Today, a new era for the US

I follow politics but avoid it on this blog, except for an occasional mention or barb aimed at our own corrupt dolts, but today it’s worth acknowledging a most important event taking place: The US Presidential Inauguration (of someone who can only be better than the previous incumbent, even if he isn’t perfect and is so wrinkly he might pop his clogs before Easter).

Goodbye Donny, Hullo Joe (and Kamala – you go, girl!).

As many people, I have found the past four years to be a frightening entertainment show never likely to be repeated. I hate horror movies but this was fascinating. Never in my life did I expect a global pandemic such as Covid, but neither did I imagine that the most powerful and influential nation on earth would be led by a man as blatantly odious and dangerous as the Don. A man who attempted a coup d’état because he didn’t get as many votes as he wanted. A man who, to the very last day, refused to even utter the name of the man who has been legally elected to take his place.

Mind-boggling. And even more puzzling is how so many South Africans of every variety actually supported him. We do have a lot of racists in this country and Trump did feed in to all their prejudices, but to the extent of supporting a man who actually looks down on them, is beyond stupidity. Something else that always puzzles me is when I see how many people don’t realise that what happens in the US has a direct effect on most countries, and definitely on us in South Africa.

If the US election and the storming of the Capitol had taken place on African soil we would be pilloried for being savages, accused of barbarous ungovernable behaviour, and so on and so on as we’ve seen for centuries. Of course Africa has dodge elections – Uganda is a case in point this very week – but we don’t invade other countries under the guise of enforcing democracy or human rights.

I’m fortunate that one of my lockdown inmates is a passionate follower of US politics and has patiently explained the machinations of every absurd little detail of how a federal nation is run, the difference between the Senate and the House, the fact that Washington DC isn’t even a state but wants to be one (and that’s despite a state to the north-west called Washington State), and of course how the elections work, which to my mind is about 300 years retarded and needs to get with a real democratic programme asap.

To my American readers: good luck and don’t do it again!

We’ll keep out eyes glued to the news later while we enjoy a typical South Africa braai (bbq) at around the time of the Inauguration – I hope it all goes smoothly and safely. As I write this, I have just received a breaking news alert that the orange menace and his tart have left the WH – bring in the fumigators!

LOCKDOWN CONTINUED!

Today marks 300 days since lockdown was announced in South Africa. We’ve gone from a very severe level 5 to a mild, almost nothing level 1, and now back to level 3 with much confusion, no beaches, no alcohol (so no champagne for the Inauguration!), and no school next week – I have sympathy for all my friends who have school-going children and who think they can’t cope with another home-school lesson!

Everyone I know has buried a loved one, everyone has a friend who either got Covid19 mildly or severely. The stats are easing, slightly, but the mortality rate is still very high and hospitals are struggling. From everything I have heard it seems obvious that healthcare workers need to be better equipped to deal with trauma, need more support from their industries, need better pay, and just more all-round genuine respect and working conditions. However, they also need an industry that screens trainees better – the level of theft and wilful neglect that takes place in hospitals is unacceptable. A nurse with 35 years experience has told me that it is directly proportionate to education – the better educated a nurse is, the more honest he/she will be in terms of ethics in the ward. Appalling but surely not difficult to address?

This post calls for a soothing photo – here is one of the most beautiful gardens high up in the mountains in Stellenbosch. I will write about it in another post.

Time is running out on my crowdfunding campaign – please read about it below. Any contribution will be most welcome and appreciated!

Ardene Gardens, Claremont

At long last, a walk in the park!

I’ve been going a bit mad with this latest lockdown and the dogs haven’t had a proper run in ages. Most of our parks are either closed or dogs are not allowed or you need special dog permits, and all beaches in this region are off-limits. The mutts have been walked by my friend around the neighbourhood but they prefer running free, sniffing stuff, rolling in old bird poop, and chasing squirrels.

I heard Ardene Gardens were open so I met my son there for a walk. I hadn’t been there for many years which is a pity because it’s gorgeous.

Smack back in the middle of what is now suburbia and a busy commercial area, this large piece of land was bought for the princely sum of £740 (under a thousand dollars!) in 1845 by one Ralph Henry Ardene because he wanted to create a garden “with trees and plants from as many parts of the world as I can.” He did just that, asking everyone who came to the Cape to bring him seeds and plants. His son continued the tradition, travelling the world in search of plants.

A Norfolk Island Pine was brought from Australia and for a long time was the focal point of the gardens. It is said that every Norfolk Island pine in Cape Town is a descendant of this tree. This particular one died early last century, not long after Ardene junior himself, and at about the same time as the dwindling of the family fortune. The gardens were at risk of being lost, i.e. divided and developed, as this had become a thriving sought-after part of the Cape peninsula. Fortunately the City Council was urged to buy the land and now it’s a very popular place for walks, picnics, and wedding photographs. We saw large bits of shiny confetti scattered – this should not be permitted as it isn’t biodegradable.

The most awesome tree, but truly awesome in the real meaning of the word, is a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This ancient and enormous specimen is claimed, in a book I have, to be one of the largest trees in Africa. I doubt that very much because there are baobabs that are much larger by far. What I suspect is meant is that it’s the largest cultivated exotic tree. Be that as it may, it is spectacular! The roots are spread out for more than 10 metres around the tree, with deep enough gaps between them to plant other things, and of course it’s very photogenic!

There is a natural spring, which apparently connects to the nearby Black River, and around which have been created several lovely ponds with ferns and other lush plants. The surface of the ponds is covered in scum and we saw only two ducks but no fish. The various little bridges across the ponds reminded me of Monet’s Garden at Giverny and there are even a few water lilies.

The gardens became neglected in the late 1980’s. In 2004, the Friends of the Arderne Gardens (FOTAG) was established as a public benefit organisation with the objective of working with the City of Cape Town to protect, preserve and promote the garden. The Liesbeek River Garden is another perfect example of citizens getting involved and filling in the gap when the City can’t do everything.

Although officially open during the current lockdown restrictions (with limits on numbers and no picnicking allowed) there was a ‘Closed’ sign at the entrance. This was strange because two employees sitting just inside the gate were quite happy to open up and let us in, saying that walking is permitted. Why the closed sign, I don’t know and didn’t ask. We saw only about 5 other people throughout our walk which was lovely.

Here is a full list of trees and a map here.

I was very conscious throughout our walk that the large hospital just over the road is buckling under the strain of Covid and here we were strolling in the park on a summer’s day as if nothing untoward was happening in the world around us.

My tourism business is in big trouble so I have created a crowdfunding campaign to help me continue to pay for my touring minibus. Here is the link below. Many thanks for any assistance and contribution, it is all much appreciated.

Agapanthus, the African lily

I’ve always loved these flowers but for some reason, even when I had very large gardens, I didn’t plant any. Now, in my tiny garden, I finally have some. Not many, about 12 plants in a small area, and even some miniatures in a pot that refuse to flower. Last year I was deeply disappointed that I had only one bloom. They definitely more impressive in large quantities, a big round clump in semi-shade or lining a driveway or even the roadside.

We’re spoilt here in the Cape as they’re indigenous, part of our beloved Cape floral kingdom, and our climate allows us to grow them almost anywhere with no need to protect them in winter. Under normal, i.e. pre-covid, conditions I used to regularly see swathes of them at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and strips along the road to the city centre. I considered them symbolic of the height of summer. Tall and regal on their single stalks they look beautiful, they withstand the wind, they last long, and don’t require too much attention.

So, I planted a few – bought from two different nurseries at intervals, and every year there is this thrilling anticipation to see if and how many will flower. This year, with so much more time to stand and stare, I was thrilled to see FIVE blooms. Very exciting but I’m greedy enough that I wish they would all flower, and also those miniatures.

Mine are all blue but they also flower white and a gorgeous deep violet that I should not lust after in case I buy some and they don’t deliver.

Read about them here and here.

Here are mine at varying stages of flowering, the last bloom is still not open.

And once again, I post a link to my crowdfunding campaign. The virus is nowhere near finished and I don’t know when I will work again as a tour guide. In the meantime, the bank is hovering like a vulture in case I can’t make my minibus payments and in this country there is no assistance for loss of income – we are on our own. All contributions welcome, big or small, and I thank you in advance.

2020, annus very horribilis

As we enter the second wave of Covid-19 with a hideous new variant, many countries are back in lockdown, airlines are cancelling flights, and everyone still wants to rush away for a holiday. January will tell us how good or bad of an idea that is. I can’t blame people wanting to leave home for a while, I really can’t.

There’s no disputing this year has been one of the biggest shitshows in living memory. Or has it?

The Holocaust and the wars of the first 50 years of last century were much worse. Think about it.

Apartheid was worse – it lasted almost 50 years and ruined generations to come.

The various genocides (real ones, not the fantasy one that racist South Africans talk about in the comfort of luxury and high-end security) of the 20th century wiped out as many as 30 million people, and counting.

The outbreak of the Aids epidemic was a horror. We in South Africa remember it all too well. Funeral after funeral after funeral. Almost everyone in South Africa lost a friend or relative to that plague, before anti-retroviral medication came along to control HIV before it can turn into Aids.

So why is Covid-19 so bad? 1,700 000 dead – horrific of course but not as bad as some of the examples above. Is it because the entire planet is affected? Because it’s happened so fast? Is it because the economy has almost ground to a halt? The global economy needs an overhaul so this might be the event that forces that to happen, but it doesn’t happen overnight; it’s long and slow and many people suffer in the process.

We also don’t even know how many people are ill with long-term Covid – that’s when it lingers for months and months and months. Just as the patient thinks they’re getting better, wham, they’re back down, feeling as sick as months ago when it started.

Just as the virus didn’t take a break for the holidays, it has no notion of a calendar so let’s not heave a sigh of relief on December 31, because it won’t go away magically as the clock strikes 12; nothing will change unless we change it.

I especially liked Richard Poplak’s take, below: “This should have been a time of connection; instead it sharped our divisions.”

This does not only apply to South Africa where the divisions between rich and poor, white and black, are sharply defined and there is an abnormally wide gap between groups. This applies all over the world. I suspect these divisions will get worse, not better. We seem to be headed for a Dystopian type of world that we have seen in fiction.

So, on that not very cheerful note I will end this post with a few soothing photos of scenic Cape Town which I came across when trawling through my photos. I am attempting to sort all my photo folders but am making no headway at all. These were all taken last year, the year of innocence which we clearly didn’t appreciate.

And, as always, below the photos a link to my crowdfunding campaign. Many thanks in advance for any contributions. May the spirit of Christmas be with you as you assist me in saving my touring minibus from the evil capitalist banking system.

From the top: Aloes at the top of Table Mountain; Cape of Good Hope; fishing boats at Kalk Bay; spring flowers at Kirstenbosch; Noordhoek beach; African penguins at Boulders Beach.

The tomato files

I came to the lockdown vegetable growing party a bit late. My gardening philosophy is ‘survival of the fittest’ and this does not lend itself to vegetables. Vegetables are needy, they need attention. They need pest repellent, staking, protection from dogs, and goodness knows what else. They also want to grow in neat rows which is not how the rest of my garden looks. My garden always looks like a work in progress and there’s always something that needs to be done. That’s how I like it.

But, in the days of Corona lockdown with time and good weather … sighh .. I dug out the vegetable seeds I had bought last year, for someone else who then decided not to become a vegetable farmer after all and gave me back the seeds. Also, tomato seeds from my kitchen – big fat round ones, little Roma or Rosa (I forget their name, the small oblong ones), and miniatures. And chilli seeds, also mixed.

I had seed packets of lettuce, leeks, baby spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, beans, and others I forget. I also had the Checkers Lil Garden series – this is the second time this supermarket chain has done this promo. It’s a good concept – giveaways of small kits to grow veg and herbs, all in an eco-friendly way. Ideal to teach children to grow things. I had little success the previous time because I neglected them but I figured this time around I had nothing like work or a social life to distract me so I gave it another bash.

I started off with tomatoes in containers. Not a brilliant idea if the pots are too small and the tomatoes cramped. The Lil Garden stuff did very well and then required planting out. So I sectioned off a corner of the garden, we protected it from the dogs, and transplanted things. Only the tomatoes were in neat rows because of needing the dog barrier to hold them up; everything else was hodge podge.

There were many losses, I won’t dwell on them but will focus on the positive. And the tomatoes – they fall into both categories.

Tomatoes are fussy little pheckers and much loved by a whole bunch of little creatures. Every morning we counted how many fruit were forming – I was heady with excitement – until I realised they were being eaten up. First the bottom leaves dry and die, then the tomatoes themselves are eaten from inside. It’s easy to miss the pinprick hole made by worms. Sometimes it’s when the fruit is almost ripe, sometimes the little green ones. No consistency.

I had to break my rule of no pesticide and shot off to the nursery. I was sold something bio that seems to be almost entirely made of garlic. I sprayed a small quantity one evening and then watched to see if my dogs would be attracted to it. If so, then I couldn’t continue. They didn’t go near it so I continued and sprayed a lot. I still spray it every few days. The smell of garlic is nauseating.

I seem to have saved some of the tomatoes. There are a few still being eaten, and I can see little bugs on them at times, but generally speaking I have harvested enough to please me and make this not too much of a time waster. I pick them early enough to ripen indoors and we’ve had a few salads. Considering my vegetable track record, the tomatoes are being counted as a success. But I might not bother again.

Another success, a complete one, is lettuce. I have several varieties .. butter, frilly, and something called ‘Italian’. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than finally having lettuce in my garden, to pick a few leaves whenever needed. Rocket – also a success and added to salads, but the plants are very tall and already flowering. I suspect they will seed themselves. Basil is doing well, planted as a companion to the tomatoes, as advised by my friend Fadia.

Leeks and chillis are very slow. Radishes have completely disappeared. Three borage plants look like death. Swiss chard are not plentiful enough to cook alone so they go into salads. The carrots and beans want sowing in a few months but I might never bother. I’m not really cut out for vegetable gardening but there are lettuce seeds left over that might get thrown haphazardly to see what survives.

Not everything in the pots survived. There’s definitely something to be said for a proper vegetable garden with everything in rows or the wooden planters that are all the rage now.

The various stages of excitement and anticipation. Note the weirdo pointy tomato – I’ve been watching him like a hawk and he’s going into a chicken salad later today.

My crowdfund campaign is at 50% and I’m very thrilled! Please read below and see if you can help me save my business for when tourism picks up again. All contributions, big and small, are appreciated and I thank you in advance!

Reconciliation, corona style

Today is a holiday – Day of Reconciliation – in South Africa. It’s also the start of the annual holidays for many people which, in the case of 2020, will be a holiday unlike any other. For some it may be the last holiday they ever have, or it could be the last with their elderly parents or grandparents. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Well, that’s how the President put it when he addressed the nation the other day (we refer to these national addresses as ‘family meetings’ now).

In the latest address new Covid safety measures were announced. For the first time, certain regions have regulations specific to each region. It’s harsh and many will not spend their holiday at the beach as they normally do, but if they obey the rules, it will be only for this year, and next year they can live normally again. If they had obeyed the rules months ago, this would probably not be happening.

I am angry at, and extremely impatient and scornful of, those who are upset at this new beach ban. They asked for it, they themselves have spread the virus. Many others like myself have been stuck at home, unable to work, unable to have fun, stressed, bored and fearful for almost a full year so that they can gad about breaking the rules, acting carelessly and endangering everyone else.

And now it’s teenagers testing positive in their thousands because their parents have taught them nothing. It’ll be hard for me to ever have respect and understanding of youthful ways again. This might well turn me into that crabby old lady who hates the youth of today. Who is going to want to enter the healthcare field after all this? Who would want to work with the public if your own customers bring sickness?

Anyway, that rant is over. I am staying put these holidays, of course. Walks with the dogs (my local beaches are staying open so I’ll venture out to one or two isolated ones), reading, Netflix, gardening, eating, same old same old as this whole year. I am not inclined to cook anything festive but I would love a gammon, preferably one that is already cooked, which I believe is hard to find and costs a fortune. My lockdown inmates might not even all be here, but we will probably braai / bbq a lot. And all I want Santa to bring me is a contribution to my fund campaign as link below.

So anyway, what is the Day of Reconciliation? Many South Africans don’t know, they only see it as the end of the working year. The 16th was a holiday for a very long time but changed to Reconciliation in 1994 in an attempt to unite the people of this country after the turbulent years of apartheid and before that colonialism. It hasn’t really worked, sad to say. Many people still see their fellow citizens as ‘others’ and ‘they’.

People do not know each other. They don’t understand each others’ customs and habits. They don’t know each others’ history. Black people know what it’s like to be white because they’ve worked for whites all their lives, for hundreds of years, but the majority of white people have never been to a black township or inside a black person’s home.

Many white people have no black friends. Many black people have no white friends. How then can we reconcile the segregated past? My understanding and knowledge of what black people think and feel has come directly from them. I asked, they answered, it was not always easy-listening, but it was needed. I have black friends, how can one not?

The political power in this country is held by black people, but the economic power is still held by whites – the stats show this quite clearly when you see that the biggest fortunes in the country are almost all white. Attitude also plays a big role .. as long as white people still see themselves as entitled to a good life while their black servants do their bidding, there is little unity and no understanding of the ‘other’.

People generally do not like to read this sort of thing. People do not have this conversation. They avoid it. And so of course nothing changes. It doesn’t help of course that the state has dragged its corrupt and incompetent heels on land reclamation claims and building affordable housing for the poor.

Wow, two rants in one post. Note to self: make next post as light as possible.

Let’s go light and fluffy with photos of food and the garden.

No wonder I’ve put on so much weight – lockdown baking: carrot cake, bread and butter pudding, apple clafoutis. Three oft repeated acts in this household, especially that last one because it’s soooo easy to make.

Above: look at the poppy that is still creased from unfurling, and also the white one in a sea of red. Below: duranta with its lovely drooping purple flowers that smell of vanilla and caramel. On the right, nasturtiums incongruously growing up an aloe ferox in which rests an animal skull found in the Karoo.

No tourists, no income. No income, no payment to the bank for my minibus. Hence, a crowdfund campaign to save it from the bank’s greedy jaws. Many thanks for any contributions.

October, finally the Cape of Good Hope

As a tour guide in Cape Town I get to visit the Cape of Good Hope very often, sometimes several times in one week. I never get bored of it and after months of not going there I felt deprived. That is the National Park I missed most of all during lockdown. Even more frustrating is that it’s not far from where I live. I didn’t want to go there until they had opened the entire park so I waited until all sections were declared open. No one could explain why one or two roads might be less safe than others or why hiking was not permitted – we’re talking of a 7700 hectare park with very few people around – it doesn’t get any safer or more socially distant than that.

Anyway, as soon as it was fully open, Sheila and I shot off like bats out of hell to take advantage of this most wonderful and beloved place. We drove up and down all the side roads, enjoyed a picnic with barely a soul around and for once no baboons came to steal from us, and took many happy photos. We were especially grateful that there was no wind because when it blows down there, it blows – it’s the windiest place in South Africa.

The joy of having the park to ourselves was a double-edged sword : no crowds means no work and no income. It’s a horrible situation to be in – on the one hand I love the peace and quiet of having roads and places to ourselves, but at the same time it’s decimated my industry. I was quite emotional to see the empty parking lot which is usually full of coaches and smaller tourism vehicles.

Towards the end of October I ran away from home. The day started off very badly with the bank threatening to take my touring minibus because I had fallen behind on payments. They were refusing to discuss this with me – all calls and emails requesting a meeting were ignored, then one day they simply demanded it. I pointed out this was not permitted without going through a process and they temporarily backed off, but I knew I was in trouble.

I decided to run away. I grabbed Vida off we went, heading for a beautiful beach that I have been meaning to take her to. There are not many beaches here we can let dogs run free but Scarborough beach, next to the Cape of Good Hope on the opposite side of the peninsula to where I live, is one of them. We even stopped at a little restaurant in Scarborough where I shared a burger and fries with her. (She’s on diet now because someone on Facebook pointed out that lockdown had not been kind to her waistline either – she’s a bit of a Facebook sensation so I am grateful for her fans’ attention.).

It was a fabulous day and we didn’t want to come home, but we did, and I started toying with an idea of how to prevent the bank from taking my minibus, see below after photos.

Did you watch My Octopus Teacher? This is where it was filmed.

Pics above: no coaches in parking lot; no diners on restaurant terrace, no tour guides gossiping in front of snake sign. This is NOT how I know these sights!

One of my favourite views across False Bay from the restaurant terrace.

Pics above: The most south-western tip of Africa, ostriches courting dance and two locals being tourists.

Scarborough beach: Vida in her element and lots of space for running and walking safely!

Spring flowers from my garden

The tourism industry is still stuck in Covid-19 limbo and I’ve set up a fundraising campaign to try save my business from being destroyed by my bank. Here is the link and I thank you in advance for any contribution.

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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