Slow Writing: Day 2

slow writerI am keeping my expectations very low. Only ten minutes of writing tonight. Less new words than yesterday because I cycled back and made small corrections and alterations to what I already wrote. I have to get up very early tomorrow morning so this is it for today.

Fiction Writing Stats:

  • Words today: 149
  • Total for the month: 438

Monkey Heights (Short Story)

Monkey Heights short story cover
Jurgen Frax takes people on daring adventures. Simulated adventures which are made safe for the novice adventurer.

But even a simulation climb prove to be too challenging for Sassoon and Raya Ridge when their nerve fail them halfway up a granite rock face.

Normally getting down is as easy as pressing cancel, except when the system fails. Now Jurgen is stuck on a make-belief mountain with a couple of panicking climbers.


Monkey Heights

By Gerhi Janse van Vuuren
A gust of wind raced across the face of the granite cliff and the three climbers shuddered on their ropes like taut sails on a championship yacht.

The top climber, Jurgen Frax, grabbed hold of his last piton with his left hand and swung away from the cliff to look down. The two ashen faces of Sassoon and Raya Ridge looked up at him with eyes wide open. Jurgen gave a hearty laugh.

“That was only a twitch folks. You have to experience twice the force of that wind, driving some sleet, before you can really say you have braved this line.”
Sassoon Ridge looked over at his wife and she shook her head, stiff lipped and very determined.

Ah hell, though Jurgen, here we go. But he kept smiling. “Ready to climb again?”
Like his wife Sassoon shook his head. “No,” he said, “I mean, birdcage.”

“Blast,” said Jurgen as he slapped the rock. “That is your safe word, right? Please tell me that is not your safe word?”

Raya and Sassoon exchanged looks again. Jurgen knew that look. The look Sassoon gave Raya was the look a man gave when he asked his wife’s forgiveness for not being the bravest man in the universe. And the look Raya gave back was a permission for the man not to be, tinged with a dash of disappointment that he wasn’t. He had seen it play out many times before and here it did again, a small drama of marital disappointment.

Ah hell, thought Jurgen, what did he care. He wasn’t married, not anymore, so all that was left for him to do was hit cancel on the simulation and take an early lunch. He just hoped they did not want to talk through the experience.

Contractually they had access to a debriefing, so that they can share their feelings. It was the worst part of the job for Jurgen, talking about touchy feely stuff. Usually this was a gush of words about how great it was but on a cancellation it ended up being a counselling session in which the session leader, Jurgen himself in this case, would have to prop up twisted egos. That would just utterly spoil a day that was already heading downhill fast. But first the official part.

“Right folks,” said Jurgen, “by your request, through using your own predetermined safe word, I am to cancel this simulation at this point. You will receive a pro-rata refund, minus service and maintenance charges. Please confirm your cancellation by repeating the safe word clearly. Mister Ridge?”

“Can’t we just stop this?” Sassoon looked tense, his jaw tensed enough so that his face started turning white.

“Have to do this the right way,” said Jurgen, “otherwise there are legal ramifications and such. Confirm your cancellation by repeating the safe word please?”

“Oh bloody hell,” said Sassoon, “birdcage. Bloody birdcage.”

“Very well,” said Jurgen, “Mrs Ridge, the safe word please?”

Raya answered too softly for Jurgen to hear. He knew that the scenario recorder would have amplified her answer and that they had already met the requirements of a cancellation, but he was not going to let them off lightly.

“Speak clearly please. The safe word?”

Raya Ridge worked her mouth but her vocal cords did not seem to be functioning properly. Tears started streaming from her eyes and she looked from Jurgen to Sassoon, her eyes now pleading. Jurgen knew he should have cared some but he was now irritated, so he just waited.

“She said it dammit,” said Sassoon.

“I need to hear it,” said Jurgen.

“Dear?” said Sassoon.

Once she found her voice again Raya screamed her answer hysterically over and over again.

“Once is enough,” said Jurgen and Raya’s wail petered out into a whimper. He gave the shivering couple one last look before he swung his arm up and pushed his left sleeve back to reveal the control unit strapped to his forearm.

Cancelling a simulation seemed like a straightforward procedure but it required a huge adjustment from the participants. The perceptual clues which maintained the simulation had to be gradually replaced with the reality of the simulation chamber to prevent a whiplash effect. Do it too fast and the body goes into shock.

Normally, at the end of a session, this is not a problem because a completed simulation dissolved around the participants, leaving them with a warm afterglow. But a cancellation was a cold interruption and any sane person had a built in resistance to the perceptual rules of the world. Because they had to be eased back into reality the system slowed the transition down. It was going to take at least another fifteen minutes before they would be off the cliff face.

“Hang on folks,” said Jurgen, “just another minute or two.” Then he tapped the cancelation sequence on the pad. He finished, his fingers hovering for the confirmation he had to enter twice. But the pad did not refresh.

“What’s taking so long?” said Sassoon. “We can’t hold on much longer.”

Now, even more irritated, Jurgen looked down. “Move over to that piton on your left and hook yourself in,” he said, “this won’t take long.” Then he took hold of his own piton with his right hand and shook his left arm. He knew there was no reason for this to make any difference. The control unit was shock resistant. You could not do an adventure simulation with equipment that wasn’t. But he had a basic mistrust in too delicate technology and preferred things he could do with basic physics and muscle. Adjusting his hands he tapped the cancelation code in again. The pad remained unresponsive.

“Just a moment folks,” he called down, “we seem to be having a slight technical problem.”

“What problem?” said Raya, her voice now piercingly clear.

Jurgen took a deep breath. He had to stay calm so that they would stay calm. But he heard the first tinges of panic in Raya’s voice.

“What’s the problem?”

“Just a delay in cancellation,” said Jurgen. “Happens sometimes when there is a lot of data to process.” It was a complete lie of course. Switching off the system was just that, tripping a switch. Without the built in delay it could be instantaneous. There was no new data to process. Jurgen slapped the control unit and tried again. He got the same results, nothing.

That meant there was two options left. And he did not know if the Ridges was up to either of the two. He sneaked a look down.

Sassoon had moved to the side, his hands clutched together and his head resting against his forearm. He was in the classic position of a frozen stiff who had given up. To get him to climb again would be difficult. No, almost impossible.

Raya was fidgeting with her equipment. It was a good thing she was clipped in because if she wasn’t, with the rapidity she was changing her hands and feet around, she could lose her grip easily. She was close to panic and would be a bigger danger than her husband, because she would climb like a maniac when given the chance.

“Right folks,” said Jurgen, “we have a glitch in the system and I cannot cancel. We have two options, climbing up to the top or climbing down.”

Sassoon gave no answer, he just moaned softly. Raya snapped her head to look up and down and then back to Jurgen.

“This is silly,” she said. “This is just a simulation. We can close our eyes and unhook ourselves. How far can we fall? Two or three metres. And there is a net, right?”

Jurgen took a deep breath to keep himself calm. “Physically yes. But your mind is convinced you are hundreds of metres up on a cliff no matter what the reality is. Mentally you will fall and the shock might kill you.”

“What do you mean might?” Raya shook the rope above her as she talked, spitting the words out in a rapid fire. “I thought, we thought this was safe. There is a guarantee.”

Jurgen steadied the rope between himself and Raya. She was shaking it about hard enough that he could feel his own weight straining on the piton above him.

“The guarantee applies if the whole system works. The cancelation protocol is not working so there is no guarantee that anything else is working.”

“This is rubbish,” shouted Raya, spit now frothing around her mouth.

“Down,” said Sassoon.

“What?” snapped Raya.

Jurgen thought that it sounded as if Sassoon was crying. When he spoke again he removed all doubt. Tears and snot was streaming down his face when he tried again, shouting at his wife in anger.

“Down, I said I can go down!”

“Just a moment folks,” said Jurgen, “down is a little bit harder than up.”

Sassoon’s hands had clutched fast on the rope and he pressed his face against the rock, his body shivering and shaking slightly. Shock, thought Jurgen. He’s done for.

“Why is down harder?” said Raya. “We covered that ground already.”

“Down is harder because you can’t see where to place your feet. And even if you could you won’t look there. Your eyes will be pulled away, staring at the drop. It is harder. Better to go up.”

Raya twitched on the rope again. “And have further to fall. We were already on our limit when—“

“Stop,” snapped Jurgen. “Stop pulling the ropes about and stop wailing. Up is better.”

A mean twist crawled across Raya’s face and for a moment Jurgen pitied Sassoon. She grabbed a rope at random and yanked it to the side. “I’ll pull whatever I want to.”

The rope she held did not go up to Jurgen but sideways to Sassoon and when she yanked it she peeled him of the cliff face so that he swung around and hung with his back against the wall.

A high pitched squeal spilled from his lips and his hands clutched for the rope above him.

Jurgen held his hand out, as if he was trying to stop a bullet train but it had about as much effect. It was as if Raya was unaware of her husband twitching beside her, her attention only focussed above on Jurgen, a crazy gleam in her eye as she grabbed hold of every available rope and shook it as if she was a monkey trapped in a birdcage.

Again the three bodies on the cliff face shuddered but this time not because of an external force but because of an internal cause, as if they were a brittle hulled dingy running aground on a rock. A shockwave snapped through the rigging and as Jurgen watched the piton on which Sassoon hung slid out of the crevice.

Time froze because he could do nothing before Sassoon dropped down and swung in a wide arc underneath them, hitting an outcrop on their right with a wet smack, and then swinging back again.

At least Raya broke off her tirade and looked down, her head slowly pivoting back and forth as she followed Sassoon’s swing. Then, calmly, she removed a cutter from her belt and hung down and cut through Sassoon’s rope just below her.

The rope snapped apart and snaked out from the cliff and Sassoon fell, too fast even for him to realise he was falling, or why. It was strange, though Jurgen, but he did not even scream, as if he was at last accepting the inevitable.

Jurgen froze in place, his hand still outstretched down, staring at Sassoon’s body disappearing out of sight. His mind knew the man only fell a few metres, but his senses told him different. Desperately he wanted to hear the body hit ground but the sound did not come. The illusion was too strong, the bottom too far down.

With a slow deliberate action Raya tucked the cutter back into her pocket and then turned her head to look up at Jurgen. Her eyes sought his out and locked in, a cold stare that spanned the space between them and filled him with a cold shudder.

Jurgen had nothing to say, his mouth frozen like the rest of his body. Until Raya started climbing, now suddenly much more sure footed than before. Not like a novice climber her husband had made both of them out to be.

Another shudder went through Jurgen when a gust of wind chased a handful of snowflakes past his face. Then he fumbled for the rung on his belt, struggling to release the catch and feeling that it took forever before he was able to release the rope between him and Raya.

She swiped the falling rope out of her face as if it was a pesky spider’s web and kept climbing at a pace that Jurgen did not know if he could beat, or even match.

But he knew that he had to stay ahead of her no matter what, because she was coming up to get him. He turned up, searched quickly for the next handhold and started climbing.

“You can climb if you want to,” Raya said, sounding much closer than what Jurgen expected. “Just remember that the higher you climb the further you fall.”

Jurgen stretched himself upwards for a difficult hold. Then on an easier stretch he took a moment to reply. “It is all in the mind,” he said, “I’m trained to ignore it.”

“Sure you are,” said Raya.

They climber further in silence for a bit and then, reaching an outcrop of rock Jurgen went the left way around. He knew this route and was almost three quarters of the way up. If he could stay ahead he could make it. But when he next looked down she was not below him and before he could stop himself he had called out.

“Mrs Ridge?”

Her voice came back, accompanied with a slight echo.

“I’m still here.”

She had to have taken the right side of the outcrop. It seemed easier for a bit but then it went sideways before going up again. Jurgen felt he had more of a chance. Even if he wasn’t climbing faster than her he was on the faster route and he could beat her. Even more so if he could distract her.

“Why are you doing this Mrs Ridge?”

His voice came back to him in a light echo and it was a while before she answered him.

“Because our marriage was merely a simulation. And I had broken through the illusion.”

There was even more of an echo when she spoke. Great, thought Jurgen, she was now climbing away from him. He will make it to the top before her and then… He did not know exactly then what. Only that he needed to get to the top before she did.

He didn’t bother talking to her anymore, he just climbed, finding his rhythm, keeping his breathing steady until he placed his hand on the last ledge, right next to a Raya Ridge’s climbing shoe.

He stopped climbing and followed the line from her shoe up her leg until he met her face, smiling down at him. It wasn’t a smile that included here eyes. No thought, Jurgen, not a smile at all, a grimace.

“Did you know that I designed this rock face?” said Raya. “Under my maiden name of course.”

Jurgen’s mind went blank for a moment and then he shook himself back to the present. “This is called Monkey Heights. Your maiden name is Monkey?”

A little bit of softness crept into Raya’s expression. “It seems unfortunate, doesn’t it. But then again, I prefer my own name for this design.”

Jurgen eased his hand over the ledge and dragged himself slowly higher. He could play for time and get up beside her. Then he had a chance. “Interesting,” he said, “and what was your name for it?”

Jurgen felt that he made it for a moment but he knew he was deluding himself when he felt the sole of her shoe on his chest. “Everything on the simulation is recorded,” he said, making a last attempt to stop her.

“Not if you designed a backdoor into the system,” said Raya before leaning forward and speaking softly.

“And I prefer to call it Monkey Falls.”


Monkey Heights was written at the end of 2015. It is published here free to read until it is removed for commercial publication. This story is the property of Gerhi Janse van Vuuren and copyright is reserved.

Slow Writing: Day 1

I have been dithering on the edge of a commitment for years. Today I decided to jump. Tonight I am jumping.

slow writerSome people who might know me might also know that in 2008 I made a commitment to write full-time for a living. That did not work out as planned because currently I am teaching full-time. But that leaves me with enough time to still pursue writing.

What I have learned in the last seven or eight years about writing is that what really makes the difference is starting on it, and never stopping. Unfortunately I am good at stopping, and then trying something different.

Part of that commitment thing I mentioned at the top. But tonight I am making that commitment. Publicly, given that my blog readership is limited and my public are only a couple of people who read my stuff on social media. But that is enough for now.

So this is the commitment, in two parts:

  1. To write a piece of fiction every day, writing for at least ten minutes, and
  2. to blog and record my writing progress at the end of every day.

My intention in doing this is to take at least one of my creative interests and turn it into something sustainable. Writing is the most portable, needs the least preparation and requires the least amount of time and material to produce result. All it needs is consistent progress. Tonight I commit to that.

I don’t know what I will write. I will let every piece evolve into what it needs to be though I suspect most of the early attempts will be short stories. I also don’t expect every one to be successful. I expect a number of duds and false starts. Those will be chalked up to experience and I will move on.

The same way I am moving on from the stories I wrote in the beginning of the holiday. The first got finished (I will post it right after this post). The second one got bogged down. I now realise it was a non-starter.

My intention would be to publish these scribblings. But during term time I’m only committing to writing every day. I will leave the publication effort for the next holiday.

What gets finished then will get posted here on this blog as free to read, if short enough and finished. Once I publish it and put it up for sale I’ll pull the free version.

I am supposed to filter short stories into the short story publishing market but I won’t be doing that yet. I don’t have much confidence in the quality of my writing at the moment. But my experience with any creative effort is that huge progress is made when the focus is first placed on quantity.

Which leaves me with just one last point. What is it going to help writing for only ten minutes? First, that is just a minimum. I reserve the right to keep at it for twelve hours if I am so inclined. But I am setting the bar low so that I have a better chance of ensuring success.

And second, I have already written my minimum of ten minutes tonight. My win is 289 words. Which is not bad for just ten minutes.

Fiction Writing Stats:

  • Words today: 289
  • Total for the month: 289

A short note on why I am not writing “21 Books I might or might not read – with justifications (sort of) Part 2”

More than a week ago I was slowly sorting through my books, writing a post about forty of them I sorted out. I picked a number that I have read and wanted to keep or not and then I started a two-part post about the rest I haven’t read yet.

Then we started on a wholesale housecleaning and moving stuff around so that I did not even have a desk. So I did not switch on my computer and I haven’t written part two yet. But this is not it.

In moving around I boxed a fair number of my books to make space for other things. We consolidated working spaces so that we can give each kid their own room. It was done quite fast so I did not count the books I boxed but I would say it is at least two-thirds of my books. There is only about 150 out now and these are related to things i have decided to focus on for now. Plus a couple of random books to read because too much focus will kill me.

This is a tower of used books
This is a tower of used books, not my books of course. I don’t stack this neatly.

So, in the process I lost track of the books I was sorting through and writing about. I got rid of about a hundred books, donating most of them to the SPCA. A couple I’m giving to the school library. Some of the forty books was in that pile, but don’t ask me which.

I have moved on since and I am sorry if you were following the series. I will continue to blog about books though so just stay tuned until next time which will be whenever.

21 Books I might or might not read – with justifications (sort of)

Firstly, I missed writing yesterday. There is a lesson in that for me. I should not end a post promising another tomorrow. Blogging is not my main occupation or my slave master. Life happens and it did yesterday so that I did not get to be continueing this process.

Recap of the process: I took forty books off of one of my bookshelves to sort out. I have gone through sixteen books I have read previously and which I will be keeping and looked at three others, two which I am not keeping and one of which I am unsure and about which I cannot decide now.

That leaves me with twenty one books to consider. And the question is, will I read this book or not? If I will read it then I have to keep it for now. If I won’t read it then I have to get rid of it. No need to keep a reminder of an obligation that I will never keep.

Let me start of with the books I have started reading but have not finished, and why I have not finished them.

The Green Mile by Stephen King

First of, loved the movie. I read the book about halfway and then life happened. Then I lent it to my dad and did not see it for a while and then it cycled back to my shelf but I had moved on to other things.

The Green Mile film still

Stephen King is a masterful writer and he keeps on experimenting. The Green Mile was one of his experiments and his writing about the writing in the introduction and foreward is insightful. I did not finish this because life and not because of the book or the writing or my interest in the contents. So this stays, now to be moved to a to be read shelf.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man is a frame story deviced to turn a bunch of Ray Bradbury’s short stories into a novel of some sort. I don’t know if it worked. I read all the way to the end of the frame story and have to start on the first story and then I stopped. Nothing urged me to read any further.

I think, if I read it for what it is, a collection of short stories I might be able to get through it. But as a novel it did not draw me in.

But then again, I not that very fond of short stories. Even though I have tried writing some and I sometimes read them if there is nothing else. I feel as if I should keep it, but then again, why should I?

Let’s tackle the other two short story books in the pile to see if I can find an answer.

Uncanny Stories by May Sinclair

May SinclairI have read some of the short stories in this collection, but not all of them. The book was on my bedside table for a while and I read the stories in a time I was very busy and could not dedicate my attention to a book lenght fiction. But then my bedside table got very crowded and it got moved out.

Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories are clearly of their time and if you should take them as that they have a wonderful sense of atmosphere. For now I am keeping this volume on my to read pile to dip into when life gets hectic again. I must just make a not for myself to do so.

Broomsticks and Beasticles by Barbara Sleigh

A collection of stories and poems edited by Barbara Sleigh round the topic of witches and magical beasts. I have had Broomsticks and Beasticles for many years and find it weird that I haven’t read all the stories though I must have read some.

When my wife Petro gave drama lessons to children it was one of the key texts she used to devise stories and I have certainly seen some of the stories being performed. There is a sense of proto-Pratchett about the stories and the book and I would like to dip back in and read them again. I also think my sons might enjoy them as well, so this book is hanging around for a while more.

Have I found an answer about Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man? I think I should keep it around as short stories to dip into when life gets busy. Once I’ve read some I will make another decision about keeping the book or not.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

The cover touts it as an “Enchanting International Bestseller!”

Inkheart movie posterI loved Funke’s Inkheart, though I have only read the first. The movie was okay. But with this book I’ve started it twice already and haven’t gotten far enough. I don’t know if it is just slow to start or the way it is written or the idea of yet another story about some impish rascals but I got stuck.

I am willing to give it another go. Funke clearly does something right. But if the story does not take me then The Thief Lord will go without a second thought.

Barnaby Grimes, the Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

Maybe it is because I am not starting at the beginning of the series but I did not get far with this. Coming to think of it, I have one of The Edge Chronicles on another shelf and I did not get into that either. There is something about the writing and my reading that don’t match.

So, beatiful illustrations, but Barnaby Grimes, the Curse of the Night Wolf did not grip me. Maybe I should be in the mood for it. Staying on the I don’t know if I will read this pile? I don’t know?

Chris Riddell a sketch a day

I should because these guys are fashionable and everybody reads them but then again, I’m not everybody. I have the same problem with the next two books.

Mariah Mundi, The Midas Box and Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor

I’ve started Mariah Mundi but I only got up to chapter three. I haven’t given Shadowmancer a go yet. Something tells me if I could get into them they would be really good. But I have not been in the right frame of mind.

Should I keep them or not? For the moment I am keeping all the books I have mentioned so far. My to be read pile will be very big at the end of this process and I will have to work out a way to deal with that. But let that be for now. Let’s take book I’m not keeping.

Amadans by Malachy Doyle

I got up to page 39 (I know this because most books I have read halfway have a bookmark in it). I did not like Amadans. Something about it did not work for me and I’m not interested in trying it again. This one goes.

Now, before digging into the fiction again, a couple of non-fiction books.

Time Warped, Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond

I bought Time Warped with a bunch of other second hand books and only dipped into it. Now I think I have the time to read this and this is going straight to my bedside table. But only reading the book will confirm if I had the time to read it, and if I don’t have the time then I have to read the book to find out why I thought I had the time but I didn’t.

Report on Planet Three and other speculations by Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke

A collection of essays by a science-fiction master. I should read this. No, I want to read this because I like to know how people think. Stories give you an idea how people feel and what they value but essays help you find out how they think. At least when they think in words.

This is staying on my to be read pile, to be mixed in with the short stories when life gets busy.

But I think that will be it for now. Ten books left to deal with.

What I will be doing is to put a slip of paper in each book with today’s date. If I have not read the book in a year from now (and if I can remember to check) the I have to say it has to go.

It also seems that possible ten to a dozen books are what I can deal with in one post or session. And this session leaves me with eleven books to read, and even though I am a fast reader, that is still a number of books.

But once I have read Time Warped I might be able to determine if I have the time or not and how many books I can estimate to read in the next year or so.

So, what are you doing with your time?

The sixteen books I have read on one shelf

This might turn out to be a very long post. Bear with me or bail now.

It being holiday we are cleaning up the house. Since we moved back to Gauteng in 2013 we have not done a proper clean up and we are tackling every piece of the house and all of our possessions. This is also part of our rethinking of how we live on this earth but I cannot say exactly how that relates.

Today was a day mostly spent on other things so not a lot of cleaning out was done. But I had to do something so I tackled a bookshelf. Just one of my bookshelves because tackling all of them won’t work as a strategy.

That means I have forty books piled in front of me on my desk and I now have to decide what to do with them. Do I keep them? Do I finallly read them? Have I read them and now they can go? Are they so bad that I will rather eat them than inflict them on somebody else?

The pile of forty books from the first bookshelf I am sorting out - haphazardly stacked
The pile of forty books from the first bookshelf I am sorting out – haphazardly stacked

So the first seperation is into two stacks. The stack I have read and the stack I haven’t. Or have started reading but haven’t been able to finish yet. I must admit this is one of my unusual shelves because I think I have read more of my books than not on average, just not so much on this one shelf.

Books I have read (some more than once) and notes on them

The books I have read number sixteen. Actually there are eighteen books but two are in double volumes, so only sixteen physical books. Interesting enough is that on this shelf I have already decided that I am keeping most of the books I have read (for now).

The Narnia Chronicles – six (or seven) books – by C.S. Lewis

My Narnia Chronicles is a mis-matched collection of books from different editions. I collected them over almost a decade starting when I was a teenager and finishing them when I was a student and worked as an sales assistant in a bookshop. As far as I know this was when I picked up the last one, The Horse and His Boy, a hard cover Collins edition published in 1989. This is one of my favourite stories of the seven. My most favourite being The Silver Chair, which incidentally was also the first Narnia Chronicle I read. That would have been a library copy.

My copies of the The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle are the Lions paperback imprints that accompanied the BBC productions between 1988 and 1990. The Last Battle doesn’t seem to have been included in the BBC production because it is the only one that features an illustration on the cover. The other two feature stills from the TV series, as well as have insets of stills in the middle of the book. They all still have the original illustrations as well.

My copy of The Magician’s Nephew is a standard paperback, first published in Lions in 1980, twenty-fourth impression May 1989. Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was published in one volume with “NOW A MAJOR BBC TV SERIES” on the front.

BBC The Chronicles of Narnia still image

I have always kept these for my children to read. They have however been reading them as audio books long before they could read the words on the page. And of course they have seen the movies. The three that was made of course.

I am not getting rid of them because thay are a major influence on myself as a person and as a reader. And just leave it at that. They are also getting a bit old and pages are coming loose. I have read every one except The Last Battle more than once. And I expect to read them again in future so they will remain part of my library.

Now that I have started with some classics, let me continue with the next couple on my list.

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy

My Earthsea Trilogy are all in one book of course. This paperback version first published in 1979 by Penquin with the imprint I have published in 1988. This book has seen some hard times. It was alrady tattered when I got it but lending it to a friend meant that the first 12 pages went missing. Not his fault, the were loose to start with.

I’ve read this book once and I know it to be a classic. I remember enjoying it when I read it but I also feel that it has a certain feel of being of a certain time. It is not one of my favourites but it is also not one of the worst. I have been keeping it because a big part of my introduction to reading came through fantasy and this I have come to know as a classic. But it was not one of my first introductions and I cannot therefore say why I keep the book. Not when I compare it to my other book by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

On the cover it says: “The Magnifecent Epic of an Ambiguous Utopia – Winner of the Nebula Award!” My paperback was published by Avon Books in 1975.

The Dispossessed I have read at least three times. The first time as a library copy. The second time when I bought my own copy but did not realise I have read it before. And the third time a couple of years later because I wanted to. Something about this story speak very deeply to me. I feel a deep empathy with Shevek’s story and I like the long view over a life.

Part of it is the sense I have of the way Science Fiction from the sixties and seventies, which I only read in the late seventies and eighties created a whole world with a philosphical world view that drew me in. But this one in particular stand out. (Another is The Day of the Triffids but that one is not on this shelf so not to be discussed now).

I am keeping both these books for now, The Earthsea Trilogy because it is classic of the genre and The Dispossessed because it is a personal classic in my own reading experiences.

The Underground Man by Mick Jackson

I bought The Underground Man on a sale. I had no expectations of it but I was utterly surprised by the delightful story. The way the book is put together is on the one hand extremely simple and on the other quite complex. I loved the way that the Duke is drawn as a first person narrator and I have been using this book to practice my own first person narration.

I am keeping this one for the moment.

Books I wish I have written

The next two books are books that on my shelf because they are the kinds of books that I hope to be able to write. For both of them I had seen the movie before I’ve read the book and I must say that for me the movies were good but the books also did not disappoint.

These are Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Bernendt.

Cold MountainMidnight carried me through a very boring conference and Cold Mountain transported me to another world. These books are on my shelf because one day I hope to be good enough to write similar books.

Very different but no less a classic is The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. This book sits under my comedy classics but my introduction to Rhinehart was through one of his other books, Dice Living.

I don’t know if I want to write something like The Dice Man. But I do know that Rhinehart managed to do something extraordinary with the premise of the book and that I admire. And his comedy is also hilarious.

Now, for the opposite of the spectrum.

Mister God this is Anna by Fynn

Mister God this is Anna was published as a Fount paperback this was given to me as a birthday present by two friends in 1989. They were both sisters and one was a girlfriend. So, I have probably kept this book for sentimental reasons. But it also reflects back to a certain time in my life where certain ideas found a place to rest.

I have not read it in 25 years and I wonder what it will be like to read it now. I am keeping it because I want to find out what have changed, for me and for the book.

The General Danced at Dawn by George MacDonald Fraser

The General Danced at Dawn is a fictionalised memoir of war experiences centred around the Africa Campaign of the Second World War. This book touches on my interest in the Second World War as well as humouristic writing. I loved it on first reading and is convinced I will love it when reading it again.

The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll (edited by Martin Gardner)

This book is a classic, a reference book and a treasure trove. I am not parting with this.

The Hunting of The Snark by Lewis Carroll

My copy of The Hunting of The Snark is a reproduction copy of the 1993 Macmillan limited edition from the original woodblock illustrations by Henry Holiday. It is a beautiful book and a treasured possession. And a funny book of which I hope to one day write a novelised version in a modern idiom.

These then the books I am keeping from those I have read. What I am not keeping are these three:

Procession of the Dead by D.B. Shan

Read it, mostly enjoyed it. Don’t care to read more of it.

The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert

Now, with this book I am conflicted. The book was okay. I like ghost stories and I would like to write my own. But it was not that great a read for me. But it is a nice hardcover copy of the book and hardcover books are valuable and should be treasured.

Yet, except for The Hunting of the Snark, all my to keep books above are very tatty and mostly second hand paperbacks. So I am conflicted between the physical object of the book and the content of the book. And in the end the content of The Ghosts of Sleath does not make the cut. It is a good enough book, but not good enough to read again.

All aboard for the Gravy Train

The last book on the pile that I have read is a collection of Madam & Eve comics by S. Francis, H Dugmore and Rico. If you know them then you would know they are hilarious. If you don’t then you are not a South African.

Madam & Eve Star Wars South Africa

This I don’t know if I’m keeping and if I do why so it will be going to another pile for later consideration. I need to know what I am comparing it to and for the moment I don’t know.

That then is the sixteen books I have read. Tune in tomorrow later for the twenty-four books I have not read and find out why I haven’t, and which of them I am keeping on my to read pile and which I’m kicking out.

Plans to protect man

We haven’t had water for two days. We are also having a heat wave. I stink. But that is not the main thing to say about it.

A water pipe broke in Cresta on the afternoon of Wednesday, 16 December. Today it is the afternoon of Sunday 20 December and we do not have water in Randpark. As I understand it the reservoirs ran empty in succession while there was struggles fixing the pipe. The most inane of which was gaining permission to dig a hole to get to the pipe. Our water only ran out on Friday afternoon. But two days without water is not easy and people who have been without water since Thursday have my intense sympathy.

Four reservoirs and a water tower are empty, or soon will be, and water tankers are in use to assist residents, the utility said.
Bloomberg – Sunday Times News

As promised the pipe was fixed, sort of, by Saturday afternoon. I only say sort of fixed because when we went and had a look I could see three places where the pipe was still leaking.

Joburg Water spokesperson Hilgard Matthews said the team had been working through the night, “…and just to give you an idea, every welding spot will have to be done four times to handle the pressure and we hope that by tomorrow afternoon the water will have returned.”

So, fixed enough to pump water, but not fixed enough to be done with it. Basically just a patch job then. The problem continued however because water is not like electricity. It will take a while for the four reservoirs to fill up again and for water pressure to build up.

Randburg water pipe corner of Judges and Republic near Cresta - Saturday afternoon 19 December
Randburg water pipe corner of Judges and Republic near Cresta – Saturday afternoon 19 December

And I reckon that every person that suddenly has access to water will fill their toilets and geyser and wash essentials that had not been washed for days. In fact, I can imagine an old lady somewhere in Linden watering her geraniums right now, because they are so parched. But I can’t stop her and so we are patiently waiting for water to get back to us.

But it sounds as if some people are beginning to feel desperate. This is a comment on the eNCA report of Friday night:

DannyNaicker 3 hours ago
Sunday Morning 09:10
Something needs to be done
There is no water since Friday
I’m living on Republic road nearest corner Cherry Avenue

Well we live just a bit further down an we are in the same situation. And I agree, something needs to be done.

Our government however do not seem to think that water issues are much of a crisis. About a month ago speaking about water shortages in Johannesburg Minister Pravin Gordhan said it was not a crisis because:

“A crisis would be when a problem is unmanageable. [The] current issues are due to a mix of changing weather conditions, increased demand and general bad usage habits…”

You will notice though that he said nothing about lack of maintenance, poor planning or a dirge in development. The causes are basically nature (or God) and those pesky people that are using the water. Well, I think it is up to us pesky people to do something because a lack of planning may not be part of the problem. But it some planning can most certainly be part of the problem.

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.”
Stewart Udall

My grandfather had a farm and he never received water supplied by any government function. He was always dependant on the weather and his own ingenuity. There were six water tanks around the house, catching rain, of which there never was much. But one house filled six tanks giving an endless supply of fresh water.

There are hundreds of thousands of roofs in Johannesburg. And we do get a fair bit of rain. If every roof had one tank attached to it the dependency on an ageing water system would more than half.

Okay, I am guessing and sucking numbers out of my thumb. There are numbers but I have to read up on it to be able to say for sure but here is what is known:

Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
UN – Water for Life Decade

I spoke to our landlord late on Saturday and he also though putting up a water tank is a good idea. But how much would it cost? How can it be done effectively? And how can I convince other people to follow suit?

These are questions I don’t have the answer to. There are most certainly some questions I haven’t even thought of yet. But what I do have is a certainty that water is something we cannot live without. And that we (our pesky plebs) need to take some planning and management of our own water supply into our own hands because the system is incredibly fragile.

So, what are we gonna do?

You don’t have to do what you are told to do

I was noodling about online today reading any random thing that I can find when I search for stuff and I ended up on a page that tells you how to be successful with a blog. Guess what? Don’t confuse your readers by writing stuff that rambles along.

Unfortunately disconnected ramblings tend to be my better posts so here I go again – hobbling along on the path of not being successful. Why? Because I don’t do what people tell me to do.

I might be taking notes as if I am interested. I might think that you even make sense. But that does not mean I am going to do what you suggest because I do not work that way. I do things my own way because I believe I have a core value system that I am working on.

But do I?

Sometimes I wonder. Because I get told so many things and have been trying so many different approaches that I sometimes do not know what I am thinking at all. And on what core beliefs I am basing my actions. And not that I am going to figure it out in the next hundred or five hundred words or so. But let me take a stab at it.

In principle I like the whole Minimalist movement. The idea of getting by with less and having a life that is not focussed on stuff, especially not on searching for stuff you can’t find because you can’t remember where you put your stuff, is infinitely appealing. Not that I am interested enough to only blog about that, or start a business about it, or work for the next 365 days developing a Minimalist mindset and lifestyle and habit structure and… and…

Wow, that quickly got to more rather than less.

This holiday, which only really started today even though the schools already closed two weeks ago, needs us to focus on home and cleaning up. My wife had a workshop, I had work to finish, and now we can finally switch and be at home. And being at home is stressful because it is not as tidy and neat and sorted out as what we want it to be. Not even when I don’t exactly know how neat that should be.

But I do know that yesterday I searched for a copy of my ID which I do know that I have somewhere. And I could not find it. So I rushed out to make a bundle of new copies and now while I am sitting here I cannot for the life of me remember where they are.

That is not sorted out.

Do I now go and work out a neat project with a cool name for something that I am going to do that will revolutionise my life? No, I don’t. Because I am not going to stick to the project, or I will change the name four hundred times, or I will fail miserably on this project and be brilliant on something else I never intended to focus on at all.

But this is about values. And one value, formulated very badly, is to tread lightly. Meaning that I do not want to be a burden to myself or to the world by what I make, what I do, how I act, or with what I leave behind.

But what I will do is ramble about on my own blog because what I am saying here is mostly inconsequential. Meaning that is only or mostly only relevant to me. And what is relevant to me in this moment is that I am irritated by newspapers. Because buying them always come with the promise that they will deliver more than what they do. I always expect answers but I inevitably end up with more questions.

Detail of cover of Beeld, 17 December 2015
Articles with more questions than answers: Beeld, 17 December 2015

But more than that, I end up with paper I need to recycle. And that I do not need more of. Plus, to find a wider coverage on anything I can find in a paper I can just look it up on the internet. Because nothing does fluffy news with no real answers better than the internet. But that is another topic.

Thus, to tread lightly, even especially on my own mind, I think I might be giving up on buying newspapers. Not that I will stop reading them. I just don’t see the point in buying them anymore.

How’s that for a first resolution for 2016?

When one thing ends something else has already started

At least that is the way it works for me. If I take a moment and stay aware of all the things going on then there is a lot going on. But I am more aware of it now because I am at a big end, and a big start.

The school year just ended. School itself ended over a week ago but I also marked matric papers and that took another week. Today then was my first day when school was not anywhere on my radar. Except now, as I am writing about it. This was the end of my third year at Michael Mount. And after leaving teaching in 1999 and vowing never to come back I must say I am surprised at how good it is going this time, considering that going back to teaching was a definite plan B. Obviously the universe conspired.

But I also matured a lot from 1999 to 2013. And I gained a lot of experience. And I got my own kids. And all these things work together that makes me not only a much happier teacher now, but also a much better one. Not that I am the world’s best teacher. I can’t say that. But I can say that I am the best high school art teacher at my school. Also the only one but let’s not sour a glorious achievement.

So, this is the close of a teaching year. Next year I am entering my fourth. I have committed to be a guardian which also means that I have committed to at least another three years at Michael Mount. It is a challenge I am looking forward to because it will push me into new directions. There will be a lot more human interactions next year that I will have to manage. And going from working isolated and on my own, to being a teacher full-time to now this it is a logical progression of me gaining more experience dealing with the rest of humanity. But not to dwell on that.

What is starting?

I recently came across a Youtube video of a TEDx talk by Emilie Wapnick. She runs her own blog called Puttylike. In her talk she mentions people who are, what she calls, multipotentialites. From my perspective I would call her wise beyond her years because what she describes I have experienced throughout my whole life. I just did not manage to make as much sense of it as she has.

Yes, at my age I am now eventually finding out what is the purpose of my life. And guess what? I don’t have one. Except if you consider just be yourself as a life purpose.

And that is what is beginning for me. A new phase in my life where I no longer try and find the one thing that will make me happy, famous and rich. But rather a journey where I really and with good faith can just go ahead and do the thing that my hand finds to do. Because my interest wax and wane. And I am okay with that. And I am learning to live and work with that.

What am I going to do now?

I don’t know. I know that there are things that are beginning to interest me now. I have an itch for movement and dance and music and I have no idea how to scratch that itch yet. But I will explore that, combined with a growing interest in managing my own body. Keeping fit and staying healthy and all that stuff (because I never really needed to pay attention to it before).

I also want to find out more about money. Not in the way that I want to know how to get it but rather in the way that I want to know how to live free from its oppressive presence. In other words, not money as the stuff I use to pay for pizzas but money as the construct that claim to be one of the most important things in the world – while being a figment of our imagination.

Gerhi Janse van Vuuren, Praenomen, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 510 x 405 mm
Gerhi Janse van Vuuren, Praenomen, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 510 x 405 mm

As I have said above, I will still be teaching. And that means I will still work through education issues and my own creativity and the best ways of teaching and my own making things in class and drawing and art history and all that stuff. Such as the painting Praenomen, which I made between classes this year. But more than that I want to stretch my creativity into further realms. Maybe write and illustrate a comic. Maybe write a play. Certainly direct a school play or two.

And then it gets vague. Am I going to write that novel? I don’t know. Will I create a monologue play? I don’t know.

What do I know? That I am okay not knowing. That I am okay working on the things that I have in front of me right now. This blog for instance, on which I worked most of today. No, not this one post, the whole look and feel and the structure and the extra pages.


I rewrote my about page. I added a contact page and a works and jobs pages. I also added my fishy pictures which I am going to use as a general theme, for the moment. I intend to keep on blogging but I am not promising any regularity or format or specific content. I’m just taking it as it comes. And this is how it came today.

Early International Artworks Analysed – The List

feature pic for the enigma

For class 12 art one section of the work is Early International Art. This is art from Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and then optional either Photorealism or Minimalism.

Personally I think the restricting early international art only to these movements mean that you only have a broken understanding of how art has been developing. You get a couple of big moments but not the big picture. But, on the other hand, each movement on its own has enough to keep you busy for decade – and then you will only be scratching the surface.

So, we have to make a selection of works to study. Too many and you get lost, too few and you don’t have enough context. I have a list of works chosen for the 2016 matrices and will be posting developmental analyses of these works over the next ten or so months. But for now here is the initial list:


  • Marcel Duchamp – Fountain
  • Man Ray – The Gift
  • Max Ernst – Switzerland, Birthplace of Dada


  • Salvador Dali – Leda Atomica
  • Salvador Dali – Soft Construction with Boiled Beans
  • Max Ernst – Forest and Dove
  • Rene Magritte – Familiar Objects
  • Dorothea Tanning – Birthday

Abstract Expressionism

  • Lee Krasner – Porcelain
  • Jackson Pollock – Full Fathom Five
  • Mark Rothko – Four Darks in Red
  • Elaine de Kooning – Bacchus #3

Pop Art

  • Roy Licthenstein – Drowning Girl
  • Roy Lichtenstein – Turkey
  • Andy Warhol – Brillo Boxes
  • Jasper Johns – Flag