Friday, 11 November 2011
Why the change? Well, I haven't updated this blog for some time now. I've tried to work out why this is, but no one thing stands out. It's a combination of being a bit bored with the format, and that the 'feel' of it is ... just ... not quite right. I started it in 2007 when Nick was 13, and Charlotte was 12, and neither of them minded me posting pictures like this...
...and stories like this and this.
And now they're all grown up with their own lives and their own blogs and I need something new and shiny to explore. I like writing stuff on the internet - but I'm not succinct enough for twitter, and facebook's ability to archive stuff is crap. And while nobody else might want to see my gems from years and years ago, if I've posted it, it probably means I like it, and I might like to find it again.
So a while back I started a tumblr. I haven't done much with it yet, but I've stalked a few other people's tumblrs, and I think I'm getting the hang of how it works. I can blog on it, and post pictures, and gifs, and the archiving's great. It also feels like more of a social network than blogger does - although at the moment I only follow two others: Will Wade because he takes nice photographs of bears, and bookshelfporn because, well, bookshelves ... what's not to love?
So: bye for now. And feel free to pop over. And say hello.
Saturday, 16 July 2011
- Nick's driving test is on Monday. I hope he passes because this will make him happy. On the other hand, I am deeply worried about him passing because this will mean that the car that was mine and is now technically his becomes properly his and I might live to regret my "Oh, I don't need a car, I can cycle and use public transport" assertions.
- I am looking forward to going to see the last Harry Potter at the earliest opportunity. I might cry.
- Someone won £160 million on the lottery this week. This prompted the inevitable 'What would we do if...' discussion with Tony. The only thing we can agree on is that we wouldn't give any of it to the children on the grounds that it would be Bad For Them.
- If it is not still peeing with rain next weekend, we are going to go up Snowdon (Crib Goch) and Tryfan. Anybody want to join us?
- I bought some proper grown-up clothes for almost the first time in my life for an interview last week that lasted all of two seconds. I need an occasion to wear them again. With some frivolous shoes and a hat, they'd be ideal for a wedding. Anyone planning on getting married any time soon?
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
The reason I should be banned from all kitchens for the rest of my life.
6:03pm: Get a text from my mother with instructions on how to make dinner as she’s going to be late getting home from work.
6:45pm: Turn the oven on and then go back to revision for the ten minutes it takes to heat up.
6:46pm: Oooh! Tumblr!
7:07pm: SHIT! I’m meant to be cooking.
7:08pm: ‘Get potato wedges out of the freezer & put wedges on one baking tray, chicken kievs on the other.’ Where are the baking trays…? Oh yeah, I forgot to take them out of the oven when I turned it on.
7:09pm: Locates oven gloves and removes boiling baking trays. Places chicken and potatoes on trays. …I wonder what frozen potato wedges taste like…?
7:10pm: Drinks copious amounts of orange juice because frozen potato wedges are not good. Puts trays in the oven and sets timer for 20 minutes.
7:23pm: ‘When the chicken has seven minutes to go, pour boiling water into the silver pot and put a mug and a half of peas in.’ *Only just started boiling the kettle.*
7:26pm: I finally get water boiling on the stove and a bag of peas out. I get a coffee mug out of the cupboard somewhat dubiously (is that really how you measure out a mug?). Pour peas into mug, spilling half of them onto the floor for the dog to eat.
7:29pm: Peas are cooking.
7:30pm: Rest of the food stops cooking.
7:32pm: Rest of the food sits cold on the counter tops and gets colder as the peas cooked.
7:35pm: Peas stop cooking and I realise that I haven’t put anything into serving bowls/set the table yet.
7:37pm: Food is very cold, but the table looks pretty.
7:38pm: Goes to call brother etc. from around the house.
7:39pm: Comes back to find the cat eating the potato wedges.
7:40pm: The household assembles and stares at my attempt at food. The chicken is cold, there aren’t enough peas and most of the potatoes have been nibbled by the cat.
Monday, 25 April 2011
Tidying, packing, saying goodbyes, feeling a bit heartsore.
And having thought long and hard about why our children grew up in the UK rather than here, and why we're not out shopping for the 'renovators' dream' in a 'newly-trendy suburb' that a half a million pounds would buy us in Cape Town, the answer that presents itself is disappointingly prosaic: the more one accumulates, the harder it gets to make a move.
I like living in England. I have a nice job, good colleagues, lovely friends. Things work. The media are thoughtful and articulate. Corruption is dealt with. It's safe. A little dull perhaps, but safe. On the other hand, I would probably also like living in Cape Town. It's achingly beautiful. One can find ways to make a useful contribution to some of the social problems that exist. Nick and Charlotte would have the opportunity to get to know their aunts and uncles and cousins. There are some really marvellous mountains right on the doorstep.
Moving away from twenty years' worth of accumulated experiences, habits, relationships, reputations and posessions would be difficult. Emotionally, I might have a strong connection with Cape Town, but I have put down some deep roots in England, which would require a more significant incentive than currently exists to dig up.
Sunday, 24 April 2011
The Post House
Tony and I first visited to Greyton as students, when we stayed in its little campsite and did a bit of walking in the surrounding mountains. I remember looking at The Post House back then and thinking it looked like a much better option than a mosquitoey tent, but probably well beyond my budget.
The town hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years - a few more shops, and a bit of an arty air to it - but it remains sleepy and rather charmingly unsophisticated. The Post House is pretty, the staff are friendly ("Drambuie?" - bartender peers at shelves above bar -
and other interesting individuals'
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
There are six floral kingdoms in the world. The Western Cape is one. It is the smallest and, with over 9000 species of plants (6200 of which are endemic), it is also the richest in terms of its size. One of the loveliest places to enjoy the fynbos is Kirstenbosch, a botanical garden on the slopes of Table Mountain. It’s sheltered, and a favourite spot for picnics, so when our plan to have breakfast at Eagle’s Nest on Saturday morning was foiled by a howling south-easter (a wind of sufficient notoriety to have its own wikipedia entry), we regrouped at Kirstenbosch. My brother Mike and nephew Greg joined us, as did Andrew and Heather Davies (friends from university days) with their two children, Caitlyn and Cameron.
After we’d spent several hours polishing off the better part of a substantial spread (including spinach and feta croissants which appear to be a local speciality; I’m not sure the French would approve), we headed down to Muizenberg beach where Heather had very kindly organised a surfing lesson for Charlotte. Muizenberg is over on the east side of the peninsula, at the western end of the very long stretch of sand which curves all the way round False Bay. It catches the full force of the wind, so Tony parked the car facing on to the beach where we could watch Charlotte’s progress without being sand-blasted.
Muizenberg has always had a somewhat seedy, dilapidated feel to it. It’s a popular surfing beach and while there are plenty of trendy surfer dudes to be found in the beachfront surf shops and cafes, the wind and the sea spray covers everything with a slightly sticky, salty residue, and the holiday flats and apartment blocks overlooking the beach seem tired and run-down.
In front of us, a group of seven or eight smartly dressed, earnestly friendly young people were making their way along the promenade, handing out Watchtower magazines and homilies to the beggars and down-and-outs that were hanging about. Having time to kill, I cleared up the car, folded towels and picnic blankets, and threw the bag of rubbish we had accumulated from breakfast into a nearby bin. Within minutes, one of the down-and-outs had opened the bin and was investigating its contents. I felt awkward and uncomfortable – at the same time both relieved that I hadn’t thrown out wasted food, and apologetic that there would be nothing for him to find. However, his ideas about what constituted useful pickings were rather different to mine: I watched as he carefully retrieved each of the dozen or so discarded yoghurt pots and licked them completely clean. His need of the breakfast left-overs was clearly greater than ours, and I went to the boot to see what food there was. Three small boys immediately materialised, and I distributed the few remaining croissants and some half-empty cartons of fruit juice. It felt desperately inadequate.
There is, of course, a painful difference between telling one’s children to eat their greens because there are starving children in Africa, and having those same hungry children in their raggedy clothes and holey shoes appearing at one’s elbow. ‘Where are the soup kitchens?’ one thinks. ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ Well, because the problem is huge. And complex. With roots that go back through the decades of Apartheid, and further through centuries of dispute about how this country’s land and resources should be shared. At an individual level, I can tip the car guards, pay the cleaning lady somewhat more than the R24.00 (£2.20) an hour she asks for, make sure that food, clothes and other surplus-to-requirement household items reach those who need them. This might assuage some of my white middle-class liberal guilt, but it does nothing whatsoever that’s meaningful at any sort of population level. The contrast that confronts me between my happiness and well-being – the delights of the mountains, Kirstenbosch, family picnics, surfing lessons – and the difficulties that are faced by so many of the people that I encounter here on a daily basis, is deeply discomforting.
Sunday, 17 April 2011
I have a vivid memory of one of these walks, which we must have done when I was about 10 years old. I remember a gentle path alongside a river with an ever-more-splendid rock pool around every subsequent bend, ending at a quite spectacular, deep pool with a 10 foot waterfall and boulders you could dive off into the water. Just the place to take Nick and Charlotte, I thought. The only problem was that I couldn't remember where it was. I described it to Mike, who said, "Sounds like Happy Valley - the Witte River in Bainskloof, although I'm not sure about the waterfall. But there are lots of very good rock pools." A bit of googling persuaded me that this was very likely to be the river I remembered, and even if if wasn't, it looked like a lovely day's walking - easy path along a jeep track, good swimming pools, and not too long - 10km to Junction Pool and back.
Having armed ourselves with the necessary permit and the map supplied by CapeNature we drove up to Eerste Tol at the top of Bainskloof pass, and set off.
The first hour and a half was great - good path, and we seemed to be making good time. When we stopped to check the map, it looked like we were about three quarters of the way already, making it likely that we would reach Junction Pool in well under the three hours suggested by the route guide.
And sure enough, after two hours, we reached the branching valley where we would find "one of the most popular swimming spots in the Boland."
"This can't be right," I said, frowning at the knee-deep, not-much-more-than-a puddle in front of us. We studied the map some more. "Look," I said, "I don't think we are where we think we are. We've only been walking for two hours. We can't have made it so quickly. I think we need to be further on, up there," and pointed to two clearly visible valleys intersecting some way up ahead. "Junction Pool," I promised the family, "is worth the extra walk."
After another hour or so, the path - which had been steadily deteriorating - vanished altogether, and we found ourselves bundu-bashing over grassy tussocks and through scratchy burned out proteas and thorny fynbos. Levels of frustration and disappointment were rising and senses of humour were failing. Eventually, Charlotte stopped and gave me a look that said, "I. Will. Not. Walk. Another. Step." Tony went on ahead a short way to do a recce, and came back with the news that he had reached a sign post declaring "Private. Mountain Club of South Africa members only after this point." The Junction Pool I thought I'd remembered didn't seem to be on this stretch of the Witte River.
We bashed our way through more scrubby bush down to the river, and boulder-hopped for a kilometer or so back downstream before coming upon this very tolerable little spot for lunch and a swim.
Feeling cooler, fed, watered and slightly more cheerful, we continued down the river. There were a few more deep, swimmable pools - very close to the spot that I'd persuaded everybody was not the end of the trail.
The whole hike eventually took us 9 hours - probably somewhere close to double the distance we'd intended. I think the pool that I remembered is this one - also in Bainskloof, but some distance further on. Oh well, next time we're out here on holiday. And this one's only a 1.5km walk. Promise.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
... visiting the Aquarium (which I'd done - and enjoyed - on a previous trip to Cape Town. Not entirely sure why I thought it was worth visiting again - I mean, nice enough, but expensive and a bit tired-looking),
And I've come to the conclusion that it's the wrong question. 'Why we left' is relatively straightforward... we'd been together for about two years, and we wanted a bit of an adventure before beginning to accumulate proper jobs, mortages and, at some point, children. It was easy to find a job in Britian, work for a couple of years, and save up enough money to travel. At the end of our two years, I resigned my job, as did Tony. Tony's boss put a bit of a spanner in the works at that point by persuading Tony not to resign, but rather take a year's leave of absence. The guarantee of work to come back to was appealing, and Tony acepted. So, in the short term at least, this brought us back to England. The more interesting, and much harder to answer question is, 'Why did we never return?'
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
(1) Table Mountain. We set off before sunrise, going up India Venster. Despite the dire warnings on the sign (below), it’s an interesting and not too challenging route if you know the way. There was much complaining from various quarters about starting to walk while it was still pitch dark, but given the heat later in the day, we were all quite pleased to be arriving at the top before 11am.(2) Boulders Beach. I used to come on holiday here as a child - long before the penguins arrived. Now the beach is split into two - one half is a penguin colony, the other is for swimming. Penguins are known to wander over to the swimming beach, and this one found Charlotte most interesting.
(3) Llandudno for sundowners. Since it is on the way home from Boulders (via Chapman's Peak) we stopped off at Llandudno to watch the surfers and the sunset. Nick and Matthew swam. Passing surfer (on his way out of the water): 'Aren't you guys cold?' Nick and Matthew (wetsuitless): 'No, we're British.'
Sunday, 10 April 2011
She was cremated, and Mike (youngest brother), kept her ashes in the hope that there would be an opportunity for a family gathering to scatter them at Noordhoek Peak – the same place my father’s ashes were scattered when he died in 1999. With our visit to Cape Town and David (middle brother who lives in Pretoria) able to come down for the weekend, this seemed like a good moment.
Tony and I, Mike, Alison (Mike’s daughter), Bridget (Mike’s wife), Neil (eldest brother) and David set off from the parking lot at Silvermine dam at 8 o’clock this morning. The peak is about a two hour walk – we took it at a leisurely pace in the 30 degree heat. When we got to the top, Mike produced a cardboard box, in which there was a small plastic bag containing a couple of pounds of grey grit. “I really don’t do ceremonies very well,” I thought, looking at it, and struggling to connect these firegrate scrapings up to the memory of someone who I had (mostly) loved. As if reading my thoughts, and taking charge of the situation, Mike cleared his throat, and announced, “Our family doesn’t really go in for ceremonies, and we haven’t prepared anything for this occasion. It’s up to everybody to do this in whatever way they’d like.” There was a lengthy pause, punctuated by a few conjectures about wind direction, and speculations on likelihood of being joined by other walkers. The silence was eventually broken by Neil, looking across the bay and idly wondering about property development above the fishermens’ cottages on the slopes of the Sentinel. The conversation wandered on to Imizamo Yethu, the township in Hout Bay where there was a measles outbreak some years ago and Neil had responsibility for the immunization programme. He remembered that there was a group of helpful women volunteers who he had thought were being very kind until he discovered that they were Mozambican prostitutes touting for business.
Thinking that the conversation was taking an odd turn for a wake, I decided to investigate the ashes. How do you scatter ashes, anyway? One has this romantic notion that it’s a gentle process, with little feather-weight particles being carried away on a balmy breeze. The reality is somewhat different. The ashes are a thick, heavy mass which (in this case) landed in a rather solid heap on a rock.
My brothers reminisced for a bit. I learned that my grandfather – who I’d previously thought to be a sober, hardworking family man – was, in fact, a chess-obsessed philanderer who'd made my grandmother’s life a misery.
Much as I may not like them, rituals and ceremonies have a purpose. They provide a script, making it easier to negotiate unfamiliar, awkward situations that we might find emotionally challenging. On the way down, I asked Mike whether he would have preferred a more structured ceremony. We debated the pros and cons. “Ultimately,” he said, “exactly what we did doesn’t matter. What’s significant is that all of us are here, able to do this together.”
Saturday, 9 April 2011
Jean was at the airport to greet us. This was welcome on two counts: first, it was lovely to see her, and second, the car we have rented is a Kia Picanto – a vehicle clearly designed to fit no more than two midget squirrels. Tony and the luggage opted for the comfort of Jean’s much more spacious Toyota, while the children braved my navigation of Cape Town’s traffic (Capetonians are notoriously awful drivers. If traffic regulations do exist – which I doubt – it appears to be a point of principle to pay them no attention whatsoever).
We made it without incident from the airport to the house we are renting: 59 Central Drive, Camps Bay – a stone’s throw from the beach, and down the road from where Tony grew up. The day was mostly spent recovering, unpacking, grocery shopping (for necessities such as biltong, droëwors, and Simonsberg Madagascan green peppercorn camembert), swimming (yes, in Camps Bay seawater), feeling nostalgic, and wondering what the answer is to Nick’s and Charlotte’s bewildered – and repeated – question, “Uh, why did you leave?”
Thursday, 7 April 2011
The last time all four of us were in Cape Town together was ten years ago, in June 2001, to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday, although both Tony and I have been out separately in the intervening years to spend time with family. My mother died in 2007 and I haven’t been back since I visited at the end of 2005 – with work colleagues, attending a palliative care conference held at Cape Town University. Since then, I don’t think a year has gone past when we haven’t had some sort of plan to go to Cape Town ‘next Easter’ or ‘for Christmas’ or ‘in the winter to go to the Kruger Park’, and each time we take a look at how much it will cost and go, ‘Ah. Maybe next year.’
The expense is still eye-watering but we have thrown financial caution to the wind on the grounds that Nick and Charlotte will be finished school and leaving home soon, Jean (Tony’s mom, who lives in Cape Town) has been over here to see us far more often than we have visited her, and we have a 20th wedding anniversary to celebrate.
And, of course, that Cape Town is beautiful. And I miss it.
Friday, 31 December 2010
We set out from the small car park at Rame Head, and walked up to the little chapel of St. Michael (1397) on the summit.
As soon as we turned on to the path to Penlee Point, however, the wind dropped, and the rest of the walk was glorious.
Sacred to the memory of Thomas Eddy, son of Richard and Elizabeth Eddey of Cawsand, who was unfortunately drowned on 2 October 1840 aged 37 years, leaving his wife and six children to lament his loss.
Also Richard Eddey, son of the above Thomas and Thomasin Eddey, who departed this life on 9 August 1832 aged 5 years and 3 months.
Also Henry John Eddey, brother to the above, who departed this life on 14 December 1831 aged 2 years and 6 months. Tho lost to sight, to memory dear.
On the stone on the right:
Sacred to the memory of Thomas Eddey, son of Thomas and Thomasin Eddey of Cawsand, who departed this life 17 November 1842 aged 18 years.
Also of Thomasin, the wife of Thomas Eddey, and mother of the above, who departed this life on 4 September 1965 aged 62 years.
Thursday, 30 December 2010
(1) It has been either too foggy to see anything further than the tree in next door's garden, or too windy to stand upright outdoors.
(2) The house (three floors, the owners have the top two) has had a plumbing meltdown causing hot water in the toilets but none in the shower.
(3) The main switch trips every time one shuts the cutlery drawer even slightly vigorously.
(4) Charlotte has taken up residence on the sofa with her laptop and refuses to leave.
(5) Looe turns out to be far from the 'charming seaside town with golden sandy beaches' described in the brochures; it is instead a slightly greasy tourist trap overflowing with unlovely shops selling shells, dreadlock wigs and Lladró figurines.
(6) Daisy's Café, which welcomes 'children (check), muddy boots (check) and dogs (singular, check)' and which is at the top of a very steep hill, was closed.
(1) The views when the fog clears are stunning. The sea is dark and stormy and we can see Eddystone lighthouse on the horizon.
(2) The house is cosy and has a toasty coal stove.
(3) The owners are lovely, and terribly apologetic, and have had small armies of plumbers attending to the problem.
(4) We have a superfluity of box sets, making staying indoors an attractive proposition (Misfits, the Inbetweeners, Dr Who, Glee, and the first two series of the West Wing).
(5) Downderry is lovely and we are going to try out the Inn on the Shore for dinner tonight.
(6) Looe is, according to The Times, the fourth best place in the UK to celebrate New Year's Eve.
(7) The walk we did yesterday from Seaton to the Monkey Sanctuary (closed in winter - which is just as well as Hobbes and monkeys probably wouldn't get on so well) was beautiful.
Monday, 29 November 2010
Five minutes later I walk past the kitchen and what's on her screen looks a lot like facebook and very little like MS Word.
"That's not your oral," I observe.
"I wrote a sentence," she replies. "It is a bad sentence, and depressing to look at. I have had to go away and leave it alone."
The piece of lined paper next to her laptop catches my eye. It is the English version of the oral that she attempting to translate.
I do lots to stay fit. I regularly go Fallschirmspringen because my favourite sport is Extrembüglen, where one irons in extreme places. I also go running daily with my father, (frankly, the extreme ironing is more plausible) because he will not iron with me, as he doesn't like wasting electricity.
Friends and family.
My family is very boring. My mum only eats tuna and my dad is afraid of turning on a light as it might cause nuclear war. Mum stays healthy by eating tuna and doing Extrembüglen Unterwasser stil mit mich. Dad eats tuna with mum and goes running with me außberdem playing tennis. He is worried that obese humans will crush the forests.
And so on, for a further two pages. I gather the strategy is that the more outlandish it is, the easier it will be to memorise. I just hope that marks are not awarded for meaning and intelligibility, and that she doesn't find herself trying to make conversation with a real German speaker anytime soon.