I like the harmony and balance, the silent concentration, in these photographs of pied avocets with their swooping bills wading in the waters at the Marievale Bird Sanctuary.
Time for a break, I thought, in the Spanish series…
From photographs of birds, taken during my recent field trip to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, this blog will see a change of scene, to our travels in Spain – but only when we are back, Rob and I, towards the end of September, from Andalucia and Madrid.
Meanwhile here is one image – a blacksmith plover – to mark the spot, and signal a short hiatus in these posts.
From the corner of the hide, you looked out across the water, directly into the light, where the coots were squabbling and giving chase, and I knew at once that this was an image made for black-and-white. I took several photographs, aware of how tricky the light was, and struggling with the heavy lens to keep the birds in frame. This one came out best.
First up: Do not panic! You have come to the right place. You have arrived at the blog known formerly as ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ It now goes under a new name, ‘Travelling Light,’ but it is the same, I assure you. Same web address, same blogger and photographer, same as ever.
So why, you might ask, the change of name, and the new slug-line? Why – you noticed this, didn’t you? – the new look or livery?
Those who have drunk the life-is-marketing Kool-Aid might be tempted, I guess, to see this as a ploy: ‘you are your own brand,’ and all that rubbish. Change the branding, change the persona.
But no, dear reader – I may be shallow, but I am not that shallow.
The reason, if I must supply one, goes deeper.
Mind you, part of it is simply the desire for a refresh, after a couple of years’ wandering the worldwide web in the same old clothes, so to speak. But the deeper bit, the more interesting bit, at least to me, has something to do with a shift in outlook.
For one thing, I’ve grown a bit tired of that pretend middle-aged curmudgeon, the alter-me who says cheerily, but with a rasp in his voice, and a flinty eye, and a tumbler of whisky clenched tight in his fist, ‘keep calm and carry on’ – as if the stage of life he has entered is The Battle of Britain, Their Finest Hour, and all that guff. He sounds like an old colonial colonel, that guy – he sounds like a cranky old white South African.
Which he is, which he is – but that is not all of him, nor who he wants to be. What he wants to be is someone who steps lightly on the planet, someone who has left behind the most burdensome of his baggage, who would like simply to be human.
All that ‘keep calm and carry on,’ of course, was supposed to be ironic – a stab at humour. But the irony was also a coded confession – of funk, I suspect. But as the years have moved on, so my mood has changed, and my temper. Rather than cling to the railing, I look forward to the journey.
One of the things that happens, I find, as I head past the middle sixties, with a nod and a wave, is that you start to shed stuff. The shops are no longer full of things you want and you need, they are full of things you don’t want and don’t need. The job is no longer a ladder to be climbed, a money-tree to be shaken, a substitute life for the life you wanted but have given up on having, it is the way you contribute. And your contribution is judicious, as you are conscious, always, that life is not be lived, or experienced, much less to be measured, by the hours you spend in meetings or airplanes or at a desk in an office.
So ‘Travelling Lightly’ is about losing the baggage, shedding the unnecessary. It is also, in this dangerous era of climate change denial and global warming, about treading lightly, as I have said, on this vulnerable planet – the only one we have, as if we need reminding (some of us do, apparently).
It is also about the light, itself – the light we see the world with, the light that photographers depend on, the light that illumines whatever it is that writers see in the human and material drama around us.
And perhaps, in a moment of rhetorical over-reach but also humility, it is about purification or cleansing: the flaking away of the husk, the biblical threshing, that reduces us to our essence until we are ready, finally, to step into the brightness.
Please Carry on Reading.
My 65th birthday today – how time flies!
I think I had been dreading the day, somehow, but when I woke, with Rob beside me, and light peeking through the gap in the bedroom curtain, a sudden thought possessed me, I don’t know why: that if there had not been Eileen, there would not be Kathy and Eve and Jono, and if there was no Kathy and Eve and Jono, there would be no Josh and Tom and Gabe. If there were not a Rob, I would not be as happy as I am now. Life moves in mysterious ways, and its gifts are not always obvious at first. And from there, I found myself thinking, every day is a gift. That should be my resolution, and philosophy, for the years I have left.
Today is the first gift.
At the Bryanston Organic Market, these bees seemed to take seriously the organic, back-to nature meme, crawling all over the sticky cakes; in the Company Gardens in Cape Town, a seagull taking flight unsettled the classical stillness and calm of the lily pond and fountain; Rob at the Tuinhuys gates (the Tuinhuys is the official residence of the President, alongside Parliament) Rob broke the formal silhouette; down at the V&A Waterfront, where we emerged after High Tea, a rope snaked and coiled its way across the plain verticals and diagonals of the Victoria Basin.
Life doing what life does – forming a pattern, and breaking it.
My wife said, on reading my Last Post, ‘It looks like you’re telling the whole world you’re impotent. And you’re not.’
Bless her. Impartial, naturally, and blunt (Polish Catholic American Canadian), I have to agree with her. There is no impotence here. Impotence is absent. But let me tell you what there’s lots of – as I crest the hill of 65, and open my lungs and breathe deeply – there’s Gasworks. In one end, and out the other, oh yeah baby – the machinery might be starting to creak, at sixty five, but the gasworks is just getting started. Just firing up, so to speak.
You lose some things, you discover others.
Reflecting on the indignities and rewards of middle age, the American author David Sedaris (I got this from the FT) writes, ‘Yes, the washer on my penis has worn out, leaving me to dribble urine long after I’ve zipped my trousers back up. But I have two guest rooms.’ And I think, as 65 peers with hilarious malice through the window, ‘How nice to be middle-aged. Won’t be seeing that again.’ Time, it turns out, is a movie you can’t see twice, a book that is always and only in it’s first, tumultuous, embarrassing draft. A book, moreover, where you don’t write the ending, the ending writes you.
Our ending has many parts, and one of the parts – one of the list of parts, is the parts that don’t work. My hip, for instance, the left one, is like a rusted car jack: it winces and protests when I crank the handle and won’t fully rise up. And the body on top, the inert mass that the jack is supposed to lift – a ’53 model, rusted, much used, not exactly well maintained – looks like it would be right at home in Old Havana, though without the pretty girls up front.
There is a certain sang froid, however, that comes with age. Maybe it is whistling past the cemetery but, at almost-65, I have the confidence these days to say what I think, do what I want, remain impressively calm under all sorts of pressure. The reason is simple: I no longer care. There’s no-one left to impress, no greasy pole left to climb. Confidence should not be confused with performance, however. Ask Donald Trump. The lesson of almost-65 is that performance is no longer something you can expect, though it is something to be grateful for. How can you expect – how can you be expected – to perform, when your equipment these days is so much less reliable than before, puts out so much less horsepower, is more so much more inclined to break down – with wry apologies – than to lift you up?
Mind you, these days I carry it off better than before – failure, I mean. Just think, for a moment, of the meaning of that phrase – wry apology. That is not a young man’s phrase. A young man with my spectacular failures to perform would be wracked or peppered with shame, as with a rash or pimples, but the almost-65 year old man draws back, with a smile, a dry little laugh. ‘It’s nothing,’ he is saying. ‘It happens all the time.’ By which he infers, though he does not mean to commit, ‘there’s always a next time.’ Until of course there isn’t.
So sang froid, at age 65, is helpful: helpful because necessary. Necessary, because you don’t have a washer either, in that place, and you have one guest room, not two. But I’m doing okay, of that I am confident. No apologies there.
Enjoy the pictures.
We spent about two hours, I guess, that bright winter morning in Madikwe, waiting our turn to see the two cheetahs, and then moving with them, in careful stages, as they worked their way through the tall grass in an easterly arc around the flank of an approaching herd of grazing zebra.
It seemed at one point (I think I have said this before, in a previous blog) that they would make a run at a young one, but they gave it a pass. And then, finally, they saw what they wanted – a young zebra foal with its mother. We watched, as the cheetahs watched, the foal feeding from its mother, and then trotting after – and suddenly the cheetahs were off, and we were off too, crashing through the grass and thorn trees in a wild, careening blur of sky and foliage.
By the time we came across the pair of hunters the foal was already dead, the cheetahs at its throat, making sure of it. It was all very intense, both the still waiting, and the mad chase, and then the kill and the aftermath. These twenty one images – both individually and in their cumulative effect, I hope give you some sense of it.