South African tourism video…. just wow.
May 27, 2014, 9:17 am
Filed under: South Africa | Tags: , , ,

This incredible new tourism video for South Africa made me cry!


The No Makeup Selfie
March 27, 2014, 10:09 am
Filed under: charity campaign | Tags: , , , , ,

As a charity fundraiser, I applaud the No Makeup Selfie #nomakeupselfie campaign. I admire the women who are participating so generously and raising money for a vital cause.

But as a feminist, I am troubled. Why is it considered remarkable, brave even, for a woman to be seen without make up?

I am not the only one uneasy with the #NMS campaign. On social media various people have tried to get around the problem. Journalist Jen has posted a photo of herself holding a sign obscuring her face reading “How I look is irrelevant. But it’s still a good idea to text 70099 and donate”.

Sadie, a feminist and charity fundraiser has written a post demanding to know why our unadorned faces are considered so unacceptable: “Because, y’know, THE HORROR of seeing our ‘real’ faces…It feels patronising and reductive, and doesn’t take into account the myriad reasons that women may have for wearing (or not wearing) make-up in the first place, be they social, psychological, just cause they damn well like it, or don’t like it and already go without make-up on a daily basis”.

Kate, a teacher on maternity leave, has simply said on Facebook that she doesn’t do Facebook chains, but has donated to a cancer charity, a cause close to her heart. And Chris, a Scottish man, has uploaded a picture of himself in full slap complete with red lipstick.

So the #NMS is problematic. And yet, I wear make up. Not always, but often. And profile pictures on social media tend to show a groomed, polished image of myself; whereas the tagged pics taken on mates’ mobiles show a bleary, leery harridan brandishing a glass of wine and ranting at my all-female book club. So I am as guilty as anyone of the presumption of vanity on which the #NMS hinges.

“Mummy what are you putting on your face?” asks my 3 year old daughter, innocently, as I put on some blusher. How I battle with this question. I have written dissertations and research reports, taken questions from undergraduate students on Logic and Ethics, but this simple question kills me. I cannot say (I CANNOT) “I am trying to look pretty” or “I am making myself beautiful”. What does this say to her? That beauty boils down to foundation and mascara, not wisdom, kindness and grace. Or worse yet, that her own unadorned face is not beautiful enough? Let’s face it, she is going to hear that message soon enough, but I’ll be damned if she hears it from me first. The best answer I can come up with for now (and if you have more suggestions, please Tweet me) is this: “Mummy just wants to look different today, sweetheart.”

Make up bag

Make up bag

I have struggled and struggled with this, and have come up with a rule of thumb that makes sense to me. If I am applying make up (or nail polish, or doing any of the grooming rituals) for fun, adornment, self-expression, creativity – for the joy of it, then I am doing it for me and that is fine. If you are applying make up or shaving your legs as a chore – not because you want to but because you feel you are unacceptable in your natural state, then you are a victim of the patriarchy.

For example, it’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone is going to the beach. You are hot and desperate to swim, but you don’t dare don a bikini because you haven’t had a wax. This quite frankly is bullshit. A man wouldn’t think twice about the state of his body – his body belongs to him and is not an object for other eyes to judge. Or its 7 am. The alarm goes off. You are tired and desperate to  hit the snooze button and get another ten minutes’ sleep. But then you won’t have time to blow-dry your hair before you go to work. So you sacrifice sleep on the altar of grooming. (Madness! As long as you are showered and clean and wearing clean clothes, your body is perfectly acceptable for the office). Or you are reading a wonderful book. You can’t put it down. But although you are at a thrilling bit, you put the book down. You really must pluck your eyebrows before you go to the party.

Why would we give up the physical joy of swimming, the intellectual joy of a brilliant book or the bliss of a bit more sleep to groom, groom and groom some more?

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf argues that the tyranny of grooming is a stick to beat women with. Firstly, if we don’t feel confident in our appearance (if we believe we are fundamentally ugly) then women won’t speak up in business meetings, heckle politicians, ask for raises, run the world. Secondly if we are permanently on a diet, we are weakened. Both physically (we literally don’t have the energy to do things) and mentally – because when you are on a strict diet, so much of your mental attention is focused on food that you don’t have any brain power left over to write a poem, nail that grant application…. cure cancer. Thirdly, the sheer amount of TIME spent on grooming means we have less time to devote to marathon training, volunteering at a shelter or running for public office. The Beauty Myth lays out logically and convincingly that artificial, unobtainable standards of beauty are systematically used to keep women in their place. I am summarising a superb thought provoking book into a paragraph so do yourselves a favour and read it!

I am not going to nominate anyone else to do a #NMS. Many of my friends work at charities, or do volunteer work, or quietly help a family back home in Africa. Instead I am going to throw out a challenge to all women: lets support each other, be kind to each other and turn a blind eye to one another’s external beauty, which is only skin deep after all.

TV show seeks amateur gardener contestants!
March 12, 2014, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A new BBC2 primetime gardening series called The Big Allotment Challenge is looking for contestants.
The programme will follow a handful of talented amateur gardeners as they transform a plot of earth in a walled garden into a patch of beauty to reveal all the wonderful possibilities that can be unlocked from allotment growing. Kitchen gardening and growing your own produce is an amazing way to live and this series celebrates that.
They’re looking for people who can grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers, those who can make their green tomatoes into yummy chutney, their strawberries into jam or arrange their roses into a bouquet. The Big Allotment Challenge is looking for amateurs – you could be a window box grower, an existing allotment owner or simply love to grow veg in your back garden. They’d love to speak to anyone who has got the enthusiasm to grow and the dedication to learn.
They’re holding auditions in the next few weeks so follow the link below to apply!

On the death of Mandela

I have debated long and hard about whether to write a blog post on the passing of Mandela. I’m a South African and as such, the course of my life was shaped by the man. And yet when he died last month, it felt that to write about him was to claim a grief to which I am not truly entitled. After all, I left South Africa and have adopted London as my home town. In addition there was such a massive jumping on the bandwagon, with every politician and journalist jostling to heap praise on Mandela. One wonders how apartheid survived for so many decades, given that the entire world appears to have been on Mandela’s side!

But some weeks have passed and I can’t stop thinking about him, this tall, wise gentleman who called for peace instead of war. So if you will forgive a self indulgent post, I will share my own ramblings about Mandela.

Parliament Square in London

Parliament Square in London


“Viva Mandela! Uss! Uss! Viva Sisulu! Uss! June 16! Uss! Seventy Six! Uss!””

I am 12 years old and learning to Toyi Toyi on my school hockey field. It is Zulu class. Our teacher has taken us all outside and asked the black girls in our year, all of whom live in the townships, to lead us in this protest song and dance. It is 1988 in Johannesburg and the toyi toyi is most emphatically *not*on the syllabus. The ANC is banned and Mandela is in prison, a legend, a phantom, as intangible as spook-asem. But mine is a multi racial school and our Zulu teacher says we can’t learn the language without knowing this. Listen to the toyi toyi: Audio here.

The mention of 1976 in the toyi toyi was of course a reference to the Soweto uprisings of that year and their brutal response from the Nationalist Party in power. Most of the children in my class were born in 1976, and several girls had African names which meant things like “We will remember”, in honour of this landmark event. On 16 June every year people in the townships held a “stay away” and the black girls in my class either couldn’t come to school – their mini buses would be stoned – or they would have to spend the night with a white school friend to avoid the picket lines completely.

Most South African kids only went to school with children the same race as themselves. State or ‘government’ schools were for white students only. But I went to a convent; a fee-paying school. It was integrated, albeit because my black school friends were from middle class families who could afford the fees. My classmates who lived in the townships had to get up early in the morning to get minibuses from Soweto, over an hour’s drive from the Northern suburbs. It was illegal for black people to live in the “white” areas, an exception being made for domestic workers who could live on the property (but seldom in the house) of the white family for whom they cooked, cleaned and raised children. I was lucky to be educated alongside children of other races. It was only when I was in halls at university, and heard the casual racism of other students, that I realised just how different my school days had been.


I am in my first year of high school and obsessed with Michael Jackson, Jane Eyre and the boys at King Edward’s School. The TV newsreader says that Mandela is to be released. At my school there is rejoicing; but some of my parents’ friends stockpile tinned food, candles and batteries. It is widely rumoured that all hell is going break loose. “When he gets out, he will tell the black people to rise up and drive us into the sea”. “It will be just like the Mau Mau in Kenya”. “We’re getting out”. “We are going to try and get into Oz, if we have enough points”. “We’ll all be murdered in our beds”.

On the day of Mandela’s release my mother, sister and I watch it on TV at Teresa’s house – a liberal friend of my mom’s. Teresa opens a bottle of champagne and writes the date on the cork. After a long delay, Mandela walks out. It is a bit like seeing a mythical creature come to life – a dragon or a phoenix. The question is, will he breathe fire? Miraculously, life goes on as normal. We are not turned out of our houses or murdered in our beds. Nor do we have to flee the country as so many “When-wes” (ex-Rhodesians) so darkly predicted. Instead there are good changes. The Group Areas Act is to be scrapped in 1991 and next year some of my classmates move from Soweto to the suburbs of Johannesburg. Good schools open their doors to black pupils for the first time. An election is scheduled.


South Africa votes. All South Africans, not just a tiny minority. The voting queues are long, democratic snakes, hissing towards freedom. I am in my final year of high school and guttingly, under-age. For once being 17 is a pain, not because bouncers wouldn’t let me into night clubs like the White Horse Inn, but because I can’t vote. The ANC win by a landslide and Mandela becomes my president.



I am watching the Rugby World Cup Final inside a giant pineapple. The pineapple is a venue and bar on a pineapple farm outside Grahamstown, where I am studying Philosophy at Rhodes University. Watching the rugby match build-up with me are, not liberal university students, but local lads: farmers’ sons, mechanics, and carpenters. White, male, state educated and very very mucho. We are drinking shots called Springbucks – half peppermint liqueur, half cream liqueur. In honour of the match they are priced at a mere 1 Rand (about 10 pence). It is fair to say we are all absolutely slaughtered. As the team line up is announced, local boy Hennie Le Roux from the Eastern Cape gets the biggest cheer of the day. Until, that is, Mandela comes out in his now famous captain’s jersey. We are gob-struck, awestruck, delighted and amazed. The symbolism of this gesture is hard to convey to non South Africans, but we get it immediately. It is an olive branch. The new black president is embracing white South Africa – welcoming us to join his new country. When South Africa hoists the trophy that day, something more important than a match has been won. South Africa is different now, less divided. I can feel it in my bones.


At university I am able to share a rented house with my black girlfriends Piwe and Nozipho. This would have been illegal just a few years before. I am able to date guys like Tseko – again this would have been illegal, thanks to the Immorality Act, banning love across the colour bar. But South Africa is still a country of inequality, desperate poverty, crime and HIV. Mandela is a politician of immense integrity, not a miracle worker. Children die of poor sanitation and preventable diseases every day. In 1995 our beloved domestic worker Rebecca loses her son, Answer to diarrhoea. When Rebecca had her new baby girl Lerato, Answer was sent home to relatives in rural Polokwane. When he became ill his carers, uneducated and without access to clinics, gave him milk instead of water, a fatal mistake. He was two years old.


I am on a ferry to Robben Island, named after the Dutch word for seal “rob”. My then boyfriend, (now husband) Mellors is visiting South Africa for the first time to meet my parents. I have showed him Johannesburg and Pretoria and next we are headed for the winelands of Paarl. But first Mellors must see this historic island. We inspect Mandela’s prison cell, the courtyards and dazzling lime quarries where Mandela ruined his sight. His cell is so small. Our tour guide is a former political prisoner who describes the late night “universities” held after lights out, where the ANCs political aims and ideals were honed. I am moved and write a particularly sentimental and rubbish poem on the ferry back to Cape Town.


I am standing outside South Africa House in London and the West End is illuminated with Christmas lights. But here in Trafalgar Square the most colourful sight is the South African flag; wrapped around the shoulders of my countrymen, black and white as they sing and dance in the condolence book queue. In my haste to leave the house, I could find neither my SA flag nor my rugby jersey, so I am wearing a hastily made badge that says Hamba kakuhle Madiba. Mandela has died and I feel as if I have lost a grandparent – a benevolent, reliable presence has gone forever.

My English friends ask me how I feel about the tragic death of Nelson Mandela. I can only say that had he died in his youth, or been executed after the Rivonia Trial, that would have been a tragedy. But to die at the age of 95, free, is a victory.

After, well, a bit of a seasonal session in the bars on the Strand, I head home via Waterloo. The bust of Mandela outside the Royal Festival Hall looks like a shrine. There are candles and flowers and the mood feels serene. The bustle of TV cameras and policemen outside South Africa house is absent. Here, people pause for a moment, take photos with their phones and move quietly away. The piece of granite at the bottom of the bust listing Mandela’s life achievements has been left deliberately blank. But one day soon it will be carved with the date of Mandela’s death – 5th December 2013.

Tributes at the Royal Festival Hall in London

Tributes at the Royal Festival Hall in London

My family was not a part of the antiapartheid struggle. The first free elections in South Africa took place before I was even old enough to vote. Like many English-speaking South Africans (descended from British settlers as opposed to Dutch settlers), my parents were very mildly left of centre. My mother voted for the parliamentary opposition PFP, later the DP and now the DA My grandmother was a member of the Black Sash and stood on Jan Smuts Avenue in the 1950s in her sash, hat and gloves, holding up signs in protest against the regime. But we, like so many other South Africans were not really deserving of Mandelas astonishingly generous forgiveness. We received it anyway.

Why was Mandela so special? How could he suffer so unjustly and not call for revenge? Yes, his personal courage and dignity were once-in-a-generation stuff. But the cruel, wasted years on Robben Island prison gave Mandela a unique innocence. My theory is his time in prison preserved his idealism. Most presidents, to reach that position of power, have to strike deals along the way and become, if not corrupted, at least compromised. Mandela was removed from politics and all its scheming and he came to rule with his principles intact.

Mandela died in Johannesburg – the city where I was born, screaming, in 1976. I was born into apartheid and apartheid is now gone. For that I say thank you, and Lala Ngoxolo, Tata.

The rains down in Africa
January 6, 2014, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Edible Gardening, South Africa Gardens | Tags: , , , ,

London is drenched. Deluged. Pavements a-puddle, my garden, a lake. Red buses spray commuters with waves. And not just London, people. The Cotswolds are awash. The good folk of Tewkesbury are ripping up the sodden, soddin’ carpet and canoeing to work once again.

These are the problems with non-stop rain: my washing is drying all over the house, on radiators and banisters. My children are either going spare cooped up indoors, or catching never-ending colds while sloshing knee deep through puddles. Filthy wellies (the smalls) and dripping biker boots (me) clutter my front room. These past few weeks have been record-breakingly wet and stormy. Judging from my Face Book feed, the entire country is staring at the sky united with one thought: Stop raining. PLEASE!

What a change from my childhood in South Africa.

The 1980s were plagued by drought. We were not allowed to water anything. The lawn turned yellow and stayed that way. How that sharp dry grass scratched my permanently bare feet! It was almost – but not quite – as bad as the stinging bites of the red ants on the driveway. Eina! Then there was a ban on filling one’s swimming pool – though everyone knew someone on their street who did it; usually at night and with the hosepipe below water level to muffle any tell-tale gushing. And thanks to a public advice advert shown on television urging us not to waste water, I had to share a bath with my sister. She hogged the ducks.

Sure these hardships are what the Twitter generation dubs #firstworldproblems. (My swimming pool isn’t completely full! My champagne fountain is so loud, I can’t hear my string quartet! A superb Water Aid ad encapsulates this attitude brilliantly.)

So in my fluffy middle class existence, droughts meant yellow grass in the suburbs and shared ablutions. But for less privileged people in Sub Saharan South Africa, no rain = no food.

These are the problems with no rain: Droughts cause more deaths and displacement than cyclones, floods or earthquakes, making them the world’s most destructive natural hazard, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Since the 1970s, the land area affected by drought has doubled, with women, children and the elderly often paying the heaviest price.

Droughts can cause devastating food and water shortages, degrade agricultural land, and fuel conflict. The most vulnerable countries are located in the world’s drylands, with the poorest communities in Africa and parts of western Asia at particular risk, the FAO says.

Food shortages lead to so many other problems. When children are hungry, their parents are obliged to leave home and their land to try and find work so their children have something to eat. For people who rely on the food they grow for survival, this short-term solution can lead to long-term disaster. The effort required to put food on the family’s table today leaves little time to get fields ready to produce a good harvest so the family has food for the future. When their food stores are exhausted, what little money a family has saved must be spent on food in the daily battle simply to stay alive. As the money runs out, parents withdraw children from school. The cycle of poverty continues.

Charities like GardenAfrica are working hard to improve food security in Sun Saharan Africa. Techniques such as water conservation and mulching give vegetable gardens a chance against the pitiless sun. The fantastic “spiral” shaped garden is designed to harvest, store and sink water, with simple techniques for building soil fertility and structure and increasing moisture retention. In the face of hunger, drought and other adverse environmental factors planting a garden seems like a tiny gesture – a pebble flung at a Goliath. But this simple remedy is working. Read some of the charity’s success stories to find out how!

As I open my umbrella and head out, shoulders hunched against the soaking weather, it is almost impossible to believe that in South Africa, a mother of two is scanning a cloudless sky, praying for rain.

Bountiful autumn
September 19, 2013, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Edible Gardening | Tags: , ,

Bountiful autumn

Yellow cherry tomatoes – grown from seed


Crab Apple Jelly – Tah Dah!
September 12, 2013, 11:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Crab Apple Jelly - Tah Dah!

Crab Apple Jelly – Tah Dah! We will need to give a jar to the neighbours who kindly gave us the fruit.