Bathroom Bliss

A lovely bathroom is every (virtually) woman’s dream, When we looked at this house, I fell in love with the bathroom.
The Husband sighed.

I have a friend who’s non-negotiable when looking for a new abode, is a “Princess Bathroom”.  A lovely bathroom is every (virtually) woman’s dream and in almost every home I’ve lived in, I’ve tried to make a pretty bathroom.  When we looked at this house, I fell in love with the bathroom (among other things – for another time…).
The Husband sighed.
That bath and the view out and to the Iceberg roses;  the floor and the quirky taps, not to mention the handcrafted ceramic washbasin adorned with geckos, all appealed to me and my somewhat eclectic approach to things.  I had instant plans which began with the “bling” plug chains*, the curtains on black rods and the crystal door handle**.
This is how the bathroom stayed for a couple of years until, one Saturday, as is my wont, I was visiting a friend at her shop in the village.  Clever Girl (she really is) stocks all sorts of things from new, different clothing to second-hand items ranging from antiques to things more modern and “unwanted”.  That Saturday, she had boxes and boxes of stuff to go through:  old and new;  some items so “new”, they had never been unpacked.  One such was the pair of silver-grey, voile curtains.
My bathroom was waiting for them.
A price was negotiated and they were duly installed and tabs were added to the muslin curtains (their second makeover) and, along with the other bits and bobs I’d been adding, the bathroom was taking shape.
I love having a long, leisurely bath after a day in the kitchen or garden and, yes, with a well earned spritzer close at hand.
Bathroom_wine_2015But the light fitting really bothered me:  it was fugly.
Bathroom_light_oldIt didn’t look right and I began thinking that a chandelier might work.  What and how, bearing in mind that although our house is Victorian Style, it’s only about ten years old and is alternative technology.  So, whatever I did needed, to “jive”.  How does one do “alternative” bling?
It took a while, and as so often happens, the answer was right under my nose.  In McGregor we have the very talented African Queen who creates work for local women, and who designs the most beautiful decor and light fittings using seed pods.
I announced that it was one of her lights I thought would work.
The Husband was skeptical, but came with me one afternoon and said light was “commissioned”.
Then the call came:  “Fiona, your chandelier is ready.  Can I drop it off?”
I couldn’t wait.  It arrived and I opened the box to find the jacaranda pods carefully painted and adorned, fixed to a beaded frame and needing to be fitted – immediately!
The poor Husband.
Lucky me.
Installed, the chandelier is beautiful and has turned, as Lorraine says, my “princess” bathroom into one fit for a queen!
*Created by the talented team at Dragon Fly Studio, McGregor
**Sourced by and from Toca Madera Interiors, Paarl
© Fiona’s Favourites

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Fascinating February

In our part of the world, February is late summer, the peak of the grape harvest and should be hellishly hot.

In our part of the world, February is late summer, the peak of the grape harvest and should be hellishly hot.  It’s also my birthday month which means that I can often remember what the weather was up to. Our first February in McGregor howled – gale force winds.  We had invited people for sundowners.  About fifteen, as I recall.  The plan had been to have all the doors open so that people could be outside and on the veranda.  Impossible.  We all had to squash into the tiny space occupied by the kitchen, dining and sitting rooms.

Imagine fitting 15 to 20 people into that space? And the doors and windows HAD to be closed because of the wind tunnel effect!

The following year was a milestone birthday, so the number of guests would certainly not fit into the “reception” area of our cottage.  And I wanted it to be in a garden.  We had found a beautiful garden venue in the village and after the previous year, I was nervous.  The weather gods blessed my birthday which dawned with glorious sunshine and no wind other than the usual “four o’clock wind” which cools the village down a little.  The evening was spectacular – in a garden, under trees. Wahnfried_23022013 Last year, I cocooned and decided that it was a non-event and that I would let the day surprise me. It was a Saturday and I went, as I usually do, to have a natter with a friend who has a shop in the village.  As we were chatting, we heard a clip, clop, clip, clop and a whinny.  We looked at each other and hared out of the door. And there, hitching their horses to the nearest lamp posts, was a group of vintage horse and cart enthusiasts. They had stopped for some essential sustenance, for themselves from the pub next door, and for their beasts. Birthday_HorseCarts2014 Knowing the Husband’s fondness for things mechanical and historical, he was bidden to head down the road.  As usual, he thought I’d lost the plot;  it was the Cat’s Mother’s birthday, so he humoured me.  There followed a wonderful few hours, sitting on the verandah, quaffing the local wine and chatting with visitors and locals alike.  What a wonderful birthday surprise! This February was also memorable, for a whole lot of other reasons.

A gift only Pearli could give

A magnificent moon rise. MoonriseFeb2015a A very unwelcome visitor.

A Cape Cobra that was heading along the veranda towards the kitchen

Valentine’s dinner in the street, under the stars, at the longest table imaginable. McGValentinesLangtafel2015 The evening before my birthday, Jazz under the Fig Tree at Tanagra, in weather that had us in our winter weeds.

Great fun, notwithstanding the winter-like weather

And a wonderful gathering of friends on the day itself – in the garden! FiBday2015

Post script:

First published in March 2015.  It wasn’t my intention that it be published to Steemit.  SteemPress got the better of me, so here it is!

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In addition to WordPress I blog on a number of platforms:

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
  • If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress.

  • My WordPress site is hosted by fellow Steemian, @gmuxx, with fees paid in crypto currency: Steem Based Dollars.  If you want more information, join the Steemblogs Club on Discord
  • Should you join the Steem platform, you are welcome to contact me on Discord on be sure to look out for the Steem Terminal – a dynamic team of folk who will happily guide you through the apparent quagmire of blogging on blockchain.
  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats as well as posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

Brilliant Brinjals

I can already hear it: some regular readers haven’t even got this far. They hate brinjals and the title had them going, “Yech!” Well, that’s tough

I can already hear it:  some regular readers haven’t even got this far.  They hate brinjals and the title had them going,  “Yech!”  Well, that’s tough because the fact that this is the third brinjal-focussed meal shows how versatile they are – without doing Melanzane di Parmigiana or ratatouille.

It should have been courgette pasta.  Somehow, “courgette” didn’t make it onto the shopping list and when I looked in the fridge, the proverbial pantry was bare.  There followed a string of unrepeatable expletives and after a lot of rooting around, I found mushrooms and two beautiful brinjals (bartered for two koeksisters at the market on Saturday – we do that a lot, here).  Not enough time or enough tomatoes to make Melanzane di Parmigiana, too much brinjal and not enough of anything else don’t make for a good pasta sauce.
So, armed with these and bits freshly picked from the garden, and not boring you with the entire thought process, we ended up having ante pasta of brinjal salad.
Really simple:  sautéed slices of brinjal, drained on absorbent paper, on a bed of freshly picked lettuce leaves, topped with slices of tomato, with a dollop of homemade cottage cheese.  Each of these was garnished with a basil leaf and chopped chives.  Over all of that, a good grind of black pepper, a light sprinkling of red wine vinegar* and a drizzle of olive oil.

This was followed by linguine into which I had stirred fresh, chopped oreganum and olive oil, topped with mushrooms sautéed with butter and garlic, and grated parmesan.
With the delicate flavours of the brinjal and cottage cheese, I knew that my usual Sauvignon Blanc would not be a great accompaniment, so we raided the wine rack and opened a Solms Delta Semillon Chenin Blanc blend.  A lovely wine and a winning combination.  A perfect meal that nearly didn’t happen…

*my favourite Cabernet Sauvignon balsamic style from Willow Creek.

First published 1 March 2015

Pearli's Pickles – III

Pearli’s in a pickle.  But she doesn’t know it yet.  She has, even as a tiny kitten, been a trollop.  After a jaunt, she’d rush home and clamber onto the Cat’s Mother’s lap.  Totally pooped.
After Rosie, the Cat’s Mother was, admittedly, a little paranoid.  She was to be forgiven though because the little mite was not quite three months old.  However, after Pearli’s being returned more than once by concerned neighbours, and then hearing concerned passersby, visitors to the village, commenting on such a lovely kitten, “Must be lost…”, Cat’s Mother was her wit’s end.
A collar had to be acquired.  Fast.  And one that was a) small enough, and b) could be written upon.  No time to have fancy tags made.  Besides they would cost all four of Pearli’s scrawny arms and legs, as well as the Cat’s Mother’s much less scrawny ones, at such short notice.  The first collar was conventional and at a cost that spared the limbs.  Pearli lost that one three times, but not before she’d been brought home several times, including by a gentleman and his son who found her up at the dam, about a kilometer up the hill, behind our house.  On a very hot day.
After that, desperate times required desperate measures.  Fortunately, Angel Jeweler makes wonderful jewellery, both of the real kind, and of the kind that a pretty kitty might wear, and she came to the rescue.  Often.

A selection of Pearli’s collars including one of my bracelets  (also made by Angel Jeweler) as a temporary measure…

Finally, after not quite six months and discovering that Pearli does come home to the Cat’s Mother (most nights), and having long, friendly discussions with those with whom she has the occasional morning snuggle, morning and/or afternoon nap, and milestone celebrations, we’ve made peace with this.
Which brings me back to her current pickle.  Some of the Lovely People, with whom she’d regularly play and have a morning snuggle, left the village today.  She had wonderful fun with them and even had her own bowl of water so that she wouldn’t be totally parched on returning home.
Last evening as we bid Lovely People adieu and Godspeed, she was watching us, a rather unlikely Gollum, through the vines above us.
Pearli will miss them and hopes that Lovely People will return to the village – at least for a visit and a cuddle.
© Fiona’s Favourites

Pots and a poet

Just a week ago, our village was bursting at the seams.   It was the second McGregor Poetry Festival which brings many people and amazing poets to our village – including a colleague and his wife.  She and I had worked together nearly thirty years ago and we hadn’t seen each other since those days – and when we had all lived and worked in Johannesburg.  Lots of water under various bridges, children born and grown up, and we bump into each other in McGregor!  So lovely to see them both and to have an all too brief catch-up…
I will confess:  Poetry – she and I are not friends.  When I read English, the novel was my thing.  Still is.  That said, I do enjoy the poetry of song lyrics.  The Doors, Queen, Bob Dylan, Bright Blue, Freshlyground, Dire Straits, and Leonard Cohen, are just some of the artists whose songs and lyrics speak to me in magical ways, and have, for years. If I had taught, as was part of my original life plan, I know that I would have used popular and contemporary music as a mechanism of piquing my charges’ interest in poetry.
As often happens in life, timing could not have been worse for me:  a project on which I had been working for nearly a year was approaching its end or, more to the point, its end had come and gone, but the work just seemed never ending.  The light at the end of the tunnel really had been the proverbial oncoming train.
And then, what relief when my colleague and I had our daily check-in, and she said,  “We’re there!”
All that remained was to tie up the last loose ends.
And that was the day that before the poetry festival began.
And our closeout conversation ended, literally, as the lovely Lara Kirsten, arrived.
She stayed in our tiny guest room while she discovered McGregor and charmed audiences with her words and music.
So, why “pots”, you’re asking.  Well, I had promised a large quantity of ratatouille for a street food stall, and a bit like my project, the ratatouille grew out of its pot (twice) and I ended up with a kitchen that was wall to wall pots and receptacles.  Over two days, I must have chopped about fifty onions because I also (madly) made a batch of onion marmalade, but more of that another time…
Happily, as with so many things, it all works out in the end:  the ratatouille made its way to right place at the right time and, more importantly, McGregor’s second Poetry Festival was a success.
I hope that Lara will be back to share some more of her music and poetry at the 2015 festival.
Lara_CaritasHere, Lara performs in Caritas which is in the beautiful Temenos gardens.
Finally, here are two of Lara’s poems, one in Afrikaans and the other in English.

klou en wag

ek lê in die bed met
‘n pen vasgeklem in my hand
en ‘n papier gekrater onder my elmboog
wagtend dat my drome heel moontlik
die pen sal vat en
die nag se poësie sal
neerskryf in die hoop dat
die griffels die weg sal wys
en die rigting sal skryf binne-in
die stuk wit wat die kaart
van my kreatiewe lewe sal uitlê
sal die swart rots
in die reën en son
en tekens
sal die toekoms
helder in my oë
ek het geen probleem om te wag
pen in hand
‘n stille krag

we are too weighed down by our ideas and our minds

we are too weighed down by our ideas
our minds
our wants
our ideals
our habits and our fears
our shames and our sighs
our minds are heavy
look how we all walk with our heads
trailing like heavy baggage behind us
they just can not keep upright anymore
all these orthopaedic concerns are because of
our heavy heads
i am surprised they have not exploded yet
thanks to all our smartphones, laptops and tablets
they carry a part of the great heaviness
of too many ideas
what would we have done if we could not steer
the overflow into these metal brains?
maybe because we have these metal brains
our fleshy brains just keep on churning the thinking
the computing
the inventing
continual stimulation between inorganic and organic matter
fuck this!
arch out our backs
lift our heads
and shake all the heaviness out
be light and empty
feel the air move between our ribs
our diaphragms
and every cell
feel our feet
losing touch with the earth
start to rise
and float to the lightness of the clouds
Read more of Lara’s poetry, and listen to her music on her blog

Shadow of Time – remembering five years ago


It’s throwback Thursday, and this is a memory from five years ago.  There has been a great deal of water under our various bridges since then, so looking back is good.

Over past few years I have had the joy of reconnecting with people who left my life as I journeyed through it.  The joy has been unexpected.  I am reveling in our shared histories and memories; enjoying rekindling friendships and acquaintances.

That weekend, we went to the opening of Shadow of Time, an exhibition of three talented artists, all of whom have ties with Grahamstown, Estelle Marais, Diane McLean and Sharlé  Matthews.   The title speaks of the long and deep friendship between the three artists, which spans four or so decades.

Shadow of Time
There were four of us at the exhibition who had been at primary school together:  Diane and Sharlé, along with Wendy, who welcomed us to her home for the weekend.  Three of us, as well as Sharlé’s husband, Mike, sadly no longer with us, were also subsequently at Rhodes.

A couple of years ago, Tom and I had popped in to see Diane in De Rust, where she lives, and a year or so before that, I had caught up with Wendy for the first time since 1975 – it was was just like we had seen each other the day before!  I can’t remember when I last saw Sharlé….other than on Facebook….

Funny the associations we have:  when Wendy mentioned to Sharlé that we would be at the exhibition opening, Sharlé had one instruction for Wendy:  “Tell Fiona not to forget her mother’s fudge recipe!”  I had forgotten that I had taken fudge to school cake sales (my mother was not a cake-baker), which reminded me that I had also sold it as part of bob-a-job when I had been a Brownie (I never became a Girl Guide…)
The fudge recipe is in my mother’s recipe book , which she acquired in 1961 – before any of us were even thought of.  And as you see, it was often in use – it still is.
What made that fudge so good, was the walnuts that Mum added, and which are not in the list of ingredients!

My memory of both Sharlé and Diane is that they were both good at art.  I don’t remember Diane without a pencil in her hand, drawing something – mostly ballet dancers…. So, through the shadow of time, the four of us, all of whom had been at Victoria Girls’ Primary School in Grahamstown, came together, in Wellington, in the Swartland, some forty-odd years later.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

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There's a mouse in the house…

Both our cats are huntresses of note, and give a whole new meaning to food-on-the-run!
Our week started in the wee hours of Monday morning.  Simultaneous with a scrabbling around behind the headboard, a cat launched herself off a rather soft spot on my abdomen and into mid-air. Pearli_mousebird
Tom could sleep on a washing line, so needless to say, he was dead to the world.
“Humph!” he responded to my, “there’s a mouse in the house!” and turned over…
I went to investigate.
Ginger Melon MP had caught a mouse and brought it upstairs: no doubt, and hopelessly, expecting coos of delight and pride from her humans.  I discovered that she and Tiger Pearl were both trying to corner Mouse: both were staring longingly into the too-small-for-them-space under the bed.  Having considered whether, realistically, there was anything I could do to corner and rescue Mouse, and bearing in mind that cats are far more effective hunters than I could ever be, particularly at 2.30 am, I got back into bed, bracing myself for the frenzy that would, inevitably, come.
Mercifully, for both the wee timorous beastie, and the somnolent humans, I soon heard a growling, a squeak and, aargh, a crunch!  A sure sign that one of the cats had caught Mouse.
Melon had, and was telling Pearli, in no uncertain terms, that it was hers!
100_3223Then began the process of herding Melon, hopefully, out of the bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden where she might eat her early breakfast, allowing me to crawl back into my warm med bed for some fitful seep before the real beginning to the week….

Turning the tables….

A few weeks ago, we joined our neighbours for breakfast at a local establishment – a favourite spot for all four of us.  As breakfasts do, they come with the ubiquitous toast and preserves but, as we all went on to note, not always with the appropriate cutlery.  Consequently, one ends up having to spread butter and sweet preserves on a virgin slice of toast with a knife contaminated with bacon and egg.

Needless to say, the conversation turned to the days when going to a restaurant included tables set with all the cutlery one might need as well as the now apparently universal use of steak knives. Regardless of the menu.  I recall ordering fish somewhere, and having to eat it with, yes, a steak knife.

Although my parents came from working class stock, along with table manners, table settings were a non-negotiable part of our growing up.  The table was properly set every evening – knives, forks, side plates and napkins (we never spoke of serviettes), as well as spoons and forks if there was pudding.

Among my parents’ prize possessions was a canteen of silver, Mappin and Webb cutlery which had been a wedding gift from Mum’s aunt.  After her long leave in England, Mum went back to Uganda, with the canteen of cutlery in a raffia picnic basket (which I still have, but alas, not the cutlery), in her hand luggage.  This lot all weighed a ton, but she swanned off the plane at Kampala airport as though the basket was “as light as a feather” and swiftly handed it to my Dad, telling him that it would not be heavy!This week, my parents would have celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary.  They were married in All Saints Anglican Church in Kampala on the 22nd of July 1961, at noon.Mum_Dad_Reception_22Jul1961Both on colonial service, they had met in the club:  Dad, a Kew-trained horticulturist with the Parks’ Department and Mum, secretary to the Superintendent of Makerere Hospital.  There was not much money for either a wedding or a reception.  Dad did Mum’s beautiful bouquet – but more of that another time – and the reception was a buffet lunch hosted by a chef friend, in his home.  Quite a party, we were told.

Our home is filled with many beautiful things that were either wedding presents or part of Mum’s trousseau.  I grew up these and they form some of the foundation for my delight in setting the pretty tables around which we enjoy spending time with our friends.
100_3125On a Sunday, when Mum inevitably served a roast, setting the table was the children’s job.  I would often ask if we could “use the silver”.  When Mum said yes, I wouldn’t stop there. I’d haul out the place mats and coasters that she and my granny had embroidered – Mum did the cut work and Granny the little roses – all in single thread satin stitch.100_3117a
Always a little over the top, the table would not just get the cutlery required for that meal – I’d go the whole hog, pretending that we were in a hotel, where the table would have been set for a table d’hôte menu!

On high days and holidays, I’d be allowed to go into the display cabinet (which we also still have) and bring out the Roland Ward wine glasses.100_3120aThis set, which is partnered with a set of high ball glasses, is still complete.  One of the highball glasses broke when my parents returned to the UK in 1962.  All the rest have survived a return trip to Africa; their numerous moves, and then once I inherited them, numerous moves with us.  All stories for another time….

So, a lovely breakfast, good company and part of the great conversation, got me thinking about one of the many lessons I have learned from my parents:  what cutlery to use, for what and when.  This is why, when establishments don’t get table settings right, I do get a bit tetchy!

Eating to Live

Friday, 18 July 2014, in McGregor dawned:  a cold, blustery morning.  It was also the first Mandela Day since his death in December 2013;  he would have been 95.  Later that day I was  heading down to our local community service centre (aka the police station) to join a sandwich drive.
This, juxtaposed with my my rant, the previous evening, about dieting fads and food foibles, got me thinking about how privileged I am, to be able not just to have the pleasure of cooking, but of food, in all its glory, when there are people, literally down the road, who do eat to live – when they can.
2014-07-18 13.09.43
For the last two years, a young McGregorite has organised this initiative.  This must have taken Mira much more than just the 67 minutes she asked of us to give, to organise.
18 July 2014 2
So, a bunch of us, of all colours and creeds, from all walks of life, gathered at around 11h00, to make sandwiches.
By about 11h45, this happy band of volunteers had made this huge mound of sandwiches to go with the soup that came from Lord’s Guest Lodge.
I didn’t just join the sandwich drive, I also joined the convoy to deliver the sandwiches and soup.  First, to the Breede Centre which runs a holiday programme of for local children, then on to the informal settlement and the poorest parts of our village.
The sandwiches and hot soup, along with the treats made a difference – at least for a short while.
For me, there was also a weird moment.  There was a time that it would have been inconceivable that I would set foot in a police station to be part of a community initiative:  the police represented the oppressors and meted out their orders.  These orders were usually punitive and harsh;  they certainly did not include feeding people in informal settlements.
Much remains to be done in our country and village of poor and plenty, but that I, and my fellow sandwich-makers were able to comfortably join this initiative, is a consequence of Nelson Mandela who gave 67 years of selfless service.  Halala, Tata.