Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alwyn Hewson

Why I feel so compelled to dedicate a post to someone I didn't know very well, I'm not sure. I was shocked by the news that my former landlord, Alwyn Hewson, was tragically killed in a car accident last week.

I attended his memorial service, and it was only after I'd been sitting on that hard church bench for a few minutes, that I realised what I was hearing was not the usual hard-to-remember church hymns, but Johnny Clegg! It was surreal, and it's effects instantaneous. The tears I'd been hoping to keep at bay spouted, as the realisation hit me. The spirit of the great heart, under African skies. That was Alwyn.

I'd been so impressed when my folks told me about the Hewsons, the fact that they wanted to create a conservancy, had a small herd of cows and a horse-mad daughter were the reasons I chose to live in a cottage, on a farm in what might have been the middle of nowhere. People would gawk at me when I told them I lived in Muldersdrift, near Krugersdorp, and drove to Parktown every day. That's what one does when the desire to live in the country overrides common sense. The 'middle of nowhere' has a powerful pull.

My dogs and I had the run of their huge farm, they swam in the dam and we were able to walk where we wanted, undisturbed by traffic and other dogs. Al always asked if I was happy living there. That was his main concern, he always enquired after the welfare of the dogs and knew how paranoid I was about their safety. One Friday afternoon I got home to discover that Spike, my elderly Jack Russell, who was going deaf, had disappeared, probably due the to the thunder of that afternoon's storm. Together we took a walk, asking anyone on the farm if they'd seen him. Eventually, as darkness began to fall, Al said he'd have to call it a night, it was his daughter's birthday and they were waiting for him at home.

This was typical of him, as I discovered at the service. Always willing to help anyone, he lent me their car when mine was in the garage, offered me a daily supply of fresh milk and always insisted I stayed for a drink when I went up to the house, even if it was in the middle of cooking dinner and bathing the baby.

Al's brother, Roger, described him as having a love for cars, farm life, and...well, guns, saying how his brother lived a life like someone out of the wild west. This was true on the night of the robbery. He'd been finishing off the tax year-end, getting home after midnight every night that week. So on that Friday night, he fell in to a grateful sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire coming from my cottage. I still have this mental image of him, comically, clumbering down the stairs - as he told me later - trying to call me on the cell phone, pull on his jeans and load the rifle simultaneously. Nobody was hurt, but that was the night I was most grateful for his presence. He wielded his considerable influence and mustered what looked like the entire Muldersdrift police station and had them parked on the lawn in under an hour. It looked like a police convention, there were detectives, the sergeant, who had been pulled out of his warm bed, fingerprint okes; the lot. They never did catch anyone. Al managed to ferry me around, insisted I go to the house, drink hot tea, answer questions, put my dogs in the bakkie and then in the kitchen for what was left of the night, before insisting I get some sleep in the baby's room. I was helluva glad that it was him who was there when that all went down.

Apparently they referred to me as their best tenant, and without getting all mushy, the Hewson's were by far the best human beings I had ever rented from. I was devastated when I chose to leave the farm, deeming it unsafe to live in the country. I felt like I was leaving part of my family. It sounds like we all spent a lot of time together, but in reality, it was very little over the 18 months I lived there.

This is probably why I'm still so disbelieving that he's no longer with us. I wonder at how someone I spent such a little time with, managed to have such an impact on me. On my way to the service, I wondered what I could take from this experience, and it must be that spending time amongst those who add value to our lives is so important. Of course, I wish now that I'd taken up all those offers to stay for another drink.

You often hear that "the good die young." I don't think this means those of us left are NOT good, but perhaps we sit up and take notice of those who leave an indelible impression. Alwyn was such a person. His generous nature and inspiring character clearly touched many, many people. Perhaps such awesome and amazing people join us for a short time so that we can learn to maybe be a bit like them. If they didn't leave us so soon, we might not recognise what they have to teach.

Dr John Demartini teaches that gratitude leads to love. That we should learn to be grateful for what we have in our lives, and I'm grateful that I met Alwyn Hewson, that I spent some time in his sphere of influence, that I experienced his generosity and humour. That I was lucky enough to feel the warmth of strangers when my own life was falling apart.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Divine Justice

Imagine my astonishment, when the first words I heard as I woke related the fact that Phillip Matthysen had been killed in a car accident. I mean, what are the chances? There are days that I beg for this kind of justice. I think it comes from living in our country. You can't escape the brutal acts that are so pervasive all around us. When it involves your loved-ones, and for me, kids and animals, it releases an inner fury that is hard to swallow. This of course, goes against the good old belief system, which rears its ugly head - the one which suggests you shouldn't wish bad things for another, or god forbid, speak ill of the dead.

The Husky Justice campaign collected "over 100 000 signatures of people who want to make a difference and nearly 40 000 animal lovers have signed up to our mailing list - that in itself is a remarkable achievement!"

This leaves me wondering if that word 'justice' had any effect on the events which unfolded for the Husky killer. Failed by the law, as far as animal lovers were concerned, his paltry sentence did not reflect the horror of his revolting deed, made all the more laughable when the judge ruled that he would never be allowed to "own" a Husky again, when he allegedly had a backyard full of non-Husky dogs.

If this is what collective conscience looks like in action, then I'm glad we're finally seeing results. Karma has made it to the mainstream and the irony at this turn of events was not lost on the members of the Husky Justice group on Facebook. So what does all of this mean? It means if we put or heart and soul into something, we see results. It means, we should exercise our choice of words with caution. The first words that came to mind when I heard that news report were: Divine Justice. Certainly from one angle, this appears to be the case. The concept of the collective conscience suggests that, for example, if enough people want the same thing, that thought reaches a critical mass (also referred to as the Hundred Monkey Effect), and Bingo! You've got what you want*. I'm grasping at the straw which suggests that humanity is in fact, evolving for the greater good. That we are finally waking up and becoming conscious enough to realise that animal cruelty can't be ignored anymore.

This is by no means the first horrendous case of animal cruelty to make media headlines. Backed by an impressive viral campaign, Husky Justice roared around the Web like wildfire, igniting the anger and rage, of everyone and their dog. Sadly, you don't seem to see this kind of response too often when it comes to abducted children, and yet, you'd be forgiven for thinking this country was stuffed to capacity with animal loving citizens. Vociferous in their outrage against publicised animal abuse cases, I wonder if people think "animal abuse" begins and ends microwaves and chainsaws.

A week after Matthysen's sentence, a truck load of pigs ended up scattered across a road in King Williams Town. The Metro Police - the dahlings of the SA public - stood by and watched as the starving hordes and 'previously disadvantaged' took advantage of the 'free food.' Some of them even helped themselves. The problem with this picture is the status certain species are afforded. The South African animal lover's mindset seems to suggests that dogs aren't food, but pigs are.

Without causing a wave of bunny-hugger-protest, I'd like to challenge the average animal lover out there to acquaint themselves with what goes on at the intensive farming joints, from which their food comes. The cruelty, sweetly disguised as 'humane,' ensures our continued emotional disconnection from the animal's most basic rights; and it's packaged to be digestible. You simply cannot condemn Jacob Zuma and his mates when they slit the throat of their cultural sacrifice - and discuss it over chops and a boerrie roll at your weekend braai.

If we are going to consider cosmic law and order as an antidote to the atrocities we see around us every day, then we have to consider the fact that ALL animals - and people too - are sentient beings. This means that they deserve the right to a pain and cruelty-free life. They deserve to inhale fresh air, not the noxious fumes of a cramped feedlot, they deserve to eat a healthy diet, one which is not pumped full of antibiotics, which you ingest second-hand. They deserve to feel the sun on their backs and feel the wind ruffling their feathers; and once they've absorbed the energy of a healthy environment, surely they deserve a humane death sentence?

Just as we fervently wished for justice, in the hope that that Husky puppy did not die in vain, so do I hope that its sacrifice, in the face of cruelty, can be the beginning of a formidable wave which will result in visible and policed animal rights in our country. New laws which will finally allow our Democratic Constitution to be world class, as it lends its support to the escalating need for compassion on our planet.

*If this seems too simplistic, check out the principles in The Secret.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Maid & The Mutiny

So I've been abandoned by my maid. This is not something I want to get into here, suffice to say that it leaves me remembering why I have no grandiose ideas about being a domestic goddess.

Part of the reason I paid her to work for me twice a week was to keep the dogs company. Yes, I know you're wondering WTF? I'm what you'd call A Good Dog Mom. The desire to meet my canine's needs - lest they look like neglected, homeless waifs - has nearly left me bankrupt.

This is the same reason I bought the dogs a really expensive kennel, a solid (it needs 4 mean to pick it up), waterproof, cute-as-hell dog house. Needless to say, the ungrateful little thugs don't appear to actually SLEEP in their snug li'l hut. One of our (many) former homes included a treeless garden, with no shelter for the dogs, unless they stayed in the house - hence this exorbitant purchase.

The treeless garden was situated on an idyllic farm, south of Joburg. With riders milling about the stables, I was able to leave the door of the house open for the dogs, so they could decide if they wanted to be in or out. All this really meant was that it allowed Jo to decide, at his leisure, what he'd like to shred in my absence; he'd promptly chew it in the garden, in full view of the liveries on their way to the arena.

On one such occasion, I was away from home for the day, it was the middle of June, and raining. So, to assuage my guilt, I left the door open and off I went. Only to receive a phone call a few hours later from my friendly landlady, telling me that Jo (who else!) was carry carrots, by the mouthful, out into the garden to eat. In the rain! Once he'd eaten through the 5kg bag on the kitchen floor, he'd started on the toilet paper, at which point my phone rang.

So that's why I bought the world's heaviest kennel, to make me feel better. And that's why I sit at work now, and worry that the dogs are home, and bored. Especially since I banned all stuffed toys and bedding between the weekday hours of 8am-5pm. They were really into the special effects and it didn't bother them that we didn't get any snow in our suburb earlier this winter. Why? You might ask. Because they made their OWN! That's right. They shredded their bedding and spread it across the lawn, and not for the first time either.

Now they're just average suburban dogs, barking their heads off at any drive-by entertainment which passes their gate. That is until I get home, when they can watch my kak-handed attempt to clean the kitchen floor. Staring forlornly through the bars of the security gate, taking in my manic attempts to emulate the serene, smiling, floor-cleaning-women in those annoying tv ads; who looks smug and satisfied with her gleaming handiwork.

Pity I didn't think of putting the dogs inside BEFORE I swilled down the decks...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Charge Of The Dead Fish

Joe is the clown of the family. He has the sunniest disposition and his irrepressible sense of humour forces me to smile when I’m having a bad day. He is infamous for the Charge Of The Dead Fish. When we lived on the Klip River, the dogs were free-rangers and they thought it was heaven on earth.

The first of the summer rains always washed a timber shed of dead wood downstream (Velvette would retrieve logs four times her size!). However on this occasion, a factory’s pollutants had resulted in a lot of dead fish amongst the debris, floating on the water for days before they were washed away. I stood chatting with my landlord and several friends, some distance from the river bank, when a black dot burst from the Willow trees on the bank.

The smell hit us first. Joe was heading straight for us, doing his best racing-greyhound-impersonation, smiling, with a rotten fish clamped firmly between his jaws. Suddenly the air around me was filled with retching noises as people fled in all directions. Chunks of his rotten prize were breaking off as he ran. By the time he got to me the stench was overwhelming. As a kid we’d had a dog who had eaten an entire catfish - he stank for WEEKS afterwards. I knew that the consequences of this dead fish in Joe’s digestive system did not bode well for our household. I was the one who had to pry his jaws open, get him to drop the rotting thing, and then dispose of it!

His catch-me-if-you-can act included running circles around me, his ears flattened to the side of his head – a dead giveaway that he had illegal contraband in his mouth. Fortunately it wasn’t Velvette who had the fish – as a puppy, we’d inadvertently chased and tried catching her when she stole something. She’ll wait until your hand is within grasping distance before she bolts and you can never catch her. Ever! She'd have swallowed that thing whole!

The joys of being a dog lover... I suppose when it's a baby, at least you know what to expect in that nappy!