Tag Archives: humor

Clay Buster: Firming up the roots


Our house is built on clay. I have no idea what that’s like for foundations but after 25 years the nine units that make up our complex have none of the cracks displayed by many other Pietermaritzburg homes. However, for gardening, clay is a distinct disadvantage. The clay binds together (as clay does) becoming quite solid; not conducive to good growth.

Enter a product called Clay Buster. It’s a grey colour, like cement, and a handful mixed with the clay transforms the ground into plant-friendly soil. We don’t always remember to use it so the packet has sat in the garage for some years. Last weekend I had a young gardener help me plant three Sheena’s Gold (DURANTA erecta) shrubs that I hope will become a hedge at the back. I took out the brown paper bag and put some of the Clay Buster into each hole with some loose soil and asked him to mix it in. I came back to find that he had poured another spadeful of Clay Buster into each hole and was busy mixing it. I told him that I appreciated his initiative (really, I did) but that I had put just the right amount into each hole. We took what we could out, added compost, planted the shrubs, and watered generously – well, not too generously since this has been a wet summer and more rain was predicted.

That was last Saturday. Yesterday, a week later, I went into the garage to fetch something and found a white plastic bag. It had “Clay Buster” in bright orange writing on the side. I stared at it for a moment and asked myself rather nervously, “If this is the Clay Buster, what was in the brown paper bag?” I found it. A small white label proclaimed “Cement”. Oops. As the young folk say, “My bad”. Instead of loosening the clay, I had well and truly bound it together. In between bouts of raucous laughter, Jen asked me what cement needs to work and began to list, “cement, sand, water….”

After the unruly laughter had died down, I got to thinking how we sometimes muddle up the same things in the Church. We speak of building on strong foundations (cement is good, right?). And we say that we must grow the church, put down roots (compost and Clay Buster needed). But sometimes we take out the wrong packet. We try to cement principles in place and nail down foundations when we should be encouraging growth and experimentation, and then we wander around aimlessly when some guidelines and principles may be required.

I think of Mark Buchannan’srightness over relationships” and how we sometimes (perhaps all too often) lay down the law with clear disregard for the person involved. Think of how Jesus handled the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery and how we might have handled them if we came across them in our own family or church.

In the same book, Mark Buchannan wrote about a friend’s awkward question. The friend was about to dish out discipline to his son who had crossed the line in his rudeness to his mother. As he was about to enter the room, all guns blazing, the awkward question arose, “What would love look like now?  What shape would servanthood take?”

It’s a question for every interaction. Put differently, what’s needed here, in this relationship, this discussion, this contact? Cement or Clay Buster?

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Finding a voice in the African bush


DSCN0589Aspirant writers are told to find their ‘voice’. One of the ways to do this, one is told, is to read widely. Discover the way other people write; find styles that resonate, ways of writing that appeal to you. Try different styles and eventually you will find your own.

Jen and I are spending a week in the dune forests on the northern shore of Lake St Lucia. I picked up a delightful book about the quirky travel experiences of a couple of intrepid wildlife explorers. Chris and Jo Meintjes met on a trip to the Amazon which culminated in a visit to the fabulous Galapagos Islands of Darwinian fame. I call it a “trip”; for you and me it would be an expedition, an adventure. For them, simply a trip, like you and I might take to the shopping mall. The book is called, The Borneo Head Hunters Cuckoo-Clock: Travails in Transit. The cuckoo-clock refers to a visit to a long hut in the middle of an Indonesian rain forest. In the night a clock struck midnight. It wasn’t an ordinary clock; there in darkest Indonesia, where human skulls, if not still harvested, are still used in decorative hanging baskets around the home, a cuckoo called the time.

Chris’s writing style appeals to me no end. He has a deliciously dry humour (without any effort) and an ability to share the bare bones of a story while enabling one to imagine all the wonders and scary bits in between. That’s my preferred style. I would love to write as he does and write about the wonderful places they have seen. There is a minor difficulty. I haven’t been anywhere. It is a bit of a disadvantage for an aspirant travel writer not to have travelled much—well, not much beyond the local mall and the coffee shops of the more secure locations of the world. Hot chocolate in Christchurch, anyone? Milkshake in Montana? Coffee in Cape Town, London, Edinburgh?

DSCN0613Having started writing so late in life, I have the disadvantage of trying to catch up. To travel enough, to read enough, to experience enough, to have enough to write about. To have lived a safe, secluded, boring life has its advantages, such as arriving alive at the end of it, but not when you want to plumb its depths for writing material. Fiction writers have an advantage here. They can travel in their minds, experience places vicariously, and write great stories set in places they have never visited. For now at least I’m not drawn to fiction; I don’t have a story in me.

DSCN0676At least I can say that I read Chris Meintjes’ stories of ‘travails in transit’ while sitting in the middle of the African bush with, for the most part, no other human in sight. But that’s about as wild as it gets. Other humans did wander down the boardwalk to the main lodge with its bar, TV lounge and restaurant. We could also hear guests by the swimming pool 100 metres or so below us. But for the rest we were ensconced in a delightful thatched cabin with views into and over the surrounding bush with Lake St Lucia in the far distance. The lake is not meant to be in the far distance. The end of the jetty was just a few hundred metres below us but the drought is so severe that the lake is a strip of blue on the far horizon with dry sand between us. There is an abandoned boat wedged in the sand. It’s been there since 2004, with the additional insult of grass growing around it.

Perhaps the boat is a metaphor for writing.  But I’ll leave that to you.

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