Monthly Archives: September 2013

This is Home

This is Home

Roast chicken cooking at my grandparents’ house on a Sunday. The pope’s nose, greasy and terrible and wonderful. Roast potatoes and carrots and peas that wouldn’t stay in the spoon and then ice cream with jelly that looked like fire on a snow-covered mountain.

The strip of fat on the edge of a chop and the way it melted in my mouth.

KOO peaches and Ultramel custard. Not the peach halves, the slices, which lay in their baths of syrup like bright half moons.

Guivas, which were even better because you could eat the pips out of the centre first and then the rest. Jan van Riebeeck brough guavas to the Cape from Madiera, but I didn’t know that then.

Jelly tots and Smarties like the box I stole from Checkers when I was three.

Nik Naks and Flings and Ghost Pops.

Fruit cubes that cost 5 cents from the tuckshop.

Chappies and Chomps and the ad with the hippo.

Frisco and Ricoffy, but we never drank coffee in our house, only tea.

Royco Soup.

Jungle oats, which I hated as much as liver, maybe more.

Weetbix because we weren’t allowed Rice Krispies.

Viennas on white bread rolls and toasted cheese and tomato sarmies because that’s all my father could make. We were never allowed white bread, only brown. No Melrose either, or chocolate or Coke.

Black Cat peanut butter with apricot jam, and syrup if you were really lucky. That was my school lunch for years and years, safe and warm and unloved in a lunchbox that closed and opened with a satisfying plastic whump.

Liqui-fruit, because juice was good for you.

Lollipops, their wrappers undone and fluttering around the stick like a cape.

The cut in my mouth from a Sparkle. Fizzers that needed to be warm before you could chew them.

Liquorice allsorts. Stealing sweets from the cupboard in Ouma’s special hiding place.

Marie biscuits, which were boring, and Lemon Creams, which were better. Romany Creams and Iced Zoo were the best.

The taste of cupcake batter on the edge of my finger and the sharp sugary smell of icing made with water not Stork SB.

Pieces of apple with the skin peeled off, given to me by my grandmother. Naartjies and the sticky juicy wonder of litchis in summer. Paw-paw and oranges and bananas. Never peaches, because I hated peach fuzz, always have and always will.


Crème Soda, wondrous limpid green.

Lunchbars and Crunchies and Bar-Ones. A finger of Kit Kat snapped off by my grandmother.

Big T burgers that came out of the freezer.

Spaghetti in tomato sauce out of a can.

Milo and rooibos tea with milk and sugar, before I stopped drinking it with either.

Mince meat with rice and fish fingers and both of them with All Gold tomato sauce.

Marmite or Bovril on toast dipped in a boiled egg.

Baked beans eaten cold with a spoon.



This is home.



The Bateleur

The last thing I did before I left the bush on Sunday morning was pour out what was left of my birthday MCC onto the dry African earth. I couldn’t possibly drink a whole bottle, and nobody else was going to drink it – so rather than let it go to waste, I decided to do something meaningful with it.

Birthday Sundowners

Pouring it into the ground was a libation: an offering to my present and my past; a form of thanks to the soil that has nurtured me for so long. It is soil that my very, very distant ancestors trod upon (in the poetic sense), and then left for distant horizons, only to return in ships and take possession of something that was not theirs.

My standing upon this land is rooted in so many tangled thickets of history, but that is not what I want to write about now. Instead, I want to write about what happened next.

It was a bittersweet moment. I had planned to leave only on Monday morning, but I’d battled terrible insomnia and bronchitis and knew that if I stayed another day I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I decided to leave the place I love most in the world.

A shadow passed over as the last of the wine foamed into the earth and I looked up. It was a bateleur eagle. My totem, the bird I love most, and the one I have drawn and painted obsessively since the age of 16. This bird was a male, not female – the sexes have different patterns on the underside of the wings – but it was deeply significant for me all the same. This bird features in the last two slides of my TEDxJohannesburg talk, and that it should appear out of the blue as I poured out the last of the sparkling wine given to me as a TEDx gift there had a neatness about it, a narrative symmetry, that is all too rare.

Not everything worked out for me that weekend, but this was a reassuring sign that I can read meaning into the world, and it can reflect meaning back at me, and that is good.

I left with a heart soaring like the bird, gently canting from side to side as it circled up and away, seeking, always seeking.




The Long Road

I love long drives. The sky stretched across the horizon ahead; a ribbon of tar spooling out behind. On a road trip, what matters is the journey. When you’re driving and you’re alone, you can’t be distracted. You have to focus on the road, and you are forced to be in the present.

So a road trip suspends time even as the car forges through it.  It’s just the music, the road and me.

But all journeys must come to an end. I’m always a little sorry after I arrive at my destination. Time starts up again. I climb back into a life indented by routine and keep going, going, going, building up enough mileage in the hamster wheel to earn the right to go back.


The Birthday Party

As birthday parties go, the one I threw myself when I turned 39 was pretty lame. For one thing, there were only three human guests, two of whom were somewhat bemused by the whole thing.  There were no birthday presents. And it was all over in less than 20 minutes.

Birthday spread

But there was a cake, and candles, and sweets and party packs, and that’s what counts. I even made a wish before I blew them out.

Spending my birthday alone wasn’t part of the plan, but for various reasons, that’s what happened.  My  intention was to get all emo thinking about how I’m sinking further into irrelevance because the world only cares what you do while you’re young, and the best years of my life have passed with nothing to show for it. How successful people try to fix me because I am their worst nightmare: all that brilliance, all that potential come to naught.

Instead, I passed a Maynard’s display stand in the Hoedspruit Pick n Pay, spotted a packet of icrecream gums, and decided then and there that I was going to throw myself a kids’ birthday party.  So I stocked up on essential party gear:


(One hugely significant revelation: red velvet cake has reached Hoedspruit.)

I took my haul to the farm

Arrival at camp

And served it the next day.

Philimon and Nylena

Here is Philimon trying,unsuccessfully, to light the birthday candles.

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 8.45.21 AM

Here is Nylena successfully lighting the birthday candles.

Nylena lights the candles

I made a wish, blew them out, cut the cake and then cleared up.

Then I went to bed to sleep because I’d had terrible insomnia the night before. In the afternoon, I shared my leftovers with the monkeys, so I had a second party with them. (Yes, I know it is wrong to give sugar to the wildlife, and I risk encouraging them to become pests. This was a once-off breaking of the rules. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures.)

Later, I took the bottle of Cap Classique given to me by TEDxJohannesburg and had sundowners.

Birthday Sundowners

Then I had supper with Philimon and Nylena (a flat chicken with onions, organic sweet potato and salad), a candlelit bath, and went to bed, before being woken at 3am by the alarm calls of the vervet monkeys. I went outside to look for the leopard that had disturbed them and heard it calling, but didn’t see it.

I wanted a leopard for my birthday and I almost got one.