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.
It’s not often in my life that I have found myself looking out of my kitchen window to see a traffic-jam of tractors at the end of our driveway. I live in Dorset. The quiet countryside of the UK. Thomas Hardy country. Vodka-made-from-milk country. Men Behaving Badly’s Martin Clunes country. But the tractor-jam is a normal site here in the UK countryside. Well, either that, or needing to reverse half a mile back down the single –track lane because the Combine Harvester you’ve just met isn’t planning on going anywhere.
When my generation of school leavers headed for the bright lights of London, I headed to the Far East. When many decided to lay new routes in their foreign worlds, I returned back to South Africa to study, and work, and settle down. Little did I realise at the time, that my ultimate life path would have me end up in that very same Island that I tried to avoid for fear of “following the crowd”. Regardless, in the heart of Cape Town, and over a random phone conversation, I’d met my English Gentleman that I would one day marry and follow back to England.
So today, I find myself stirring up a batter for some homemade pampoen-koekies and thinking about that moment when the decision was made that I would leave the country I am so loyal to. The city that I lived and breathed. The family – my cornerstone. My circle of friends that after many years of searching, had finally just clicked into place. At what point did I think to myself, “Hey. I know what. I’m just going to leave now!”.
Although sympathetic to so many of the plights I have heard and reasons given for Saffas leaving the country, I have always prided myself on the fact that I didn’t actually leave South Africa. Rather, that I simply arrived in the UK. Meeting my Englishman, I never contemplated the reality of needing to decide where we would live or which culture we would choose to raise a family in. So without being given a reason to leave, I had to make that choice myself.
I try often to pinpoint the exact moment when that decision was made – and I actively chose to surrender that which I hold most dear, to my own path, and my own choice. But here I am. Like many others, who live with the perpetual one-foot-here one-foot-there dilemma, and as hard as I try to surround myself with all things that remind me of home, I am reminded, daily, that I am not quite at home yet. I’m in a far different place. And until I am able to make peace with the fact that my roots may lie in two worlds, I would never quite feel at home.
Stage 1 of cross-cultural relationships – complete.
I’m a newbie, compared to some of the stalwarts who have walked this journey for many years before me. But I live with the pride of who I am as I throw myself into new experiences, new cultures and more so, these pampoen-koekies made from pumpkin bought at the local Fruit & 2 Veg grocer in our little town of Beaminster.