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