‘Off the Cuff’ with Author, Deborah Kirsten

Off the Cuff with Debbie Kirsten

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — Author, Deborah Kirsten’s autobiography, Chai tea & Ginger beer was penned from her unique experience as the wife of international cricketer and coach, Gary Kirsten. A sought after motivational speaker, Deborah lives in Cape Town with her husband and three children. She reveals some candid gems with JN.

My secret pleasure is … A big slice of lemon meringue pie, a good ‘chic flick’ (romantic comedy) and my journal.

My first job was … I guess that would be teaching Sunday school at the age of about thirteen (but of course, that was unpaid). My first paid job was waitressing in a restaurant.

Author, DEBORAH KIRSTEN with husband, GaryMy most annoying habits are … My husband would have a field day with this question. He would definitely say never hanging the car keys on the key hook. (It completely mystifies him why I bought a special hook for keys and then never hang the keys there). Other annoying habits are my tendency to accumulate clutter and my inability to pass up a good bargain!

A clear childhood memory is … Crossing a flooding mountain river stream with my family. We all linked arms to support one another. I learnt a lot about life that day and the strength of a family when they stick together and support one another.

What makes me nervous is … Driving on a cliff edge or through a mountainous pass. Having had a few bad car accidents, cars generally make me nervous. Also, watching my sons play rugby.

The best advice my parents gave me was … In everything put God first and He will direct your steps.

If I weren’t an author, I’d be … My trained profession is a primary school teacher – I love teaching. But if truth be told I’ve always dreamt about being an actress or a singer.

I’m most thankful for … My relationship with Jesus, my husband, my children, my extended family and my girlfriends.

My favourite meal is … Without a doubt, lamb chops and crispy fresh vegetables… and maybe cheesecake to finish it off.

I know it’s good for me, but I hate … I have tried and tried to substitute green tea for ordinary tea or coffee – but I just can’t. It really is quite revolting.

Debbie Kirsten's three favourite books

Books I love … Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Traveling Light by Max Lucado and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Songs that resonate … Lifesong by Casting Crowns

and Better Together by Jack Johnson

My ‘happy place’ is … Our little cottage on the banks of the Breede River. It is far from the city with only the sound of the birds. When we go there, life is lived simply – there is no TV and no cell phone reception. The kids play in the mud and the water. We all fish and have good wholesome family fun time together.

My most embarrassing memory is … Thinking how ‘super cool’ I used to try and act as a teenager when attempting to impress boys.

My hidden skill is … Fishing and playing marbles (my sons always boast to their friends that I used to beat all the boys at marbles when I was a kid – it’s quite true!) I also fancy myself as a bit of a ‘handyman’.

If I were a dog, I’d be a … A golden retriever … definitely not a poodle or a yappy little thing. I’d also be sure to demand a bath once a week.

It’s a bit corny, but I love … The part in the movie when the guy kisses the girl. I always get goose-bumps and all teary. The boys in my house think it’s hysterical … but secretly I know they love that part too!

I’m most at peace when … I’m in a space where I can feel the tangible presence and love of my Father God. This is often in nature and away from the noise of the city. I am also incredibly peaceful when I’m with my beloved husband and my three children – anywhere on planet earth.

The country I’d love to visit … I would love to visit Thailand.

Favourite quote … “I am but the pen in God’s hand, He is the Author of my story” – Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa1 (1)

Connect with Deborah


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Have you caught the ‘grey and yellow’ recently?

“You use the train?” she asked me, looking down her nose through her readers. Amassing me with the ‘them’ who relied on the grey and yellow carriages in the Cape Peninsular.

I love the train, the carrier of personal worlds and private realities.  I remember my first trip, the first time I engaged, not as a tourist going to Simonstown, but as a commuter.  I’d moved offices and decided if I expected my staff to use the train, then I should too.

So I boarded at Claremont station one sunny afternoon.  At my naïve best, I didn’t realize the class split by carriage between first and third class.  In the first five minutes, two rather dodgy looking teenagers were engaged in argy bargy that was accelerating beyond using their elbows.

The fierce interruption by an elderly ‘tannie’ (auntie) further down the carriage, pried the one youngster away with her eyes to a seat safely beyond ‘punching distance’.  At the next station, I changed carriages only to find myself sitting opposite two prolifically and amateurly tattooed young men who glared at me for the duration of the journey.

It was with relief that I arrived safely in Muizenberg.

I now know that the carriages closer to Cape Town are first class and I head for their safety every time I use the train.  This week I opted for a train ride into the city rather than face an hour of traffic on a rainy Cape Town morning, plus the R50 parking bill.  I love the oneness of it all.  It makes us all equal – no vehicle icons to set us apart.

Thousands of personal worlds gathering on a track – going somewhere, their thoughts the journey, the station their destination. A perfect analogy of enjoying the journey, but still getting to your destination.

In a country with our racial history, where we live in the shadow of apartheid and where those that have drive cars, catching the train is a leveler and reminds me of my humanity and the common challenges that I share with my fellow travelers – working mother, wife, step-mother, spiritual ‘journeyer’.

It’s public transport day in early October, maybe I should start drumming up some support!

Kim Barty owns and operates Trojan Horse, a specialist Cape Town PR and communications business.

A couple’s journey into parenthood

Lisa Lazarus and husband, Greg Fried - co-authors of the Book of Jacob

Cape Town writer Lisa Lazarus doesn’t mince her words when explaining why she wrote The Book of Jacob—her joint memoir of a couple’s journey into parenthood.

”I wrote it because I was cross, in truth I was furious—the book really burst out of me,” she said at the recent launch of the book, which was co-written with her husband, UCT philosophy teacher Greg Fried. ”It was this feeling that sparked the book, like I’d been conned in some way.”

Everyone who has been through the joy and trauma of having a child will relate to Lisa’s sentiment, knowing that, with the exhilaration of the beloved precious bundle comes a great deal of hard work, deep feelings of failure and loss—and many sleepless nights.

Her husband has this to say: ”The Book of Jacob doesn’t look like the other books in the parenting section. The other books are in bright colours, red, orange, green, with cute infants and serene or laughing parents, books pleading to be adored. Our volume, with its haunting, silvery gleam, like a Victorian photo of a séance, mixes strangely with its companions. When we first saw its eerie grey-blue among the gaudy shelves of Exclusive Books, we realised that we’d broken into a new genre: the Gothic parenting memoir.”

He goes on: ”In fact, though, its appearance is entirely appropriate to the material. If you take pleasure in sudden screams in the night, the feeling that something is about to go terribly wrong, long and close confinement within a small space, unexpected denunciations from blood relatives, long brooding followed by spasms of rage, bursts of hysterical laughter, then our parenting memoir is for you.”

It is this kind of humour that pervades The Book of Jacob—a book which had me giggling—and occasionally shedding a tear—from the preface all the way through. With Greg’s often hilarious philosophical musings—reminiscent of the philosophical author Alain de Botton, I would suggest it has a place in the Humour section too.

The book tells the story of a young and very happily married couple who decide to have a baby.

”We had decided that we didn’t NOT want to have a baby,” declares Lisa. ”This is not a good reason, nor a clever one, to have a child.” But, she adds, that was, in fact, the only reason she had.

Her poor track record with kids didn’t help. She had been fired, in her twenties, from a job looking after children because, as the father bluntly put it: ”The kids don’t like you.”

Early on in the book, we are told how Lisa summons her husband to the bedroom where they have ‘baby sex’.

Against their expectations, she falls pregnant immediately and the couple—accustomed to a wonderful life together, are forced to hit the ground running. Despite the antenatal classes and the first aid courses for infants, they realise nothing has prepared them for a baby.

In honest, often hilariously funny or poignantly sad style, this couple provide ‘his’ and ‘her’ versions of their daily toils in raising a baby during that tumultuous first year.

Describing the first year of parenthood, Lisa says: ”It felt like a rickety row boat, lost at sea, heading into the distance … knowing only what I’ve left behind, and with a terrible longing for what that was.”

She describes the real anxiety of not being able to breast-feed properly, and the trauma of having a baby that won’t fall asleep or stop crying.

Greg describes, at one point, the relief of leaving their ‘grimy pad’ to hand baby Jacob over to his parents for his first sleep over.

He writes: ”At home, Lisa and I bumble about with Jacob, two village oafs trying to keep a hot potato in the air. We slump into the couches of my parents’ lounge. At last someone is going to take care of Jacob.”

The arrival of Jacob stripped Greg of views he previously cherished about himself:     ” … a calm person, able to be cool and reasonable under stress. Over months it came to me, as a slow wave of revelation, that under stress I am a lunatic, totally unreasonable and quick to attack everyone nearby and then try to escape. I think, at some level I don’t usually think about, it’s been a blow to my sense of manliness.”

At one point, during one of their few conversations since childbirth, Greg asks anxiously about the baby: ”Do you think he’s advanced?”, to which Lisa replies: ”Not really.”

When Lisa’s friend Shani, the perfect mother, visits, she relates how once she had a child, her whole life made sense. ”It seems to be the point, doesn’t it,” she says, while breast-feeding contentedly.

At that stage, Lisa contemplates tranquillisers.

When the couple takes a short break in Paris, leaving Jacob with Greg’s parents, they find themselves in a restaurant enjoying hot chocolate and French onion soup. But they are talking about Jacob’s education.

Despite some of the hair-raising moments described in the book, Greg and Lisa are doing just fine. There’s even talk of a possible second child.

As Lisa puts it: ”Despite the very long, and very treacherous, journey in our boat we, the three of us—Greg, Jacob and I—eventually bumped up against land. We managed to pull our boat up to shore, get off and take a look at this new country where we found ourselves.

The Book of Jacob”It’s a vast place—this country, which is not really a country, but rather a new state of being, parenthood—and from the small part I’ve seen (because I’m still really exploring the edges of this foreign world) it’s a rich place—mountainous, with great peaks and troughs. There are many dangers but also many joys.”

The Book of Jacob is not only informative for prospective parents, it’s also entertaining the whole way through. Every book club should have a copy.

The Book of Jacob—A journey into parenthood by Lisa Lazarus and Greg Fried.

Publishers Oshun Books.

My Freedom Day triumph

With Cape Town's picturesque Table Mountain in the background two swimmers take part in the famous Robben Island to Bloubergstrand race (Photo courtesy www.capeswim.com)

Five, four, three, two, one … By the time our relay team eventually started the 7,5 km race from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand on Sunday, the suspense had become unbearable. Already the race had been postponed by a day because of rainy weather. Now, our 10.30 start had been delayed by more than three hours because of serious fog. We were not amused. Being full of adrenalin with nowhere to go is no fun.

We had dropped our first swimmer to catch the ferry to Robben Island and then launched our boat at the Waterfront. We set out — the remaining three swimmers, our skipper and a second — to the island. Things were not looking good. The fog was so bad that we could barely see in front of us. Our GPS helped. Then came the interminable wait.

“Freedom Swim delayed due to fog. Wait for next SMS.” Then: “Fog is lifting. Expect an 11 am start. Wait for next SMS.” Then further delays until we ran out of jokes, rusks and conversation.

Tension set in.

At 1.36 pm our first swimmer — 16-year-old Western Cape water polo player Nicholas Melck — ran into the water from the beach at Robben Island as we watched anxiously from our boat.

The big trick at the start of such a race is to find your swimmers and follow them closely. If they get cold, they need to climb on to that boat and warm up with space blankets and hot coffee — and they need to do it quickly.

Our strategy worked. By sending out our fastest swimmer, we had a head start in front of most of the other boats. With 260 swimmers — a record field for the Cadiz Vista Nova Freedom Swim — we had to take swimming traffic and boat traffic into account.

We were well ahead when we pulled Nick out and sent in our second swimmer, Clare Hugo. A year out of school and a complete natural in the water, she is one of those infuriating people who can swim for hours in cold water, jump out, and carry on with life without a shiver.

Our third swimmer, Michael Melck, put in a valiant swim for 25 minutes. He got out and started that familiar shivering and shaking that, after months of training, we have come to expect as part of the sport.

For months now, every Saturday before sunrise, our little group of swimmers has been traipsing on to Clifton Four beach, carrying take-away coffee in one hand and goggles in the other.

Under the watchful eye of coach Anton Louw, with his orange Crocs, we have swum up and down the coast in a bid to get used to temperatures of 13°C — and sometimes even 10°C. The cold-water training has to be done on top of the endless kilometres we put in at the gym, because if you can’t get used to icy temperatures, you can’t even think of Robben Island.

The idea to swim the 7,5km from Robben Island back to Cape Town first entered my head when I interviewed Louw for a story. A respected coach who trains some of the country’s top swimmers, he had decided to take on a group of drug addicts and show them they could turn their lives around by learning to swim — and work towards a Robben Island crossing.

His philosophy: “If they can do Robben Island, they will know they can do anything.”

Having swum religiously three times a week since I was at school, I immediately signed up with Louw to join his cold-water swimming group and to attempt an island crossing.

Then, as fourth swimmer, it was my turn. There is nothing more agonising than plunging into water that is so cold your head aches and your whole body stings.

It’s not uncommon to feel an almost unbelievable sense of panic. If you don’t harness your mind, you can soon convince yourself you are surrounded by sharks and you are going to die of hypothermia within minutes.

We each swam twice, and for the last 500 metres we all jumped in again to swim the final stretch together.

Our team made it in two hours and 15 minutes. We were all draped with medals and beautiful Robben Island towels, custom-made for all finishers.

We ran straight into the heated tent where we shivered and shook for what seemed ages, then chatted to the heroes of the swim. They were tiny schoolgirl Gigi Hock, who did her first solo swim at the age of 16, and the legends: Theodore Yach who has done 54 crossings, one for each year of his life; Andrew Chin, who swam without a cap; and the inimitable Natalie du Toit, who won the race overall as well as the women’s race and looked as if she had just done a few laps in the local pool.

© Sue Segar

For more information visit Cape Swim’s website

Robben Island with Cape Town's Table Mountain in the background (Photo courtesy www.capeswim.com)


Kim Barty, Trojan Horse, Cape Town

What is your business and how did it start?

Trojan Horse is a specialist PR and communications business. I’d worked in corporate PR for years and had always longed to do my own thing. Two friends started a brand development business and asked me to join them, so I waved goodbye to my boss, packed up my desk and set up office in a corner in my little cottage. I used my pension payout to buy my first laptop – R25,000 in 2001, considering they are now under R10, 000, I thought that showed commitment!

Words hold magic, and over the last year Trojan Horse has conceptualized and implemented some large scale communications campaign in the financial services industry:

  • The Coffee Campaign for Board of Executives
  • The Fine Art of Wine for Nedbank
  • Sweet Success for Old Mutual
  • Bonsai Campaign for Citadel

In addition to these campaigns, Trojan Horse has focused on publicity in the lifestyle and sporting categories. Some of our clients include the Gourmet Festival, The SA Golf Open, Peninsula Beverage (Bottler of the Coca-Cola Products in the Western Cape), MyCube and William Grant & Sons’ whisky brands.

Why Trojan Horse?

In keeping with the Greek myth, Trojan Horse creatively accesses people, places and spaces.

What are some recent events you’ve organised and how stressful was the process?

I don’t organize events really, I partner the event organizer in providing communications and publicity. One of my most exciting projects is the PR and communications for the SA Open, held at Pearl Valley Golf Estates and supported by some of the world’s greatest golfers – Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Rory Sabbatini, Tim Clark and Henrik Stenson. We ran an international media centre and provided the communications and media releases from the launch to the event. Moment of extreme stress when Ernie Els decides which journalist he will talk to, when we have a whole process and timing set up – takes contingency to a whole new level.

What is your favourite event?

Two of my favourite events are the SA Open and the Gourmet Festival. I work with a fantastic team at the SA Open and Pearl Valley is a gorgeous golf course, the Gourmet Festival is very challenging from a client liaison point of view, but then I get to meet some of TV’s top celebrity chefs and I love food!

What do you love most about what you do? Least?

I love writing and love seeing my words in print, or on the airwaves. Least … clients who think they are PR experts – why don’t they do it themselves?!

What is your passion? What keeps you motivated?

I love people and I love seeing solutions to a problem, in my case communications problems. I’m a hard worker and I don’t like to let people down, so I guess that would be part of my motivation.

How does a typical day pan out?

I have the privilege of working from home, and so far in eight years, have managed not to come to my desk in my PJ’s! I drop my five-year old daughter at school at about 08:30 and then its all hands on deck for the work at hand. I fetch Zoe from school at about 12:30, and share lunch with her before I’m drawn back to my desk. Have to confess that if let loose, I’d be a workaholic – have played that game, it’s really easy for me to work. It takes a conscious effort to be present with Zoe and not distracted by the work at hand. My housekeeper leaves at 3 each day, then I’m a ‘real’ mom – baking, going to the library, tramping to the park in our gum boots, chasing after her as she learns to ride a bike.
I usually realize at 6pm that I have no clue what’s for supper, try and rustle up something and just manage to get Zoe to bed by 8pm. Fortunately, my husband, Jeremy, is a chef, so supper is a synch to him, it’s just the kitchen we have to contend with after, I don’t know how he always manages to splash the tiles behind the stove – but the sauces are worth it.

What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies ?

I love being in the outdoors, so walking or running in the generous open spaces in Cape Town. I started surfing last year, but I’m not a real surfer, but would like to try again some time. I’m a rookie gardener, disheartened by caterpillars eating our broccoli and Chinese cabbage and some rust attacking the tomatoes, so this winter I’m focusing on my compost heap and starting a worm farm.

Kim Barty, Trojan Horse, Cape Town, South Africa

What do you love about Cape Town? Dislike?

I love the seasons that at the end of summer, I pack away my summer clothes and sandals and haul out the coats, scarves and beanies. I love bundling up and walking on the mountain in winter, but I hate the incessant rain, a glimpse of sunshine lifts my mood.
I love the fact that you are free to be you – whether you’re a rasta, a hippie, a yuppie or a trendy, there are no rules here. Smart casual on an invitation means anything!
Only in Cape Town, would a toilet lead directly off a restaurant and be acceptable, only in Cape Town would unmatching furniture – retro and junk be cool, only in Cape Town can you park on both sides of the road, only in Cape Town is everything a half-hour away, only in Cape Town can you always see the mountain.
Dislike? Only in Cape Town is it important where you went to school.

Favourite spots? Favourite restaurants/ cafes?

I love the Bird Café in Bree Street. Only in Cape Town could you sit on milk crates and it’s trendy! The food is gorgeous, especially the wheatless, sugarless, nut, fruit and chocolate muffins (don’t know how they get that right), so huge it’s too big for two.
I love Kalk Bay – the ecclecticness (if there is such a word), the cobbled streets, the views that make up for having no garage, off-street parking or garden, the second-hand stores where junk is designer, the almond croissants from the Olympic Café, the fish and chips at Live Bait where you can lean out and touch the waves.

I love the Seapoint Promenade where all is discussed from politics to passion, where grannies walk their dogs, north Africans play soccer, kids ride their bikes and the rest of us try and get fit alongside the ocean.

Kim can be contacted at Trojan Horse on +27 (0) 83 630 6861