The storm, the zebra, and the tree

I wrote just the other day that when I leave this house I will miss not seeing the young tree that I planted grow big and strong. Two days later, it began uprooting itself in a storm.

Cape storms are not for the fainthearted. This is a coastal region so in reality they are tempests, not mere storms. They rage and rage all night long, the wind blows fiercerly and brings heavy rains, much of which blows horizontally. People don’t really believe us when we desribe this sort of weather and it’s only when someone experiences it that they realise how awful it is. British people, yes, people from Great Britain, that small island of nothing but grey lousy weather, have been known to complain bitterly about the winter weather in the Cape. It doesn’t help that our houses are not insulated so it’s often colder indoors than outdoors. Luckily these storms, which can last a few days, are not the norm for the full duration of winter, they just occur a few times between May and August.

During these not-so delightful few days, wind tunnels are created and one of these wind tunnels is right up my narrow walled-in driveway, straight into my little garden. The first thing it encounters is The Tree. Otherwise known as my pride and joy. I planted it just over two years ago and it is already a thing of splendour. A white pear, it will not be huge but will be large enough to give shade in summer. I’ve only experienced it flowering one season and it was magnificent.

So the other night, as the storm raged – yes, it was a dark and stormy night – I stood at the window watching it pour down and sideways and all over the place. I was thankful to be indoors and sheltered, unlike so many people not far from me who live in doorways or shacks that fill with water. As I stood and watched I realised The Tree was no longer upright. In fact it was most decidedly being blow forward and downwards, until it was resting on the birdbath, that item being the only thing holding it up.

My wonderful friend who lives with me suggested we Do Something to prevent it being uprooted completely. So we went outside. Now please picture the scene. I was warm and snug in the house because I was wearing a onesie. One of those lovely warm adult baby-grows that are so popular in the United States. This particular onesie has kept me warm on many cold winter nights. It is a zebra. It is loudly black and white striped, it has a tail, a hood with a zebra face complete with little pink ears and eyes.

So there we were in the howling wind and pouring rain, a zebra in slippers and a tall man wedging a garden bench and heavy slabs against a little tree. Had anyone been out in the streets, breaking curfew and braving the weather, they might have been a tad amused to see this sight. As it is, only the dogs saw us as they watched through the window.

Our makeshift repair held through the night, and the next day, yesterday, we made a more stable arrangement. It’s still only temporary and something more stable will have to be done by the next occupant of this house but at least while I am here for a few more weeks, I will see my tree standing straight and upright.

Stuff and the joys of decluttering

I haven’t written in over a month and this blog has moved away slightly from its original purpose. The past few months have been torrid and it’s been almost impossible to be or do anything not mired in depression and anxiety. One day I’ll look back on this period amzed at what I’ve endured. I hate cliches, but this, too, shall pass.

I’ve suffered dreadful depression and high anxiety for a few years. Not too long, just the past 5 or so years. I guess it was always there lurking underneath, but specific events and situations gave it life. I am on medication, I have to lecture myself all the time, I can erupt easily, and I cry easily. But the meds help. A lot.

I’ve had support and help from one friend in particular who I can say without any reservation has been my rock. Without him, I’d be dead. Maybe even literally, because suicide was on my mind for a long time. But really, really, on my mind. It was a fantasy solution that played itself over and over, something planned and ready to be executed. My rock understood, supported, gave advice, played the shrink, sent me to a real shrink, and did not recoil. Unlike some – oh my goodness, how some people are terrified of the word. The very notion that someone else might be suffering so much is just too much for them to deal with. They might as well tell you to shut up and suffer in silence, which as far as they are concerned, is the best way.

But I woke up one day, put on my big girl pants and decided I was *not* going to die. I found that last vestige of life and courage deep inside me and nurtured it. I also addressed one of the biggest problems facing me and dealt with it, once and for all. Like a big girl.

This big girl has also decided to make a major life change. I am relocating, very far away. Away from my comfort zone to a different, new, comfort, away from all that is familiar and off to the bosom of family. From the fear of old-age poverty to state sponsored medical care. From open spaces and unique vegetation to safety, security and seasonal salad. I’m going to need a new blog title and concept.

Relocating abroad means selling all your stuff. I can’t afford to spend loads of money on schlepping my junk halfway across the world and … guess what? I won’t need it! As tough as it is, I am realising that stuff is just stuff and I can live without most of it. I will take just enough to make me feel at home in my new home but the rest goes to worthy causes or gets exchanged for lucre. And the lucre goes towards the cost of taking what really matters, my beloved dog and that of my son who is already waiting for us all.

But, oh my word, the packing and the decisions and the realisation that my precious belongings are just junk in some peoples’ eyes. The majority of things that matter the most are items I either picked up on a beach or in a forest – what am I to do with my stone and shell collection? Or planted lovingly – I’ll never get to see the tree grow majestic. Or were given to me by my mother an eternity ago? How can I sell the art deco cups she very specifically said I must have and not my siblings? Who would buy the strange piece she painted during her Jackson Pollock period?

I think I do look forward to the day I have divested myself of most belongings. I know there will be a feeling of freedom and liberty. Me and a couple of suitcases, because a girl needs shoes and her big-girl panties, and my faithful dog, and off we will go!

Today marks one month before I move out of my house. That’ll be followed by 6 weeks in a temporary lodging, and then the adventure will begin with a long drive across the country … watch this space!

Karoo Detour

I haven’t blogged for over a month. Not much inspiration because I’m mostly still housebound and I’m depressed as all hell at recent developments in my life, which I won’t go into now but suffice to say that the virus has done terrible things to some people.

However, I did take a short break last month. From being housebound almost all the time to the other extreme – I flew to Pretoria and drove back to Cape Town with my sister in the car that she has kindly lent me. I’ve had to sell the touring minibus that I also used as personal transport so found myself with no wheels which is an untenable situation in this town, this suburb. It’s too dangerous to walk around here after sunset, I was spending too much on Ubers to get anywhere, and I can’t walk far anyway with my lungs as they are.

The flight was not as traumatic as I expected because precautions are taken by, and for, everyone. The wonderful commuter train system between Johannesburg and Pretorias was once again a delight to use – it’s a massive novelty in South Africa to have a rail system that not only works well but is safe and clean. After a few days in Pretoria my sister and I headed back to Cape Town. This is normally a 1600km journey – around 1000 miles – if done straight down the main national highway but my sister’s husband sponsored us to a few days roadtripping so we ended up doing around 2500 kms (1500 miles) and visiting parts of the country we had not seen before.

A first for me was Clarens and the Golden Gate National Park. After the flat maize and sunflower fields of the Free State, the exquisite rock formations and mountains of that area were a delight for the eyes and Clarens is a very pretty arty town, well deserving of all the attention it gets from wealthy weekenders from Johannesburg. We were not lucky with the weather – it was near freezing in the morning! – but still enjoyed it. Roadworks and excessive potholes prevented us from going along the back roads which would’ve taken us along the Lesotho border and those lovely Maluti Mountains so after the Park we reached the Karoo via the usual beautiful open spaces it’s known for.

We drove in and almost straight out again of some depressing Karoo towns, but the Valley of Desolation in Graaff Reinet made it all worthwhile. We also struck it lucky in that town with a delightful little guesthouse that we didn’t want to leave. We were on a tight budget so our accommodations were all simple but in this instance they offered a huge reduction so we were as happy as larks. My sister had never seen the Valley of Desolation so this blew her mind away, as it does all first time visitors.

Continuing our Karoo detour we then encountered lots of rain. This took me completely by surprise because I know the Karoo quite well and have never encountered rain there; in fact it hardly ever rains there, being a very arid semi-desert region. That didn’t last into the next day as we drove through what is known at the Little Karoo – less arid, more mountaneous and full of pretty little villages and towns. It’s part of the Garden Route tourist route so has all the benefits of regular traffic and people who expect decent coffee, good food and funky attitudes.

Of course this being pandemic times we encountered very few people. Other than truckers and farmers we pretty much had roads to ourselves; guesthouses were not full, and restaurants were sadly almost empty and closed early every evening. All of this guarantees prompt and personal service but the toll it’s taken on the tourism economy is catastrophic, as I know full well myself. Strangely, the devastating effects have not diminished the warmth and smiles of the people we did encounter along the way – from shops to guesthouses to restaurants and petrol stations. The pandemic has not dented the hospitality for which this country is famous.

Our Karoo detour lasted only five days but it was great to get away and to have a change of scenery, literally. And we did tick off 7 out of our country’s 9 provinces!

First stop before the roadtrip started properly was Maropeng Cradle of Humankind. A friend of mine created and runs this unique Unesco Heritage Site which depicts the origins of man. This is a must-do when in the area of Krugersdorp, not far from Johannesburg. This photo shows a part of an underground boat trip taking the visitor through all earth’s elements. We loved it!

Daffodils for my birthday!

It was my birthday last week. As boring as all lockdown birthdays are, but my son popped in to visit and brought me these beautiful daffodils. I’ve had to read up on them because I’ve never grown them before. They’re apparently hardy little buggers so I shouldnt have difficulty. The worst that could happen is that our winter might be too mild for them. They’re probably not used to Cape winter storms but they do like frost … eeek..we don’t get any here.

For now, they have a special spot and I keep a beady eye on them to ensure they stay moist. I must say I’m more familiar with indiginous plants but I’ll give these my best shot.

Of course Wordsworth has to have the last word.

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You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg, or more

I’m seriously considering not eating food connected to living creatures. I’m not sure I want to go the whole hog vegan (see what I did there?) but vegetarian very very possibly. I’m not into all those stupid in-between words that describe someone who wants to eat what they want when they want but still use a poncy label to make themselves feel and seem better about being fickle.

My problem is I really enjoy certain animal dishes. Take lamb – there is nothing in the world quite as mouth-wateringly delicious as Karoo lamb. Those little wooly creatures are fed on special yummy natural vegetation that is found nowhere else on earth but in this arid beautiful region. There is even an official certification for Karoo lamb. A juicy cutlet with just the right amount of fat, seasoned and cooked perfectly on a wood fire, the way South Africans do so well .. very hard to resist! And a rich lamb stew or curry is a heavenly, albeit very privileged, way to get through a cold winter’s night.

What about chicken? Okay, that I can live without, quite easily in fact. I know I could, especially great big chunks of dry breast on the bone, or drumsticks that always have an undercooked bit in the centre and that yucky long piece of cartilage. Stirfried chicken fillets or grilled wings nicely marinated, ok, ok, I will eat with pleasure, but the rest you can keep. Steak and any other beef products I can also live without, in fact I can’t even remember when I last ate beef. I’m partial to pork medallions done in a creamy mushroom sauce but I guess I could live without them if I had to.

But eggs? What’s a nicoise or tuna salad without a hard-boiled egg? What’s a breakfast fry-up without two eggs sunnyside up, slightly runny and very yellow? A quick snack of scrambled eggs with chopped chives on a slice of perfectly toasted bread? And a fluffy omelette cooked just right with a smidgen of grated strong cheese and a few sautéed mushrooms? How can I be expected to go without this?

I once visited the Mont Saint Michel in Normandy with my son and cousin. They urged me to climb to the top which was sheer torture; I bought a sily touristy memento, and down we came again. My cousin suggested we have a very special omelette. I was, as always in France, happy to go along with anything food related. In a narrow walkway into the restaurant one walks past a large window behind which chefs are seen whisking eggs with energetic vigour in very large mixing bowls. They know when they’re being watched so they speed it up even more.

A waiter brought the menu which my cousin instantly whisked away from me. Instead, she gave me a few options of what sort of omelette we could have. Once we had chosen I stole the menu back and looked at the prices. OH MY GOD. Seriously, I almost fainted. The price of one omelette was the equivalent of a four-course meal for four people. My cousin grabbed the menu back and told me to chill out, this was her treat and that is that.

Oh boy, never in my life have I eaten an omelette so light and fluffy. I vaguely remember the filling, ham and cheese I think, but the memory of that meal will never fade. The world’s most expensive but most delicious omelette. Light, fluffy, and some secret ingredient that I will never know. Heaven.

Anyhow, despite ongoing efforts to think and talk about doing away with animal food, I finally made the perfect omelette this week. I chose a very old but solid pan. My stovetop plates are small so my regular frying pan doesn’t work for something that requires even cooking. This old woman and her old pan made the best omelette – two days in a row. Someone suggested I whisk the egg whites seperately so I tried that this morning and I think I overdid it because it was excessively fluffy; still delicious though and I’m eminently proud of myself. Small pleasures. To be repeated.

Incidentally, I am thoroughly bored shitless with this pandemic though. I love food and I love eating but I want something else to do and think about and write about. (Stunning looking dessert coming out of the oven in a few minutes – tomorrow’s blog, maybe, depends on outcome).

My pet hadeda

The bird with the loudest cry in Africa is called a hadeda ibis. It’s the bird most South Africans love to hate. We all know them, they’re everywhere. I repeat: the loudest shriek on the continent. When all other birds wake to a new day trilling with joy at the thought of an early worm and tree top rendezvous, the hadeda shrieks his cry across the sky as if to warn the world that he can take whatever crap the day brings. And he can.

This large bird with a long beak isn’t known for beauty although when the light is right the sun reflects the beautiful green-silver sheen of his wings and then one remembers that all creatures have a redeeming feature.

But that shriek … under a normal pre-covid world, ours is a country of tourism. Every morning thoughout the land hapless tourists descend to breakfast on their first morning in Africa asking their hosts ‘What on earth was that creature that woke us up at the crack of dawn?’ Because the hadeda likes to share with the world every detail of his progress to and from his nest every morning and every evening.

When I was a child living in Johannesburg we had one as a pet. Yes. Not by choice, mind you, but we had one nonetheless. I suspect we were his pets. I don’t remember that we ever gave it a name; we probably referred to it simply as ‘the bird’, or ‘l’oiseau’ since we were a French household. Our neighbour’s son brought him home from boarding school after rescuing and healing it. The bird clearly didn’t like the neighbours’ property and decided to come and live with us instead. We had a back door with a screen that was never shut and was permanently wedged open. This screen door, at the top of a few steps, is where the bird took up residence for all the time he lived with us. He seldom budged from there other than to go forage on the lawns, as they are wont to do.

I don’t remember how long he was with us but we became quite used to him. He would call now and again but he didn’t have a mate so was less bragful than he would no doubt later become. We were the only kids in school with a pet hadeda. The neighbours had always been a bit snooty towards us so being abandoned by their rescue hadeda was a kick in the teeth for them and totally raised our status, although we pretended to not notice it. We were privileged, I don’t care what anyone says about the pile of poop outside the back door.

He would fly off once in a while and not return for days. We’d sadly think he was finally gone but the next morning there he was again, just sitting on the screen door watching us. The yard overlooked the ubiquitous servants quarters and the toolshed so there was always activity and company. We had two cats, one of which would sit on the roof of the shed watching him for hours; this stand off never went anywhere, than goodness because the cat woud’ve probably come off worse for it.

Eventually, the hormones and the healing led him to health and the realisation that he was missing out on life by hanging out with unrewarding and ungrateful humans, so one day he took off and never came back. No, it wasn’t like in the movies where the wild animal returns to show off his babies and mate to those who cared for him; we simply never saw him again and imagined him making a proper nest at the top of a tree and raising a family of raucous little baby hadedas.

So now I pretend to hate them but deep down I think they’re awesome and whenever one of them lands on my roof or ventures down into my garden (which is seldom because I have no lawn and two dogs) I feel privileged and it reminds me of my youth in that Johannesburg house and the days when we had a pet hadeda.

Photo taken from Google as I have only blurred shots of it. Strange really considering how often I see them and how full our neighbourhoods are of them. Oh and by the way, they’re not endangered at all, in fact their numbers are on such an increase I suspect they’re planning a take over.

Watch this great short documentary about the Hadeda Ibis and the city of Johannesburg.

Gratitude, in bushels!

This week is off to an excellent start.

Yesterday I worked with foreign tourists – for the first time in over a year!! I acted as interpreter at the wedding of a French couple who speak no English but, for various reasons, wanted to integrate their wedding with the honeymoon in South Africa. It was a wind-free warm day, the setting was a beautiful boutique hotel in Clifton, one of Cape Town’s most trendy suburbs overlooking the best beaches in the country. Everyone went the exra mile – not least of all the travel agent and I who were beside ourselves with nerves at seeing foreign clients again! Out came the pearls and make-up for me, and a suit and polished smart shoes for him – all manner of things we haven’t bothered with in 12 months of lockdown!

Everything went very well, our couple was thrilled and very appreciative with all the attentiveness. We followed up with a wonderful lunch in Camps Bay, the suburb next door which is also usually a very popular tourism spot. Sadly, we had almost the entire restaurant to ourselves because tourism is so dismal at the moment, but this meant we had undivided attention from our waiters. Our clients were even moved to order a bottle of champagne that cost almost as much as I earned for the entire day – normally I’d be horrified at this sort of expense but the gesture was highly appreciated as I sipped the bubbles of the widow and gazed on the white sands of Camps Bay.

I returned home extremely satisfied with myself and duly exhausted – for once I slept through the night like a log. I don’t know if it’s because of the chamapgne or so much delicious food.

This morning I received a message that I have won a book ! This may seem like no big deal but books have become very expensive and, more to the point .. as much as I love having a Kindle and being able to grab bargains on Amazon that are downloaded in a flash, I sometimes do miss the feel and smell of a book in my hands. And everyone loves to win something, right? I’ll do a book review blog when I’ve read it. In the meantime, big thanks to Paige Nick and Penguin Random House Publishers. If you enjoy reading and want to hear from other readers what’s hot and what’s not, join the Facebook group known as the Good Book Appreciation Society. It’s South African in that the admins are here and prizes are usually only for locals but we have members from all over the world. Readers from elsewhere who are interested in Africana often appreciate the suggestions and input from locals.

As if I wasn’t already giddy with self-satisfaction I received the top bonus of all in the form of an email from my tutor. What tutor? I’ve decided that because tourism isn’t coming back in a hurry and certainly not in the large numbers of before, it’s time for me to do something else. My low energy levels due to my lung problems and my susceptibility to the virus (and no vaccine in sight for a long time for me), make it very difficult for me to find a way to earn a living. I hit on the idea of teaching English to foreigners. I can teach online until such time as the world goes back to normal. So, I signed up for a course and I’ve been studying for almost two months.

Today’s email was to advise me I’ve passed my second assignment, at first attempt. That’s the most important part – first attempt! It’s quite common to be told to revise certain parts of an assignment and I struggled with this one so I fully expected to be given feedback about parts to redo. Not so! Now I can continue with the course (you have to wait for assignments to be returned before continuing), and the sooner I finish the sooner I can start getting some experience, and then teaching for real moola.

So, yay!! truly a red letter week so far! I dare not hope for more great news because they say these things come in threes and that’s my three but I did buy a few lotery tickets the other day so there’s always that glimmer of hope!

The magnificent Clifton beaches. Aside from being cute and smallish, their biggest appeal is that no matter what the wind conditions are throughout Cape Town, these four little beaches are always sheltered from the wind, That means a lot in a city known for very unpleasant strong summer winds. I spent an inordinate amount of time there in my youth, on each of those beaches as they waxed and waned in popularity and I have fond memories of them and all the friends I hung out with. And the bikinis … oh the bikinis!
And to celebrate all this I baked a lemon meringue – the lemon tree is bountiful at the moment so why not?

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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