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?

Lockdown, day 365

Midnight tonight marks one year since South Africa went into hard lockdown to ward off the dreaded Corona virus. It’s hard to believe how time has flown. Firstly, let’s be clear on one thing – we did not ward anything off. All we achieved is to slow it down, prepare hospitals and minimise the number of deaths. Actual infections are far far higher than officially recorded, some regions’ health systems have completely collapsed (not entirely due to Covid), and many people have lost everything. Everything – that means jobs, homes and loved ones.

I won’t go into what I’ve lost but suffice to say it’s been a nightmare of a year and as I type this we are waiting to hear what new regulations and restrictions will be put in place ahead of Easter. Easter is when South Africans act as if they haven’t just had a 3-week holiday just two and a half months ago and they sell their granny’s jewels to take the longest holiday they can squeeze into 2 days of actual paid days off work. They hit the roads like lemmings; all going in the same direction so they can all gather on the same beaches and meet all the same people they see at home every other day of the year. They die in road accidents in their hundreds per province and this year will also pick up the virus to bring home and spread at work. The poor do the same thing except they pack into sardine can minibuses so it all spreads faster and wider.

So yes, a third wave is about to hit us. Some say like a tsunami. I have a glimmer of hope in humanity and common sense and that people will have learnt to not be total dicks next time around.

And everyone will complain when the President announces restrictions to try prevent as much damage as possible.

Oh lockdown .. thou art a bitch.

I have spent most of this past year pottering around in my garden and baking. The garden is lovely and I am as round as a little piglet. As I type this, my latest easy-peasy favourite dessert is in the oven – a peach cobbler. See photos of a few recent ones, below. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made this past year. I always attack the corner first, that’s where the crunchiest bits are.

  • Recipe: 1 cup flour – 1 cup sugar – pinch salt – teaspoon vanilla essence – half a teaspoon baking powder – 1 cup milk.
  • Mix all dry ingredients and vanilla, add the milk.
  • 60g butter, melted in bottom of baking dish in the oven while preheating to 180 degrees C. (Don’t let it burn but allow it to bubble a little bit).
  • Place 2 cups sliced fruit (peaches and/or plums are the best, apples and pears work too) in the dish on melted butter, and then pour the mixture over.
  • Bake for 45 minutes.
  • Break off cunchy corner as soon as humanly possible and blame the mouse or dog. Or just call it cook’s privilege.

After several days of excessive heat it’s raining today – and very welcome rain it is, too, because it was dry and wind-blown. On that note, here are some photos of my friend Frank’s FABULOUS garden. It’s small but packed with special plants and bulbs and a pond and all sorts of wonderful little nooks and crannies. Frank is also a tour guide, one who specialises in hiking and field trips to floral regions. He knows more about South African plants than anyone else I know. I had lunch at his home recently and snapped a few pics with my cell phone.

Swartberg Pass, again

swartberg pano blog
Playing with pano, full sun, not ideal. I took this standing on top of what’s left of the building from which the master road-builder Thomas Bain worked. It’s a pity it’s a ruin because it has historical significance given that Bain was this country’s most visionary road builder.

I found this in the draft folder. It was written about 6 years ago and I don’t know why I didn’t finish and publish it at the time. With some editing, here it is – low on wording, high on photos, and I’ll leave it like that. I remember well this strange client, and how difficult he was, but seeing as it took us to some of my favourite parts of the region, the time was not wasted.

So last month I had an unusual tour to the Klein Karoo.  One person, 6 days, and he didn’t hesitate to speak his mind about certain aspects of the trip – which details we won’t go into here, it’s fading from my mind. Luckily, he was thrilled with the open spaces of the Karoo and went nuts on Swartberg Pass. I decided to do a full day of it – up to the top of the pass in a 4×4, lots of stops for photos and plant stories, down into Prince Albert for lunch and a tour of the town, and then back to Oudtshoorn via Meiringspoort ad De Rust. It was a perfect day, warm and sunny, happy client, and my favourite aspect of any road-trip – mountain passes.

gentle start 2 swartberg
Gentle start up the mountain. The road was in surprisingly good condition as it had recently been graded. As I type, we have heard that it’s being damaged by rains again and can only be accessed in a 4×4.
start climbing swartbrg
Not at the top yet but already you can see how high the pass is. 1600m at the top.
retaining wall
Built in the late 1800s, this wall has not changed much since then. Its unique method makes it as strong as ever.
You’ll know you’re at the top when you see this.
swartberg scenes
roelnds office on swartberg
lucas thatchers
Lucas Thatchers are the most well-known thatching company in the Western Cape. The owner originates from Prince Albert and this is apparently the first building he ever thatched. It’s tiny, like a child’s toy, and neat as a in.
water of prince albert
One of the old water canals of Prince Albert – the town still uses this water reticulation system from the early days of settlement in this part of the Karoo. The whole of the Karoo is very dry but Prince Alvbert is especially dry so a nearby river serves well and not a drop of water is wasted.
domisee house
Classic Karoo Victorian house.
water mill
At the old water mill near the entrance to the town.

The mafia, the ghost and the garden

I enjoy looking at the stats on this blog now and then. I don’t have a huge following but it’s nice to see someone is reading some of the posts.

Since starting this blog about 9 years ago the three most popular posts have been about a lovely urban garden, a wonderful old ghost story, and a depressing account of how a quaint fishing village not far from Cape Town has become a haven for poachers who operate like a mafia. Although those posts go back to 2012 and 2014, they are still consistently visited. This means Google algorithms work and I tagged them properly. It also means people want to know about ghosts, the local mafia, and the garden. It’s the garden I’m most intrigued about because as lovely as it is, I had no idea it could be so popular.

As for the mafia post, I’m hoping it’s searches for the town itself that draw readers. Despite what goes on with the poaching (and the fishermen who are exploited), Paternoster is wildly popular with Capetonians. There isn’t masses to do there but for a quiet weekend, great food, and walks on the beach, you can’t beat it. During the wildflower season it’s the ideal place to visit. As I type this, I wish I could transport myself there. I did say in the original post that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to return but I have been back many times and I’ve grown to love it. The mafia-style issues, they are not mine to worry about and I can do nothing except support those people who do care for the village.

There’s a restaurant there that’s received enormous international attention but my favourite food is still what is served at the guesthouse known as Ah! Guesthouse. See photos below.

The garden from 2012

The ghost from 2012

The mafia from 2014

A series of photos of the food and hosts at the wonderful guesthouse where I’ve had the privilege of staying a few times in Paternoster. It’s called Ah! Guesthouse and is one of the best places to stay on the west coast, with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Oh and they serve dessert with breakfast – what more could you ask for? See the website here.

Because no visit to the West Coast is complete without a view of Table Mountain.

Canibalism, corona style

I haven’t blogged in weeks – it’s been a tough time but I am in need of a rant, so please bear with me.

We live in a greedy world where, for some people, money equals respect. If you have lots of it you can command respect, or something akin to respect, because of the power it buys. You can ruin someone’s life if you have money and they don’t. You can get out of jail free if you can afford a better lawyer than your opponent.

I’ve always been anti-consumerism, especially conspicuous consumerism, but with my complete loss of income this past year as a result of the end of tourism, I am more than ever aware of the power of money and the people who wield it. Of course, it’s a 2-way thing – the people who have lost respect for me a a result of my financial devastation are people for whom I have no respect either, regardless of their bank account. Luckily, this applies to only a few people I know and most of my friends and acquaintances are decent human beings who treat me the same, money or no money. They see me, not my stuff.

A year ago the world was starting to lockdown against an unknown plague. We had no idea it would be this bad or last this long, but a conversation I had with some people on Facebook last year led us to speculate what and how the world’s communities would manage if the economy was completely destroyed. If the majority of people found themselves with no income and no way to feed themselves. We envisaged dystopian scenarios of foraging and trading. And sharing. Sharing – what a notion. Someone said the virus might be the saving grace blessing in disguise that humanity needs to show us a way more natural, more caring, more humane.

Ha! Not a fuck, hey? I read a lot of news and online stories of Covid19 and its effects around the world and I have not come across a single report about any positive changes in humanity as a result. Lots and lots of ugliness, though. Politicians downplaying the problem, others stealing relief funds, and some just hunkering down until it blows over. Average citizens refusing to wear masks, refusing to stay home, refusing to slow down social lives, claiming they have nothing to share or give the poor. I’ve had arguments with people who can’t understand why there are more beggars around.

I live in a country of enormous poverty and an unemployment rate of around 40% (give or take inaccuracies and unofficial figures); 60% of the youth between 18 and 35 are unemployed and a huge number of those will never ever get a job! We are, however, still not the poorest in Africa and in fact we have wealth but it is very unevenly distributed. Last year people formed community based organisation to feed the poor but after taking off rather well, many of them are now struggling because even the donors are feeling the pinch – it is never ever the very rich who donate, it’s always those who don’t have much themselves. The government’s special temporary social grant for Covid relief has been far too little ($23/month!!! ) and so poorly managed that many did not even receive it, despite being approved to receive it.

Some have profited enormously of course – especially industries to do with e-commerce, also retailers of food and those selling anything connected to gardening and DIY. Food delivery services, groceries and take-out, are groaning with success – certain corners of cities are impassable due to the delivery scooters and their drivers taking up all the space (and not wearing masks or social distancing at all). Others have not lost their jobs, have barely felt the effects and in fact saved a lot by having activities curtailed. And all that lovely lucre is staying at the top of the pyramid. The beggars and homeless are on the increase.

Did we learn to be nicer to each other, as a whole? Not at all. We’re like a bunch of stranded shipwrecked survivors who slowly start to turn on each other and watch to see who will die first so the rest can eat.

And now we want to export those sentiments to Mars!!

This miserably depressing blog post improved with photos of the dogs – most loyal and loving and demanding of all beings! And half a selfie.


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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