Author Archives: Briony

The 10:59 to Muizenberg

I am, intrinsically, Pollyanna-esque. To the point that I’m sure drives many to madness. I can’t help it, it’s inherited. I come from a line of glad people, there’s no fighting genes.

Sometimes, though, I find the world harsh and cruel. My faith in humankind gets crushed like an unlucky butterfly on a car’s windshield. There’s just so much ugliness amongst humans: hatred and violence and disregard. It makes me sad.

And then something happens that reminds me of the goodness. Today was one of those days – coincidentally Human Rights Day in this wonderfully diverse, spectacularly chaotic country that we call home.

Winter is coming. It’s the equinox. Cape Town didn’t get that memo, or chose to ignore it, speaking sweetly into my beloved The Weatherman’s ear and persuading him to give us a wind-still, 35-degree day. Cape Town is a foxy minx, The Weatherman couldn’t resist her smile.

And so it was that the day dawned perfect and the beach beckoned, but not the traffic. No, the traffic didn’t beckon, but the train did. I love the train. It brings back memories of childhood holidays, it makes me feel part of the thrumming humanity that call this city home.

The train was late as we chatted with the family next to us, buckets and spades ready, the tiniest of their party already in her skirted polka dot swimming costume.

Finally it arrived, packed with families and youngsters off to the beach, backpackers, people going to work, people going home, the stifling heat packed with smells of sun cream, Nik Naks and sweat.

I took a chance, having not checked about the wheelchair accessibility of Muizenberg Station. Sometimes, I just don’t wanna. Sometimes, I just wanna do. Unplanned, spur of the moment. We climbed off, onto the sweltering platform, a welcoming salty breeze coming off the sea.

And there it was. A flight of stairs. The ramp at the end closed tight – City of Cape Town/Metrorail, why? GM calmly left me in the breeze and crossed through the underpass to the station on the other side.

There, she found Nobonke Koni, security guard-angel of Sechaba Protection Services, who gathered her colleagues, Mr Nopakela and Mr Sonqi. They, along with the car guard from the parking lot and another guy, whose names I sadly didn’t get, hefted my (not unhefty) weight in my wheelchair down the steps to the opening to the beach.

There we found, with dismay, three cars parked so closely to each other that we couldn’t fit through. Not an eye blink and those four superheroes lifted me over the bonnet of the Merc glinting in the heat. If it hadn’t been so scary, I’d have shouted ‘I’m flying!’. My fear was totally misplaced, those guys had me

And that’s how I got to bask in the sun at the beach, make a new sweet surfer-boy friend, hear the glee of kids at the seaside, and how I was reminded of how much good there is in the world, how I love my country. Five people were kind and caring and went way beyond the call of duty for a woman they’ve never met before. We met up with them on the train home, our new friends who were so kind.

Faith in humankind restored.

Woordfees: ‘n Fees van Woorde

Woordfees is a smorgasbord of culture, in the true sense of the word. Heading down to the hub behind the museum, after watching an angst-inducing performance of Wild at Hoerskool Cloetesville, we sat in the dappled shade under the oaks, decompressing with a glass of wine – this is Stellenbosch after all!

It’s one of many such spaces at Woordfees. They’re filled with people discussing the things they’ve seen. While Katinka Heyns chats, live on air, to the RSG crew set up in the corner of the space, people like us meet farmers from Wellington and talk about the wild fires and the stellar performances of Albert Pretorius, Joanie Combrink, and Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Wild.  It’s a play that leaves one emotionally exhausted, and in need of that glass of wine.

An amble through the US Museum is like walking through a treasure chest of art, with exhibitions by various well-known and up-and-coming South African artists. Upstairs, arranged around the gorgeous circular balcony that looks down onto the ground floor, is Deur Die Bome Die Bos Nie Sien Nie, curated by Alex Hamilton. It’s an eclectic collection of a number of artists’ thought-provoking works. Just as art should be.

There’s live music on the breeze, coming from somewhere nearby. People are sitting at tables in another little nook. A food stall is serving up tasty lunch delights and a truck nearby is offering glasses of bubbles. There’s electricity in this air – the buzz of the arts fizzing in peoples’ brains, making them think.

At The Kaya, Bertus Basson guides us through a lamb tasting. Four pieces of perfectly cooked lamb, each one cooked in exactly the same way – on the bone, at 55°C for twelve hours, without any seasoning. Paired with four award-winning red wines, the point of this tasting event is to demonstrate the difference in taste of lamb from four distinct sheep-farming regions of South Africa – Calvinia (Northern Cape), Bredasdorp (Overberg), Riversdal (Hessequa) and Steynsburg (Karoo). The difference in tastes is astounding and, as Basson said: ‘Daar’s ‘n skaap vir elke smaak!’  I’m a Karoo girl, me.

Back through the US Museum, on the ground floor, Athi-Patra Ruga’s A Young Retrospective glitters and shines, with bright bursts of colour in various media. His pieces are mythical and magical, with an underlying sense of urgent examination of all the issues of South Africa – and the world – today.

It’s time for a discussion of what to do next, a perusal of the full-to-overflowing programme. Book discussions, music recitals, dance productions, more drama, or just a little sit, a meeting of new people, a chat with an old man we’d otherwise not have met at the communal tables.

And that’s what Woordfees is all about: it’s about the arts, all of them, and it’s about the coming together of people in the appreciation of them. An appreciation that fills the heart and opens the mind, and gets those conversations that are so important, started.

An edited version of this review appears on What’s on in Cape Town.

In Search of Eddie Vedder

I have loved Eddie Vedder since I was a teenager. And by loved, I am perfectly happy to admit that it’s a love of the complete teen-adoration-for-ridiculously-good-looking-rockstar-who-stage-dives kind. It’s not only that, though, and it’s lasted into my 40’s. I love his voice, his lyrics, his … I’ll stop there. Swoon.

Pearl Jam and, later, Eddie Vedder’s solo songs, have been integral tracks on the Soundtrack of My Life. You know how when big things are happening – you’re falling in love, you’ve had your heart broken, somebody ate the last piece of pizza – every song lyric is written for you? In those moments, those song lyrics for me, very often, were those of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.

For years I’ve been watching them announce concert dates, the world over, and thinking ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I?’  Then they announced a Florence Festival date *Quick whirl back in time: I went to Italy in 1990, as a long-limbed 16-year old, and fell in love with it* and I thought, ‘I should.’ A few days later, they announced more European dates, one in Sicily.

And that is why I have spent the last weeks plotting and planning and calling in Italian Knights in Shining Armour (IKiSA) to help me translate booking sites and correspond with organisers, to work out if I could wangle it to see Eddie Vedder play in the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins overlooking Mount Etna in Taormina, Sicily. There have been mails to-ing and fro-ing and nails being bitten and so many lovely, kind people both here and in Italy giving me the low-down on accessibility.

Yesterday, I received the final one, from the organiser of the Taormina concert. Yes, I would be able to access the Teatro antico di Taormina, all I needed to do was get online and book, when bookings opened this morning at 10 AM (CET), all in Italian. My IKiSA gave me careful instructions on what to do. Yesterday, using Google Translate, I registered on the ticket site, practiced buying a ticket for something else, Google Translated every little line.

I checked three different websites to make sure that 10 AM (CET) was the same as 11 AM here.

This morning, with my ADSL behaving like a 2-year old that doesn’t want to go to school, I pretended to do some work while I watched the clock like a civil servant waiting for tea-time. At 10:45 AM I moved myself and my tetchy computer into the kitchen, with its nose against the modem and logged on on my phone too, in case. Google Translate was open. Everything else was closed, so that my computer could concentrate solely on the matter at hand: Getting. Those. Tickets.

10:58.

10:59.

11:00! And there they were! A little green button next to ‘Biglietti’! I clicked on it, put in the number of tickets and clicked on ‘Metti nel carrello’. The little Circle Thingy of Hell turned and turned, the page not changing. I started doing the same thing on my phone, a panic rising from the pit of my stomach.

Wait! A Capchta code. Eek. Those things freak me out. Is it a ‘C’ or a ‘c’, a ‘W’ or a ‘w’? I felt like I was doing my final Chemistry prac again.

Success! New screen.

Pick ‘Ritiro sul luogo dell’evento’, as told by IKiSA. Then more Circle Thingy of Hell, as the time-allowed-clock ticked down from 10:00 to 08:40. My shattered nerves. New page loading!

What? Who? You need me to fill in which? Eek. Frantic Google Translating … Enter credit card details.

We’re down to 04:21.  The timer is sticking it’s tongue out at me. 02:34.

Enter SMS’ed code to agree to payment coming off my card: 9939.

Circle Thingy of Hell.
Circle Thingy of Hell .
01:24.
Circle Thingy of Hell …

VOILA! (I think. Everything’s in Italian, but it looks like tickets to Eddie Vedder, and the money’s gone off my account, and I’ve got the e-mail. I feel like I’ve just received a Golden Ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)

I am going to see Eddie Vedder in Taormina, Sicily on 26 June 2017.  I have that excitement that makes the tummy gurgle and the mouth stretch into a smile and the heart flutter arrythmically. The excitement.

This is where I’ll be seeing him. It’s almost unbelievable. Here. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance. Oh. My. God(father). Sicily. Eddie. Swoon.

 

Sheep For Sale

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There are huge old trees in Ganora’s gorgeous gardens. The kind that have cradled generations of Karoo farm children in their boughs  –  for voyages to sea, Secret Society meetings, and the occasional sulk. I’m sure they still do, but on the hot, blue-skied day we were there, they were just standing around on the lawn providing shade for the around seventy farmers. Mostly men, in varying shades of khaki and plenty of blue (don’t accuse me of not catering to dedicated followers of fashion: blue is this year’s colour for farm-wear. And probably last year’s, and next year’s, I’ll stop there), and they were all talking Sheep.

You see, we’d been fortunate enough to be invited to the annual ram auction at Ganora, a ridiculously beautiful farm outside Nieu Bethesda that is not only a working sheep farm, but has fossils, ancient rock paintings, superlative guest rooms by all reports, and lovely owners, the Steynbergs. I stray though. This day was about the sheep.

Down on the bottom terrace, the farmers milled about between the rams (also milling about as much as they could in their enclosures, and slipping out at any opportunity to run amok amongst the humans). After being offered tea and an array of delicious snacky bits, including sweet and sticky koeksisters  – Karoo gasvreiheid is beyond compare  – I watched in fascination as they looked in the sheep’s mouths, examined their woolly jerseys and made notes in their auction booklets, of which I could make neither head nor tail (see what I did there). All I can say is that there is obviously a complicated science behind it.

And then it was auction time. We all piled into the shed and the auctioneer started the sale, his call as strange as that of *something that talks very rythmically and very fast*. Sorry, but I just spent an hour down a Google search wormhole trying to find a Karoo animal that sounds even vaguely like it, but couldn’t. Luckily I recorded it, see below. It’s a weird, on-edge-meets-lullaby feeling, watching (and listening to) an auction.

The very handsome ram gets put in a pen in front of the auctioneer (facing the room of buyers) for all to see, he explains their good points, the hammer drops and then it’s quick-quick, as farmers vie with each other, raising their hands, showing their numbers, being spotted by the spotters (dudes that stand on each side of the auctioneer watching for any missed raised hands, and shouting when they see one). Each ram went for anything between R6 000 and R16 000. I held my breath and didn’t scratch my nose until the hammer dropped for the sale each time, in case I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a ram. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a sheep, but I fear the sheep wouldn’t love my city garden. And, Dwayne.

Once the auction was done, the prices paid, the rams back out in their pens waiting to go to their new homes (and meet their new lady sheep), we all retired back onto the lawns in the shade and enjoyed lunch  –  braais creaking under the weight of the chops being cooked on them, delicious, fresh salads and ice cold beer. Remember the gasvryheid I mentioned earlier? This is gasvryheid on steroids.

We all know I’m already a huge fan of the Karoo, but the more time I spend there, the more I get to experience the inner-workings of the land, the more of a fan I become. There’s a whole world going on out there, a sometimes tough and harsh world, but it’s a world with a gentleness, an unhurried passion, that one doesn’t see in the city. Here, on these farms, your work really is your life, and it’s hot and unrelenting, but it’s done under huge, clear skies on vast plains with so much air to breathe. And there are such lovely people (and sheep, and dogs, and ground squirrels, and, and …) all scattered about.

We Need To Talk About Straws

I’m tetraplegic. That is not something I often talk about in my writings because, more often than not, it has nothing to do with my everyday goings-on. Actually, no, that sentence is incorrect. It, obviously affects everything I do, but in most cases, it’s in the most uninteresting and un-writing-worthy way. I’m straying, though. the point I was making is that, well, I’m going to use it today to give more sway to my argument against straws.

My tetraplegia means that, while I can move my wrists up and down, I cannot move my fingers. Over the past twenty years I have perfected the balancing act of holding a glass or can using gravity and the paw-like action that paralysed fingers naturally take on. If, however, I’m lying down, gravity is not on my side, so I use a water bottle instead. Very occasionally, when drinking something that requires a glass, like raspberry cordial, or something equally beautiful, I will use a straw. I will then wash that straw, let it dry, and use it again next time.

In the same way, very small children, who still use sippy cups at home but want to feel a little grown-up at a restaurant, may need a straw. Or stroke patients, or people who have balance issues. And for all of them, I say go for it, that’s what things like straws are for: to make life easier. But they should only be used in those scenarios.

And there I, finally, get to my point. All you perfectly able people (and children) sucking your liquids through plastic straws, stop! All that plastic is flowing into the sea and straws are getting stuck in turtle’s nostrils and polluting the oceans and just doing bad stuff. And it’s completely unnecessary.

The other day I saw an entire table of late-teens get gorgeous-looking, brightly-coloured cocktails, each with not one, but three straws. Presumably so that they could guzzle them down quicker, knowing teens. I wanted to shout across the tables: “Kids! Kids! You know what? it’s even quicker if you pick the glass up and drink it through your lips. You know those things that were specificaly designed to make it possible for you to sip stuff without it falling down your fronts? Those.”

But this isn’t a rant aimed at teens, it’s aimed at everybody. When did we all forget how to pick up a glass and drink with our lips? How come there’s not a huge move toward not giving a straw with every drink served at a restaurant?

An argument from a friend, whose poor ear I was chewing off about the issue, was hygeine. She was worried about the germs she might get off the rim of her glass. This, after she’d just taken the escalator and held onto the sliding bannister-filled-with-tiny-organisms-from-the-hundreds-of-people-doing-the-same-before-her. Worried about germs? Wipe the rim with your serviette.

Because, as I said before, that straw that you’re using, because you’re too lazy to pick up your own glass and sip with your own mouth, is going to land up in the sea. And it may very well hurt or kill the lovely creatures who live there and aren’t as ‘lucky’ as the guy below, who was found and helped. I put lucky in apostrophes there, because, if you watch this video, you’ll see how bloody awful it was for the poor critter. He BLEEDS. Not to mention how sore he must have been with it lodged there.

Stop with the straws. Just, stop.

Things I’ve (Not) Learnt in my Forties

As I head (at speed) toward my 43rd year of life and, having read innumerable blogs, articles, and columns titled ‘What I Learnt in My Forties’, ‘Ten Things I Know Now That I’m Forty’, ‘The Wisdom of One’s Forties’ and the like, I thought it was time to make my own list.

Here it is:

  1. I’m still completely unsure of the world and my place in it.
  2. My humour is still that of an 11-year old boy.
  3. I must stop reading about the things I should know, the epiphanies I should’ve had and the wisdom I should be spewing. Because I don’t know them, I haven’t had them, and the wisdom escapes me.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. And maybe that’s what it’s all about.