Road trips and Remembered Things

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Schoone Oordt boutique hotel in Swellendam. The grandest old lady in the Overberg.

As we had been looking forward to our weekend away at beautiful Schoone Oordt boutique hotel in Swellendam for weeks, and also because we are a real-life family and not a TV show, the first thing we did that happy morning was have a huge fight. Not to mention names nor blame anyone, but the fight was around the fact that one member of our family (hint: it’s a man) decided he absolutely had to go to gym before we left. In his defence, he based his insistence on the truism that when we go away anywhere, even for a day, it takes me about 7,5 hours to pack and get ready. He (rightly) reasoned that since a gym session takes roughly an hour he’d be home with 6,5 hours to throw his clothes in a rucksack and pace while the three girls in the family ran around shrieking like panicked banshees.

Only, that morning – fueled by a determination to get on the road early and a hefty dose of righteous indignation (something we women get down to a fine art) – I somehow managed to be ready quite quickly, and it was my turn to pace and simmer and still be hotly simmering when he appeared, sweatily, at the front door, pumping with endorphins and properly pleased with himself and the world. Needless to say, the reception he got wasn’t warm. And even though he took his usual 9 seconds to shower, throw on a short pant and get himself behind the wheel, the rest of the family was of a mind to be Still Be Cross and the atmosphere in the car as we took off down the road was like the coldest night ever recorded in Novo Sebirsk.

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We’d probably have been less grumpy with each other if we’d known that at this hotel fairies come into your room and light a fire while you’re having supper. Then again, maybe not.

It took us all the way to the N2 outside Somerset West, with several men trying to shove straw hats and cell phone chargers at us through the window, for anyone to speak to anyone else and also that didn’t go well because the first topic raised was whether or not we were going to stop at the Wimpy for breakfast. For me, and I think most South Africans, the fact that a place serves just about the worst food anyone’s ever eaten is no reason at all not to eat there. I suppose it’s a nostalgia thing, but a road trip is just not right without a portion of factory-cut chips and that very cheap tomato sauce that comes in a squeezy bottle. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t share our enthusiasm and insists his cup of coffee should actually have coffee in it, so, we told him he could have cashew nuts in the car and that we’d see him in half an hour.

Happily for everyone, things started to improve after we’d eaten (there is something undeniably cheery about those red booths), and by the time we hit Sir Lowry’s Pass we were back to our normal selves. Also, every time I go over Sir Lowry’s Pass I remember the day, many years ago, my parents were driving home from Bonnievale and the brakes on my dad’s old Mercedes Benz failed. I imagine the fear he must have felt as he pumped the pedal and the car didn’t slow down but instead gathered momentum on that steep downward turn and the memory makes my eyes prickle because I love that man more than the world. Using the handbrake and carefully gearing down he managed to get them to the bottom safely, both shaky and white as sheets. And I’m grateful when I travel that stretch of road that they were lucky that day.

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The rugged mountains of the magnificent Tradouw Pass (‘Women’s Path’ in Khoi)  which joins the towns of Swellendam and Barrydale.

And this is how life is. One minute you can be safe in your car on a soggy Thursday, overtaking a truck and Johnny Clegg saying goodbye to December African Rain and the next moment everything can change. As we emerged from the clouds and dipped down towards Botrivier, the sun came out and lit up yellow, sheep-studded grasslands. I think only in South Africa are the ribbons of road this long and this desolate. Past the pink, flower-strewn vistas of the Tradouw Pass I remembered another thing: that the last time I traveled this road was in the back of a Volksie bus driven by the boyfriend of my oldest friend. He died of cancer less than a month ago. Road trips make you think about all kinds of things.

As we pulled into the town of Swellendam the rain had started up again. Kind people from the hotel appeared with large umbrellas which they held over our heads as we hurried to our room. That’s the kind of place Schoone Oordt is, big on attention to detail and the sorts of little touches that make everything better. The bathroom floor is heated (which really, really makes a difference), the bath salts have tiny, fragrant rose petals that make you feel like a bathing princess and while you’re having supper in front of a friendly fire some wonderful fairies sneak into your room and place hot water bottles in your bed. It was only the next morning, which opened bright and inviting, that we realised how pretty this old building actually is, its dining area opening onto a lush expanse of lawn which sweeps down to a blue and sparkling pool.

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Our daughters were partial to the miniature dressing-gowns (a very thoughtful touch) and quickly discovered a taste for Malawian mocktails by the pool.

That afternoon, while the spring sun played dodgems, I found a pool lounger which offered just the right amount of shade for reading and rays for warming and was aware of a feeling of deep contentment as my husband and children enjoyed a game of hide-and-seek amongst the guava trees and I dipped in and out of a book which wasn’t good enough to hold my attention. And it was one of those moments in life where all aggravation is temporarily stalled and you can’t remember one annoying thing about the world which, for a time, has become the sound of your children laughing and clouds gathering and dissipating and an awareness that, at that exact moment in time, there is nothing you need and nowhere you would rather be.

For the next 48 hours we drank tea, took a walk, dozed, played scrabble, shared bottles of very good wine and had a hard time choosing between the delicious items on Schoone Oordt’s menu. My personal favourite was the rump, tasty and done to perfection, served with stywe pap and a smoky smoor, but the pork loin with sweet cabbage and green beans got a big thumbs up from everyone too. On our second evening we were getting hungry but weren’t quite ready to leave the fireplace or our Scrabble board (and were sipping a mighty fine bottle of red and also I was winning) so we ordered a cheese platter to share. A cheese platter is always a happy moment, but this one was a thing of rare beauty with warm, handmade biscuits and a homemade tomato relish off-setting a generous serving of some seriously delicious Overberg cheeses.

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Breakfast in the sunny dining-room is a deeply civilised affair. That morning, a spiced poached pear with Greek yoghurt and homemade granola was the precursor to a splendid stack of black mushrooms, crispy bacon and perfectly poached eggs.

I was a bit bleak about leaving the next day – there is something deeply wonderful about arriving at the pool and within seconds being met with fluffy towels and the offer of a cocktail – but we were due in Barrydale at the Unplugged 62 music festival. Honestly, I was a little trepidatious about attending this event as camping and roughing it are not really for me, but I needn’t have worried because this was glamping at its finest – a comfy double bed with extra pillows, thick blankies to keep out the Karoo chill and – wait for this – while we were stomping in the dust some good and kind people snuck hot water bottles into our beds. This seems to be a tradition around these parts, and it’s a very good one. Also, it’s not quite what you’d expect in a campsite, but the Cherry Glamping people know a thing or two about creature comforts. They also provided bottles of water since the (a-hem) dancing builds up quite a thirst, and early next morning a kind man was up bright and early making tea and coffee and homemade rusks for whomever was in need of sustenance.

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The kind of ‘camping’ I like to do. Please note the Nguni rug and the extra blankies and water. There were also comfy camping chairs set up outside and little lamps to guide us home.

The festival turned out to be one of the nicest I’ve attended, probably because it’s smaller than the others and therefore less hectic. You know, for us older people. And the music line-up was impressive. I’d kind of expected a few local farmers with guitars, but my 12-year-old daughter’s eyes were like saucers when one of her favourite bands, Slow Jack, kicked off with their hit single, Love to Dream. It’s the first time we’ve taken our girls to a live music event and it was really fun being there with them, dancing up a storm on the haybales. The vibe was great, with everyone in the mood for letting their hair down and I remembered what I love about music festivals – how happy and chilled-out everyone is, and how many friendly, cool people exist in the world. And there something wonderful and uniquely life-affirming about dancing like lunatics under a star-studded Karoo night sky.

It was way past our usual bedtime when made our way across the dewy veld to our waiting tent, giggling like teenagers as we looked for the zip in the dark and tried not to wake our sleeping kids. The truth about this thing called life is that you discover, at some point or another, that whichever way it unfolds it is seldom the deal you expected, and being a grown-up can be harder at times than you ever imagined possible. Which is why it’s so necessary to grab hold of the moments that retain beauty and magic. None of us knows how much time we’ve been allocated on this planet. As I get older I begin to realise that the here and now is the only thing that really matters. Tomorrow it could all look very different, so we can’t take anything for granted. We must hug our children, appreciate our friends and notice the kindness and abundance that exists all around us if we choose to see it. And most of all, we must dance like lunatics as often as we possibly can.

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Karoo cocktails and happiness.
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How to Not Fuck it Up When You Meet a Guy You Like

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When I was in my twenties, fresh out of university with an impressive list of degrees to my name and dumber than a box of hair, I was lucky enough to land a job at a glossy women’s magazine. Only the tea girl was lower in the pecking order than I was, but coming straight from the hallowed walls of my ivy league-ish university and having read every hard book ever written twice, I fancied myself to be rather smart, and also believed that I had something of great significance to contribute to our monthly features meetings where we (they) decided on the content of the next mag.

It took me about five minutes to realise that you can quote Germaine Greer till you’re eleventy shades of purple, but when it comes to men and courtship (yes, we are still in the fifties) well… we are still in the fifties. All that stuff about equality of the genders is deeply true and correct, but it doesn’t help a sister one smidgen of an iota when she is Dating Seriously and trying her damnedest to not fuck it up with The Guy.

Through the one decade older and entire lives wiser women I worked alongside I learnt some deeply important truths, truths that have, over the decades, proved themselves to be truly true. And their trueness is ridiculous because we should be above all this by now and able to be honest and upfront about what we want and how we feel. But, you know how little boys at playschool show up in their pyjamas and dribble and hit things while the girls wear matching outfits, have good hair and make complicated social arrangements? It kind of stays like that forever (sorry, boys, and also sorry for what’s about to come, I know you’ll tell me off properly in the comments section).

The truth is that, for the most part, we women meet a man and want to marry him and also breed by about next Thursday. Men, for the most part, are still wondering if it’s strictly necessary to change out of their pyjamas that day. Which is why, in the early days, we girls need to manage ourselves and our expectations of fledgling relationships if we don’t want said guy to run away crying in fear. And managing ourselves and the situation requires a bit of self-discipline, but is actually much easier to implement than one would expect. You just have to pretend you’re a character in a Jane Austen novel for a while and everything – including Mr Darcy – will go your way.

  1. WWJAD (What Would Jane Austen Do?)

What indeed (see, I knew all those hard books would pay off somehow in the end). What Jane definitely wouldn’t do is sleep over in the first few weeks. It’s soooo tempting because all that Mulderbosch and tomorrow’s Sunday and he made lamb shank for you and everything’s so cosy. This, by the way, does not mean not shagging. You can shag to your heart’s content (if you are a few weeks in, that is. Never, ever do that thing on the first or the second date. I promise. Take it from Jane). But staying the night is too familiar and what’s going to happen is that after coffee and a walk to the bakery the next morning the temptation to stay the day is going to be enormous and next thing you know three days will have passed and you’re still in his t-shirt, only he’s gotten a bit jittery and has developed a nervous tic and keeps gazing longingly out the window because The Spookery has set in and all he wants is to GET AWAY. Do not let things get to this point. Get in your car and go home directly after the shank and the shag. Even if he begs you to stay. If you absolutely must stay the night, leave very early next morning. Because you know better than him what he needs. Go! Voetsek! Hamba! And don’t phone him either. Stalk him on Facebook and go to bed.

The Spookery 

Here’s what that is. On the whole, young men are not as eager to settle down as their female counterparts, ie within the first week of meeting. For this reason they tend to be skittish, excitable and easily spooked. These are the things that spook them:

  • The idea that you might need them for anything, ever.
  • The idea that their personal freedom might be curtailed in any minute way at any time in the near or distant future.
  • The idea that somebody might make a suggestion regarding their laundry and/or personal hygiene/lifestyle/eating habits and that they will feel obliged to change some aspect of themselves.

But The Spookery is really easy to avoid. All you need to do is not be scary. Being scary is knitting toilet seat covers for his digs, being available to hang out with him all the time and sending whatsapps asking him where he is and why he hasn’t whatsapped you. This last thing is very, very spookery-inducing, so I’m going to devote a whole paragraph to that.

3. The WhatsApp Thing

This is a zone of pure treachery, as is the whole social media domain. How people remain in relationships and get married in this era of who-the-fucks-that-girl-in-the-pic and the damning two blue ticks is a mystery and a miracle to me. I can tell you for free that I would be single and living amongst cats had I been dating in the time of Facebook. Again, the rules are simple and have to be adhered to.

  • you never send the first text. Let him send it. He needs to send it. If you don’t let him send it by sending yours first he’ll get confused. They are like that.
  • you never send the last text. If he says, ‘cool! Look forward to seeing you!’ You don’t say, ‘yes! Will be so awesome! Look so forward to seeing you too! You’re so adorable! I love you and I want to marry you! xxxx.’ You don’t say that thing. You say this thing: (               ). Nought words. You think the other things, but you put your phone away, eat some raisins and go for a walk. He might check his phone and think, hmmm, she didn’t answer. Did I come on too strong? Am I too much? Does she even like me? LET HIM THINK THESE THINGS. If he’s a little unsure of you he’ll be much less likely to dribble and show up in his pyjamas, metaphorically speaking. Let him work for you. He wants to. He likes that. It’s his job.
  • You never, ever send a second whatsapp. I’ve said this before here. If he doesn’t answer you, scream into your pillow, phone a friend, go for a run, slap yourself with a Havaiana but whatever you do, do not send a follow-up whatsapp. He will answer you in due course or he won’t. If no reply comes, he doesn’t like you enough. Move along swiftly and don’t humiliate yourself anymore.

4. Be a Green Birkin

Present yourself in increments. Like in the olden days, when you like the boy go slow. Not just for him, for you. This is not about giving up your power, it’s about stating your strength and acknowledging your independence and knowing that not for one second do you need a man to give your life meaning. It’s about not giving all your plans and your friends and everything else up the minute he crosses your threshold. We were all fed that nonsense about being half people without a man in our lives. And don’t berate yourself if you want to walk down the aisle so badly you can taste the tulle. It’s not a weakness, it’s just the way we were raised. But with all your being resist the urge to drop your life and move into his. Be who you were before you met him: fabulous and busy and a little bit unavailable. It’s the same with shoes and bags and apartments. The second you can’t have something that thing becomes insanely desirable. Remember that you are a rare creature of astounding magnificence, and any man would be deeply lucky to have you around, so don’t sell yourself cheap. Be that Birkin bag everybody wanted but nobody could buy. Allow him into your life. Take it from this lady who knows what she’s talking about.

One Very Fabulous Watch

 

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The Dapper Sheffield. Just saying that makes me feel fancy.

I’ve been wanting to resurrect Fabulous Things for some time because, well, I keep finding fabulous things which deserve a mention, and I’d like to start writing shorter blogs more regularly instead of just the long, serious ones that make people cross with me. So, when a very nice man with an extremely suave-sounding name sent me an email asking if I’d like to take a look at his website and choose any watch I like it took me about 3,7 seconds to reply, well, yes, I rather would.

In truth, I’ve always been a One Watch Woman. I’ve been wearing my watch for about 10 years and the thought of replacing it was far from my mind. I also suffer from pathological indecisiveness, and the idea of having to choose another made me need Rescue Remedy, but I pulled myself together and clicked on the Daniel Wellington website.

Their watches are really pretty. Really pretty. They’re classic, stylish and trendy all at the same time, and nice enough to make me feel it was warranted to cheat on Watch #1 – if I apologised and explained the situation. Honestly, I liked them all, but my favourite was one in rose gold with blue hands and the date called the Dapper Sheffield which is just one of the prettiest watches I’ve ever seen. The date is a good feature for me because I am regularly unsure of what month, never mind what day it is. They’re also fairly big which makes them modern and a little bit edgy.

And what’s really cool is that you get an extra strap thrown in for nought ront so you can shake things up a bit and kind of wear a different watch every day. I chose one with jaunty nautical stripes. You know, for sunset cruises on yachts and… yachts. But there are lots of different designs and straps to choose from, and even though I’m fussy and really conservative when it comes to accessories there wasn’t one combo I didn’t find lovely.

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Jaunty nautical strap. Just add yacht.

Good watches are like good shoes. You just feel more fabulous wearing them. And happily, for those keen on some extra fabulosity, the nice Daniel Wellington man with the suave name is offering my readers a discount of 15% (which actually isn’t shabby) if you buy online and quote this code: discoDW (because… disco). Then they’ll know I sent you and everyone will be pleased. If any of you decide to buy one, let me know so we can be watch twins. And if you’re also a One Watch Woman, they make for really superb gifts.

If Real Life Was Like Facebook

Wouldn’t it be the coolest thing ever if real life was like Facebook? As in, people could only see you from a certain angle – your best – the one from which 98% of your pics are taken (we all know the other 2% were snapped by friends who didn’t know you had an angle rule and when it ended up on your timeline you felt too petty to untag yourself). That would be so awesome because everybody knows good-looking better get better jobs, have happier relationships and live more productive lives. You would SO get head-hunted, like, immediately, and meet Mr Right tomorrow.

And not only that. Imagine when people’s voices were making you bored, you could just choose a drop-box and remove them from your Timeline. One minute your boss is droning on about emerging markets, the next, there’s just an empty chair in the boardroom. Gone until further notice, buddy! And best you up your game, or I’ll never listen to your boring voice again. Or, better still, you could replace him with people you find interesting. Like your best girlfriends and that cute guy you picked up at Caprice and friended over the weekend. Suddenly, Monday’s strategy meeting just got way more fun.

If you could organize your office like you do your facebook community, you’d always be surrounded by people in sexy shoes holding cocktails, and your view of the back of the photocopier would immediately transform into a vista of Lion’s Head at sunset or a wintry beach or an adorable puppy. Bit sleepy from staying up to watch Scandinavian TV series all night? No problem: type your manager’s name in the ‘custom’ button under your status update and everybody but her will be able to see you’ve curled up under your desk for a nice little nap. And if the sarmie you made last night starts looking a bit sad, you could just instagram it. With the right filter you can make anything look gourmet.

Immediately, in your Facebook World, everything dull and miserable would cease to exist and your days would become endless forays into the winelands, meals with truffle foam and being surrounded by all your friends all the time as you smiled your way happily through life. What’s more, people would have to mind their ‘p’s and ‘q’s or your just wouldn’t ‘like’ them. And everyone knows how crap it is not getting any ‘likes.’ You’ll never have to break up with anybody because you can just press ‘unfriend.’ What’s more, if you report them to the Facebook Police they’ll never be allowed to talk to you ever again. No more end-of-relationship post-mortems – hurrah! By the same token, if you were tired of being single, you could just change your relationship status. Want to be engaged to Caprice boy? Done!

So, there’d be a button for when people bug you; a little air emoticon to warn folks when you’re crabby, and if you were feeling lazy you could just share somebody else’s clever, original post. Wouldn’t that be cool? To your boss: ‘what do I think? Didn’t you see my SHARE? Duh.’ Mark Zuckerberg is a genius, no doubt about that – I’m sure he’ll be up for the challenge.