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The Spirit of The Camino and the spirits on The Camino.

When I first contemplated walking The Camino my head was filled with inspiring thoughts of happy, adventurous people all walking along; a merry band of comrades, climbing mountains and being amazing in their aspirations to reach Santiago. I had a somewhat romantic view of cosy alburgues, relaxing snoozes in the sun and the cameradie we saw in the movie ‘The Way’ (which, by the way, I must watch again before I go).  I had this notion of admiring locals who opened their homes and hearts to the ‘pilgrims’ who walked their way up mountains and down, along paths and through villages and towns, strolling into their chosen alburgue in the evening to find a cosy bed and a hot shower, of meals shared with laughter and fun.

And yes, this does in fact happen; the Spirit of the Camino.

I’ve read some extraordinary stories of people ‘rescued’ by kind-hearted locals who seeing their distress take said distressed person under their wing and guide them to a hostelaria/alburgue, or give them a hot meal, a lift in their car/truck/lorry to a place of safety. How pilgrims help each other out, lending money, clean clothes, toiletries, guidance and very often a shoulder to cry on. The Spirit of the Camino.

The Camino is also, by all accounts, tough!! Some people die. The spirits on the Camino.

There is also the dark side, a little of which we saw in The Way. People die on the Camino. People start walking and never reach their goal; their journey cut short by the grim reaper. The reasons are many: heart failure, complications from surgery, falling off a mountain, falling off their bikes (those who cycle) and some die from traffic accidents; knocked over by trucks or cars. Some people start the walk in the hopes that they will reach Santiago, but knowing that they likely won’t. It’s their final walk. Some people have reached the steps of the cathedral only to drop down dead right there at the last step.

And then there those that are murdered. Wow, I can tell you when I discovered that last year…. it came as one hell of a shock to me. The prospect of dying on the Camino had never entered my head!! I learned about this quite by accident last year when I first joined the Camino forum on Facebook. It literally took the wind out of my sails. Just a simple post to say that she, the person who made the update, had laid a stone on the cairn for Denise Theim, an Arizona lass who had disappeared while walking.  If you have the stomach for it you can read about it here.

I immediately set about investigating the story and that lead me to the reports of her disappearance, death and the eventual discovery of her body. The perpetrator as per the above article has since been captured and tried, soon to be incarcerated.

But what startled me most of all was reading the many stories of people who have died on The Camino. I often see photos on the facebook groups of memorials to people from across the world, both young and old who never left The Way; the spirits on The Camino.

I often think about these people now as I prepare for my Camino in September and of course the thought crosses my mind. Will I die while walking? Of course I have no idea, that is, as they say, and depending on which religious or spiritual belief your follow, determined by fate or the book of life…..your death predetermined before you are even born. Not sure I believe that notion, but there it is.

I have to say that it does bother me a lot. The f.e.a.r. presents itself in many ways, and I am in constant conflict with the emotions that arise from these thoughts. My daughter is getting married next year and I will be walking her down the aisle, guiding her to the man she loves, watching as she and he join their hands and lives in marriage and walk into a new future. I would be devastated if by dying on the Camino I caused her any pain and spoiled her special day by not being there. Although I’m sure she would kick my ass for saying that!! 😉  Mind you, she’s already advised me that she would be seriously pissed off with me if I die while walking. LOL We have discussions about this from time to time. About the reality of death.

I’ve questioned myself over and over. Am I being selfish? Am I not putting her happiness first instead of my selfish desire for adventure? Should I have waited till after the wedding…? I did contemplate that.

See what I mean? FEAR – false evidence appearing real. It manifests on a daily basis and gives me palpitations – and I haven’t even started yet!!!

But after many talks and encouragement from her I went ahead and booked my ticket. Not because we are fatalistic in any way, not because we discussed it in depth and not because I have a flippant answer “it won’t happen to me” (I don’t believe in making promises like that!), but because life is life. I could just as easily step off a pavement in my day to day life and get run over by a car or bus…. I could get knocked over on the many walks I take in my day to day life, some of which are along narrow country roads where cars whizz by at 80 kms p.h. leaving dust and a shivering wreck of a walker in their wake. Or I could contract one of hundreds of diseases that abound and die anyway.

So should I not go on this walk? Should I allow the fears to win? Or should I grasp life and go anyway. Well since I’ve already booked my ticket, obviously so far, that is what I will be doing.

But it still doesn’t stop me from thinking about the people who do die. I’m sure it must be absolutely devastating for their families. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them to receive the news. I have read of one Mother whose daughter died before they started their Camino. She will be taking her daughter’s ashes along with her to distribute at special places along The Way. God, I can’t even imagine how hard that would be.

I was doing some research this morning and found this blog https://gabrielschirm.com/2016/08/22/deaths-on-the-camino-de-santiago/

Gabriel gives a number breakdown of the more recent deaths on the Camino. It’s not a macabre list, just a matter of fact observation that yes, people do die while walking the Camino.

I also found this amazing blog; a beautifully compiled memorial to Camino pilgrims who have died on the way – some on their first day, others as they completed their walk.

http://amawalker.blogspot.ie/2016/12/memorials-to-pilgrims-who-died-on-camino.html

It makes a sobering read. The spirits on the Camino.

So again it brings me back to the age-old question! Should I or should I not? F.E.A.R. But as mentioned earlier I’ve already booked my plane ticket for this year, booked and paid for some of the accommodation, bought the backpack, the badges, the clothes and equipment, the books…..and so on. And with my daughter’s blessing, I will walk the Portuguese Coastal Route in September.  I certainly plan to discover the Spirit of the Camino; but I have no plans to become a spirit on the Camino. And yes, despite the fear, I am excited 🙂

 

 

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‘Pilgrimage’ What an evocative word. When you hear the word pilgrimage it has so many meanings and connotations, different meanings for each person. You can go on a religious pilgrimage, a spiritual pilgrimage, you can take a pilgrimage to a previous home or favourite place. A pilgrimage can be something you go on or aspire to.

Since medieval times, the main connotation of the word pilgrimage has been in relation to monks or religious persons making a journey to one place of worship or another, either as a desire to gain more knowledge or in penance. Most of these pilgrim ways have followed main route of transportation; routes well-worn and familiar, travelled by many – creating routes of pilgrimage; corridors towards a shrine.

As with the thousands of people who traversed these routes, the paths used, varied over time – always flexible, always changing to accommodate one change or another. Perhaps a muddy field needed to be avoided in one particular year of bad weather and so ‘pilgrims’ found a ‘way’ around it and formed a new path. Towns sprung up along these ‘ways’ to accommodate the pilgrims who were needing shelter and food or rest; albergues and hospitals were opened, relics were discovered and distributed to tiny churches along the way and so a path was beaten to that door.

I remember my delight on discovering a Pilgrim’s ‘hospital’ on one of the many visits my daughter and I have made to Canterbury.

pilgrimage

The Pilgrims Hospital in Canterbury, Geoffrey Chaucer and the River Stour through Canterbury

Perhaps some hardy monk or another decided he needed to test his mettle and climbed higher than before and so a new path was created.  Perhaps a pilgrim grew old and tired on his journey and so sought an easier way around the hills and mountains; found obstacles in his way and so created another new path……

And yet, despite these many paths, both old and traditional or new, some still to be forged, the pilgrims always found their way to where they were headed. In this case the road to Santiago – also known as The Way of St James.

I love the idea of this, different paths for different folks; isn’t this true of life as well? Traditional is great, but one thing I’ve learned in life is that we each walk our own path. We can create new traditions. Nothing is original. If we went back in time to when St James first walked and preached the gospels in Spain, the paths he travelled along then are probably very different to what they are now. And after he died and was buried, then found and his relics installed at the Cathedral in Santiago, and eventually pilgrims first started walking to Santiago, even the ‘original’ paths, of which there are many, would be vastly different to what they are today. Certainly more well trod!!

And let us not forget one of the most famous of all pilgrims; Geoffrey Chaucer

pilgrimage, geoffrey chaucer, canterbury tales

Geoffrey Chaucer; author of The Canterbury Tales – a pilgrimage (journey) to Canterbury

In September of this year I’ll be walking the Portuguese Coastal Route to Santiago de Compostela, and I’m planning on following my own path with an eye on the general direction towards Santiago. From Tui I expect I’ll be following more traditional routes, but I’m not going to stress too much about the exact route, after all, it’s the journey that’s important and what we learn along ‘The Way’.

pilgrimage the way to santiago

finding my way to Santiago

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. It’s known as the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and the alleged burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James. His remains reputedly lie within the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, consecrated in 1211, whose elaborately carved stone facades open onto grand plazas within the medieval walls of the old town.

I follow the blogs, instagram profiles and facebook updates of a number of people who are either currently walking or have walked one or another of the many many routes to Santiago, and I often read how they got lost, lost the path or were misdirected and again you can so easily relate this to life.

I travel a lot with my job and I love to travel in my off time between jobs, and when I lived in London in particular, people asked ” aren’t you afraid of getting lost?”. My answer is always the same…..you can never be lost, you are just in a place you are unfamiliar with and it’s not where you had planned to be. Jump on a bus or a train, look at a map, you will find you are not lost at all. I remember when I first lived in London back in 2002/2003, I had a conversation with my Father about how big London was and how much it terrified me to travel around that vast city. He replied: “just think of London as many small villages all linked together by the network of the tube/underground system. You are never more than a few meters from either a train or a bus, you can never get lost.” It changed my perception of London completely and from then on I was never afraid to go out and explore the many ‘villages’ of London; often getting ‘lost’.

As I walk the Camino in September, I will have my handy wee app ‘mapmywalk’ switched on, and with an eye on the east to my right and the west to my left I will follow my own path north till I reach the Minho river that separates the north of Portugal from the south of Spain. From there; at Caminha, I will head inland with the sun in my eyes in the morning and at my back in the evening till I reach Valença and finally cross over into Spain to Tui.

looking east

Looking east at Broadstairs; sunrise

looking west

Looking west at Florence; sunset

From Tui I will follow the more traditional routes as I traverse the final 100 kms to Santiago so that I too may gain my ‘compostela’. A pilgrim.

Footnote:

The Minho divides the Spanish Tui and Portuguese Valença do Minho, towns that guarded an important bridge for road and rail. Both towns preserve fortifications and are national monuments.

Addendum: you can even go on a pilgrimage to a famous place to see the final resting place of a King; Richard III (thanks Beth 😉 your facebook update was most timeous).

http://leicestercathedral.org/about-us/richard-iii/richard-iii-tomb-burial/

a pilgrimage to visit the tomb of Richard II at Leicester cathedral

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Back in 2010 my interest was piqued by a conversation I had with the niece of a lady I was caring for at the time. I mentioned to her that I was thinking of walking ‘The Camino’……and it turned out that she had already walked the route!! 🙂 A woman. Solo. On her own! Hmmm…….since then of course I’ve discovered that thousands of women walk solo every year; from teens to octogenarians. Pretty damn awesome!!

Prior to that I had heard of the Camino de Santiago in an obscure sort of way; I can’t recall exactly when I was first aware of it, probably in one of the many books I read, and of course my father had already cycled some of the routes. My father was in London one year (I think it was 2007) and we met up to watch the Tour de France pass through the city. We chatted about the Camino and made tenuous plans to ‘do it’ together….but he wanted to cycle whilst I want to walk…so it was probably never going to happen.

camino de santiago

My father in his latter years, shortly before he died at the grand old age of 85.

But the seed was planted and after the conversation I had in 2010, the idea took root: I would actually walk it myself, by myself. And of course there was the movie ‘The Way’ with Martin and Charlie Sheen that was released in 2010. It’s taken some 7 years, but I have finally put my money where my mouth is and booked my plane ticket!!! On 19 April 2017 I posted this on our family’s ‘WhatsApp’ news feed:

*Breaking news*  Yes!! Its done …I’ve just booked my flights for #Camino2017
I Fly to Porto in Portugal on 7 September for 3 Days in Porto  then start walking 285 (260?) kms to Santiago de Compostela on 11 September along the coastal route to Caminha, then inland to Valenca for my last night in Portugal, then crossing the Minha River to Tui the next day for the final 100 kms to Santiago de Compostela. I’ll spend 3 days in Santiago and then fly to Barcelona for 3 days and back to UK on 28 September. Too exciting for words!!

I cannot tell you how terrifying and yet exciting it was to finally make the decision and when I posted this to the family news feed and then made a Facebook update it was with a huge sense of trepidation; am I doing the right thing?

I actually wanted to walk the Camino in 2016 but due to one thing and another, namely; reasons and excuses, I didn’t take the final step of booking my flight! I had started training earlier in the year in preparation since I didn’t want the pilgrimage to be spoilt by lack of fitness and too much pain, but even so, I realised by September of 2016 that in fact, despite my desire to go and love of walking I wasn’t anywhere near fit enough. Reasons and excuses.

At the beginning of this year I joined a Facebook group #walk1000miles and that has given me a massive incentive to get out and walk; almost every day. While working my time is usually limited to 2 hours per day (my break), but I manage to do 5 miles in that time and have loved every minute. Besides that when I’m home, I take long walks along the coast to Margate, Ramsgate, Cliffsend and have even walked to Sandwich (26 kms) on one memorable day 🙂

Due to my job, I travel all over the country and so have had the pleasure of walking in different locations, with different challenges and landscape – this country is so beautiful. I am lucky. All these walks have added to my fitness levels. From the Isle of Thanet to the Isle of Wight, I’ve also walked in Ireland and along the North Downs, the Malverns, Worcester and Oxted amongst other areas. I’m truly fortunate.

camino practice walks 2017

I’ve had some wonderful walks all over the country

camino practice walks 2017

walks on the Isle of Wight

camino walks

walks on the Isle of Thanet, Ireland, the Malverns and Italy

Since 01/01/2017 I have walked  500 #bootson miles. If I had to include my ‘at work/on duty’ mileage I’m certain it would be well in excess of 1000 miles….but for purposes of training I have only added my actual ‘training’ time where I set out specifically to ‘walk’! As of today, in Ireland, I became a ‘Proclaimer’ LOL I will walk 500 miles, and I will walk 500 more…..

walk 1000 miles

I have walked 500 miles 🙂 and I will walk 500 more

Meanwhile, and as mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have, with heart in my mouth, and a mix of excitement/ terror/trepidation/joy picked up the phone and booked my ticket…..no going back now!!!!

I’m finally going on my Camino. 🙂 hooray!

And exactly 4 months from tomorrow, I shall start walking…..my Camino 2017.

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I love books. I have a weakness for books. I have a shelf of books (now in storage) that I love to look at and recall the tales between the covers. In South Africa I had hundreds of books…some as old as 60+. Sadly when I moved my possessions over from SA to UK I had to leave a great many behind due to lack of space in my current home and plans for the future….100’s of books won’t fit into a campervan 😉

I read voraciously as a child, seldom without a book in my hand, I read at every opportunity from morning till night and then some. At school my teachers were hard put to keep up with me….I’d get a class book and bring it back within a few days having read it right through. My teachers would get suspicious and ask me questions…..they soon learned to not bother but just kept me topped up.

Even today, I love nothing more than a quiet corner and a good book. As for organising them…..sometime, maybe, I may. But mostly they just live happily wherever they land. 😉 Most recently a very lovely and dear friend of mine sent me a book on the eve of my visit to Florence, Italy. – ‘A Florence Diary’ by Diane Athill.

a florence diary diane athill

One of the many fun things about coming ‘home’ after being away for 3 weeks is opening my mail. To my delight one of the envelopes contained this wonderful book ‘A Florence Diary’ from my lovely friend Lucy

 

What a delight. I started reading immediately, but unfortunately, once I actually arrived in Florence I was out from early morning till late a night, returning to the apartment only to brush my teeth, change into pyjamas and fall into bed till the morning; at which time I would repeat it all over again LOL So no time to continue reading in Florence I’m afraid.

But I have brought it with me to Ireland and with a few days of mucky weather in store I plan to read it…..Thanks Lucy my sweet, I shall treasure this little book and add it to my collection in the campervan 🙂

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Today, 27 March 2017, marks the end of a wonderful episode of and in my life. 6.5 years ago, in 2011, I moved in with my daughter for 6 months (Yes, I know right LOL).

Back at the time she had just been through a very traumatic divorce, had moved into a shared house with a lass whose fiance had been killed just recently, so there was a lot of high emotion and stress for both of them. Things didn’t go well after a few months and in time the other lass moved out and my daughter decided that she was settled in the house and didn’t want to move. She was also wary of sharing with another stranger and all the issues that brings with it. So after much discussion and since I had just recently quit my long-term live-in caring position, it was decided I would move in for 6 months to help her over the hump, so to speak.

Things went well. We had lots of tears to start with as she struggled to find her equilibrium and work her way through the trauma of the divorce, but we also had loads of laughter. I work away a lot with my job, so she had the house to herself for weeks at a time and when I came back, we had cupcakes and tea, long walks and talks, plenty of tears, hugs, kisses and smiles as we created new memories for her to take into the new future she was creating.

I loved it. Frankly speaking it was wonderful to ‘come home’ to my precious child and be able to hug the hurts better, chat about everything under the sun over tea, and just be with her.love you mum 05.06.2013

It helped me tremendously being able to see first-hand her progress and development into what was a new skin and a new person. The divorce had changed her. Now she was developing the next phase of her life. We created some memorable and wonderful memories.

After a few years of London living, she decided she wanted to move to the coast, get out of London. We had discovered that it was the pollution in London that was making her so ill. We lived right on a dual-carriageway in Richmond and the exhaust fumes were affecting what was already a fragile health issue; her heart. One night, the day before Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, I was home when her heart stopped. Thankfully I was there. And she recovered after a time. After a few months of searching, she finally found just the right place in Broadstairs 🙂

broadstairs

Broadstairs – a seaside town in Kent

and even though the original arrangement was that I would stay on in London when she made the move to the coast, with one thing and another, and due to financial restraints at the time, it was decided that I would make the move with her…it made sense really; since I wasn’t home much she would have the house to herself for 2-3 weeks of each month, I would have a place for my possessions and get to see her more often than if we were 80 miles apart!! We also got to share some fantastic holidays and events!

Taking over the town and standing as a political candidate, she soon found her feet and settled into her new life

The next two and half years flashed by in the blink of an eye and once again we created some fantastic memories.

Creating loving and lasting memories in Broadstairs

Creating loving and lasting memories in Broadstairs

Soon we had a new addition to our happy home; Elsie moved in and not only took over the house, but our hearts as well ❤elsie

2016-03-25 20.26.37 1213979011156144061_231798962

Just look at this little body… @Elsietherescuecat could she have chosen a more purrrrrfect place to sleep? This little girl is so content it makes my heart ache with love. She couldn’t have been chosen by a more loving person…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again Cémanthe has done an amazing job of creating a caring, loving, safe and clearly contented environment for a little body that suffered so much in her earlier life; Elsie the happy cat 😉 

20170323_195745

Last year we fetched Fiona – next was her driving licence and now she’s never home LOL

She met a wonderful young man last year, he proposed in December, they’re getting married in May 2018 and it was decided that they would start sharing a home from May 2017.

So today, 27 March 2017, is officially the last day Broadstairs will be my home. Mum’s moving out and the fiance is moving in ❤💑💍👰💂 In future I’ll just touch base for a day/night or so from time to time to change bags, swap clothes, get plenty of hugs and kisses before heading out again. Essentially I’ll be a gypsy living out my suitcase and travelling between jobs 😀😀😀👏👏 yayy. I’ll miss ‘home’ for sure but I’m excited for adventures new. Goodbye Broadstairs; it’s been fun.

And now it’s time for me to start creating some more fantastic memories.

happiness2

my daughter sent this to me…it’s now my desktop pic!! love it, makes me smile eveytime I log on

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Did you know that you can cuddle drug-addicted babies? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse one baby every 25 minutes is born with NAS.

http://www.theearthchild.co.za/you-can-volunteer-to-cuddle-drug-addicted-babies-in-order-to-help-them-heal/

I did a quick google search and found these links:

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38732789

http://www.bliss.org.uk/be-a-bliss-champion

http://www.voluntaryworker.co.uk/volunteering-help-premature-babies.html

http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/working-here/volunteering-for-us/current-opportunities/baby-buddy

There are numerous programmes in the US, but I haven’t been able to find that many here. Perhaps a more extensive search is necessary.

Do you know of any such programmes? Please do leave me any links in the comments section. Thank you.

My daughter and I did volunteered at a Convent that took in drug addicted and alcohol withdrawal syndrome babies, in Cape Town many years ago. There was one little baby that I got very attached to. He was suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome…too sad. He was absolutely precious and in the time I spent with hi, I fell in love. I made enquiries about adopting him but because he was a) african and b) likely to die soon c) I worked full-time they rejected my application. Broke my heart. He was so beautiful. I remember the very many little graves in the convent grounds….too heart-breaking. I saw a similar article to the one above a few weeks ago. I’d love to do it again.

 

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Whew, this discussion on BBC1 Breakfast yesterday morning had me in tears.

Listening to those young children saying why they were there and who they were remembering reduced me to tears. A Killing in my Family.

Being a child, especially in today’s world, is difficult enough as it is without your parent/s being killed by your other parent or a family member. It is however not a new phenomena. It amazes me still that there wasn’t a killing in my family.

For me the programme raised some VERY unwanted memories of mine (and my sisters) childhood. We, at various stages, grew up in a very violent household. My parents divorced when I was 6 and my sister just 3. My Mother remarried some years later to what I can only call a monster when I was 9 and my sister 6. She had to marry him as she was pregnant with my 2nd sister, her third daughter, and due to these circumstances would have lost my 1st sister and I to my Father  who had threatened to claim custody. This person that she married turned out to be a psychological maniac, a heavy drinker and a sexual predator. We had to call him ‘Daddy’. I recall many many fights in our home, fights that lead to violent confrontations with multiple items being thrown, as well as physical violence. On one memorable occasion my Mother slammed a plate full of spagetti bolognaise over his head at the dinner table. Her nerves had been shredded. He kept her short of money. He bitched about everything. He criticised the food. He drank a lot. He brought home unsavoury characters. Eventually she lost her control. That was one of many scenarios that peppered our lives during that period till she left him and met someone else. I think she was suffering from postpartum depression, amongst other mental health issues brought about by an unhappy childhood, and the stress of trying to cope with a young family and a very unhappy adult life. I cry for her.

My father helped her financially to divorce her 2nd husband and she then went on to form a relationship with this new person whom she had ironically met through my father’s sister. This relationship was no better than the previous, he too was a triple-A; abusive, aggressive, alcoholic – within a very short space of time we were again living in an environment of extreme violence. Friday nights were the worst. I dreaded Fridays. I knew that Friday meant a drunk live-in father (they weren’t married at that stage) who came home from the pub reeling and reeking of alcohol and violent with pent up rage*. By this stage my Mother was pretty much an alcoholic as well and so the evening would deteriorate and the weekend would be hell in one form or another.

Glass and food and anything else that came to hand would be thrown. Much glass had to be swept up by myself at the end of the passage…which happened to be the entrance to my bedroom. I couldn’t escape into my room till I had cleaned up the glass because it would have cut my feet. Never mind what it would have done to a 9 year-old and a toddler. Besides that, my Mother would make us clean up the mess. 😦

I remember the screaming. The punches.The blood. The glass. The alcohol. The fear. The terror. I couldn’t eat honey for decades, and my sister still has difficulty with eating honey. He would, in his drunken rages, spread honey from floor to ceiling …..we had to clean it up. But some years ago, not long after I left my South African me behind and found a new UK me, did I force myself to eat honey. I refuse at this stage of my life to allow something like that to dictate what I eat.

My best-friend at the time, with whom I am now back in contact via facebook, remembers one particular instance, when late at night, when all children should be happily and safely in bed, a pounding on their door. It was me. Screaming…. “he’s going to kill my Mother”.

She recalls the incident with clarity. For me, it was one of many. We lived a good half hour’s walk away from them. I dont remember that incidence in particular. They’ve all become rather muddled.

But I do remember the fear of those years. Yes, there were ‘good’ times. Yes, we had ‘fun’. My Mother had a brilliantly wicked sense of humour and she tried her best to make life good for us. And kids just get on with it. You seem to form a shell around yourself and just get on with life. By my early teenage years I was pretty wild and finally I got packed off to live with my father in Cape Town who had been married to his 2nd wife for many years, a bit like going from the fire into the frying pan….although there wasn’t much by way of alcoholic fights with open violence, there was emotional trauma. Arguments that went on for days. Bitching that never ended. Criticism that endeavoured to bring my Mother down in my/our eyes. And no, it wasn’t limited to just that period. We got to spend Christmas holidays with him and his wife too. What a joy that was. The only best thing I can recall from those days was the love and relationship I had for my adopted brother (he died over 30 years ago). And somewhere along the line my 2nd brother was born. Oh and I loved Cape Town. 🙂 Which helped. My heart city.

However, after 5 months of living with them, I was weirdly glad to eventually go home to my Mother at the end of the school year. I was 14 at the time.

The violence escalated and escalated.

Eventually my youngest sister came along. Nothing changed at home. My Mother was rushed to hospital a few days after this birth. Apparently she was haemorrhaging? That’s what we were told. She soon came home and life returned to ‘normal’. They eventually got married some years later to fulfil a wager she had with her sister. I think by then my Mother’s spirit was broken and she just did whatever seemed right at the time to survive. It didn’t in any way or form change things. The violence still continued. Right up until a few days before she died in 1984.

The reason I had been sent packing to my father in Cape Town was that I had become quite promiscuous. By the age of 14 I had already had a number of boyfriends and although I hadn’t yet had sexual relations, it came pretty close and at the time I was ‘involved’ against my Mother’s wishes with a man a good 10 years older than me. So off I went, banished to Cape Town. I returned to my Mother’s home just before Christmas 1970. On New Year’s day 1971 I was introduced to a man who was 6 years older than me and a good friend of my Mother’s sister…the one she had the wager with. They all liked him and thought he would make good marriage material. And so I went into a relationship at the age of 14 with the man who was to become my 1st husband. By the age of 15 I was no longer a virgin. Apparently, according to him he would have a heart-attack if I didn’t have sex with him because I was very ‘sexy’ and ‘turned him on’ and it was cruel to deny him. And so it went. By then I had been sexually molested by an uncle, both my step-fathers and a family friend, so it didn’t seem unusual. I hated it though. From 6-15, and even then it didn’t stop.

During this period, the violence at home continued. The guy I had been introduced to, who was now my boyfriend, moved into our home after about 10 months because my Mother (again kept short of money and by now just a shadow of herself) needed the money. And so we had a boarder that had sex with her  eldest daughter and was accused of being the father of her 4th child who was a baby at the time, by the father of said child. And the violence continued. Madness.

I remember one time coming home from school to find my Mother in a pool of blood on the lounge floor. She had slashed her wrists. I cleaned up the blood, helped her to bed and life went on.

Eventually I got married at 17 (another story) and left home. We lived in a caravan near to my Mother and her husband, who lived in the same caravan park. Although we lived at least three rows away, we could still hear the screaming and the fights at the weekend. Fights that led to severe physical violence. My Mother by that stage gave as good at what she got and I remember one time when I ran over to check that my sisters were okay (the fight was that loud) I was confronted with a man who had blood running profusely from his mouth. My Mother had slammed a glass of whisky into his face. It ended in 1984 when my Mother died. A victim of domestic violence, although not actually physically killed by her husband.

In all honesty, when I look back at those times, I am amazed, bemused, surprised, incredulous that there wasn’t ‘a killing in our family’.  Oh how we would have benefited from counselling.

So watching that programme this morning really churned things up. I manage to keep a lid on it all most of the time and have done for decades, but when I saw those little kids speaking about how they are there to remember their Mothers or Fathers lost to violence in their home, it just slams me in the heart. I’m so glad to see that there is an organisation there to help them and counsel them, and hopefully help them to heal.

My Mother died when she was 52. By then she had lost her spirit. I remember her saying so many times over those later years; “when C (her 4th and youngest daughter) is 13, I’m going to leave him” (her 3rd husband). She did. She died. She had a series of massive strokes just before my sister turned 13 and died just 4 days after my sister turned 13. I was 29. My other 2 sisters were 25 and 19 respectively. Those days are a blur. What I do remember the most besides not being able to cry, was having to organise the funeral because her husband was so drunk he couldn’t function, and one of my Aunts after the funeral giving me a R10.00 note in a card….to help support my sisters. Fuck you bitch. You stood by and did NOTHING for years and years. And you gave me R10!!!! and fucked off without a look back afterwards. I threw the money in the rubbish. If there is one thing that still enrages me, it’s that!

What today I find extraordinary is that so many people knew what was happening in our home; our Doctors, the Police, neighbours, friends and family members. And no-one did anything substantial enough to stop it. I know my father threatened many times to ‘take us away’ his 2 daughters from our Mother, but we loved her dearly and would not have gone willingly, despite what was going on at home.

This type of organisation is invaluable for children whose lives have been turned upside-down by violence and death in the home. I hope you will consider supporting them. Winston’s Wish.

http://www.winstonswish.org.uk/supporting-winstons-wish/

 

* he had a rather troubled childhood and I remember my Mother telling me (us) one time that his mother self-immolated in front of him when he was a child. I have no idea of this was true, but that is what I was told.

If you know of any children affected by violence in the home, please do something about it. You may just save a life.

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