While I was growing up, there was always one dog (although not
necessarily the same one) in our household whom my Dad called ‘The Flying Nun’,
because it had to wear a head cone to stop it scratching at some injury or
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
While I was growing up, there was always one dog (although not
necessarily the same one) in our household whom my Dad called ‘The Flying Nun’,
because it had to wear a head cone to stop it scratching at some injury or
I get very excited when I see a dog that resembles my Balu, as the dog’s
owner will almost always confirm that the dog is (a) a rescue, and (b) of
unknown origin. All the owners suspect Rottweiler is somewhere in the mix
because all these dogs have ‘Rottweiler eyebrows’ – but I know this isn’t necessarily
the case, because Balu’s parents were both pure breeds, a chocolate
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
* An interesting adjunct to the Dutch tobacco laws is this: marijuana is technically illegal in
I’ve never been a girl scout but my sister made clear her reluctance to be the chief map-reader in a foreign city and my friend Michele has trouble finding her way off a rugby field. So I ended up clutching the guidebook and steering us through the streets of
We were on Utrechtsestraat one evening, looking for a place to have dinner, and because the street is lined on both sides with restaurants, we had to cross it several times to squash our noses up against the windows and stare at what the people inside were eating. Michele took such severe emotional strain each time we crossed (taking life and limb in our hands, and often causing racing cyclists to ding their bells crossly at us) that the fourth time we decided to do so, she said, ‘That’s it. I’m not crossing again. If you decide to eat on that side of the street, you can just bring me a takeaway.’
Hearing – and watching – it
Also in Utrechtsestraat is a record store called Concerto, and we were thrilled that same night to discover that a Tom Waits CD, Bad As Me, was being released there. A Tom Waits tribute band was installed on a tiny platform and the shop was crammed with fans. The band was absolutely amazing – the singer gave a very convincing Waits rendition, and I developed an immediate crush on the bear-like trombone-player, and would have thrown my panties at him if I hadn’t been wearing two pairs of tights over them, which made them hard to take off. We loved just coming across this fabulous impromptu concert on a random and freezing Wednesday night in the city centre.
My sister, my Dad and I did a little boat tour of the Naarden canals which, together with various battlements and casements, constitute the fort-village. It was our first day so we were still battling with the language, and the boatman had only a smattering of English, so mainly we just sat there and enjoyed the scenery while he kept up a non-stop Dutch narrative over (bizarrely) a powerful sound system (it was just a little boat, as you can see at right). An hour later, when it came time to dock, the boatman somehow misjudged things, and spent the next 20 minutes trying to park his boat. As we went fruitlessly backwards and forwards and *bump* and backwards and forwards and *bump* and backwards and forwards and so on, I felt like an embattled mom with children engaging in risky behaviour - my Dad was endangering his fingers by gamely trying to secure the boat to the embankment by way of a bungey chord, and my sister had a fit of the uncontrollable giggles. We’d had only about 2 hours sleep after a very long and uncomfortable flight, and this was a sure sign of overtiredness; when this used to happen to my actual kids I immediately sent them to bed because tears were sure to follow. Fortunately, the boatman finally got the boat docked and we got off before my Dad crushed his fingers or Bev burst into hysterical tears.
I was pleasantly surprised, during the first couple of days in Holland, to discover how close to Afrikaans written Dutch is – the sentence constructions differ slightly but so many of the words are either exactly the same or very similar that it’s really easy to translate. The spoken language is another matter – the accent is so unfamiliar that it sounds, well, utterly foreign.
But after a few days I realised something useful: if you speak Afrikaans with an English accent, you’re basically speaking Dutch. It is the one and only time in my entire life that my atrocious Afrikaans accent (which is really just Afrikaans words spoken with an English accent, and is a source of huge entertainment for my Afrikaans friends) has worked to my advantage, and I had many happy, completely understandable conversations with Dutch people in English-accented Afrikaans.
I’ve mentioned the fantastic food we had everywhere we went in
Friday, 4 November 2011
They know how to do museums.
The next morning we set off early to see the Palace of Justice (because, you know, you have to – and very beautiful it was, too),
They have a public transport system.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say they have a good public transport system, but coming from a country where public transport is a national outrage, any public transport system is better than none at all. (That said,
Thursday, 3 November 2011
They hold back the sea – something that even King Canute (of nearby
The food everywhere, from the smallest hole-in-the-wall takeaway to the most elaborate restaurant, is unfailingly delicious.
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Boy, can they make coffee.
It’s fairly alarming, and not a little dispiriting, to be constantly ordered
about by people who can’t seem to mind their own business. The Dutch call this ‘being
straightforward’; those of us from other (thinner-skinned) nations might
consider it a titchy-tad bad mannered.
I attracted what seemed to me (and at least some of my travelling companions) an unfair number of ‘Nee, nee, nee!’ admonishments, among them:
* A Dutchwoman on a station platform who ordered me, ill-temperedly, to tie my shoelaces, which had come undone in our various rushes for trains. (They are actually rawhide strips that tie my boots closed at mid-calf, are too short to reach the ground, and have never, ever tripped up me or anyone else.)
* A Dutchman who took the trouble to actually stop his car to shout at me for not controlling my dog. I felt like Peter Sellers when I said to him, ‘It’s not my dog’ – it was simply a hound that was occupying the same pavement space as me, and was behaving impeccably at the time, lying down in an alert but relaxed state.
* A Dutchwoman who snapped peremptorily at me for pushing the ‘walk’ button on a traffic light - which, incidentally, is the only safe way to cross a street in Amsterdam, where pedestrians wage a losing war against a tidal wave of bicycles, trams, buses, cars and other pedestrians, all moving as if they’re late for a theatre opening (and on the wrong side of the street).
* A Dutchwoman who ticked me off for lack of manners for requesting another bottle of wine at a dinner, and went on to suggest to all who would listen that I have a ‘drinking problem’. Which was amazing to me, given that everyone around the table was at least half-toasted by then, and our hostess had just poured herself yet another generous glass of potent brandy liqueur. (And anyway: me, a drinking problem??!)
* A guard at the Rijksmuseum who crapped on me soundly for pointing out something in a painting, although my finger was nowhere near the actual artwork. I was hugely relieved that he didn’t produce a steel ruler and rap me over the knuckles with it.
* A shopgirl who yelled clear across the shop at me for attempting to remove a T-shirt from its packaging to have a look at its size and design (you know, what we do in Woolworths all the time) – and who treated my sister the same way, rebuking her for looking through a row of scarves for one she liked: ‘They’re all the same!’ the shopgirl growled, although they weren’t.
My Dad (who lives in Holland) gave me a book for my birthday while I was there called The UnDutchables: an observation of the Netherlands, its culture and its inhabitants, which describes the Dutch as (among other things) ‘moralising’ and ‘criticising’, and I suppose I would have had a less stressful time if I’d read it while I was there. Alas, we were too busy, so I only got to that part when I got back to dear old SA. Forewarned might have been forearmed.
There are, however, also lots of extremely fabulous things about the Dutch and their country, and I’ll tell you about them in future posts.
Friday, 28 October 2011
(More about Holland in posts to come...)
Posted by Tracey at Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
At the beginning of September I was torn from my quiet country life into the turmoil of fulltime big-city office work. New Media in Cape Town was contracted by City Press to put out their new Sunday magazine, ‘i’, and I was contracted as the launch editor.
I used to do spans of this kind of work when I was younger and hungrier (and lived in the city), but I'm not mad about it. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not a fabulous supervisor of people; and, although 20 years of raising children without benefit of anything even vaguely resembling a memory has turned me into an excellent organiser (I Do Lists), I dislike managing stuff.
Still, it was an interesting experience. It taught me several things and reminded me of others, some being:
• Life is better in pajamas
• If you have dogs and other animals, you need to be with them for longer than a few hours a day (and their devastated expression when you leave them in the morning can bring you close to tears)
• Sleeping only 5 hours a night makes you dizzy
• Walking your dogs in the early-morning dark can cause you to fall into holes
• Weekends are really necessary - all work and no play makes Jill excessively grumpy
• Working 9 to 4 with 2 hours driving on either side (ie, 7 to 6) means you can’t get to the shops, the bank, the vet, the chemist, etc – and there’s a circle of hell that closely resembles Shoprite Checkers on a Saturday morning
• Indulging your love of cooking/TV addiction/blogging fetish/need for an afternoon snooze/desire to work at 2am if the spirit moves you isn’t possible when you have a fulltime job
• And don’t even think about joining your friends on a midweek bender
• Sealed windows plus airconditioning is a bad combination, particularly if the aircon doesn’t work
• Alarm clocks are evil fuckers
• As are the Sunday Blues
• Driving for 4 hours a day is bad for your spine, your wallet, your nerves and the environment
• There’s no place like home.
On the plus side, there were:
• Cape Town Food Market
• The solar-powered traffic signboards, which warn you of what lies ahead (my favourite: ‘congestion on elvated freeways expect delays’)
• Reconnecting with people who’ve been in publishing for 20 years and really know how to get things done
• Connecting with smart youngsters who are keen and talented (like Julia)
• Producing an excellent product in an impossibly short time with a great team
• Coming home in the evenings to my dogs, cats and chickens, who go crazy when they see me (although mainly, in the case of the chickens, because they want food – but that’s ok!)
And, my god, Cape Town drivers!
I travelled the route between Riebeek Kasteel and Cape Town daily both ways: 20km to and through Malmesbury, including a tortuously slow detour because they’re apparently simultaneously re-tarring every single road in the town; about 50km on the hell-run that is the N7; then about 10km on the N1 into the city, including daily congestion that can add up to 40 minutes to the trip. Every day, I’ve been held up by an accident – but the fact that it’s only one accident amazes me. Most people drive like they’ve checked their brains at the door, and I can’t count the number of times:
* some arsehole has tried to overtake 10 cars and a slow-moving lorry on a blind rise, and missed oncoming traffic by millimetres, and often then only because the oncoming car has moved onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision (hey, nitwits – if you cause an accident, the rest of us will be involved in it too!);
* 3 snail-pace trucks have slow-motion diced each other up one of only 2 double-lanes on the entire inland route, infuriating the long line of cars behind them who could get moving if only the trucks would get the bloody hell out of the way;
* cars going at 60kph have refused to move over (and often drive, inexplicably, practically in the middle of the road, making it difficult to see past them), creating irritating logjams that make people do dangerous things to pass them;
* drivers doing 160kph have tailgated me and then every car they’ve leapfrogged ahead of me, creating incredibly dangerous road conditions, only to be stuck in the same traffic jam as all of us as we neared the city;
* people have treated the N7 onramp onto the N1 as a stop street, causing a hazardous backlog for absolutely no reason;
* accidents have attracted bizarre numbers of ‘emergency vehicles’ (in one case, a fire truck, 4 police cars and 7 (SEVEN!) ambulances), which have served only to create more havoc and congestion (are private ambulances the new tow-trucks?!); and
* huge traffic jams have been caused by municipal grass-cutting on the road verges (everyone stops to look; and by the time everyone has stopped to look, the backlog takes 40 minutes to clear – hey, municipality, maybe you shouldn’t do this in peak traffic time?).
My contract finishes tomorrow, and after work I’ll be heading straight to Ceres to join my friends on a midweek getaway (something you can’t do if you work fulltime!), stopping in Riebeek Kasteel only to fetch the dogs and a bottle of peach mampoer, which I plan to drink while lying on my back in a meadow with a mountain somewhere in full view. And no alarm clock anywhere within a 100-kilometre radius.
To my colleagues in the office: a luta continua!
Posted by Tracey at Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Thursday, 22 September 2011
She’s no spring chicken • he’s a cocky as a rooster • maintaining the pecking order • he’s hen-pecked • it’s chicken feed • she’s like a mother hen • don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched • there can be only one rooster in a henhouse • her feathers have been ruffled • he’s preening • she’s broody…
Chicken metaphors for human behaviour are legion, and for anyone who’s spent an afternoon on my verandah, watching the chickens go busily about their business, there’s no doubt why. Even ‘melded’ flocks like the one that quarters my garden all day (only Goldie and the Things – about which more shortly – are mine; the others are loyal daily visitors from an adjoining property) do establish and maintain a pecking order; the roosters are indeed cocky and, with the current three (ie, two too many), there are often spats; the hens who hatch out chicks are almost always amazingly good mothers; and when a hen gets upset, you can literally see her feathers ruffling.
Johann (who also has chickens) describes my affinity with my flock as ‘unnatural’ and perhaps it is. (Okay, it definitely is. Sit down in the back there.) So there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from me on Sunday when my dogs, inexplicably, killed one of the Things (recently renamed Beatrice), who’d hatched out a tiny baby just four days before.
Once I’d got over my initial shock, I had to go through the tedious process of the five stages of grief (somewhat modified for this occurrence).
1. Denial was immediate: on finding Beatrice’s corpse, I wandered about muttering, ‘I can’t believe it.’
2. Utter and complete emotional collapse followed. On realising that Beatrice was indeed dead, and that my dogs had indeed committed the murder, I stood in the garden, my head on my daughter’s shoulder, and sobbed like toddler.
3. Anger swiftly brought up the rear: ‘I’ll kill those fucking dogs!’ (The fucking dogs fled to the relative safety of the daybed on the verandah, where they lay in uncharacteristic silence, looking suitably forlorn and guilty, all day.)
4. Bargaining came next: ‘If the chick has survived, Beatrice won’t have died for nothing. Please let the chick have survived. Please. If it has, I promise to…’ (Oh, come on, I’m not going to tell you what I promised. Especially since the chick did survive.)
5. Depression set in at about 2 the next morning, when I was changing the chick’s hotwater bottle for the third time that night (it was billeted in a large box in the bathroom, on a hotwater bottle and a bed of straw, under a teddy-bear); it deepened around 4am, when I realised I’d have to get through a busy working Monday on about four hours of sleep.
(I’ve left out Acceptance until it happens. It hasn’t yet.)
Coming home on a chilly, windy Monday evening to a four-day-old chick with freezing feet and a lot of complaints (where was its mother? why was it being expected to eat grownup seed at its tender age? why had it been in this box all day? did I really think it was going to go through another night of straw/waterbottle/teddy?), which it expressed in a neverending series of ear-splitting PEEP-PEEPs, I realised I was ill-equipped to hand-rear a newly hatched chicken. Johann came to the rescue when an emergency neighbourhood poll revealed that a nearby hen had a six-week-old chick – maybe, just maybe, she’d foster the orphan.
I drove to Riebeek West with the baby in my shirt. It wriggled without cease, mercilessly scratching my chest with its little claws, and it wasn’t happy until its tiny head was peeping out of my cleavage and surveying all in a preternaturally bossy, mother-hen way (so it’s probably a female), which made wearing a seatbelt impossible (I kept a sharp eye out for Officer Erasmus).
The gardener at Warrick’s place, the site of the possible foster mom, told us unequivocally that the hen would peck the chicken to death, and who were we to disbelieve him? But the option (hand-rearing) wasn’t really a possibility, so we thought we’d give it a try.
And ag shame!! That mother hen – a lovely little creature with pristine white plumage and a complicated hairstyle – examined the baby with typical mother-hen curiosity, then, seeing a need and realising she could fill it, scooted that unhappy little chick under her matronly breast. Her six-week-old natural baby (a carbon copy of its mom) gave up its prime spot and instead crept graciously under a wing.
Shedding a discreet tear of gratitude, I turned to Johann: ‘See? A mother hen! She just knows!’ Johann scoffed, ‘Oh please! She’s a chicken! She’s so brainless that she just thinks she had twins but didn’t notice until now!’
I’ve since had reports that the chicken and mother have both adapted beautifully and are very happy together. (Beatrice would be glad.) I have, of course, claimed visitation rights, and am looking forward to seeing how the koekoek chick, who’s going to grow into a black-and-gold-flecked giant, will relate to its tiny snowy bantam mom as time goes by.
* There’s one other chicken metaphor that I love: ‘roosters crow, hens deliver’. It’s so true! (Although I’m passing no comment on what this says as a metaphor for the human condition.) And roosters don’t only crow at daybreak – they often start their noisiness long before sunrise, at 3am or so (ask any city person who’s visited me in the country ‘for some peace and quiet’).
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
My daughter has lost quite a bit of weight recently, and was telling me how she has to wear long shirts because her pants keep falling down and exposing her midriff to the world.
I love being able to say, ‘That’s nothing! You should hear what happened to me’ so I said, ‘That’s nothing! You should hear what happened to me!’
I have a silk wrap skirt that I wear from time to time. On this particular day it was rather windy, and I obviously hadn’t tied my skirt securely enough, and as I bounded out my car and onto a crowded pavement, it quietly detached itself from me and went billowing down the road.
Early parachutes were made out of silk, for the material’s light weight and strength, and its ready ability to react to air currents – which will give you some idea of how enthusiastically my skirt blew away. So not only was I left in public in only my knickers (and really this isn’t how anyone would want to see a 46-year-old woman), I had to run after the bloody thing.
Which is one of the many reasons I prefer wearing pajamas in the daytime.
Posted by Tracey at Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Friday, 9 September 2011
On Wednesday this week, my daughter turned 20. She’s been waiting for, well, 10 years not to be a teenager any more, so this was a biggie. She did, of course, immediately go into that peculiarly female nosedive about her age, and mooch about muttering, ‘I’m getting so ooold,’ which we on the shady side of 40 found amusing. My birthday present to her was this tattoo; the word is ‘veritas’, which repeats itself in her contribution to one of the garden mosaics.
Talking of mosaics, Jill finished the firepit one on Wednesday. This one was particularly fiddly, as each flame had to be positioned separately, and then carefully grouted. My word contribution – 'geselligheid', Afrikaans for 'conviviality' – is here. The mosaic is already stunningly beautiful, but once the lippia lawn has grown in around it, it’s going to be simply astonishing!
And the third achievement, also on Wednesday, was that my son finally got his driver’s licence (on his second try). This has been a long adventure involving countless trips to the Malmesbury Traffic Department, and plenty of frayed nerves. It means that not only is he now truly independent, I can retire my ‘Mom’s Taxi’ job description - one I’ve held, and seldom willingly, for two decades.
We all celebrated this hat-trick with some limited-edition Klein Optenhorst Pinot Noir Method Cap Classique 2009 (thanks Naas and Melissa), a delicious lunch at Bar Bar Black Sheep, and a slice of this charming lemon cake made by my daughter and our friend Ruan – if you look closely, you’ll see that they wrote ‘Happy 20 and licence’ on it.
What a great start to spring!
Posted by Tracey at Friday, September 09, 2011