Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Road Less Travelled

Over the thirty odd years that I have lived in South Africa I have driven many times up and down the N2 to Cape Town and in the last two months alone, I have done that return journey three times and in addition spent a girls weekend in Knysna with my granddaughter and last weekend I drove as far as Wilderness. for a healthy retreat.  People have been astonished that I have driven it alone and comment". "Shame, you must be exhausted." Well I want to comment in return, "Shame you don't know what you are missing!"
The Garden Route looks BEAUTIFUL at this time of year and my problem is not driving this route, but making myself stay in the car, because if I stopped every time I wanted to take a photograph or enjoy the breathtaking views - I would still be en route and going nowhere slowly. One day - I will have the time to go nowhere slowly and enjoy every minute! 
Fields of fynbos contrast with lush green farmlands, long winding rivers cut through rocky gorges, the endless blue ocean on one side and mountains that graze the sky on the other. The windy road brings sudden slashes of bright yellow crops that cut into the earthy landscape and now and then you have to slow down to avoid a baboon family feasting in the road or a farm stall entices you with promises of home grown produce. I love this route! I love this land!
Today I enjoyed it from the air - and was back home by 12,30! I flew to accompany V back to PE. My 7 am flight was cancelled (thanks SAA for not letting me know so I didn't have to get up at 04.45) so I was on the 8am flight arriving at 9.30 and on tenterhooks as our flight back was at 10h55 and check in time was at 10,00. Because the flight was running late, the pilot explained that he was flying lower than usual to try and make up time, and as it was a perfectly clear day the aerial view  was fantastic. I followed the N2 and knew exactly what little coastal town or settlement I was looking down on and enjoyed that earth toned patchwork quilt from above. 
Last weekend, when I was in Wilderness, I decided to find the road less travelled to circumnavigate those lakes and lagoons from the other shore. I followed the railway line once graced by the Outeniqua Choo Choo and bumped up muddy tracks to Karatara passing farms called Moon Rising and Serena and Groenveldt. I passed tumbledown cottages and wondered who had sat on those sagging stoeps. I passed a man (could have been a woman) in overalls, boots that looked too large and a bandana, vigourously tilling the vegetable patch not a meter from the road. Engrossed, he raised a hand but not his eyes in greeting.  I saw carefree skipping children with broad grins who waved like mad or raised thier thumbs and gazed curiously after my car. 

The road turned and climbed and I was surrounded by verdant fields and chewing cows full of lazy disinterest and was now able to look down again on the still waters, now in miniature below me.
 Soon there were signs of life and I drove through a settlement - rows and rows of RDP houses - new, shiny and totally out of place is these ancient lands - I slowed behind a farm truck and reluctantly joined the N2 again.

I enjoyed the last of the suns rays on my balcony - writing my journal - a few geese flew in noisily and settled in the reeds, then another a family and another. As dusk fell a thousand or more geese joined them and noisily made thier home for the night - becoming silent as darkness swallowed them. The following morning at sunrise, they all took off again in thier family groups, in the direction from which they came reminding me that I must also leave return from whence I came but like the geese - I will return. There is much more to explore!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The road ahead

So much has happened this month! None of us know what the road ahead holds but we can drive from one side of the country to the other just by seeing the road illuminated in our headlights - that's all we need - to see the moment in front of us and to navigate that! Giving up is conceding that things will never get better and that is just not possible.
South Africa has voted for change and the mood is upbeat as an ocean of blue congregated in our metro to support and welcome the DA as our new political party of choice, sending waves of optimism through our midst. Voting day was cold and wet but thankfully we turned out in our millions to make our mark and it has paid off - I am looking forward to some real governance in our metro and the DA living up to its promise.
The second thing that has happened is that I have a new man! Well the same one but made new because he has gone through his stem cell treatment. Its amazing what science and medicine can do but it has its price - not just the medical aid price - but the toll it has taken physically and mentally. Some major doses of chemo (they literally take you within a whisker of what your body can survive), three weeks of isolation - in a room with beige walls, white bedding, a view of the hospital roof and a bit of mountain on a clear day through dirty windows - really is a sight for sore eyes. Most days V was too sick to care but its true that most survivors of this treatment have a touch of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) due to the experience. Anyway it is behind him and although he is weak, each day is an inch of progress and healing has begun and will continue from Thursday in PE.
But....right now I am in a really good space - Literally! I am in Wilderness at Lodge on the Lake watching wild geese and sailing boats and listening to the sound of silence. this morning I went exploring the back roads off the N2 to where my mind has wandered before me as I travelled up and down the Garden Route. Muddy tracks and derelict cottages and cows and birdsong for breakfast.
I am staying in a room the size of one of those labourers cottages with a vase of white roses and lavender, a soft bed and a view to die for! I have started a new book by Marlena De Blasi  (click for the review) The Thursday night Umbrian Supper Club - which is mouth wateringly good and this afternoon I shall be renewed with a facial and a hot stones massage before sleepwalking back to my room and enjoying my book and later a movie that I have been saving.
Tomorrow I will wend my way home mindful that its Woman's Day - I may even stop and shop a little - Life is like a roller coaster - live it - enjoy it - You can choose whether you scream or enjoy the ride!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Its not unusual!

Neglect! My blog is suffering but all in a good cause - a casualty of my current circumstances. Since I returned from Singapore  - it has been work work and more work (thank goodness that I had those two weeks off) and now its hospital hospital and hospital! Vernon ended up coming to Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital for his stem cell treatment so he has a long stay here and now life revolves around that. Thankfully he has a daughter and family here so they have been a great support but are now en route to a warm island for a break - and we have had somewhere to stay when not in hospital. I am two weeks into this stint with V being in high care for five of those days and has now been in an isolation unit for a further 5 days. The few days that he has been out of hospital have been a blessing - he cant be in crowds or near children who are known walking germ tanks!

We have had lovely drives though. and being in confinement makes one so much more appreciative of wide blue skies touched by staggering mountains - distant horizons brushed by the ocean and a wintry landscape that holds its own beauty. Grateful. Being surrounded by people who are either very ill or nursing and healing the sick makes you grateful for even your challenging circumstances. I am staying in a lovely home fairly near to the hospital and drive in a warm car there each day. I don't have small children to worry about and I have a job that is flexible. My heart goes out to the young parents that I encounter and the plight of women trudging up the hill to visit - some accompanied by 3 or more kids. I have also seen parents whose children are so sick wearing brave smiles as they walk or push their 'patient' children around the hospital to get a change of scenery.

My google maps has become my best friend - one wrong turn returning from the hospital in the dark took me to a bus station in a dodgy area and I have ended up at the Muslim cemetery more than once as I overshot my turn! I have become thankful for athletics which taught me better judgment when being asked to turn in 100 metres, 150 and 250 metres - I have learned to mentally put myself at the start line of those long ago races so I don't misjudge the distance!  I just wish there was a GPS for inside the hospital - Its huge and the first few days I contemplated tying a ball of wool to my car and leaving a trail as I turned right and left and then right and up a floor, and over a walkway and that was just the way to the lift! This morning though I was happily directing people - one poor young woman almost in tears as she couldn't find the stairs she had come up! I am used to getting in the lift with pyjama clad people wheeling their drips around while looking for the paper - yesterday was very lively as we debated Oscars sentence and this evening I took my chance with a Rastafarian sporting a toothless grin and a regal looking African lady with her navy blue Sunday hat on and a furry leopard skin coat - 3 sizes too big. We found common ground with the bitter cold weather and I silently coveted that coat and that chunky knitted. red, green and yellow hat! Some of the characters look so interesting that I am tempted to take my camera but I am afraid I may end up in casualty.
As much as I love Cape Town, I have to say that many of the pale folk here are so snobbish - I am used to PEs cheerful smiles in the supermarket queue and not being given the once over down a long pointed nose! REALLY! I could understand it if it were Fortnum and Masons but this is Pick and Pay for heavens sake. Conversations are peppered with Absolutely and Pherfect and Exactly and Awesome - this must be the superlative capital of the world.
So today was a successful transplant of Vs own treated stem cells which all went. As with his treatment in PE the medical profession have been brilliant and he has managed most of it well, but this time he has lost his hair and he has been warned that the next few days will be challenging. Grateful. That word again! So grateful for the great care and respect that he has been shown by the medical staff who handle him so gently - almost reverently. He has struck up a great friendship with Eric - one of his nurses and who hails from Alice in the Eastern Cape. If you know where Alice is you will appreciate that its a small rural dorp, and yet Eric has the manners of a refined old Etonian and more intelligence! Being in isolation is not easy and the mind plays a bigger role than anything in his recovery so its lots of 'living in the now' and a lot of bandwidth too as being able to access the outside world through the internet is a real sanity saver!

Back to the lift! I got in the lift this morning and there was a cheerful soul using his drip stand as a mike and singing "What's new Pusseycat", When a nurse got int he life on D floor he started singing "Shes a lady!" and on E floor the doors opened and he burst into a rendition of  "The Green Green Grass of Home". A doctor in the lift with us commented that he should get himself checked out as it sounded like he had Tomjones disease." "My goodness whats that - Is it rare?" I foolishly asked. They both looked at one another and started singing,"Its not unusual".......AGHHH!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Singapore -Take 2

My Holiday has been over for two weeks but I haven’t finished telling you about it. In true “Sue Style” I landed on Friday – slept one night in my own bed and then dashed off to Graaf Rienet to drink wine on Stoeps at the Graaf Reinet Stoep Tasting . One day I was surrounded by sizzling mirror faceted sky scrapers and the next I was tramping around the dusty streets bordered by tin roofed, white cottages. Both equally interesting but totally opposite – the one futuristic and sophisticated and the other historical and charming. Wine tastes equally good in either setting!
So back to Singapore and my impressions. I saw a souvenir mug that says that Singapore is “A Fine City” and that is perhaps why it’s orderly clean and structured. In a country where chewing gum is illegal everyone behaves! Littering will cost you $1000, Smoking where you shouldn't smoke and the fine is $500 and for speeding $5000.

I saw more of the Shopping Malls on this visit – there are hundreds of these temples to consumerism rising heavenwards with lifts and escalators permanently in motion. You can get everything your heart desires or that exists on this planet within them and they are full of stunning art and architectural accents and usually a water feature or three cascading down walls or squirting upwards to make you gasp! In the Marina Bay Sands Mall you can even explore the ground floor by boat and swim on the top floor while looking down on the skyscrapers. Gucci, Prada, YSL, Givenchy, Armani – I met them all – in name that is - and even Gordon Ramsay’s posh nosh is there. I hope though that when he is resident in this kitchen his language is as clean as the floor that I was walking on – I should imagine that there is a fine for that as well!
Talking of restaurants – there are 8 500 of them! From Dim Sum and Noodles to American Ribeye, Japanese and Italian and from the Hawkers Market centres with Formica tables and benches to plush silver service with views to enjoy of the wall to wall ships in the harbor. I enjoyed two of the best Italian meals that I have ever had - great food accompanied by great service and great company.
You can’t visit Singapore without coming under the spell of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Like Cape Town has a mountain that dominates its landscape, so this vast building is a landmark and a compass point on your exploration of the city.check it out here
I had high-high-high tea and enjoyed my smokey Lapsang Souchong from the clouds – Afternoon tea with a difference and served with mushroom cappuccino, mini munchies, macaroons and Madeira cake! Living in lego land is the norm here and when you are staying on the 12th floor you feel strangely low when on the ground – Fear of lifts would be life threatening here as everything happens above the horizon and when faced with climbing 57 floors on a regular basis – I think the fear would fizzle out!

The waterfront is busy and beautiful and bright in the sunshine but at night it sparkles. Lasers, Light Shows and long watery reflections dance on the water as people come out to dine alfresco in the warm balmy evenings – Yes! It’s 30C at night which makes for very thirsty evenings under the stars.
Gardens at the Bay come alive in the evening with light and music shows that really make you feel like Titania, Queen of the fairies, is about to come out to play. The lawns are spread with people of all nations as music is a universal language enjoyed by all.
Despite my grand and larger than life experiences – my most rewarding time was that spent with the little people in my life – both children and grandchildren. I enjoyed attending the playgroups sessions with Nadine and Katherine and seeing how children from all walks of life and nationalities are pretty much the same when it comes to appreciating play time and I enjoyed interacting with some of the moms and learnt that the British playgroup leader has a sister living in Blue Water Bay and one of the moms knew two ladies that I know in PE and her mom lives around the corner from me! So it really is a small world.
Also loved my very special last day with a picnic breakfast in the park, a gourmet Italian feast at lunch followed by a lovely foot massage in the afternoon and special story time with Katherine and Adams last bottle – well the last one I shall feed him as he will be eating Fish and Chips when I next see him!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Special Time

I am here in the east and in the land of order and routine where everything is on time, in time and works - like clockwork. Its lovely! The only chaos is behind closed doors with a 2 1/2 year old toddler and a 14 week old baby - Occasionally in public too with the toddler!
Its amazing how we have become used to living behind walls, gates, barbed wire and locked car doors in South Africa - here there is such a feeling of safety. I haven't been asked for money - no one has asked to park my car and the locals are relaxed and eager to smile and engage in conversation.
Time with the children is special and time with the grandchildren even more so. We have swum most days and visited the park strolling through lush vegetation - no pot holes in pathways and unlike SA ALL the streets are pedestrian friendly and have pavements. No dodging taxis skipping red lights and hooting - even rush hour is orderly here.
 Noodles, Dumplings, Dim Sum, Sushi and Green tea. Food is fragrant and plentiful and the choice endless. I love Thai food and the way it is presented. I was treated to an exquisite Italian gourmet meal for a belated Mothers Day from the top of a tall building with views to make you dizzy.

Getting to know baby Adam is a joy - such a good little chap and I love looking into his eyes and knowing there is a little bit of me in his history. Katherine skips, scoots, runs, hops, climbs and bounces everywhere - her curls bouncing with her. She is full of energy, mischief and curiosity as every 2 year old should be. This morning she made a turtle at Moms and Tots group attached with string to walk slowly to the music - but hers was the racing model and her turtle went everywhere at the speed of light and on occasions flew. She excelled in the Hokey Cokey - which she obviously gets from her nanny!

 She is napping now and I am savouring the quiet. I am enjoying my time here - slowing my pace to cope with the heat. We have a boat cruise planned, a trip on a cable car, China town calls in the morning and a special afternoon tea to enjoy later in the week. Lots of playtime planned and story books to enjoy. Life is good and I am grateful!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gym Tales and Pony Tails

I am being quite diligent with my gym visits - I have been three times this week and intend to make it a record by going tomorrow too......maybe Sunday as well - although last time I went at the weekend I was the oldest person there by far and the only female without a high pony tail! I think I should get a clip on one just for gym because it looks so attractive on the treadmill when your pony tail is bobbing up and down - makes you look as if you are moving faster (have just googled 'woman on treadmill' in Google images and EVERY image has a woman with a pony tail). Anyway I was on the treadmill this morning thinking how ludicrous it is to pay money to walk indoors - my Nan Westwell would laugh herself silly at the notion. I used to walk regularly in the fresh air as the good Lord intended till I moved here and no matter how I plan my route around Walmer Heights, I always seem to end up in Builders Warehouse car park and I am not sure the good Lord wants me to walk there. It used to be safe to walk anywhere but you cant take your safety for granted these days and I also like to contemplate while I am walking and you cant do that with the neighbourhood dogs going ballistic - so its off to gym I trot!
I saw Gerald again this morning - who taught me how to use the machines and who was impressed with my leg flexibility on the hip abductor. He avoided eye contact - I think my comment about giving birth four times embarrassed him after all!  I nearly collided with him as I was distracted by a lunging lady - Yes a young woman was taking HUGE strides around the gym carrying iron weight! She was being shouted at by a mean looking, pinched faced, skinny bitch who obviously lurves her job! Yes! Something else Nan Westwell would find incredible - people pay to be tortured so they can have firmer thighs. Soft thighs were all the rage in her day along with kind eyes and well filled cardigans,
Gerald was striding towards THAT section of the gym - the Holiest of Holies! This is where testosterone rules, tattoos are compulsory and huge tyres are moved around with ease - weights clank and there is the occasional grunt - no one here makes eye contact - least of all me in case I am challenged to a stare down. I astonished how they take it all so seriously and also a little distracted by those oiled biceps. Anyway I did my circuit trying not to notice anyone else and ended up on the bicycle where I pedalled like mad for 15 minutes only to be told I had done 2,5 Kilometers - Nan Westwell would have snorted with laughter at the thought of going nowhere and not very fast.

I was never the Sporty Spice Gym Girl at school but back home and showered I feel quite proud of myself - there is a great pleasure to be had in slight ache of muscles that have been stretched a little and I am hoping to do it all again tomorrow! Now where can I get a clip on pony tail???

Monday, May 2, 2016

A peek at my week

Another month and we are half way through the year - that is a sobering thought! Well it is for me as I set myself challenges at the start of each year and at this stage I am not making progress - "Could do better" as my school report often said. "Must try harder." was in there too so I shall be trying harder from now on.
Where I have been. I have been.
Mr Niemack was in PE for the long weekend so we took ourselves on a roadtrip to Port Alfred. Roadtrips with V are always different as he is inclined to reverse, do Uturns and take off across fields if something takes his fancy. He sometimes forgets that I have a nifty red polo and not a bouncy backie. We bounced off to Bathust and went up to the toposcope.
 This is the site that Colonel Jacob Cuyler's camp was stationed when he supervised the allotment of land that the brave 1820 settlers were to farm and settle on. Its circular and there are plaques pointing to various directions stating the number of miles the party had to travel, location, leader of the group, English county they came from and the ship that they arrived on. All very interesting to me and also to others - so interesting that some of the plaques have been stolen....... and not by settler descendants I fear! Its quite a bleak spot and the wind was gusting as winter decided to arrive that very day as we stood there! After a little think about these pioneers we did what they probably did on a cold windy day and headed down into the village inn which looked quite deserted until we followed our noses, ducking under a low ceiling, around a little passageway and through a latched door and we were in a warm noisy smokey room where men propped up the bar and booted ladies sat on high stools, while a buxom wench (surely an Emslie) pulled pints and served bar lunches to the locals. We caught our breath and warmed our insides and then headed to the local antique shop where we enjoyed an hour remembering all these familiar items - This is when you know that you are yourself an antique! V picked up a replica of his lunch box from when he was a train driver and couldn't put it down. I found a dish reminiscent of a fruit set my Nan Westwell had in her display cabinet. The shop owner told me it was lustre ware and was given away at fairgrounds at the coconut shy or the shooting range. All I can say that my gran aka 'Annie get your Gun' must have spent many hours at the fair! V then found some LPs with Dean Martin, Connie Francis and a compilation of smooth jazz contained in a cover sporting a naked beauty discreetly draped in a red piece of  silk - 1960s porn V said! Of course he bought them!
Back to our hotel which was also historical - the older building now refurbished but still keeping some lovely features, a handcrafted staircase,  a quaint Queen Anne wood stove, polished yellow wood floors and beamed ceilings. We were in the new part - our room light, a bed to get lost in, space age lighting, our furnishings luxurious and our floor soft grey laminate and in the corner a frosted glass cube - the space age bathroom!!! NOooooo! If there is one think that brings me out in a cold sweat its a bathroom that has no door. V is the same - we lay in our 400 count percale pristine linen chunnering about the bathroom and what was the world coming to when design and decor comes before privacy and human comfort. We spent the weekend visiting private loos within the hotel - with DOORS!
Who I have met.
The locals of Port Alfred, Bathurst and Grahamstown, Lavinia, a lovely beauty therapist with beautiful royal blue nails who painted my toes the same bold blue and tried to sell me the secret of eternal youth in a jar for R 2750.00. Sorry Lavinia but I cannot afford to be that youthful! A wholesome young girl in a coffee shop in Grahamstown where V ate oxtail pie and I a French coconut tart. I thought she was a school girl until she told us how much her one year old loves rooibos tea - another sign of antiquity when young girls who look like they should be playing with dolls are caring for real babies!
V had to have a couple of medical tests while he was here in preparation for his continued treatment in Capetown. I met my bookclub friend who I have seen dressed as an elf, Santa, a bunny, a hobo, and wearing a wedding dress - usually with a glass of wine in her hand. This time she was in the uniform of a nurse attending to V in a most professional and expert way. Ironically part of the test had to be performed in a glass cube with V blowing his lungs out! He passed with full colours!
I must also make mention of Gerald who has been putting me though my paces at the gym and kept a very straight face when assisting to position my legs into the machine designed to reduce thighs - you know that one that you have to push your legs together and then the weights drag them back out to that very unlady like position. Well all I can say is that having four children helped and my experience of elephant back riding came in useful!
What I have learned.
Crochet - at long last I have mastered the art of crochet. I joined a beginners class where I met some nice ladies but learned not a lot about crochet. I then discovered tutorialhere and have a sizable collection of granny squares. I have tried before several times and failed - I think because I am a pretty experienced knitter. I tried harder and kept at it and hey presto I am hooked! Am keeping it simple for now but I know that I will be enjoying this for many years to come - after all I have the contents of a small wool shop in my garage cupboards ready to be transformed into blankets! I have a new camera too which is completely different to my Canon so I am learning weekly to manage the settings. I have also learned that being alone is actually a blessing at times. I am free to pusue my interests and am making progress towards my plans for the year. I am working, I have joined a gym, I am reading, I am journalling, I am writing, I am learning and I am starting art classes this month.  Happiness equals Reality minus Expectations. I am no ways going to reduce my expectation of life so I am increasing my reality by filling my time with my favourite things and people. Its as simple as that!