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Thread: My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

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    Default My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

    Okay, this is it, I have started blogging about my life and I can honestly say that it is the most therapeutic experience that I have ever experienced, better than any drug - in fact I could probably say that I am addicted to it.

    I thought I would share some of my stories with you (in case anyone is interested). I don't claim to be a good writer by any stretch of the imagination, but man, I am having fun.

    Posted originally here

    After an enthusiastic start I haven't managed to get much further though...

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    Default Re: My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

    My first decade (1): Home is where the heart is…

    Well, I guess not many of us can remember much of what happened in the first 10 years of our lives. I know in my own life I have random flashes of memories, most of them full of contentment and security. I like listening to my 8-year old daughter rabbiting on (and on and on, encouragement not required) about what she remembers of her little past - of course most of the memories seem to relate to when she was 4… it must have been a very memorable year for her and I am looking forward to seeing how many of these memories that she retains later on in her future.

    One thing that I can guarantee, which I think is really sad on so many levels, is that her memories of living near cosmopolitan London in the UK, will be worlds apart from my own upbringing, growing up barefoot and climbing trees in colonial suburban Africa.

    As a family, we moved from Salisbury when my brother and I were very young. My father was transferred through the scaffolding company that he worked for (GKN Mills), to set up a branch office in Bulawayo, which was located in the industrial area by the power station there. I can remember the office too, it was an unusual musty dark room (probably like that because I usually went there on weekends with my dad) with plain old wooden furniture, half way up a high brick building accessed by an external staircase in a narrow alleyway - with a big black metal gate shutting it off from the street.

    We lived in a rented house in Paddonhurst in the beginning, my memories of that time are very sparse, but there are lots of photos hidden in the dust somewhere showing us playing in the garden with a little pull-along trolley with Chenny and Suzie somewhere in the picture, the short-legged long-haired Daschund dogs that we grew older with. Mum was a stay-at-home-mum through most of these years, but she obviously started working somewhere along the line, because there were a few nursery schools and after-school care establishments in my memory archives - most of those memories aren’t very pleasant though, I seem to have retained the worst of those experiences.

    My most prominent 4-year old memory, was of us standing as a family in the front yard of the first and only property that my parents have ever owned, just shortly before we moved in and called it home for most of our lives to date (considering that it still is ‘home’). Located in the suburb of Hillside near the infant and junior schools that we attended, the yard was massive to us then (and even now judging by the size of the average garden in the UK), about an acre and a half expanse of land filled with plenty of trees, all of which my brother and I have climbed and/or fallen out of at one stage or another.

    The majority of the trees are Jacaranda’s that form a haphazard line across the property – along where the previous farmyard’s long driveway had apparently once been. I spent many a night hiding in the Jacaranda tree by the gate when I was in trouble, just because it was easier than running away from home, I could never be found there in the top-most branches and for some reason, nobody ever thought about looking there twice as they circled the garden in search of me.

    There is an old Figtree, full of character, with massive protruding roots that became our tree-house (I do believe that Barbie and Ken got married there a few times) – it was also the dodgy support for our dangerous plank-on-a-rope swing that we became quite daringly acrobatic on when pushing ourselves out off a branch to swing as high as possible.

    In addition, there is also a lop-sided Marulatree in the front garden that bore lots of fruit. Fruit that my dad attempted to make wine with once during a winemaking phase (it tasted gross) and of which I ate enough in my lifetime to eventually disbelieve the theory (still no idea to this day whether my leg was being pulled or not…) that the fruit could actually make one drunk.

    Plonked slap-bang in the middle of this plot of land, is the house, a very rectangular, plain, brick building, painted white for as long as I can remember, with 3 bedrooms. I remember with fondness many a cold winter’s night sitting in front of the fireplace in the lounge as a family, loving the warmth and security that emitted from it, the crisp clean sheets tucked in tightly that we went to sleep in at night during the pre-duvet days and the mosquito nets stretched over our beds on hot balmy nights.

    I will always remember the carpet of purple Jacaranda flowers covering the ground at certain times of the year – usually a hive of activity with bees and the unusual aroma as the flowers were crushed or rotting… the heady smell of the Jasmine creeper that climbed up the verandah posts right near my bedroom window… the ponds alongside the parking area on the side of the house where 3 fishponds were interlinked, the smaller one set higher in the garden rockery trickling through to the largest, covered in water lilies and teaming with red goldfish. The ponds were periodically infested with frogs that kept us awake at night and tadpoles that entertained my brother and I for hours on end.

    Since our black and white TV only started at 5pm in the afternoon, I also remember having a very active outdoor life, playing for hours (even days at a time) with ‘dinky’ cars with my brother, pushing roads through the sand with our hands to form imaginary cities… converting our old ‘jungle gym’ into a bus and hide and seek games, squeezing our bodies into holes and corners that I wouldn’t even consider sticking my hand near these days.

    We always had lots of pets. It started off with Chenny and Suzie the Daschund dogs, cats called Candy and Flossy that didn’t stick around after changing homes, followed by many more cats like Ching the Siamese that we had for many years… a gentle Doberman called Cassius that treated my brother and I with kid-gloves, numerous pairs of budgies that kept learning how to escape from their cages when hanging up outside in the fresh air and a yard-full of bantum chickens (Henny-Penny, Cocky-Locky, Hansel and Gretal, they all had names) whose numbers grew and depleted periodically through the years – depending on how prolific they were at reproducing and how good the dogs were at catching them.

    I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it (it hardly seems normal), but I had a pet cockerel, his name was Hagar (the horrible), he was inflicted with an inexplicable disease, was as ugly as sin, smelled odd and became tame enough for me to walk around with on my shoulder wherever I went, my mum drew the line at allowing him on the kitchen table though. He talked to me too, I promise, we had lots of deep conversations that chicken and I – when he wasn't pecking me affectionately trying to see what was in between my teeth (which made talking back to him difficult at times) – I just wish I knew where he disappeared to, it was very traumatic when he left.

    I remember the work that my dad put into the property on weekends, with a cement mixer and his own hands, he laid 2 narrow parallel strips on the relatively long driveway by hand (initials still imprinted there, along with the memory of learning to ride a bike down them and that tree on the side that jumped in front of me once…). I remember how he rearranged the raised verandah outside the lounge french doors, by cutting the metal railing so that it could be accessed from the car park and added rough home-made concrete steps up to it. Through the years, a swimming pool (which became my second home, I was definitely a mermaid in a past life) was added to the front garden and a garage/pantry to the back garden, along with lots of various additions that my very handy superhero dad constructed.

    Through the earlier years, during periods with abundant rainfall, there were times when the garden was absolutely stunning, green grass and flowerbeds filled with the most gorgeous array of flowers that my mum tended to with pride (with the assistance of a garden boy, I might add). A friend of my dad’s even made use of it once for his wedding reception, just because it was so glorious…

    During periods of drought, the garden was slowly transformed into a more self-sufficient garden with aloes and drought-resistant plants that could withstand the dry periods and lack of water - which is pretty much how it looks today after many years of insufficient water to maintain the garden and the fact that we were probably one of the few properties in the area that didn’t rush to sink a borehole. The pool, which was lived in at one stage of our lives, hasn’t been filled for more than 20 years now. The green grass is pretty much long gone, maintained as cut weeds which can look quite nice in a deceptive sort of way after the rains and the Jacaranda trees are slowly rotting and collapsing with time.

    These days, the garden’s boundaries may be enclosed with 6 foot high durawall fencing and locked gate, but it is still probably one of the sanctuaries in the whole wide world, that I can walk into and feel immediately at ‘home’, secure in the knowledge that I am very much part of its history and that it is very much a part of me.

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    Default Re: My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

    My first decade (2): Hey ho! It’s off to school we go.

    Amazingly, as a 5-year old in 1975, I remember my first day ever at infant school entering ‘KG1′ – as the yearly system was known in those days, before they became known as ‘grades’. I ‘think’ KG was in reference to King George or something to that effect and was a seriously outdated system by the time that I started school.

    I remember how frightening and how overwhelming it all was walking along the long length of polished red verandah to the class room holding on to my mum for dear life. I had to wear an old-fashioned chocolate-brown and white checked dress that had a belt of sorts to puff out the skirt bit and my straight brown hair was always tied up in a screamingly-tight ponytail or pigtails using elastic (as in the office kind!) and brown ribbon in a complex intertwined system that my mum used to ensure that it all stayed put – and barely moved – for the day.

    I have no memories of my first ever teacher, none whatsoever, but I do remember learning to meow and purr like a kitten, to play different drums in PE sessions, to stop chewing my nails (something must have brainwashed me into stopping, I know I did bite my nails when I went in and never have done since then), to count using coloured rods of different lengths and that my first-ever best friend’s name was Davina. We are still in touch now 30 years down the line, even though we were only friends for a couple of years before her family emigrated to South Africa, our friendship is officially probably one of the longest most successful pen-pal relationships that I have ever had in my life – even if we don’t actually write to each other (and hardly ever have) we just seem to be content in the knowledge that we both still exist somewhere in this world and that we could write if we had something to say, or the inclination to do so.

    I remember being in a yellow ‘house’ for sports days that always took place on very green neatly white-wash lined lawns with all the right pomp and ceremony attached with making little things like that seem gynormous and important.

    In KG2 my memories seem to take an even bigger dive. I remember a pretty teacher with a fascinating hairstyle and being taught to paint a duck using the number ‘2′ which was submitted for the eisteddford. As an artist and designer now, I do remember that the comments weren’t particularly encouraging at the time.

    For the remainder of my junior school years, I remember moving on to the big school (the yearly system was known as ’standards’ in those days), changing my yucky brown and white uniform for a yucky sack-like orange and white checked effort. I was allowed to walk there on my own since it was just down the road from home and my new best friend was Beverley. The classrooms were big with massive windows and the desks were double ones that had a flip-top-lid to them for us to store our neatly-covered in brown wrapping-paper books inside and a hole for an ink-well stand – not that I am old enough to have ever had to use one.

    Most of all, I remember hating maths throughout those early years and times when I was so overwhelmed by the differences that the teachers tried to drum into me, compared to my dad’s attempts to help me understand it all at home with my homework, that it was all just one big frustrating nightmare in my little brain… I remember a teacher telling me that I was stupid and a guy who was in my class, who I still know to this day, asking me many years later if I still cried when I was confronted with numbers – I must have been a jibbering wreck! My mum’s favourite memory, which she brings up periodically (read ‘as in every time I see her’) is trying to rote-teach me parrot-fashion times tables and hurling the times table book across a room in frustration.

    I remember the library at the school and my fascination with everything Enid Blyton and CS Lewis. I remember asking my mum what ‘hols’ meant once whilst reading the first paragraph of an Enid Blyton mystery and my mum telling me to keep reading, because that was maybe what the mystery was about and that I would find out at the end with the kids!

    I do remember having a complex of sorts, to the extent that I was unable to talk to seniors a couple of years older than me... they terrified me, thank goodness a family friend was a senior, so he 'protected' me with the marble bullies in the playground when necessary. The massive expanse of playing fields were periodically infested with locusts and I still have a locust-phobia every time I see one and I remember trying to negotiate my way through them to the tuck shop at the other end. The tuck shop was a bargain and well worth the effort to get to, considering that a whole handful of sweets would cost one little 'tickie'.

    This was also the stage that I got more involved with sport. I was in the red house named after a colonial forefather called ‘Helm’. My brother and I had been doing swimming lessons for a while and swimming sessions at school were pretty much a nightmare in the beginning, until I starting getting better and beating everyone. I did a bit of diving, played netball, tennis and hockey and even attempted running in Athletics – something that I hated in those days, but grew to love later on in life.

    The biggest memories that I have, was that in standard 2 we were put into ’streams’ according to our capabilities. I started off in the bottom stream after the first year and moved up a stream to the middle one when I came 4th in class. In standard 3, I had a teacher that I was absolutely terrified of, but he was a very good artist and I remember a lot of the things that he taught us to this day. In standard 4, a boy who sat behind me in class, leaned over the escalator railings in Haddon and Sly department store and had his head chopped off between the floor levels – somehow I always remember that when I step onto an escalator to this day.

    In standard 5 (known as grade 7 by then) my folks scraped together a princely sum $2000 in those days and I went on my first ever overseas trip to the UK with other grade 7's from schools across Bulawayo, organised by the curator of the Bulawayo museum and various teachers. We travelled in old white school buses, stayed in boarding schools in Kent that were closed for the holidays, did the major London sights and took in numerous places along the south coast, all very exciting stuff for an 11 year old that had never been away from home before. Of course I can’t forget the fact that on the way back to the airport, my case flew off the roof-rack and disintegrated and there was a lot of unnecessary banter about my underwear floating across the highway for the rest of the trip.

    My final biggest nightmare of Junior school was the leaver’s dance. I can’t honestly tell you how much I disliked all the boys in my class… they liked all the pretty blonde girls and I kept my distance. Playing kiss-catches at Birthday parties was already something that I was uncomfortable with and having to barn dance with them all, especially the idiot that I ended up having to go with… was stuff that made me feel physically ill, in fact I remember very vividly not feeling very well that evening at all, no idea how I survived it. Odd, considering a couple of years later, my opinions of boys did a complete turn around.

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    Default Re: My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

    My first decade (3): We’re all going on a summer holiday!

    We seemed to have plenty of holidays in those days. The school year was broken up into 3 terms with long periods of holiday breaks in between.

    I have vivid memories of overnight train trips between Bulawayo and Salisbury as a family and when we were considered old enough, flights on Air Rhodesia as unaccompanied minors to spend holiday periods passed amongst various aunts, uncles and cousins in and around Salisbury.

    On the train trips, I remember the line of brown/beige carriages being hauled by smoky-black steam engines that chugged slowly, but surely along the flat landscapes past dark shapeless silhouettes in the night, stopping frequently for long periods that seemed to last for hours. As a family, we would sit in relative comfort together on the overstuffed grey seats, reading books, playing games and eating prepared picnic meals from an assortment of tubs that my mum carried around in a basket.

    Later on in the evening, a group of trolleys would come along the narrow window-lined passageways with neatly uniformed black men that would make up the compartments with crisp clean ‘RR’ monogrammed bedding ready for the night. There was always an edged top bunk each – meaning that there wasn’t a reason for us kids to fight over anything – which pulled out from the wooden panelling on the wall. I remember them being quite fun to negotiate getting onto and having to stand on the tabletop that dropped down from between the windows above the little round stainless steel basin that each compartment had, as the only option to use for our little legs to reach up. When lying on the top bunks, they provided a close-up view of the compartment ceiling and there were light switches (a fascinating little round green coloured light comes to mind) and knobs to fiddle with repeatedly. The middle berths were magically constructed pulling up the backrest of the carriage seats and the bottom seats made up the last 2 beds. Sometimes we shared these sleeping quarters with complete strangers, but the whole experience was always great fun.

    I also remember waking up at ungodly hours of the morning to start out on long over-laden car trips all over the place too and the inevitable thrill of our big annual holiday to the ‘seaside’ in South Africa. In those days, all of our relatives lived in Rhodesia, meaning that staying with family in South Africa wasn’t an option, so the big holidays meant spending time in different exciting environments with loud-patterned carpeting, ice-making machines, asteroid-game arcade rooms and a whole host of new experiences to look forward to with anticipation.

    Trips to South Africa always meant an endless supply of big colourful shopping malls and department stores full of everything imaginable that we couldn’t possibly get at home. My folks were as much like kids in a sweetie store as we were and besides the toys, stationary, sweets, tinned drinks and the odd fashion accessory, we always managed to come home with some electrical gadget or tool that was ‘needed’ in the house.

    Most of the trips always included a stopover at the natural warm mineral baths at Tshipise, a short distance into South Africa near the border with Rhodesia. In the beginning, we used to stay next to the game fences and wild bush in the large circular thatched family rondawels, that were gloriously cool in the African heat – in the later years, we always camped there instead. I remember spending our days running around like lunatics tirelessly jumping in between the 3 pools from the large heated one on the lower level to the 2 ‘cold’ water pools on the upper level and having picnic lunches alongside the poolside followed a very impatient mandatory longest-hour-in-the-world waits to let our food settle before being allowed to run riot again.

    Most of the earlier ‘seaside’ trips were to Umhlanga Rocks where we would stay in self-catering apartments overlooking the beach with the odd trip into Durban to visit my dad’s sister and her family who always happened to be holidaying there at the same time. We always spent the most amazingly lazy days on the sandy beaches, swimming, jumping and being dumped by waves much bigger than us, looking for shells in rock pools, making sand castles and eating plenty of junk food. These days were always topped off with a walk in the evening to watch an in-house movie or various tourist displays like Zulu Tribal dancers.

    Later trips, after most of our relatives moved South, were to East London which is probably one of my most favourite destinations in South Africa – I consider it to be a twin of Bulawayo, which just happens to be parked by the sea - my most favourite cousin in the whole wide world lives there too, which is my biggest incentive. We did the train trip from Bulawayo to Cape Town once - which entailed about 3 solid days spent on the train through Botswana and the Orange Free State, but in those days, my dad wasn’t overly keen on tackling the distance by car and he can hardly be blamed, taking speed and bored kids into consideration.

    Our family car trips in the beginning must have been something to behold. The health and safety authorities of today would have had a field day with the way that things were done then. Our first ‘family car’ was an Austen, an ugly indestructible heavy tank (almost armoured) of metal in indescribable colours. (No matter how much I google-image search for ‘Austen’, I have never seen anything quite like it again since then). The interior was very roomy and my superhero dad came up with a method to keep us kids happy during those long trips… he constructed a wooden chipboard frame with legs on one side, that as a perfect fit, rested across the back seat right up to the back of the front seats and padded it with foam, blankets and pillows to make it comfortable – a literal level playing field, where my brother and I had plenty of room to alternate between loving each other one minute and then viciously trying to kill each other off with boredom and frustration the next. We usually had to abide by imaginary vertical or horizontal dividing line rules imposed on us, but that also meant that we could sleep without touching or kicking one another – which usually managed to save my parent’s sanity for a few hours longer.

    I remember many hours of playing I-spy with my little eye and learning Afrikaans phrases in amongst the impatient wanting to know ‘if we were nearly there yet?’ every 5-minute questions.

    Lay-by stopovers were a regular feature on these trips too… arbitrary places in the middle of nowhere with concrete tables, benches and a dustbin where we could have our wee-breaks in the bushes and a quick bite to eat. There was always everything – just short of the kitchen sink – loaded somewhere in the car.

    In our later years, as we got older and places became more expensive to stay at, all our holidays meant camping. My dad purchased a bright yellow homemade trailer, which held a plug-into-the-lighter beer-friendly (with a bit of room for milk on the side) fridge, a family tent, groundsheets, kitchen sinks, you name it, it was there. He constructed a wooden shelving unit along the side that even supported ceramic crockery in slots and a cutlery drawer… it was a kitchen on wheels away from home at any destination (my parents still use it on occasion to this day) - we were almost on a par with the other South African campers out there that even took their TV’s with them on their trips.

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    Default Re: My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

    My first decade (4): The 1970's - the Rhodesian bush war from a child's persepctive.

    What do I know about the Rhodesian bush war? Pretty much nothing, all I know was that I was very young, didn’t understand it and that it affected our way of life quite a bit in those early years.
    The Rhodesian Bush War (as it is called by most white ex-Rhodesians), or Second Chimurenga (as it is called by most Zimbabweans [citation needed]), was a conflict in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) between the white minority government of Ian Smith and the black nationalists of the ZANU and ZAPU movements, led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo respectively. It lasted from 1966 to 1979.
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodesian_Bush_War
    The politics involved in the war didn’t mean anything to me when I was small, in fact reading further into the wikipedia link above, made me realise how clueless I still am as to the facts regarding it all. The following is very much a perspective from a child’s vantage point.

    There were things that happened during the days of the war that became part of our lives as we knew it and as kids, we knew no differently. We were probably aware of a sense of tension about us, but we carried on regardless and certainly could never have comprehended the reality that life and our futures were very uncertain during that period. The biggest advantage during those years, is that some of the closest family friends that we have ever encountered, were fostered during this phase. Close friendships forged in uncertainty that have managed to withstand the test of time thirty years later.

    My father disappeared periodically out of our lives to do his compulsory service to help the Rhodesian forces and we were left alone, just the 3 of us. There were times when my mum cried a lot – mostly when my brother and I were giving her uphill and she was probably just doing her best in an attempt to cope on her own, whilst battling with her own fears and uncertainties. We all missed dad terribly when he was away. I remember the heartache that we all experienced every single time that he packed up and left us – wearing his camouflage uniform and beret with his laden canvas rucksack over his shoulder, the excitement at receiving his newsy letters that were read aloud to us and the overwhelming joy at seeing him on his return, which was always a massive highlight in our lives – besides the fact that it was like Christmas and we loved rat pack goodies that he presented us with as gifts… I also remember the container of custard powder, which was like a souvenir of the war in our household, which made the best custard in the world and which lasted for many years afterwards.

    I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the men out on the field experienced during the war. All I know, is that during his tour of duty, my father had experiences that he has kept details of to himself for many years and are still very much part of his memories to this day.

    As kids, we were subjected to subtle things that were drummed into our heads at junior school as part of our lessons. We were given frequent talks about what we were to do if the school was attacked by gunfire. Number one priority was to dive under our wooden desks onto the hard wooden parquet flooring of the classroom and lie on our stomachs covering our heads with our arms, as far away from all the big windows as possible. We even did the occasional practice drill where in a sea of flailing arms and legs, we would dive and huddle under the desks – it always seemed like a bit of a game to us and I doubt any of us understood the severity of the situation should it have happened.

    Along with the customary fire drill, the whole school was also subjected to an ‘ambush’ drill. A drill where all the classes lined up in the playground, as quickly and as quietly as possible followed by a very hasty and orderly stride to the school’s hostel buildings – a very old colonial building with thick enough walls to hole us up in safety. There we were led into the very wide passage ways, lined up in rows and required to sit in lines along the wall and subjected to sitting in silence while a class register was read out with great speed – every single name had to be accounted for and absolute concentration on our behalves to keep up with it all was paramount. I have to say that these drills were carried out with almost military-like precision and efficiency and all of us kids knew that it wasn’t a game.

    Holidays to South Africa by car during those years meant travelling in armed convoys. We would leave Bulawayo and meet up with all other holiday-makers at Essexvale/Essigodini just outside Bulawayo. Cars would line up along the side of the road and wait for the time when we would all leave together as a unit, travelling at a uniform speed in close proximity for the 4 or so hours that it took to get to the South African border at those speeds. I remember them well, lines and lines of cars snaking along the miles of open roadway interspersed with gun-totting armoured vehicles at regular intervals. We always stopped for petrol, lunch and toilet breaks at Todd’s Motel half way along the route before snaking our way onwards again. At the end of the trip, there was always the mad dash to get through the throngs at the border post, so that everyone could relax and get on with their holidays.

    Before embarking on a convoy trip, we were always briefed on how to handle an ambush attack from the bush and the basic gist of it was, that at the sound of gunfire, the car would pull over and all occupants had to roll out low into the grassy roadside ditches well away from the car. Who knows what the plan of action would have been from there, we never had a drill to practice this manoeuvre and thank goodness we never had to face the reality. In all those years I have no idea whether any ambushes ever actually occurred. All I do remember was that there was incredible tension associated with getting from A to B in one piece, something that us kids were very aware of throughout the journey and probably the only time that our behaviour was faultless.

    After Independence, there was the Entumbani uprising just outside Bulawayo… more information below:
    In post-independent Zimbabwe, the term “gukurahundi” is a euphemism used for the actions of Robert Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade in the Ndebele provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands during the early to late 80s. An estimated 20 000 civilians, mostly Ndebele, were killed or disappeared and have not been accounted for to this date.
    ource: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gukurahundi
    I remember being able to hear the gunfire from our home throughout the night and the next day and we all got to take the day off school – I didn’t understand what was happening, but I do remember a very productive day playing ‘dinky’ cars in the sand with my brother, completely oblivious to all the details associated with it. My best friend at the time, who lived closer to the area, had window’s rattling on her house and her family spent the night sleeping in the passage way. For some silly reason, I remember feeling irrationally jealous that the whole experience was more way more intense for her than it was for me.

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    Default Re: My first decade - Natalie/Amarula/Natz

    Ok!! Lets have some more child hood memories!!!! Or what about your teenage years!! That should be exciting. Really a good read, enjoyed it to bits.

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