Sunday, December 23, 2007

'Tis the eve of Christmas Eve

Tonight we ate dinner outside on the patio as it was still very warm at 8.00 p.m.
Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, we head off on our summer holidays. We are going to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve to a lodge there called Kwa Maritane; you can Google their web site. Today it was a scorcher again; I don’t think it has rained all week. We went to the gym early (for us) at 8.45am. It was busy! It opens at 5.00 a.m.! I am finding it easier than I imagined; already after three visits I have increased the rate and level of the exercise programme they gave me and I am still standing (barely) at the end of an hour. Apart from the gym three times and a haircut (ultra short!) I have been mainly doing nothing all week. We have had more Christmas cards, thanks to all. Cards are not a big deal over here, most locals we gave to seemed quite surprised and we have received only one from anyone here. On 20th December, it was the Muslim festival of Eid al Adha. Our neighbours, Ibrahim and Fazeela, had their family around for a couple of days. Their tradition is to go to the mosque and to the family plot at the graveyard then get together for lunch. It is a festival of sacrifice, not celebration; however they told me that this year they were not buying a lamb to slaughter as they have enough to eat. Instead they were sending money to the poor people. But they also have a tradition of sharing food with family and friends and we were honoured to receive some fabulous spicy chicken, home made roti bread and a batch of lovely home made coconut biscuits. We still have some genuine Scottish shortbread with us and so we will be able to reciprocate at our New Year!
Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone and I will continue the blog after our summer holiday!!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Holiday before the holidays

Today is a holiday. How good is that, a day off work the week before Christmas? It is Reconciliation Day. Since we are going away for Christmas, we have no shopping or preparation to do, so we went to Pretoria. I wanted to see the Voortrekker Monument as I had been reading about it in one of my books about the history of SA. It is a huge, stark edifice but inside it has a fabulous museum, stucco panels, tapestries and embroideries all depicting the Great Trek when the Dutch settlers left the Cape area, partly to find more fertile land and partly because, er, the Brits decided they would like to have the Cape, thank you very much, and chased the Dutch out! Oops! We decided we could look, but keep our mouths shut! It was very interesting. Before we set off to go to Pretoria, we joined the local gym. Yes, that’s right, WE joined, me too. I will probably regret it soon enough, but I am going to go to water aerobics and yoga as well as go on the walking treadmill. My induction is tomorrow morning. We’ll see how that goes!
The braii on Friday for the team from Les work was a great success.Drink was taken but not by me, sadly. Not much anyway. We all sat outside from 11.00pm until midnight whilst the gents enjoyed a fine cigar and the rest of the women finished the wine. I had coffee. Hmmph. It was still warm enough at that time of night not to need sweaters on. We decorated the braii area with tinsel and tiny trees and I had Christmas tablecloths and napkins so it all looked quite festive.
On Saturday, we went out for dinner then on to the Johnny Clegg concert which was fantastic. He is big in France but despite being born in Rochdale UK is a real South African and his songs are quite political, attacking racism, celebrating the new South Africa and attacking Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. He is known here as “The White Zulu” as he has such strong sympathies with the people, and a command of the Zulu language.
The freight is here at last! How nice to see pictures of the wedding, graduation, nights out and also The Book which was prepared by kids from GHS and will be going with me to schools after the summer holidays. As for the eight handbags, you will all be glad to hear that included Les rucksack and briefcase, so it is only 6! So none spare, Susan!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Come rain, come shine

Today, Wed 12 is supposed to be the day our crate of stuff finally gets here. But as I write, no phonecall yet. So I wait. I will be glad to get some different clothes, but it’s funny; I can’t really remember what else is coming in the 18 boxes I dutifully signed for on 5 November. I am looking forward to seeing the wedding pics again of course and also some pics of nights out with The Sisterhood. It will be good to hear some of our CDs as well and get a fresh supply of books. But I can’t see how that takes up 18 boxes! Apparently, looking at the insurance inventory, I have 8 handbags coming! I have survived here on one samsonite travel pouch and the fab sparkly evening bag I got from The Sisters when I left work. As for all the rest, it is amazing what you can do without when needs must. I have resolutely refused to buy things I know are coming, to the extent we were using the tiny tubes of free airline toothpaste until I relented last week!
There is a great hubbub about the estate today as various tradesman try to sort out the chaos caused by rain. Yesterday, we had a violent rainstorm at about 4pm and apparently some carports collapsed at the apartment blocks on the other side of the estate, one of which went through someone’s living room window. And all the drains in the street were blocked with builders’ debris causing huge floods to gardens. When I went out to pick up Les it was like driving down a river. In the town, all the locals who were walking about were in their bare feet, with shoes balanced on their heads. Some wore plastic shopping bags as hats, actually looking quite stylish in the way they were tied! Across the road, the rain has lifted all our neighbour’s patio bricks so they are being relaid now. As we are on the “high” side of the street, we had no problem, but the water was very near the front door of those across the way. One lady opened her garage doors front and rear to let the torrent through! However, by the time I got to Les work, 15-20 minutes from here, it was hot and dusty, no rain at all. And by the time we got home, it had dried up here too, apart from the flood at the entrance caused by the blocked drains. Even the hilly street which was like a river was completely dry! Amazing! I’m sure Les thinks I was imagining the whole thing!
We had a surprise yesterday; we have now had the car a month and when the leaser called to find out if things were OK, he told Les the car we had was to be replaced with a new one! Wow! I’ve only just learned to cope with this one! However, it is exactly the same, just a lighter shade of silver grey and fewer kilometres on the clock.
We stopped to let the gate man know, he had already noticed the different numberplate and came out of his wee box to check who was entering. I must say the security seems to be excellent; on Sunday afternoon we were sitting outside when we heard our neighbour bawling to the gate which is a couple of houses behind us. Apparently he had received a call from his uncle, coming to visit unannounced and he had been refused entry! Neighbour: “Why you don’t let that car in?” Gateman: “I don’t know where is he going” Neighbour: “He is coming here” Gateman: “Where is there?” Neighbour: “Here, at my house” Gateman “Which house? What number?” Neighbour: “Why you need the number?” Gateman: “To send him there” Neighbour: ”He’s my uncle, he knows where is my house” Gateman: “Which is your house” Neighbour: “Just let him in now” (Neither has English as first language) At this point we were laughing so much I had to go indoors incase the neighbour heard us! By the way, we have video entryphones which apparently connect to the gate!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas is coming to Bah Humbug House

The cookery school evening was a great success. We were all paired up and given an apron and a big chef’s hat with our name on. Then we set to. We had very well explained recipe sheets and all the ingredients were at our work stations. The difference between this and H.E lessons at school was in the amount of beer and wine dispensed during the evening! My partner and I had to make chicken and peanut stew and spicy bread. When everyone was done cooking, we sat down and the food was served. Delicious. The stretch limo was also a great laugh, we scoffed the two bottles of fizz before we got to Joburg. There were 6 of us and capacity for 10. The gate man at our estate had a great time letting is in and out!
On Saturday we went to Cullinan, a diamond mining town about an hours drive from here, where the Cullinan diamond (strangely enough) was found. It was huge and was cut into 9 big stones and 96 small ones. Some of the big ones feature in the Crown Jewels and of course the famous Burton Taylor diamond was from the Cullinan. The museum there was excellent and the original mine managers cottages are all lovely shops, coffee shops and restaurants.
The mine is now owned by De Beers and still produces loads of diamonds today. We visited the actual mine head, the “big hole” which is …well… big!
Sunday was too hot to be bothered doing much!
Thanks to all who have sent Christmas cards, we have received some. I have a problem in that my address book is in the freight which is STILL NOT HERE. So if you don’t get a card, it’s not that I am ignoring you, its just that I don’t remember all the addresses, the old grey cells are not what they were!
It’s hard to think it will be Christmas in two weeks! Everyone here is getting ready for their summer holidays, we see people buying suitcases whenever we are at a shopping centre. Most people seem to head for the beach at some point over the two week break. I am looking forward to visiting the game reserve; we have arranged to go on the game drive at dawn on Christmas morning!
On Friday we are having some people over for dinner. I have succumbed to pressure from Les and bought tinsel, crackers and tiny Christmas tree table decorations. I was aiming to be a bit “Bah humbug” since we are not having a “proper” Christmas but now I have bought it all, I am quite looking forward to decorating the braai area for Friday. I’ve even bought a Christmas CD, Mariah Carey’s one which has a lot of carols I remember the girls at GHS singing, in fact there are even some I’ve sung in the Staff choir!!!
I am going to try making another traditional dish tonight, it is called bobotie and is basically like moussaka without the aubergine or lasagne without the pasta. So you’re thinking, that’s just mince then? ~Yes, that’s right, but quite spicy and served with a savoury white sauce over the top then oven baked. The sauce has egg in it to make it rise up like a moussaka topping. If this sounds expert, it isn’t! I’ve eaten it and looked at a recipe but this will be my first attempt to make it. Bon appetite!

Friday, December 7, 2007

"Why does it always rain on me?"

“Why does it always rain on me?”

Well, folks, to coin another song title, “Oh, no, it’s raining again!” As Les says, “Where’s the bloody sunshine?”
So today I am mostly mooching about in the house. We are having some people round tonight for drinks prior to going to the work night out which is to a cookery school. We are being picked up in a stretch limo. Hmm.That will be a sight for the neebours.
I have made friends with a lady called Anne who has a weaving business. She makes cashmere and cotton throws and has a loom modelled on the Scottish Harris Tweed loom. I’ve told her all about Paisley, my home town, which is the seat of the old Scottish thread industry. She has invited me to visit her workshop next week so that will be interesting.
As it is nearly the weekend, I am looking for trips to make! I am not going to Pretoria, the proposed talk is not happening, it seems. My friend Anne has given me details of some nice places to visit which are all around an hour from here and to please Les, don’t include too many shops…except for a craft market on Sunday…
Of course it all depends on this unpredictable weather! It is not at all cold but it is very, very wet and the pavements are quite flooded.
We went to the cinema the other night just to pass the time; all the schools are on holiday so there wasn’t much on for adults. We saw Mr Woodcock with Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon. Quite funny in an adolescent humour sort of way. We were the oldest there by far, I felt like I was on a school trip and could barely stop myself from counting heads and saying “Shh!” or “Get your feet off the seats!”
Next week” The Golden Compass” opens here, so I would like to go to see that, even though, shame on me, I haven’t read the books! However, that hasn’t stopped me from recommending them to scores of school kids over the years and they have all enjoyed them. As for my own reading, since arriving here I have read: Minette Walters “The chameleon’s shadow” a crime/ thriller, Douglas Kennedy “The woman from the fifth” a kind of bizarre time shift story, a magazine freebie by Taylor Smith called “Liar’s market” (spy novel) and Elsa Joubert “Isobelle’s Journey” which is translated from Afrikaans and is a historical saga covering the story of South Africa from the time of the Boer War to the end of apartheid. It served well to help me understand a little of the social and cultural background here. Now I am reading James Michener, “The covenant” which is a history of South Africa from ancient times up to the apartheid era, so that should fill in the period before the Joubert novel.
Not for me the scholarly trawl through mighty historical tomes, give me fiction any day! I finally found where the library is but is is closed on a Saturday and has no late nights, just Mon-Fri 9-5.Given that a lot of people seem to work 8-4.30, how’s that for reaching your audience, eh?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Whew! What a scorcher!

Friday was freezing, but we woke on Saturday to a real scorcher! It was a beautiful day. We spent some time driving round the local area, checking out the museum and library and we also found a pub, so I drove Les there for a pint at six o’clock. It was just like Saturday teatime in the Railway Inn back home! I had boring old soda water, of course, due to driving and the medication. Sunday was also a beautiful day. The people round the corner had an afternoon Christmas party in their garden and it was really strange to be slathering on the sun tan oil whilst listening to “Good King Wenceslas” at full blast on their karaoke machine! Doubt if they’ve ever walked in snow “deep and crisp and even” But…just when you think you’ve cracked it…. I was woken at 2.15a.m. this morning by thunder and torrential rain! I could also hear an ominous gurgling coming from the ensuite. This morning, after we had both showered and with washing machine and dishwasher on full throttle, I went outside and was met by water streaming up out of the drain! Quick phonecall and the plumber arrived with his entourage (within 10 minutes of call to maintenance, how’s that for service!) After a lengthy debate and one phonecall in Zulu or Xhosa, including the English words “Big problem”, the maintenance manager phoned back to say it was an external problem which would be fixed outside of our gate, it was nothing to do with our personal ablutions! I thought nothing further was happening but as I passed by I noticed a great big navvy’s pick at our front gate. Statement of intent or what! The rain has dried up and it is quite warm now although a little breezy.
I have discovered a new (to me) singer out here, Johnny Clegg. He looks a bit like Bruce Springsteen and sounds a bit like Paul Simon. Turns out he was born in Rochdale! He sings with an African backing chorus and I think he’s really good. You can check him out on . I have bought his latest CD and we are going to see him in a couple of weeks, he is playing at a venue about 15 minutes from here. He was also playing at the 46664 concert here in Joburg on Saturday, but although it was live on TV, we didn’t get to see it. Les was foutering with the remote control again…
So Saturday evening was spent playing cards. Les won. Hmph.
Now to culinary matters. We had ostrich fillet a week ago and to be honest it wasn’t as tender as the stuff from Aldi back home. So I made a casserole of the rest. Here it is called a sishebo and I used jikelele powder to season and flavour it. It was delicious! On Friday, it is the work night out and it is a bit different from the usual knees up in Scotland. We are going to a cookery school where we will be paired off to cook our dinner then all sit down to eat it. I will let you know how that goes.
My philosophy class has finished for the summer but there is an outing on Saturday which I might be able to go on. I don’t know yet if there will be a place for me as of course the others booked ages ago. I’d like to go along,to hear the speaker of course,but also to see a bit of Pretoria.Apparently that is the place to go to see all the jacaranda trees which have brilliant purple blooms at this time of year. I have seen a few round here, but in Pretoria the streets are lined with them, it seems.