The sentence

The novel has waited, these two months past, like a Karroo bride, busying herself in the kitchen with the farm accounts, waiting until her husband returns from the distant dorp over the horizon, his bakkie a speeding speck at the head of a barreling tunnel of dust, so that she can go out into the yard with the facts and the figures all sorted, and smilingly tell him where they are, as a business, and how they are doing.

With one piece of work completed, there is another demanding my attention. It is the way of things. But I am happy to have returned to my writing, if only to exchange a few words before hurrying out again, to do what must be done in the mundane necessary world.

If the first draft of my novel was the discovery and creation of the architecture, the narrative, of perspective and voice, of the slipperiness of truth and the elusive quarkiness of identity, then this revision is about the sentence. Seemingly simple, it is the sentence that breathes life – or spreads the odour of lifeless decay – into the construct. It is the sentence whose syllables and consonants must jostle or flow, whose sound must please and seduce, startle or delight; whose felicity or brutality of image or phrase must strike fire off stone, must – here’s another way of putting it – create the leap from computing to imagination.

This is my sentence.

My place on the family chart

Blue enamel sky; foliage breathless in the summer heat; the wooded, craggy mountains ascendent, impervious, immemorial.

Later, the evening sun turning salmon-pale over a hazy Atlantic. All the beautiful people thronging the Camps Bay beachfront. Wine – the Splattered Toad from Cape Point Vineyards – with crayfish and prawns. Palm trees blotting up the golden dusk.

That was yesterday. Today there have been tufts and pillows and duvets of cloud, coming out of the south-west, only to dissolve over the pale blue waters of Table Bay. Pockets of wind, in unexpected corners.

Conversations with my mother, late into the night, long into the afternoon.

A sense of being pinned affectionately into place, an adult being, returned from abroad, who has been marked and identified by a child, and placed at the right spot on the family chart, in some bright primary-school classroom, filled with innocent talk and laughter.

Settling in

Little by little, we are settling in. One way of measuring this is administratively. For example, I have opened a bank account. The day before yesterday my Social Insurance Number (SIN?) arrived in the mail – the first mail, incidentally, addressed to me here at 84 Marchmount Road. And yesterday I registered with OHIP – the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. Cover begins at the end of March, but at least I am in the system.

Another way of tracking the process of settling in and settling down is spatial: finding a place to unpack my clothes, organising somewhere to write and work, to sit and think. My office will be in the basement, in the spare bedroom, with a street-level window bringing in light and a view of the street from beneath the porch. The bedroom still needs to be turned around, the bed set against the opposite wall, and a desk set up between the door and the window. But I have purchased the desk, and it will be ready to be picked up and assembled next Thursday. I have purchased a desk lamp too, and a high-end photo printer, and Rob has given me some of the desktop accoutrements necessary for a home office, so I won’t need to purchase everything at once. By the beginning of the second week in January, I should be back to work and good to go.

A third marker of progress is the progress of order against disorder, as Rob steadily works her way through the bathroom and the kitchen, cleaning and reorganising, finding things that have been moved or packed incorrectly, re-establishing a domestic logic. As the house takes shape, so Rob’s sense of home and satisfaction improves.

What I can’t really measure – the question that emerges from shadow into daylight sometimes, then slips away before I can grasp it – is how I feel about all this. Outside the world looks different, certainly – there is snow instead of sunlight, downtown the streets are animated with people and bicycles and humanity in all of its shapes and sizes, a different world in so many respects from the traffic and the sterile, high-walled sidewalks of suburban Johannesburg – but the truth is we carry our worlds inside us, as adults, and so the exterior changes matter less than they might, at least in the short run. Over time, who knows, the effects of all this, the rearrangement of one’s mental architecture, might become more obvious.

So too, I imagine, will the business of work and earning a living, the social dimensions of living in Toronto with Rob and her circle of interesting and varied friends, all come subtly to change my understanding and my perspective.

All this in time. For now we are settling in. One step at a time.

Dearborn, Mi.

Dearborn, Michigan – a light dusting of snow this morning, melting away as a pale sun emerged through overcast skies. SMS from Eve and Shaun, forwarded to us by Kathy: they are on their way by bus from Katmandu, to begin their Annapurna hike. There is no snow there, apparently; the passes are clear and they are in high spirits as they begin their big adventure.

Here we are busy with preparations for Christmas Eve dinner: cookies to be baked, glazed ham and turkey breast ready for the oven. Perhaps there will be a few flurries of snow later, or overnight. It would be lovely to have a White, rather than a Wet, Christmas.


Today is our first anniversary – a year ago Rob and I were married, at The Cradle of Humankind in South Africa, on the longest day of the year. Today, the shortest day of the northern hemisphere year, we woke to grey skies and a cloudy, misty drizzle hanging over monochromatic Toronto streets. It rained, too, on our wedding day, I reminded Rob. A good omen then, I hope that this different, colder rain, on the winter rather than the summer solstice, is likewise a harbinger of good days to come.

Rob has always loved the winter solstice because, as she says, from here on out the days grow longer.

My mother called this morning, from Cape Town, to wish us well; then Kathy called, from Johannesburg. And there was an SMS message, too, from Eve and Shaun: they have arrived safely in Katmandu, and are acclimatising, I guess, before they begin the Annapurna Circuit.

In the morning Rob and I will head down to Detroit, to spend Christmas with Rob’s family in the US. More than just a trip, it is another marker of our relocation: here we actually are, living in Canada, five hours from the US border. Each ordinary event, each day that we go about the business of our lives, has a duality: it is what it is, and it is something more, a sign, a symbol, of new beginnings. It is what Martin Amis called ‘Experience’ – the real stuff – not the ideas and theories, but the lived, experienced world – from which our lives are made and moulded.

So much has changed; yet the essentials, happily, one year on, remain. It has been a very good year, and both Rob and I feel fortunate, and blessed.

Canadian skin

Six degrees and a settled grey today; the temperature expected to drop to minus 7 tonight. And here we are, still settling in, still unpacking and sorting, running errands, looking for things for the house and my new home office – two squirrels, piling up nuts for winter.

And one bemused, engaged, still slightly jet-lagged South African, gazing down Toronto’s long brown streets, gazing up at cold grey skies, holding out and examining a new Canadian skin for fit and size.

A mild state of shock



Everything has gone swimmingly, pretty much, since I landed in Canada. Rob and I flew into Pearson Tuesday, on separate flights (from now on, hopefully, our overseas flights will be in sync) and met up in the Arrivals Hall shortly after I had landed. Immigration had been a breeze – I handed over my papers to a pleasant and efficient official who bantered and laughed with me as we went through the few simple formalities – so much so that when we had finished I thanked him and remarked how easy and friendly it had all been.

‘I could hassle you if you like,’ he joked, half-rising and putting his hand on his gun.

‘No thanks,’ I said, ‘I leave that to the Americans.’

‘Heck, you know, they scare me too,’ he laughed, settling back in his seat.

In no time at all I had an information pack explaining how get an all-important Social Insurance Number (SIN) and register with OHIP – the Toronto public health service – and was on my way.

In just a couple of days, I have done an eye test and ordered a fabulous new pair of spectacles; got my Social Insurance Number and Permanent Residence Number (cards to follow in the mail), opened a bank account, helped Rob stock up the house with the basics (Canadian salmon for dinner tonight!), unpacked my stuff and settled in. There is still some re-arranging to be done, to find the stuff that Rob had packed away during her absence in South Africa, little things to do to make the house ‘ours’, and office space to arrange for me – but, as I say, all in all it has gone swimmingly.

People have been friendly, polite, efficient; Toronto is familiar to me by now, and I feel pretty much comfortable and at ease; and I am looking forward to having Christmas and the holiday season behind us so I can get on with rewriting my novel and looking about for work.

Easy, swimming….but may I add to that that I am, also, in a mild state of only partly acknowledged shock? Here I am, in Toronto, a city I have visited many times, in a house I have stayed in often before – but here I am, too, with a Social Insurance Number, a bank account, a permanent residence visa, a Canadian wife. Shit man, this is a whole new story!

Which is the whole point, I suppose, really.

Canada Diaries

To those of you who have followed this blog over the past two years, many thanks for the interest and attention, and the occasional comments.

As you will know, on Tuesday, 13 December, Rob and I landed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, to begin a new, Canadian phase in our lives. Accordingly, this blog now moves to a new page, headed ‘Canada Diaries’, which you can follow simply by clicking on the link at the head of the current page, just to the right of the ‘About’ link.

Hope to see you there, and to continue to share the Canadian adventure!

Best regards