Swellendam and the Big Bee Adventure

So.. after the excitement of my adventures in Robertson (part 2 to follow soon, as I know you are all dying to hear about Mildred the Goat) I decided to organise a similar event for Swellendam. With the support of Jessica who had organised the previous one, I embarked on territory unknown. And here is my report on the occasion, complete with mandatory disaster.

BIG BEE honey sachets

BIG BEE honey sachets

Journalists from a variety of media platforms were invited to see how Swellendam is gearing itself up for the brand new festival “The Big Bee” in August.  There were representatives from: Get It Magazine, Travel Smart, Travel Ideas, Mango Juice In-Flight Magazine, News 24, Plaas Publishing, and Hello Pretty

Picked  up in Cape Town, and arriving at Tredici, they were already bowled over by the sight of our town nestling under the peaks, the view so accessible from the many windows of the cleverly designed and very beautiful Tredici.  Beautiful gift packages awaited them all from Tredici, Bukkenburg Pottery, and Rain, as well as comprehensive media packs personalised for each person. In these packs was their itinerary, as well as stories, photos, and articles about the Swellendam Republic , and vouchers kindly donated from many businesses in town, to incentivise return visits.

"in full regalia"

“in full regalia”

Next stop was to be a walk through the ‘Drostdy Quarter’, where they could freely wander and explore some of the historical buildings, retail outlets and restaurants. Somewhat panicked about time, their intrepid tour guide tried to rush them out of Tredici, twisted her ankle and landed (bottom first) in Tredici’s ornamental pond. The group was a bit slow to recognise the comedic possibilities of photos of the tour guide in the pond, for which said tour guide(me) will remain eternally grateful.  The kind bus driver transported us  to the D.Q. where we were met  by Johan, the curator of the Drostdy Museum and Mimi, (both dressed in full regalia) and then took tour guide home to change,  rapidly, before the bus front seat became completely waterlogged. Guide and group were reunited at Jaco’s Bee Things where we enjoyed looking at the bee products, honey, hives, gifts, smokers, and the bees who were too busy doing their thing to notice the curious invaders.  Piling back into the bus we set off to visit Suurbraak and Barrydale. Half way along the Tradouw Pass, we met up with Jaco Wolfaard, bee-keeper extraordinaire and organiser of this year’s Beekeepers Conference in Swellendam. (August 8 – 10) Jaco had set  a glorious table (flowers, beautiful crockery) with delicious Bran and Honey Muffins from PennantWing.

'only the beekeeper got stung'

‘only the beekeeper got stung’

It was a delight to behold, as we stood in the warmth of the autumn sun overlooking the unbelievable views from the pass. Jaco then handed out beekeeper outfits and we plodded up the slope through the fynbos to where beekeepers were smoking the hives, so that we could see some of Jaco’s +/- 1,000,000 employees doing what they do best, making honey.

Wearing a beekeeper suit is a strange experience,

Wearing a beekeeper suit is a strange experience,

Wearing a beekeeper suit is a strange experience, you can’t get your hand to your face to push your hair out of your eyes, and  taking photographs is definitely not easy (though sadly this tour guide was not in a position to try, camera now sitting at home recovering from its early morning dip.) I am pleased to report that no one, except Jaco himself, got stung .

Unplugged pouches

Unplugged pouches

Next stop was Joubert Tradauw on the R62, wine farm and deli, famous for its “Unplugged” range, where we treated to wine tasting with Meyer Joubert, and a beautiful lunch prepared by his wife Beate:  Beate is famous for her use of organic and local produce, so we know that Bea’s Bee Platters at the Big Bee Festival  will be something really, really special – the group were thrilled at the delicious lunch and the innovative Unplugged pouches with which they were presented.

 

Onto Barrydale, where the group were introduced to Shane Petzer from MagpieArt Collective, who showed them the fabulous work of the collective, and told them about the community projects and events that the Collective organise and host.

Artwork from Magpie Art Collective

Artwork from Magpie Art Collective

Thence to the Barrydale Karoo Hotel with which  Charlene from Mango Juice In Flight Magazine was particularly taken, especially by its regular music events, and  she was thrilled to be offered a free night’s stay if she should return.  Most of the group fell in love with Barrydale, enjoying its authenticity and ‘small dorp feel’ along with a true sense of creativity and community. We spent a while at Little Samadhi Yoga Retreat , where the pervading  peaceful, spiritual sense was somewhat shattered by one of the naughtier members of the group hiding all the shoes which we had been asked to discard before entering.

umshanti 2

Umshanti

We had planned to take a sun-downer cruise on the double decker raft at Umshanti,Buffeljags Dam but as we negotiated the twisty Tradouw Pass to get back as quickly as possible, it was evident that the sun would be well downed by the time we got there.  Nevertheless there was enough light for everyone to see what a fabulous spot this was, and for them to meet Kosie, who offered to take them up on a micro-light trip,  as well as experience the fuffi  slide on their next visit.  Sundowners were offered anyway, and we drank them under the stars – it was a clear night and the stars were overwhelmingly beautiful.

All the accommodation was outstanding

All the accommodation was outstanding

The group dispersed to their various accommodation and when I met up with them later at De Vagebonde for dinner, a gentle fight broke out between them all as to who had been allotted the best guesthouse.  ArumvaleCountry House, Braeside Guesthouse, A Hilltop Retreat and Gaikou Lodge had all (along with many other guesthouses in town) offered complimentary accommodation for this group, as part of their contribution towards marketing Swellendam. The media group could not believe the quality of service, ambience, standard — absolutely everything, they felt, was outstanding! What was gratifying to me was that I know that  it will be easy to organise another media educational – with completely different accommodation  – and still have the same compliments, so high is the standard throughout the area.

Local band 'Rewired'

Local band ‘Rewired’

Many locals had turned out to enjoy the ‘gees’ at De Vagebonde, the place was buzzing, and local band Rewired entertained diners with a mellow set, followed by some rockier numbers. De Vagebonde have been making great plans for their Big Bee contribution so it was good that the group could see the foundations being laid for the Festival. Marelize Lategan’s heartfelt performance of Karen Zoid’s As Musiek Begin Speel  had one of the journalists moved to tears! (in a good way!) Rewired’s bass player took delight in regaling the audience with tales of the tour guide’s synchronised swimming efforts of the morning (it’s a small town – news gets around fast).

Bontebok Park

Bontebok Park

A late night was followed by an early morning start as the group was picked up for a tour of Bontebok Park, with Peter Gratton, general manager of Swellendam Tourism, taking over guiding duties for a while.  Again time got the better of us, as the group loved the park so much that even the thought of breakfast at the Old Gaol did not tempt them to be timeous. But that was before they had seen it.  The stunning hand baked roosterkoeke, with cheese, biltong, and jam, followed by one of the best melktarts ever, had them in raptures. Moerkoffie was a new experience for this tour guide but it was one that seemed to create a real nostalgia in the group. There was an opportunity to show them the ox carts, the Seonae EcoOrganic shop and tell them about the monthly Under the Oaks Market. This space is going to be one of the “nodes” of the Big Bee, and you could see that the media group were really beginning to get a sense of how this new event is going to work.

 

Beauty and Wellness Expo at The Big Bee

Beauty and Wellness Expo at The Big Bee

Rain, who will be hosting a Health and Wellness Expo as a major event at the Big Bee, was our next stop.  Once again, the group was knocked out by the fact that Swellendam, for all its apparent small town façade, is the home of Rain, which some of them had believed to be (I quote) “an International Faceless Corporation”. Well, we in Swellendam are lucky enough to have the face living in our midst – the lovely Bev Missing, an inspiration to all.  The group had already received a wonderful gift package, and now were invited to have massages in the new Rain Forest Spa.  After the hectic events of the last two days they were only too eager  to lied down and be pampered, but evil tour guide had her eye on the clock and only two lucky members of the group were treated, and then they were all dragged kicking and screaming to the next stop.

Pet plants

Pet plants

Which was Rooiklip Nursery.  Jaap Viljoen gave an extremely interesting talk about his nursery and the aloes therein – wow – what an array of strange and beautiful plants, all indigenous to South Africa, some rare and unexpected sights.  Each member of the group was invited to choose a pet plant to take home with them.  I, of course, had to choose the rudest looking one to amuse my husband, but sad to relate, left it in the bus at the end of the trip. I hope Shafiq, the driver, did not take offence when he discovered it!

We then popped into Moonshadow  where, while the sun reflected on the sparkling décor, and we enjoyed the tranquility and peace that emanated from the garden square, we were treated to some amazing goodies – so delicious were they that it was hard to believe that  they were vegan. The chocolate cake was one of the best I have ever tasted, and I have tasted many in my time! More gifts were presented, in one of the most unique ways – the local paper (LangebergBulletin) had been made into gift bags ( I am not quite sure of the technique, it was sort of varnished or laminated – but the end effect was great –) and I was especially thrilled that one of the media group received a bag where the main story featured on the bag was one I had written about the Big Bee.

WIldebraam Berry Estate had arranged a special tasting for them and as usual the taste buds were well and truly tickled by their range of preserves and liqueurs. Keeping in with the theme of the Big Bee, they were all presented with honey liqueurs, and then obediently lined up for a photo shoot with Cathy van Eeden from Swellendam TV.

The happy band of travellers at Wildebraam

The happy band of travellers at Wildebraam

There could not be a more beautiful spot for a photo- shoot than the grounds of the unique Wildebraam Berry Estate, who are busy planning their own festival for November – definitely not to be missed. You would have though that nothing could have topped all the amazing events, gifts and experiences that Swellendam and Barrydale had produced for our visitors. But the final event is the one that put the beautiful honey topping on the cake!

 

Koornlands restaurant opened their doors especially for the group and provided them with a special 5 course lunch, of which every course was dedicated to bees and bee products. This is the menu that Koornlands is preparing for the Big Bee Festival and the minute this appears on the Big Bee website, I urge you to book in advance – it was unbelievable! Mariana has just come back from the Middle East and there was evidence of this in the delicate spicing of the breads, and the beautifully balanced and conceived menu was incredible.  And I am not just waxing lyrical because we were given a stunning honey cocktail at the beginning – it was truly a great experience.

 

Waving goodbye to the group I felt relief that, apart from the pond disaster, all had gone smoothly. But a more overwhelming sense than relief was the feeling that, despite all the hard work that had gone into the tour, I had been totally supported by the community of Swellendam, and that this was a job that had been worth doing.  To hear comments such as “Swellendam Rocks …I’ll be back .. what an absolutely undiscovered treasure.. the people here are amazing!” .  This is the beginning of a concerted campaign to market the Republic of Swellendam for what it truly is.

“A Republic of community, unity, love, art, music, good food, and beauty. A Republic in which people show that they care about one another and about the environment in which they live, that they treasure wildlife and nature. A Republic which encourages action, adventure, healthy living and fun!”

(extract from the announcement made in 2011, when Swellendam re-declared itself a Republic again after first having done so in 1795)

 

The honey republic!

The honey republic!

Majority of photos: Heleen Van As . Group photo: Cathy Van Eeden.  Rewired photo; Werner Lategan.  Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Mrs Gram goes Travelling

Being invited to attend a media ‘educational’ in neighbouring Robertson on the strength and reputation of my blog was, at the same  time, both flattering and disconcerting. Had they actually read my blog? Did they realise that they were dealing with someone who thrives on turning disaster into humorous anecdote? Feeling somewhat guilty about accepting the irresistible invitation (Wine! Game drives! Delicious food! A night away in Someone Else’s Guesthouse! And more…) I felt bound to admit to my sense of inadequacy which grew stronger after meeting up with the rest of the group, experienced journalists who actually get paid for unleashing their opinions on the world.

Huge and Delicious Breakfast

Huge and Delicious Breakfast

But the huge and absolutely delicious farmstyle breakfast at the Bodega de Vinho Restaurant at Rooiberg Winery which was the kick off for the adventure made me think twice about jeopardizing my chances by spilling the beans!

It wasn’t long however, as the inevitable developing camaraderie of a group whose hosts’ sole aim was to please took hold, before I  blurted out that I was dependent on humorous anecdotes for my blog, and that they would probably have to organise a disaster…….. Somewhat disconcertingly it seemed that this was perfectly fine and they would see what they could do. As I said,  their sole aim was to please.

The enormous breakfast had set us up well for the day.. the next item on the agenda was a cultural tour of Robertson by mule and cart. Somewhat anxiously and extremely inelegantly hauling myself into the cart, hampered by jeans which seemed far tighter than first thing this morning, I was reassured by the placid faces of the mules and the enthusiasm of our lovely tour guides. “Welcome to our culinary cultural tour….”  Wait, what was that? Culinary?  Culinary? “…….where you will be welcomed into the homes of local people who have prepared feasts….” FEASTS?  “….from their culture.

This sort of experience is normally right up my street, I love to try new foods and enjoy learning about traditions, and meeting local people. What a great concept. An added frisson was given by the open cart negotiating the rougher ground as we delved deeper into Nkqubela and the cheery but somewhat bemused faces of the residents as they waved us on our lurching way. The cart was not, to put it mildly, the most comfortable mode of transport, but I was suffering from another discomfort…. worrying about the possibility of offending our gracious hosts by being unable to fit any more food under my very tight belt.

An Amazing Spread

An Amazing Spread

Arriving at our destination, we were welcomed by our hostess Nolu, who, as I had suspected, had prepared enough food to feed the whole neighbourhood.  From my adventures with Beauty and the googly thing and her Xhosa banquets, I felt quite proud that I recognized and  knew the names of many of the dishes. It was an amazing spread, and she was a delight as she told us something of her history and relationship with food. We were fortunate to have Phumizile from News 24 among our number, one of those skinny guys who can eat forever, who was feeling nostalgic for his Mama’s cooking, so he more than made up for the rest of us who were suffering for our over indulgence at breakfast.

 

Deep dishes

Deep dishes

We clambered back on board to be greeted by the news we going to a different part of the town where we would be introduced to a feast of Cape Malay cookery. (Perhaps I should point out that it was still only 10 a.m) . The mules dragged their increasingly heavy burden wearily up a very steep hill, to a neat house from which emanated some wonderful spicy smells. In the back garden a potjie of enormous proportions. Big smiling faces, then deep dishes were filled to the brim… I think it was pigs’ knuckles, with samp, pap, rice, followed by round doughnutty things, (koesisters)  and polystyrene boxes for takeaways. Fabulous. But there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to be able to get myself back on that cart.

 

Cart before the horse...

Cart before the horse…

When planning this adventure, the two ladies from Tantalizing Tours (who were in every way impressive and wonderful!) had not thought to factor in the risk involved with a couple of mules, a cart full of overfed journalists and a very steep downhill road. Fortunately, this trip was their pilot trip, and one can only learn from experience.  I had taken the, as it turned out, prudent, option of continuing my journey in the minibus, which sedately followed the cart and provided me with the opportunity to take a few photos of the moment when the cart with its cargo attempted to overtake the mules.

No-one was hurt

No-one was hurt

This could, in retrospect, could have ended very tragically, as the intersection at the bottom of the hill was a major road, but fortuitously nothing was in the way as the mules in their desperation to get away from their burden careened across and crashed into a post on the opposite side if the road. Shaken, stirred, but unhurt, all disembarked, comforted the mules, and our journey continued by minibus, one slightly disgruntled voice pointing out that one member of the party had actually asked for disasters to be organized.

No bacon and eggs?

No bacon and eggs?

Next stop on our culinary tour ( yes, more food) was the One Love Coffee Shop where we were introduced to Rastafarian food, which is basically vegetables.  This was a great place, with that laid back vibe and the Rasta colours – they had created a coffee shop and a little B and B, simple but comfortable and spotlessly clean. (and very cheap). I would definitely consider staying there if it were not for the lack of bacon and eggs….

Bite Size pieces

Bite Size pieces

Our final stop which involved food was The Meerkat Kitchen where we were offered  traditional Afrikaans food and bakes with a ” modern twist”.  Of all the wonderful  food that we had been offered (and mostly been too full to eat)  on the tour, I found this extremely appealing, beautifully presented in bite size quantities:  a definite place to stop off when visiting Robertson.

 

This cultural culinary tour is an interesting, unique and special experience, and I really admire the way that Tantalizing Tours has reached out to involve the community in this project. Just don’t eat anything before you go, and make sure that they have re-routed the mule train!

Readers of previous blog entries will know that generally speaking when I get involved in any physical or risky challenges that involve either vehicles or water, it will always have consequences that entail hospital care, rescue workers, broken machinery, scars etc etc. When I looked at the original itinerary for this trip, it seemed to be no more risky than the possibility of too much wine.  Husband made me promise not to agree to anything that needed an indemnity form, and I was happy to agree, reasoning that although the local wine farms would probably be wise to hand them out when they see me coming, generally speaking they just pass me a wine list – it makes much better reading. SO… imagine my surprise to discover that the updated itinerary did not suggest a lazy afternoon sampling local wines, as I fondly remembered, but rather a River Rafting adventure.

You can imagine my dilemma. Whilst not averse to breaking promises to Husband, I was more scared by the fact that I was feeling extremely heavy and likely to sink said raft after our morning’s mammoth epicurean experience, and that as I had just narrowly escaped a disaster of the vehicle kind, a water one probably had my name on it. One of the group managed to excuse herself through legitimate claims of pregnancy, but I didn’t think that one would fly at my age. Ah, my age! Let’s try that one….. Nope they weren’t having it. Examples were wheeled out of octogenarians running the rapids – until eventually I was shamed into signing the form (now vaguely worrying that there may not be a life jacket big enough for my somewhat increased girth)

I am an expert

I am an expert

Lady luck was on my side. Whoever was handing out the “things that go wrong today” list was, for once, missing me out. I was lucky enough to have the best rafter available to play backstop (pilot? captain? steerer?) who was the most gentle of gentlemen and kept reassuring me to just let him take the strain while I enjoyed the ride. Which I did, thoroughly enjoying watching Phumizile and his crew getting stuck on every rock, as well as racing scarily and out of control through the “rapids” , finally ending up in the middle of a spiky acacia thorn tree which we had been specifically warned about. But they laughed their way through the whole adventure and had almost as much fun as I did, lying back and enjoying the beautiful river, the stillness, the leaping fish, the birds (I saw an African Fish Eagle, but was too scared to lift my bottom off my camera on which somehow I had ended up sitting, so no photograph, but a wonderful memory). I am so glad that I was persuaded to do it.

Jessica, one of our group, had so far also managed to avoid all disasters, and so it was with a sense of schadenfreude that as we clambered up the bank and ruefully viewed the barbed wire fence which we could ‘climb over’ or ‘crawl  under’, I watched Jessica making her choice, and falling off the upturned bucket which tipped as she stood on it to ‘climb over’, throwing her into the fence and leaving her half on and half off, requiring the concerted efforts of the rest of us to push her the rest of the way.  I had had my warning and undignified as it was, chose to ‘crawl under’. I am glad there were no photographers around. (As was Jessie!)

Still more to come: we had to check into our guest-house, visit a theatre in McGregor, taste grappa, eat one of the most wonderful meals I have had in South Africa, go on a game drive,  and meet Mildred the Goat.

But that is for part 2, coming soon. Hopefully before next Thursday, because, inspired by the experience, I have arranged a media educational for Swellendam. Which will also have its fair share of delicious food…and danger, as our intrepid journalists will be having a full on Bee-Keeping experience: in preparation for Swellendam’s new August festival: The Big Bee

Contacts:
Rooiberg Winery:  , / 023-626-1663
Tantalizing Tours: Avril Netherton   , / 082-532-8302
River Rafting: Robertson Backpackers  / 023-626-1280

EK IS LEERING (bad language alert)

One reason for choosing Swellendam as the place in which to live the rest of our lives was, believe it or not, because it was a town of first language Afrikaans speakers.  We were solidly against the idea of moving into a little group of ex-pats and setting up a laager with the other Brits or “swallows”.  We preferred to try to fit in to the community and not expect the community to fit in with us.

Ageing language receptors

Ageing language receptors

We blithely expected that we would be speaking the language within weeks or months. We forgot that the last time either of us learned a foreign language was when the language receptors of our brains were fresh and young, and not the atrophied mess that passes for brain matter in our aged noddles. We also did not count on the fact that the Afrikaans are an extremely courteous people, and in any social situation where the mad Engelse pair is present, everyone switches into English (unless they are having a skinner about us, obviously).

Our first real encounter with the language as residents as opposed to tourists was on our second day in SA. We had been recommended a shop in Hermanus where they could sell us, at a decent price, absolutely everything we needed to move in, a bed, a cooker, kitchen equipment, TV etc.  etc. and deliver it to Swellendam the following day. Everything went smoothly until it was time to pay, the sum of money being so large that it was necessary to discuss the transaction with the vendor’s bank manager. Who was on the golf course.  And who did not want to be interrupted baie dankie.  The one end of the conversation we were privileged to hear was loud, angry, delivered with a very red face, and we understood every word – swear words in Afrikaans and English may be spelt differently, but they sound exactly the same.

We grinned at each other – this was going to be easy. We would have this Afrikaans malarkey sorted in no time.  But you cannot rely on swear words to get you through daily life in Swellendam (unless, as my husband soon discovered, you are watching Rugby down at the pub).  I was unfortunate enough to find out through a shocked reaction from the neighbours, that it is far, far better to entice a cat in your direction by saying in a wheedling tone “Here, kitty, kitty,” and not the word that I had been using.

Reading road signs has been another good way to extend vocabulary.  We spent some time wondering who the members were of the Green Toe Gang who seemed to have access to many of the paths in Bontebok Park.  Husband was quite keen to find the Slag gate, behind which he was sure was going to find lots of ‘easy’ women.  So busy was he looking that he drove right into one of the potholes about which he was being warned. I am also ashamed to admit being to childishly and momentarily amused when we first came upon signs saying “Slaghuis” and “Hoerskool”.  (“They have a school for that? Brilliant!” said Josh the devil teenage mini-gapper mentioned in an earlier blog entry

For written communication much of the time I rely on “Google Translate”, which is not too bad if I use it to translate from Afrikaans into English, but is utterly untrustworthy the other way round. Because I don’t know if it is wrong or right.  I used to send Swellengrams which I believed I had translated correctly, and then would receive e-mails in reply, ranging from polite suggestions of corrections, to others which you could tell had been accompanied by howls of derisive laughter as they were being typed.

ek praat nie Afrikaans nie

Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie

Recently, noticing my struggle with the language as Mrs Gram on Swellengram, Sue, a kind resident of Swellendam, offered to help out with lessons – I was not the only one with a desire to learn, and a small group of people gathered each week to learn vocabulary and idiom.  Sadly for me, the first vocabulary list to learn was useful words for shopping and cooking, my two least favourite activities. (Beauty has just read this over my shoulder and sighed: “You see, I told you – you are NOT a proper Madam”). As Sue went around the class asking us what we intended to buy / cook at the weekend, my heart sank. I didn’t even have an answer in English.

Being an ex-teacher, I had a great deal of sympathy for Sue, because  the different levels of understanding, intelligence and behaviour in our group was just as diverse as any modern comprehensive in the UK. (OK, I admit, I was the naughty one) Fortunately for Sue, my ability to attend lessons on a regular basis has forced me to drop out, and now I am learning from an app on my iPad. It is however an app for tourists, so whilst I am learning to say “what a wonderful country you have here”  “can you tell me how to get to the airport” (delivered in an incredibly monotonous tone, like Voice-Over App Lady), it is not really helping me to join in or eavesdrop on the local skinner.  Which is, if I am honest, my primary reason for wanting to learn Afrikaans.

Other advice I have been given is to watch the ‘soapies’, and I have tried. But I am just so fascinated by the fact that English sub titles appear  EVEN WHEN THEY ARE SPEAKING ENGLISH that I forget to listen to the words.  And I am hooked on Masterchef which tends to be on at the same time. (Obviously it is important for me to watch that, in order to hone my cooking and shopping skills…..)

Some years ago I was elected onto the local Tourism Organisation Committee.  I was looking forward to my first meeting, but the looks of dismay on the faces of the rest of the (pretty well established)Committee demonstrated that they were not feeling the same sense of joy and excitement. The Finance Officer said (pleasantly enough) “oh no, now we are going to have to have our meetings in Engels”. I did say that I would do my best to ‘leer’ as fast as I could, but then the committee unanimously elected me to the least favourite job of Secretary and consequently hoisted themselves with their own petard.   Occasionally when debates of great import occurred in rapid and passionate Afrikaans, and high level resolutions were made, the resulting minutes would be as blank as my expression as I sat listening (trying to leer) .

Actually, now my vocabulary is quite wide – if I am reading. I can more or less read the articles in the local papers, I can understand friends’ Facebook statuses,   I can even laugh at humorous cartoons with speech bubbles. But what I am still struggling with is pronunciation.  My first attempt at “goeie môre” at the supermarket came out like a Shakespearean “Good Morrow”. Patient friends will say words and phrases over and over; I listen and try to replicate what they say.  To me it sounds exactly the same – and undeserving of the giggles and snorts which usually greet my finest efforts. You would think ‘Dwarskersbos’ was an easy word to say. But my efforts are, apparently, “nie goed nie” and no one can understand me, so I have decided never to visit the darn place again. At least I can say ‘Swellendam.’

Language is one thing, understanding Afrikaans people and their culture was another huge learning curve for us – and our struggles with that will be a whole other blog entry. (If I am brave enough)

 

Why Swellendam? Part 1

WHY SWELLENDAM? PART 1

One of the downsides of running a guesthouse with visitors eager to learn about life in SA is that you have the same conversations, (albeit with different people) every day. In the beginning it was fun, as we liked to ‘tell our story’, and we were so enthusiastic about our new lives we were definitely in danger of becoming bores.  But over time we have realised that the questions are ALWAYS THE SAME.

Sometimes, relaxing over a glass of wine before dinner, when the anecdotes seem quite entertaining, and become more so as the evening wears on, it is bearable.

Sometimes, in the morning, when you are desperately trying to ensure every guest is served on time, kept happy, has their eggs done to order and their toast is hot – and “Mr Chatty” is determined to find out your opinion on South African politics, the best route to Canishner (Knysna), what is that bird, how high the mountain is, and how much crime /people /nightlife is there in Swellendam…….it is not very bearable at all.

The question that is asked more than any other, (and would make us financially independent for the rest of our lives if we could only find a way of being paid for the answer) is “Why Swellendam?”

Breakfast Deck

Breakfast Deck

People actually ask us this as they sit on our deck in the sunshine, being entertained by sunbirds, weavers, cape white eyes, bulbuls, olive thrushes and drongoes,  looking out at  the beautiful Langeberg Mountains and down into the valley where sits the beautiful church. They are delighted by the harmony and friendship surrounding them. And they still ask the bloody question.

We have been tempted on many occasion to respond flippantly … “It was the only place where the police / family / ex-wife/ wouldn’t be able to track us” “The drugs are cheap” “Oops, we thought it was Stellenbosch – oh no – what have we done!”  but you can never be sure how far your sense of humour will carry you when dealing with guests, (the spectre of Trip Advisor looms large) so we stick to the truth, though occasionally I just shrug and wave cheerily at the beautiful view and say “That’s why”.

SO… for those of you who have never been to Swellies:   here are some of the reasons we chose Swellendam, and also some of the reasons why we hope never to leave here. And I shall print the page out and silently place it on the Breakfast table next time Mr and Mrs Chatty and all the little Chattys come to stay.

IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

The mountains are always changing

The mountains are always changing

BEAUTY: Swellendam is stunningly beautiful.  The mountains which shelter the valley in which Swellendam lies are always changing: you can never get tired of the shifts in hue, the effect of light and shade as the sun rises and falls, occasional dramatic golden fringes when fire takes hold, the sparkling waterfalls after heavy rain, in winter the crisp white frosting, and the ever changing effects of clouds – folding and rolling over the top.

Thank you to David Schlapobersky of Bukkenburg Pottery for this picture

 

"In which lies the beautiful church"

“In which lies the beautiful church”

HISTORY:  The town is stuffed with history and the beautiful architecture of the buildings give testament to the vision and tenacity of the early settlers. The NG Kerk is one of the most photographed churches in South Africa, and the Drostdy Museum is a far cry from the stodgy brick dull museums of my UK childhood.

 

Blomefontein Huisie

Bloemfontein Huisie

Bloemfontein Huisie, originally housing Jack and Anna Bloemfontein and their twelve children, and still in the ownership of the same family – is a reminder of the simple life – unencumbered by technology. There are all sorts of wonderful stories about the Swellendammers of old – who (allegedly) declared Swellendam a Republic and the Hermanus Steyn the President of the world. Prior to colonisation, the area was home to many tribes of the Khoisan People and the grave of Laang Elsie, tall female tribe leader of one of the fourteen local tribes can be seen in Bontebok Park.

 

 

 

Bontebok Park

Bontebok Park

NATURE:  Bontebok Park itself – a real undiscovered pleasure and treasure.  The smallest SANpark in South Africa  – but not small in terms of its biodiversity, its blomme, bokke and birds. It may be small, but my daughter and myself managed to get ourselves thoroughly lost on one of the marked trails – (too busy talking as usual). It is home to Cape Mountain Zebra, Bonteboks, Hartebeeste, Grysbok, Springbok as well as many species of birds and reptiles, and also, surprisingly,  the Swellengrebel Airfield.

"one of the top hiking trails in Africa"

“one of the top hiking trails in Africa”

And on the subject of nature, there is also Marloth Mountain Nature reserve, stuffed with flora and fauna, with one of the top hiking trails in the whole of Africa! You can walk to the waterfall in one and half hours, or, at the other extreme, take the five day walking trail. I confess to having done neither, somewhat suspecting that the waterfall walk would turn out, in my case, to be the five day one.

More in my comfort zone of a car, it is a 50 minute drive to De Hoop Nature reserve, which has to be one of the most beautiful places to watch whales in season, and worth a visit at any other time of the year.

Berries!

Berries!

BERRIES:  Swellendam may not be the capital of the world politically, as the Swellendammers of 1795 chose to believe, but it is certainly the berry capital of South Africa. The stunning Hermitage Valley is the natural setting for berry farms, and between November and December berry picking, berry eating, berry jams, berry cheesecakes, and other berry pleasures are a major feature of life in Swellies. 90% of the youngberry crop in South Africa is grown in Swellendam, and if you have never tried youngberries, then get yourself to Swellendam for berry season.

GOOD FOOD: Swellendam can really rival the better gastronomically known areas of the Western Cape.  The restaurants and guesthouses are all owner-managed, and thus the care and passion with which the food is presented is deep and it shows!  I am not a cook, so, in our house either long suffering Husband cooks, or we go out for a meal, therefore quality, variety and budget is extremely important on a personal level, let alone as a option for our guests. It is possible in this town to eat out in a different restaurant every night on consecutive evenings, and have wonderful food, great service, and meet wonderful people.

PEOPLE: well, this is a whole new blog entry, so Why Swellendam? Part 2 will be coming up shortly, with Arts and Crafts, Birds, Faeries, Music, Action and Adventure, More about Restaurants, Wine  and — the main reason why we live here: The People!

Power Cuts, Painting, Porcupines and Parties

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:

A resistant block

A resistant block

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)

An impangele (guinea fowl) on the top

An impangele (guinea fowl) on the top

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

A tad too bright?

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?

More paint on himself than the roof

More paint on himself than the roof

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

Scrape off scum

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.

Slightly larger than expected!

Slightly larger than expected!

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.

The Very Heavy Cat, whose charm soon wore off.

The Very Heavy Cat, whose charm soon wore off.

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!’

Me leading the rush!

Me leading the rush!

‘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.

six months to heal

Six months to heal

 

(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!

One more for the children

One more for the children

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!

 

A THING OF BEAUTY

Before we moved to South Africa, many well-meaning acquaintances warned us of the dangers we would face, and advised us strongly against making this crazy move. The fact that quite a few of these acquaintances did not even own passports, but had become experts on SA by sitting on their backsides in their habitual corner of the pub, sharing the occasional pint with a South African ex-pat, did not do much to deter us from our chosen course. (We had visited SA twelve times and read extensively and done our research, but this was, of course, not an acceptable excuse for begging to differ)

In fact, the check-out lady in the local supermarket was the one who gave me the most sure indication that we were doing the right thing, when she leaned forward and said ‘I am so jealous. You will never have to iron anything again.’

Choosing between a life with no ironing in a country with a high crime rate, and a life where I would have to work until the age of 83 to pay off my mortgage, and keep ironing for the rest of my miserable life…… it was a no-brainer. As we had discovered on our travels, the violent crime associated with South Africa is most prevalent in the sprawling cities, and not in the smaller rural towns.  And, as mentioned in a previous post, Swellendam is not bestrewn with burglar bars and high walls, because we don’t need them.

THE IRON LADY

We had only been living in Swellendam for two days when we employed Beauty, who has since made it her mission in life to teach me how to behave like a ‘Madam’ should. She despairs of my tendency to scruffy clothing, and she takes care to point out to me local ladies who are dressed like ‘proper’ Madams.   (This usually involves floral skirts worn decently at calf length, and hip length over-blouses).  Sadly, it appears that Beauty herself has become corrupted by my casual approach and now owns several pairs of calf length jeans (which come down to her ankle, as she is vertically challenged) and strappy tops.  Apparently, because she lives in Swellendam this is OK, as her husband’s more traditional Xhosa family live in George, so can’t see her.  And the ancestors are looking the other way.

WHAT NOT TO WEAR….

If ever we get a chance for a breakaway, Beauty insists on packing my suitcase (everything perfectly ironed) to make sure that I am dressed smartly and guards it fiercely so that I can’t remove or add anything. Though sometimes I discover on arrival at our destination her choices have proved somewhat inappropriate, (it’s not easy to negotiate the dunes at De Hoop Nature Reserve in a sparkly top, pencil skirt and high heels).

Having Beauty and her family (Simon and their two daughters, Nolyvuyo (16) and Nosphosihle Amanda (6)) in our lives has been an enrichment in many more ways than just having a wardrobe full of perfectly ironed clothes. She is a bright woman who left school early, and never considered herself intelligent.  Her command of Afrikaans is equal to that of her mother tongue Xhosa. Although she now speaks full idiomatic English, with a cut glass English accent, initially there were some misunderstandings.  She came to work one day saying, “we (her friends and neighbours) had a long discussion about appetite yesterday, it was very upsetting, I am feeling very, very sad today”.  As Beauty is quite a traditionally built African lady who enjoys her food tremendously, we were puzzled as to why appetite was a potentially tragic story.

It was some time before we worked out she was referring to apartheid.

xhosa feast

THAT GOOGLY THING

There have been some other misunderstandings regarding language and culture. Beauty came up with the idea to provide Xhosa Feasts for the guests at the guesthouse. We jumped at the chance to give her an opportunity to develop her own business as well as enhance our own. Xhosa Feasts were duly added to the website and it was not long before a request came in from some guests who had booked in for a few nights.

The following conversation ensued between Beauty and Madam.

B: What am I going to cook?

M: (puzzled)   Well, I don’t know, for goodness sake, I’m English!  What actually is traditional Xhosa food?

B:  I’m not really sure – can’t you use that googly thing to find out?

M:   But you must know, what do you eat at weddings and family get-togethers?

B: (light dawns)  Kentucky Fried Chicken, of course!

(M gets rapidly onto the googly thing)

M:    It’s samp and beans, mfino spinach, baked chicken, mealie pap……

B: (interrupting)     But that’s what we eat all the time, who on earth wants to eat that..

M:        ..sigh….

The feasts have been very successful, and have given Beauty an additional source of income: it is her fervent desire that Nossi, the little one, will get a good education, so any spare cash she gets goes into the “Nossi Treasure Chest”, which is firmly screwed down, ready for opening on the day Nossi is ready to start school.

beautyBeauty’s greatest love is décor, and she is responsible for many of the elegant touches and extras around our place. Her second greatest love is shopping – and after that, her lovely family.  Her self-confidence has grown along with the business, from being a domestic worker initially, she has become an efficient manager, staff-trainer, receptionist, and handles the booking software and the googly thing with aplomb! She retains the privilege of ironing, however, as she feels, and rightly so, that no one can match her perfectionism.

“Madam” and Beauty have become fast friends, despite every effort on “Madam’s” part to remain a professional employer and keep a respectable distance from the employees. We have been through a lot together – including running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere, when on a trip to the hospital for her antenatal check-up. In 42 degrees heat: Beauty was eight and a half months pregnant, and the only life forms available to help were a very curious troop of baboons, keen to share the impending crisis. We had a nine year old child (Noly) and no water. (And no airtime) To find out how the story ends – make a booking at Impangele, where Beauty and I have begun to write a book together about our adventures! Beauty is going to be doing a guest spot on this blog very soon – you don’t want to miss that one.

 

I DON’T LIKE CRICKET

Actually, I do like cricket. And being an immigrant I now have a choice of three teams to support: England, South Africa, and any team playing against Australia.

But I don’t like crickets. Plural. And while I am the kind of nature lover who rescues spiders and feels guilty about stepping on ants, there is nothing on earth that will prevent me from stomping on a cricket in my vicinity. Except possibly the cricket itself, which will have spotted my size 6 before I have even raised it into position – and done a runner. Except they don’t run – and that is the first thing I hate about them. They lurch. They lunge. They leap. They are sudden.

cricket

THIS IS A CRICKET NOT A COCKROACH

The second thing I hate about them is that our guests from Europe think they are cockroaches. If they see one lunging, lurching and leaping (suddenly), they turn pale and rush to their laptops and iPads and cell phones ready to create a scathing review on Trip Advisor.  I have often thought about adding comparison pictures of a cockroach and a cricket into our Visitor Information booklets, but refrained on the grounds that non-English speakers will get entirely the wrong idea and check out immediately.

And the third thing I hate about them – they keep me awake.

I don’t have a problem with crickets chirruping away happily in the garden, the night-time chorus of crickets, frogs and owls is a pleasant African backdrop that I much prefer to the omnipresent sounds of traffic in UK. But a cricket in your bedroom. No. Just No. Kiss goodbye to sleep.

They can throw their voices so that you can’t track them down.  However quietly you tread, the minute you start searching, they stop squeaking, and only start again when you have got yourself all snuggled up and cosy. Sometimes they will fling themselves onto the pillow beside you, just to give you that extra frisson of terror.

Swellendam apparently suffered a plague of crickets in 2005, which thankfully was the year before we arrived here.  We were told horror stories of crickets falling into babies’ mouths as they were being pushed along in prams, piles of crickets being swept out of shops into the streets, the pure white walls of some of the heritage houses appearing to be black, covered with billions of the things.  People that lived through this experience were obviously seriously affected by the event, as they related it to us graphically in hushed tones, almost as if they spoke too loudly, the crickets would hear, remember their past triumph — and return in droves.

(Droves did not seem to be quite the right word, so I looked up the collective noun for crickets, and discovered  no specific one, though an ‘orchestra of crickets’ had been suggested. This seems far too polite a word, so I invite suggestions as a comment at the bottom of today’s rant. )

Since we have been here, there have been plenty of crickets but nothing on that scale. My younger sister from UK came to stay, and suffered the company of a cricket in her bedroom for one night. Her second night she pulled her mattress in to our bedroom; however her strident snoring meant that my usually tolerant husband forbade a repeat sleepover.  So on the third night, (after a couple of bottles of red wine downed liberally at De Vagebond restaurant) after she had poured herself out of the car and landed prone on the road, she declared she was going to spend the night there.  On the road. Husband and I took one foot each and hauled her, protesting loudly, from the road into the house and thence into her bedroom. The cricket took one look and took flight. Or took lurch, leap, lunge etc etc)

The ceiling fan in our bedroom recently developed a rhythmical squeak. Suffering the heat of the night or the noise of the fan was a choice that husband and I debated long and hard. Neither of us wanted to get out of bed to switch the fan off, so we settled for noise. But after two nights of torture I could bear it no longer. Off the fan had to go. But wait…..it was still squeaking! How could this be?

Yes, you have guessed it. Little Jiminy Cricket had advanced his techniques of torture to a high level of sophistication. Removing said cricket from fan became a major operation, (we have very high ceilings) involving copious amounts of insecticide, a step ladder and a long handled feather duster) This all being done  as silently as possible to avoid waking those guests who rooms were cricket free and thus blissfully asleep.

Despite this military operation, there was no sign of cricket.  But the chirruping had stopped, so hoping that the insecticide had worked, we returned to bed, now unable to sleep because of the heavy chemicals surrounding us.

But revenge is sweet. At some time during our first peaceful sleep for ages, Jiminy dropped down off the fan, and landed on the pile of clothes I had laid out ready for the morning.  An early breakfast call meant getting dressed while still dark, then rushing to lay tables and prepare the fruit salad etc. After half an hour of increasing discomfort, I realised something was not right with my bra. On inspection discovered one large (and rather squashed, but very much alive) cricket. I wish I could say that I handled the situation with panache and decorum, but shouts of KILL IT, KILL IT NOW! rang out, as I ripped off my bra  – (Jiminy leaped, lurched and  lunged in delight at his new found freedom, with Husband attempting to obey orders and destroy him) and ran through the breakfast room to get away from the horror, unfortunately encountering several early bird breakfasters, rooted to the ground in shock.

I can’t wait for those Trip Advisor reviews………..

Epilogue: I have found a foolproof way of ridding your home of crickets. Become a blog writer and wait with your camera to take a photo to illustrate your article. You will never see another cricket.

 

CREATING A MONSTER

Coffee at The Old Gaol on Church Square in Swellendam can too easily turn into lunch, accompanied by a glass or three of Blush from Bon Courage.  Sitting on the deck in the shade of some wonderful old oaks and overlooking the stunning much photographed NG Kerk, one often finds oneself in conversation with interesting creative people. Here it was that the idea of “Swellengram” was born, brainchild of Henk Klijn, (part owner of Augusta de Mist Country Retreat).

The Old Gaol on Church Square

The Old Gaol on Church Square

Little did I realise that this simple concept and excellent name would become my child to rear – and little did I realise that this sweet infant would grow into a monster of gigantic proportions!

 Swellengram is an online community information service – it started with a small database of local friends – and has now grown to a participant reach of over 1000.  It is picked up by other local information services and so its viral reach is possibly twice that.   Initially the idea was to make sure people in Swellendam knew what was going on in the town: events and specials.  By offering free advertising to restaurants and businesses only if they were doing something special, the community would benefit from the increased amount of special deals.  As a community service I decided to add requests for local information and opportunities for lift sharing. This has grown exponentially into lost dogs, lost parrots (there was a veritable rash of escaping parrots a few weeks ago – they were probably all looking for Louis) (see previous blog entry) jobs wanted, jobs offered, accommodation, and all the usual stuff. But the difference from this and any other information service, is the persona of Mrs Gram, who adds her own spin to the information and to the titles awarded to the most interesting Grams.

The pseudonym of Mrs Gram was awarded early on in the procedure and she has grown her own personality. She is loved by many, and once people realise who it is, they will hug her (me) or press gifts into her (my) hand on meeting in the street, and Mrs Gram received far more Christmas emails than I did.

Mrs Glam aka Martyn Turck

Mrs Glam aka Martyn Turck

Mrs Gram organised a charity do called SwellenGlam (luckily she has a willing husband who plays in a band) where yet another alter ego arrived, “ Mrs Glam” (Martyn Turck, local fruit farmer  from  Wildebraam Berry Estate)  on the back of a Harley Davidson) dressed in Pink Lamé with shiny purple wig and feather boa, long false eye lashes (also pink)  set off delightfully with a pair of green wellies and a pipe.

Mrs Gram also took it upon herself to play Cupid on Valentine’s Day and suggested that if people emailed their Valentine messages,  she would send them anonymously.  A Swellengrammer then offered a prize for the best one, and Mrs Gram suddenly found herself the recipient of some of the worst poetry in the world.

During the few days of unrest, mentioned in a previous blog entry “Fire” Swellengram acted a bridge for communication of facts.  Rumours were flying and occasional panicky moments occurred, but Grams were based only on fact (Mrs Gram sent long-suffering husband out into the streets to assess the situation and report back)

Like me, Mrs Gram struggles with Afrikaans, and has to rely on “Google translate” for many of the incoming Afrikaans grams. If they arrive in English, that is how they stay, as Mrs G does not want to risk ridicule by trying to translate the other way. She already suffered slings and arrows when she wrote about Tow Trek.

SPILL CHOCKER

But most of all she struggles with the temptation to send out Grams that arrive with spelling mistakes that have passed the spell check and given a total different meaning to the original Grammer’s intention.  Occasionally she has missed one or two.

One local restaurant was shocked at the outcry caused when Hot Steaming Cinnamon Nuns were presented as their special of the day.  After an apology for the mistake,  a greater outcry ensued because it turned out everyone WANTED Hot Steaming Cinnamon Nuns on the menu. So do visit Pennantwing when you are in Swellendam and ask for their Nun speciality. If nuns are off that day, at least the rest of their stuff is excellent!  Recently a gentleman was searching for two roosters, which he wanted very badly.  ‘Roosters’ was not the word he used but TWO COCKS WANTED BADLY did not seem to be the right turn of phrase.  The above mentioned green wellies also suffered an unfortunate vowel change when Mrs Gram was ‘gramming’ her news about SwellenGlam, causing much hilarity and a red face for Mr Turck.

Apparently studies have been done which show that the perception of a quizmaster is that he/she is more intelligent and well informed than those participating contestants, despite the fact that all he is doing is reading out the questions and has the answer on a card.  It would appear that the same thing is true with Mrs Gram. She is considered erroneously to be the fount of all knowledge. She (dressed as me) is frequently accosted on the street and asked such things as When was Swellendam declared a republic? Is there someone here who can service my boiler? Where can I get two cocks? When does the pub open?  Can you give me ten rand for some bread? (OK that last person may not have realised that he was speaking to Mrs Gram, but he soon did when Mrs Gram showed him a very empty purse.

There is no money in it for Mrs Gram, but she enjoys the goodwill it engenders, and also is always first to know about events and bargains.  If you have a Facebook and would like to check it out – it will be one of the best ways you can find out how we Swellendammers roll!

 

Uninvited Visitors

Our guesthouse prides itself on being pet friendly, gay friendly, biker friendly, wheelchair friendly – and next week we are going for official accreditation as birder friendly. In fact we are just so darn friendly that the news has got around the local dog population, one or two  of whom likes to pop in at breakfast time to charm the guests out of parting with a sausage or two.

We made a conscious decision not to have pets of our own when we opened the guest-house, precisely so that we could accommodate people travelling with animals, so our little morning visitors are really not welcome, but they don’t seem to take the hint, however forcefully it is dropped.

Asb! Take off this Engels scarf!

The current regular is a little Jack Russell, who has an unfortunate scratching habit and is definitely not the most attractive example of her species. She is an Afrikaans dog, though however much we try “Huis Toe!”  and “Voetsek” she affects not to understand our English accents, and looks pleadingly at whichever guest she happens to be pestering, as if to say – ‘see how cruel your hosts are, they are not animal friendly at all’ (but in Afrikaans, obviously) .  Then off she goes to find a place where the guests will shortly be wheeling their luggage to leave a brown parcel for them to help them remember our guesthouse. Obviously we don’t know her name, though husband has come up with some choice epithets for her.

Dog loved to play dress up

She is a poor substitute for our previous regular morning visitor – again, Afrikaans speaking, but much more accepting of our lack of language. A border collie, highly intelligent – once again nameless, but we imaginatively called him “Dog”. The house rule is not to feed visiting animals, but it was impossible to resist the limpid eyes and waggy tail of Dog.  Dog always ran for sticks and refused to give them back, Dog loved children, Dog would accompany guests on runs / walks / hikes through the Marloth Reserve at the back of our house, Dog never left poo in the garden.  Dog and our latest canine visitor both developed the habit of dozing away the day on our garden furniture, but at least Dog responded to “Uit”  “Af” and “Neer”. He was the best sort of pet to have:  we had all the pleasure and fun of a dog companion, with no vet’s bills and no expensive dog food. Guests fell in love with him, children adored him, and he would guard the house for us during the day when we went out.

I have no idea where his real family thought he was during the weekdays, but every weekend Dog would dutifully do his Family Pet duty, and we would see him walking past our house, obediently, on a lead, with a faint look of boredom on his face, beside his family on a weekend walk. When they reached our house he would cast us a little panicky and conspiratorial glance, as if to say “Don’t give me away, don’t call me, don’t recognise me” – so we played along. I wish now that we had made the effort to get to know his family, because after a year of growing to love Dog unconditionally, the family moved away – we didn’t know that they were planning to go, and so did not get the chance to say goodbye.  I still miss him.

Snake capture

Another uninvited animal visitor to Impangele, was the boomslang which decided to inhabit the vine which shades our breakfast area.  Fortunately we have a brilliant “snake lady” who comes to collect snakes and take them away – though her arrival while the guests were actually eating their breakfast rather gave the game away. We had, as you can imagine, been very circumspect about our little visitor, just casting the odd glance upwards to check Boomy wasn’t joining us for breakfast.  But the guests thoroughly enjoyed the African spectacle of the Snake Capture – and subsequently posted pictures all over the Internet of the “snakes at the guesthouse”.  Not really how we want our place marketed…….

Not all our animal guests are uninvited  – some indeed are booked in along with their owners, and we enjoy getting to know them, with the odd exception.

“Cuddles’ the Rotty

A pair of lovely, if very dotty, ladies booked in for Christmas a few years ago, and at the last moment told us that their beloved Cuddles would be joining them and us. We imagined Cuddles to be a cute fluffy Maltese poodle, but the car pulled up, boot opened and out leaped Cuddles  — a large black Rottweiler with a baleful look in his eye, who was fiercely protective of his elderly charges. Serving breakfast became a scary and life endangering experience, though the ladies remained sweetly oblivious of the low pitched murderous growling emanating from under the table, and the large yellow teeth from which ravenous saliva dripped as Cuddles lusted covetously after our ankles.

Louis the African Gay

But my favourite guest has to be Louis the African Grey parrot.  Owned “since he was an egg” by a delightful gay couple, Louis decided to join us for breakfast.  (“he’ll just have a little scrambled egg and an incy bit of toast, darling” ) I asked one of his ‘Daddies’ if Louis could speak. “Of course he can”  was the indignant reply. “We’ve taught him everything he knows”. So, in that parrot type voice that everyone puts on when they converse with talking birds, I repeated “Hello Louis, hello Louis”.  Louis looked up at me, lifted his right claw and waved it effetely – and then said, in the campest way imaginable “Hellllooooooooooo, sweetie”.   More African Gay than African Grey.

FIRE!

Swellendam is a harmonious, peaceful town that gives the lie to the negative media that constantly mitigates against International Tourism to South Africa.   Guests to our B and B always remark on the complete absence of high walls, razor wire and burglar bars that they have been led to believe would be one of their signature experiences on their trip. “We don’t need them” is our reply.

But, in our little dorp, we are just as likely to witness storms, both human and natural, as any other place in the world, and in 2012, Swellendam was shaken by two events which will remain in the memories of the inhabitants for a long time to come.

The fire in the mountains raged for 7 days

The fire which raged for seven days in the Langeberg Mountains in January last year, gave rise to spectacular photos: awe inspiring landscapes, mountains fringed by gold, the drained faces  of exhausted fire-fighters, and subsequently the naked, dead trees in monochrome, strange, quiet beauty.

No-one could fail to be affected by the devastation – the thought of the wildlife that had been lost, the destruction of natural life, the concern for those who fought so hard and long to get things under control. But fourteen months on, the return of birds and animals, the new growth of foliage and fern, the footprints of porcupine, baboons and leopard remind us of the power of Nature to reclaim her own.

The exhausted fire fighters dredged up smiles for the camera

Then, in November, another kind of devastation swept Swellendam, also giving rise to spectacular photos: plumes of black smoke from burning tyres, fire silhouetting buildings in Railton, the strained faces of exhausted police and subsequently, the bare streets, closed shops, and eerie quiet desolation.Although it took place at the same time as the farmworkers’ strikes, the problems in Swellendam were unique to the town, and had more to do with the frustrations of the people with local politicians and administrators.

No-one could fail to be affected by the destruction – the thought of the trust that had been lost, the destruction of livelihood, the concern for those people caught up in a monster not of their own making. After the initial shock, the repercussions: the anger and disappointment, the recriminations and blame: all expressed in different ways, rational, passionate, intellectual, crude and emotional.  The key factor was that these feelings had a way of being  communicated: —  through the medium of modern technology people were able to say how they felt, without fear of harm or revenge. The platform offered by the local press through Facebook offered the opportunity to all to enter into safe debate.  Much of what was written was shocking, some of it was ridiculous, and some was uninformed and demonstrated great gaps in the understanding of the situation.  But all of it came from passion,  and shock at what had happened in the space of one short day!

Fire silhouetting buildings in Railton

Four months on, wounds are still raw. Not enough time has passed yet for significant healing and re-growth.  Some of the problems which caused the fire of rebellion are still deeply rooted, and it will take a long time for mankind, with long held, man-made preconceptions and prejudices to show a healthy and strong re-growth.

A POSITIVE OUTCOME

There is a fire in human nature tending to purify — so that among these human creatures there is continually some birth of new heroism. The pity is that we must wonder at it, as we should at finding a pearl in rubbish” John Keats

The cleansing effect of the fire in the mountains had a parallel in the cleansing disruption of the trouble in November.

Individuals  removed themselves from the mess of political and administrative dysfunction – projects were started or rejuvenated which were aimed at bringing together the divided community of Swellendam:  local restaurants joined together in an initiative called  StreetSMART raising funds for practical ways of supporting young people from underprivileged communities, Swellendam Tourism, CAP and Score are working on a project to create an Under 19  soccer team called Swellendam United, which will represent the town in the Metropolitan Premier cup in 2014, Journey Trails are running weekend leadership courses in conjunction with Bontebok Park, the community came together recently for an amazing CANSA relay, the recent Swellendam Show was inclusive and heart warming.

All night CanSA Relay

For the fynbos indigenous to this area, fire is essential : for cleansing, germination and healthy re-growth.  For people – sometimes the same is true.

Photos: Cathy Hommes Van Eeden, Carlo Jorge