Friday, 22 August 2014

A Bookish Child

Someone recently commented on me not being that into reading as a kid. This statement baffled me as I think back and remember the countless books I got lost in. But I suppose it wasn’t always as obvious to everyone around me, simply because I was lost in the real world too.

Being raised by a bonafide Biblio-holic who stacked books in our childhood home pathologically, I grew up with a deep appreciation for the written word. (And possibly the reason behind my hoarder mentality.) Even though I was by no means a church-mouse who locked herself away with her nose in a book 24/7, I developed a reverence for the thousands of novels that lined our passageways, bedrooms, bookcases and even bathroom floor on occasion.

I am the kind of person who loves the world ‘out there’ with an adventurous spirit, chasing dreams and experiencing every waking moment I can. People and their stories fascinated me from a young age and I collected them like shelves of hardbacks. I was always keenly aware of my own story growing inside me too, one that I wanted to read and write everyday to see what happens next.

My grandmother, a fellow bookish creature, once told me that I would have to live a thousand lives to be a part of all the stories I chased, or I would simply have to become a writer, and the first step to writing is reading. I was constantly busy with these stories - chasing them both inside and outside of the printed page. Books didn’t always fit into my gregarious nature, but they did hold a special place right from the beginning, and were ever present.

Throughout the years, I was at any given time in the middle of reading a book. (Not to mention the pile of ‘to-read’s that grows on my bedside table like the leaning tower of pizza till Husband forces me to take them all back to the bookcase, and I’m left with just the one…)

It started before I can even remember, with my mother reading to me every night. As I got older and gathered more tangible memories of these special evenings, I was lost in a sea of my mothers words as she read steadily from The Hobbit, The Just William books, Jenny, Missee Lee, The Scarlet Pimpernel and many other great stories. Nothing like sharing the adventures of a female pirate or of a little boy trapped by magic in a cat’s body or a World War 2 child’s mischievous playground to make for a rich and full adolescence.

I spent rainy Saturday afternoons and sick days in bed listening to the Story Teller tapes, following along in the printouts that came with them and colouring in the pictures. Thousands of hours must have been dedicated to Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, Thumbelina, The Marrog and Timbertwig. Stories endeared to me in vivid worlds of words, even though I wasn’t the one reading them.

The first real book I remember reading to myself was Naughty Amelia Jane. I loved the scrappy rag doll character and laughed at all the ridiculous situations she got herself into. After the formative Enid Blyton years, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the full C.S. Lewis series, I read every Nancy Drew ever written. I had a reading spot up a tree where I would climb with a book and settle down in my nest for the afternoon. My world was lit up by Charley and the Chocolate Factory, and then brought back down again by James and the Giant Peach (never did like that one).

After a trip to the library where my then 4 siblings and I had the understanding that we would each take out a different one, the Asterix comic book series would be passed around our home as fast and furious as a contagious bout of gastro before the next library visit and we would exchange them for a whole new batch to share.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass made a regular appearance in many forms; picture books, abbreviated versions, the Disney adaptation and the full Lewis Caroll classic. I ventured, at some point, to write a 3rd novel to the series – my first (failed) attempt at fan fiction.

What child who doesn’t love books spends a summer vacation with her best friend, taking turns in reading chapters of the Anastasia Krupnik series to each other for weeks on end? That same best friend and I would swap copies of Scrambled Legs and even tried our hand at writing our own combined book as young teens. She was also the one who introduced me to my first (and last) Mills and Boon somewhere around puberty.

I grew up some more and started reading books behind my parents’ backs for fear of their disapproval. Some game books where you could choose your own ending, a few Judy Blumes and The Sweet Valley Twins books, much to my youngest brothers dismay. He started giving me different books to help balance out my appetites, and I tried. From Shogun (which took me about a year to read and I am not even convinced I ever did finish it - SO not my genre!) to The Terminator. I read the movie-based book with guilty hunger because I knew the film was banned in our home. My mother of course found it in my room, took it away from me, read it herself, and then gave it back with all the blasphemy and swear words blocked out in black ink. I was mortified!

English Lit was my favorite subject, and thanks to being home schooled, I got to read a few of my older siblings set work books and assigned poetry as well as my own grade, sitting in on their lessons when my mother dissected the words throughout my high school career. I loved the language, the story telling – Far From the Madding Crowd, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and e e cummings quenched what every lettered thirst I had. Amongst them, one Afrikaans pearl shining in my purse of all time literary loves – Kringe In Die Bos.

At some point in my late teens I started to read only religious books. Even amongst those, my belletristic needs found a pick of beloveds. Christy, the original Catherine Marshal novel that was later made into a TV series, story of the young missionary girl in the great Smoky Mountains was and still is one of the most enchanting tales of love, friendship, combined worlds and death I have ever encountered. The story of Jim Eliot, as written by the wife who survived him, who was murdered by the Auca tribe he was going to preach to. Then more of her books, including Passion and Purity, giving advice to young ladies to become good, wholesome wives. Yes, I had drunk the coolaid back then.

(I feel it is only fair to mention here that my siblings and I were also all made to read the Bible every morning of our lives, and over the years, I have probably read the Bible in its entirety 5 or 6 times...possibly more.)

The only break from Christian literature that I can remember at that time was music lyrics. The words of Britney Spears, Madonna, Bon Jovi and Roxette twirled in my teenage head. Of course this can’t be claimed as reading any more than posting status updates on Facebook and tweeting can be claimed as writing… But the hours and hours spent pouring over Tori Amos lyrics, reading CD cover sleeves late into the night with esteemed devotion, and a sense of something wonderful happening inside me, can. To this day a good Tori Amos lyric can send me into the zone better than a bottle of wine!

After Bible College and a working trip to America, my steady husk-diet of religious reading felt stale and forced to me. One shining beacon of hope sparked up my innards again in the most significant series of books to break a reading drought - Harry Potter. This, of course, lasted for a few years and I eagerly awaited the releasing of the latest one with the rest of the Potterheads. In the interim, my little sister became my dealer and I started reading Terry Pratchett, her favorite author, finding the comedic prose refreshing and delightful. I began to borrow books from friends and boyfriends, thereby consuming a wider range of genre’s to find out what I really did like.

Early adult years were slow on the reading front while I worked, studied, dated and grew into myself, but I still managed to accumulate some front-running greats. Perfume. The Poisonwood Bible. The Devil Wears Prada. Memoirs of a Geisha. White Oleander. All the Marian Keyes books. The Bell Jar. Geek Love (which isn’t what you would think it is and therefore is brilliant.) Twenties Girl and the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic series. A Vintage Affair.

Some less than stellar ones also cluttered my scattered reading hours; The Da Vinci Code (a religious cross-over which, at the time, read like a hangover.) Eat, Pray, Love (ugh.) 50 Shades of Grey (DOUBLE ugh.) And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which was a good book but was so brutal in some scenes that it made me cry and put me off the series for good.)

Now that I am a little older, have left the feverish 20’s behind me and acquired a Kindle e-reader, my world has been full to the brim with books again. Even though I get trapped by the occasional trending best-seller (Gone Girl anyone? Sigh. I want my money and time back for that one!) mostly I love every moment I get to read, and devour Indie publishers’ offerings and female fiction perpetually. Every sentence. Every word. I am so thankful that my mother showed me the way to become a bibliophile and fed my addiction till I was able to take over and start feeding myself.

If I didn’t read, how else would I now know that the perfect way to describe a hangover is to say I am feeling ‘rough as a badgers arse’? How else would I be able to run away from arguments and Facebook feuds to a lovely place where the characters don’t argue with me, don’t judge me and don’t doubt my true intentions. How else would I have ever experienced the tragedy of a missionary wife doubting her husbands work and having a heart wrenching love affair, tucked away in the gorgeous Vale of Kashmir, India, in 1939.  Or the despicable actions of the Capitol that Katniss Everdeen has to sacrifice herself to bring down. Or that Ender was a bit of a crybaby before he perfected the Game. How else would I know that there are a million and one ways to illuminate the sheer exhilaration that is buying a new pair of beautiful shoes?

I can say without a doubt that I have always been, and will continue to be, a Bookish Child till the day I die. I will disappear, book in hand, to the Great BookClub in the Sky for a nice long eternity of reading and drinking tea with my grandmother.

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust,
Cherry Blossom

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Oh Tori

An article posted on JEZEBEL sent me skipping down (yet another) Tori Amos path, merrily listening to my entire Tori collection on shuffle for 48 hours while working and humming along to the imagery. I have been fortunate enough to see the goddess perform live twice now, and both times she brought me to tears. Even when I didn’t want to be moved, she reached into my heart with her haunting voice and grabbed a hold of something in what can only be described as a long, motherly hug.

I’m mad about her and don’t hide the fact. 

Seriously, the way this woman plays the piano!

Just as Oscar Wilde and Richmal Crompton helped shape my sense of humor, and Lewis Carroll helped shape my sense of whimsy, I have come to realize that Tori is my spiritual mother and helped shaped the way I see the world and think about things for the better part of 20 years.

I love what she has to say about feminism in this interview:

"Well look, if you're a real feminist, in truth then you're a humanist because it can't be about the matriarchy that just supplants the patriarchy. It has to be about humanity and equality for all. And that to me is the seed of spiritual feminism. Now feminism came out of a place with the suffragettes and issues that completely and absolutely needed to be addressed at that time and still need to be addressed in certain parts of the world.
For me now, in the 21st century in 2014, in America and in the West, it's very much about human rights. Women's rights naturally are very important to me and violence against women and those types of things, of course is something that I'm aware of, but also, there are a lot of men who are feminists that I know that are very concerned about women's rights, and that needs to be acknowledged. There are a lot of men in my life that are feminists and I'd like to say that, as well, I'm concerned that the men in my life are being treated fairly and with compassion. And to me that is where feminism inspires me—it goes beyond gender. It has to. For us to be whole and for us to really have learned and for us to be giving back to the world, we have to consider everyone's equality and humanity."

Go Tori!

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust,

Cherry Blossom (aka Cornflake Girl)

The Princess and the Pumpkin - Remembering the Good Old Days

My brother and me 10 years ago...back when I was still super skinny... He hasn't changed a bit!
My brother and I used to live together in our 20’s. Before long-term relationships, we were each other’s go-to plus-ones, mostly because we were best friends and had more fun together than with anyone else in that era. Think Ross and Monica, the early years. 2004 was a magical time.

Many a Joburg night was spent driving from one hot spot to another in his black Polo, car-bar in boot and sights set on having as much innocently intoxicated fun as humanly possible in a single eve. Those days are long gone – both my brother and I are now happily married and living with our respective significant others in our respective homes on opposite ends of South Africa.

We speak about the good old days occasionally, but neither of us misses it, as we had our full of them back then and are both very happy in our new, more grown up lives.

While I’m not exactly tied down at home with 3.5 screaming kids and a sleep-deprived relationship hanging from a thread, I am in my mid thirties and married, and thus have not gone out on a bender in forever.

This past week was different. I was visiting my brother in JHB – the Vegas to my Cape Town suburban lifestyle – and there was a rugby game on. We had done the malls, we had done the kuering at home. We had driven around in his fancy new car being all grown-up’y and we had spent 2 fun filled family days with his wife and 2 little boys, complete with kid-friendly restaurant lunches, me playing with baby-blocks and play dough and jumping on the trampoline with my 3 year old nephew, and having his 5 week old baby brother puke in my hair.

What next? After deciding to join an old friend to watch the rugby at an Irish Pub we bundled ourselves into the faithful black Polo, just like the good old days, leaving his fancy new car out of the equation. (Only this time, because we are older and wiser, we had pre-booked a taxi service to drive us, and the car, back home afterwards.)

South Africa won the rugby game and spirits were high – the air was filled with an electric thumping thanks to a tented dance floor just outside the pub. Our little trio of mid 30’s to early 40’s fell into party mode as easily as we used to in 2004, and we threw back our first shooter for the night. A thunderstorm raged and we ran through the rain to get to the tented throng, only to find that we were about 15 to 20 years older than the rest of the patrons.

That didn’t matter, of course, because I was already sparkling with Satruday night buzz, and got a few approving looks and compliments on my general appearance, making my out-of-practice head swell with pride. The disgustingly self-satisfying conversation that went on internally sounded something like this: ‘I’m not 19 anymore, but look at me. I’m still the tallest girl here, and I’m wearing a pair of drop dead Pringle boots! 19 year old me could NEVER afford such a purchase.’ I know its shallow, but we all like to feel pretty and admired once in a while, don’t we? I accepted another shooter.

We decided to head across the road to one of our old drinking holes and join a familiar, more age appropriate crowd. I used to hate Billy The Bums 10 years ago, but this time, I fit right in. No longer the sapling who was on the lookout for arm candy, but the well dressed, well sozzled woman who ‘looks great for her age!’ Head swelling continued as pink-drink-swirling persevered.

But as they say, pride comes before a fall. Fortunately I didn’t actually fall (though I could have, in my fabulous boots running squealing through the rain like a little piggy let out for the night) but my energy levels turned from princess to pumpkin at precisely midnight. Time to go home.

SO much fun was had, but I am suffering for it. In the words of the great Marian Keyes, I felt ‘rough as a badgers arse’*. Unfortunately I had to come back home to Cape Town the next day and I was a little worse for wear thanks to our nostalgic good old days night out. A 48hour hangover is what I ended up with, and let me tell you, taking trains, busses and an airplane with a hangover is no joke. Especially to a woman in her mid-thirties, no matter how good she looks for her age.

Reality came to me in the sharpened hardness of the morning after, slapped me up side my head and shouted ‘What on earth were you thinking?!’ I took my medicine and invoked the customary saying ‘I’m never drinking again.’

So no, I don’t miss those days and I won’t be so eagerly rushing back for more any time in the near future. I blame it all on the shooters. Back home, I am fully capable of finishing off a bottle of good red wine over a nice long social dinner party, but I have not had the contents of a shot glass pass my lips for as long as I can remember. Tequila makes me feel pregnant, and not in a good way.

Today is day 3 post-party and I am only interested in a nice warm bath, a hot cup of tea, and a great night-in, reading from my Kindle till I fall blissfully asleep at 9pm.

All I can say is that ‘2004 was a very different time. 2004 was a very different me.’**

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust
Cherry Blossom

*This Charming Man, by Marian Keyes
**The Angel from my Nightmare, by Sim Sibanda

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Allelu yahweh

Nostalgia comes in many different forms. Today it was an email from my Dad with a sound clip of a song he recorded in the church when I was a child. I remember listening to this song, singing along and enjoying it immensely back then. Listening to it again now had all those childhood memories rushing back. Only I have changed a little since then, and the message has lost a some of its meaning for me.

Knowing what I do now about so many of the people who stand and sing songs in church, patting themselves on the back for being so holy while harbouring hatred in their hearts for others (a big no-no in Jesus' teachings) Suddenly I saw a beautiful song that was filled with lip service rather than 'service' in the true sense of the word. I felt the need to expand a little and add my own thoughts. So I took it and tweaked it, re-wrote it and added to it to make it mine again.

Allelu yahweh (new improved edits in italics)

When you sing to me beloveds
Sing with joyful melody
Lifting hands and lifting voices
To praise me worthily
When you sing to me beloveds
Let my spirit employ
Your hands and minds and voices
And fill them with my grace and joy

Allelu yahweh let your hearts be as the lamb
Allelu yahweh If you seek the Great I am
Allelu yahweh let your love be like a dove
Allelu yahweh if he reigns, he reigns, in heav’n above

When you sing to me beloveds
sing with kindness in your hearts
Lifting up your fellow creatures
hold no judgment for their paths
When you sing to me beloveds
Be accepting of your kin
Just as I have accepted
your darkness and all your sins

Allelu yahweh let your hearts be as the lamb
Allelu yahweh If you seek the Great I am
Allelu yahweh let your love be like a dove
Allelu yahweh if he reigns, he reigns, in heav’n above

When you sing to me beloveds
May you sing with one accord
Lifting hands and lifting voices
Lifting up to me, your Lord
When you sing to me beloveds
Let my spirit employ
For your love for one another
glorifies me in heaven above

Allelu yahweh Worthy, worthy is the lamb
Allelu yahweh Who is the Great I am
Allelu yahweh Descending like a dove
Allelu yahweh Who reigns, who reigns, in heav’n above

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust
Cherry Blossom