Watching the Wheels

Ta-da! This is my 200th post  and as I was mulling over what to write on this momentous occasion, it struck me that I’ve really gone to seed since I started my blog, just over 5 years ago. There is no denying it; my early blogs record my spirited attempts to create a new life in the country. My last post was about how much I love my bed. Oh, how the wheel has turned!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is a concern of mine (one of many, I’m afraid) just how quickly time flies as one gets older. Until I reached my 50’s, I measured change by my children’s growth – in my mind I stayed more-or-less the same. My children’s milestones were the significant events in my life – from birth, first smile and starting school to finishing school and leaving home. I was 52 when my youngest flew the nest and since then I no longer have the children as my yardstick when it comes to measuring the passing years; the focus has  shifted uncomfortably to me.

I’m startled when I look back at where I was when I started this blog. Recently I spent some time replacing pictures that I accidentally deleted from my blog in 2011 / 2012 and it was quite an eye-opener. I realised that jeez, I’m not getting any younger folks! And, if I’m brutally honest, I haven’t been looking after my body or my health as well as I should have. It seems more difficult to multitask as one gets older; I tend to focus my attention on one thing at a time. So, fearing Alzheimer’s, I’ve concentrated on encouraging mental acuity at the expense of my physical well being.

The importance of maintaining one’s physical stamina and health was brought home to me recently when I noticed that my mother’s eyesight had deteriorated. She is not one to complain about her health (immigrants in the UK, yes but physical discomfort, no). To cut a long story short I managed to get her to agree to see an ophthalmologist. During the consultation she just happened to mention that earlier this year she had a burst blood vessel in one eye. She never thought to tell anyone at the time and, as a result, now that the blood has dried and cannot be removed, she is virtually blind in that eye. The other eye has a cataract compromising her vision even more. She agreed to have the cataract removed only when I pointed out to her that if she were to go blind in a few years’ time she would not be able to continue living on the farm. Cruel but true. I learned a lesson from this – deal with health issues as they arise and look after your body, it is as important as your mind.

On a lighter note, I won the coveted camera club trophy this month with these silhouettes of the sculptures outside the Brahman Hills Hotel at Mount West.

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The prunus nigra is flowering which always heralds the end of winter. There has been a hint of DSC_0001 spring in the air; we’ve had a little rain and some warmer weather. Hopefully there’s a lot more on the way.

 

 

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Give Peace A Chance

The best mornings are those when the dawn chorus wakes me up and there are no plans for the day. I can have a leisurely lie in; check emails and Facebook, play a round of online bridge and other keep senility at bay games, write a bit, or just simply gaze out the window – all from the warmth and comfort of my bed. Once I’m up it’s all go, go, go. My bed is a sanctuary, the eye of the storm – I’m with John and Yoko on this, I stay in bed for as long as I can, for peace.

Of course it’s not always like that, some days are quieter than others but that’s the joy of living on a smallholding – you never know what it’s going to throw at you next. There is always something that needs doing. We do have help, thank goodness, and our staff (Kho and Thandi) are great but I like being hands-on and staying on top of things, like making sure that the water is clean and the JoJo tanks are full; that we have dry logs and kindling on hand; and that the chickens and veggies are flourishing. On top of that one has to be quite adept at fixing stuff – getting people in to do repairs is expensive because of the added transport costs, as well as frustrating since they tend to be very unreliable in this neck of the woods. So if things aren’t working, we’ve learnt to tackle the problems ourselves, even if it takes all day and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And by “we” I mean me, more often than not, as Peter is not the most practical of people.

When I first moved to the farm I used to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, asking myself: “what the hell am I doing here and how I did I get here?” Now, when I reflect on how I landed up living in the country on a smallholding, it is with a great deal of pleasure and contentment. I no longer panic about the lifestyle choice we made; it feels like we’ve grown into it and I can’t imagine living any differently. There’s something very special about living close to nature and being responsible for the upkeep of the natural environment. I feel so much more at home since I took the decision to let the bush grow up to the house and the garden to become naturally wild. I consider myself very fortunate to have a spectacular view of the countryside and see for miles and miles over rolling hills to the Drakensberg Mountains in the distance; to be able to retreat into solitude when it suits me; and do all the things I love to do right here in a beautiful setting.

Funny, isn’t it, where we find ourselves at different stages in our lives? I can’t say that I was particularly unhappy raising my family in Durban but I always had a sense that I didn’t belong there. When I moved to the country, the plan was to live in a community with the other people on the property. However, when it became clear this was no longer a desirable option and they sold up, I was pretty much left here on my own. I’m so thankful that I didn’t give up on my dream to live in the country after that initial unpleasantness. Instead it made me even more determined to make this a viable place for us to find happiness and peace.

DIY sometimes requires a workbench and I have, for some time now, been eyeing a gorgeous, refurbished one that is for sale in a rather trendy Howick décor shop (yes, they do have such things in Howick!). Since most visitors come into our house via the garage and not the front door (a design flaw that can’t be fixed), a workbench, as well as being functional, needs to look nice –after all I am house-proud, in my own way. However, as “retirees” the inflated price could not be justified, no matter how hard I tried.

I happened to ask a friend of ours, who is a dab hand at restoring old furniture, to keep an eye out for a workbench for me and within days he called to say that he had found one in his cousin’s backyard in Pietermaritzburg. Many years ago the cousin bought a factory and this workbench had been left in it. No-one knew quite what it had been used for – it had solid 2 inch planks, excessively sturdy for a normal workbench, and a metal cover over the work surface. I was thrilled. Bill picked it up and took it back to his workshop in the Champagne Valley where he proceeded to restore it. He discovered drilled holes in the top and lots of oil and battery acid soaked into the planks and realised that it had been used as a bench to stand as many as 16 car batteries on to charge them. The planks had to be cleaned and sanded and sealed and when they were all put together again I had the workbench of my dreams.

before

before

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after – Bill, you are a genius.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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a lovely piece of furniture

It just goes to show, good things do come to those who wait.

 

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Zebras and Airplanes

The delight I get from seeing wildlife in my garden has never worn off, despite the havoc that many of them wreak. There’s something quite magical about living so close to this other world inhabited by creatures all going about their business, mostly unseen by human eyes. The enchantment comes partly perhaps from having grown up on Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows and Bambi. But also, having lived in a city for most of my life (except for a stint in the Zululand bush) it is still all so wonderfully different from what I was used to as an urban dweller.

Mostly I’m surrounded by bird life and little critters – chameleons, skinks, field mice, frogs, insects and the occasional snake. Bushbuck, mongoose, hare and porcupine venture into the garden from time to time to eat the plants and veggies and of course, beyond the garden fence, there are jackal, serval, genet, more buck and who knows what else.

Eland next door

Eland next door

 

The other morning I marvelled at a cute baby hare (Peter Rabbit incarnate) hopping onto our veranda. But that was topped later in the day when we went to play bridge with neighbours who live on a wildlife estate. On their front lawn were two zebra munching away at the grass. What a pleasure to sit and play cards with these gorgeous animals right outside the window.

Zebra on the lawn

Zebra on the lawn

 

 

It’s been a busy time one way and another. Every year at this time we are legally obligated to burn firebreaks around the perimeter of our property. It is a nerve wracking activity at the best of times but even more so now when we have so little water to fight any runaway fire. We used to pay one of our neighbours to burn our breaks but for the past couple of years we’ve teamed up with 5 other neighbours who pool their resources (tractors, water tanks, equipment and labour) and burn each other’s breaks.

burning breaks

burning breaks

When the breaks are done, the employers throw a party for all the staff who carry out the burning. Our neighbours are incredibly generous to include us in this arrangement as we don’t have anywhere near the same amount of resources to contribute. To make up for this we offered to host the workers’ party, which of course included shisa nyama.

staff braai

staff braai

Water, or lack thereof, is a constant worry so I decided to do a bit of spring maintenance the other day. Believe it or not all you first worlders, this is where our drinking water comes from – straight out of the ground and into a muddy little dam before being siphoned into the JoJo tank. I did manage to get a slightly better flow of water just by clearing around the spring but it’s still not enough to fill the tank. I’m hoping that as the snow in the catchment area melts so our water supply will improve.

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snow on the Berg

snow on the Berg

I’ve also been quite busy at school.

rice-crispies

a donation of blankets (thanks to Nomsa from SANRAL)

a donation of blankets, just in time for the cold snap (thanks to Nomsa from SANRAL)

a donation of beautiful crocheted jerseys (thanks to Nanette and her sister)

a donation of beautiful crocheted jerseys (thanks to Nanette and her sister)

edible art

edible art

But it hasn’t been all work. A few weekends ago we went to a concert at Caversham Mill with friends who live in the Champagne Valley. We had a picnic lunch and were entertained by Arno Carstens, who I’ve never listened to before but we really enjoyed his music. And the Balgowan Brewery craft beer was also rather good.

arno-carstens

wending our way home on country roads

wending our way home on country roads

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What a Wonderful World

Every evening I’ve been putting fruit & veg scraps, as well as whole corn, in the bush at the bottom of our garden in an attempt to lure the porcupines away from our allotment. We have really barricaded the veggies in so I’m not sure whether it’s the fortifications or the feeding that is working, but something is because our veggies haven’t been eaten in a while.

My son-in-law, James, gave me a game camera when I was in America and I’ve set it up in the bush overlooking the food scraps. Every morning I’m bursting with excitement to see what has been captured on the camera during the night, even though the pictures are a bit blurry. These are some of the pictures taken by the game camera.

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family of four

 

C'mon kids, that's hors d'oeuvres, lets see what's for mains.

C’mon kids, that’s hors d’oeuvres, lets see what’s for the main course.

A genet also paid us a visit.

A genet also paid us a visit.

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a small reedbuck

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Closer to Fine

 

Okay, so not much has been going on in my life, but I suppose the less I write about it, the less I have to write about (if that makes sense). The last time I wrote about something was at the end of May, after my trip to Cape Town. Since then, I turned 59 without any fanfare, although I did get lots of heart-warming messages on Facebook and a lovely prezzie from my bridge buddies. I also got bronchitis, again, and had to take a course of antibiotics as I picked up a bit of an infection as well. I felt poorly at the same time as the weather turned extremely cold and I spent a week at home, not venturing forth at all. Basically I mooched around the house doing sweet Fanny Adams. I emerged from seclusion to attend my book club meeting which, I have to say, exhausted me. As an introvert, I find group chit chat quite difficult, much preferring one-on-one chats, but I enjoy the company and hopefully I don’t fade into the background too much.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch the drought is really kicking in and the water situation has become quite dire. Our domestic water comes from 2 springs on the property and we pump our irrigation water from a neighbouring stream that we have water rights to. One spring has dried up completely (for the first time in our history here) and the other is down to a trickle. We are now pumping muddy water from the stream to our eco pool, passing it through the sand filter and pond plants before siphoning it into our water storage container (a JoJo tank) to feed our homes. Neighbours are kindly allowing us to fill up containers of drinking water from their borehole once a week, which we were previously having to buy in.

We have had to drastically reduce our use of water; no more baths, no dishwasher, limited use of washing machine and no watering the garden (although we still irrigate the allotment from the stream). Clothes are being worn more times than they should be (thank goodness it’s winter) and showers are very brief. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself and the dustbowl that remains of my garden, I think of the farmers who have it a lot worse, especially our neighbours who are dairy farmers and are struggling to keep their cows fed this winter. It costs them R½ million to bring in two months worth of feed – it must be terribly stressful.

Of course it goes without saying that our water pumps play up on a regular basis and on very cold mornings the water pipes freeze. So there are days when our water supply is even more restricted than usual. It’s a challenge and it keeps us on our toes! I suppose that is one of the reasons why I enjoy living on a small holding – there is never a dull moment. And talking about challenges, the battle of the winter veggies has begun.

The dreaded porcupine (affectionately known as the little bugger) is back, digging holes under fences and feasting on our brassicas. And just when I thought I had thwarted the porcupine’s attempts to destroy our winter crop by barricading the veggies in, he chewed a hole in the shade cloth and ate the rest. I have started putting a bowl of kitchen scraps on the other side of the fence for the porcupine in the hope that this will keep it out of the garden.  We shall see. One thing I have learnt since moving to the country is that one is always at the mercy of Mother Nature. One step forward, two steps back.

59 is not exactly a milestone birthday but, as the last year of my 50’s began, I reflected a bit on how dramatically my life has changed since moving here in 2010 (only six years ago and yet it feels like a lifetime). Whenever I marvel at how different my life is, I wonder whether I too have become a different person.

One day she had been out walking and she wondered whether she’d become a different person in the last year. Then when she really thought about it she realized she’d been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. Now she wasn’t sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she had been.

Anna Quindlen: Still Life With Bread Crumbs

I’m not sure that I’m a finished product yet, more like a work in progress but the more time I spend here, the closer I feel I am to who I want to be. Living on a smallholding is not for everyone, I admit, but I really can’t imagine living any differently. Each day seems to unfurl in its own sweet way and I’ve learned to go with the flow.

It’s such a pleasure to be able to stroll straight out of my back door in my pj’s in the morning with the dogs, mug of tea in hand, to inspect the veggies, or what’s left of them, and patrol the fence for any porcupine activity – muddy hems of pj pants are a given, as are scruffy slippers. It’s a privilege to be the custodian of this piece of land and I love how every day is a surprise; one might have to fix a water pump, porcupine-proof a fence, jump start a quad bike, or fathom out what’s wrong with a sick chicken. There are days when I think, “fuck it, I’m too old for all of this, I need a plan”, but then the feeling passes and I know I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

A while ago I was given pause for thought by a comment on one of my posts made by Paul via Facebook. Paul’s comment was that “life really is about the journey, the lovely people and places that we come to know.” He also said “Very, very few came into my life as a result of a plan, a map or a schedule. Chaos has done it all.” And I agree. Life is confusing and chaotic, we should be grateful we have it and we may as well enjoy the ride.

There’s more than one answer to the questions

pointing me in a crooked line

The less I seek my source for some definitive

the closer I am to fine

porcupine damage to veggies - doesn't like lettuce - veggies barricade

porcupine damage to veggies – doesn’t like lettuce – veggies barricade

 

caught on camera - a not so little bugger

caught on camera – a not so little bugger

omigod, there's two little buggers

omigod, there’s two little buggers

 

 

 

 

stocking up for winter

stocking up for winter

 

 

 

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What A Wonderful World

I have been most remiss not keeping up with my blog. Every day I stare at my computer screen and draw a blank. So, to try and break this writer’s block I am posting some pictures instead.

It’s not that I haven’t had the time to write. In fact, I’ve had more than enough time but I fear (and this is a genuine fear) that I am becoming rather LAZY. I can’t seem to account for my time, but very little of it is actually spent productively and there goes that little Protestant Work Ethic guilt trip again – if I’m not being productive, I’m simply wasting time.

Last Sunday we went to a friend’s birthday lunch party in Nottingham Road. It was most enjoyable and I really tried to make a concerted effort to stay off the wine. I had a couple of G&Ts with lunch but as the day wore on I succumbed to the copious amounts of wine available. Wine has a weird effect on me; I become quite extrovert and it wasn’t long before I was mobilising a dance initiative on the veranda. It’s not something I’m proud of, this transformative effect of wine. In fact, it’s downright worrying but I have to admit I do have a bloody good time while under its influence.

When I’m not prancing around on the dance floor, I can be found quietly enjoying clouds

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wheee

wheee

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Closer

Woke up, it was a Midlands morning, and the first thing that I saw was not the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall. It was in fact a bleak, misty, wintry scene outside my bedroom window. I had been entertaining the thought that I should spend the day planting the rest of my garlic bulbs (it’s late I know) and thinning out the carrot and beetroot seedlings. However when I saw the weather, I preferred to stay warm indoors instead. I know that as a country person I should not allow a bit of inclement weather to come between me and my veggies but I’m ashamed to admit that recently I’ve become very fond of my bed on cold mornings. I hope it’s just a passing fancy and that I shall soon return to my former love, the allotment, and once again brave the elements to tend to its produce and put food on our table.

One of the (many) things that I miss since the children left home is the company of young people; I always enjoyed being privy to their fresh take on things and felt quite privileged when they chose to spend time with us old farts. So we were thrilled recently when the daughter of dear friends of ours, whom we haven’t seen for ages, paid us a visit. It was lovely to see Shireen again after all these years and what a pleasure it was to discover that she has grown into such an amazing, adventurous, confident young woman. She was a gorgeous, intelligent young girl when we last saw her but now she’s all grown up and so incredibly mature as well. When adults exclaim, much to the annoyance of children, my, how you’ve grown, what we really mean is my god, where has the time gone? However, children are not only the measure of passing years, they’re also a measure of how well we as parents have passed on the values we hold dear, and I think our friends can be very proud of their contribution to the next generation.

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missing you Jakes and Hajira

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pull in that tummy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not long after Shireen’s visit I took a few days off to visit another member of the younger generation, our son Alex, in Cape Town. I spent two nights with other besties of ours, Annie and Alec, and two nights with Alex at his flat in Tamboerskloof.

Annie and Alec's beautiful Tulbagh farm

Annie and Alec’s beautiful Tulbagh farm

love this part of the world

love this part of the world

the stunning Tulbagh Valley

the stunning Tulbagh Valley

I took the opportunity while I was in Cape Town to return to a hairdresser who I stumbled across when I was last in Cape Town a year ago. I was impressed by the tattoo of a pair of hairdressing scissors on her forearm and took it as an indication, quite correctly as it turned out, that she takes her craft seriously.

Whenever one relocates, it takes a while to find and adjust to new doctors, dentists etc but eventually one does. With a critical exception, I have not yet found a hairdresser in the Midlands to match the lovely Claire. On the rare occasions that I’m ever in Durban, I make a beeline for her (as do Kiera and Alex) and beg her to “do something” with my hair, and she always does. But I so seldom visit Durban now that most of the time my hair looks a mess. (The sore shoulder also makes blowdrying quite a mission.) So I finally plucked up the courage to cut it all off and since I was going to Cape Town, not Durban, I put my head in the hands of the tattooed lass. She did a good job and I’m happy to have a zero fuss hairstyle but the search for a hairdresser a bit closer to home is still on.

My hair, however, was not reason I went to Cape Town. Alex invited me to go with him to a High Tea Festival in Kirstenbosch Gardens and what mother could refuse such an invitation? The event itself was a total shambles; it was not at all what had been advertised and the organisation was abysmal. We waited so long for the tea and food to be served (eventually it was the guests who started to hand out the measly refreshments) that Alex bought us a bottle of wine, a most suitable substitute for tea, and we proceeded to make the best of a disappointing situation. A woman sitting opposite us mentioned to Alex that she had two daughters. “One is a bit of a problem” she said, but she could vouch for the other’s good character and asked if she could give Alex the reputable daughter’s number. I thought that was quite sweet!

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sporting my new close crop

my boy applying for jobs in America

my boy applying for jobs in America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aah, Cape Town

the V&A, Cape Town

view from Ali's flat, new moon rising

view from Ali’s flat, full moon rising

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hate being so far away from my children. And on my way home I became aware for the first time that all I have now are short glimpses into their lives. We visit their world, for 4 days or 4 weeks, and that’s as much as we get. We’re getting old without them and they’re getting older without us. It was never meant to be this way. Or maybe it was.

 

 

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