‘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


Chai tea & Ginger beer Facebook Page



Aussie, actually now in Kindle and Audible version

South African born, Lois Nicholls and her daughter Lara, have produced a book on the trials and tribulations of migrating to Australia from South Africa.

Called Aussie, actually, the book is an honest and humorous account of life as new Australians. “My intention was to relay our 12-year sojourn through a series of thoughts and anecdotes to help other migrants realise they are not alone.

People often assume the transition from one country to another is seamless, but there are many difficulties one encounters along the way. There are also many humorous episodes when misunderstanding language or cultural norms.
My Boston-born American sister-in-law lived in Australia for three years before returning to Los Angeles and found some of the Australian quirks very amusing. She couldn’t believe, for example, that people actually froze their chicken carcasses in summer so they didn’t propagate a bin full of maggots!” says Lois.
Lara illustrated each chapter with cartoons after she was given a brief outline of the content.“I’ve always loved drawing so my mum asked me to have a go at sketching some cartoons. It was great fun coming up with different drawings and I really enjoyed seeing my pictures when the book was printed.” says Lara.
Aussie, actually also captures the heartache of leaving familiar surroundings, family and friends to make a new start in a foreign country. Written from Lois’s personal perception as a young migrant wife and mother, it tells the warts and all story of the family’s journey.

“Some may say it’s too honest but from the feedback I’ve received so far, people have found it funny and poignant. Migrants of all nationalities have said they relate to the struggles and triumphs. They say they appreciate the honesty as so many people don’t speak about their tribulations – they put on a brave face.” says Lois.

A NEW updated eBook edition with five extra chapters, is now available on Amazon.

It’s also available on Audible.com

Aussie, actually, was originally published by Impact Unlimited Books in Australia in 2008 – www.loisnicholls.com.au

Andrew Shedlock talks about ‘Shedders Cricket Academy’

JournoNews caught up with born-and-bred Durbanite and well-known cricket coach, Andrew Shedlock, who runs the highly successful Shedders Cricket Academy in Durban North, KZN, South Africa. The Academy specializes in cricket coaching for all age groups from beginners to Club and even Provincial Players.

What does Shedders Cricket Academy do?

Shedders Cricket Academy caters for age groups from six years old onward. With the school boys I mainly concentrate on one-on-one coaching and this is for all ability levels, from beginners to boys that are more advanced. Another branch of my Academy is for boys who have left school and they spend a year with me. Here the emphasis is to improve the cricketing skills with the ‘hope’ of going onto play provincial cricket. They complete a Level 1 coaching course as well as an umpiring and scoring course. During cricket season they also coach a team at the school where my Academy is based, Northwood High School.

What major lessons have you learnt running your own business?

Major lessons I have learnt in my profession is that although the youngsters are different in character, ability, skill etc., they all require the same amount of attention, motivation and encouragement. Coach or teach each boy with passion and always remember the ones with less skill and ability are as enthusiastic as the better ones. My motto is that after each session that a boy has with me he must go away with the feeling that he cannot wait to come back to ‘Shedders’.

How do you manage to balance family and business commitments?

Balance between family and work commitments is sometimes difficult because of the hours I work. I also coach the 1st team at Northwood High School and a Club. During cricket season I can have a seven-day week with a school game on Saturday and Club game on a Sunday. During the week bar Friday, I sometimes only get home after 7.30pm. I make sure that during the week I have a time slot available for my son Ross because sometimes in my profession one can get caught up so often in other peoples’ children and you forget about your own. One thing I make sure of is that I try never to miss any of my kids’ school activities. I have a very understanding and wonderful wife (she is also a teacher by profession) so I am very fortunate that they understand my work.

You’ve seen Durban grow over the last few years, what do you love about living there?

Durban is a wonderful place to live, close to the sea and the mountains (although I don’t spend enough time at the mountains) Summers are warm and winters are mild. Always been a Durban boy!!

Favourite holiday desitnation?

We are ‘locals’ at Pumula Beach Resort, down the South Coast of KZN. It’s such a relaxing and enjoyable place to be on holiday – the kids love it as they are entertained 24/7. One can just relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of work. The management and staff are friendly, the setting is stunning and the food is unbelievable.

What restaurants would you say are ‘a must’ in Durban? Why?

Scoozi’s because they cater for the kids. Gabby’z – for the food and the vibe. These two are my favourite – I am a funny guy – find something I like and stick to it. My wife always says I must ‘experiment’ more.

What’s a normal ‘day at the office’ for you?

Normal day at the office for me is: take kids to school first thing in the morning, then I go to gym. Start coaching at 9.30am and usually have about an hour break between 12.00pm and 1.00pm. Back to coaching usually around 1.00pm and finish anytime from 6.00pm -7.30pm in the evening, depending on the season i.e. summer or winter. Summer is cricket season, so the hours are longer. During winter I also coach on a Saturday morning but in summer, my weekends are taken up by cricket matches, for school and club.

What or who inspires you?

My love and passion for my work inspires me. I can say this with all honesty – there is never a day when I wake up and not want to go to work because I don’t enjoy what I do. To work with young children and teenagers must be the most rewarding profession anyone can wish for. When it involves sport and being active, there’s nothing better. To see youngsters improve and perform gives me the greatest thrill. I just enjoy working with kids, no matter what age, ability, skill etc.

What do you do to keep fit and healthy?

I try and train every day before I start coaching – used to enjoy my running but injuries have finally caught up with me. Now I enjoy my spinning.

Any hobbies, things you enjoy outside work?

I have always enjoyed my horse racing from a very early age but have never been a gambler, in fact I don’t gamble (which a lot of people find strange with my passion and knowledge of horse racing). I have always enjoyed the thrill of the sport; I think the horse is an amazing animal. I am a huge Sharks follower. Other than that being involved in sport all my life, I am a big follower of all sports.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I am very happy and content with my work at the moment. I would like to see my Academy grow but that will come with hard work. I have a lovely family, a great job and would not change it for anything at the moment. If the opportunity did arise for me to coach at a higher level, I would definitely jump at the opportunity.

Shedders Cricket Academy

Proud Dad, Andrew, watches his young son, Ross’s bowling action in the nets.

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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)


Alive in South Africa

Alive! The word pops into my head as we enter Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo Airport. Ironic really, isn’t it, for a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world. Yet I feel it. Sense it. Am reminded of a friend who says he comes alive every time he returns – feels boring, bland and disconnected for weeks in his new country, Australia every time he goes back.

‘An electricity in the air’ is how another friend describes it. People seem to laugh more, live more.

These thoughts resonate as my daughter and I arrive jaded yet expectant. We collect cling-wrapped suitcases and plastic piping containing an art canvas painstakingly painted by my mother in law for my niece’s wedding gift and embark on our flight to Durban.

On arrival in Durban, we load luggage onto trolley, relieved and mildly surprised everything is still intact. We meet my precious parents who are so, so happy to see us. It seems like yesterday yet it is years since our last visit. My friend’s Italian in-laws are there too – collecting gifts and a watch needing repair from the bowels of my cling-wrapped suitcase. In the commotion of unwrapping suitcase, embracing parents and searching for gifts, I leave the plastic piping carrying painting in the middle of Arrivals. I remember my concentration lapse halfway to my parent’s home. The joy of arriving is tainted by the concern that I will never see the painting again.

Surprise! Euphoria! They have found the painting. Early the next morning, my dad and I brave the hour’s journey back to the airport to claim my “ama-pipeline” containing painting. I acknowledge the piping looks like a bazooka and marvel no-one called the bomb squad.

We repeat the hair-raising journey back home to my parent’s picturesque little retirement village lined with neat homes and colourful gardens.

The views are sensational. I marvel at how green and lush everything looks. Plants grow fast. There is broccoli in the garden, a prolific crop of bright red peppadews (which my dad later bottles for me), green peppers are ready for picking and a profusion of pink dahlias bloom in the front garden. My mother carelessly tosses seeds into a flowerbed of rich, dark soil and they sprout within days. I learn the bright orange flowers that joyfully spill over a trellis in the back yard are Black-eyed Susans. I wonder if they’ll grow in my dry shale garden back home.

I photograph old oak trees and magnificent liquid amber’s dressed in their bright red autumn wardrobe. We take a walk within an extensive boundary of electric fencing and encounter impala, blesbok and zebra. The grass smells sweet. I am reminded of my youngest son who when asked what he loved most about South Africa, thought for a moment and then said: “The smell.” At the time a more cynical me wondered what he meant. I now understand.

A warm, friendly neighbour delivers freshly baked carrot muffins and says she’ll leave cheese puffs at the front door early on Sunday morning. Random acts of kindness are a hallmark of this little village.

Green rolling mountains. The Howick Falls – gaily decorated with colourful, newly washed blankets at its summit. Where else in the world?

Everywhere are political posters marking April’s elections. Zuma is pasted on the town’s pillars and posts – his beaming face even covers an entire electricity box like Zuma wallpaper.

My daughter is amused by a ‘Vote for the Tiger’ poster and takes a photograph to show her brothers back home. “He looks far too friendly to be a tiger,” she says of a grinning Rajbanzi.

We travel deep into KZN for my niece’s nuptials. I meet my beautiful sisters, my nephews and nieces. Everything is warm and fuzzy.

The wedding scene is breath-taking. A stark white marquee has a backdrop of imposing mountains, a dam complete with ducks and a green field of inquisitive cows. The local tight-knit farming community pitches in to help – arranges flowers, helps set out tables and an all-important dance floor. A garden arch is transformed with foliage and baby’s breath. The marquee is bedecked with white drapes, fairy lights and chandeliers. Generous urns of flowers spill out from corners, green hydrangeas, roses and soft pink proteas add subtle splashes of colour to crisp white table settings. My daughter and I help tie sage green chiffon sashes around smartly dressed white chairs.

The day arrives and the weather is perfect. An exquisite bride and handsome groom exchange vows under a fabric festooned arch. The bride sobs when it comes to say “I do” and we all cry with her.

Photographs are taken under an old oak tree. A three-layered dense, dark chocolate cake decorated with golden spun sugar and chocolate cup cakes is cut out in the afternoon sunshine on the edge of the dam. A herd of curious cows offer their congratulations.

My daughter is enraptured. She learns what it means to party country style and later dances the night away in her flower girl champagne silk dress and Ugg boots. It is 1am before she finally gives in and falls into an exhausted heap. The country revellers party on.

In a sober moment, I chat to my nephews about leaving South Africa. Would they? They all say no, never. Bright, young and highly educated, they are prepared to work abroad but actually leave forever? Leave surfing in Llandudno? Their friends? Their unique lifestyle? Not possible. They are optimistic, realistic – full of life and hope. They claim most of their friends are too. Yet they acknowledge the road ahead is tough. ‘White, male and bottom of the pile,’ they laugh. So they simply study longer and harder, confident this will give them the edge in a biased job market. I so want them to succeed and believe strongly that they will.

The elderly appear more pragmatic, slightly less optimistic. A sage farmer tells me, ‘If you live here, you can’t complain, you stand in queues if you have to. You adapt.’

The next day my brother-in-law shows me the foundations for his new home in the foothills of Mt Curry. I gasp at the stunning views of mountains and grassland. The plans are in his head, not on paper. Finding a builder was easy. He sought out a builder who had built his last farmhouse at least 18 years ago.

‘I put word out in the Transkei that I wanted to build a house and he arrived at my front door five days later.’ No council stipulations or regulations.

I remember the rigmarole in getting our own building plans passed through council, the red tape and petty formalities. The ‘fauna spotter catcher’ a neighbour was required to hire so he could scout for animals in gum trees before allowing clearance for a building envelope. The fact that we require an expensive permit every time we want to burn anything at all. And yet, through it all, I am grateful everything works like a well-oiled, predictable yet efficient machine.

I leave the wedding venue full and saturated with family. My daughter writes in her journal that “mom sobbed again”.

We stop at an Underberg farm stall to buy mazavaroo and a grainy loaf of home-baked bread. The village is brimming with scraggly Splashy Fen revellers in need of a greasy breakfast and a hot shower

At a local mall, I later discover Mr Price Home. I almost buy two over-sized cushions but sanity prevails and I purchase two vases instead – one a deep red, one white. They are both made in South Africa, not China.

I re-introduce my daughter to Nik-Naks, Frito’s and Big Korn Bites. We load up on old favourites to take back to her brothers and father.

I’m in a happy bubble, an impenetrable and nostalgic laager. Yet every now and then something dark and sinister invades – tragic accidents caused by overcrowded buses, over-tired drivers and erratic driving. A news story reveals the intruders that killed a six-year-old boy and left his mother in a coma have been sentenced to life imprisonment. So too have iconic muso Lucky Dube’s killers. The jails must be full to overflowing, I ponder.

The crime is insidious, evil – a deadly viper that heedlessly invades the beauty, peace and serenity. It unsettles me.

My dear friend drives an hour to visit. She hasn’t aged a bit – still gorgeous after all these years. We chat as though we saw each other yesterday. I show her my photographs saturated with scenery shots.

‘The countryside is achingly beautiful,’ I dramatise. Then I am slightly embarrassed by her bemused and vaguely amused expression.

‘I suppose we take it for granted,’ she kindly acknowledges.

I chat to a dear old Cape Town friend for an hour on the phone – I long to see her in person, to see the expressions on her face. Maybe next time.

I visit a precious old school friend – comfortingly the same. She still has the same gracious home and enviable garden – a warm and generous husband and two beautiful children. They are off to boarding school – he’s loving life, his sport – she lives for her horses.

Too soon we have to return home. The drive to the airport seems even more hair-raising than the last. The truck strike is over so all the heavy weights are on the road. A 20-ton truck thunders past – we’re doing 120 km an hour so heaven knows how fast he’s travelling. I am slightly fearful we will not make it.

We arrive safely. I try not to cry. I remind my tearful mother that we are so fortunate we are not refugees fleeing our country without hope of ever seeing family again. ‘We’re actually really lucky,’ I convince us both. ‘We’ll come back soon,’ I add optimistically. It works, sort of.

This time, I am tearful but not sobbing. We have barely passed through security when my daughter is apprehended and her hand luggage searched. She has mistakenly put Gran’s pinking shears in her pencil case. Customs kindly allow us to return them to Gran. I am grateful for the lighter moment. Later in Jo’burg I too am forced to hand over my booty – pickled peppadews lovingly bottled by my dad are confiscated. I vow to squeeze them into my suitcase next time.

The flight back to Brisbane via Singapore is interminably long.

My sons and husband meet us at the airport – we are embraced, feel loved, missed. In the weeks we’ve been away my teenaged son has grown taller than me. His younger brother has almost learned how to whistle.

We return to our home among the gum trees. I step out onto our veranda; breathe the fresh night air, thankful for the heralding of cooler weather. It has rained while I was gone and in the light of the moon, I see that the grass is uncharacteristically green. The imposing ghost gums surrounding our home like sentinels are stripped of their bark. It is a different, still unfamiliar beauty, I muse.

I stroke our faithful golden retriever’s downy ears – and note she doesn’t appear to have realised we left at all. The guinea pigs have survived.

I notice my husband has folded all the washing. ‘We even cleaned out your car,’ says my son.

Home. Yet the yearning remains. A little piece of me forever missing.

Copyright © 2009 by Lois Nicholls