The Afrikaans word for quiet is stil. If you keep stil(l) for long enough – and I’m really, really good at keeping still – in both the English and Afrikaans versions of the word, while sitting on the stoep of Stone Cottage at Tierhoek*, you’ll be rewarded with a parade of creatures.
Sunbirds flitting amongst the fynbos, lizards sunning themselves, dragonflies dipping their little dragonfly feet in the splash pool, a shy Cape mongoose on his morning constitutional, swallows swallowing sips of water they collect swooping down on the dam in front of the cottage, red-bodied insects going about their day …
You get the picture. I took my book out onto the stoep and it remained unopened, and it and I, instead, watched the world go by, while the Langeberg watched us. “Stoeping” is a thing at Tierhoek (see extract from their book, below), and this is unsurprising. It’s the art of sitting quietly on the stoep, marvelling at the beauty of this organic fruit and vegetable farm, tucked beneath the soaring Langeberg as it changes with the sun’s position.
In the morning, the sun rises and washes her face in the dam before heading up into a brilliant blue sky. Much later, as the sun heads off to the other side of the world, the mountains behind cast their shadows across the mountains in front, the clouds blush, and they all throw themselves into the self-same dam below the cottage.
We had the added bonus of a full moon while there, which was spectacular. On the same note, because Tierhoek is at the end of a valley, tucked within the foothills, the star-gazing is pretty fantastic too.
If, between stoeping, you’re an active type (or of the, more energetic, child variety), there are numerous hikes to walk, dust roads for mountain bike riding, the pool for swimming, free-range animals to find and feed, fynbos flowers to admire. This little gem, a gentle two hour drive from Cape Town, has plenty to offer in relaxation, and activity.
Inside, the cottage is open-plan, with everything you could possibly need for a country retreat. The bed is the size of a small country and, from it, when looking up from your book, you can gaze at the views through the huge windows: the fynbos-bedecked hill, left and the dam, watched over by the towering Langekloof, centre. It’s the kind of spectacular that had me doing much gazing and less reading.
What a spot to rest, relax, and breathe.
We saw nobody on arrival. Clear instructions, via e-mail, are sent before arrival, for a no-contact booking-in process. We, as always, packed all necessary supplies (including a flask of coffee … so old school!), so no stops/contact needed en route. Luckily, Tierhoek is close enough not to require a ‘comfort stop’, either.
The cottage was spotless, with a new cloth and hand and surface sanitizer waiting on the kitchen counter.
Its pretty much as COVID-19 safe as a place can be.
While Stone Cottage is perched at the top of a steep dust road, it has a relatively flat spot in which to park and get a wheelchair out. Once you’re up a small step into the cottage, you’re A for away, with smooth screed floors throughout. There are beautiful loose carpets throughout, which we just folded away during our stay.
The cottage is open plan, with a fireplace that opens into both the bedroom and lounge/kitchen space. It must be wonderfully cosy in winter!
The bedroom section is huge (as is the bed, mentioned above) and it’s a good height for transfer from a standard wheelchair. The bench at the foot of the bed is also a perfect fit for placing bags and suitcases.
The bathroom is also huge, with plenty of moving space and a high basin, allowing for access. There is space for front and side transfers onto the toilet. The (gorgeous!) bath would need good upper body strength but the outside shower has lots of space! There are no bathroom grab bars.
For me, the biggest bonus of Stone Cottage is the stoep (veranda) from which one feels one never has to move. It gives a panoramic view across the dam and up the valley. Blissful.
*We were guests of Tierhoek, in the Stone Cottage, which sleeps two. There are four more houses (all spaced far apart, ensuring privacy), that sleep between two and fourteen people.
Warning: this post is very rambling. I’ve found it hard to piece together my writings this year. I’ve left it so, as a testament to 2020. Also, it’s very ‘mememe’.
How to put the year of The ‘Rona into words? Or, the first year of The ‘Rona, really, because despite the many cries of ‘I can’t wait for 2020 to be over, for all this to be over’, as the clock strikes midnight tonight, The ‘Rona will not magically slink off into the darkness and disappear, sadly. In fact, the next few weeks, due to festive socialising, are going to be dire.
There’ve been countless posts and commentaries that have made me want to kick and scream and shout about people’s ‘stupidity’, their selfish carelessness. A carelessness that is a slap in the face to healthcare workers the world over who are tired, sad and, most heartbreakingly, losing colleagues. This year has made me feel judgmental, resentful. Both character traits that I really dislike. On many occasions, I’ve had to take myself right off that high horse and give myself a stern talking to lest I become one of those keyboard warriors who just, ultimately, do damage to the cause.
The bottom line is this: the majority of us are doing our best under circumstances that nobody should have to live through. Everyone is tired, anxious, overwhelmed. Yes. there are people doing ‘stupid’ stuff, that’s humanity for you. It was there before COVID-19, it’ll be there after. If we survive this … with viral mutations etc., I wonder, grimly, if this is the Earth finally getting rid of the pestilence that has poisoned it: humans. I expected a Big Bang but maybe it’s slow and far, far more cruel, and comes in the shape of a confusingly beautiful, spiky virus.
Heavens, that got dark quickly. I wanted to record the good that came out of this. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, my levels of anxiety (a thing I have never experienced before and now empathise with people who suffer from it) have shot through the roof. It has been crippling. See what I did there?
January to March
My year started on a high, registering for my MSc, while going back to work full-time. I was excited about the research, I was going out into the field to visit rural HIV clinics and interview patients. It was a dream come true. I’d spent the last quarter of 2019 developing the research proposal, fine-tuning it early in 2020 and getting it ready for ethics approval. The first field trip was planned for mid-April.
As The ‘Rona ravaged the Northern Hemisphere, sending out shock waves of terror, globally, and the world’s medics scrambled to find something, anything, to treat it, to stop the deaths, we began to realise that nobody was safe from this thing. In early March, it dug its claws into South Africa. On 12 March, I met with my supervisor. The field trips were off. A 180-degree adaption was needed. We were going online.
On 14 March, I went with GM to watch her nephews do Tug-o-war in Worcester, a beautiful drive through the mountains, the grapevines in their autumnal finery. I breathed it all in: the open road, the big sky, the fresh air. I came home and we locked our house down. I’m high risk. On 27 March, President Ramaphosa locked the country down, with one of the harshest lockdowns globally.
April to June
The uncertainty of this period was the really crippling part, for me. It’s at times like these, I wish I had no medical knowledge, that I didn’t have access to what was going on. Blissful ignorance would’ve been better. Being in meetings with frontline workers who, then, had nothing to go on. The medical fraternity were working themselves to the bone trying to establish the mechanisms of the disease in order to find a cure, or even something that could help a bit. The ‘Rona kept shooting out poisoned arrows, showing that it affected almost every system. It was relentless.
A positive came out during this period, though, a pulling together in the field of medical research. In a matter of weeks, multi-centre, multi-country trials were organised, ethically approved, and initiated. Most COVID-related studies/data/discussions were open access. Experiences were shared across oceans.
Equally, in our little community bubble: people banded together to try and alleviate the horrifying hunger and need that resulted from the lockdown. People made, and shared, food; enormous beer vats were turned into soup pots; high-income suburbs linked with lower income suburbs, to try and aleviate the burden. An aside: this should be happening always, not just in a pandemic, in a horrifyingly unequal country like ours. It was a calming thing to see.
We, like everyone else, stayed home. We took to the garden, we cooked meals. One day, we made pizza from scratch and learnt many, many things:
Making ‘Easy pizza dough’ isn’t as simple as the recipe title leads you to believe.
Always lightly dust everything the dough comes near with flour. Including any and all hands and the cling wrap you need to wrap it in. If you’re unable to lightly dust something that will be coming into the dough’s proximity with flour (the damp cloth with which you cover it while it’s doing the proof thing, for instance), dust the dough itself. Not lightly, liberally.
Dough takes proving itself very seriously. If the recipe says leave it to prove for an hour, give it two. Not taking this advice may result in your dough continuing to prove itself on the top shelf of the fridge. It may even prove itself out of its cling wrap jacket and hug the yoghurt.
Caramelised onions take a good 45 minutes and require you to stir them at perfect intervals. Not too often because then they won’t brown but not not often enough because then they’ll burn. In other words, caramelised onions are like cats: they demand attention and then when you give it, they sometimes stick their claws in you. Despite this, also like cats, they are particularly lovely.
Jamie Oliver’s recipe for pizza tomato base is weird. Not the ingredients, mind: garlic, fresh basil, tomatoes and olive oil; but then he instructs you to strain it all through a sieve and only keep the strained bit.
Ignoring Jamie Oliver’s pizza tomato base instructions is a good idea. The tomato base, with garlic bits and basil bits and tomato bits is delicious.
Fresh basil from the garden smells fantastic.
It’s important to flour the table again, before rolling out the dough.
Dough is really sticky if you don’t flour EVERYTHING NEAR IT.
It’s hard to roll dough so that you get a thin base. It may look like you have a thin base but, when it cooks, it rises significantly.
It is entirely possible to spend five hours making a pizza. It is also entirely possible that the process may leave the kitchen looking like two toddlers were let loose with a 5 kg tub of flour and 12 tomatoes.
Thick-based, entirely home-made pizza topped with killer tomato base, peppers, mushrooms, bacon, caramelised onions and fresh avo tastes like the food of the gods.
On the work front, things were crazy-busy, then quiet, then busy again. On the study side, I hurriedly wrote an entirely new version of my study, submitted the proposal to ethics, and waited.
Globally, The ‘Rona ravaged country after country, the foolish Trump ignored it and allowed the pandemic in the USA to escalate to a size that is now, still, unmanageable. George Floyd was brutally killed and the BLM movement swelled and roared. It’s time for change.
July to September
Same-same. South Africa’s first wave peaked, gently, and the healthcare system coped. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and tried to work out what the contributing factors were, in addition to the strict lockdown. Unfortunately, while The ‘Rona threw itself about, our HIV and TB programmes were thrown into disarray. People were scared to attend clinics, etc. The fallout from this will loom large for a long time.
My study was approved and my online survey went out, with me nervously chewing my nails, wondering if an exhausted medical fraternity would have the energy to complete on online survey. I hoped for 200 responses. I got over 2000. For this, I am eternally grateful to all the contacts I’ve made in my 20+ years at the Ivory Tower, who all helped to spread the news of the survey.
We gardened, I shaved my hair, we Zoomed to Zoombiefication, we cooked more as the world changed, out there, a surreal feeling. Still, we stayed home, loosening our lockdown slightly, as the numbers dropped, the risk dropping with it. My wonderful carers, who had gone into hibernation with me, returned to their own homes and went back to coming in each day (with private transport). GM went to see her family, for the first time in six months. I saw my family, in the flesh, for visits sitting apart in the garden (my folks are high risk, too). It felt like the holidays. Except for the no touching, no hugging. I yearn for a hug.
October to December
In October, we road-tripped for the first time since November 2019. I longed to go to Nieu Bethesda, the place that holds my heart, but things were too uncertain, we didn’t want to go too far, we wanted to try and stay safe. Sigh.
Instead, we spent four nights in the spring flower-filled Koo and Keisie Valley, at beautiful self-catering spots (Langdam and Kingfisher Cottages. We took everything with us, there was no restaurant visiting, no checking out local towns (we all know how much I love small towns, and their people). There was just the open road, the huge sky, views of the mountains, peace. It was Spring. It felt hopeful.
I could breathe. I hadn’t realised it, but I’d been (metaphorically, of course) holding my breath since March. In fear, in angst, in horror.
Back home, to work, a little more freedom as numbers remained low. The results of my study came in, I found lovely statisticians who are helping me with the stats because I have, finally, admitted defeat to the Stats Monster. I will never be a statistician and I’m fine with that.
I lost a finger, and mourned way more than I’d expected.
December arrived and the numbers rose, The ‘Rona mutated. Too early, too quick. We scuttled back inside, my lovely carers moving back in. Christmas was a Zoom affair, the numbers exponentially rising. My crippling anxiety is back. I feel like I’m holding my breath again. Our healthcare system is bursting at the seams, our medics are exhausted, falling ill and dying. The situation is dire. At the beginning of the week, our president (who looks so tired) wisely put us back in lockdown. There are moans and cries from the conspiracy theorists (and others) but, I can guarantee that those moans are only from those who have not, yet, been directly (or had someone close to them) affected.
With the numbers standing as they are, and the fact that transmission from Christmas/holiday gatherings will only show in 10 days, it is highly unlikely that anyone is this country will remain unaffected. It’s not a great way to go into a new year.
I am Pollyanna-esque by nature. I’m not going to lie, this year has done a bloody fine job at trying to beat that out of me but I am here and I am safe. I’m one of the (extremely) lucky ones: I have a job that I (mostly) love, I have a home and a garden and three animals and a housemate to amuse me daily, I have loyal carers who I love and who dilute the company, making sure we don’t drive each other stir crazy. I am able to do things to try and help those who don’t have these things.
There have been many good things that have come out of this year: Jerusalema. The reminder that I really love the Ivory Tower, not just the work I do there, but the actual building, its stonework and long passages. I miss them. I graduated with my PG Dip. online. I learnt to never take family Sunday lunch for granted. The coming together of the global medical fraternity. Trump was ousted. We grew Sweet Peas from my Mom’s seedlings, and they bloomed, filling the air with sweetness. The coming together of South Africans. The collective community and what can be achieved if we help each other. May it last.
If I never hear the words ‘unprecedented’, ‘pivot’ and ‘you’re on mute’ again, I’ll be happy. My only New Year’s resolution, as we go into an uncertain 2021, is to, again, eat more cake. More than that, my bone-tired body can’t manage. I should’ve taken some leave. I didn’t.
Wishing you and yours a safe and happy 2021. Keep washing those paws, darlin’s. You’re precious.
It’s been a long year for everybody. A long, home-bound, year. For those of us with itchy feet, it’s felt a gazzilionty-eleven years long. The ‘Rona-induced Cabin Fever is real. I’m high risk if I get it, so I’ve been very strict about staying home. As South Africa came out of its (first) peak, and into the ‘lull’, I hot-footed it out of the city, aiming for the Koo and Keisie Valleys (on the R318 between Montagu and the N1), set in the shadow of the splendid Langeberge.
This R318 is spectacular, especially in spring. Think roads lined with wildflowers, fruit trees blossoming, dams (thankfully) brimming: all frolicking below, in this year of beautiful rains, the green Cape Fold mountains.
It’s hard to know where to begin with my descriptions of the Kingfisher Cottages on the Langhoogte Farm, and even harder not to gush. Set in an isolated valley on a trout farm, these eco-friendly, off-grid cottages – there are three, set far enough apart to ensure privacy, but would be perfect for three families – have 360-degree views that defy description in their beauty.
On arrival, GM went up to the Eco Pool (built from an old reservoir, with a natural 3-tiered filter system) for a dip and I spent a happy time absorbing the view and watching no less than seven tortoises go about their lives amongst the bush that surrounds the cottage. And, as the sun headed over the hills behind us, a hare. Aesop’s Fables anyone?
The large stoep at the front (with braai) is where we set up camp, playing Scrabble, reading books and, well, just watching the bush changing colors and activity as the sun skipped gently across the sky, all to the sound of birds and bees. Idyllic seems too bland a word to describe it. The pics below are the view from the stoep. They do it no justice: sometimes the naked eye is the best lens.
This is a place for quiet contemplation, for a true break from the city lights and buzz (and an essential one from a city in lockdown). It’s off-grid, there’s no WiFi, no TV and pretty much no cellphone reception. Truly, wonderfully, unplugged. All you hear, here, is the sounds of the bush.
The philosophy of the farm is one of the things that make the Kingfisher Cottages so special. Langhoogte is run almost entirely on renewable energy and has a Net Zero certificate. Basically, it’s carbon neutral, despite the fact that it’s a successful trout farm – Two Dam Sustainable. Look out for their products. The gravlax, especially, is superb.
The cottages were constructed with material that could be sourced on the farm. The walls are made of mudbricks and local stone, with solar power throughout and composting toilets. If you’re thinking they sound like ‘hippy shacks’, think again. They are sleek and clean, perfectly kitted out and comfortably and beautifully decorated.
Bottom line: this piece of paradise is a tranquil gem. Just one little worry: they’re new and still relatively unheard of, so get your booking in quickly because, as soon as word is out, it’s going to be hard to make one!
You couldn’t get a safer getaway, COVID-wise, than the Kingfisher Cottages. Booking in happens without any human contact, there’s sanitiser in the house and it is spotless. Social distancing takes on another level here … the only contact you’ll have is with the tortoises, and even they’re not that keen to get too close (and are surprisingly quick-footed!)
The Giant Kingfisher Cottage was specifically designed to be accessible. What a wonderful thing. From undercover parking to flat, smooth floors, to low light switches to an accessible shower and toilet. Wow. Just wow.
The only inaccessible bit is the Eco Pool, which is up the hill a little way, and the steps down the front of the cottage. I was more than happy to sit blissfully surveying the view from my perch on the stoep. Pure magic.
The owners, too, were helpful and lovely. Their love for this place is tangible. Feel free to mail me via my ‘About me‘, if you have any questions.
*We were hosted by Kingfisher Cottages for two nights.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on a trip. Way too much of a while. Damn you, The ‘Rona. We’re in a lull at the moment, here in South Africa – long may it last – so we headed out last week and what bliss it was. There may be a lull, but I’m high risk, so this’ll be the first of a series of ‘COVID-friendly’ blogs. The places I love going generally were anyway, way before The ‘Rona reared its ugly head … dust roads, little places away from it all, big skies, minimal human contact. First stop: the beautiful Langdam Guest Farm in the Koo Valley (on the R318, which is the road that connects Montagu to the N1).
With a number of self-catering options, this working farm is beautifully nestled at the foot of the Langeberge. It has a dam with a jetty leading into its middle, a reservoir pool, rolling green lawns and a fully-equipped lapa for braais overlooking said dam.
Our little house – the Almond Suite, which is attached to the farmhouse but is totally private – was spotless and comfortable with a little garden looking out toward the mountains and chicken next-door neighbours, who I fell in love with. I now feel I’m a chicken fundi. This is what I learnt:
The sound of contented chickens clucking is about as soothing as you can get. It is no surprise that the Langdam chickens are so serene: they live in a flower-filled orchard, overlooking an onion field and vineyard leading up to the spectacular, rocky Langeberge.
It is entirely possible to happily spend a whole morning in the garden of the Almond Suite, the aroma of orange blossom in the air, the sound of the workers in the distance, watching chickens go about their day.
Roosters do not suffer from a lack of self-confidence. This is unsurprising because they are terribly handsome. They like to make sure you (and the lady hens) take note of their beauty by waving their wings around intermittently. This, in Chikkin, means “Look at me! LOOK AT ME!”
I now understand the etymology of cocksure.
While we’re on the roosters, their behaviour closely mimics that of human teenage boys: much posturing and preening and occasional bitey competitiveness, more often than not over a lady hen.
Like their human counterparts, this bitiness is forgotten as soon as a distraction of any kind, like a piece of apple core falling from the heavens, appears.
Chickens get embarrassed when humans try to speak Chikkin and run away, mortified.
Teenaged chickens follow their moms around (unlike their human versions) and get shouted at by them often (like their human versions).
Learning from teen chickens: never make a mommy chicken cross. They get very shouty.
Lady hens – yes, I know, by saying hens their lady-ness is implied, but the hens of Langdam just seemed so ladylike that it feels right to refer to them as such – are rounded in shape. It makes them look entirely huggable. I didn’t try as I didn’t want to invade their personal space, but I thought about it a lot.
In the same vein, chickens have very cute fluffy bums.
At the ripe old age of 45, I had no idea how an egg formed inside a lady chicken and spent a long time wondering whether they looked ‘pregnant’, pre-laying.
I now know – thanks Google gods – that no, chickens do not look pregnant pre-laying, because they lay one at a time. And, get this, it takes just 24 hours to make an egg from yolk to shell.
Chickens, every so often, get filled with joy. They do a little jump and a little dance before going back to the serious business of looking for bugs amongst the flowers. Maybe that’s just the Langdam chickens, though. I’d be filled with joy too, if I lived in such a beautiful place.
The people and creatures of Langdam are lovely (and suitably, safely, COVID-distanced), the cottages are clean and comfortable, the views are spectacular, oh, and there are pigs cavorting in their pen, who love to get your organic leftovers. I could create another bullet point list on them, too, but this is getting very long!
*We were hosted by Langdam for our two nights, as a trade exchange.
We were met by the masked and socially-distanced (but definitely not distant … he was very welcoming) owner, Garth, and the farm dogs, and that was pretty much the only human contact we had other than a conversation over the fence with the lovely Leesie (sp?), who keeps everything beautifully neat and clean between guests. Lots of fresh air, lots of space, perfect.
The Almond Suite, where we stayed, is small but spacious enough that, with the easy moving of a couple of pieces of furniture, is accessible, with (roll-uppable) loose carpets and smooth floors. There’s a small step through the gate into the garden, and another through the front into the cottage.
The bedroom is big enough to allow access to the bed, which is a good height for transferring. A bonus is the dressing/writing table – perfect to get underneath and the cupboard is also a good height.
The bathroom is spacious, with front transfer onto the toilet possible (no handlebars but the windowsill is on one side, basin counter on the other so, depending on strength level, possible). The shower is small, with a ledge and no seat or bars. The bath is freestanding and would be easy to transfer into if strong, but also without bars.
The dining room table is the perfect height to get underneath and the little stoep out front is a wonderful place to sit all day watching the farm at work and the Langeberg mountains on the other side of the vineyard, all under a vast blue sky. It has a braai, too.
Feel free to contact me via the About page, I’m happy to answer questions.
What a perfect day it was yesterday. The only thing to do on a day like that is to drop the ‘To Do’ list behind the desk and head out toward big blue skies and fields of flowers. It was to be our first (mini) road trip in over seven months and it was fantastic. It may just have been a day trip (it’ll be a while before I’ll be going on full road trips, sigh) but The Little Bluebird of Happiness and I were beside ourselves with joy at being on the open road.
I’m going to be all helpful-like and share some flower-hunting tips:
Go! They are spectacular this year. Truly spectacular.
Leave early. You are not the only wiseguy who thought a mid-week visit is clever. We left Cape Town around 9:00 ( and did stop in Table View to get snacks, see point 4) and amble down a back road to explore a little on our way, arriving at the West Coast NP R27 gate at about 11:30. The queue of cars to get in was a kilometre long.
The Langebaan gate may require a bit of a longer drive, but it’s far preferable to be queuing on that little road, listening to the birds. The queue was about 45-minute’s long there.
Stop at All in The Kitchen in Table View (it’s en route) to collect padkos/a picnic to take with you. Freshly made croissants, rolls, salads and cake that’ll make you grin. We took a slice of chocolate peppermint cake that was so fresh it fell into a gooey feast. Also, their chocolate brownies make sitting in a queue waiting to go in totally okay.
Take the correct amount of cash with you. It’s R64 per adult. If you want to use a card, you have to go in with it. I’m all about lowering COVID-19 risk for both us and the lovely people who work there, so minimise contact and have the right amount on you.
Don’t miss the Posberg section. It is truly magnificent. The large numbers of people is a little off-putting but everyone is lovely and friendly and polite, except for that one hooting guy … there’s always one, isn’t there? It’s impossible not to be happy in amongst such a profusion of colour (well, unless you’re That Guy).
Photos don’t do these views justice. Put the phone down and just look.
Go up to the Uitkyk picnic spot for lunch. It’s got a beautiful view. Be careful as you drive up though, there are some dongas that could take the bottom of your car out. Do go, though, for the view and the purple/blue flowers (my favourites) love it up there. Also, there are some cool rocks to marvel at.
Take your cozzies. Kraalbaai looks like The Med, so you can float around pretending to be in Italy, if you so wish. Otherwise you can just float around knowing you’re in the West Coast National Park. That’s pretty cool, too.
As you know, I’m more of a fan of the back roads – preferably dust – where we see, maybe, one car on the route, so the masses of people were not my travelling style at all. The masses of flowers – way more than the humans – however, made it a totally worthwhile trip.
What with the bastardly ‘Rona and all, I am avoiding anywhere with people, so I didn’t explore any of the accessible features. They’re not needed for the flowers … those you see from the car so, basically, it’s accessible for a drive-through visit.
It was a dark and stormy night. I apologise for the cliché, but it really was. It’s not called the Cape of Storms for nothing and that June night it was taking its name seriously. The wind howled and flung leaves about the place between showers of pelting rain. B, who lived in the granny flat out back, had told me that morning that the previous night a small black cat had been at her door, shouting to be let in. She’d ignored it and it’d gone away.
Day One, before he had a name.
That night, we were meeting people at the Mexican restaurant down the road, around the corner, down that road, around another corner and down the (relatively busy) road. I know, that description seems OTT but there’s method to my madness, you’ll see.
We waited for a break in the rain and headed out of the back door, through the dancing leaves and onto the driveway. There we found the self-same small black cat. He proceeded to tell us all about his life thus far, following us to the end of the driveway, chatting away, and into the road. Unfortunately, he was speaking Cat, so his tale was lost in translation. A pity, because it sounded like quite the story.
After giving him a little rub – he was terribly sweet and velvety and was doing that intertwining around the legs thing that cats do – we explained that we had dinner plans and he should probably head back to wherever his house was before the next shower arrived.
He wasn’t keen and instead followed us, down the road, around the corner, down that road, and to the corner of the (relatively busy) road. There we explained to the lovely car guard that he wasn’t ours and asked if he could please shoo him away so he didn’t go into the busy road. The cat sat on the corner and watched us go.
We headed into the warmth of the restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely meal and natter, emerging a couple of hours later to head home through the icy weather.
As we rounded the first corner, we were joined by a small, fluffy, highly vocal, cat-shaped shadow who proceeded to tell us all about what had happened while we were inside, while following us back home and into the house.
The rest, as they say, is history.
(I did look for his people … posting his picture on the neighbouhood Facebook page and checking if he was chipped. One person thought he might be theirs and came over to check. Thank heavens, he wasn’t, because he’d already chatted and face-booped his way deep into my heart.)
Can we please take a moment to talk about filters? I have noticed that the pictures of my friends on ‘The Socials’ are becoming more and more air-brushed as the years tick by and it makes me mad. I know, I know … each to his own and all that, but, but … Here’s a photo of me trying to look like a rabbit, not very successfully, before I start my little rant.
Those of us of a certain age (and, as much as I still like to think of myself as part of the youth, I am most definitely not. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, some of my peer’s kids are at ‘varsity already) have a responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to the generations below us, to age gracefully. And by gracefully, I mean realistically.
So, we have wrinkles where we used to be smooth, various body parts are a little saggy, others a bit (lot) more rounded, we have crow’s feet and laugh lines and frown marks. It’s okay. It’s a privilege to be able to grow old, and all of those changing bits and bobs are well-earned tokens of life – and they are beautiful – so let’s be proud of them, shall we, and stop powdering them over with fake filters?
In this crazy, looks-obsessed world that we live in, how can we expect our children to be confident in the bodies that they have, if we’re filtering our photos to fit in with some ridiculous idea of what beauty is, conceived by crappy women’s magazines et al?
Look, I get it. I hate photos of myself, and rarely post any that are taken of me because I am highly judgmental of my own looks (and there’s the small matter of my clinging to the dye bottle and not being able to let my hair go grey) and find something wrong in almost all of them and that’s because I’m a product of this world we’ve created. As proof, I don’t like the pic I’ve posted above, at all, but I’m posting it because if I’m going to rant about such things, I need to listen to myself.
Let’s do ourselves, our children and the world, a favour and stop it.
I have always been a water baby. One of my favourite childhood stories that my parents tell of me is about our holiday in Gordon’s Bay when I was 2-years old. Apparently it was really not their most fun holiday because they spent their time fishing me out of the waves only to have me toddle straight back in again.
Most of my sea-swimming was done in Port Alfred – the place of idyllic, long Summer holidays with sandy feet and sun-kissed faces – and the beaches surrounding it … Kenton, Kleinmond, Riet River. The sea there is temperamental, alternating between balmy and icy, calm and wildly filled with riptides. I learnt early on to listen to the sea, swimming way beyond the others, I was aware of her moods, knew she was far more fierce than me, and respected her.
My father taught us how to body surf as soon as we could swim. I think we learnt in Plett, at Lookout Beach, with it’s perfect body-surfing waves, on a holiday to my grandparents who lived there, back when Plett was a sleepy seaside village and Millionaire’s Row was still wild coastal bush. My love affair with the sea only swelled (see what I did there?), with this newly-acquired skill.
I don’t remember ever feeling really afraid of the sea, other than on three occasions: once, when I was stung by blue bottles and my brave sister pulled them off me, getting stung herself; the second, when I saw a man washed up on the rocks in Kenton. And then, the third: my surfing introduction …
At ‘varsity, I decided to try surfing. My friends were surfers and I regularly went down to Kowie with them for afternoons on the beach. No, Mom, I didn’t miss pracs to go the seaside. Well, not too often. Okay, maybe a lot.
On the occasion of my ‘learning to surf’, we all went down to the Fish River Mouth, to camp. I borrowed a wetsuit from one of my friends – he was 6-foot and I was almost 6-foot, so it fitted, but it had a hole in the bum, so wasn’t terribly effective. It made me feel surferry, though. A board was lent to me, and out we went, into the shark-infested waters of the mouth, me with my normal sea comfort.
What I hadn’t realised, though, was that the reason surfers have such lovely backs and arms is because getting a surfboard (and yourself) under a barreling wave requires a LOT of upper body strength. I don’t have that. Not then, and certainly not now! I made it through half the waves, then untied the leash from my ankle, leaving the board to make its own way onto the beach and carrying on out, happily, sans board. The boys weren’t overly impressed to find me bobbing around with them, boardless, but I had a fabulous time body-surfing.
I’m not a fan of talking about the things I lost after my accident because I don’t think anything good comes from dwelling on things you cannot change. Sometimes, though, I guess it’s okay to dive into it, briefly. After my accident, one of the things that made me most sad was the fact that I would never swim in the sea again. I went in the pool once, but I have no feeling below the top of my chest i.e. the bits where I can feel are frustratingly above the water, and not being able to glide through the water took the magic from it. I decided then, that the best way to deal with that longing for water, was to keep those memories in my head. But memories, unfortunately, fade.
And that’s why, when I watched the beautiful video I posted above, made by the children of childhood friends (in whose pool I regularly spent hours and hours in Small Town South Africa), I wept, big fat tears of pure joy. It allowed me to feel like I was back in the sea. So, I couldn’t feel the bursting of the bubbles, taste the salt, smell the ozone, but it jogged those fading memories, it flung me back into my cozzie, floating on by back, staring up at the Eastern Cape sky, with only the sound of waves keeping me company.
The sparkling light of the moon dancing on the surface of a lake when it’s full moon and there’s a slight breeze? That’s what the water that flows from the earth’s belly at Petersfield tastes like. And that’s not even the best thing about this little slice of paradise outside Citrusdal.
De Kom Cottage – one of four cottages scattered around Petersfield – is nestled in a rocky kloof and looks out across the valley to the Cederberg mountains in the distance. One evening I watched as the sun set behind us and night crept stealthily up the mountain from the valley, turning it grey then pink then bruised purple.
In the tree next to me, the birds noisily returned home, recounting the tales of their days and gradually settling in and quieting, interrupted every now and again by the shout of hadedas that echoed across the cliffs above which, during the day, eagles soar. It’s heart-squelchingly beautiful.
While I’m waxing lyrical about the views and birds and, and … That thing about bats getting tangled in your hair? Untrue. Or, I’m lucky. I love bats and, while I’m not sure I’d like one to run its batty fingers through my hair, I do like to watch them swoop and dive at dusk, so I sat out next to the pool as a flock of bats swept and swerved above the pool until the stars spattered the sky and the dark of the night swallowed the bats. Not one flew into my hair, and there were loads of them.
That’s the thing about Petersfield. It’s the perfect stoep-sitting (and hammock-lying) place, with stoeps both sides, each with spectacular views, day and night, all to the soundtrack of birds and a band of insects that sound like they’re playing tiny castanets. One afternoon I watched a locust dressed in a flamboyant red swimsuit munch his way along the grass. He did so for a good twenty minutes, possibly longer, but I had to go for a cooling outdoor shower before lying down for my obligatory afternoon nap, so he may have done the same. It’s a siesta kind of place, too. The perfect unwinding, quiet space to breathe and rest and be.
*We were kindly hosted for two nights by Petersfield.
The main thing I look for – and I may differ from other travellers in this – is a place at which I can sit on a stoep and read my book and, well, watch locusts in flamboyant swimsuits and the like, get on with their days. Petersfield is this to a T.
There is a ramp up to the cottage from the parking spot, which is quite sloped but, with careful parking, you can park relatively ‘flatly’. Once you’re on the stoep, the house is flat and the rooms big, with plenty of space to move around. The bed is a great height for transferring.
The inside bathroom, too, is big, but with no grab rails and the shower has a step. The outside bathroom has a non-stepped shower and a view to beat all views. Getting there is a little tricky, down a step and a brick path, but it’s totally worth it! Look at this. Just look!
Petersfield is just lovely and the perfect space to go and breathe. The owners are fabulous and helpful, too. If you want any more details, contact me and I’ll happily chat.
On our last visit to Tulbagh I fell in love with the little town, so I was ever-so-pleased to return, and even more pleased to be hosted at the beautiful Wittedrift Manor House. The only complaint I have is that we had to leave. Not only because Wittedrift was so lovely, but also because … food. There just wasn’t enough time to sample the smorgasbord of restaurants that Tulbagh has. I was astounded by the range of places to eat in and around Tulbagh last time, and now there are more!
We were only there for two nights, though, so not nearly enough mealtimes! Arriving on Saturday, serendipitously at lunchtime, we headed out on the Tweejongegezellen Road and were hosted for lunch by new kids on the Tulbagh block, Digger’s Home. What a treat it was.
Owner, Janet, and waitress, Franzelle, were there to welcome us and settle us at a table on their huge shaded stoep that has a gorgeous view across the valley. It’s a place for long, lazy lunches (LLLs). The tapas-type menu, too, is ideal for said LLLs. Don’t you like that little acronym I just made up? I think it should be a thing. It will go down in history as being coined at Diggers Home.
The food is made by Chef Andre. I have capitalised the C purposefully. It is divine. We were given a palate cleanser of charcoal vetkoek with farm butter and the most fabulous tomato jam. The charcoal vetkoek seriously looks like a charcoal brickette. I was expecting oil to squirt out as I bit it, my experiences with vetkoek harking back to my boarding school days, but this was the total opposite. It was light and fluffy and totally unoily. Delicious!
The farm has recently started producing its own wines, and has already won some awards, so I had a glass of their Unwooded Chardonnay while we had long chats with Janet, who is lovely (as is the wine). We struggled to decide on what tapas to order, because it all looked so good but finally settled on Flat Bread with Hummus and Olive Tapenade; Chicken Crepinette in Neapolitan Sauce and Fishcakes with Gooseberry and Tomato Relish. It was gorgeous, and fabulously tasty, all of it. If I had to pick a winner: the fish cakes (served in a perfect Lucky Star dish) with the gooseberry and tomato relish, which is seriously good.
After this feast, we had to lie down – Saturday naps are non-negotiable – so we headed back to the cool quiet of Wittedrift and reclined, in preparation for our feasting at the Tulbagh Boutique Hotel later in the evening.
We were hosted for dinner at The Olive Terrace, which is on the stoep of the Tulbagh Hotel. It’s gorgeous, with a fairy-lit tree in its middle and a view over old Tulbagh to the hill on the edge of town, behind which the sun slowly drops. Sundowner spot deluxe. It was lively and full with of locals and visitors (I know, I’m a chatter and a stellar eavesdropper, remember?) Manager, Lydia, and waitress, Natasha, treated us like royalty.
We’d been recommended the tuna starter by the locals, so we had it. The locals are not wrong. Perfectly seared tuna nestling on a bed of creamy avo, mayo and edemame beans. Too good. I had the mushroom risotto to follow, which I loved, so much so that I forgot to take a pic! GM had a steak and salad. It was thick and tender and basted with the most delicious basting sauce.
At that point, while I was tempted by their dessert menu (and my family have separate pudding stomachs) but I was truly too full, even with said pudding stomach. I will, absolutely, be back though, to try out the puddings!
Diggers Home has a dirt parking area on a very slight slope but there’s a nice flat bit on one side which is fine for getting out. There’s a ramp up onto the lawn and the tables are the perfect height (even for nearly-6-foot me).
The Olive Terrace and Tulbagh Hotel is within flat-ish walking distance of Wittedrift (and it’s a pretty walk). The hotel has a great ramp all the way up to it. It’s a little steep, so those of us who are less strong need a little pushing from behind, but the staff are lovely and helpful, so that’s no issue. The tables, too, are wheelchair-friendly.
*Feel free to contact me if you’d like more detailed info. I’m happy to chat.