Look at these these ethereal sculptures, made out of driftwood that washed up on the beach at Umzumbe, KwaZulu Natal, during the recent floods.
I don't know the name of the sculptor - but I promise I'll find out for you. These pictures, which were emailed to me by my mother, were taken on the beach in front of our family's cottage in Umzumbe, where, apparently, the sculptor was staying.
These sculptures made me laugh - I love the bony scuttling legs, and the craggy stick-hat. Click on the images to see bigger versions.
Monday, 21 July 2008
Look at these these ethereal sculptures, made out of driftwood that washed up on the beach at Umzumbe, KwaZulu Natal, during the recent floods.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
I’ve resisted making a Will because (obviously) I’m never going to die. But finally good sense (and a deep aversion to leaving the government much of what I’ve spent my entire life amassing, modest as it is) drove me to it.
All I wanted to do with my stuff was leave it to my two kids, but when I was sitting in the lawyer’s office and the efficient woman across the table said to me, ‘Any other legacies?’ I was forced to give it a bit of thought.
And all I could come up with was who would best look after my Wobbly Dog.
Suspecting my lawyer was going to make dinner-table mincemeat of me (because in a village this small, attorney-client privilege isn’t a given – and I say that entirely without prejudice, should my lawyer try to sue me) but stuck for anything else to say, I blurted out, ‘Is it okay to leave a dog to someone?’
She looked at me in all seriousness and said, ‘Yes, of course.’ (I know she was laughing inside, I just know it.)
‘Well, then, I want to leave my dog to my friend Johann,’ I said.
Her face a mask, she wrote it down (‘dog to Johann’), then she looked up with a bright smile and said, ‘Anything else?’
By this time my mind was blurring. Would Johann want my Wobbly Dog? What if he thought it was an imposition? (He wouldn’t, though – this pic was taken of them napping together on the verandah in summer, and the only reason Sara’s eyes are open is because I disturbed her when I came out to snap them – they are really dear friends.) But still – how could I soften this load?
‘And there’s a painting,’ I said.
The lawyer perked up – I could see her thinking in terms of original masters, perhaps an up-and-coming South African artist who would prove fantastically lucrative for those who’d had the nous to collect his/her works while he/she were living, or something handed down through the centuries by my family…
‘It was a gift for my 40th birthday,’ I burbled, ‘something a friend found in a junkshop, it’s a landscape, rather strange, but he really likes it, Johann, and I think he should have that as well…’
‘Fine, fine,’ said the cheerful lawyer, writing ‘and landscape painting’. I watched her carefully, and her outward expression didn’t flicker once.
I suppose everyone would like to be at their own funeral (to see who comes, and what people say about them), and many people would also like to be at the Reading of their Will, to see the reaction (the astonished pleasure! the taken-aback affrontedness!). But I won’t have to be, because now, Johann, you know: you get Sara and the painting. I know you will look after both.
When I was growing up, Sunday was traditionally braai day.
In fact, so steadfastly did our family stick to this weekly routine that my sister, at about age 11, declared herself no longer willing to partake of our Sunday meals: she’d been studying the causes of malnutrition at school, and had learnt that eating too much of the same thing can starve the body of vital nutrients, and had thus decided that the relentless Sunday braai was taking a terrible toll of her physical health. (Her reasoning may have been off, but I can’t fault her for disliking braais.)
Ostensibly, my father braaied once a week to give my mother a break from domestic drudgery, although, of course, the real reason for braaiing is not to allow women a day off (far from it); it’s so that men can connect with their primeval selves – they may not have hunted down this woolly mammoth, killed and skinned it, but by god are they going to cook it.
My mother (bless her sainted soul) never once uttered a word of complaint about: preparing the meat for the braai (including buying it, making various marinades, and organising raw-meat plates and cooked-meat plates – which had to be hot and brought to my father the second the meat was ready); making endless accompaniments (salads, breads, baked potatoes, pickled beetroot, etc); ferrying it all through the house and down a long flight of stairs to our berserkly inappropriately-sited verandah, on the far side of a huge house from the kitchen; setting outside tables with gay cloths, forks and knives, salt and pepper and various other condiments and niceties (all ferried ditto); cleaning up everything afterwards (all ferried ditto); and, finally, scrubbing nasty greasy charcoal-besmirched braai tools and paraphernalia and Jikking about 10 dishcloths (used liberally by my father while braaiing). (These days, I don’t have as far to ferry stuff when we have braais in my home, but boy do I resent the extra work.)
I well remember the look of near-sublime happiness on my father’s face as he prepared the fire – kindling, newspaper, wood set just so – and then nurtured it – charcoal, carefully measured, added at a very specific time; then a mysterious waiting period for the coals to be exactly right, during which time my father, brother and all male visitors gathered around the braai and just looked at it, while drinking wine or beer and talking sport and women.
In the meantime, inside, upstairs in the kitchen, there was a whirlwind of female activity: salads being prepared, boards of bread and butter laid out, plates gathered, napkins folded, knives and forks marshalled, glasses washed and dried, etc etc etc.
It wasn’t, however, until I had a braai of my own that I finally realised just how much careful manipulation by women is required to forge a successful braai meal prepared by men. (I wouldn’t even have a braai if my various lovers and male friends weren’t so damned keen. Myself, I’d just grill the stuff in the oven – quick, controllable, clean and easy.)
Because men have no idea about timing and coordination. I have to wonder: when their (non-braaied) meal arrives on the table, cooked to perfection, piping hot and ready to eat, how do they imagine this happened? How did the meat and various vegetables all get ready at the same time? By coincidence? Clearly, yes. Because, with the rare exception of my friend Ronaldo, not one man I know understands that a little thinking ahead is required when preparing a meal.
Men cook like this: when the coals are ready (and this is mystifiably movable, not to be questioned by women), they will cook the chicken. At a certain other time (equally movable and mysterious), they will cook the boerewors. At yet another time, they will cook the steak. And so on.
And all these meat products will be ready for eating at different times – ie, when they’re ready. Not when everything else is ready, no. Because it is not for men to wonder why (or how) all things end up on the table together, ready for eating; theirs is just to do or braai.
Thus: the warming drawer. (By the way – do you know that ovens these days don’t come with warming drawers? My Defy is almost 20 years old and has a lovely warming drawer that I use all the time, to keep food hot and prove bread dough and warm plates. But modern ovens don’t have them. Why?)
So the men just cook the stuff however they see fit, and the women quietly squirrel it away into the warming drawer (where, I wonder, do the men actually think this meat goes while they’re paying attention to the next round of chicken wings or pork bangers or whatever?) and, finally, when the last bit of meat comes off the braai, the women magically spirit an entire, complete meal onto the table. And this to cries of, ‘Oh, well cooked, John! You’re a bloody hero!’ and ‘All hail John! Look what he’s produced for us!’ and ‘Wow, John, how did you manage to do all of this when all you appeared to be doing was staring into the fire and drinking beer and talking about the Springboks?’
Of course, by the time the meal actually lands on the table, all the guests are so pie-eyed you could feed them raw dog and freshly dug-up earthworms, and they wouldn’t know the difference – because another thing about braaiing is it takes so bluddy long. And the only thing that’s been keeping people going while waiting for their food is drinking.
When women prepare a (non-braaied) lunch for serving at, oh, 2pm, they start at 11am. They peel spuds, clean and chop other veggies, put beef roasts into the oven, etc. They do other things at noon, to make sure all will be ready by eating time – make a cheese sauce for the cauliflower, for instance. At 1, they start preparing, oh, gravy and the like; and they probably also set the table. And at 2, voila, lunch is served.
When men braai for lunch, they start the fire at 1pm, when the guests start arriving. (‘Oh, people are here. Well, better get the fire on, then.’) Then there’s that whole process – kindling, newspaper, wood, charcoal, staring, drinking beer, talking sport and sex, etc. And only then, finally, does the meat go on – and, as discussed, in some arcane, amazingly time-consuming, horribly irrational order understood only by men.
So by the time the food is ready, at 4pm, at least one guest has already insulted another; someone’s made a pass at someone else’s wife; two have shed their clothes and gone skinny-dipping; several others have found the ’70s CD stash and are dancing; and all have eaten so many chips, peanuts, olives and hummus-on-crackers that they’re not hungry any more.
And, as a last complaint, braaied meat is seldom cooked right. Maybe it’s because these men only cook once a week (if that), and thus don’t get enough practice to know better; maybe it’s because I’m just not that much of a carnivore. But bits of chicken burnt to buggery on the outside and still pink around the bone, lamb chops brittle with the leavings of the grid, pork rashers so dry they make your tongue shrivel to bite into them, rump steaks of boot-leather consistency? Sorry, not for me.
The barathrum saga continues…
While my bathroom now appears to be a fully functioning – and, even if I do say so myself, rather attractive - room for human ablutions, it is really just a front for all sorts of nasty, leaky things going on behind the walls and under the floor. For this, alas, is the legacy of an old, old house.
What, I kept wondering, was that strange hissing sound I could hear when I got up in the night to pee, and sat there in my smart new bathroom, the silence that comes only in the small hours pressing down on the house? It sounded like… well… running water (and, no, it wasn’t mine).
The plumber was summoned and, having put his ear to various pipes, declared one to be leaking – inside the wall. My heart sank: it meant tiles had to be lifted, cement chopped up, and, once the leak was repaired, the wall and floor relaid. But there wasn’t really a choice: there was clearly a leak somewhere and, judging by the increasing volume of the hissing sound, it was getting steadily worse.
It took a lot of localised destruction and over four hours for the plumber to trace the leak – to a mysterious duo of pipes that ran under the verandah, to who knows where.
We stood and looked at each other for a while, the plumber and me. Then I gave myself the kind of shake that one does before a big gamble and said, ‘Cut them off and seal them closed.’
‘But we don’t know where they go,’ he said.
‘I don’t care,’ I said. ‘If we end up without water somewhere in the house, we’ll deal with that then.’
He shrugged in an ‘it’s-your-funeral’ kind of way and got to work.
Two hours later the problem pipes had been truncated and blocked, the hissing sound had stopped, and all the taps in the house (12 in total, including mod-con connections, shower and bath, plus two toilets) were producing water on order.
As to the endpoint of the two problem pipes? It remains a mystery. And until, probably, a geyser erupts somewhere in the middle of my kitchen floor one day, a mystery it will remain.
Posted by Tracey at Sunday, July 20, 2008
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
My friend C was back last week to compete in the +-240km Berg River Canoe Marathon. At 52 she was the oldest woman ever to attempt the race, and (natch!) she came in first in her class.
In my time I have been something of a sports lover. As a kid, I was on the school tennis, swimming and squash squads. I used to be a very keen runner and thought nothing of taking a 10km jog before breakfast. When my hips and knees gave out, I took to swimming and cycling (I've done The Cape Argus four times. Really!). When my lungs could no longer take the punch, I became a Pilates nut.
These days, the most exercise I do is walking The Wobbly Dog around the local school rugby field or along the beach.
So watching my friend C prepare for and then actually take part in The Berg was fabulously daunting.
The night she and her second, S, arrived at my home (which happens to be usefully near the Berg River), the weather was in its seventh day of sheer filth. We’d been practically washed away by constant, heavy rain; that evening we were battered by a spectacular hailstorm that came down like bullets on my tin roof and sent all the animals into frenzies. It was nastily, damply cold.
The next morning C was up at dawn’s crack, doing amazingly complicated things with equipment that looked more fitting for a hospital’s ICU – mainly bags and tubes – and cheerfully eating a banana and other fortifying things. Then she and S set off into what can only be described as a deluge. And this woman was going down to the river to paddle! And not just a bit, either – 62 kilometres!
All day, while it bucketed down and an icy wind blew, I thought about C on the river. And when she came in that evening, shivering and short-tempered because she’d got side-tracked in a section of river so swollen by rain that she literally couldn’t see the banks on either side, and so lost precious time, I wondered that she was even still alive.
That evening she brought with her another canoeist, Sam. After the two women had hung out their wet things to dry and warmed up (hot baths, soup, etc), Sam sat in the living room and, with a needle and (this is for real, and not for the faint-hearted), pricked open the dozens of blisters she had on her hands and daubed the wounds with an antiseptic. ‘How are you going to cope tomorrow?’ I asked, agog at what I was watching. She shrugged. ‘I’ll be okay,’ she said.
C had injured her shoulder during the day and was plagued by fits of pins and needles in her right hand throughout the night so didn’t sleep well – yet the next morning they were up again at some godawful hour, eating breakfast, doing the bags-and-tubes things, and setting out into the filthy dawn.
By that afternoon the rain had stopped… but in its place was an icy, biting cold that brought snow to all the surrounding mountains and a lazy wind (the kind that doesn’t bother to go around you but just goes straight through you). And those women were still on the river – paddling, on this day, 46 kilometres.
That evening, an exhausted C said to me, as she prepared her equipment for the morning, ‘I wish tomorrow were the last day.’ It wasn’t though, and worse: it was the longest, 75 kilometres. Again, she didn’t sleep well, waking in the early hours with pins and needles in her hand, worried about how it would affect her performance in the morning.
But she was up the next day, again at dawn’s crack, and off … but this time C and S didn’t come back to my place, carrying on instead to a guesthouse farther down the river. I thought about her all day, and she SMSd me that evening: ‘It was long, it was hard, it was tough… too long and too hard…’ (and here she made an off-colour reference to an acquaintance’s delicate parts, which I shall not repeat here on this family blog, but did prove that exhausted as she was, her sense of humour remained intact). Clearly, this canoe outing isn’t called a marathon for nothing.
It wasn’t until a day later that I saw C again, when she returned, triumphant, her medal slung around her neck, having paddled the last day of 57 kilometres in style and come in first in her class. She burst through the door and yelled, ‘The Berg River is in sy moer!’ (a charming Afrikaans expression that means, roughly, ‘it’s done’).
Later that evening, when we’d broken out the wine and toasted C resoundingly for her amazing achievement, I asked her, ‘So, will you be doing it again next year?’
She grinned and said, ‘Weeeeellll… if they beg me.’
Yup, these women are truly crazy.
This pic was taken a month ago, when C came to do the Swartberg Canoe Marathon, a 'training run' for the Berg. By the time the Berg itself rolled around, the rain had fallen so determinedly and for so long that the causeway on which my friends A and C (and another unknown person who wandered into frame from the right) were standing when this pic was taken was completely under fast-flowing water.
A note to Isuzu, the sponsors of the Berg River Canoe Marathon: C (and others) were horrified by the lack of support - no emergency personnel (in a savagely flooding river situation), no soup kitchens or seconding spots during the course of the day, precious little protection from the elements for the time keepers, no proper signage for the seconds, etc. Get your act together, guys! The paddlers spend time and money taking part in your race, the least you can do is make them feel welcome (and safe!).
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Broekies are a Dying Breed
Of all the best South African words, `broekies’ is my favourite. Like padkos, deurmekaar, shame, dof , poep and howzit, it is utterly untranslatable, layered with meaning and infused with a hilarity that just cannot be explained to anyone who didn’t grow up here.
It’s the most inoffensive of words, too. What better way could there be to describe that most intimate item of female apparel? `Panties’ is twee and unpleasantly redolent of female sanitary products, `knickers’ is too English-boarding-school, `drawers’ Victorian, `underwear’ altogether too guarded, but broekies…
Broekies, as any South African girl knows, are not wisps of silk with lycra panels and lace trimming. No, a proper pair of broekies always reaches to above the navel, is elasticised at the waist and legs, is made of cotton and is roomy to the point of being voluminous. A vintage pair of broeks has perished elastic and several holes and was purchased from the OK Bazaars sometime in the Sixties, or, better still, was home-made by Granny on her old treadle-powered Singer.
The classic broekies were the ones we were expected to wear as schoolgirls. Run up by the thousand by the school seamstress in tough red and white gingham, they were pleasingly puffy, and extended, when stretched out, to just below the ribcage. For this reason, they were always known as `polonecks’.
Not wearing regulation polonecks was a punishable offence. When I was in Standard Four, our headmistress announced at assembly one morning that she was instituting a regular broekie inspection, starting right away. We all had to lift our skirts while the broekie police took a peek. Those who were wearing pale green nylon broeks printed with pictures of the Pink Panther were given a stern warning. Nowadays, this sort of intrusion into one’s personal body space would be considered marginal child abuse; then, it was all part of having a bit of school spirit.
Our school broeks were capacious enough to accommodate several items of school contraband, certainly a few comics, a yoyo and on one memorable occasion, a white rat. Storing treasured possessions in one’s broekies is a South African schoolgirl’s tradition that goes back decades. As a little girl during the war, my mother parked her sandwiches, her hankerchief and, most important, her precious supply of Wrigleys chewing gum in her broekies. Chewing gum was a rare commodity that was only obtainable if you had a military dad who knew an American soldier. If you managed to lay your hands on some, you chewed it for a few days, carefully placed it in a matchbox full of sugar, then stashed it in your broekies, all ready to be chewed again at some future date. Heaven help you if the nuns at your school decided to give you a walloping, because this involved pulling down your pants and delivering the slap to your naked little backside, the idea being to leave a big red handprint as a semi-permanent reminder of your wickedness. If there was chewing gum in there, you could certainly expect to come away with a handprint on both cheeks.
One of the great things about broekies is their potential for humour. They are, in many ways, the Van der Merwes of the garment world, inevitably the butt - if you’ ll excuse the pun - of endless jokes. A pair of broeks I will never forget are the ones I saw on on a sunny Saturday morning on Cape Town’s Adderley Street. An inebriated old gal stood, feet thrown apart, knees bent, cackling as she flung up her skirts to reveal a pair of none-too-clean nylon broeks. Across the front of the garment were emblazoned the words Disco Queen. `Dithco Queen!’ she shrieked as she flashed her broekies at passersby. `Merrem, I’m jis a Dithco Queen!’
Equally memorable were the broeks that the nuns at my convent were reputed to wear. Endless s hours in the playground were devoted to speculating about the colour and origin of the nuns’ broeks - what, we wondered, did these gentle Irish teachers wear beneath their voluminous habits? And where did they buy them? Were they run up by the needlework teacher out of serviceable grey serge, or did the nuns sidle into the Krugersdorp branch of Uniewinkels and pick out their own? And what patterns did they have? Crucifixes, we decided, were the likeliest option, although little Robin Smith, Grade 2, figured that they were pink, `with pictures of Zulus on them’. From that day onwards, Sister Mary Rose, the bus monitor, was always known as Sister Zulu Broeks.
Real broekies are a dying breed. With the resurgence of lacy lingerie, all the fun seems to have gone out of broekies. Leg elastic is now an integral part of the fabric, which means it can’t be replaced once it has perished. In the old days, a regular task of any mother of girls was to unpick the fabric channel of the leg elastic, pull out the gnarled grey perished pieces and thread new elastic through with a specially designed instrument called a bodkin. Broekies were recycled in this way and worn, quite respectably, by every little girl in the family over a period of many years.
The male version of broekies are known as undies. This word may not have the same delightful flavour as broekies, but it does have a specific meaning. Anyone who has done military service will remember Santa Marias - great flapping things stitched from heavy-duty fabric in an unpleasant and rather practical shade of yellow-brown.. And let us not forget the most famous pair of undies at all, the green ones that Eugene Terre’Blanche was reputed to have been wearing when Jani Allen’s best friend spotted him through the keyhole In keeping with a great South African tradition, they were full of holes.
I bet the elastic was perished, too.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
There’s a chap called ‘Wackhead’ (do I need to say it’s not the name his parents gave him?) Simpson who presents a weekly series called Clipz on our pay-TV channel. It’s a collection of ‘the best’ movie clips off the Web and, in between the usually cruel exploitation of people falling spectacularly off bicycles and committing other painful-looking errors of judgment, it does occasionally deliver laugh-until-you-wet-your-pants entertainment (particularly if, like me, you find the things cats do hysterically funny).
Wackhead’s style of inter-clip commentary is rather curious – he talks as if he’s been programmed by an amateur robotics enthusiast. Which is, perhaps even more curiously, not the way he hams it up when he does his ‘trick phonecalls’ for our local radio station.
These involve phoning perfectly innocent members of the public and driving them completely nuts, either because of the timing of the phonecall or because of its subject matter. Listeners are required to, I assume, laugh heartily at these unfortunates as they (usually) lose their temper and employ astonishingly bad language – in other words, behave in a way they definitely wouldn’t like their mothers to hear and probably also wish weren’t being shared with a lot of South Africa.
I’m the first to admit I have an embarrassingly unsophisticated sense of humour but, even so, there’s something so horribly cringeworthy about listening to someone totally lose it and have a huge phone fight which he or she doesn’t know is being tuned into by thousands of people.
This morning's trick phonecall involved Wackhead phoning some poor bloke (Wackhead usually targets local celebrities, the better to up the public humiliation factor, I suppose; I didn’t hear who this morning’s was) at 3 in the morning and offering him a subscription to a ‘Wake Up Call’ service. The victim was understandably pissed off and severed the connection. Wackhead called back five minutes later, and when the poor sleepy dude slammed down the phone again, he called back again. And again. Until (haha!) he admitted who he was.
I didn’t find listening to this funny at all. I found it excruciating. It reminded me of those early-1980s Funny People movies when director Jamie Uys played ‘candid camera’ tricks on ‘ordinary South Africans’ – but usually black people, because they were too downtrodden and frightened to tell whatever whitey was making them look up a chicken’s poephol, for instance, to determine which farm it should be sent to, to take a flying leap.
My friends and I used to play ‘trick phonecalls’ on people whose numbers we took at random out of the phonebook when we were younger. But we grew out of it.
Thursday, 3 July 2008
It’s school holidays and my house is overrun with teenagers, many of them visiting our dorpie from the nearest ‘big’ town, a farming centre about 20 kilometres away, where they all attend high school.
A group of five of them – all Afrikaans-speaking except for my daughter – were sitting outside on the verandah today, chatting, while I eavesdropped in a lackadaisical way while catching up on my emails in the adjoining study.
It wasn’t until the k-word (South Africa’s equivalent to the US’s n-word) cropped up that I really started listening. Surely, I thought, I couldn’t have heard right?
But, a few moments later, there it was again, spoken with some heat by one of the young men. I sat with clenched teeth, wondering how to handle this unforgivable breach of manners, when my daughter said, in Afrikaans, ‘If you don’t mind, we don’t use that word around here.’
There was a moment of silence (stunned, I assume), then an outburst of laughter.
Under the pretext of going out to check on the Kreepy-Krawly (with which I have an ongoing combative relationship), I wandered across the verandah, then glanced back to see what was happening. My daughter, her face flushed, was sitting tight-lipped, as was her friend, the divinely decadent E. But the three young men from town were having a good ole laugh at what they clearly perceived to be a ridiculous thing at which to take offence.
I was proud of my daughter for standing up for what’s right (not an easy thing to do when you’re a selfconscious teenager, desperately seeking approval from your peer group and especially the boys in it) and absolutely horrified that such casual racism really does still exist in South Africa.
Talking to her after they’d left, I learnt from my daughter that this is a pervasive attitude among her Afrikaans peers. ‘But, you know, Mom, it’s not them,’ she said. ‘They’re clueless. It’s their parents. They learn this stuff at home.’
I find this deeply disturbing. The Afrikaans kids I’ve met through my own teenagers are, without exception, polite and pleasant people. They greet me when they arrive and say a civil goodbye when they leave; they clean up after themselves; they’re considerate when it comes to music volume. They’re also, from what I’ve seen, respectful and kind to each other.
It’s hard to reconcile the cheerful courtesy of this new generation of Afrikaners with such cruel and unthinking bigotry, but there it is. As I said to my daughter after this morning’s discomfort, ‘We can only hope that when they leave home and go out into the world, they’ll learn that racism is a form of extreme rudeness.’
Posted by Tracey at Thursday, July 03, 2008
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
Probably because it’s cold and inhospitable outdoors, and swimming and other summertime pursuits are temporarily excluded from our entertainment list, we’ve got back into playing 30 Seconds. We don’t make time for it (if you will excuse that excruciating pun): we leave the box where it can be seen, and when there are a few of us about, we sit down for a rousing game.
This evening’s short, sharp session was with three teenagers (my daughter I and her divinely decadent friend E, and my son D; my friend Johann – who, you will by now have noticed has no anonymity on this blog; and myself.)
Here are some of the sillier offerings (several of them my own):
Question: ‘Harry’s title?
(Real answer: Prince)
Question: ‘A holiday for a parent?’
Guess: ‘For a father?’
Guess: ‘Father’s Day?’
Response: ‘No, the other one!’
Answer: ‘Father’s Night?’
(Real answer: Mothers’ Day.)
Question: ‘Famous American road that’s celebrated in song?’
Guess: ‘Route 67?’
Response: ‘No, one less!’
Answer: ‘Route 65?’
(Real answer: Route 66.)
Question: ‘Movie about two dogs?’
Response: ‘101 Dalmations!’
(Real answer: Lady and the Tramp.)
Question: ‘A country in South America?’
Response: ‘No, a country in Central America!’
Guess: ‘Um… Panama?’
Response: ‘No, a city in Central America?’
(Which was, amazingly, right, and in time. The questioner was pelted with orange peels.)
Question: ‘A flying rodent…?’
Response: ‘Yes! And add to it a young woman…?
(Real answer: Batgirl.)
Question: That delicious boy who presented SA Idols?
Answer: ‘Colin Moss!’
(Real answer: ‘Um, no, sorry, Colin Farrell. Who’s he again?’)
Tulbagh is a dorpie an easy half-hour’s drive from our own pretty little town. It’s probably best known for the earthquake that all but destroyed it in 1969. All the houses in one street, Church Street, were carefully restored following the disaster, and it’s now said to have the largest number of national monuments in one street in South Africa. ‘To take a walk down Church Street is akin to walking through a page in history,’ burbles one of Tulbagh's websites.
If, that is, you’re prepared to fork out R20 for the experience.
On Saturday we loaded up the car with teenagers, all with money burning holes in their pockets, and drove to Tulbagh to take part in their ‘Christmas in Winter’ weekend festival. Clutched in my hot little hand I had the pamphlet that had been distributed far and wide in the weeks leading up to the festival. It boasted, among other things, a Christmas craft market; gluwein and heartwarming drinks; cheese, olives and chocolates; mince pies and Christmas cake; and art exhibitions.
What it didn’t mention is that to gain entrance to Church Street, where all these things were happening, cost R20 per person.
To put this into perspective: there were six of us, so entrance alone to the street (which is, incidentally, a public road) would cost us a total of R120.
To further clarify things: the teens (who between the four of them had R700 to spend – we counted on the way home) wanted to buy handmade clothes, jewellery, trinkets and edible treats. I had about R400 in cash in my purse; my friend A had about R200; all he and I intended to do, really, was wander around and have a look at things, although if anything jumped out at us and screamed ‘Buy me! Buy me!’ well, of course, we would.
But asking visitors to the festival – most of whom had already invested in time and petrol to get there; Tulbagh is over 100km from the nearest city – to pay an entrance fee in order to buy stuff just seemed greedy.
We had a quick discussion about this and all four teens said that no way were they forking out R20 entrance fee (two of them had less than R100 to spend, so that would have been quite a big chunk out of their readies). So, without spending a single cent in Tulbagh, we got back in the car and drove home – bringing back with us a potential R1 300 that we might have splashed out for clothing, jewellery, trinkets and edible treats.
And we weren’t the only people who balked at paying to shop – several other groups who were looking forward to wandering down Church Street and supporting local industry also turned around and left. In fact, I took the title of this post from something someone said as he turned away: ‘What a greedy little town!’
When we got home, I phoned the Tulbagh Tourism office to ask about this entrance fee. What I wanted to know was: why wasn’t it advertised on the flyers that had been distributed before the festival; what does it cover; do the stallholders in Church Street also pay to be there, or do visitors’ entrance fees cover their costs; and what about, say, farm labourers who want to bring their families to the festival and simply can’t afford R20 per person to get in?
Patty, the woman I spoke to, was defensive. ‘It gives you access to the festival for two days,’ she said – which may work for people who actually stay over in Tulbagh and so spend the whole weekend there, but is a bit of an ask for day-visitors. Even R10 entrance, while still pretty bloody cheeky, would have been more reasonable for people who intend to only wander around for a couple of hours.
The entrance fee, said Patty, also covered admission to the three (‘Oh, sorry, two,’ she amended; one was being renovated) museums/art galleries in the street. ‘And how much is their admission fee usually?’ I asked. ‘Seven rand,’ she admitted (so there, all on its own, is a tidy profit for Tulbagh Tourism).
As to the stallholders – yes, they do pay to set up their stalls in Church Street, R350 for the weekend. That covers, said Patty, ‘access to a shower and public toilets’ for the stallholders. They must feel so spoiled.
‘And how about really poor people who want to attend the festival?’ I asked. (Tulbagh is a wine-farming valley; there’s a huge population of farm labourers in the area.)
Patty bristled. ‘The community decided on the entrance fee,’ she said.
‘The community’? I wonder who that would be. I can guarantee that Johannes September, who lives with his wife and three children in a farm cottage and earns a pittance during harvest and scrapes by for the rest of the year on odd-jobs, didn’t have much to do with that particular decision.
‘And where does the entrance fee go?’ I asked. ‘Well, 15 percent of it goes to a local school,’ Patty said. Whoop-de-doo.
As to why the R20 entrance fee wasn’t specified on the pre-publicity, Patty admitted that this may have been ‘an oversight’.
‘Look,’ said Patty finally, clearly tiring of the conversation, ‘we hold our festival in the middle of winter, when nothing else is really happening, so…’
Ooh! So because they’re the only place to go for one weekend in June, they can charge a usurious entrance fee? Isn’t that known as, um, rampant exploitation?
I know comparisons are odious, but please indulge me here. The little town I live in holds two festivals a year. Not only do we involve ‘the community’, but poorer residents are given stalls at knock-down prices and encouraged and helped with production and set-up. We open our entire town to visitors – we wouldn’t dream of charging them to come and support our effort; we’re just grateful they’ve actually taken the time and spent the petrol-money to get here, and we hope that the stallholders will make a big fat packet so they’ll come back next year.
Tulbagh’s greed must have lost their tourism association a big fat packet last weekend, but more to the point, it excluded their own, less affluent community members and diddled their stallholders. So much for Christmas spirit.