It rained today. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that I don’t find myself shielding my face and running & hiding as if the stuff that’s falling from the sky is some unknown acid liquid ready to burn out my eyes and bleach my hair. It’s just rain. And for the longest time, while adjusting to life in the UK, I marvelled at how people just continued on, despite the weather. The dog still gets walked. The kids still walk to school in the rain – hair drenched; blazers sodden. People still stroll into town to get their daily supplies. But the thing that amuses me most when it rains is the resilience of festival-goers. I’m not talking those Woodstock-esque festivals where Wellies are the popular outfit of choice, tents are pitched in mud baths, and revellers come away slightly weather-worn, but with a look of gratification on their faces, and I know that I’ve missed out on something special. I’m talking about the little country fairs and markets that take place in the Dorset countryside, over summer. Those little country fairs with merry-go-rounds and candy-floss machines, dog shows and pony rides, little exhibition stands of carved wooden planting boxes, hand-painted porcelain jugs and historic photographs of towns in and around Dorset.
I suppose resilience may not really be the right word, as much as “way-of-life” would be. Growing up, if it rained, we’d wait it out because it would probably be over in about half an hour. Either that, or if it did continue for a day or two, we simply wouldn’t venture out. Certainly not to a country fair or for a walk on the beach. It was as simple as that. But in the UK, what has struck me most is that life just continues onwards – rain or shine. It must, I suppose. Rain is not an anomaly, it’s a guarantee. And I’ve realised how a little thing such as weather-dependency has been such an overlooked privilege for those of us hailing from warmer parts of the world.
Arranging a Bring & Braai on a weekend was as easy as pouring the sauce over your pap, and people pitched up with beer, boerie and chops. It was a regular thing – a dependable thing. But not quite so much in the UK – where the sun may shine at 10, and wash out any good intention by 2. However, for those of us who are still adamant that summertime beans braai-time, and the abundance of BBQ gear (albeit instant barbecues), outdoor loungers, beach huts and pop-up swimming pools over the summer season, it is quite clear that this the UK is also a nation that enjoys a good meal outdoor, and I’ve often wondered why the concept of the Stoep, has never quite caught on. Especially with the vulnerability of weather-independence. Perhaps it’s just a seasonal thing – like turkey for Christmas, pancakes on Shrove Tuesday – perhaps if it rains, people simply just don’t braai. And perhaps that’s actually ok?
Regardless, our house will probably be the only one in town with a Stoep – perhaps even a replica of my brother’s karoo Soeperstoep that stretches for what seems like miles, and is littered with habitable places, eclectic cacti, candles and lanterns of all shapes and sizes. And ours will have a shelter for a braai, and it will allow for outdoor dining, even if it rains.
And perhaps that, in a sense, is my version of rainy-day resilience.
And I’ll be ok with that.
The dreaded Christmas advert. They seem to get better and better each year. Not better in a good sense, but better in a cynical, somewhat sarcastic sense where one tries to outdo the other on levels of emotive guilt-ridden tear-jerking images that bring to mind the true meaning of Christmas. After all, the true meaning of Christmas is absolutely about a giant truck delivering sugar-filled carbonated drink to every town to the ends of the earth. Isn’t it?
I project. Naturally.
It’s usually this time of year, when the leaves turn orange and gold, and the morning chill seems to tickle my earlobes in a creepy “I’m coming” kind of way that my mood seems to take on a slightly sour twinge. When my favourite plants seem to droop under the evening frost and the moss seems to form a new layer of hazardous green on my paved driveway that I walk a little slower, become a little quieter. The shops have hardly packed away the ghoulish ghosts and witches and red-eyed Halloween pumpkins, that they now laden their shelves with light-hearted, warm and fuzzy, mushy Christmas decorations of angels, snowy village scenes and twinkling lights.
My first Christmas in the UK was a magical spectacle. For the first time, Frosty the Snowman actually did make sense and Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire actually were roasting on an open fire, and not on the braai. Hang on, they weren’t roasting on the braai at all. We were lying on the beach, in the sun, dribbling watermelon juice down our chins and getting suntan lotion in our eyes.
I remember observing the frosty South African Christmas vibe from a new perspective, the first time My Englishman spent Christmas in South Africa. Walking around the Somerset Mall in shorts and flops, and pointing out the fake snow on the shop windows, and the icicle lights hanging from the ceiling, I recognised the slightly ridiculous sight we portrayed to people who actually did come from a snowy Christmas. But I didn’t really care. It was my Christmas.
But now I am in the UK, and my Christmas’ are cold, and snowy, and chestnut-roasting. All that should seem beautiful in its perfection and idyll dreamed about on years of Christmas cards and dressing up games now appearing like something foreign and unfamiliar. I want that fake snow, and I want to hear Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly – while smelling the snoek baking on my dad’s braai, and my mom humming along to Dean Martin’s Let It Snow Let It Snow Let it Snow.
Of course. I still project.
For me, regardless of fake or real trees, fake or real snow, fake or real chestnuts, Christmas is so much more than a commercial excuse for credit card debt accompanied by a mad frenzy to feel satisfied and accomplished with the best Christmas lights adorning the house, and the biggest, most glittery tree. For me, Christmas is about having my mom in the next room, and Pa at the braai outside. It’s about knowing that my brothers and their families will soon be arriving, where we’ll eat until we cannot move any more, where we’ll roll ourselves into the family room, where Papa will put on the Father Christmas hat, as he always does, and with his Ho Ho ho, hands out each of our gifts, much to the delight of us all – as we polish off Ma’s frozen triangle cheesecake, that she makes every year, for Christmas.
And as many of us sit in far-away lands, many having forged new Christmas traditions and customs, and many who, like us, will be spending Orphaned Christmas with other friends and families who find themselves in similar positions, my prayer is for love and peace and happiness for you. But most of all, for a little bit of fake snow and the smell of a braai – somewhere in your Christmas season.
They say a house is not a home, unless you have a dog. So, in the continued determination to make my house, my home… My Englishman and I promptly trotted off to Devon to pick up an adopted cocker spaniel that was looking for a new home. After paying our ‘deposit’, which was actually just a payment for the pooch and had the self-entitled grammar-nerd in me twitching at the incorrect use of the word, we ventured back with our chien in the back of the car, and a giant, “What now?” expression on our faces.
Meeting the cat didn’t seem like too much of a palaver – but we did receive the silent treatment from Bill for a good few days. I managed to butter him up with some vanilla ice cream and his favourite kibbles, and eventually, he was back to dribbling on my lap as he always does. Fia, the spaniel, on the other hand wasn’t bothered, every now and then running past Bill and giving him a thwack in the face with her whip of a tail.
And so we have managed to settle into a very pleasant routine. Every morning, at 6 o’clock, while My Englishman wakes up, I sleepily take the hound to the local farmer’s field for a run. I am thankful, each time I do, of this little pleasure that is ours, of living in the countryside and having bridal paths, and farm fields and rivers and streams through which spaniels can splosh. She is particularly boisterous, and having the opportunity to wander through a local field, at our leisure, without a hostile farmer bellowing, “geeeet ooooorrrfffff moooooiii laaaaaaaand” (well, some do), is a real treat. I can’t help but think about friends back in the Cape whose only option of walking their dogs is a pavement, a lead, and traffic. Fia, on the other hand, once through the farm gate, has the run of a field as large as about 4 hockey pitches, and I am thankful. That’s what the countryside offers you.
This morning, however, slightly more humourous. With the clocks recently being set back for the winter months ahead, and the joy and confusion that this change inevitably brings, I routinely got up, changed into my walking gear, stumbled downstairs, gave the cat a half-hearted ear rub, piled pooch in the car and ventured up to the field. We had just made our way through the farm gate, when my vision started to define some blurry large shapes scattered across the field. It was only when I heard a familiar sound next to me that I realised that our walking-field was now inhabited by the local Friesland herd, waiting to be milked.
Undeterred, and probably to the disgust of the farmer had he discovered us, I let the pooch run down the path, out of site of the sleeping bovines. The situation felt somewhat surreal, knowing that in 2 hours, I’d be sitting in an office, making phone calls to Las Vegas, and talking about marketing strategies and brand awareness. Fia, the spaniel, seemed un-phased, and happily frolicked on amongst the cow pats.
I love winter. I love the drizzle, the cold, the romance, the closeness, the bundling up in layers with scarves and gloves.
I thought I did. Until I arrived in the UK. And more so until I had to drive, in winter, on country lanes.
There’s something the oomie from the Helderberg Driving School never taught me, and that was how to behave on slippery surfaces. My three-point turns were beyond perfect, my parallel parking satisfactory, my hill-starts resulted in squeals of delight, but had he thought of teaching me the basics when it came to driving on slippery surfaces – perhaps I would think of him in a slightly different light as I do now.
Living in a small town, in the heart of Dorset, does have its drawbacks – despite what anyone tells you.
Two words: Country Lanes = Single hedge-lined tracks that allow only 1 vehicle to pass over it at any 1 time, usually covered in mud, lugged around by swollen tractors with gigantic wheels. Roads of Chaos when that mud and water starts to freeze, and you feel like an 11-year old whizzing around on the Sunnyside skate rink, thinking you know what it meant to be in love, while Roxette blares out from the tin speakers, and a lonely blue disco balls casts shadows on the not-so-lucky ones.
I’d unfortunately met my match, and slipped all-too-closely into a hedge on several occasions. It was early December, and it was time for My Englishman to teach me how to divide and conquer. So down we trundled to a vacant (and heavily iced-over) car-park near the local beach, that other sensible drivers had vacated overnight.
“Right,” he says, “All we’re going to do is this. You’re going to drive, quickly, and I’m going to pull up the hand-brake, put you into a spin, and then all you need to do is steer out of the slip.” I stare blankly. Sounds easy. I do as instructed and in no time, we are forming figure 8s all over the car park, in our trusty little golf. I soon get the knack of it, and feel far more confident. Something I’d never thought I’d need to do. Namibian sand? No problem. Oil? Not a trouble. Water? Go with the flow. But ice has always been that one thing that I never really thought about. I’d surely never need to know how to do that. Not even in Sutherland!
I’d soon learnt the knack and found myself enjoying it a little more than perhaps I should, and the disgusted looks from the older folk peering at us from their balconies signalled time for us to leave.
At home, A nice cup of Milo was just what the doctor ordered after a hefty cold day of Driving On Ice, and we settle down. My Englishman gets back to work, while I reflect proudly on my latest driving skill acquired.
Make no mistake, I still, every winter, have a sly little kiss with a cradling hedgerow now and then, but at least I have the confidence needed to tackle those dodgy hills. And I always ensure that I know the location of all of our yellow roadside grit boxes filled with road salts, just in case. I don’t intend to, again, have to chip away at iced-over tar, in order to get some grip, to make it up a hill.
Now, the only thing left to tackle is that blasted horse poo in the middle of the road. That, frozen, is an unhappy occasion to fail.