Saturday, 30 April 2011


My son turned 21. Wow.

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Friday, 29 April 2011

True Blue & Zen Karoo: The Wine House

The garden has to establish itself and there are a few other structural changes to come but we're almost there.

Before: front



After: front

Before: side


After: side

Before: back


After: back

Before: back


After: back


The Zen garden

Colyn christens the firepit

Balu loving the Karoo beds


Kees's weather vane

Rosemary sink

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Neil Diamond: a 24-carat gem

My friend Amanda and I didn’t think we’d find an ‘old rockers’ experience to match Smokie, who we saw at Grand West in 2008 – but then, how were we to know that the incomparable Neil Diamond would, at age 71, embark on a World Tour that included Cape Town?

I was in no rush to book our seats – I am, after all, regularly sneered at by my friends for my devotion to The Solitary Man, and didn’t for a minute think I’d have to hustle to secure our places when 36 000 tickets were up for grabs. So when, a week later, a news report told me that they were almost sold out, I rushed to my nearest Computicket – and, indeed, there were only a few seats left, dotted here and there about the stadium.

It was the biggest seated concert ever staged in the Western Cape – and yeah, yeah, you can laugh all you like about the fact that there was no standing room other than for those with Zimmer frames, but you’ve got to hand it to him: the silky-voiced septuagenarian played an energetic two-hour concert to a stadium packed with screaming fans.

Politely screaming fans, that is: the audience was (as Amanda noted, and included herself and me) largely fair, fat and forty – white and middle-aged. And because – let’s face it – Neil was never a renegade rocker, everyone there was incredibly well-behaved. There was a total absence of drunken delirium or drugged-up hysteria; rather, we all sang and swayed and clapped politely, and the only breach of civility was in the occasional wolf-whistle and heart-felt shouts of ‘Neil, we love you!’

And the crowd goes (mildly) mad: Neil sings 'Sweet Caroline'.

Neil himself led this low-key charge: his on-stage presence was – given that he was playing to tens of thousands – almost intimate; he spoke directly to his audience in a laid-back way that made it feel as if he were playing down at his local pub (with, admittedly, a very large and accomplished backing band). After singing one of his love ballads, he remarked, ‘I’m watching you guys, and I can see that the men and the women here react differently to my songs. The women listen carefully to the lyrics; the men stare up at the spotlights, and I can see them thinking, I wonder how they make them work?

But he was playing to a stadium of 36 000 people, and here, perhaps, was the only drawback – in our R550 seats, Neil was so far away that he looked like an ant. And for people of a certain age (as we, and most of his audience, are), this isn’t ideal. It took a lot of eye-squinting to make him out waaaaay down there on the stage, and eventually it made more sense just to watch the twin big screens to get the measure of the man. Which begs the question: wouldn’t it be more comfortable (and much cheaper) to watch one of his live concerts on DVD?

I suppose it’s not just about ‘seeing’ the man live (even if it is from half a kilometre away), it’s the whole bang-shoot – the hype and build-up, the getting to the concert and going home afterwards, the sharing of the experience with so many like-minded people*, and of course the truly fabulous sound. Cape Town Stadium’s acoustics are brilliant, and hearing Neil sing was a once-in-a-lifetime deal – especially since he sounds exactly the same live as he does on his records, even those recorded 50 years ago.

* Not everyone, of course, is as big a fan of Neil’s as the 36 000 people gathered there last night. The man sitting behind us asked the woman next to him, ‘So why isn’t John here?’ And she replied, ‘Because he said he’d rather stay at home and stick pins in his eyes than go to a Neil Diamond concert.’

A word about our beautiful city

I lived in Cape Town for 20 years before I moved to Riebeek Kasteel, and I always thought it an exceptionally beautiful city – but the improvements that were implemented for last year’s World Cup have transformed it into a real gem.

Cape Town Stadium is simply mind-blowing – not only is it monumentally gorgeous, it’s so cleverly designed that even a huge press of people can move in and out of it without any of the queuing, pushing and shoving that usually marks human movement on a grand scale.

The old Greenpoint traffic circle, now elevated on elegant concrete plinths above a pedestrian walkway, is a wonder of modern engineering and materials.

And walking back through the Waterfront towards the CBD after the concert was an adventure in itself – every building we passed was a little artwork in its own right, and the way everything has been designed to cater for pedestrians (including, all along the route, traffic marshalls with lights who stopped vehicles to allow people to cross roads on foot) is just so impressive.

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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Clearing out

I have a store-room which is so artfully built into my front verandah that it’s easy to overlook. So I overlook it. Except on those occasions when I have things that I don’t know what to do with, then I put them in there.

‘Putting them in there’ was once a fairly normal activity that involved unlocking the door, finding a space on the floor or a shelf, and putting the thing there, then locking the door again. As time went by, however, and the store-room became more and more populated, ‘putting them in there’ became, first, sloppy – unlock door and kind of chuck it in, then relock the door while thinking, Hmm, I should really sort out the store-room some time – then tinged with madness – unlock the door and chuck it in hard and high, hoping it doesn’t either rebound or dislodge a pile of crap and bring it barrelling down on you, then slam shut the door and relock it (sometimes while pushing your shoulder against it, because the press of things inside was so strong) while thinking, Hmm, I should really sort out the store-room some time.

The ‘things’ I put in there were, apparently: broken chairs (an amazing number of them, I discovered today – how did I get so many chairs, and why are so many of them broken?); boxes and boxes and boxes of tiles left over from tiling projects (and definitely a disproportionate number of leftover tiles given the number of tiling projects I’ve actually done in this house – perhaps they multiply when left for long enough in a dark, spider-infested place?); so many tins of leftover paint in various sizes and shades that I really began wondering if someone else had maybe also been using my store-room as a kind of communal DIY dumpsite; financial records going back over a decade which I’m too scared to chuck out in case someone steals my identity and marries me to an illegal immigrant; spare mattresses; camping equipment; many bags and baskets; suitcases (literally, suitcases) of old curtains (from where??)…

So, very little of value.

And the store-room would have remained thus, an invisible blot on an unseen landscape, only ever entered into briefly, and with shame and half-shut eyes, like an affair with a 26-year-old photocopier salesman, if I hadn’t been required by the builders to open it so that they could get to a window whose frame required repainting.

The builders’ reaction reminded me of when my family moved, when I was a girl of about 9 years old or so, from a small Johannesburg miner’s house into a palatial mansion in a more salubrious suburb. I think the reason my mother agreed to buy the house was the built-in wardrobes in her and my dad’s bedroom – mirrored marvels, they stretched from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling, ran quietly as a whisper on runners, and had enough space to store a Cape Town Fashion Week’s worth of raiments.

So how was I to know, when a friend of my mother’s visited and was given the Grand Tour around the new house (and I trailed along behind), not to throw open the wardrobes to show them off? All I recall of the actual incident was how my mother’s eyes suddenly widened, and her desperate grab to try to stop the doors from sliding all the way open. But I clearly recall the aftermath: my mother firmly pointing out to me that Some Doors Are Best Left Closed. (I realise now that my mother was probably less than neat – one of the many genetic gifts she’s bequeathed me.)

Anyway, when I opened the store-room today, the builders were clearly gobsmacked. Not only did several broken chairs fall out onto our feet, but beyond the pile that had accumulated around the door was a fetid mountain of … things. As the builders cut their eyes at each other and exchanged thin-lipped smirks, I thought, Hmm, I really should sort out the store-room some time.

So I did.

The builders, bless them, took all the chairs – they are handy, they will fix them – and the curtains and some of the mattresses and most of the bags and baskets; and my friend Willie-of-the-Lorry took an entire flat-bed truck’s worth of things down to the dump (excluding my financial records, which I will burn in my new firepit once it’s built).

And let me say this about hoarding (although you probably already know it): there’s very little you keep in case you will need it some day, that you will ever actually need some day.

PS. I have kept all the tiles.

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Preparing a time capsule

Several truckloads of rubble are soon to be dumped into my back garden, which will raise it about two metres – and which I’m hoping will finally be the Zen section of my new Karoo-Zen garden, although I must say at the moment I just can’t imagine living with anything other than noise, dust and confusion.

My kids and I decided that we’re going to bury a time capsule under the rubble, with the romantic notion that one day in the very distant future, in some post-Apocalyptic world, it will be found and we’ll become the Mrs Pleses of some yet-to-be-established new human society.

First, we decided what the time capsule would be - a plastic ice-cream container, since plastic takes a very long time to decompose, and in ideal conditions (without exposure to sun, moisture and bacterial activity, for instance) can last thousands of years. (Which is why, incidentally, they shouldn't be going into our landfills.)

Then, over the course of a warm autumn evening, sitting outside on the veranda, we each wrote a letter describing who we are and what we do, and also made a list of what to include in the time capsule.

It all started out politely enough, but obviously we opened a bottle of wine to feed our creativity, and, coupled with the arrival of a variety of people during the next few hours who all added their suggestions, and several more bottles of wine, things did get a bit messy.

I made up the time capsule today (in a somewhat desperate bid to get the goddess of construction, Cloacina, to blow some speed into the garden project), and had to laugh at how the handwriting in all three of our letters had deteriorated over the course of two foolscap pages and about four hours (and mine was – surprise! – stained with red wine). My daughter’s letter is incomplete and stops in the middle of a sentence – which will be an interesting thing for those people of the future to ponder over (did her mother suddenly up and kill her? anything is possible).

I also had some trouble finding everything on the list – several of these suggestions were added by the various droppers-in: a cockroach (dead, I presume; although I would imagine there would still be enough of those living even thousands of years from now, not to make them a vital inclusion); a spark plug (!); an iPod (yeah, right – I don’t even have one of those for my own use, never mind a spare one to bury); a head of marijuana (which just seems a waste); a tampon with the instruction leaflet (!!); and Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 (I wonder who the literary soul was?).

The things from the list I could find and did include were: the letters, copies of our birth certificates, lots of photographs, a lock of each of our hair, a champagne cork with its wire basket and some current South African stamps. I also tore a few pages out of our current valley handbook and folded them in; they include a short history of the area, and lots of information about where you can eat and sleep here, and what you can see and do.

And I added: my kids’ milk teeth (I once thought about making them into a necklace but… no), a packet of condoms, a flash drive with PR information about Cape Town on it, some old South African coins (1990), and the coin we found in the back garden (with an explanatory note), which in its own way is a little time capsule itself.

Given that the container is small (it’s a 5-litre ice-cream tub), is there anything I should still add that you think humanity of the future would be thrilled to find?

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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!

I always knew Balu the Monster Baby was special, and now I know why: she’s part of a secret breed that is slowly but surely taking over the world.

These three mixed-breed dogs aren’t related in any way at all but the resemblance between them is uncanny. They’re all medium-sized dogs with a strong border collie component in their black shaggy coat and fountainy tail; and all three also have a tan muzzle, collarbones and legs, and (especially) ‘Rottweiler eyebrows’.

The first picture is of my very own Balu, who is the known product of a border collie and a chocolate Labrador (ie, definitely no Rottweiler).

This one is of Stanley, who lives up the road from us. Stan, a 'pavement special', is a very energetic dog in which the border collie is strong (he’s obsessed with playing ‘fetch’) but who’s also a fantastic water-retriever (which makes me wonder if there isn’t Labrador in him too). Stan’s owner, Chris, says that he met some people on the weekend who had a mixed-breed who (again!) very closely resembled these dogs, complete with the ‘Rottweiler eyebrows’. (See? quietly taking over the planet.)

And this one lives with her owner, Kristine, in Chicago, on the other side of the globe!

I rest my case.

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Friday, 1 April 2011

More noise! (But this time I’m making it)

I’ve posted before about the noise I’ve endured since I moved to this small country town over a decade ago, and now it seems I’m getting my own back.

I have builders. I have lots of builders. I have builders installing fascias and gutters, repairing walls, painting, mixing concrete in a concrete mixer, pouring foundations, using jackhammers to loosen rock-hard soil and chainsaws to cut down trees… I have builders cutting, hammering, yanking, carrying, wheelbarrowing, driving bakkies, emptying bakkies, filling bakkies... The commotion is incredible.

But, yesterday, even in the midst of all this, there was one sound that was driving me absolutely nuts.

While I was working in my study (which, being a home office, is right in the middle of this maelstrom), I heard someone out on the front verandah having what seemed to be a long, bossy and one-sided conversation with (I assumed) the foreman. She went on and on and on, until I thought, Oh, for goodness sake, give the poor man a chance to get a word in!

I just had to find out who this garrulous person was, so I crept into my kitchen and peeked out. The verandah was empty. And yet the woman was rabbiting on.

Strange, I thought, and went to the front door and threw it open. And there was a transistor radio, tuned to a talk station, babbling loudly away, with no-one around but me to hear it. All the builders had moved to the other side of the house to do some hammering, yammering and clamouring there.

I stalked outside and switched off the bloody thing, then went back to my study to work. But about an hour later, the chattering was back.

This time, I didn’t bother with the curtain-twitching – I dashed to the front door, flung it open and stared around wildly, intending to crap on whomever was insisting on this additional noise element. But no-one was there. Someone had evidently come to the front verandah (perhaps to fetch a tool of some sort), noticed the radio had been switched off, switched it back on again, then returned to the other side of the house.

God! I thought only teenagers left radios on in unoccupied rooms, but apparently builders do too. Perhaps they also switch and leave on lights for the mere joy of doing so, and open the fridge then stand contemplatively in front of it for several minutes, scratching their bums. Maybe they are also incapable of finding their socks without shouting, ‘Maaa! I can’t find my socks!’

I switched the damned thing off and went back inside.

An hour later… well, let’s just say The Battle of the Transistor Radio was on.

Throughout the course of the day, I turned off the radio three times, and it was turned back on by a mystery person three times. Still, I may have lost the battles, but I won the war: the transistor radio is no longer in evidence. I am getting some hostile looks, however, from one of the builders, so I’m pretty sure I know who the owner of the radio is.

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Oh crap

I so love my new deep-red winter sheets, and wasted no time in sticking them in the washing machine so that I could have fresh-smelling linen on my bed. I threw in a few other 'whites' to make up the load, because everyone knows that bedlinen is colour-fast.


I'm happy with my newly pink bra, but my son isn't so thrilled with his no-longer-crispy-white jockeys.

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