Thursday, September 4, 2008


(all pictures by buzz, tanzania 08)

i have been thinking of dedicating a post to my good friend myrtle. because she is a magnificent woman. today seemed poignant because i suddenly missed my mother, who died, ouf more than twenty years ago. it all came up because of sending the last born princess to school. and its been a little emotional. which made me contemplate mother daughter relationships. and made me think of how i was sent to boarding school at the tender age of 5, on a bus from lusaka to salisbury (harare now), through the border, which was shut to all other traffic because of the war. i remember how i pressed my face against the window and cried and cried and she stood there waving bravely and cheerfully until we rounded the corner and i couldn;t see her anymore. i heard after she had died, that apparently she would go into deep depressions after she had sent us all away. anyway. all this running through my head, when suddenly a vision of her appeared, in her pink sari, and she was laughing and terribly happy. it appeared when i was bumping my way from school, passed the effing factory, in swirls of dust, swerving goat herds and maasai herdsman. and there i found myself sobbing, tears and dust stains. weird.

and so i come to myrtle, who is in fact, my sister's mother in law. and i wish she were mine. she is the most magnificent woman left on earth, after my mother. she is judi dench in real life. she is still a racy girl at heart. she still sneaks in smokes around the corner and isn't scared of sleeping by herself in a tent on a lonely windy hill in the middle of tanzania. she was the only one who listened to and liked my music when everyone was here in july. she has lead a true and passionate life and takes no prisoners. she is really tall for a woman and carries it off with grace and style. hard with a pair of size nine feet. myrtle knows how to laugh at herself. she gets irritated with kids and loves singing and dancing to frank sinatra greats. yet gives me music from some mystic aboriginal man. which is beautiful. myrtle believes in spirits and the magic in coincidences and dreams. myrtle wears her emotions around her like a cloak. she has dancing eyes and is a bloody good sport. myrtle is one person i know who loves to be outraged. her outrage gives to laughter. she is a good listener. she loves a good time and is always marvelously outraged at great natural beauty and far flung views. along with things like trillion hours flight from singapore to nairobi; at the pathetic excuse for a thorn tree, at The Stanley Hotel' s Thorn Tree Cafe. at the bad driving in town oh at most things. being showered in myrtle's outrage is a wonderful thing.

i stayed with myrtle (and dear mickey her husband who died last year - another classic) when i was pregnant with the first born. i remember the nights when i would wake up, for the umpteenth call for the loo at three in the morning. i would stop in the passage, in the quiet chill and silence of the early hours and listen to the tinkling of the wind chime in her courtyard of jasmine and magic and watch the stars turn and the planets slide across a great zimbabwean winter sky. . . and hear the emptiness of the great tarmac road heading into no-where.

i would lie in deep hot baths, with my baby turning inside, reading by candlelight late into the night, books from myrtle's shelf. true stories of victorian ladies adventures into the sahara with wild and woolie arabs . of richard burton the explorer's wife, who burnt his diaries. of gypsies and things extraordinaire.

but what touched me most during that waiting time, was near the end. when she quietly left some fresh starched towels in my room saying gently, " well you never know dear. the baby could come any day soon. and you might need these in the night. night night dear. night night."

myrtle taught me my most favourite sayings:

"its all a load of my eye and Betty Martin."

and when i would sigh and say "oh i wonder when the baby will be born?"

she would say, all matter of factly, with her dancing eyes, " well dear. you will wonder and wonder until the crows build nests up your bottom and then you'll wonder how they got the sticks up there." and she would give me a basket and say " now go and pick me some mulberries. that'll get it going." it didn't. or " shell these nuts" as the dogs were rat catching underneath the table. or eye the marmite level suspiciously whilst throwing a glowering glance at the unaware cook.

she said they were ancient victorian sayings. all those funny sayings...others about if horses and beggars and...could never remember that one.

we watched slide shows of her and mickey's safaris to lake turkana (lake rudolf then). where truck loads of furniture and fridges would be driven up to these wild and windy shores. when we exclaimed at the excessive back up, mickey and myrtle would jointly say," well dear. any fool can be uncomfortable." too bloody right, i say.

myrtle would encourage me to go into the local town and hang out with my contemporaries.

firstly i didn't really want to because i looked like a balloon on two legs, with a very small head. about to pop. and secondly, i much preferred her and mickey's company. particularly in the evenings, around the fire, with the farting dogs and mickey in his kikoi and slippers, smoking and cursing the news and the mugabe state of affairs - in quite a rude way. in a very rude way. and thirdly, the only thing that fitted was a pair of dungarees and some ghastly 20 year old tracksuit pants with holes in all the wrong places. so no. i much preferred to stay "in".

myrtle seemed to have been brought up in the english countryside - hay stacks, and strawberry summers. cavorting slightly (or perhaps subtly), one gets the idea, with royalty. she is straight out of a 1930's country living mag.

myrtle has survived World Wars. She knows about loss. She knows about hard times and keeping ones chin up and all that. she's a no nonsense kinda gal. and she serves probably the best tea ever. and Best Sunday Lunches ever, all elegantly set in silver and deliciously hot and mint sauced. under the table would be scores of jack russels and on the walls etchings of english hunts framed in silver and warm red silk curtains. yet she will turn up her sleeves and wash up in my little grimy disorganised kitchen and say things like " oh hooray! we've new sponges tonight!"

oh woe are we she lives so far away in new zealand now.

oh how i miss myrtle.

myrtle's the kind of person who would lead an expedition of mimi and toutou go forth proportions. (the story of the two boats which were taken to lake tanganyika via the congo to sink a german war ship on the lake....a journey against all odds) i can see her. striding in her mozzie boots, crossing off her lists, stopping every now and then to wipe her brow saying "god its bloody hot out here!"; painting wild flowers and butterflies along the way, rolling her eyes and saying " good god!" a lot at her porters, who would be terrified of her. and stopping the expedition a lot en route for smoke breaks.

i would like, whoever reads this post, to raise your glass to myrtle. and myrtle, if you're reading this old girl like you said you would?

i say, chin chin dear myrtle. chin chin. to you and your good health.

Kitchen Board: Thursday 04 Sept 2008

Contributors: Veronica and Janelle

Comments: no flash. can you see me hanging onto that enormous heart which has somehow dislodged itself from a bunch of them and is heading up to space and no-where? by christ, its too high to let go now. at least it isn't yours. . . . toodely pip and all that malarky and many many bisous xxx janelle


Reya Mellicker said...

I am so happy that Myrtle was around during your pregnancy, that she loves your music (so do I!) and happier still that I now am aware of Myrtle's existence. She sounds wonderful.

There are so many ways we adopt each other and become family. What's amazing is how all adoptions work. once a person becomes family, that's it - they are always family from then on, even if you never see them or can't stand them due to some falling out or another.

A toast to Myrtle, and of course to you, too. Cheers!

tut-tut said...

Myrtle sounds a great person to have on your side. Not many can be so much themselves and so able to intuit at the same time. You are lucky to have her, no matter where she might live.

Mothers are so missed, aren't they? I miss mine.

My glass is raised to all, mothers and Myrtle!

ExAfrica said...

I have, in fact, raised my glass to Myrtle. Gawd she sounds lovely.

I had a tear in my eye just now. Or was it the wind?

Myrtle - you reading this? We all want you to be ours, too.


ExAfrica said...

And J you do write a perfect tale - just perfect.

...and I do quite like the board with no flash - oohh just look at the romance!

Janelle said...

ah you blogger ladies are the beez really are. i LOVE you all...for your understanding, interpretation and simply your lovliness! THANKS Y'ALL XXX janelle

Val said...

I LOVE Myrtle - and you for your wonderful blog! Thank heavens for inspirational people, meeting them and hearing about them, reading bout them - any which way.
I LOVE the one about the crows making nests in your bottom and wondering how they got the sticks up there!!!! hahaha gonna use that as soon as possible...
This post made my eyes water. A toast to mothers and Myrtle :-)

Val said...

how do we get to hear some of your music from far away?

M said...

Cheers to Myrtle and to you! Myrtle sounds like a wonderful person - love the lines about crows and how they got the sticks up there! And she reminds me of my Godmother, Gladys, who is an unusually outspoken and adventurous Scandinavian woman.

tam said...

Chin chin Myrtle. And chin chin Janelle coz you are also a fabulous formidable lady. And chin chin to that little girl on the bus. I love this post. I love all your posts. I think you're fab. Write a song for your mama. And for Myrtle...

Anonymous said...

wow this is truly a beautiful post. I actually had a couple of tears, must be because I'm preggers so I get so emotionnal;)
Thank you for sharing with us. Hope to hear your music soon and to read many more beautiful posts.
Bisous de Montréal, Canada

john.g. said...

BEAUTIFUL! That is all!!

Andrew Buswell said...

She is heavy - she's my mother!! Here's to you Myrtle!! The only person I know that can snort like a buffalo!! Take care Ma

Janelle said...

hey val! i can post you one? email me. and glad you enjoyed the read! XX j

hello m! thanks for stopping by. yeah. myrtle is one of those extraordinary women! xx janelle

joelle! nice to hear from you in montreal! your name nearly like mine. when is the baby due? is it the first? x janelle

ah THANKS John G! THANKS!!! xx janelle

and buzwelly! you finally made a comment. indeed. your ma ROCKS and she IS Mrs G for sure. XX janelle

Janelle said...

oh and TAM! THANKS DARLIN'! and i LOVE your blog too! well, you're the Real Writer and Thinker amongst us janelle

Lori ann said...

Perhaps a visit to New Zealand is in the future? Janelle, this was such a touching, sweet and timely post for me. Mothersdaughterswomenfriends all these that we arehavewantneed. Thank God, Buddha for the Myrtles of the world, I am so glad she's in your life.
Clink! Clink! to Myrtle and you.

x lori

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Oh you had me at the stories of victorian ladies adventures into the Sahara with wild and woolie arabs:)

Blessed are you to have an almost MIL, Myrtle. Some of us have the stereotypical kind, and believe me, sigh, that's not much fun.

Janelle said...

thanks lori!! xx j

and maryam - flattered once more you came to visit! and you would LOVE those stories of those wild ladies in the sahara. they really were. they dressed as men and galloped out over the dunes with their crazy arab lovers...narrowly escaping all sorts of wierd ways to die...whew! X j

family affairs said...

"A true and passionate life" I love that!!! That's what I want to have. I WANT TO BE MYRTLE Lx

family affairs said...

I wonder if anyone you know would have known my grandmother who lived in Lusaka....don't publish this one as I'm meant to be anon. but I'm trying to do some digging for my father. His father arrived in Africa to fly a plane. When he got there the owner of the plane had died in a car crash and he ended up taking different work and ultimately working for Walensky (I think that was his name). They were called Pat and Pamela Campbell - he died (big scandal - gunshot to head, poss suicide, my father would prefer to think not - he was entertaining Clement Atlee at the time at a big dinner). My grandmother came back to UK with 3 small boys but went back out to marry Sir Brian Roberts who was a lawyer and pretty well known out there. She's my gorgeous grandmother who died recently - she divorced him and lived on her own for years here. She had many friends still in Lusaka - let me know if any of this rings any bells and I might be able to come up with a few more names - mostly though I want to find somebody who remembers my grandfather. LXXX

Mickle in NZ said...

I'm in awe of Myrtle. What an amazing friend to have - hope you've thanked your sister for choosing such an incredible woman for her MIL.

Where abouts here is NZ is Myrtle living? We are lucky she has chosen here to live.

Huggles to all, xxx and purrumble from Zeb

Miranda said...

Ah, Janella. Gorgeously written. So glad I met the delightful Myrtle. And SO glad I am friends with YOU! You rock.

Janelle said...

lulu! it comes out! i can't not publish do you do that on yours? walensky is a name my father knows. and i shall ask my dad about your janelle

you know mickel, i am not sure? will ask! she has said but it went in and straight out...xx janelle

and mo mo..where were you this afernoon..ruby wax popped by!!! hilarious! XX janelle

Mickle in NZ said...

Love anyway, to and for Janelle, and sending to Myrtle care,concern and sincere love from Michelle in Wellington.
Huggles to all who read Janelle's wonderous words, I'm in awe........
Janelle, WOW, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Michelle/mickle/mickie in NZ

tam said...

Roy Walensky was politically very active around independence and after. He wrote a book... forgotten now what its called. Its fascinating.

Ernest de Cugnac said...

janelle - glad you're better now and in excellent blogging form. Interesting image, and concept, hanging onto the heart. And you're right, you know, too high and you can't let go, no more.

Janelle said...

oh i feel so bad! i just wrote another post and wrote PPS ernest you are welcome to comment on any of my posts..and here you are! hooray. well. about bloody time too i might add... xxx

and mickle you sweetheart! thanks!! will ask m which city she is in and let you know! myrtle is wonderful. x

and thanks tam tam..are you going to come to zanzibar in october?? xxx j