Miss Knitwear and a Goat Called Allen

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My favourite item in the Miss Knitwear range, the grey shawl with feathers.

Once upon a time there was a goat called Allen and a girl called Candice. Allen lived in the Karoo which is a sensible place for a goat. Candice lived in Gardens which is a sensible place for a girl. Allen and Candice knew a secret not many South Africans, but several overseas visitors do: that his family of Angoras produce 75% of the entire planet’s mohair, and that this mohair – like most things to come out of the Karoo – is exceptionally beautiful and of an extremely high quality. So beautiful and so high that busloads of Germans and Americans and Brits flock to our shops every year and go suki la la and spend gazillions of monies on items which – compared to other parts of the world – are inexpensive, original and quite incomparably lovely.

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Allen (right).

And Allen and Candice think it’s a shame that the whole world knows of this thing and walks around Boston and Schleswig-Holstein wearing South African mohair while South Africans wear Foschini (no offence to this chain, but really). And it’s silly that we don’t know about this magnificent product right on our doorstep and support small businesses and the people who devote their lives to putting South Africa and its magic on the map. I met Candice at a dinner party a few years ago and loved two things about her: the fact that she runs marathons for fun and the magnificent, diaphanous scarf that floated about her shoulders like a rain cloud on a koppie. And I was astonished to hear she’d made it herself and that this, in fact, was her business.

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Candice Johnson, runner of marathons and founder of Miss Knitwear.

Between her and her friend, Allen (and some of his friends), some of the prettiest and most delicate mohair products you’ve ever seen are produced and sold at selected stores around the country and online, and I think we need to familiarise ourselves with who is doing what down here and start making a real effort to support local businesses. It’s not easy competing with the big clothing corporations, and kudos to the ones with the courage to spot a gap in the market, venture out alone and do their own thing. I’ve been coveting Candice’s knitwear since I saw it, and I was excited beyond when she brought me a big box of woven beautifulness in shades of winter and told me to choose what I liked.

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The reversible animal print scarves look amazing with jeans and/or a leather jacket.

Candice’s products are made from kid mohair or baby mohair which is shorn from the fleece of a young Angora goat. Even though it is the softest and finest kind, it is in fact stronger and warmer than wool and will keep you cosy as anything when the weather turns cool. It’s lightweight, comfy, doesn’t itch, is the most durable of all animal fibres and won’t shrink which makes it easy to wash.

My favourites in her range are the ones which incorporate ostrich feathers (oh, another fact: every year South Africa exports a ton of feathers to Rio for the carnival. Just read that again: a ton. Do you know how little a feather weighs? Shem that they can’t even come up with their own). Mohair and ostrich feathers go together, in Candice’s words, ‘like cream and jam’. Clotted cream and gooseberry jam plunked on top of a hot, buttery scone fresh out of Karoo farm oven. There is nothing like a feather to make you feel like Edith Piaf in a Paris nightclub having no regrets, even if it’s just a Monday and you’re headed for the Spur.

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Totally how you should go to the Spur.

So, a shout out to Candice, Edith and all the people in this world who are brave enough to be artists and creators and do something unique and original with their lives. And of course a shout out to Allen who, along with his sexy goat friends, has given us just one more reason to be proudly South African.

For more info on these fabulous things and how to find them look here. The website will help you locate stores in your area and give you info on prices. It was important to Candice, an animal lover, that my readers understand wool from Angora goats is very different to wool from Angora rabbits. While Angora rabbits are plucked, Allen simply gets a haircut. Which, in the Karoo summer, he adores.

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The charcoal shawl with feathers. How, just, gorgeous.
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Riding Out the Storm

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As one grey, Cape winter rolls into another and I drift further and further away from who I used to be I find myself reflecting on the madness of this South Africa and how we got from there to here. Last week we had to go to home affairs to renew a passport. But the guard, who was missing a front tooth, barred our entry through the revolving doors and pointed to a sign which says ADMIT 200 ONLY. He was deeply apologetic as he explained that since 200 people had already gone in that day he couldn’t allow us entry. Only, when you’ve lived in this country your whole life you understand that a no – especially when it’s a black person saying it to a white person – can be turned into a yes with the right amount of smiling and pleading. It’s hard denying a grovelling umlungu.

So, in we went and joined the throngs of ladies with expensive highlights and their children in private school uniforms updating documents to that they can go to Europe for the July holidays and scruffy Cape Flats mothers jiggling screaming babies and replacing stolen IDs and thin umtatomkhulus with walking sticks and shiny shoes. Since the chairs come in rows of three I couldn’t sit beside my family so instead I sat down next to a woman in her sixties with a neat fro and a handbag held securely in her lap. Perhaps the fact that I sat next to her without skipping a seat was a sign that I was amenable to chatting because she immediately began telling me two unrelated stories while I listened with that over-enthusiastic white South African expression that says, I know you are black but I don’t even see your colour. I am talking to you like you and I are no different, can you tell? Can you see how cool I am with this whole race thing?

The first story was about her big toe and how it slowly turned black and began to smell and that’s how she discovered she was diabetic. She had to have it amputated and she’s sorry she can’t wear slip slops in summer anymore. The second was about her son who attends Rondebosch High School on a scholarship and next year he’ll either go to London on a gap year or study Industrial Psychology at UCT. She leant in close and said, ‘All his friends are white! All of them. Even the one from Botswana. But he speaks fluent Sesotho, imagine that! A white boy speaking Sesotho! At the weekend they all come and sleep over in Khayelitsha. He’s so popular, my boy, they love him. The whole time I cook – they want hot breakfast, lunch, supper. Those boys never stop eating.’ And then her number got called and with a cheery wave she was gone, and for the first time I took notice of my surrounds. All the staff now are black except for one, lone white woman. She’s as wide as she is tall and probably about my age. She looks like her name could be Roelene.

Roelene will have gone to school somewhere like I did – a factory for turning impressionable young South Africans into uncritical supporters of the National Party. She – like me – will have been indoctrinated with racist propaganda, told lies about our history and become an unwitting, Die Stem-singing cog in the machine of Afrikaner nationalism. When South Africa transitioned into a democracy, Roelene would have dunked her rusk into her Ricoffy and watched as, one by one, her colleagues resigned or got retrenched from their jobs only to be replaced by smart, ambitious black men and women in crisp white shirts, neat braids and colourful manicures. This would have posed a dilemma for Roelene who – like most of us whites – had never had any dealings with black people who weren’t pruning the hedge or mopping the floor.

Now, she had to sit on a toilet seat still warm from somebody’s black bum; report to a competent black boss and eat at a table beside her co-workers who chatted in isiXhosa as they tucked into last night’s warmed-up stew. We human beings are so resilient and adaptable that few of us even take the time to really reflect on the weirdness of this, and the fact that in the new now none of the old rules apply. After centuries of apartness black and white South Africans were flung together like siblings who’d been adopted out to different families and were now meeting one another for the first time, familiar but at the same time utterly foreign. Now we had to live side-by-side trying to forget the past but also trying to remember it and trying, hardest of all, not to fuck everything up. There was a time I used to dread going to Home Affairs, but now it’s run so efficiently the mind boggles at how these few people with limited resources are able to process so many applications in a single day. When you arrive at 7am the queue stretches so far down Barrack Street you can’t see the end of it. The last few times I’ve been there my passport has been ready for collection within a few days.

But that day we were the last to arrive and so we were the last to leave. Finally, at 4:25pm, we were summoned into the single photo booth and then told to wait for our number at the counter to be called. Only, one by one, people stood up from their desks, put on their jerseys and headed for the door. ‘Ummm, excuse me!’ I called out to the last, departing person but closing time is 4:30pm on the dot and they were not about to miss the early train for these pushy whites. So there we stood in the gloomy, deserted waiting-room clutching our number that was never going to be called and looking at each other in anguished silence. Eventually, a bored-looking female security guard took pity and told us that if we went downstairs we might find someone to help. We did, and they did and then we drove home with the radio announcer warning of a massive cold front approaching with high seas and gale-force winds – us, to our cosy Victorian on the Atlantic Seaboard; Roelene, to her place somewhere in the northern suburbs; the ladies with their manicures to newly-built brick houses in the township. All, in our own ways, riding out the storm.