‘He didn’t really mean that, darling…’

My friend Paul was a famous motocross racer in his day. And I suppose that if you’re going to race motocross, you’ve got to have some sort of passion for danger – Paul is, after all, apparently held together by titatium pins and plates.

He was sitting at the table a few weekends ago when someone asked my daughter about her unfortunate accidental meeting with Morne du Plessis’ fence. It’s all been a bit traumatic and costly, so she muttered, ‘Oh, I crashed through it,’ and tried to change the subject.

‘No, no,’ said Paul. ‘What happened? Tell me!’

She wasn’t to be drawn, so I told the story – in my best ‘Really! Kids!’ tone. ‘It was late at night, she was driving her brother’s car, which she wasn’t familiar with, it had been raining heavily, and she took the corner too fast,’ I said, disapprovingly. ‘The car slid out of control and went sideways through the fence. She ended up upside-down in Morne’s vegetable garden.’

There was a moment of uncomfortable – I thought – silence.

Then: ‘Awesome!’ Paul said.

Travels with my family

It was back to Johannesburg again last weekend, this time for my brother’s 50th birthday party. And, for our travelling party of four – my father, my sister, my brother-in-law and me – the trip was all about food, glorious food.

To start with, we travelled with 6.5kg of cheese sausage in a coolbag. This was because, apparently, there’s nowhere in Jozi that makes cheese sausage – a side-dish for the 50th – the way they make it in Wellington.

My luggage – a family heirloom dating back to before the dawn of time, if my brother-in-law’s sneering laughter was anything to go by – was a little larger than everyone else’s; I protested that I’d packed my bulky running shoes, and my sister said, ‘Closed shoes? For Joburg in summer? I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous.’

(Above: My dad with the coolerbag of cheese sausage and my sister with my embarrassingly outdated suitcase, at Lanseria.)

The flight from Cape Town International to Lanseria airport was, for someone with a genuine fear of flying, okay – until we started circling Lanseria in a frightening series of banking loops, waiting for a giant hailstorm to abate. It didn’t, so we flew to OR Thambo, where we landed and sat on the tarmac for an hour or so. While we waited, my sister SMSed her kids (aged 12 and 14) to find out how their respective exams had gone that day – their responses were classic.

Then we took off again and flew back to Lanseria – by this time miraculously clear-skied. (‘But I do hope we get to actually experience a Joburg summer thunderstorm,’ my sister said.) It made for a total flying time of almost five hours.

By the time we got our hire-car at around 9pm we were starving, and decided on the spur of the moment to head for Parkhurst to find somewhere to eat.

When we lived in Jozi (my three siblings and I all grew up in Parkview and Parkwood in the 1970s and ’80s), Parkhurst was a sorry little suburb of post-WW2 houses on small, weed-infested plots. We’d all read of its new incarnation as a boho-chic trend-magnet, and wanted to see it for ourselves. As we turned into 4th Avenue, a gigantic thunderstorm hit – both granting my sister’s wish and, as it turned out, proving that Jozi in summer is sometimes closed-shoe weather.

The rain was so heavy that the simple act of getting out of the car involved stepping into fast-flowing torrents of water, and anyway all the restaurants we looked at as we cruised slowly up and down the main road were packed to bursting. But we persisted, and ended up getting a table at Vovo Telo, where we feasted on delicious Italian food and drank several bottles of a yummy red blend called ‘Boer & Brit’.

On Saturday morning our main mission was to buy a good many Italian kisses from Woolworths – my brother’s choice of dessert – so we headed for Rosebank, which was also one of our old stomping grounds. My friend Mandy and I waitressed at a restaurant directly outside Woolworths (and both of us remembered, with a shudder, the ghastly owner who would rub himself against us as he walked past – back in the days before sexual harassment was a thing) – happily, this is now a branch of tashas, and there we shared amazing red velvet cake, Bar One cheesecake and Greek shortbread, and excellent coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.

The Italian kisses bought and safely stored in two coolerbags with lots of ice, we headed for Zoo Lake. My dad used to run around the lake with our dogs early in the mornings; we fished and rowed and attended Carols by Candlelight there; and when we were very young, it was a ritual for us to go down to the lake after church on Sundays with my mother and her mother to feed the ducks. So it was a lovely nostalgic stroll for us.

And then it was on to The Fishmonger at Thrupps Centre in Illovo for yet more munching – and it was yet another fabulous experience, with scrumptious food, lovely wine and good service by the management and staff. (We also wandered around Thrupps and marvelled at the range of imported goods there – the original Thrupps in Joburg was in Lower Rosebank, near to where we lived, and we all remembered our mother ordering her Christmas ham from Thrupps way ahead of time – it was, according to her, the only ham to have.)

The 50th was held at Lemon Rose Farm in Randburg. Once we’d divested ourselves of the 6.5kg of cheese sausage and 120 Italian kisses, we joined the party. It was a fun gathering that included meeting many old friends. And – bonus for the sisters – we got to hold our brother down, noogie him in the chest, and dangle a thread of spit above his face, like he used to do to us when we were kids.

Sunday morning called for that ultimate South African hangover cure, a Wimpy breakfast. Then it was on to the Vaal River, for what we thought was to be lunch with friends, but turned out to be … breakfast. So lunch was naturally out of the question, and by the time we got to Lanseria for our return flight in the evening, we were ready to eat again. Weisenhof Restaurant at the airport wasn’t quite up to the standard we’d become accustomed to in our two days of constant stuffing our faces but it filled the gap.

The only real food disappointment was the breakfast offered at the BnB we stayed at. I can see no reason for any establishment other than, perhaps, a school hostel to make omelettes with processed slabs of cheese, not have HP sauce available, and have mixed-fruit jam rather than marmalade on the breakfast table.

 

Playing around with piggies

My sister brought me these charming silicone pot-holders this weekend – and it didn’t take long for the gathering to find another use for them, turning them into gangsta-style finger puppets and giving them all sorts of bad habits, including smoking, using foul language and discussing subjects you wouldn’t normally expect from a pair of cute little piggies.

We also wondered how they’d feel being used to handle a pot of, say, pork and beans…?

 

And look what else they got up to!

The piggies, it turns out, were even more badly behaved than I realised. My Dad captured them in these compromising positions – swimming in the guacamole and having gorged on the dark-chocolate-and-orange tart.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, before I forget…

A visit to the graveyard in Nieu-Bethesda is a must: aside from its lovely central avenue of overgrown firs, it’s gratifyingly bleak and spooky, especially on a cold day.

This gravestone caught my eye because I thought it oddly jaunty to add a ‘PS’ to an epitaph – this one translates as ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’. I found it amusing enough to send to Johann (an Afrikaner), who shot back, ‘It stands for ‘‘Psalm’’, you heretic.’ (‘Psalm’ is spelled the same in English and Afrikaans, although pronounced differently.)

And my appalling Afrikaans trips me up yet again.

Warmwaterberg revisited

On a sizzling Easter weekend in 1989, a group of us – including my long-time friend and co-blogger on salmagundi, Jane-Anne – headed off into the Klein Karoo for a long weekend at a little-known hot mineral spring called Warmwaterberg. (Left: Some of our party – Dennis, Bruce, Jane-Anne, me, someone I can’t remember, Andrew and Flip.)

Because it was little known, we knew little about it, including two facts that turned out to be rather important: 1, it was home to about twenty kajillion mosquitoes; and 2, there was only hot – very hot – water.

We’d booked the farmhouse (which at the time was the only accommodation available) and, when we arrived on the Friday evening, we did what young people do – we cracked open the tequila.

Countless shots later, and after lots of dips in the steaming mineral pool (at the time the only pool), we staggered off to our various bedrooms in the farmhouse. And were immediately set upon by squadrons of mosquitoes the likes of which we’d never seen before and I hope never to see again.

While we’d packed the necessaries (tequila, guitars, chocolate, swimming cozzies), we hadn’t packed any mosquito repellant, so much of the night was spent sealed sweatily under our blankets or dazedly trying to ignore being feasted on by the beasts or leaping dementedly around, squashing the ones we could see.

In the morning, we sent an urgent message to one of our party who was arriving late – bring mosquito coils!

The other problem – that there was no cold water – we solved by filling bottles with near-boiling spring water and putting them hopefully in the small, groaning bar fridge to cool down. The weather was blisteringly hot and there were quite a few of us, so there were several ill-tempered squabbles over who got to drink the cold water. Mainly, though, we just relied on tequila. (Those were the days!)

Above: 1989 – my sister Tana at the sole hot pool.

Below: 2012 – Marianne at the now-fenced pool complex. The pool in the background is the same one as in the pic above; the change-room building is still there; and the clump of plants behind the blue object in the pic above is now the healthy growth in the pic below.

Fast-forward almost a quarter of a century, and Warmwaterberg was a stop on Marianne’s and my recent road trip to Nieu-Bethesda. It’s both very different and very much the same – different, because there’s now a range of accommodation options, two hot pools and a large cold pool, cold water on tap and fewer mosquitoes (although that probably has to do with the season); and the same because it has not, thankfully, been overdeveloped.

We stayed in one of the old labourers’ cottages right at the top of the property with amazing views over the valley below. We had two baths in our cottage but chose instead to walk down to the big hot pool and float around there until it got too hot to bear (which happens quite quickly) – it’s an amazingly Zen experience, and when you get out of the pool you feel almost boneless. And brainless. Which was very pleasant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: The view from our cottage at sunset (top) and sunrise (above).

Warmwaterberg apparently gets very full over weekends and holidays, but if you go during the week (we were there Tuesday/Wednesday) there aren’t many people, and it’s a wonderfully restful getaway in the most beautiful surroundings.