics do not apply. I can conceive of being there before 7am as easily as I can swim faster than the speed of light.

I’ll never leave the country again…

There’s a mouse in mi kitchen, what am I gonna do?

mouse

It’s useful to have some backup skills if you ever want a career change. Mine is mouse catcher. In the last month, I’ve caught 5 mice. And I mean caught. No poison, no traps. I channel my inner cat, sneak up on then, and catch them in a bucket (usually by herding them inside).

Don’t try this is the middle of the night. I’ve avoided sleeping in the lounge next to the fireplace for a while, as I hear them in the kitchen, can’t sleep, eventually furiously barge into the kitchen at about 4am, channeling not my inner cat, but my inner buffalo. The mice escape, I try to go back to bed. Repeat. And the next day I’m a sleep-deprived wreck.

No, you need to stalk them fresh and alert, usually first thing in the morning, or late evening.

I release them in a field. Not the field across the road, as I first did. Apparently mice can find their way back for more than a kilometre. So I take them for a little drive.

Mouse number five proved challenging. After catching it as easily as the others, I had it in a bucket with a book on top. I heard it desperately leaping up, as the others had done, but left it alone as I wasn’t quite ready for the drive.

I returned to find the mouse gone. The tiniest of mice had leaped many times it height, and squeezed out the tiniest of holes I’d left for air. And mice learn fast. Back the next night, now it proved much tougher to catch. The slightest breath as I stalked it and it was gone. Once or twice I had it cornered but it knew to avoid the bucket at all costs.

I heard it again. After catching four mice I thought I had them all and had scrubbed the shelves. The next day they looked like a student’s party pad again. Although I’ve never met a student that shits everywhere. And gnaws holes in the hemp. Mice love hemp. If there’s no hemp seeds, they go for the hemp powder. If there’s no hemp powder they’ll go for the chia meal. Then the chia seeds. Then they start getting desperate and go for the lucuma. The only thing that’s safe is the cacao. They will even eat cardboard rather than cacao.

With the precious hemp safely squeezed into the fridge, and the cacao of no interest, the mouse was in the shelf with my drill, screws, light bulbs. Chewing the cardboard box around the drill. I had the bucket ready, sneaked up, blocked the exits. Threw open the door. And the mouse was gone in a flash, hidden before I could see where it went. I started unpacking furiously, bucket ready for a sudden escape. Light bulbs, extension cords, screws, screwdrivers. No sign of the mouse. It could only be in place. I peeked into the drill box. And there it was. I had to move fast – the box wasn’t that secure, with all the chewing the mouse had been up to.

Mouse shit everywhere. Pasta packets strewn open. The temptation to switch the drill on didn’t even cross my mind…

If driving while texting, or having sex, is dangerous, it doesn’t come close to driving while trying to keep in a mouse in a drill box with many holes. The thought of it chewing through the car didn’t appeal, so the mouse was not escaping again. Luckily it was late at night, and the slightly wobbly driving didn’t cause any accidents. The mouse raced off into the field, hopefully to meet up with the rest of the little hooligans.

It’s been two days. I may even sleep in the lounge tonight. The cupboards are half scrubbed, though I doubt I’d pass any kitchen health inspections. Hopefully that’s the end of them…

Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Bumbling round Bergen

Norway is not a welcoming country. Not when the bottled water is on sale for R60, or the quotes for the taxi from Oslo airport to the city centre start at R2400. I can also splurge on a fancy limo for R14000. Maybe choosing the cheap flight and arriving in Oslo after midnight wasn’t such a good idea after all.

I finally make it to my accommodation. Having failed to find a couchsurfer (another reason not to arrive after midnight), I look away as I hand over my credit card. Punch in my pin and hope my transaction doesn’t send the rand into freefall again. With impeccable timing, the finance minister has been charged with fraud, sending the currency plummeting 3.5% the day before. With the Euro, I can neatly pretend R1 equals 1 Euro (it’s actually 15 to 1), and everything looks a bargain. In Norway, that trick doesn’t work, as it’s about 2 to 1, and prices still seem outrageous even without doubling.

The person at the counter asks me if I want bedding. “Er, bedding?” I ask. Yes, the hotel room comes without bedding. OK, the place is a bit of a dive, but it doesn’t include bedding? “Er, yes, I suppose…” That’s a further R92, thanks to the infernal machine showing me the price in rands.

There was a review saying the place looked like a mental asylum. Online reviews, eh, always exaggerating.

The place looks like a mental asylum. The lift doesn’t work, and I find myself staggering up I forget how many flights of stairs, and in a long corridor, white walls, no windows, with poky doors. I expect to see bars on them, but am too tired to look. I find my room, am too tired to even put on the duvet cover, and collapse down to sleep.

A good lesson in why “order by price, lowest first” isn’t always a good idea when choosing accommodation.

What I looked like after arriving in Oslo
I wish I looked as good as this after arriving in Oslo

I plan to stay in Oslo one or two days, and then catch the train to Bergen. I even have a couchsurfer from later in the evening after he gets back from work. Which means I get to check out, and wander around the city hauling my bags around. I came to Europe for work, and politely made sure I had a clean pair of underpants for every day, but now I’m tempted to burn the lot so that I can travel light.

I wander through the botanical gardens. It’s autumn, and everything looks like I did the night before. I carry on to the train station. There are lots of beggars. I wonder about the viability of setting up a proxy beggar, and sending the daily earnings back home. Probably eradicate poverty in Cape Town.

Looking online before, there are regular trains from Oslo to Bergen. I come across the train station, and decide to buy a ticket there. It turns out there’s a train strike, with limited trains and most of them full. The only option in my timeframe is the very next one, leaving in about an hour. I quickly message my couchsurfer, book accommodation for Bergen (again, I have a couchsurfer, but not for the next two nights) and settle down to enjoy the ride.

Each time I travel, I fantasise about meeting some gorgeous stranger. It doesn’t help that a friend did just this on a flight to Cape Town, ended up showing her around the whole week, and is now married to her.

On the 12-hour overnight flight to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a gorgeous stranger. Who promptly went to sleep. She woke up about 2am, just as I was hoping to fall asleep myself. She started rummaging around for her iphone. This went on the whole night, and it didn’t help that she got up about 6 or 7 times too (I was in the middle seat, she by the window). After a miserable sleepless night, she finally accused me of stealing her iphone and demanded to search my bags. I let her search my bag (all the while hoping it hadn’t slipped into my shoe or something). She didn’t find it. She wanted me to ask the equally grumpy, sleepless passenger next to me whether he’d taken it. I decided to rather ask him to get up, so that we could both get out of her way and she could search for her iphone properly. The stewards came to see what was happening.

“Is this yours?” the passenger behind helpfully asked, showing her the iphone that had slipped to the seat behind.

Happily she got her iphone back. Unhappily I was more of a wreck than usual on arrival. No, we’re not getting married.

The train from Bergen to Olso is apparently one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. I sit down next to a gorgeous stranger. But she has the window seat and is blocking my view. Soon the seat in front is free, and I move there to look at the view. Just as we start ascending, and I start to see snow on the hills, the gloom descends, and I can’t see anything. Thanks to the late departure, most of the trip will be overnight, and I’ll miss the views. I move back to the gorgeous stranger. She likes the pictures of Cape Town. She gets off at the next stop.

I arrive in Bergen. It’s late again. At least the place I’m staying at is walkable from the station.

It’s a self-service checkin. Enter your booking code. Enter your credit card. Aargh, not again, can’t the machines here stop showing me the price in Rands! I punch in the pin. The machine spits out my keycard, and flashes out a whole bunch of information. I’m tired, I want to go sleep. Wait, my room number?! Was it 420? 402? I enter the keycard in the main doors. Red light. A note pasted to the door says “you may have to enter your card a few times before getting a green light). I enter it again. Red light. And again. About 15 times later I’m starting to get a wild look in my eyes and am wondering how strong the door is. Luckily I’m saved from a night in Bergen prison by someone else coming in, telling me I need to remove the card quickly, rather than wait for the light.

At least the lift works, and room 402 turns out to be correct. But disaster, what’s the wifi password!? Perhaps that was also on the bunch of info I didn’t read. I really must stop arriving late at night as a zombie. I go downstairs to find someone. Except I can’t get downstairs because I can’t find the lift. I remember coming through a door into a passage, but which door? There are lots, and they all look the same! At least everything is not all white this time. I try a few, all locked. Eventually I find the stairs, find someone who can give me the wifi password, and, concentrating carefully to remember my room number, the wifi password and where I came in, make it back, and settle in for the night.

I can’t sleep, with the infernal racket the fridge is making. I get up to switch it off.

The next morning I awaken, looking up at the hills surrounding this beautiful town. A deep, contented breath as I feel relaxed at last. And step into a huge puddle formed from the fridge defrosting onto the floor. Shortly after I get a reminder about the work I promised to finish up after Amsterdam, and haven’t got around to yet. The hills call to me as the day passes, distractedly punching the keyboard.

My couchsurfer cancels. I get to extend my stay, and hand over my credit card again. I start to get worried about my cards getting blocked before I’ve even bought my return ticket to Amsterdam. I look at flight tickets. I find the cheapest ticket, one I’d briefly researched before. Click book. Wait! There’s an 11-hour stopover somewhere. I may as well walk. What about direct flights? Oh god, no. I feel like crawling into a ball and whimpering when I see the price.

It rains 240 days a year in Bergen, and once set an impressive record of 85 days of rain in a row. My kind of town.

And then there’s the fjords. I sit down to write some landscape love poetry.


Ah, the fjords

A good start, a little rusty, but I can feel this coming back to me.

The beautiful fjords, bellisimo, belle

Or is it bellisima and beau? What gender is a fjord anyway? Hmm, this isn’t really poetry, is it. I’ll skip the poetry.

Anyway, Slartibartfast deserves his award for the fjords. If you get a chance, go see some!

26000 runners and a walker

While about 11 000 people decided to run 56km this morning, and another 16 000 took it easy with the half-marathon, I decided it was perfect weather to cover a little less distance than that, and go for a walk on the mountains.

Silvermine (pre-fire)

27 000+ people were blocking the route I planned to go, so I ended up walking near Silvermine. Walking is a great mood-enhancer if I’m in a bad mood, and what I most want to do if I’m feeling good, so there’s never a bad time to go. Like most of us, I don’t always end up doing what I want to and I haven’t done much recently, although the summer heat where all I’ve wanted to do was curl up under a cold shower didn’t help. But, the first autumn cold front made perfect weather.

I took Dorje sometime in 2014, and it was a wonderfully windy day, hanging on to the beacon in the maelstrom as the clouds poured by, occasionally revealing the sun, or the view below.

But that pales compared to the wind today. For most of the route, the wind was moderate, but it picked up in the afternoon, and coming back I took a detour to the lookout point over Hout Bay. As I got closer, sand started blasting my face, and I had to cover my eyes. As I reached the lookout point, I could barely stay upright. The wind was thudding into me, a brief moment of calm, and then raging with all the fury it could muster. I tried using some rusty tai chi to stand rooted on a rock, but just couldn’t keep balanced. I love Cape Town’s wind, but this was too much even for me, and I’m sure the runners are happy it was much milder in the morning!

Luckily the wind was blowing from the sea, otherwise I would probably be spending the night half way down the cliff face.

Coming back down past Silvermine Dam, unsurprisingly deserted, the water was the wildest I’ve seen, the wind was blowing the water over the dam wall, and any swimmers would have risked being dashed by the waves against the wall.

If I’m not too stiff after oiling my walking rust, I may just do it all again tomorrow!

Image from Wikipedia

You’re fat, and the 7-minute workout

You're fat?

I paid a visit to the Ethical Co-op warehouse the other day, and Thembi, one of the warehouse staff who’s been there from the very early days, greeted me with a loud “You’re fat!” as I walked in.

I was a little taken aback and didn’t have an immediate response, so she carried on “Yes! You were so skinny when you used to come to the warehouse, and now you’re fat. That’s good, you were too skinny. No stress anymore!”

I know she means “fat” as a compliment, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about her kind words.

Which brings me to the Seven-minute workout. This was a routine developed in 2013 by researchers in Orlando, using the latest research to design the best possible exercise routine, aimed in particular at office workers who don’t do enough exercise in general.

High-intensity interval training is today recognised as providing the most efficient returns for your time. Essentially, bursts of mayhem with brief rest periods between.

It’s claimed that just a few minutes of training at close to maximum capacity (that’s the high-intensity part) can produce molecular changes within muscles similar to those of several hours of running or bicycle riding.

The seven minute workout claims to work out all major muscle groups and give a combination of metabolic and resistance work. The exercises can all be performed from home, without any need for special equipment.

I was sold. Actually, it was the seven-minutes that did it. Egoscue involves long periods of lying in one position, and an abridged routine can easily be 30 minutes. Tai chi? Well, it’s wonderfully beneficial, but it doesn’t exactly build Hulk Hogan arm muscles (if it does, you’re doing it all wrong).

The extremely erratic exercises I would do before involved much pausing to admire the dust mites on the floor between repetitions, so perhaps not as intense as required.

A walk in the forest or on the mountains? Great, but, as well-served as Cape Town is, it takes me more than seven minutes just to get there, and a bit longer to get to the top (unless I’m ‘walking’ with Craig, in which case seven minutes to the top is about right).

So, how does it work?

Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, as intensely as possible, followed by a ten-second rest. The exercises are:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Wall sit
  • Push-up
  • Abdominal crunch
  • Step-up onto chair
  • Squat
  • Triceps dip on chair
  • Plank
  • High knees/running in place
  • Lunge
  • Push-up and rotation
  • Side plank

You can download an app on your phone to help keep track of the order and timings, and go to the New York Times article to read more.

So, how has the routine been for me? Well, I’m convinced that what Thembi saw as “fat” is simply the buildup of lean muscle around my stomach, so I’d say it’s working out quite well. Though I have upped the frequency and occasionally doubled up on abdominal crunches. Just in case.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Leaving the Ethical Co-op

Ethical veggies
Way back in April, a lifetime ago that seems like yesterday, I stepped down from the Ethical Co-op, which I’d been involved with from the very beginning in 2005.

There were about 10 founders, mostly drawn from two communities. Permacore, the Permaculture Foundation of South Africa, which is no longer running, and the Community Exchange System, a system designed to do away with the need for banks and central currency, which still is.

The vision was to source and support ethical produce. Organic food was hard to come by, and much of it organic in name only. Many of us used to visit the same places to get the best food, so pooling our efforts and getting them to bring it to us made sense.

The founding members all paid for their first orders, about R200 on average, and so, with a massive startup capital of R2000, it all began. To date, except for a loan from myself to purchase a vehicle, that was the only financial investment it ever had.

Yet, somehow, it’s still going 9 years later. Many other businesses, sometimes with huge financial investment and far greater financial resources, have splashed, crashed and burned.

What was lacking in money was made up for in time, however, with many people making hefty contributions.

From the beginning, and over most of its existence, there was a great team of people involved, feeding off each other’s energy. The skillset was diverse – I had an IT background and built the systems it runs on, and everybody dived in where they could.

Over time, the original members left. Some were no longer able to commit so much time for so little money or better and more interesting opportunities came along. Until, eventually, of the original members, it was just me left. It became a drain on my energy, most of my involvement was spent doing things I don’t enjoy: HR, finances, driving trucks (ok, that one is quite fun, but not so much unexpectedly at 7am after 4 hours sleep), packing boxes, customer service. I think over the years I’ve performed every role there was to perform.

The drain on my time meant I was missing other opportunities, saying no to friend’s invitations, missing my son Dorje’s school activities. And finally, when my mother was dying, it became something I resented, not allowing me the energy or time to share the process with her as I would have liked.

With my father ill at the beginning of this year, I’d finally had enough, and it was time to move on. There was only one viable person to hand it over to at the time, which was Anique, Dorje’s mom, who was involved at the time. At first she wasn’t keen to continue without me, so out went the closure letters to suppliers and customers.

But after an outpouring of support (people usually only say what things mean when it’s too late), she decided to continue it, and I was happy that something I’d put so much love and sweat into would be continuing.

Leaving was hard. I’d put so much energy into it, and the vision many of us had for it, although never actualised, always felt just around the corner.

But I was happy to leave, and have been enjoying a resurgence in energy and the time to explore new things.

When the site launched, in September 2005 if I remember (so this month is its 9th birthday), the code I wrote was already a jumbled mush of spaghetti, thanks to scope creep of the sort comparable to driving to the shops for milk turning into a 3-week trip across Namibia. Eventually it turned into what’s there today, with an automated backend that allows a tiny team to keep things running.

Still today, all the products are listed on one page, a legacy of its original conception as a ‘box scheme’, where a customer would choose from 15 or so items to put in a box. Now there are hundreds of items. Some people hate the long page, but I love it as a customer. It makes searching for items instantaneous, and placing an order very quick.

There were lots of things to enjoy. Being the kind of business it was, designed to do good rather than make its shareholders or founders rich, it attracted lots of inspiring people, who worked for very little reward. Inspiring is not a word I use loosely – I really was inspired and energised by the people I worked with.

There were some tough times too. As with any group of people, there were personal conflicts, differences of opinion. An early test was asking a key founding member to leave. The other members all agreed that this was needed, and it fell to me to tell the person who’d brought me into the project, and was responsible for so much of the early energy, to leave. The person wasn’t happy, and spread all sorts of rumours afterwards, but it was the right thing to do, and the rest of us continued with a new lightness and purpose.

I lost count of the number of times it was called the ‘unethical’ co-op, often for the most trivial of reasons (“My carrots had their tops chopped off this week! I like to use them, and now you’ve chopped them off! How can you call yourselves ethical, you should be called unethical!)

But the accusation never hit home, as the the name always reflected an intention that we did our best to live up to. It saddens me to see something that should be the norm, healthy, organic food, where animals roam free and are well-treated, becoming a marketing slogan, an excuse to price gouge, a race to meet the lowest standard that meets the term. Supermarkets offering free range and organic produce that meets the letter (and sometimes not even that), but is far from the spirit of the term. Food at markets that claims or is assumed to be organic, beautifully displayed, but that I know is simply the conventional food being resold at an expensive price. The prevalence of pesticide-laden farms, with workers facing higher rates of asthma and other health conditions, all while the pesticide fumes they live in are claimed to be ‘safe’.

I still buy almost all my food from the Ethical Co-op. It’s clear where the food is grown, I still know many of the farms where the food is grown, and they’re of a scale that can support small producers, a dire need in a country with so many small suppliers all at the mercy of giant chains squeezing them for every cent.

It was a fun eight and a half years that I’m already looking at through rose-tinted glasses. Thanks to everyone who was part of the journey. Good luck to Anique and all the remaining staff, I hope you can make a thriving success of it.

“As I went out one morning”, better known as “OOH AH”

Many years ago, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to find me screeching in my bedroom. If you could stand the racket, you may have made out some of the words. “Ayee yeaaah ah, OOH AH”.

It’s not really surprising that, given what I remembered, even in the age of Google, I couldn’t track down the band responsible for all those primal grunts.

Until recently that is. Thanks to Brian Currin’s Top 40 Rock Legends, I rediscovered Tribe after Tribe. Shockingly, they didn’t even have an English Wikipedia article. Happily this is now rectified (a German version of the article did already exist). The song is actually a cover of a Bob Dylan song, but for me, Tribe after Tribe’s will always be the original.

Enough words, here’s the music:

In memory of my father

It was my father’s memorial yesterday afternoon, and, like my mother’s memorial nine months ago, it was a good day, meeting and seeing again some of his old friends.

Here’s a written adaptation based on what I said.

The memorial was held at my cousin John and Lindsay’s house. My early family Christmases were at my grandparents house in Meerlust, and then for a long time at my parent’s house in Rust en Vrede. But, for the last few years they’ve been held at John and Lindsay’s house. My dad used to enjoy coming and meeting family there – it was important to him, and so it was a fitting place for his memorial.

It also wasn’t far to get him home if he’d had one too many novelty whiskies, absinthe, or whatever else was being introduced at the time.

He was an extremely thorough and organised person. Everything was in its place, and he didn’t like things not going according to plan. But in life things rarely went his way. When he used to make a speech at birthdays or Christmases, for instance, when someone interrupted (looking at Jenni here), or laughed at the wrong time, or didn’t laugh at the right time, he used to get quite thrown,

In his organised way as he prepared for his death, he’d written out his final wishes, and the details of his will all well in advance. So, it’s a bit of a cosmic joke that all of these documents were stolen from a family members house last week.

Although most of his wishes were known, there is probably something missing, and if he’s grown any more hair in his current form, he’s probably tearing it in frustration at us getting it wrong right now.

But I’m sure he’ll forgive us, eventually.

As a child, I was never close to my dad. I used to avoid him, even from quite a young age. Our encounters often ended with me in tears, and I remember many a morning waiting for him to finish breakfast and leave so that I wouldn’t have to sit with him. The Gilfillans are almost as stubborn as the Dawe’s (my mom’s maiden name), and there were times when we both wanted the same thing, but he’d refuse to offer, or I’d refuse to ask, and so we both stubbornly didn’t get what we wanted.

Jenni's 21st

But as an adult, our relationship was much better, and I learnt to understand and accept him. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to heal the relationship, and get to understand him more deeply.

He had a difficult home life, growing up in the depression with very little, and was educated in boarding school, which in those days could be extremely rough, and far from his family.

But there was a lot I didn’t know about him. He was a very private person, not tending to discuss problems with others. One of the last times I saw him walking was when I visited him in the cottage at Helen Keller. He’d just had a fall, but when I came to the door, he came to open it on his walking stick, and I saw he was walking gingerly. But only when he lay down as I left did I realise how much pain he was in, which he’d tried to shield from me.

His mom and my mom didn’t get on at all, and it must have been very difficult for him with the two most important women in his life having such an unhealthy relationship. But I never saw him dump that onto others – he tried to carry it all himself. Everything that he held would sometimes come out in grumpiness, or complaints about other things, but the main things were always held inside.

He was greatly affected by the death of his sister, who by all accounts committed suicide. She was 34, two years younger than him, and again, he never talked about her, and even later when I asked some questions, he was very cagey. But, when I looked through some of the boxes he kept with him, right to the end, much of it was devoted to her, many many pictures, fragments of her diary.

My mother sometimes used to say that I should try understand him and realise that he never had a real family life, never knew what it was like. So I think the death of his sister in that context must have been quite devastating.

His profession was an artisan, fixing machines, and he worked for many years for Moirs and Kohler Packaging. Even at home he was continually building things. He was still driving at age 86, and after one too many dings with his car in the garage, he built a device that would register when the car got too close to the wall, and a big red stop would light up to warn him.

If you visited him at his Pinelands house you probably remember the alarm chimes that would sound when the gate opened. And he tinkered with all sorts of devices – his very first computer was a ZX-81 which didn’t have sound or a proper keyboard, and he built a proper touch-typing keyboard and added sound to the ZX-81, which I’d never heard of being done before. Even the computers he had at the end came with a mix of switches and devices that he’d built himself.

Anytime anyone had a mechanical problem they’d bring the device to my dad for fixing, and I remember him regretting before one of his moves, near the end, that he hadn’t been able to fix something of Eddie’s in time.

He left Dorje with a huge chest of tools and things that I hope Dorje learns to use better than I ever did.

He used to love the lotto, and particular trying to work out a system. He recorded every result, and calculated statistics in an attempt to see which numbers would be more likely to come up in future. He never aimed for the first prize though – his goal was always to win back just a little more than he spent, rather than the millions at the top. Before that it was horseracing. I remember him telling me he had worked out a system, and tested it for a long period by placing fake bets, and seeing what his winnings would be based on the results. Apparently the system was a success. So he tried it in practice, with real bets, and came back with some winnings the first week.

He lost the second week, and never won again. His systems always seemed to work better in theory than in practise.

His great love though was music. He met my mom in a band – Max Adler’s accordion band – and right until the end he was still playing. At Helen Keller he got involved in a music group, with him supplying music from his encyclopaedic collection, and playing his keyboard. I’m grateful that it was only a very short time that he wasn’t able to play any more. Dorje now has the keyboard, so I’m hoping that’s another skill that, even though it’s skipped me, will be passed on to the next generation.

When my mom became bedridden, he really surprised me by the way he looked after her, showing a side of him I hadn’t seen before. He washed her and cared for her in an unexpectedly intimate way.

He missed my mom terribly when she died. It did give him the chance to try some new things though, such as buying presents. All my life, every present I’ve received labelled “Love Mom and Dad” was from my mom, and my dad usually didn’t have a clue what it was.

So getting a present for Dorje that reflected who he was, was a novelty and an enjoyable experience for him.

The time alone at their old house wasn’t easy for him. His whole life he’d felt responsible for others, and when my mom became ill, there were lots of visitors and lots to do. After she died, there was the organisation of the funeral and other arrangements to keep him busy, but after that, the visits became less frequent and he was alone in the house he’d shared with my mom for so long. He really appreciated the support he got in that time. There were lots of supportive people, but he was particularly grateful for the support he got from Tony and from Saskia from St Lukes, who both helped in their different ways.

When the time came to move out of his house, his first thought, falling back upon his depression upbringing with a focus on saving money, was to move to a nice place out in the Karoo somewhere. But I managed to convince him that I would never come and visit him there, and nor would anybody else, so we finally settled on his real first choice, Helen Keller.

He was only there for two months, but for that brief time he was able to relax and enjoy himself without all of the worries he’d carried for so long.

Later today I’ve arranged a tea at Helen Keller with some of the residents who knew him. When Helen Keller let me know how many people would be coming, I expected 4 or 5 but there’s apparently 60 people coming, so it seems like he got around and enjoyed his time there even more than I realised.

It took me a long time to call him dad, but, one more time, farewell dad. Thanks for being who you were, and for all the gifts you shared. Rest in Peace.