We moved from London (St Albans) to Swellendam on February 12th 2006, having bought a derelict house, which we planned to renovate and turn into a guest-house. We also had plans to accommodate students from UK on ‘mini-gaps’ engaging in small community projects and adventure activities.
At the back of the information books we leave in each room in our guest-house are extracts from the diary which I had kept religiously for my daughter to read, so she could follow the progress of our life in South Africa. I am startled sometimes when guests pass comments at breakfast about events in our early days as if they know us. I re-read them the other day, and was amused at our enthusiasm and naivety.
So, if it is not cheating to use seven year old material , I thought I would share some of these extracts on this new blog. We arrived in the summer of the “Eskom melt down”, so there are many references to power cuts which will bring back memories to South African readers!
February 22nd (Day 10) Prioritising
I have continued to be very busy working on the house. Dave steadily works away, getting a great deal done, while I become full of enthusiasm for various tasks, which I then become bored with and leave ‘until later’. So far these include:
Painting the bedroom (decided I didn’t like the colour, so have stopped for now – anyway, I got a blister) Knocking down the breeze block wall (got stuck when I met a resistant block – anyway, aggravated the blister) Making a cushion cover (didn’t even get started as got bored after unsuccessfully trying for over an hour to thread the needle)
Tasks I have finished:
Painting our letterbox and sticking an Impangele on top. (I am not very artistic as you can see from the picture)
Dave is very patient with me and kindly does not pass comment. He would like it if I was a bit braver about going into town on my own, but as on the only occasion I have done so far, I got a puncture and then held up the queue at the garage, because after they fixed it I could not start the car. Also had a choking fit in the local Spar and then got lost coming home (which is almost impossible to do as it is a very simple journey, but I somehow managed it).
The house is incredibly clean and tidy due to Beauty’s efforts – there is one small snag – if you leave any item of clothing out – it is washed, dried and ironed, dirty or not – my painting trousers are spick and span, and so obviously I don’t want to ruin them by actually doing any painting!
We still don’t have Internet connection, a bank account, a visa, glass in twelve windows or a power point for the cooker – but as power cuts are more frequent than my unfinished jobs, it hardly seems to matter.
March 4th Day 20 “I expect it will fade with time”
On Thursday we made a start on the front of the house. I was so looking forward to getting rid of the ghastly pink and the horrible dirt marks on the paintwork, which came from years of gutter leakage. I had chosen the paint – Essence – that was a blend specially mixed for us (which we had to drive (40 mins) to the next town, Robertson, to organise). I thought that it was a very pretty and subtle colour and was sure that the neighbours were going to be equally thrilled at the transformation. After painting the front wall on Thursday evening, we went to bed, ready to get really stuck in the next day. However, things never look quite the same in the morning, do they?
We still ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ about the improvement, but secretly I was thinking ‘It might be just a tad too bright?’ We carried on nevertheless. Dave, being colour blind, did not feel he was in a position to judge, I felt unwilling to admit I might have made a mistake, and neither of us wanted to face another drive to Robertson, cashing out for more paint and then having to repaint the front. Our next door neighbour, Don, drove by, shouting ‘I like the colour!’ and I felt momentarily reprieved. But then he spoiled everything by adding – ‘It is the undercoat, I presume, and hope?’ Paranoia came rushing back.
We painted until we ran out of paint, and then went down to the Swellendam Skou. It was just like stepping back in time to 50’s England, with a Princess Swellendam (all of four years old) in a shiny frilly frock being smugly crowned, surrounded by bewildered runners up all in versions of the same frock, watched by proud / furious parents. (There was, of course a power cut, so it took place in semi darkness). There were stalls selling all kind of tat, my favourite one being a stall manned by a great big Afrikaner, which sold weapons – guns, knives etc, and also, bizarrely, hair ribbons, colourful plastic bangles and other girly things.
After trying every wine in the wine tasting tent, it all became a bit of a blur. This could have been something to do with the power cut, but I suspect it had more to do with the generous amounts of fabulous wines that were presented to us.
As we drove home, I was anxious to see what the house looked like with a fresh eye. It looked bright. Too bright? I was still unsure.
Far too sozzled to cook for ourselves, we went to Koornlands for a meal. This is a great little restaurant run by Steve and Mariana, our other neighbours. I asked Mariana what she thought of the colour of the house. ‘Steve hates it,’ she said, ‘But I don’t mind it. I expect it will fade with time.’
I spent most of the night lying awake with visions of Essence covering everything I looked at. This morning I finally admitted to Dave that I really wasn’t sure about the colour. The relief on his face was palpable. So, we are off to Robertson tomorrow.
April 22nd “an outfit for all three occasions”
Just in case you have been worrying that our life is all work and no play, let me tell you our social life is really looking up. On Thursday next week, we are invited to Friends and Neighbours Bingo at the Bowls club. We have to take a snack and a pencil. Can’t wait! This will be straight after we get back from Cape Town for our appointment with the Minister of Education and Culture about the Nyanga Project, and an interview with SABC – now I am going to have to find an outfit that will be suitable for all three occasions……
May 16th “pissed out on the floor“
Dave found Beer Powder. Oh God.
How to make your own Xhosa Beer. Pour into Bucket . Add Water. Leave to develop strange texture and disgusting colour over night. Scrape off Scum
Drink pale brown scummy sour stuff with big smile, saying ‘now I am a real African’ (Dave), or ‘Blecch’ followed by a quick trip to the loo (Me) to spit it out subtly so as not to offend Beauty and Matthew who are both Xhosa.
Dave was somewhat overwhelmed with uncharacteristic generosity later that day, and presented Beauty with the rest of the Beer. She was very funny when she came to work on Monday. ‘I drank the beer with my friend and we both pissed out! Both pissed out on the floor after singing many songs’
June 26th “the enchantment wears off…”
So, the power is off in Swellendam. It’s a planned power cut and it is from 8 in the morning until 7 at night. And we wake up at five past 8, so no coffee for us. Then we remember our indoor braai, which we light and boil water on it, to subsequently realise we only have coffee beans and an electric grinder. So we think bugger it, let’s go out for the day.
We drove down to Infanta, thinking we might catch an early Whale. (well not actually catch, more catch sight of). On the way there we pass an ENORMOUS porcupine. I didn’t realise that I had never seen one in real life before, because I had always imagined them to be just a little bigger than a hedgehog. This was the size of a small pony! Ok, a large dog. We reverse to see if we can get a photo and also so that Dave can get a glimpse but it has disappeared. We stand very quietly, and then Dave whispers, there he is, and the massive thing galumphs along past us into the bush. So exciting – particularly as they are nocturnal and so rarely seen!
We carry on to Infanta, and there, waving their tails around in the air and smacking them down, is a family of whales. You just cannot get photos of them though, because they stay under water while you are waiting patiently, camera focussed, and at the moment you lower your weary arms they breach and spy-hop or whatever the technical term is. But it was amazing, nevertheless.
We have been invited to spend the afternoon with a pub in Malgas and to stay overnight in their guest cottage, so that drinking can be done without inhibition. And they do not have a power cut, so we are able to watch the footie after all. They make a fabulous potjie, and we listen to the a CD of Dave’s UK band and drink a lot and make huge plans to fly the whole band over for a Sunday afternoon gig. When we finally make it to the guest cottage, we find a fire burning in the hearth, and a white cat in residence, and we are enchanted by the whole thing.
The enchantment, however, wears off as sobriety kicks in, the (very heavy) cat wants to either lie on top of us purring very loudly, or go out, or come in again, (four times) the fire burns out and it’s bloody freezing, and the extra blanket smells so we can’t use it ( I found crusty cat poo on it in the morning), and then our car alarm goes off waking up the whole village (with one exception) . Needless to say, Dave sleeps through the whole thing.
July 14th “fifth gear down the mountain!”
Why? Why? Why? Why is it that at my advanced age I still do not know enough about myself to realise that as the most uncoordinated, cowardly, weakest, unsporty person I have ever come across, it is not all right to suggest quad biking? Especially to a group of teenagers from UK who are expert in all sorts of ways to nearly kill yourself. A two hour trail through rocky hilly horrid mountains. How could I have thought it would be fun? When we reached the top of one of the mountains, I dismounted (creakily) and said – ‘Just look at that!’ making a grand sweeping gesture. ‘Look at what?’ says Josh. (leading devil teenager) “That amazing view!’
‘Oh that. We don’t do views. We’re too young for views…..Let’s get back on the bikes and go in fifth gear down the mountain!’
So they did – I preserved my dignity and descended in first gear – then lost my balance, disappeared into the bush and committed the cardinal sin –put my foot down on the ground to stop the bloody thing. Result: a very nasty injury.
(Postcript written in 2013: the cut became infected, it was six months before I could walk without a limp, and I have a large permanent scar. One consolation, being old means no one actually looks at my legs any more)
September 23rd “this time we will smile”
‘We seem to have the prison service doing our garden for us’, says Dave, peering through the window at 6.30 a.m. And sure enough, five jolly chaps and their equally cheerful warder were outside carefully digging up the weeds around our agapanthus. All the houses here have a bit of land around the house which belongs to the municipality, and everybody just treats it as if it belongs to them, planting stuff and mowing etc. We took them some juice as it is very hot today, and also it seemed pragmatic to stay on the right side of them!
They posed for a photo in exchange for cigarettes and you should have seen the excitement when I printed a copy of the photo to give to them – and I was asked if I would take another one – (‘this time we will smile’) – so that they could give them to their children. (I was a little bemused at the fact by the kind of role model they were hoping to present to their kids) They were also extremely proud when I asked if I could post the photo on the Internet!
‘Did you do these on a computer?’ ‘Yes — and don’t come back and nick it.’ General hilarity.
January 25th “rainbow nation”
As we planned a party to celebrate the fact we have survived a year in South Africa, Dave and I were talking about all the great people we have met from every race and creed, and how the term ‘Rainbow Nation’ is very apt. As we chatted, two things happened which seemed to underline this – first, we catch sight of a magnificent comet, and secondly, lit in the night sky, a tough looking black guy walks along by the road, carrying his stick , and wearing a pair of bright yellow bunny ears. I may have done many regrettable things in my life —but coming to live in this crazy country is definitely not one of them!
If you have enjoyed reading these diary extracts I have a few more, including “the day the TGCSA Inspector called”, “Bird wars,” “The Biggest Spider ever”. Just leave a comment at the bottom to let me know. Thanks for making it this far!