Bye Maui

???????????????????????????????We didn’t choose Maui; he chose us. Although he belonged to the people over the road, and although I was allergic to cats and (at the time) very anti pets of any kind, Maui simply decided he was going to live with us, and that was that.

For the first year or so, I tried not to let him get comfortable in our house (although he drove me mad by insisting on sleeping on my bed), and we didn’t feed him, which meant he had to go back home for meals. But soon two things became apparent: one, he was getting very thin and had apparently decided that if he couldn’t eat with us, he’d rather not eat at all; and, two, the galloping allergy to cats I’d had since I was a child had mysteriously disappeared.

???????????????????????????????It didn’t take long for the kids to ask for a friend for Maui, and then for another (and, over the next couple of years, another and another and another). Then came the dogs and the chickens, and pretty soon we had a zoo. And it all began with Maui.

Maui didn’t have a name to start with – well, he did, but it was Hendrik and I couldn’t bring myself to call him something so oudoos-ey. It was only when I took him to the vet for the first time and, when asked, admitted that we hadn’t really named him anything (he was just ‘the cat’), that the vet suggested I think something up. Because Maui was very vocal – he said ‘maui’ constantly – that became it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaui was a very loyal pet – uniquely among the cats I know, he would run to the car to greet me when I came home. He was unfailingly polite: he asked to be let out, and when the door was opened for him, he always said thanks. Although he was the oldest of our cats (he was 13 when he died yesterday), he was also the most playful, and never lost his inner kitten. He loved music, and especially Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, which would send him into literal raptures. He was very sociable, and liked little more than hopping on the table at a dinner party and joining in. He was a great sunbather, and spent contented hours sitting like an old man in the front garden, sunning his tummy. He was also very attuned to human emotion, and would be visibly sympathetic and concerned if someone was upset.

I like to imagine Sara and Maui, reunited in animal heaven, having quietly companionable moments together, as they did when they lived here with us.Sara and Maui

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I can confirm: Sutherland is very, very cold!

033047Last time I visited Sutherland it was March, and even then it was pretty darned chilly. This time, although we missed the heavy snowfalls that closed the mountain pass to the small Karoo town by a week, there was still plenty of snow lying around when we got there. And gosh, it was cold! (In these pics, Isabella and Daniel have a snowball fight; and Balu and I freeze our arses off in an incredibly bitter wind, with the Southern African Large Telescope – looking rather small, but that’s just because of the curious angle of the camera – up on the hill behind us. Please note that I am, in fact, wearing pajamas in the daytime in this pic – my very well-travelled cow pajamas.) 

The house we rented, a lovely old building called Sutherland House, was – typically of practically all South African houses, regardless of where they’re built and what the prevailing climate is – ill-equipped for a freezing winter. The old doors didn’t fit the old doorframes; interior doors refused to stay closed; bitter drafts blew down open chimneys. Ryno had organised half a bakkie-load of wood – fortunately, as we kept a huge fire burning the entire weekend, and when it wasn’t literally roaring, it was so cold inside that we blew out steam with every breath.

sutherland church snow in backgroundSutherland is a strange town: it appears either half-finished or in the process of falling down; and because so many of the buildings are of Sutherland stone, it’s a pretty monochromatic place. The biggest and most impressive building is, of course, the church – here, Ryno captures it fabulously in the setting sun, with the snow-draped hills behind.

The snow that lay in vast drifts along the roadsides and in the gardens softened the hard edges of the town somewhat, but it’s still a bit of a mystery why anyone would live there. And I say this having fondly believed for several months that I wanted to move there! After one weekend in sub-zero temperatures, I’ve changed my mind.

self-timer 1Sutherland HouseJust before we left, we decided to take a group pic. Ryno’s camera has a self-timer, but this was the first time he’d used it, and he could only find the five-second setting – which is why, in the first pic, he’s in the process of sprinting across the road to join us (the camera didn’t catch his slide through the mud as he reached us, which Balu thought terribly exciting).

A Karoo surprise – the Windheuwel Bossieskerm

flags and symbolsComing back from Sutherland last week, we took the R356, which is the ‘back road’ to Ceres. It looks a lot shorter on the map than sticking to the tar roads but it takes about the same length of time to travel, as the gravel road, especially after heavy snow and rain, was very rutted in places and there were deep rivers and puddles to negotiate. We were in a nice big 4X4 so, although we did have to take it slowly, the drive was pretty comfortable.

There’s very little to see in this part of the world if you’re looking for signs of life – just the very occasional farm, usually well off the road. So when we spotted a serried rank of flags from a distance, we were impatient to get closer and see what it was.

braais ready for lightingA chalkboard sign instructed us to ‘stop’, so we did. We got out of the car and wandered around. There wasn’t a soul in sight. There were some picnic tables, and several braais, stacked with wood and ready for lighting. There was also an open-to-the-skies boma, neat as a pin, and stocked with a variety of provisions – sweets, homemade biscuits and fudge, preserves, coffee and tea, and cooler-boxes full of colddrinks and beers. There were facilities for boiling water and washing dishes. There was an exercise book in which to record what you took, and an old milking can in the middle of the cleanly-swept floor in which to put your payment.

inside the bossieskermA sign leaning up against the counter quoted a relevant text from the Bible and ended with (in Afrikaans) ‘You may not steal, and that’s that.’ (At left, a visibly pregnant Isabella strikes a pose; the chalkboard sign is behind her legs.)

In a country that’s riddled with crime and corruption, it was such a treat to find an honesty shop like this in the middle of nowhere (although it’s probably because it’s in the middle of nowhere that it works). The person in charge of it is someone by the name of Santa Bothma, and she obviously tends it lovingly, as, although there had been heavy rain the night before and the boma is roofless, everything was clean, dry and beautifully arranged. (I emailed Santa to get the story of the bossieskerm – Afrikaans for ‘bush shelter’ – but haven’t yet received a reply.)

windheuwel bossieskermSanta left a message in the exercise book to the effect that this would be the last year the bossieskerm would be open – it appears she’s moving to Cape Town. So if you’re anywhere in the Ceres/Sutherland region in the next few months, make a turn there. It’s well worth a visit.