DAY 88: Tues 9 June

A new chicken run and memories of an heroic South African woman.

Rushed excitedly down this morning to check the wildlife camera, only to find that I had not switched it on. So nothing to see here. What am I like`?

The weather looked good so when my house guest appeared for a mid-morning breakfast, we got stuck in to finishing off the new chicken coop. We were like excited schoolboys when the time came to coax them into their new home. They were easily tricked with handfuls of corn, but distinctly unimpressed with finding themselves locked in. Their throaty coos of satisfaction at the food soon turned to clucks of disapproval as they surveyed the rocky fortress known as The Gulch. It is certainly different from their original high security coop known as Guatanamo. Soon after I installed one of their old perches they settled down grumpily for the night. We can hear them from the kitchen, and keep a eye on them through the downstairs bathroom window. They have more space that before but I can tell they are not happy being partly below ground level. However I am sure it will grow on them, especially as they will stay in for a few days to get acclimatised – and to give the garden a bit of a rest. When the potato patch has been harvested I intend to give it over to them as their own fenced off run, so we can cultivate the rest of the garden untrammelled by their often destructive attentions.

A busy, tiring day but one which certainly kept our spirits up. I heard recently from a colleague who is struggling somewhat at home in lockdown with her partner and children. It reminded me of the predicament faced by legendary sociologist, author and political activist the late Fatima Meer. I stayed at her Durban home, fifteen years ago. She had been ‘banned’ three times by the apartheid regime in the 1950, 70s and 80s. This amounted to a form of house arrest with severe restrictions on who she could meet or talk to, especially other banned people. Her lawyer husband Ismail, a friend of Nelson Mandela since their college days, was also banned and they had survived an assassination attack on their home. 

I asked her how they had managed and she admitted that at times they found it hard, cooped up together for lengthy periods under the same roof. “Did you never invoke the terms of the banning order, and refuse to talk to Ismail?” I asked. “Come to think of it, I never thought of that,” she laughed.

This was an extraordinary visit for me. I slept in a bed tucked away behind their extensive library in a semi-basement at the back of their house. Mandela had slept there while on the run, and the last person to have slept in it was Winnie Mandela, a close friend and one-time prison companion of Fatima’s. Browsing through the books in the library I found many had spidery handwriting in the margins, and asked whose they were. She explained that the books belonged to Mahatma Gandhi. She had rescued them from a burning house during the Inanda riots of 1985 when his settlement in Phoenix, near Durban, was attacked. The spidery handwriting was Gandhi’s! 

Fatima , who was Mandela’s first biographer, gave me a signed copy of her her monumental The South African Gandhi 1893-1914 which I still treasure,. 

On my Twitter time line today i discovered a whole bunch of nasty Nazi types, having ago about my ‘taking the knee’ on Sunday. One of them was suggesting he might try to raid a munitions store to get tooled up because the the police were kowtowing to lefties and Black Lives Matter supporters. he and his nasty mates are planning a demo in London on Saturday 13 June to defend the Cenotaph and the statue of Winston Churchill. Given their ultra-nationalist stance it seem odd they don’t know that is when the Trooping of the Colour is supposed to take place. They are likely to get short shrift from the police, so no doubt they will be whinging about that next.

What could be nicer after a hard day’s graft in the garden than to come in for a huge mug of tea and a thick slice of homemade brown bread slathered in homemade quince jam. “Perfick” as Pop Larkin used to say in H. E. Bates The Darlings Buds of May. All those homemade fruit preserves, jams and chutneys from autumns past that have been hiding at the back of the cupboard, and in the deeper recesses of the freezer have come in handy during lockdown. I might even be able to hold out ‘til Christmas!

An equally pleasing end to the evening was a juicy chunk of roast pork with roast potatoes, peas and beans, washed down with a Green Gecko, the superb IPA I have only ever found in Lidl, which watching the latest episode of David Olusoga’s A House Through Time. And for dessert, a quick half hour in the company of Derry Girls. And so, Good Night.  

PS. I really hate predictive text. It makes editing this stuff a nightmare. By the time I get round to it I often can’t even remember the word I originally intended when the machine decides to insert something entirely inappropriate.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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