Tuesday, November 30, 2021

in the African night

On Sunday evening I did a most beautiful thing with a dearest friend. 

Another outdoor movie. This time on a picnic blanket in the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens, still one of my favourite places in the world. 

This time Out of Africa, possibly one of my most watched films of all time. But not for years.

Out of Africa is so precious that I'd trust few people to watch it with me. I will not tolerate any eye-rolling, sighing at its length or critical analysis of its historical facts. You must be invested, all in, to share this cinematic experience with me and as the opening credits rolled and we both snuggled down on our blanket with instantly dewy eyes, there was no other place in the world I would rather have been.

The dreaded South Easter wind had been howling in Cape Town for 10 solid days. The end of year pressure of school and work and Xmas madness mounting. The 4th wave, Omicron, travel bans looming. Friends in distress and friends in despair. Loss and betrayal. It had been a really tough week.

But the wind dropped that evening. The velvety-darkness fell as that haunting opening music rolled across the lawn towards us. 
And as I watched, past versions of myself crept out from between the scenes bringing with them memories - of outfits I constructed in my childhood bedroom to dress like Karen Blixen (the white cotton blouse, buttoned at the neck and pinned with a brooch, the striped African print scarf tied over one shoulder, the khaki skirt I rolled at the waist to get just the right length on my shin), of standing on the dewy lawn in Swaziland in 1994 looking out at the mist lying in the valleys and channeling Meryl Streep, of years and years and years of yelling 'Hello the house!' when arriving at my bestie's (she who lay next to me watching this now). The way that music had always made me feel, the yearning for adventure and the happiness of thinking that even if I wasn't living her life, I lived in Africa already and that was a good start. 

As the film rolled on the sky got darker and more dramatic, and I found myself gazing away from the screen to take in the enormity and beauty of it, and have one of those lucid moments of perfect clarity one occasionally has, where you can stop within an experience, to realise that this is one of the best things you'll do in your life.

Time slowed and exhaled, we wept and laughed. On screen the sound of crickets chirping filled the African night, as around us in the gardens the sounds of crickets chirping, filled the African night.


Thursday, September 30, 2021

in the middle of the middle?

But when it comes to time, where is the middle?

My friends and I, as we have our second round of pandemic birthdays and are still, each year, amazed to discover that apparently we are 'grown-ups' now, have been pondering the particular complexities of reaching middle-age in the middle of a pandemic.

It stands to reason that every age will feel the effects of lockdown etc in relation to the age they are during this, and no one can really claim their experience to be worse than any other's (except maybe that poor 20-30 crew, I do really feel for those guys), but I think us of the middle-age are having a particularly interesting time of it for a couple of reasons.

Growing acceptance of one's own mortality and the inevitable death of your parents and loved ones?

BOOM - global flu pandemic to just really drive that home and place the risk of it literally around every corner.

Growing realisation that you might run out of time to visit all those far-flung destinations on your 'bucket list' (horrible term)?

BOOM - travel restrictions starting from your front gate to extending to most other parts of the world.

Growing unease at whether you've made enough provision for retirement / your children's future / the medical costs of growing older?

BOOM - total loss of career and all prospects of it ever picking up again PLUS flooding of the dwindling jobs market with thousands of younger and more relevant jobless candidates.

Growing independence from your children and freedom to plan around them and return to a bit of your own life?

BOOM - homeschooling, a thing you SWORE you'd never do, becomes your reality, school days shorten in the absence of extra-murals, kids are at home all the time.

Growing determination to get healthier and stronger and counteract the aging effects of weakening bones and muscle degeneration?

BOOM - all gyms and exercise classes close, or remain open and become cesspools of contamination.

So no, I'm not saying we're having it worse off than anyone else. I'm just saying we're not having it any easier. No one is having it easy.

It just feels like it would all be more manageable if we knew where we were in these things... are we in the middle? Of life? Of the pandemic?

Maybe the advantage of living through this in middle-age is the acceptance we've come to that we'll never know what's coming next. We've seen friends die unexpectedly, we've seen towers fall and countries burn, we've seen fax machines come and go... maybe we've got a better handle than some on the truly unpredictable nature of life.

Maybe we should know better than to overthink this.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

august things

It's an odd month, August.
Never a favourite of mine I'll admit. It's kind of neither here or there really, winter grinds on... we hit term 3 running (even faster this year as the winter holidays were extended due to our 3rd Covid wave) ... the year is halfway gone, one ponders what one's done with it.
Little bit of midyear crisis perhaps?
Though honestly, crisis sounds far too exciting for August really.

I've been riding my bike. With an eye to possibly returning to gym soon(ish) and a desire to not be entirely pathetic when I do, I thought I'd better put some effort in.
What August does have going for it is the stillness - between winter storms that is - and when the bitter South Easter starts blowing again it'll not be nearly as fun out there on a bicycle.

I've been riding my other bike too. I had a fall last November, two actually, on a day out doing off-road motorbike training. Some bruising and a snapped front brake handle were the only two immediate casualties, but my pride was much more badly wounded, and my confidence. It's taken me a while to get back in the literal saddle, but I've ridden 3 different types of motorbike in the last month and that felt good.

We've spent a lot of time with Layla, Zahida's daughter. She and Stella are still thick as thieves, and despite having seen so very little of each other in the last 18 months they just pick straight back up again every time - there is no other friend Stella can spend as much time with, as easily, as her.

Layla and family are moving to the UK soon. Zahida's husband Sam has done so incredibly, wonderfully well these last few years, but he needs a change - and this is the one they've chosen. We're trying hard to be encouraging and excited, but we are sad, for us.

These two punks turned one on 20 August and my god we love them. They live almost exclusively upstairs when in the house, with their own secret routes down to the garden (ours and the absent neighbour's) to avoid the dogs.
Minnow (although Frieda insists she's Mino) is the house cat, always on a bed, always up for a nap with a human. She fishes hairbands out of a basket on my dresser (which naturally we keep stocked up just for her) and chases them around the rooms, she vocalises a lot, likes to drink from a tap, is soft and malleable.

Prince is 100% dude. Playful, curious, often out on an adventure, a total clown, straight-forward and uncomplicated. Not super affectionate - until he is, purring and bumping you and rolling and drooling - Prince spends his days collecting litter from the gardens and often the lake, bringing in 5-8 pieces a day sometimes, some dripping wet, some tiny, some big. Saving the planet is his important work.

August is dramatic skies. The acacia trees are coming back to life after winter and the sun on those green shoots against a brooding sky is one of my favourite things to see.

I have two friends who wrote novels during lockdown. Others who've picked up impressive new habits such as committed cold-water swimming, or weight-lifting.
Part of my midyear crisis was a small what-have-I-done-with-lockdown moment, until I reminded myself that I started a whole new job!
Events are dead (although I am also currently working with clients who are desperately trying to do one - March 2022 maybe...) so I am managing sales and marketing for a family business, a business I've grown up around and had extremely little to do with before, but I'm really enjoying being part of.

To be fair, August has allowed us some magnificent weather for outdoor socialising, which in the global scheme of things for mid-winter mid-pandemic, is pretty generous.
We have been for walks, and outdoor lunches and a couple of dinners - working around people's exposure and the national curfew - and lots of garden/beachside/roadside chats. 
Then last Saturday, a drive-in screening of The Witches, with cuddly car-beds and popcorn and candy-floss for the children and sneaky wine and hilarity for the grown-ups. 

It was bloody cold, snow on the mountains and frost-bitten toes, but the company warmed our bodies and our hearts and it was a good send-off for the month.
I will always be grateful for having so many loved ones so close during this shitshow.

And tomorrow is the first day of Spring, so there's that, but more excitingly - my second Pfizer shot, and that is a real turn towards the light.

See ya August, let's move on.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

take the cake

 I read something recently, a meme or motivational quote thingie, which said it takes bravery to be silly and play in times of great upheaval or distress*.

It was so good to read. Too often we let ourselves feel frivolous for taking time out to be silly, and too often we neglect to play.

Among my many blessings is being surrounded by people who don't let me forget this, and last week we had a good game.

It was a darling friend's birthday - 6 years since I wrote that last post about her and still every word 100% true - and she wanted to go for a cycle.

A cycle in pristine and tranquil Cape Point, past fields of bright yellow leucodendrons glowing against moody winter skies, the tinkle of a hundred winter streams all filled with singing froggies, ostrich beady-eying us as we raced past, herds of eland and bontebok, a porcupine in full quill bustling off into the undergrowth - nature brought her A game.

The human company was spectacular too. Our friend Sally is an accomplished cyclist and entertained us all by standing up on her crossbar while whizzing along, another friend joined late and steamed up behind us on his bike shouting 'Comin' in HOT', the kids were great - all old enough to be on their own bikes, full of chat and hilarity.

It was a Thursday and (besides the kids who were still on holiday) we all should probably have been doing more adult things. Some had officially taken leave, but most of us work for ourselves and had signed our own permission slip. It wasn't raining, it was a birthday, it was a chance to get outdoors, a chance to play - why the hell not?

My joy, as I flew along relishing all the endorphins, was compounded by the slight tenderness in my left arm - I'd gotten my first Pfizer jab the day before and it was such a shot of optimism and hope for the future. For a moment all things felt possible again.

Our ride ended with a picnic at the sea. Homemade guacamole and hummus, nacho chips and a (highly illegal - cackle - bottle of wine). And of course - because tradition - a homemade masterpiece of a cake for the birthday girl. Baked before and assembled on site.

How gorgeous?

A bet it tasted amazing.

Sadly we'll never know...

But he seemed to enjoy it a lot.

Raiding baboons are notorious at Cape Point. They have no fear of humans, no shame at chasing you off your picnic, no qualms about taking the cake.

I tried to stand fast for a bit - but as he hurtled towards me, hairy shoulders rolling, teeth bared, snarling and barking, I released that beautiful cake in a slow-mo arc across the grass, even in that moment having a small internal acknowledgement (enjoyment?) that when would I ever again just toss a complete, beautifully iced cake to the ground?

God we laughed and laughed and laughed. We love cake, but even more than that we love a good story. And most of all we love to be playful, to find the funny side, to have adventures together, to seize the day, to take the cake.

Last Thursday we were reminded of all of that - and in the light of the last month, my last post, it was a very well timed nudge.

*Also privilege right? I am aware of this, always.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

in the bleak midwinter

It's day 4 of a 7 day storm, and we're back in lockdown.

The girls just finished school 10 days earlier than planned, booze sales are prohibited again, no gatherings (like, none), no restaurants, no galleries, no museums, 9pm curfew. They kept the beaches open this time, but in this weather this is only really good news for those restaurant owners who can go for a surf to distract themselves from the crippling debt and human cost of having to close their doors. Again.

Ostensibly this lockdown is for 14 days but I mean, we've all heard that one before.

So we're back at home. Except this time I'm also working. Or am I?

I spent yesterday compiling a document which might mean a pause to my current contract, and although it would be pretty shit to lose the distraction, satisfaction and paycheck that comes with actual work - it's also madness to try and put together an in-person event in this ridiculously unpredictable time.

I realised recently that I've possibly reached peak apathy. I just don't really care that much anymore.

I can't think about the future without waves of absolute gloom breaking over me so I just don't. And by future I mean everything from will I ever travel internationally to what options will my children have in this new world to how, with 67% youth unemployment, our country is surely heading down the tubes. See why it's better to just not think of it?

I have never been this apathetic in my life. I'm not even despondent because that would require too much feeling. I just ... have the biggest case of the whatevers ever.

Also an excellent time to have a midlife crisis. I turned 46 in May and it was hard. The actual birthday was lovely - I have the best friends and family - but in the weeks that followed I hit a real wall. But even that is ruined by the fukken pandemic.

As I texted a friend recently: what we've all got is the constant second guessing of all our feelings - do I hate my life or just the pandemic, do I want a divorce or just a vaccine, is this Covid or a normal midlife crisis?

It's all extremely boring actually.

BUT, there are rays of light and my god we need them...

Our big girl turned 14 last month and scored (as she always does) a beaut of a still, warm, winters day to have lunch out with her besties and cupcakes on our deck. After her tiny 13th celebration last year this was a big win, especially in light of our current restrictions.

The sun comes up every day (not much evidence of this the last few days tbh but ja, still she rises) and reminds us that we live in a beautiful place.

We have the most ridiculously lovely and infuriating collection of pets to comfort and entertain us.

In our home there is art, and beauty, and kindness, and love, and delicious food - and this, in the end, is the thing which must be enough for now. 

Just un-wedgie your big girl panties and get on with it girl.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

a month of cheese platters

If you follow (or stalk) me on Instagram you'll have picked up that we've been away A LOT in the last few weeks. Sickening really. Sorry.

This is almost entirely thanks to lovely friends who cleverly booked weekends away with a foresight for fun which we've struggled with the last few months, and also in part to bookings made in 2019, in The Before, which have only now been fulfilled. 

What follows is a small review of some weekends in paradise, and the well-timed cheese platters which accompanied us.

A long weekend camp at Altyd Water (always water - a big claim for an end-of-summer campsite in the Cape - turns out they weren't wrong) kicked off the festivities and reignited a will to live. Amazing river water (no crocodiles!*), perfect kiddie dynamics, croquet on the lawn, a live snake capture, tequila cocktails and the cheese platter which saved us.
Packing up the tent on the last day we were already planning the next one...

But first, this. Not technically a cheese platter but just a hint of the luxury sampled on a freebie weekend at the Steenberg Hotel & Spa with my bestie. This was an amazingly generous gift from a friend in cold Berlin who was unable to make use of the booking she'd made pre-pandemic.
We slept, and ate, and lolled at the best poolside I've ever hang out at - feeling our shoulders actually relax, our souls unfurl and the utter peace which only comes with not having to do one single thing you don't want to do. Not one.

And then the big one. 5 days deep in the Groot Karoo on a friends farm.
And this cheese platter - the most humble of them all, but the most special. A hunk of Camembert hacked to pieces with a pocket knife, a sleeve of very standard crackers. Gin cocktails with pink peppercorns foraged from the tree we would sleep around that night - out under the stars in a sheep paddock on the farm. Mattresses on the ground, a big bonfire, the best lamb chops of my life, endless stars, a creaking windpump, snuffling children bundled up in the night with just their noses peeking out, a faithful doggie who kept watch and the gentlest dawn. Magic.

Later the following day, after an icy pool dip to rinse the dust from my sinuses, and a work call taken in the old farm office - still in a damp cozzie, kids yelling to each other outside, a faded sheep deworming schedule up on the wall - the beginning of a conversation which has culminated in an actual work contract for an actual in-person event (just when I thought it would never happen) - this was the snack board I made to celebrate - served on the verandah with ice cold wine and some self-congratulation.

I don't have a photo of the food, or anything much, from the quick trip to Onrus we squeezed in after the only weekend in 6 that we spent at home. A quick 24h of diving, swimming, crayfish cooked and eaten on the beach, a Japanese Wagyu fillet which was indescribably magnificent and an emergency vet run for one of our stinkers. (Honestly, the only weekend away they joined us and someone ate something weird and had to go to the vet. For shame.)

But not all platters are created to be shared - and the above was for a small girl on a warm afternoon. Summer fruit, cheese, yoghurt and honey for dipping.

And to round it all off - another camp. Another river (still no crocs!*), another cheese platter, more cold but incredible swims, more kids having the best time while the adults followed suit, more friends, more laughter and more reminders that: we can hang out safely and largely outdoors, we can move beyond these homes we spend so much time in, we are, as always, incredibly lucky, we will always, always, have a cheese platter.

Thank you March/April - we needed this so bad. And now, actual work. My god I wonder if I can remember how to do this?

*at the beginning of the year the news broke of a crocodile farm (a tourist attraction back when there were tourists) which lost its fence in a flood and subsequently, over 100 crocodiles into the waterways of the Western Cape... Not being sure how many crocs escaped in the first place, it's impossible to tell whether they've all been recovered. Adds a certain frisson to weekends away on rivers at the moment.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

11 on the 11th

Before we say goodbye to March - a quick tribute to the belle of the March ball...

Post swim hair, hot chocolate and croquet on recent camping trip.

This girl turned 11 on the 11th.

We went in to lockdown with a freshly minted 10 yr old - getting tweeny, but still very much a child - but in a year we've developed a tall, leggy, adventurous, hilarious, mature and even funnier big girl and I'm here for it.

She had a small party at the beginning of the month. Our lockdown has been so hugely eased and our numbers so very low at the moment, that it felt like a golden moment to seize - and so we did. 5 best friends, watermelon, cake and the neighbours pool - it made her so happy and also a wee bit nostalgic ('Remember when swimming with 5 friends wasn't a birthday treat Mum, when it could just be a normal Saturday?')

Crown Cake for a Crown Birthday

This child - with her hilarious comedic timing which has us all in stiches, her growing interest in food and trying new things, her beautiful singing voice, her deep love for her little cousins, her persecution complex that we favour her sister (we've taken to playing an imaginary tiny violin every time she mentions it - to her credit she thinks it's hilarious), her ability to still occasionally cause a massive scene about very little, her still-favoured panda bear stuffy that she sleeps with every night, her growing interest in the world and deep (sometimes difficult) questions about race, crime, sex and world events.

She's a keeper, our little star

Friday, March 26, 2021


Thurs 25 March

It's warm, hot actually, and perfectly still outside. Not a ripple on the lake save those from the departing tail feathers of a lazy water bird.

It's Lockdown Weather (I think we might always call it that), and it feels uneasy.

Is it okay to claim PTSD if nothing really, really bad happened to you? Or is living through a lockdown, a pandemic, bad enough?

For like some kind of PTSD this feeling the last few weeks has been one of caution. Lightly skim over the emotions from This Time Last Year and they're manageable, weird but controllable - linger on them and you realise there's some black dogs lurking there.

A few weeks back it was the anniversary of the last day I did my job properly. The last day I spent in a venue with a group of people from various parts of the world, meeting and working together to advance a mechanism to tackle social injustice.

It was as the wave was breaking and things were changing every day. Some of the delegates pulled out at the last minute, opting not to travel. Some wore masks on their flights - the only ones in a packed airplane. The Sierra Leoneans joked that a few years back they were persona non grata (Ebola) and this time it was the Italians. We sanitized the pen in between registrations. The day after the event the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic and the world started closing down. It felt like we'd slid through just as the gate slammed shut behind us.

The anniversary of that day was hard. I deeply miss my work. Yes, the income, obviously - there are few feelings as good as a whack of hard-earned FOREX landing in your account - but more than that, the purpose, the identity.

Similar to when a person dies, or leaves, there's a version of you which goes with them. That Molly has been missing for a year now, and I'm not sure whether we'll ever see her again.

I did a yoga class that pandeversary morning, tears leaking out the corners of my eyes, I came home and prepped for an important birthday the next day. I chuckled remembering how last year I got stuck in my car, full of helium balloons, on the way home from that event, on the other side of town waiting for the power to come back on so I could fill up with fuel and get home - I remembered how I thought that was hard, and frustrating, how trapped I felt then. I had no idea.

Fri 26 March

Every day these last few weeks has been a 'do you remember', a 'this day last year' - the whole world's been doing it. Every emotion is shared, yet also deeply personal.

This day last year we were going into hard lockdown. Today was the last day we could move unrestricted and from midnight tonight we were in what one of my friends recently referred to as Le Grande Slowdown.

Then this was deeply weird and cut through with the strangest mix of adrenalin and uselessness. This year, with some small glimmer of light on the horizon, this is deeply weird and cut through with a mix of grief and optimism. 

Realistically I think my career path has changed forever, and the loss there cuts deep. Idealistically in some ways we are facing a brave new world, and that's exciting. But for now, as we shadow-walk beside the versions of ourselves from a year ago, the emotions are big ones - and we should acknowledge them.

And as always, there's a meme for this...

Thursday, February 25, 2021

flu, but not THAT flu

Honestly, what kind of loser gets a different flu during a flu pandemic?



The beaches finally opened, earlier than expected on the 2nd of Feb. And as if the gods had decided to  finally cut us some slack it was the most magnificent summers day. We swam twice!

And twice more that week - long luxurious swims in which the ocean embraced us like a long-lost lover and we couldn't bring ourselves to leave (you say goodbye first, no you say goodbye first) until we finally returned to land with shriveled toes and water-logged ears.

That Saturday we spent at one of our favourite places on earth - swimming and picnicking with my parents (all outdoors) and friends. It was a magical summery day and one of those rare moments in which everything felt peaceful and okay, just for a minute.

And then the next morning - sick.

Fever, chills, body ache, headaches. Restless sweaty nights and fevered dreams, concerns about having infected my parents and the girls not being able to start long-awaited school. The dreaded nasal swab, the wait, a negative Covid test. Wtf?

Help from friends to get the last minute school prep done, infinite patience and care from my lovely husband, long horrible disjointed nights and tedious days moving from bed to couch to bed.

A full week of fevers, another full week of recovery, a gradual return to functionality... I still need an afternoon lie-down, I still can't fathom exercising, or drinking wine, I still get dizzy standing up too fast. Vit B jabs in the butt ('You don't have any extra vaccines lying around do you?' ha ha joke to the clinic sister who's probably heard it many times already). 

That one magical week of summer has gained almost fantasy status in my memory. The weather is icky now and the sea rough and cold. But the summer is not over, good weather and more swims lie ahead.

I just... really can't believe that wasn't Covid? Antibody testing in a couple of weeks I think...

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

a swim in the sea

Of all the incredible things happening in our lives at the moment - curfew, alcohol ban, academic year delays, mandatory masks (all currently extended until mid February) - the most incredulous must be that a swim, in the sea, in mid summer, is illegal - and a blog-worthy event.

The conditions weren't optimum. In 'normal' times we might have reconsidered.
Foamy, cold, big swell out to sea pushing the current vigorously in and out. A little overcast, a brisk breeze, rumours of blue bottles.

But having walked in, down sandy paths worn in by abalone poachers through high dune brush - quietly past the house of the man renown for calling the cops, quickly past the place where snakes have been frequently spotted - down a long dune, through a hole in the barb-wire fence, finally out on to the beautiful coast path, finally out of sight of the town.
Having walked in, and longed for this for so many weeks, we didn't hesitate.

Gasping at the cold, shoo'ing the foam ahead of us to try and look out for rocks, shrieking at unseen kelp brushing up against our legs, and then we were in.

And it was...profound.

And for all the reasons listed above, I think it was the best swim of my life.